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A Little Space

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Martin looked incredibly soft.

That wasn’t an odd thing to think, was it? If anything, it was simply an objective fact. Between his cozy and well-worn jumpers, his cloud-like curls and the fact that he naturally ran warm, it was perfectly normal for Jon to look at him and want to curl into his arms and never let go, right? He couldn’t quite pinpoint when he’d first thought that.

Maybe it was the first morning in the safehouse, waking up in the same bed as him. Martin was still asleep, his face lax and his breathing deep and even and there was barely half a foot of space between them. He looked different without his glasses on, and his curls were scattered wildly across his pillow. Jon could remember the urge he’d felt then to reach out and touch them, just to see for himself if they were as soft as they looked. He remembered thinking about how it would feel to bury his hands into Martin’s hair, to close that half-foot gap between them, to curl into his chest and bask in his warmth, so different than the cold isolation he’d become so used to.

Instead, he had got up and put the kettle on, and when Martin emerged from the bedroom with a yawn and a sleepy smile, he held the mug in his hands a little tighter and pretended that that was warmth enough.

Maybe it was before that though. The first time he saw Martin after he woke up, perhaps? As they’d stood in the hallway outside of the archive and he’d felt a rush of warmth in his chest to finally see Martin after what had apparently been six months (though the week or so that it had felt like was still longer than he would have liked). When Martin had fidgeted and shuffled his feet and glanced over his shoulder every few seconds as Jon desperately tried to keep a conversation going and all he could think about was how much he wanted Martin closer, how he wanted some sort of assurance that they were both actually here and alive and that not everyone he knew wanted nothing to do with him. Had he wanted to touch him then, to run into his arms and hold him and be held in return until he felt human and Martin lost that far-away look in his eyes?

It feels like it might have been even earlier than that though. Jon shook himself free of those memories, refocusing on the book he was trying to read and hoping that Martin hadn’t noticed him staring at the same page for far too long. Glancing over though, it seemed he had nothing to worry about. Martin had a notebook in one hand and a pencil in the other, tapping the end of it gently against his lower lip as he read back over the words he’d already committed to paper. Every so often, the considering look on his face would break into realisation or excitement, and he’d jot down a few more lines with a content look on his face. Jon wondered what he was writing about.

For a moment, he entertained the thought of crossing the room to read over Martin’s shoulder, leaning his arms on the back of his chair, close enough to his shoulders that every now and then he brushed up against them just slightly. Maybe he could lean on his shoulders themselves, elbows resting on top of them while his wrists crossed at the back of Martin’s neck where his curls looked wispy and even softer than the rest of it. Let his hands brush just slightly against his hair as he did so. Just the lightest touch would be enough.

It felt as though something hollow deep in his chest was trying to drag him across the room to where Martin sat, urging him to steal a moment of closeness. That was exactly the problem though, wasn’t it? No matter how casual he made it, no matter how careful he was to not make things awkward or uncomfortable, he would still know that he was claiming that touch when Martin hadn’t welcomed it.

Their hug in The Lonely was a memory that he cherished, to his shame. Martin was the one who had reached out for him, practically engulfing him in his arms, a covering of warmth chasing away the cold of the fog and sea spray. It was like the bright sunshine breaking through the clouds, like finally getting a lungful of air after too long underwater, the hollow in his chest filling up so abruptly it was almost painful in its relief. It had hurt to pull away, but he had known they couldn’t stay there, and it had helped that Martin hadn’t let go entirely. As his arms had slid from around Jon, while one had dropped back to his side, the other had stayed, taking Jon’s hand in his own and when they had turned to leave, he had laced their fingers together.

They had held hands continuously all the way up to Scotland. It didn’t fill that hole in Jon’s chest quite like the hug had, but it stopped it from actively hurting and that was enough of a blessing after being constantly aware of it for at least six months. Two men holding hands wasn’t necessarily an odd sight, but had attracted a few odd or endeared looks when they’d refused to part for even long enough to pay for their tickets or find their seats.

When they’d sat down, Martin had shuffled nervously closer, leaning over to tentatively rest his head on top of Jon’s. It had taken all of Jon’s remaining self-restraint to not plaster himself against Martin’s side, the last thing he had wanted was to make him uncomfortable, and instead he just returned Martin’s gentle affection, resting his own head on Martin’s shoulder and closing his eyes with a contented sigh. It wasn’t as close as he’d like, but it was a thousand times more than he had ever thought he would get, a thousand times more than he thought he could ask for.

That evening had set the precedent for his contact with Martin: follow his lead, don’t ask for more. So, when they settled in for the first night in the safehouse, when Jon had climbed into bed next to Martin he left a little space between them. Easy enough to cross. Easy enough for Martin to reach out and touch his face, or take his hand, or shuffle closer. A part of him is expecting it even, and he carefully leaves his hand upturned and slightly stretched out into that little no-man’s-land to make things easier. But he didn’t. Martin did none of these things, just gave a sleepy smile and settled into his own side of the bed, Jon was sure he could almost hear the hollow in his chest opening wide again. He had pulled his stretched out hand back out of the space between them, holding it close to his chest, clenching it into a fist while his other hand held onto its wrist. It was fine. He was taking this at Martin’s pace, even if Martin’s pace involved a dead stop followed by several steps backwards. He’d gone without close contact with anyone since he was in uni, and without so much as casual friendly contact since Prentiss had attacked the Institute over two years ago. Martin not wanting to hold his hand wasn’t going to kill him.

That’s what he had thought anyway. Martin still hadn’t reached out again though. Weeks had passed of Jon carefully giving Martin that space, keeping a gap between them but always placing himself close enough that it would be easy to reach out and touch him. Weeks of sleeping in the same bed and spending every evening hoping that tonight would be the night Martin would want to cross that gap and touch him again, and of carefully packing away his disappointment when it inevitably didn’t happen. The feeling wasn’t going away, it was just getting worse, that hole in his chest ripping open just a little wider every time Martin didn’t let their fingers brush together when he passed him a cup of tea, or every time Martin chose the armchair he was currently curled up in over a seat next to Jon on the sofa.

Looking over at him then, Jon could barely think around the desperate ache to be touched and held, the impulsive desire to launch himself across the room into Martin’s lap, curl into his arms and bury his face in his neck and just soak up his presence. He remembered from the hug, it had been so warm and soft and even with the fog and cold trying to reach them it had made him feel so safe-

The peaceful silence of the safehouse was suddenly broken by a wretched gasping sound, and it took Jon a moment to realise it had come from him. Brought partly back to self-awareness, he was only vaguely aware of other feelings hiding behind the hollowness. His throat was tight and swollen and his cheeks were wet, and his chest was suddenly heaving as the shuddering gasp forced itself out of his lungs. Knocked out of his focus, Martin jolted in his chair and gave a look of alarm and panic when he saw the state Jon was in.

“Oh my god, Jon!” He was out of his chair and across the floor in seconds, his notebook haphazardly tossed onto the table next to him. He dropped to his knees in front of Jon, panic in his expression as he searched Jon’s face for any sort of answers. Jon couldn’t speak, couldn’t do anything but gasp for breath at the all-consuming ache, but even if he could, what would he say? ‘Oh sorry Martin, I’m so pathetic that I’m having a breakdown because you don’t want to hold my hand’? For a moment, he was brought out of his own head as Martin’s hands raised, seemingly on instinct. For a moment, Jon thought ‘yes, yes, please touch me, cup my face, wipe away my tears, brush my hair out of my face, something, anything, please-’, but as he seemed to realise what he was doing, Martin froze, hands halfway towards Jon, so close, so close-

And then he dropped them back to his sides.

Jon could barely recognise that the noises he was making before were coming from him, but the noise he made at that was barely even recognisable as human. Something between a whimper and a cry, the sort of noise you’d expect an injured animal to make, as the hole in his chest seemed to double in size all at once and he desperately wrapped his arms around himself as though he could hold it closed. Martin was clearly distressed, and he seemed on the brink of tears himself from seeing Jon in such a state.

“Jon, what- what is it, what’s wrong? Are you hurt, is it the Eye, do you need a statement, was it a bad memory-?” Martin seemed frantic as he ran through all the perfectly reasonable causes for Jon to be completely falling apart unprompted on a quiet Tuesday afternoon in Scotland. His voice shook and he seemed terrified, and Jon knew he had to say something, put his mind at ease, but all he could think of was the question at the forefront of his mind.

“W-Why won’t you touch me?” The words exploded out of him all at once, rough and ragged and desperate, forcing themselves out between one heaving gasp and the next and he squeezed his eyes shut. There. It was out there. Now at least Martin wouldn’t panic. He didn’t fear judgement, Martin would never judge him for something that genuinely bothered him, no what he was scared of was that this would push Martin away. That it would be far too much far too soon and that he’d back away, and Jon would lose whatever parts of him he’d had in his life. Yes, it hurt to watch him across the room and not be able to reach out to him, but it would be a lot worse to not have him there at all.

There was a drawn out silence. It felt drawn out, anyway. It could have been a second, or ten seconds, or ten minutes. Jon didn’t know. He didn’t open his eyes. He couldn’t look at Martin’s face right then. Or even worse, what if he looked and Martin was just gone, walking out the door and leaving Jon to cry himself out, or packing his bags to leave for good, or-

A hand brushed against his cheek. Tentative, light as a feather, as though not entirely sure it would be welcome. Jon froze entirely. Everything was gone, the ache, the tears, his own breathing, nothing existed except the gentle, careful, soft, warm touch. Without even looking, he choked his way through a gasp as both of his own arms unraveled from around him and his hands gripped desperately at the hand, holding it like a lifeline as he pressed his whole cheek into it.

“Jon.” Martin’s voice was hoarse, dry, but neither of them really noticed. “Can I- can I hug you? Would that be okay?”

“Yes, yes, please Martin, please, anything, please-” Large, soft, warm arms wrapped around his shoulders, pulling him tightly to an equally large, soft warm chest, one hand splaying across his back like it was trying to cover as much surface area as it was physically able to, the other burying itself deep into his hair and cradling his head. Words abandoned Jon again as he slid entirely off the sofa and into Martin’s lap, hands desperately gripping his shoulders, arms, hair, the back of his neck, anything in reach as he buried his face entirely into the crook of the neck in front of him with a pathetic whine. Finally, finally, the hole in his chest was full to overflowing, overwhelming him with the sudden change as he gasped for breath with lungs that finally felt like they were actually there.

Martin was running one of his hands through Jon’s hair again and again, grounding him amongst the wave of emotions and sensations rushing through him in the moment. His head was pressed firmly against Jon’s, another point of contact, and he was murmuring something.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t know, I’m sorry…” Jon frowned, not moving his face from where it was pressed entirely into Martin’s neck.

“S’okay.” His voice came out muffled from both the fact that he was still trying to get his breathing under control and the fact that his mouth was almost entirely blocked by wonderfully soft knitwear. To try and make up for his frankly abysmal attempt at being comforting, one of his hands stopped it’s roaming to awkwardly pat the nearest part of Martin (a shoulder? Or was it his chest?) in what he hoped was a somewhat reassuring way. “Just…” He sighed, making a valiant effort to somehow press even closer. “Just really needed this.” The tears weren’t gone, but he didn’t feel ragged and ripped open any more, the feeling changing from a howling storm ripping through him and roaring with thunder to a quiet gentle rain, the sort that soothes you to sleep as you listen. His sobs quieted slowly, before finally changing to deep, level breaths, only interrupted by a few shaky aftershocks. The peace had returned. Neither of them made any move to get up.

Eventually Jon pulled away a little. Not far and certainly not out of Martin’s grasp, just far enough that he could look him in the eyes. He knew he would look a state, eyes red and swollen, face tear stained, hair a mess, but Martin didn’t look like he was faring much better. The silence stretched out just a moment more, before Martin broke it all at once.

“Jon, I-I’m so sorry, I thought you wanted space, you kept leaving space between us and avoiding touching me, I thought you needed more time, I didn’t realise-” Jon choked out a laugh.

“God, I really am an idiot aren’t I?” he mused, mostly to himself, before addressing Martin. “I was doing the exact same thing. After everything that had happened, I thought it would be understandable if you needed a bit longer to be comfortable with touch again.” Martin gaped at him.

“Wh- I held your hand from the moment we left the Institute to the moment we reached Scotland! If I had a problem with touch, don’t you think I might have mentioned it on the literal 5-hour train journey?” Jon flushed at that.

“I didn’t want to assume!” Martin choked out a laugh, pressing their foreheads together.

“I think we’re both officially idiots at this point then.” Jon chuckled back and didn’t answer, instead pressing his forehead more firmly to Martin’s and enjoying the simple pleasure of being so close to him.

Needless to say, that little but carefully maintained space between them disappeared, never to be seen again. The armchair fell almost entirely into disuse as the two of them chose to curl together on the sofa, an arm or leg or hand or foot always draped over the other on the occasions when they weren’t entirely tangled together. When either of them was in the kitchen, cooking or making tea, the other would wrap their arms around them from behind as they did so. And, of course, when they went to sleep that night and every night after, they did so curled around each other and utterly content.