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In Dreams; or, The Wanderer

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Martin dreams of Elias, again. He sobs and sobs and sobs, trying to make himself small, shattered into a thousand pieces and each piece living over and over in that horrible memory. At Elias's shoulder, Jon leans on the table, watching, and doing nothing, except to whisper, “I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” until Martin is drained of everything that is not terror, or horror, or pain, and Elias finally growls –

“Don't burn any more –”

 

Martin wakes with a jolt and a gasp, and behind him, Jon is already picking up the whisper, turning over and placing his hand against Martin's back.

“I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry...”

 

“I could get you back for it, you know. On purpose,” Martin muses an hour later, after they have both calmed and lie closer, hands entwined and trying not to breathe sour in each other's faces. He feels worn out, like he's barely slept, but Jon seems contented, with his eyes closed and his nose tucked into the space between Martin's pillow, shoulder, and neck. He mumbles his understanding there, and Martin follows the thought to its horrible conclusion: “I don't know which way around would be worse, though.”

Jon shifts his head to lift his mouth out of the pillow and Martin's skin, and murmurs, “How do you mean?” Half-asleep, it sends a shiver down Martin's spine and into his chest that has less to do with intimacy, and more with the enforced need to answer, truly and entirely. Which is fine. It's probably best if he doesn't hedge around the violence of this, and at least Martin knows what he's getting into, talking to The Archivist.

“Which would be worse, disappearing you, or disappearing me,” he answers, matter-of-fact. “I don't know which one would hurt you more, which would be... more...”

He doesn't quite have the word for it, and the compulsion is wearing off, leaving him floundering in queasy disgust and the unease of poor expression.

“Satisfying?” Jon finishes for him, and Martin hums, “M-hm,” in agreement. Jon isn't horrified by him, though. He just settles closer against Martin's side, reaching his arm across him, and kisses his shoulder through the ratty old shirt he wears. “Perks of dating the Lonely Wanderer, I suppose.”

Martin – baffled – cranes his neck to try and look him in the face.

“The what?”

Jon shrugs. He still hasn't opened his eyes.

“The Lonely Wanderer?” he repeats against Martin's neck. “I thought it could be your title. You know, because you wander alone, but you also wander... in the Lonely...”

Martin blows out a breath towards the ceiling, mulling it over.

“It's all right, I suppose,” is his conclusion. “Doesn't really have the same kind of power as The Archivist, though, y'know? That's short, it's snappy. The Lonely Wanderer. Sounds like an indie band.”

“Well, it's not an indie band,” Jon sneers, as he finally sits up and manoeuvres Martin's arm so that it goes around his shoulders, and he can rest his head on Martin's shoulder and tuck himself in closer to his side with a huff, arm draped over Martin's chubby middle. “It's you.”

“The Lonely Wanderer,” Martin repeats. It's growing on him. He tucks his free hand up under the sleeve of Jon's jumpers, stroking gently at his skin. “It'll do until we think of something better.”

 

They go to work that day, and even though they leave early to miss the worst of peak hour, Martin still has to squeeze shut his eyes and clench his fists and force himself not to drift (not to Wander) amidst the crowds on the Tube. The darkness and peace of the Institute at half seven, especially down in the archives, is such a blessed relief that Martin doesn't feel the pressure of being back.

Jon insists that Martin work from his office, though, where he can keep a physical eye on him, tucked in at the smaller desk in the corner. Jon reads statements, and Martin processes a boxful of old files, re-ordering, labelling, digitising the indices, and noting opportunities for follow-up research, letting the low lilt of Jon's voice wash over him. He takes a few minutes between each statement to browse real estate websites. Stockwell was nice, but maybe he'll move a little closer to Jon, now...

Gradually, the rest of the archivists drift in. Basira and Daisy both brighten upon seeing Martin, and go to their work with some reluctance. When Melanie marches in at ten o'clock, she takes one look at Martin – with heavy bags under his eyes and stubble on his cheeks – and one at Jon – fresh, bright, and keen – and scowls, straightening her shoulders, hands opening and closing in fists at her sides.

“That's fine,” she growls, making Martin's heart drop a little. “It's good to have you back, Martin. For the love of God, Jon, take better care of him.”

Jon, at least, looks a little chastened. He glances at Martin, who starts to recount Melanie's talk in her kitchen, and, for that matter, Daisy's rant about power, and Melanie throws her hands in the air and stalks away, tossing back at them an angry cry of, “Long-term solutions!”

She's right. She's really, really right.

 

At Melanie's insistence, they all go for lunch together to the kebab shop around the corner, Daisy leading a half-reluctant Martin at the front, and Jon trailing along at the back, looking uncomfortable. Martin manages to order for himself, and they all crowd around two small, square tables, chatting intermittently until their food is ready, and Jon brings up Martin's new title and all hell breaks loose.

“The Lonely Wanderer?” Melanie repeats incredulously, between mouthfuls of pizza. “It sounds like a bad indie band!”

Martin gestures mutely. He hasn't actually spoken for ten minutes – five people around a table in public is a bit too much for him at the moment – but his mouth is full of kebab meat anyway.

“That's what Martin said,” Jon sighs. “Although, I'll point out, you didn't mention the quality of the fictional band. But I don't see the lot of you making any better suggestions.”

“I don't know why it has to have the name of the – the power or whatever in it,” says Basira, somehow managing to make eating doner and chips look delicate. “Seems a bit obvious. Anyway, yours doesn't.”

“Yes, well, I didn't pick mine, did I?” says Jon tetchily, before taking a massive bite of kebab.

“What are the other options?” argues Melanie. “I mean, what other avatars do we know about, what are their titles?”

“What, like Breekon and Hope?” says Daisy, looking puzzled. “Or Agnes Montague? Most of them just have names, don't they?”

“Nikola Orsinov could have called herself the Dancer,” says Jon. “Or the Ringmaster.”

“Yeah, or the creepy pervert who was after your skin.”

“There's the Boneturner,” Basira suggests between chips. “Jared Hopworth.” Everyone winces, and she looks apologetic. “Sorry, I know, we're trying to eat. Count yourself lucky you haven't seen the rib, though.”

The rest of the table groans at that, and glares at Jon, who has the decency to look slightly penitent behind his food.

“Helen's just 'Helen',” Melanie shrugs. “And Michael was just 'Michael' before that.”

“Not entirely true,” Jon rebuts, “he also called himself the Distortion.”

“Oh. I thought that was just another name for the Spiral.”

“This is getting ridiculous,” Daisy mutters.

“How about Rayner?” Basira suggests. “He didn't really have a title, did he? Other than 'cult leader'.”

“Jane Prentiss?” says Melanie, and Jon answers, “The Hive,” before Martin grimaces, and gives a wide gesture, as if to say, I'm trying to eat!, and Jon apologises and relents.

“Look, I'm perfectly happy just calling him 'Martin',” says Daisy through a mouthful of kebab. “Why does he need a title, anyway? Aren't we supposed to be encouraging you to both stay human?”

“Seems a little unfair, though,” Melanie shrugs. “If Jon gets one and he doesn't. He did technically do it to save our lives. Apparently.”

Her pointed look leaves no room for doubt as to how she feels about that decision.

“I just don't think Lonely Wanderer has the right ring to it,” says Basira. “I mean, not bad for a first attempt –”

“Thanks,” Jon drawls.

“– but we can do better between us, right?”

Martin, with one hand still occupied with the crumbling remains of his kebab, taps on the table with one finger as he chews, trying to get their attention. All eyes turn to him at once, and he grimaces, feeling their combined observation like a physical weight. At the same moment, Jon places one hand on his leg under the table, and Daisy rests her fingers on his wrist, and Martin focuses on the contact like an anchor, holding him in place. Finally he swallows his food, and opens his mouth – and – and –

And looks at Jon, pleadingly.

“I'm not Seeing it for you,” he says, and Martin rolls his eyes. He tries to remember the tiny bit of BSL he learnt after he left school, then realises that he only knows the alphabet, and that the rest of the group probably doesn't, and sighs.

He has to close his eyes, and manoeuvre Daisy and Jon so that the only contact he has is his own fingertips resting over Jon's on the table; but he manages to pull himself together enough to speak.

“I've always thought of what I do as drifting?”

His voice is quiet and cracking, but he makes it through the sentence and blows out a breath of relief, opening his eyes and clutching at Jon's hand. Jon is frowning at nothing, and all the women are making faces.

“The Drifter?” says Melanie, sounding very sceptical. “Isn't – wasn't that a soul band in the sixties?”

“They formed in 1953,” Jon corrects, “and are technically still active, they change members a lot.” Then his eyes go wide in annoyance, and he adds to no one in particular, “Really? That's what you think is worth knowing?!”

Martin huffs along with the laughter of the group, until Basira sits back from her empty plate, licking her fingers, then raises her hands, and says:

“How about just – The Wanderer?”

There is silence for a moment. Martin ponders it – The Wanderer – and raises his eyebrows, making a face that conveys, Actually...

“That's not bad,” says Daisy, with a nod.

“I mean, it still kind of sounds like an indie band,” adds Melanie, and raises her voice to speak over the dissent of the others – “But, to be fair, I think any name for the fear of loneliness is going to sound like an indie band, so –” She shrugs, and picks up another slice of pizza. “I like it.”

“Yeah, I don't think we're coming up with anything better,” says Daisy. “Martin?”

He looks at her – then at Basira – and thinks, The Wanderer... and smiles.

“Yeah,” he croaks. “I like it.”

Jon's hand tightens under his own, and when Martin looks over at him, there is an expression of such frightened fondness that it warms Martin's heart in both a very human, and a very monstrous way. The breath Jon takes after the moment is thin.

“Bloody hell,” groans Melanie, “just kiss him, Jon, we can all see that you want to.”

“What?” he snaps at the group, wide-eyed, prompting Daisy to snort at him.

“Don't think we can't tell what's happened between you two,” she says. “Just kiss him, would you? If it makes you more comfortable, I can kiss Basira at the same time.”

“Daisy!”

“Yeah,” adds Melanie, “where does that leave me?!”

“Probably much better adjusted than the rest of us,” Jon mutters, and Martin realises, Oh, that was a joke, and Jon doesn't need to take the initiative anymore, because Martin's already reeling him in by the hand and kissing him firmly on the mouth through his smile. Melanie complains about how gross they are, as Basira's rebuttal that she and Daisy are very well-adjusted, thank you, is cut off by Daisy's lips on hers.

“All right, that's enough,” Melanie grumbles after a moment, “we are in public, remember. Now, Martin's monster title may be dealt with – and, by the way, it's really messed up how casual we all are about this – but we need to figure out a better solution to this nightmare problem...”