Tim Stoker is a very physical person. He’s the kind of man who claps you on the shoulder, and lifts you onto your toes when he hugs you. He elbows people and nudges them, grabs their hands and clasps their arms. He’s the kind of person who’ll pull you to dance in the kitchen because the radio’s playing a song he likes. He’s the kind of person who’ll kiss you on the cheek under the mistletoe he hung earlier that week in the door of your office.
Tim is nothing like Jonathan Sims.
Jon flinches from contact. He carefully avoids even the lightest and most accidental of touches, in the queue for the canteen or coming through the door, handing over papers or squeezing around a desk. He curls and hunches and generally keeps a frosty distance of at least twelve inches between himself and his colleagues.
Tim’s casual, physical affection is something that most of his colleagues embrace. Sasha, in particular, can often be found with Tim’s arm around her shoulders, texting her latest date or else playing the most recent free game she’s found on her phone to while away the lunch hour whilst Tim keeps up a warm and patient conversation with a stuttering Martin. (Or did she do that? Was that Sasha?)
Martin is awkward and flustered, but clearly appreciates the casual ease with which Tim interacts with him. At first, he flinches a little, and they all pretend not to notice and nobody realises that Jon noticed first. Tim goes to clasp Martin’s shoulder and Martin minutely flinches back and Jon finds an excuse to stand between them, lecturing Martin on the book in his hands because it’s the first thing that he can think of to say.
Tim is a little gentler after that: he’s been a gentle man since he started at the Institute, but he takes special care to move a little more slowly around Martin, keeping his hands in Martin’s line of sight. Martin relaxes: and after a few months, they reach an easy, comfortable kind of contentment. Sometimes Martin bumps Tim back, blushing a little. Sasha joins in, and Jon watches the three of them, working together in their cramped little office and leaning over each other, handing each other mugs and washing up liquid in the kitchen and bumping shoulders and elbows and hips.
It looks...good. Easy. Gentle.
Jon has no idea how to engage in it. He’s always been too skinny: growing too fast for the food his grandmother remembered to prepare for him and the terrible meals that he tended to make for himself. By the time he’d reached his full height, it was all his body could do to scavenge enough nourishment to grow his bones, let alone keep any fat on them. By then, any appetite that he might have had was a distant memory from very early childhood, and food didn’t hold much interest for him: too full of bad textures and unpleasant flavours to be considered anything other than a minor inconvenience necessary to keep him alive.
The point of this is that Jonathan Sims is short and skinny and made of sharp angles. His elbows stick out. He’s not soft like Martin and Sasha, he doesn’t have the gentle give of Tim’s curving muscle. He can offer about as much to a warm embrace as a toothpick, and it’s easier for him to slip out of arm’s reach than to insert himself into it.
Besides, by this point his discomfort around physical touch has guaranteed that all three of his archival assistants maintain a grave and reverent respect of his personal boundaries, and Jon doesn’t want to have the conversation about why he himself is breaking them. What would he say? I was jealous - no, that was an idiotic thing to say and even Jon knew it. What, then? I was lonely . Everything in him recoils from admitting it. Admitting it makes it real, and Jon has no idea what he’d do after that. So he can’t and he won’t explain himself. Which means finding some subtle way to include himself in the gentle conversation of casual touch between his assistants.
Jon has never been great at subtlety.
Tim, of course, is the weak link. The first time, Jon’s fairly certain that Tim thinks it’s just an accident. Tim is reaching up to a shelf to get a box of papers down for Sasha, and Jon - heart pounding hard enough in his chest to make him feel sick - makes sure to stand close enough that they’re almost touching. So when Tim’s arms come down with the box, his elbow brushes the length of Jon’s bicep. Jon shivers, his body tilting towards the burning line of contact on his skin. Tim turns to him, and blinks in surprise, dark eyes unguarded as he pulls an apologetic smile. “Oh. Sorry, Jon.”
Jon gives him a tight smile and ignores the way his skin is tingling. “Don’t worry about it.”
He manages a few more accidents after that - squeezing through doorways at the same time as Tim, whose broad shoulders fill most of the archives’ narrow door frames; reaching over him for a mug when he could have just waited or moved around him. Jon thinks he makes it about 16 days before Tim notices. And then the impossible happens. Tim doesn’t say anything: but he starts returning the gestures. Tim will hand him a statement, and his fingers will brush Jon’s, and his smile will be gentle and warm and Jon’s fingers will prickle with the sensation.
Tim will come into Jon’s office, and bump Jon’s hip with his as they try to read the dusty, filthy labels on the boxes at the top of the shelves. In the kitchen, Tim will gently nudge Jon’s side with his elbow.
It’s not much, and Jon is grateful that Tim never grabs him as he does Martin and Sasha, for dances and gentle, playful shoves. Tim never leans his elbow on Jon’s shoulder the way he does on Sasha’s, never rests on Jon’s arm the way he does on Martin. But he does give Jon these small, subtle touches, and for Jon - who’s been living alone for years and sort of forgot what this was like - it’s more than enough.
He thinks, maybe, this new job will work out after all.
Tim changes. He gets angry, and bitter. Sasha changes more. Martin gets frightened again: flinching from Tim’s physical presence, and this time Tim doesn’t adjust himself to make it less threatening. Instead Tim uses his bulk and breadth to loom over all of them, baring his teeth when he talks. People come and go, and the touches that used to pass so casually between the four of them just stop. Jon tells himself he doesn’t mind.
Except then, between the long, long stretches of no touch at all except for his own arms around his chest at night as he tries to sleep, people start hurting him. Jon holds Jude Perry’s hand, and she burns him. Michael slips his fingers into Jon’s shoulder and twists when he screams. Jon is manhandled and shoved, people pull his hair and squeeze his wrists and push his shoulders, and the worst part of all of it is that his skin still tingles when it happens because at least it’s something.
Sometimes, Elias will come down into his office, and stand so close he’d barely need to breathe to be touching him. Jon sits still and feels his muscles ache with the tension and his gut rolls with nausea as he realises that he doesn’t know whether he’d let Elias touch him or not. At least it would be contact - even if the idea of it sets Jon’s skin crawling, in anticipation of the oily claim of Elias’ obsession on his body.
Elias just gives him a curling, tight lipped smile and maintains the ever diminishing space between them: never quite bridging it. He leaves, and Jon rubs his hands over his arms until the shivering stops.
Jon knows what it’s like, now, to see a man killed. He knows what it’s like to have a gun to his head. He knows what it’s like to beg, and he knows what it’s like to be eaten alive.
He doesn’t want to be afraid of Tim Stoker. But Tim is tall and broad and angry, and when he storms into Jon’s office, swearing about some new slight, Jon feels himself cowering in his chair and can do nothing to stop it except snarl back and hope that Tim’s anger will blind him to the way Jon is flinching.
The tension builds, and Jon walks down the cold corridors of the archives in the flickering, humming light of the dim lamps above his head, and he hunches his shoulders at every corner: worried about who he’ll bump into. He lives in fear of Daisy, and then later of Melanie. He tells himself he doesn’t feel the same way about Tim (he does.) He avoids Martin, unwilling to deal with the guilt that eats at his gut when he sees the fear pinching the soft curves of Martin’s face, and beyond that the endless warmth of his compassion. He avoids Elias, and the nausea that eats at him when Elias’ grey eyes run up and down his body with the obsessive attention of worship.
Jon can, at least, relax with Basira. She doesn’t like touch, and he understands that - but she makes no demands of his person, and it’s more than he has from most of the people who are still part of his life. But then Basira leaves, and Jon is alone, and the scars on his hand ache and they’re a vivid, horrid reminder of how long it’s been since anyone has touched him gently. Jon misses Georgie, and the Admiral. He misses sitting with her on the sofa, and the soft press of her thigh against his. He misses the feeling of the Admiral’s fur between his fingers, and the warm weight of his body in his lap. He misses the feeling of Georgie’s head on his shoulder, and the way she’d gently squeeze his shoulder to wake him.
But he can’t have that any more. He won’t bring her into this. So instead he walks down the dark corridors of the archives and lives in fear of their corners. A part of him bitterly thinks that the Eye must love it.
The tension keeps building. Jon can feel a craving for touch, any kind of touch, growing in his gut and the base of his spine and the back of his mind. He sits in the dusty wastes of his office and the small space feels too wide and he flexes and curls his burned hand and feels the way the scars pull at his skin. He watches his door, and he waits for it to open, and he doesn’t know whether he wants it to. He feels the way Martin looks at him, shy and wanting, and he feels the way his chest aches when he does. He tries to filter through a pile of useless statements from the deluded and the desperate and the paranoid and his mind wanders to a world where he tells Martin everything he wants to say. Where he finds the way to thank him for his patience and his compassion. Where he can put into words the way his chest blooms when Martin smiles. Where he can find the courage to kiss the dimple on his cheek, and smooth away the little frown in the middle of his brow.
But Jon can’t do that, because he’s a coward. So instead he sits in his office and he waits for the world to end and he tries to ignore the gnawing ache of loneliness in his bones.
The end of the world gets closer, and Jon gets lonelier, and in the end he’s not sure what it is that makes him snap. Tim’s playing music: something loud and percussive in the office that filters through the wall, bass humming against the plaster. Martin’s gone home, he’d said something quiet about his mother and Jon hadn’t stopped him to ask for more detail, seeing the unhappiness in the twist of Martin’s mouth and the curl of his fingers and deciding to let it be. Jon is in his office, and his scars hurt and his shoulders ache and he’s turning into a monster and no one’s going to save him and he’s so alone.
So he gets up, and his chair creaks against the floor as he does so. He marches out of his office, swinging his door open and letting it slam against the wall as anger and desperation and guilt and fear and grief build up inside him, flooding the dam he’d built for himself. Jon crosses the short distance to the assistants’ office and shoves the door open. Sasha’s desk sits dusty and untouched in the corner. There’s a pot full of coloured pens and trinkets and Jon has no idea whether they were ever really hers. Martin’s desk is empty and tidy. Tim is smoking, with his feet up on his desk, sitting next to a speaker that he’s plugged his phone into. There’s a ten inch tall pile of statements in front of him, and a haphazard avalanche of discarded paper on the floor.
He raises his eyebrows when Jon opens the door, and takes his cigarette out of his mouth. “What -,”
Jon doesn’t let him finish. He marches in front of Tim’s desk, and slams his hands down on the old green leather pinned over the wood, and appreciates the way the force slams up through the heels of his palms and into his forearms. He leans forward into Tim’s space and breathes in the smell of tobacco and snarls, “punch me.”
Tim narrows his eyes, leaning back, and Jon leans forward. “Come on. You know you want to. You’ve wanted to kick the shit out of me for months. Do it. I’m a monster, Tim. Hell, kill me, if you can. I won’t stop you. Just do it.”
Tim frowns, his dark brow crumpling into a mess of shadow, and he stubs out his cigarette on his desk, dropping the butt into a nearby bin. “Where’s this coming from?”
He doesn’t sound angry, and it’s stealing the wind out of Jon’s temper, and beneath that there’s nothing but a long endless fall through grief and fear and helplessness. So Jon grabs the soft cotton of Tim’s shirt and pulls him forward. “You hate me, don’t you? I’m the reason you can’t leave. I’m going to be the death of you. Why not get some payback?”
Tim raises his hand and holds Jon’s wrist. His fingers easily wrap around the circumference of Jon’s arm, and his hand is warm, and Jon can’t quite suppress the shudder when he does it. Tim looks at him, and his eyes are dark and rich and handsome and Jon has no idea what he’s thinking. Tim carefully pushes Jon’s hand back, and Jon tries to resist and Tim barely strains himself to push Jon back, forcing him to let go. “Seriously, Jon, what the fuck.”
The music keeps thumping behind Tim’s head, and the noise is loud and dissonant in the normally quiet space of the archives. Jon concentrates on it, and doesn’t pull his hand out of Tim’s grip. “You could have had a normal life. You could have been happy. You could have got revenge for Danny and got away but you came here and now you’re stuck and you know that none of us are getting out of this alive.” Jon can feel his eyes starting to burn. He tells himself he doesn’t care.
Tim’s hand tightens around Jon’s wrist. “Don’t say his name.”
Jon pulls back, then, slipping his arm out of Tim’s fingers and stepping back, spreading his arms wide. “Yeah? What’re you gonna do about it? Danny Stoker, your brother, who’s dead because of me and things like me.” Jon’s shouting, and his heart is beating too fast, and his brain is a white hot blindness of anger, chasing some kind of resolution to everything twisting through his body and his mind. Tim gets to his feet, abruptly, and Jon takes one step back despite himself, feeling his heart push its way up into his throat. But that’s fine. That’s good. He knows how to do this. He knows how to let people hurt him.
Jon lifts his chin. “Come on. Danny. Danny Stoker. I’m not going to stop saying it unless you make me. None of this is going to stop, Tim, and none of us can do anything about it, so why not just makes yourself feel better and hurt me. It’s not like I can stop you.” Jon thinks he might be crying. Tim switches off the music, and the silence makes Jon’s shouting echo, and he feels too hot and too cold and there’s sweat running down his back and over his palms as Tim walks forward, hands curled into heavy fists at his sides. Jon braces himself, and his voice is rough with the shouting when he says, quiet and desperate and encouraging, “come on Tim. It’ll help. You know it’ll help. Just do it. I know you’ve always wanted to punch the smug bastard out of me. Well, this is your chance. I won’t stop you.” Jon keeps his arms wide, and his breath comes too fast, and Tim’s features are smooth and unreadable, and he lifts his arm and his hand is curled into a fist.
Jon shuts his eyes.
He feels the movement of Tim’s arm. He hears the soft sound of fabric moving, too loud in the quiet of the empty archives. The side of his face prickles with the sudden danger that passes it, several inches off. And then a strong arm is wrapping around his shoulders and pulling him forward, and another is coming up to hold him, and Jon is folded in Tim’s arms and pressed against his chest, and it’s warm and solid, and Tim’s shoulders are shaking.
For a moment, Jon stands, still and skinny and stiff and sharp. Tim has bent to press his face into Jon’s shoulder, and Jon can feel his shirt getting wet. Jon feels the endless void of panic, and fear, and grief and helplessness opening beneath his feet. He keeps his eyes shut, and he falls forward, lifting his arms to wrap them around Tim’s waist and hug him back. Both of them weep.
Jon doesn’t know how much time passes. His head hurts and his face is hot and wet and filthy. But eventually Tim lets him go, and lifts his hands to hold Jon’s face, and Jon can’t find the energy to flinch. Tim’s hands are large and warm on his cheeks, the heels of his palms pressing into Jon’s jaw, and he bends to look into his eyes. “You’re right. I’m a dead man. But don’t you dare give up on me, you bastard. One of us has to make it out of this alive.”
Jon opens his mouth, and Tim squeezes his face, and shakes his head, and his eyelashes are dark and long and thick with tears. “Promise me, Jon.”
Jon swallows the ache in his throat. “I’ll try.”
Tim dies. Jon doesn’t. When he wakes up, the archives are different. Martin isn’t there, for one thing. Jon is a monster now, for another. Georgie is on the other side of the charred remains of the bridge that Jon had burned between them. Melanie is sharp and dangerous and angry, and Basira keeps a long distance of mistrust. Once again, Jon lives in a world where no one touches him unless they plan to hurt him.
He nearly considers visiting Elias in prison.
Instead, he climbs into the Buried. The soil and mud and sand and rocks and sea are terrible, of course. But they’re also almost like an embrace, and Jon thinks perhaps one of the more terrible things about that world and the time that he spent there was that at least it was better than the awful, weightless loneliness of the world above.
Jon gets Daisy out of the coffin. He doesn’t know how, but he does, and that’s something. And Daisy surfaces changed: her connection to the Hunt dulled and weakened by the dirt, replaced by the tentative renewal of her humanity. Jon cannot look at her without part of his mind offering the feeling of Mike Crew’s blood hitting his cheeks and neck in the aftermath of the terrible thunder of a bullet at point-blank range.
But Daisy starts to offer a different part of herself: a part that’s muddy freckles and slightly chipped teeth and chapped lips and calloused hands. This Daisy listens to The Archers. This Daisy sits in the office with him, just for the company, and Jon remembers a time when Basira did that and relaxes despite himself.
The first time Daisy touches him, Jon freezes. They’re in the kitchen, and Daisy’s forearm brushes Jon as she passes him a mug to put away, and Jon’s skin tingles and his mind offers him Tim, grinning as he passes Jon a plate and keeps up a teasing conversation with Martin about the football results (only Sasha actually knew what was going on with the sport. Or at least, only the Sasha Jon remembered.)
Jon stops, half stretched to the cupboard, and Daisy blinks and frowns and purses her lips, and the hard line of her chest lifts and falls. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to,” the end of her sentence hangs unfinished in the air between them as Daisy visibly searches for what it is that she did, exactly.
Jon forces himself to move again, and gives her a deliberate, gentle smile, the kind he’d learned to wear when he met Georgie Barker. “It’s fine. I was just. Taken off guard.” He forces a laugh, and Daisy looks at him steadily and doesn’t smile.
It takes a while for it to happen again: Jon can feel the way that Daisy is respecting the space between them, keeping a stiff and careful boundary around his personal space. So he steps into hers instead. He finds excuses to come into the kitchen, or reach over her head for something on the shelves, or step through doors at the same time as her. He tries to tell her without telling her exactly what these casual, gentle touches mean. How reassuring they are to him. How grounding. How they make him feel human.
Fortunately for Jon, Daisy is a Hunter, and she operates on observation and instinct. She’s quick on the uptake, and before long she’s gently elbowing him and bumping his hip. Sometimes she’ll squeeze his arm, even, or rest on his shoulder. And every time she does Jon feels himself flush with warmth and comfort, and he can almost live in a world where Tim and Sasha made it and it’s just the four of them, studying strange stories and living gently together.
Except that sometimes when Daisy moves too fast, or Jon doesn’t see her out of the corner of his eye, his mind throws up the memory of the cold barrel of a gun pressed into the back of his head, and the ice water nausea of fear in his stomach, and he stiffens and has to remind himself to relax. Jon feels Daisy’s eyes on him in those moments and tells himself it doesn’t matter, and still hears the way he carefully avoids saying anything that could potentially make her angry. Part of him damns him for a coward. The rest of him is too hungry for the comfort and companionship she offers to care. If a little fear is the only cost, it’s worth it.
Except that Jon isn’t human any more.
It’s not the first time. But Jon can’t stop. He’s at the corner store, getting some cigarettes, and a boy comes in. He can’t be older than fourteen. He has a story.
Jon’s mind, the scraps of him that are still human, reels and screams against the rest of him. But the monster has always been stronger, and it takes the boy outside with a smile and an offer of the cigarette he’d been planning to buy illegally, and whilst they smoke the Archivist makes the boy tell him about the bully at school who likes to burn things: like his favourite toys, and his books, and his cat, and the homeless man that used to sit on the street nearby.
By the end the boy is crying, and Jon wants to throw up, and the Archivist is sated and lazy. It makes Jon smile and say thank you, and Jon wants to say sorry. Instead he runs.
He makes it back to the Institute, and his mind is a blur of anger and disgust and shame and grief and fear, and he can feel the Eye of his god pressing down on the top of his head and the back of his neck and drinking it in. Worst of all, he can feel it making him stronger.
So Jon walks down to the archives, and he finds his way to Daisy (it’s not hard, the monster tells him where she is before he’s even thought to ask.) He finds her and he confesses and she listens and he picks up the vicious looking knife she’d been using to whittle something, and he grabs her hand and pushes her fingers around the hilt, and Jon pulls her arm and lifts his chin and presses the knife against his throat and leans into it, and ignores the tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Just kill me. Please, Daisy, kill me. I don’t want to do this any more.”
The knife kisses Jon’s throat, cold and thin and biting. Daisy looks at him, and her pupils are blown wide and black. She blinks, and for a second Jon can see them narrow into vertical slits as the brown of her eyes lightens into the amber of a big cat. But then she blinks again, and pulls her arm down and away from him with a soft grunt, dropping the knife onto the floor with a clatter. Jon feels disappointment wrench his gut.
“No.” The word falls from his lips with his breath, and then he’s looking up and grabbing the hard, muscular curve of Daisy’s shoulders, shaking her. “No. You’re supposed to hurt me. Hunt me. Punish me. Please, Daisy. Please, you can’t.”
Daisy watches him, and her eyes are warm and brown, and her mouth pulls back, and then she’s leaning forwards in one sudden striking movement and Jon’s body flinches on instinct and then Daisy’s arms are around him and she’s squeezing him so tightly it hurts. “Shut up. Just. Shut up, alright?”
Daisy’s hand moves and cradles the back of his head like a child’s, squeezing gently as her other arm braces Jon’s shoulders. Jon feels like he’s going to throw up. “Why won’t you hurt me? Daisy I don’t deserve this. I can’t do it anymore. I’m not strong enough, I’m not, I can’t,” tears steal whatever Jon had planned to say, coughing up out his throat and tearing themselves from his lips in great, shuddering sobs that rack his chest and quiet his mind with the aching heat of grief and nothing else. Jon feels the strength run out of him, and Daisy easily supports his weight, and holds him tightly and shushes him, gently stroking the back of his head.
Eventually, Jon doesn’t have anything left, and his tears dry, and his breathing evens. His head hurts and his throat aches as if it’s blistered, and Daisy pulls back, holding his shoulders tightly. “None of that, alright? I did it. You can too. Don’t you dare give up, Jonathan Sims.” Daisy’s voice is burred and soft with her accent, and Jon blinks and sees Tim, his dark handsome features wet with tears. Don’t you dare give up on me, you bastard.
Jon breathes, and it's wet and shakes a little in his chest. “I’ll try.”
Somehow, Martin comes back. He survives, and Jon survives, and they don’t lose anyone and that’s impossible but it happens anyway. The world is still ending. Elias is still languishing in prison, and the god that binds them to the Institute is not yet defeated. But they’re alive and Peter Lukas is gone and Martin is back. Jon never really thought they’d get that far.
Martin is different now. He’s still shy, still awkward. But there’s a new confidence to him, and with it a new cruelty. He’s more honest about his frustration these days, and more willing to be distant. He keeps a careful space between himself and the others, and especially Jon. Jon isn’t sure what he’d expected when Martin came back, but it wasn’t Martin refusing to stand within two feet of him. At some point Jon cracks a joke about being careful of catching lurgy, but then he thinks about his real fear of some awful thing making Martin into a monster, and Martin shrugs and doesn’t answer him anyway. Jon doesn’t make the same joke again.
But Jon notices things. It’s kind of his whole deal. And so he sees the way Martin looks at him. He sees the way Martin’s eyes linger on the casual touches exchanged between Daisy and Basira: the way their fingers tangle, and Daisy rests her arm on Basira’s shoulder, and the way Basira leans against Daisy’s chest in the kitchen while she reads. Jon sees the way Martin watches his hands, and notices the way Daisy and Jon bump elbows and don’t flinch away from each other. He sees the way Martin’s fingers twitch, before he distracts himself with his phone or his pen or his notebook. Jon recognises the longing in Martin’s eyes.
So he finds excuses to get into Martin’s space. He comes to the archival assistants’ office, often. Tim and Sasha’s desks sit untouched and dusty, and Martin hunches in the corner and carefully doesn’t look at either of them. Jon offers to help tidy things up. Martin stares at him, and Jon smiles at him and says they don’t need to get rid of anything. Daisy offers to help, and both of them decline. They shut the door, and they carefully take the things off Tim and Sasha’s desks and put them away, silent and reverent and distant in their own respective memories.
But Jon thinks about Tim Stoker: younger and laughing and open. He thinks about Sasha, elbowing his ribs as she chastised him on a particularly acerbic rant. And when Martin leans forward to grab something from one of the boxes, Jon carefully brushes his elbow. Martin stiffens for a moment, and Jon continues with the papers he’s organising, watching out of the corner of his eye as Martin lets out a long, deliberate breath and relaxes.
They spend six hours in the office. It’s longer than they need. It’s exactly as long as they need.
Jon brushes Martin’s fingers, and bumps his hips and shoulders, and gently nudges his elbow and ribs. He feels Martin start to relax, minutely, and when they’re done Martin brushes the dust off a picture frame that had been stuffed into the back of Tim’s bottom desk drawer. It’s the four of them, Jon standing hunched front and centre, with Martin on his left and Sasha on his right. Tim is standing behind Jon with his arms over Martin and Sasha’s shoulders, pulling them together, grinning widely. In the present, Martin leans into Jon so that their upper arms are pressed together when he shows him. Martin breathes, and Jon pretends not to hear the way it shivers when he exhales.
Martin says, very quietly. “I miss them.”
Jon looks at the picture: at Sasha’s wide, toothy smile, and wishes he remembered her properly. He nods, and his chest aches, and he presses back against Martin’s arm. “Yeah. Me too.”
It’s 1am. Jon is sitting in his office, squinting at a piece of paper that’s blurring in front of his eyes. He isn’t sure whether the Eye plans on showing him anything useful tonight, but he also knows that it’s hardly in his god’s best interests to show him how to foil it. Maybe Gertrude was right: maybe the things didn’t think, or at least didn’t think like they did. But Jon had been burned thoroughly enough by hubris by now not to risk it. So he squinted, and took comfort in the fact that nothing helped him except his human, failing eyes.
The archives are quiet, quiet enough for Jon to imagine he can hear the beating of his own heart, and know he can hear the soft electric buzz of the light above his head and the creaking bubble of the archives’ central heating. On his desk, his lamp provides a pool of warm light that does a decent imitation of the feeling of sunlight on his skin. Jon’s back and legs are stiff with sitting for too long, and he tells himself that when he finishes this page he’ll take a break, stretch, and get some water. He’s been trying to listen to Daisy.
Jon doesn’t know why he doesn’t hear Martin coming. Maybe his god thinks it’s funny. Maybe he’s more distracted by the unhappy statement of an unhappy person than he’d realised. Whatever the reason, when Martin bursts into his office he nearly jumps out of his skin. As it is, he sets down the statement and gets to his feet, adrenaline spilling ice water into his veins as he tries to wake up and face whatever danger is facing them this time.
Martin’s face is a mess of creases and mottled red splotches, and his hands are curled into fists. “Why aren’t you angry with me?” He says it too loudly, and Jon winces at the sudden noise, feeling the adrenaline drain out of him as fast as it had come, leaving him queasy and weak. He leans against his desk.
Martin walks forward, looming over Jon, and Jon doesn’t back away. “I abandoned you. I left you, and you needed me and then I came back and I didn’t even apologise and you just. You were just. Nice? When have you ever been nice, Jon?”
Jon blinks, and tries to ignore the stupid part of him that twists a little sharply in his chest. “I -,”
Martin doesn’t give him a chance to reply. Instead he turns, pacing and pulling at his hair. “I was horrible to you. You’d just woken up out of a coma and I wanted nothing to do with you. I made you feel like being in a coma was your fault, somehow. I left you here with two women who’d tried to kill you and one who doesn’t like you. I pushed you away and left you alone when you needed me. You should be angry with me, Jon.”
Martin turns back to face him, and his neck and chest are flushed red with his own frustration. Jon purses his lips. “I mean, I was. I was sad. But I wasn’t angry, Martin.”
“Why?” Martin’s voice is too high and too loud, and he rushes forward again, and Jon leans against the side of his desk and lets him. “Why won’t you just. Shout at me. Call me names. Be horrible. Just. Have a go at me, or, or something.”
Jon blinks. He looks at Martin: Martin’s whose eyes are tight at the corners, and whose eyebrows have pulled his forehead into a rumpled mess. Martin whose fingers are curled at his sides and who’s breathing too fast. He blinks again, and feels a sudden wave of the guilt and shame and fear and grief and anger washing through Martin in waves. Jon heaves in a great, shuddering breath. Because he knows that feeling. He knows what Martin is asking him to do. In Martin’s head, his mother is sitting and spitting insults at him. His ex is swearing at him across the room. Jon is lecturing him on his incompetence. Jon ignores the twist of shame in his gut at that, and lifts his chin, and looks up at Martin Blackwood: Martin whose blue green eyes are shining. Martin whose shoulders are shaking.
Jon knows what Martin is asking him to do. And he knows what he needs to do instead.
He steps forward, and Martin flinches, and Jon presses on, slowly, keeping his hands in Martin’s line of sight. And he gets up on his tiptoes and winds his arms around Martin’s neck and pulls him down into a hug, holding him tightly.
For a moment, Martin doesn’t move, and Jon stands, stretched and leaning against the soft material of his jumper and the warm give of his belly.
And then Martin says, very quietly, high as a child, “oh.”
And then he folds, curling around Jon and bending and wrapping his arms around him, and Jon readjusts his arms and squeezes the soft broad curve of Martin’s back and rests his head against Martin’s cheek and says, firm and gentle, “it’s alright Martin. It’s going to be ok.”
Martin smells like soap and cheap laundry powder and dust and wool, and his shoulders shake when he cries. Jon squeezes his eyes shut, and they burn in the darkness, and he feels tears tickle his cheeks and chin as they fall. He thinks about Tim Stoker, and Sasha James and Daisy Tonner. He holds Martin Blackwood as tightly as he can, and he lets him cry.
Eventually Martin stops, and Jon pulls back, and he’s not sure if it’s the fact that it’s gone 2am or just the tears and grief that have passed between them, but he doesn’t hesitate when he lifts his hand to wipe the tears away from Martin’s cheek, which is soft and warm under his thumb. He looks into Martin’s eyes, and clasps his cheek with one hand, fingertips brushing the thick curls of Martin’s hair.
“You deserve kindness, Martin. Remember that, for me. Don’t give up on yourself.” Jon smiles, and feels it shiver through his chest. “You always were the best of us.” Martin blinks, and more tears run down his cheeks, and Jon ignores his own and laughs a little, and pulls him down for another hug.
“Look at us. This is ridiculous. We’re alive, Martin.” Jon squeezes Martin Blackwood in his arms, and he’s warm and soft and giving. Before he can think better of it, he presses a kiss to Martin’s cheek, which is wet and hot with his tears. Jon presses their cheeks together. The archives are quiet and cool, save for the hum of the light and the rattle of the pipes. Jon breathes, and feels the ache of it in his chest. He shuts his eyes. “We’re alive. It’s ok.”