Chapter 1: soft teasing
“I’ve a confession to make.”
Martin’s tone is half-dozy, face mushed into Jon’s collar-bone. It takes a moment for Jon to translate his hummed words into language.
“Hmm?” Jon replies, and stretches a little, shiftless and pliant under the covers.
“We can’t have a cat.”
Jon doesn’t open his eyes. He does however, archly raise an eyebrow out of habit.
“That’s your confession?”
“Mm,” Martin makes a lethargic affirmative noise and with a groan finally removes his face from where it’s been burrowed. He has fabric lines on his cheek, and his tornado of curls are flattened at one side. “You really like cats, an’ really want a cat and we were talking about it an’ I just wanted to, you know, break it to you now that we can’t.”
Jon attempts not to smile at Martin’s voice, worn down by the lazy Saturday morning to a mumbled softness. Jon fails regularly at a number of things in his life, and this is at the top of his list of repeated misdemeanors. He is becoming such a proficient criminal, with Martin in his life.
“It’s a bit late to tell me you’re a dog person,” he chides instead. “I’m afraid I might have to call this whole thing off, if that’s the case.”
Martin looks up at him with his face squashed into his ‘you are not, and have never been funny, Jonathan’ face, before he blearily blinks again and shifts his leg so it’s wedged tighter in the structure of close heat their bodies have made.
“I’m allergic,” he says, sounding a little disappointed himself. “Something in their fur.”
Jon fixes his eyes on him, and schools his expression into a put-upon disappointment. It is hard to tell when Jon is joking, if you’ve not worked to decipher the signs. Martin used to think he didn’t. That’s been one of his favourite things, about really getting to know Jon. Learning that the reality could keep surprising him.
Jon expels a laboured sigh to emphasise his apparent annoyance.
“First the degree,” he says. “Now the cats. Are there any other deceptions I need be aware of, Mr Blackwood?”
Martin breaks into a grin, shoving Jon a bit, but Jon is – as he is in all things – determined to be a professional, and a bit of a show-off when he wants to be. He doesn’t crack a smile, give any indication he’s anything other than entirely straight-laced.
Martin is not so talented. With the structural integrity of a crumbling sandcastle, he grins as he pretends to continue his confessions, breaking a little with aborted laughter.
“I’m not really ginger,” he says, trying to think of something random that might make Jon laugh.
“I see,” Jon continues drolly, entirely committed to his dry, haughty spiel, not even ghosting a smile. His expression implies he’s wearing glasses perched at the end of his nose. “Straight from a bottle, is it?”
“Yep. Part of my masterplan.”
“Of course. And which masterplan would that be?”
“Sleeping with the boss.”
Aha! Jon’s lips make a barely noticeable shiver of a smirk, but that’s as good as corpsing in Martin’s book.
“Elias will be pleased to hear it.”
Martin shoves Jon again and makes a noise that indicates exactly how little he likes that particular mental image. Jon’s face twitches again, and he looks inordinately smug at how he’s currently winning.
“You, you idiot.”
“My my,” Jon continues, completely flatly, and Martin manages not to break into chuckles at the serious look on Jon’s face but it’s a close close thing. “What a sordid web I’ve been ensnared in.”
“Mm,” Martin agrees, and, missing the warmth, settles his head back against the arm Jon’s thrown out behind him. “I was hoping to sleep my way to a better Christmas bonus.”
Martin’s pleased with his two-fold joke – the idea that a relationship with Jon would get him laid, but mostly that working for an eldritch omniscient panopticon would entail any sort of seasonal employment benefits.
“And,” he continues, “everyone knows you can’t resist red-heads.”
This is not actually true. Martin is very aware that he’s not Jon’s usual type, in the same way that Jon was not – initially at least – his. They were not designed for each other, he muses sometimes. But Martin has been learning that his life does not have to be poetry, does not need metaphors and destiny to fill up the spaces of him with something he might romantically call joy. This hollow in the centre of things, they’ve dug it out themselves. There are the grooves where their fingers carved out this space. The edges of them they sanded off with time and compromise, spines softened to make their pieces fit.
Lying here with Jon, sticky with a low summer heat, his t-shirt sucked against his skin, Jon’s hair tickling against the side of his face. There’s no poetry written about this. Martin’s not going to be the one to write it.
Jon’s face twitches with an almost-smile. Martin forges on.
“I found out about your massive crush on Ed Sheeran, knew I would be in there if I just went ginger. You wouldn’t be able to resist.”
“Oh yes,” Jon says, with the toneless agreement that suggests that he has very little idea who Ed Sheeran actually is. “Ed Sheeran. My only weakness.”
Martin’s laughter pools in him then, and he’s snorting his giggles into the covers he pulls over his face. Jon loses it a moment after, quieter, face crackling into wide open grin that lightens up every part of him, the laugh rumbling in his throat.
Chapter 2: going on holiday
soft domesticity, post-watcher's crown alternative happy-ending timeline
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Jon!” Martin is shouting with his head shoved in the under-stairs closet. Tone deadened to a loud mumble, and he’s knocked something heavy over that sounds like the ironing board or the drying rack in his attempt to grab things that he always inconveniently shoves away right at the back. “You got your raincoat?”
“I won’t need it,” comes the low response from the kitchen.
“The weather said it might rain.”
“It’ll be fine,” Jon replies, only half listening really, with a willfully misplaced confidence in the weather.
(And it will rain when they get off the train, a spatter of showers that they get caught in, and the coat will be in the suitcase, inaccessible. Martin won’t say anything as Jon huddles against him as they share the single umbrella, but the smugness will be in the tone of his voice as he comments on the laden clouds – looks like it might be a proper downpour, Jon, maybe for the rest of the afternoon, what a shame the forecast didn’t predict anything like this – and Jon will run his hands through his thinning hair already dripping into his face and weather this with the appropriate amount of mild chagrin, knowing Martin will take pity and relent momentarily, fuss over the damp and the cold and Jon’s endless ability to catch whatever bug is going round, and bundle him into a cafe to dry off.)
“I’ll pack it anyway,” Martin calls back, kicking something else with his foot that sounds like the hoover. “In case.”
Jon sighs, but it is a long-worn gentle sound that did not expect to win this ground. He resumes his task, folding and rolling a week's worth of their combined shirts, sweaters and trousers neatly and efficiently into their modest suitcase. He is very good at this, packing. Always has been good at finding room for things when he thought nothing else would fit. It brings him a self-satisfied pride, knowing each thing has its place, that there will be space for more.
(Martin will insist on buying a fridge magnet from the first tacky shop they see on the seafront, a few postcards to send to Basira, Daisy, Georgie and Melanie. Jon will find a way to sneak off as he always does and buy another souvenir spoon to add to his expansive collection, one for every place he’s been with Martin, this one with a blue and silver crest adorning the top, and he’ll play completely innocent when Martin comes across it cleaning a month later – I thought I told you I got another one, must have slipped my mind / Jon, we don’t have the room, you’re going to have to start putting them in boxes up the loft / I will, fine, I will, tomorrow. )
Tucked subtly at the bottom of the case where Martin won’t think to look, Jon’s placed two smart dress shirts and matching ties. The dress shirt is the mint coloured one with the little embroidered flourishes on the collar tips, room for cufflinks, Martin’s favourite, the one he always wears when he wants to impress; it’s worn at the under-arms a little, the button right at the bottom lost somewhere and Jon knows Martin will look dashing in it. He’ll need help with the tie because he always does but that’s where Jon comes in. Martin doesn’t know Jon’s booked a table at a nice restaurant tomorrow, theatre tickets for the early evening, and Jon’s giddy in his own way to reveal it like a bouquet of flowers from a magician’s sleeve.
(Jon will touch the ring on Martin’s right ring finger – with the tenderness of the joints in his hands, the way they sometimes swell in the cold, it’s too small to be worn on the traditional place; but then again when has tradition ever really mattered – and Martin will call him soft, and Jon will know Martin is looking at him like that and Jon will not disagree).
“Socks?” he shouts out, wondering if Martin’s left the closet yet or if he’s found another umpteen things he’s thought that they should bring. He has already argued Martin out of bringing an extra book (You won’t have time to read it, it’ll just take up room), walking boots (It’s Dorset, Martin, not the Peak District), and his Polaroid camera (You’re already bringing the digital one, and we’ve only got a few shots left, we should save them for Georgie’s birthday party).
“I put them with the boxers. Next to the toaster.”
Jon huffs and moves away from the suitcase spread-eagle on the kitchen table to grab the messy, teetering pile of boxers and socks on the counter-top. He hums off-key and mindless as he brings them back to his workspace, refolding them to stuff them down the sides of the suitcase, smoothing over rucks and bumps, double checking on the ties stuffed into the spare pair of shoes Martin had won the argument for bringing.
A flump in front of him and Martin is dropping things onto his carefully organised packing. Jon frowns, and touches at the wool. They’re going to Bournemouth, he thinks with another internal eye-roll, not the Outer Hebrides.
“Really, we won’t need all this.”
“Just in case.”
This is Martin’s mantra. He’s an ‘everything-goes’ sort of packer. There is a reason Jon is the one responsible for wielding an iron-fisted utilitarian hand over this aspect of the holiday.
Jon runs a hand over the fabric, bobbling in places, darned at the fraying edges of the sleeves. Well-loved and well-washed.
“Another jumper?” he says, ready to dismiss it with another lecture on saving space.
“It’s to wear now. It’ll be cool all morning, I checked. You’ll be cold on the train.”
Jon concedes this battle as to his circulation like he does every time, and does as he’s bid, shoving it over his head without complaint. Martin fixes his collar so it sticks out over the neckline, smooths down any hair that’s been disrupted, making some comment about that barber down the road doing a nice job with the cut this time, before declaring with a cheeky smirk that 'he’ll do’. Jon makes an affected moue, and cups his face, kisses his cheek, making a comment that he’ll just have to try harder. These things are routine now. Beloved in their repetition.
“Have you got the tickets?” Martin asks. It’s the third time he’s checked, but Jon replies with steady patience.
“In the backpack, at the front.”
“Pills? There should be enough. I went to Boots to fill up your prescription this morning.”
“Same place. What about you? You have enough?”
“I’ve got enough for another week before I have to go back.”
“You taken yours for the journey?”
“I’ll see how I go.”
“Martin,” Jon says. Not admonishing but with an echo of his old battle-axe charm he used to possess in his earlier days. “Come on.” He knows Martin won’t have taken any, doesn’t like to feel too dependent on them. But travelling is stressful at the best of times, never mind in London, what with the traffic and the noise and the people and the jostling, and the crowds can unsettle him.
Jon’s pulling them out of his trouser pocket, a little packet still mostly full, and passing them over.
“They make my mouth dry,” Martin complains, but he goes and fills a glass of water from the tap and dutifully swallows one he pops out of the crackling foil.
“We can buy something nice to drink before we get onboard,” Jon promises, tucking the pills into the front pocket of the backpack next to Jon’s supply. "A coffee or something."
“You spoil me,” Martin says dryly and Jon feels his face crinkle in a smile. He zips the suitcase shut and gives a little voila.
“Taxi should be here in ten,” he says. “Oh, remind me that we’re going to need some more tea bags for when we get back.”
“We’re going to need more tea bags for when we get back.”
Jon has made a checklist on his phone, mostly to appease Martin, and he hears him running down what’s been noted as essential things to remember, muttering to himself to clarify – so we’ve got all the t-shirts, sandals for the beach, you’ve got the tickets and if not there’s the email confirmation, checked the train line websites, all networks running as usual and on time…..
Jon puts his arms around Martin’s back as he reads, letting his head rest against him. Martin’s used his nice body wash this morning, sandalwood and citrus, the stuff he uses when he thinks the day’s going to be a particularly good one. He’s put on a little too much aftershave as usual.
“You should have a nap on the train,” he says, interrupting Martin’s review. “Heard you moving around all night.”
“Just my leg giving me grief. I got a heat pack, it helped some. I’ll be ok,” Martin hums in reply. Jon doesn’t respond, but he is quietly confident in the knowledge that once they’ve found their seats, Martin will drop off like a cliff-edge, and Jon will get to listen to his audiobooks until he has to nudge him awake to say they’re nearly there.
(Martin will fall asleep on him, head a solid weight on Jon’s shoulder and not even out of London yet, and Jon will thread their hands together before he starts up his current Le Carre book, one headphone dangling out so he can both listen for the stops and to hear the staff with the drinks trolley in advance. Martin will wake up with a jolt and a snuffle and a 'wethereyetJon?’ and Jon will say 'Only just passed Southampton’ and press a mediocre, still cooling cup of tea into his hand.)
There’s a chirp and a brush by Jon’s trouser leg.
“Hello you,” he says to the Duchess.
You fed her?” he asks Martin.
There’s a hopeful cry that implies that eons have passed since she was last given sustenance.
“She’s been fed and she knows it.” Martin replies, sounding as though he is immune to the charms of their cat (he is not), and that he won’t be tempted into giving her a few more treats before they leave (he will).
“I’ve given Tom house keys,” Martin says finally, checking that last one off the list. “He’ll pop in tonight to feed her and change the litter tray, make sure no one robs us or anything.”
“All your books,” Jon replies without intonation. “How could they resist?”
Martin makes some snarky comment about how he hopes any hypothetical thief might help Jon slim down his spoon collection, and Jon snorts and gives his back a little headbutt to show he doesn’t approve.
“We’ll have to get him something to say thanks,” Martin continues, returning to their previous topic. “A stick of rock or something.”
“Hmm,” Jon says and doesn’t move away from the heat of Martin’s back, his arms still bracketing around Martin’s stomach. He slept badly last night as well. Disturbed by Martin’s restlessness and his own unforgiving dreams. Martin stands like a foundation stone before he turns around, the phone set next to the suitcase and fixes the situation to his liking, embracing Jon in a loose hug.
“You tired, love?”
“We can have a nap then, when we get to the hotel.”
“We aren’t that old,” Jon grumbles, although his heart isn’t really in it because honestly, a nap sounds great right about now.
Martin’s hair, growing out on the long side now, scratches soft against Jon’s face. It is still a vibrant carrot-top in Jon’s head. He’ll run his hands through springy curls still thick and knotted, or bestow sleep-slow kisses on it, and the recollection of that particular shade has never left him. Martin’s hair hasn’t been entirely ginger since the Watcher’s Crown failed, to believe Martin, or Basira, who has always been entirely honest about the shipwrecks their life in the service of eldritch fear entities made of their youth, but Jon doesn’t care. That’s the memory he has, no matter how many laugh lines begin to grace and soften Martin’s face, how often Martin wonders idly if he should dye his hair, get rid of the white. (He never will). Jon hasn’t been able to see the mess of his own hair in a mirror for a long time now, but he doesn’t need to know it’s lost the war of attrition against the grey.
Two men who both look old before their time. Jon didn’t even think they’d get this lucky.
There’s a ping from Martin’s phone.
“That’ll be the taxi,” he says and grabs the suitcase, hefting it down off the table. “You got the tickets?”
“Yes, Martin,” Jon says, a little exasperated, but mostly fond, ever ever so fond. (He will say it like this for the rest of his life).
Jon grabs his stick, folded up and pockets it. Bends down, scratches the cat behind the ears, double-taps his own pockets to check on the theatre tickets.
“Let’s go on holiday,” Jon says.
Headcanon: Martin has a collection of novelty cufflinks. He doesn't know how it happened, Jon just kept coming home with new ones as impromptu gifts for him. He privately thinks some of them are hideous, but this doesn't stop him wearing them, because Jon always looks so pleased when he does.
Feel free to send me jonmartin prompts on Tumblr - I'm bibliocratic there!
Chapter 3: homecoming
some cw / tws apply. See end notes for more details.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The house is dawn-quiet when they arrive. The day has dragged on long for them to get here; the house is out of the way, far from London and deliberately so, a nondescript little housing estate in an unexceptionable seaside town that is famous for nothing, that draws few tourists and where life generally unfolds as unmemorably as linen.
As they get the door open, easing it back on its lock silently so as not to stress the hinges before closing again with a tut of the mechanism, the early strain of the hour has shrouded the hallway in dimness – a street-lamp a little further down the row of identical standing houses provides dull silvery accents to the photo-frames displayed along the wall of the corridor. They admire the frozen memories. A weekend trip to Bournemouth, the sky pocked with clouds and overcast, gloved hands holding packets of sea-side chips eaten with wooden forks. A surprise holiday on the continent, with the man on the left looking aggressively sun-burnt and the man on the right looking obviously touristy, and both looking happy and sweaty on some Mediterranean veranda. A trio of snaps chronicling a private wedding service with few in attendance; a formal photo, both complimentary and suited, another of those witnessing, dressed up smart and flanking the wedded pair; another evidencing a tender moment clearly caught fortuitously by an unprofessional photographer.
They touch the photo, observing the glassy joy of the taller man, bow-tie wonky and messy from dancing, the unrestrained smile of the shorter, hair that had been clearly combed into a rare state of attention now shaken out, the shy and tipsy delight on his face as he is caught in a surprised and giddy kiss.
There is the expected paraphernalia of a home lining the corridor like domestic pageantry – a key bowl, a pinboard with scattered notices for bin collection days or prescription refill dates or pre-bought tickets for some performances or another. Moving along the hallway, off to the left, the kitchen sedately sits in the almost-dark. Dishes have been left to drip-dry by the sink, the tap is leaking irregularly with a broken patter. Further along, the living room. They thought they might find someone napping on the couch, fallen asleep on the settee, a TV turned down low on some late night channel, but the room is also coddled into stillness by the late hour. A throw blanket is haphazardly nearly slipping off the sofa, a carriage clock on the mantel rhyming gently – on the patterned armchair, the coiled full-stop of a cat is undisturbed by their entrance.
Up the stairs, the wallpaper is marked every few feet by the outlines of framed posters or little artworks; on the landing directly at the top, a bookcase. They admire the obvious concessions made to variant tastes; half the shelves dedicated to dry, academic tomes on non-fiction topics spanning from Ancient Sumeria to a Beginners Guide to Wood Carving, and squashed in the other half, a scramble of slim poetry collections sandwiched by a tumble of genre fiction. Decorating the shelves, small trinkets from random destinations or quiet adventures; a miniature dragon holding a Welsh flag; a snow-globe from Munich; a number of souvenir spoons with their shields proudly polished to a shine. They step carefully across the thick shag carpet, off to the right where the bedroom is. Turning the handle delicately, putting every effort not to disturb the quiet, they steal inside with barely a creak.
The light is gloomy as in the rest of the house, effused with a hint of morning without making much concession, but there is enough slipping through the curtain gaps to see by.
On the left side of the bed, the side-table ill-used by dog-eared books and what appears to be the upturned contents of someone’s pockets – cough-sweets, nicotine gum, stray coppers and odd change – is Jon. Curled half-in and half-out of the covers, his face shoved against the pillow like he’s trying to bury himself, his right leg is kicked out and exposed to the morning, goose-pimpling in the chill. They find themselves smirking again to see him like this, all his hard brash sides sanded down by age and wear, gracefully having embraced middle age, an influx of grey crowning his hair. He looks soft. Content. All his guards down as he sleeps without the dreams the Eye would have bestowed on him.
They lean over, indulgently running a hand lightly through the hair straggling over his face, and he shifts blearily, mumbling a questioning Martin?
His right hand, fisting loosely against the pillowcase in sleep, still bears the ravaging marks they put there.
He’s a light sleeper, and they knew he would be. Didn’t want him to wake too soon, to be denied a proper welcome. Jon shifts and stretches and burrows as he slips dazedly into consciousness, nestling tighter against the body next to him still fast-asleep before the thick weight of sleep is dropped and they jolt up, a punched out breath of shock escaping them. And finally they are witnessed.
They watch his expressions free-fall from understanding to despair. His eyes, even now too sharp for his face, a little too hungry, they’re shiny in the low light. Flooded with fear. Blown-out with the intensity of it. Exactly what they were hoping for.
“Don’t,” he pleads in a sleep-ruined voice, croaking with dryness. He is already moving his body, positioned like a lanky pillar to be between them and their companion, and it’s sweet they think, it really is, it’s exactly what they hoped to find, two people living in a hard-won happiness. Nice for some, they suppose, while it lasts.
The sound wakes the man on the other side of the bed, and he turns over, ruffled, slower to stir and a groan of complaint almost on their lips. They must catch the tone of Jon’s voice though, because they’re sitting up, preparing to solve the problem – wos it? they ask, wos wrong?
Before they see them too, and stiffen into a bright terror that’s obvious as a firework, and it is such a beautiful thing to see. They must be Martin, they think, giving them the once over; their hair is shorter than in their wedding photographs, and since then they’ve settled into that comfortable rounding that can come in middle age. They weren’t really sure what they expected, when they finally found out where the former Archivist had been hiding out all these years, married and playing domestic, thinking that the crimes of the past might let him alone to be happy.
Oh but this is good. Better than good. It’s going to be fun.
The frizzy-haired husband jolts when they reach down into their pocket. He’s set his jaw like he’s going to do something brave, something foolhardy.
She hopes he will. She likes it when they put up a struggle.
“Don’t what, Archivist?” Jude Perry asks, grinning as she lights a match.
tw for stalking, non-consensual touching, home invasion and implied violent intent
Chapter 4: hospital
Jon gets admitted to hospital, Martin worries.
The rocking against his shoulder knocks him shuddering from his worrying. It is like being unmoored, cast back into the tumult and it takes a while for Martin to blink, to align the vision of who is rousing him with who they are.
It’s both a relief and a disappointment that it’s not the doctor with news.
“Anything?” Lewis asks. A brisk voice, demanding, but it’s unsteady and catches in his throat and little things like that have always given him away. “Have they… is there any news?”
Martin is standing up, gathering him up in a tight hug. He’s tall, but not in the way Martin is – he’s bony and meatless and his posture is terrible no matter how often he’s been lectured on it, and it’s such a relief that he’s here, that Lewis is gripping just as hard and just as scared.
“Nothing yet,” Martin says, and he’s attempting to sound optimistic, the sounds made wrong in his mouth, and it’s too much like lying to comfort either of them. He doesn’t want to deliver meaningless platitudes, repeat like rote statistics of recovery, of chances, but he doesn’t want to worry him, and it’s in that sort of double-think he lingers, the sort of equivocation that comes with parenthood.
Lewis must have come straight from uni, he thinks. He’s washed out from the travel, wired and jittery from tasteless on-board coffee-grit. There was delays at every leg of the journey down from Liverpool, and when Lewis slumps himself down like a dropped bag, he’s still not worn down those frantic mechanisms in him, the clock-watching, the checking for news, for updates.
“Have you eaten?” Martin asks, an old fall-back, casting an eye over him. He might have some change in his pocket, he thinks, for the vending machine back along the corridor. It’s been a busy term, and video calls don’t quite do things justice, because he worries that maybe Lewis has lost weight, maybe he’s not eating properly, or it might simply be the unkind lighting of the waiting room.
“I’m not hungry,” Lewis says, providing a round-about answer to the question. He’s a sharp young man, made of edges and this burning thirst to prove himself that Martin knows doesn’t come from him, and to anyone else the way he sometimes talks can come across as dismissive, a hand-wave of a tone designed to disregard the topic. But Martin knows him. Knows his son. Knows it’s not meant like that.
Watches him fiddle his bottom lip with his teeth, jitter his leg up and down, and wishes this was something he could kiss better like the old days.
“What about…” he fumbles for the strings of some other conversation. “Were your tutors ok? With you … just leaving like that?”
“They’ll understand it was an emergency.”
“You had a… you have your final essay due on Monday, what will…?”
“They’ll give me an extension, it’s fine.”
Martin nods and goes back to twisting the ring on his left hand, round and round and round. Surely he should have heard something by now, it’s been hours of waiting, what if something’s gone wrong, what if he wasn’t fast enough…
“Yeah?” Martin looks at Lewis, his glasses all smudged and mucky because he forgets to clean them.
Lewis puts a hand on his arm.
“Are you… are you ok?” he asks, uncharacteristically tentative, and looks right at Martin. A rare gesture of eye contact, held for more than a flicker of time.
“I’m… I’ll be fine,” Martin says – Martin lies – because that’s the best he can muster right now. What he thinks, but will never say out loud is – I’m not ready for this. I don’t know how I ever could be. I can’t imagine doing any of this on my own.
He hasn’t moved from this chair. He’s convinced himself that if he stays here, then everything will turn out ok, and it’s stupid, yeah he knows it, but that this point he’ll take any backwards ridiculous quirk of brain chemistry that counts as superstition.
His sleeves are damp and his eyes must be a mess and his fingers are bitten to nothing, and he’s still got a coat thrown over his pyjamas for god’s sake, and still he hasn’t heard anything.
Lewis doesn’t believe him, but he keeps his hand where he placed it on his arm. And Martin supposes that’s fair. He’d called Lewis after a few minutes of building his composure, swallowing down shuddering breaths and pushing out air too hard, telling himself that he needed to calm down, that he couldn’t go to pieces, not now, not yet – Lew? Lew, it’s – it’s your… I’m sorry to be calling so early but I think you should…. You need to come home. As soon as you… It’s – it’s your father. He’s had… he’s at the hospital.
(And he was proud of himself then, because stammering as it was, incapable of communicating the enormity of a moment he couldn’t comprehend fully, his voice did not betray the terror it had. Not when he had heard the sound of the fire alarm sniping, assuming the toaster settings had been left on too high or something, walking into the kitchen to see the toast popped up, burning and ignored, Jon, frowning, confused, breathing funny with his palm over his chest, sucking in air in straggling little hitching gasps; Jon meeting his eyes, tears already sprung into the corners – Martin, something’s wrong. Not when Martin had juggled calling 999 and holding Jon’s weight bodily up, swaying and light-headed and his breathing seeming a whetstone to the pain, clutching him too hard and none of Martin’s words being enough. Not when he was sat in the back of the ambulance, Jon barely holding his hand, wondering if this, this was the great joke of the bloody universe, the Archivist surviving everything but his heart in the end.)
There is a patting sound, sensible shoes slapping squeaky tile, moving towards them. Martin’s world loses colour when he sees the doctor.
Lewis is standing immediately, tumbling through a number of quick-fire questions, and the doctor does a good job of not looking rattled.
“Are you a family member?” he replies, and he’s not obviously looking between Martin and Lewis, failing to find much resemblance, but he is definitely looking. It’s perhaps more delicate than others have been in the past, inquiring about their relationship to each other. Martin is well aware that Lewis looks nothing like either of his parents. He likes to think, in his more fanciful paternal moments, that he has Jon’s prominent jawline, his propensity for scruffy stubble, sees something of his husband in the brown of his eyes.
“Our son Lewis,” he gestures with a weak wave and the doctor nods, before he slides into explanations. Lewis is keeping up, asking questions about the procedure, the complications, recovery and where they go from there, and the doctor is trying to be sensitive but his son is bullish, wanting every detail and he’s so much like his father like this, headstrong and unwilling to yield an inch.
It’s good news. Better than hoped. Martin is too exhausted to smile. The rush of relief that should un-tense his muscles, pull the curtain down on the performance his anxieties have been playing out behind his eyes, instead it has left him hollow and dizzy.
“Lew,” Martin says, and Lewis turns, and must see something he can’t because he quietens, his expression shifting softer, moves over to grab Martin’s walking stick from where it’s lent against the seat, pressing it into his palm. He puts a hand on Martin’s shoulder.
“Let’s go see him,” he says, and Martin takes the arm offered to help him to his feet.
They follow the doctor. Martin’s not been fast on his feet, not since the Watcher’s Crown, but he can’t lay all the blame at the foot of that particular clusterfuck; age hasn’t been on his side either in this regard, and his progress isn’t as fast as he wants it to be. Lewis and the doctor are talking about Jon, something about local anaesthetic, sedation, how Mr Blackwood-Sims has an unusually high tolerance to anything they give him – and some part of Martin’s brain thinks this is probably Jon’s weird former Archivist powers, the rippling after-effects of which have never quite left him. Martin is not really listening to either of them. He puts one foot in front of another, and tries to feel relieved, and he should, he should, it’s good news, this is what he wanted.
Jon nearly died today, his brain keeps reminding him. You nearly lost him, you nearly weren’t fast enough.
And Martin is not strong enough to disagree.
Jon is awake when they go onto the shared ward. Propped up to sitting, already looking slightly bored at the lack of anything to do. There’s an IV taped up and held in place on his scarred hand, and he looks like a wind-knocked scarecrow what with all the wires and tubes he’s hooked up to, his hair unbrushed and tussled all over the place. He is not as pale as he was, more exasperated than frightened, and Martin tries to forget the last expression he saw on his husband’s face. He feels a hitch in his throat but swallows it down.
“Lewis?” Jon says, sounding surprised. “I thought you had an essay due Monday?”
“Before someone got themselves admitted to hospital,” Lewis replies easily, but he’s striding forward, giving his father a hug that betrays his worries, holding on a bit too long, leaning over the bar around the bed with discomfort.
“Really,” Jon grumbles, but he seems pleased at the unexpected attention and hugs back with the hand not tangled up in wires. “All this fuss over nothing, you didn’t need to come all this way.”
“I hear you got the ambulance service out. Doesn’t seem like nothing,” Lewis responds and Jon waves a hand as though the comment is not worth his time.
“Are you eating?” he says instead, looking over their son critically. “You don’t want your dad worrying. I won’t hear the end of it.”
It’s a teasing pattern of back-and-forth, familiar and shot through with affection, but Martin can’t be part of it. His hands don’t know what to do with themselves. He doesn’t have any words that can make any of this palatable, none of this, because they’re in a hospital, again, after surviving everything else, and he thought he was done being frightened of this.
He sees Lewis nudge his father.
“Go gentle, yeah?” he hears him murmur admonishingly. “You really scared him.”
Jon looks right at Martin then. There’s sorrow cutting into the lines of wrinkles there, some acknowledgement of what just happened finally gracing his face. Martin is shuffling forwards to the side of the bed, and Jon is reaching up, cupping Martin’s cheek.
“You saved me again, I see,” he says, teasing if it wasn’t so soft, so quiet, so clearly for only the two of them. There’s a weight of histories there, the many times they’ve both been here before, but Jon is looking at him so sadly, rubbing a thumb over the tear-stains on Martin’s cheek. There’s such blinding trust in his eyes. Martin doesn’t know, because Jon doesn’t know how to put it into words, but even as the pain spiked hard in his chest and he struggled to breath, Martin had been there and so some part of him knew it would have been ok. Martin would have made it so. “I knew you would.”
Martin is wrapping his arms around him then – oh god, Jon, don’t you ever do that to me again – and Jon is solid under him, gripping tight, and it’s like being able to breath again.
Chapter 5: night-times
That's one of the troubles, with being an Archive.
(very very very faint spoilers for episode 160, definitely not canon compliant)
mostly fluff but some cws in the end notes.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It is a Friday night, and the sky dimmed to a light-polluted darkness hours earlier. Mist decks the low thickets of gorse bushes, the stolid feet of apple trees, the garden outside adorned so heavily in shadow as to be unseen. Their house an inlet of light amidst it all. Jon has had a glass and a half of wine, and his lips are staining red, his tongue purpling, and his eyes are growing too tired to cross-stitch. Martin complains at the taste when he finally confesses to the lateness of the hour and gets up to go to bed, kissing him goodnight. He starts to gather up the unwashed plates and cutlery from dinner, as he tidies away the empty IPA bottles with their bright obnoxious labels, but Martin knocks him with his foot and tells him to leave them alone, do them in the morning, stop fussing and go to bed. It is soft and chiding, and Jon grouses sleepily but does as bid.
Jon heads up to bed first, intent on reading for a bit, and Martin promises to be up in a bit, saying something about wanting to get some writing done. But the night is bitter and wintry, and the cat manages to get under the covers and burrows into Jon's side and his eyes are drooping before he even has a chance to take the bookmark out.
Martin is climbing into bed after twenty minutes, disrupting the cat, smelling of toothpaste, his fingers faintly pruned from doing the washing up. Jon rouses briefly from his slumber before he turns over and into the new source of heat, mumbling a 'night before he settles back in.
It is the heat that does it. He wakes sluggish but all at once, slow-brained and mired in a dull confusion as to why he's not sleeping. Martin is still curved against his back, having stretched out at some point, pushing Jon over to the edge of the bed. Breathing slow, heavily, rumbling a little in his chest, the sound filling him up rhythmically like the bellows of some sturdy forge. Pressing against him like compacting earth. An arm is thrown over Jon, loosely bracketing him, and Jon brings a hand up to touch it; the skin is heat-sweaty, warm from the closeness.
His fingers brush dirt, come away filthy. He can't see it, not such a complete dark as the night affords them, but the texture is the damp soil of potting plants, and he can feel the smear it leaves behind when he brushes it off. The heat is a close and cloying thing, and Jon can feel the loamy tightness of it in his lungs.
Logically, he knows the only thing behind him is Martin. Snoring, his t-shirt rucked up sometime in the night, exposing his stomach to the air, one bedsock kicked off, who will be grumpy and trying not to show it in the morning if Jon wakes him. The grip that is holding him, loose, carefully kept nails, and the other that is making its presence known, a wiry clenching circlet of bones, it's a recollection, that's all. A knowing, an experiencing, a door shaken loose in his meticulous library of horrors, the statement of Juan Carlos Santibañez brought into waking. Fingers worn to muscle, matted with filth, bloody from where they've been digging.
In the dark, under the covers, the sound is the shift of grave soil, of pressing earth, but it is also Martin, ensconced in warm empty dreams, Jon trying to breath through his nose and not wake up, and it can be all of these things at once.
Martin's arm, and the hold of this grave-bound creature croaking with a dessicated throat at his neck – Juan Carlos, who had always been so frightened of closed spaces even before the cave-in, who saw the open casket funeral of his aunt when he was nine and never forgot how snug and restricting the space inside looked – pulls him closer.
Jon is rattling out a breath, moving away sharply, sitting up and letting the brunt of the cold air shock into him.
There is the creak of hinges being locked, the grunt of wood being lowered below.
There is the creak of weight shifting on the mattress, the grunt of being pulled unceremoniously into wakefulness.
“Jon? What is it?”
A warm hand – human, covered in skin and not dirt, which has never clawed at the earth like a trapped beast – touches his elbow. Jon gasps out a sound, and the statement of Juan Carlos Santibañez, regarding an accident at work, given August 13th 1998, is on his tongue, behind his teeth – I was doing some construction work, he had started, haltingly, unsure as the compulsion to tell worked into him, and at the time, you know, there was nothing odd about the job, looked legit enough...
The hand moves away but only slightly. The world flattens close like pressed flowers. Jon reaches behind him, takes the hand he knows will be there.
“The Buried,” he says.
“Ok,” Martin says behind him – and Jon thinks, he will be so tired in the morning and so he says with soil still coating his teeth: “It-it's fine. Honesty. I'll be – go back to sleep.”
“Idiot,” Martin says kindly, and he squeezes Jon's hand before he lets go, and then he's getting up, grumbling at the cold, and the bedside light is flicked on, throwing shadows against the painted walls of the bedroom The heat is beginning to dissipate, goosebumps beginning to rise up the scarred skin of his arms.
A glass is being pressed into his hand.
“Here,” Martin says, and Jon takes it dutifully. It's cold, almost painful against his teeth, but it washes the silt and grit from his mouth, his throat.
“Thanks,” he says croakily.
“You want to talk about it?”
Jon puts the glass down on the bedside table. Turns and looks at Martin, pillow lines on one side of his face, hair corkscrewing wildly. Sleep-dark eyes finding Jon's, waiting patiently for the answer.
“Not really,” Jon says, and Martin nods and doesn't ask further.
Jon lies back down, in the impression his body had made that still clutches some lingering warmth. Martin draws the covers back over them.
“I- I think it'll be alright.”
Martin leans out and clicks the bedside light off. Jon can no longer see Martin except for a faint outline, but he knows he's still looking at him.
“Sorry for waking you up,” Jon says, and he feels rather than sees Martin shake his head.
“Don't be daft,” he replies, and there's a half-yawn in his voice. He'll drop back to sleep quickly, Jon knows. Will try and keep his eyes open, knowing it will take Jon longer to shift back to himself and only himself in his head.
Martin does not go to embrace Jon. They've done this enough times to know it will make Jon's skin itch, and his breathing quicken. But he puts out a hand over the space between them, and Jon takes it, grounding him slightly.
Martin is soon breathing heavily again. Jon lies awake, feeling the hand in his own, the sensations of dirt and earth and damp tightness replaced gradually by the thick heat of the bed, the sweat building at the back of his neck, the way Martin is gradually shifting over to Jon's side of the bed and starting to snore.
And eventually Jon will roll over to meet him, press his face against Martin's throat and coil their legs together. Alone in his head again, the unbidden knowing stored and locked away. Falling asleep, too hot, comfortable and relaxing back into sleep. Thinking empty tired thoughts about nothing at all.
cws for descriptions of concepts associated with The Buried (claustrophia, being trapped, lots of dirt, etc).
Chapter 6: in the lonely, hugs
sometimes you need to write about hugging and that's ok.
mild spoilers for 159, no cws apply.
Of course it's something Martin's thought about.
Jon is raw-boned. Pinched at his cheeks, gaunt at the diving ridges of his collar bones, even before his diet shifted to the more unconventional. He is not the sort of man anyone else has tried to write poetry about; he's not savage enough for the Romantics, and Jon has always been too present, too much himself, too striking for Symbolists, in the same way a dropped glass, an unexpected word, a treasured thing broken gathers the rest of the world to its intensity. Jon's always been the most real person Martin's known. Martin gave the attempt at linguistic recreation his dawn-tussled thoughts more nights than one, labouring while living in the squashed temporary camp of the storage cupboard, but the words dripped from him unwilling, baulking at being written, and eventually he surrendered that too.
There is something scarecrow about the Archivist, face turned to the elements, arms outstretched, sackcloth skin poorly knitted to his structure. There are things that you assume, faced with an image like that.
Martin has devoted hours to considering the blueprint of the reality he knew impassible, bathed in guilt and shame and frustration at his inability to take this infant love, a mewling blind thing that could so easily swell to maturity if nurtured, dash it from its cot, starve it out until it withered back into the harsh ground it sprung from so ill-timed and ill-advised.
And yes, Martin thinks, half-stoned on a rushing wind-tunnel high of touch and sense and warmth, he was right to imagine in that locked-off sepulchre of his mind that Jon's skin would be chilled. Would gather little heat to it, and there is something sun-starved and day-sapped in its sensation against Martin's own exposed flesh. But then that might be the ravenous gulping cool of the beach, might even be a reiterating echo chamber of sensation mimicking Martin's own skin, salt-dusted and chapped with the coarse vacant, roughed up like headland ground by the sea air.
He was right to imagine that Jon's hold, when it's bestowed with barely a breath of a pause – so entirely, like they both have not surpassed and surmounted their own battlegrounds to make it this far – is a sharp, knocking, biting one. His knees drop, bash imprints like fists into the sucking water-logged sand, and his body pitches forward, unbalanced and falling anyway, and his hands pluck at Martin's mist-damp sleeve, his fingers cramped and spindly with a wasting thinness, his joints gripping and pricking like thorns.
But then, Martin thinks as his world rediscovers colour, he thinks oh.
Because here, he was wrong. Jon's arms go around him, and there is nothing tentative, soft-shoed, there is no awkward displacement holding him slightly at a distance. Jon's arms go around him, and he – his body unfolds against Martin's. There is much too much of him, a surge of all-at-once motion and Martin feels like splintering, and he gasps, feeling the shock of sensation returning, painfully prickling over his leaden flesh. He thinks of pulling away, his muscles even jerking, a practise motion intended to devolve into a real response, even as his body coils animal and instinctive towards the gesture, returns it slapdash but in kind.
An imperfect copy. Martin's taut arms have forgotten how the action works. And maybe he was wrong before as well, because Jon is warm, a pyre of a man who is resting his forehead on the nook between shoulder and neck, who is perhaps shaking, or maybe Martin is or perhaps now they're both so close it doesn't really matter. A man he doesn't think he really knows at all, whose capacities have been underestimated even by him, this man is holding him tightly, as Martin kneels, saturated in the swelling rising wave that this desperate feverish kindness is churning in his soul. Overwhelmed by such surety in this bird-boned softness, a softness Jon can not and does not give away as easily as he is doing so now.
Martin did not expect such a grip. Each of them anchored to the other, limbs compacted against each other like snow moulded into shape.
It's a nice thing, he thinks distantly, to be wrong about.
Chapter 7: after the end of everything
Set immediately after episode 160. Some cws in the end notes.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Under the watch of that terrible sky, Jon crumples like something demolished.
Martin catches him. He always will, he remembers thinking.
Arms out like barriers, bundling their bodies into synchronicity, of both of them reaching out for the other. Martin's arms shrouding him in the grip of limbs. Jon's manic laughter is declining into a frenzied wailing. There are words in there somewhere, Martin thinks, wreckage of language washed away by the deluge of desolation cascading out of him.
Martin attempts to shush him, because it's like a scream in an empty room, a misspoken word that turns a spat into something shocked and serious – Jon's so loud, so vocal in the threatening quiet of their lapsed world, and there are more things that could hear him than livestock and wildlife. They might be in danger and Jon's sound is a lighthouse foghorn, an incensed insensate outburst, and if something hears him, Martin will not be ready, Martin can't protect them.
He tries to speak, frustrated at first, a wild alarm that flowers in his chest – he doesn't understand, what happened, what did Jon do? – trying to reason him down from the precipice of his grief – Jon – just, Jon... it's, Jon... come on, I need you to – please, calm down, J-jon please but he doesn't think Jon is listening, can listen, so he crushes Jon against his chest so the sound is muffled against him, and he can feel it shake and shudder through his ribs, the intensity of it contained in such a small body. He lapses into his bewildered attempts to reassure, to comfort. He doesn't know what he says exactly. It's meaningless, more babbling. Jon's adrift and Martin's trying to anchor him to land.
There's crusting blood pooled in Jon's ears, dried as it channelled down his neck. There's the smudged marks of red around his eyes, his throat; his teeth stained like he's sunk them into meat, scraps of flesh dug under nail. The handprint on his cheek is pink, almost quaintly ineffective. Martin reads the scattered evidence of thwarted violence on Jon's body and feels sick.
They don't have time for this. The cutting chill of the outside is sidling through the smashed window. The audible landscape of the outside is a groaning, wrenching of a broken earth, and they are not safe. But Martin holds Jon for such a long time as he exorcises sound from soul, trying to quieten his hysterical howling against his coat, muddy from when he slipped, running back to the house as the sky opened its lids and blinked. Jon churns out brief interludes of almost incoherent vocabulary – Martin and all of it and sorry – and these landmarks of words never coalesce into meaning, cycling and cycling and cycling until they rust into exhausted sobbing.
It's too much. It's noise and light and rumbling earth and Martin cannot fix these things. He draws himself into a numb cloak of narrowed focus, because he can't, he just can't think about the things outside, the scope of their world gone rotten, how anything could get in.
For the moment, as usual really, Jon has the entirety of his attention.
Jon's crying sluggishly atrophies into mute hiccuping against Martin's coat.
“Jon?” he asks, tentatively, frightened, and finally, finally he is looked at.
The skin around Jon's eyes is puffy, splashed with a hideous artwork of blood and tears. One of his pupils is splayed wide, unnaturally dilated, the white corrupted in coagulated dark shapes from where the blood vessels have burst. The other eye that meets Martin's is dull, empty.
“Jon, can you – talk to me. What – I don't understand, w-what... what happened?”
Jon opens his mouth to speak, and the voice that spills from him is wrong.
“...and when he came at me, his bared teeth fetid with the meat he'd already torn from my leg, I brought the hammer down, caving in his cheek, and my blood, it sang...”
Jon clamps his trembling hands over his mouth in a sparking tumult of horror. He tries again, and Martin watches his mouth try and force his name and he gets a mangled Mar.... before the words are being thrown up out of him like a sickness, like an invasion, his low voice pitching high and off.
“...Francesca stood in the doorway, and she didn't, she didn't move towards me but her shadow poured into the room like spilled water and I tried to scream...”
Jon sobs and slams his hands over his lips again, mushing the sound under his palm for a moment, shaking his head fiercely as though he can dispel the sentences that are jostling eagerly in his throat.
“Are those... Jon, are those statements?” Martin asks, his voice going squeaky – what more, he thinks, what else can this world give them? And that dull pupil now shot with panic meets Martin's gaze. Lowering his hand, face scrunching up again in bottomless despair, and he mouths the shape of words that it takes Martin a moment to understand, I can't I can't I can't.
Martin doesn't understand he's watching an Archive lose control. Panicked and overwhelmed. Not yet.
“R-right,” he stammers. “Right I'll just... Right.”
Jon doesn't need his blathering. Jon can't do anything with his panic. He's falling apart, falling in on himself, and he needs someone to pull him out.
“Right,” Martin says. “J-just... don't speak, OK. Not... not right now. Can you... OK, take my hand, Jon ok?” He offers out a broad palm and Jon practically grabs it, “Squeeze once for yes, two for no. Can you do that for me, Jon?”
“Alright. Ok. We're going to.... Can you... sense or whatever, is – is anything coming for us?”
“Are we safe here?”
A pause, then a squeeze. Less strength in it.
“That'll have to do.”
Jon's hands are beginning to violently shake. Sitting mute and coated in blood, and outside the unforgiving sky watches them.
“Can you stand?”
Jon shakes his head, so Martin helps him up. It takes a flash second before his limbs cave back down, coltish and stumbling and nearly pulling Martin back with him.
“Oh shit... ok,” Martin yelps. “Ok. I'm going to... I'm going to lift you, alright?”
Jon doesn't protest. Maybe he's got no fight left in his bones. Disentangling their hands, Martin leans down and scoops him into a secure grip. Turning his back on that horrible gaze, on the open wound of the broken window, taking them further into the house to the windowless box of the bathroom, sitting Jon down on the closed toilet seat. Martin flicks the feeble lock on the door and knows it won't stop anything that really wants to get in.
Jon sways like a listless drunk where he sits. Martin runs the tap, and there's still hot water in the tank from this morning – Jon had hummed in the shower, a jaunty little tune like a folk song, and Martin had listened and smiled as he buttered the toast. Jon won't stop looking at Martin, as he dampens the washcloth with warm water, starts to clean away the scabbing blood from Jon's face, but that brings no comfort – he tracks the movement as though on a delay, as though he isn't really seeing Martin at all, just reacting to the motion.
In and out of the warm water he dips the cloth, and slowly the porcelain of the sink stains pink.
“What happened?” Martin asks quietly as he dabs at Jon's neck, his ears, his cheeks, and Jon opens his mouth, pauses, and then closes it again, pressing his lips together like he's locking the sound in.
“We can fix this,” Martin says to fill the silence, the guilty weight of it. “We – I don't know how, but we can... This wasn't – this wasn't your fault, Jon.”
Jon takes a while to hear this. He rouses like a sleeper, and shakes his head fervently, his expression painted anguished for a brief moment. And Martin doesn't know what he can say to that.
Jon starts to slump forward as Martin begins to clean his hands. Eyes fluttering, bobbing back into wakefulness with a start that looks painful.
Martin doesn't know what time it is. His watch presents a different answer every time he looks. Jon is exhausted, has been carved out and hollowed by whatever has been done to him, and whatever they're going to do next, Martin can't do this alone.
“Come on then,” he says with a gentle sigh, and he's already lifting Jon back up.
He puts him to bed. Takes off his shoes and places him under the covers and Jon's hand goes gripless in his hold within moments. His dark skin still ashen but his face slackening into something that could possibly be a momentarily respite.
Martin needs to do something. His hands itch, and he picks up a knife from the kitchen because it makes him feel safer. There are things he can do now, and they go some way to assuaging the worry clotting in his chest. Locks the front door, drags the hallway table in front of it in a pitiful attempt at blocking. He closes all of the curtains, worries that he can do nothing about the shattered window.
On his mobile, there's no signal. Not that there would be some anyway. He's not even sure who he could call. The radio when he turns it on briefly is an ominous flat line of dead air. It's just them, he realises dully.
The paper that Jon was reading is on the floor, fluttering from the buffet of wind.
Martin has to sit down to read the awful missive from Jonah Magnus. Who finally got what he wanted. Who used Jon to do it.
Jon who will in all likelihood never forgive himself.
There will be a tomorrow for both of them. Jon will wake up, damaged but alive and there is food in the house, but some of it won't keep in the rapidly warming fridge. Martin knows with a certainty that they cannot stay here. That if they want to continue having tomorrows, they'll have to leave this den, this island of something like peace that they were allowed for such a short time.
Martin packs two backpacks with the essentials they have. Carries them with him into the bedroom, props them by the door he quietly locks. He goes and sits by Jon's side in a plush chair made with a smaller man in mind. Jon sleeping like a corpse, drained and unhappy even in sleep. Martin catalogues the marks on the Archive Magnus sought to compile on the body of one shattered man. The chronicles that he has witnessed, survived. The number of scars he suffered alone, cornered and in pain and thinking he would die.
Jon's not alone now. And whatever Magnus has done, Martin doesn't know if he can fix, if it can be. But he has to start small. Fix what he can, protect what he's able to.
Martin clutches the knife in his sweaty palm, and waits for Jon to wake up.
Cws for blood, implied violence
Chapter 8: the stranger
tws and cws for this in the end notes
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Martin shivers, a whole body shudder that gallops through his system as the sleeping bag is unzipped. The backdraught is ungodly and he groans vocally as the movement allows a Baltic gust of air to infiltrate the confines previously occupied by the muggy sleep-thick warmth he's been slathered in.
“Christ, Jon,” he complains, trying to yank the material back around him, giving it a bit of a petty tug on his quest to return to the dozy weight of almost sleep he was happily bubbled in.
“Oh hush. It's not that bad,” Jon replies in a grumbling rhythm, showing no remorse, the arse, and Martin winces and hisses like he's been caught by spitting oil as Jon's frigid ice-cherished body curls around him like a bracket. He snuggles in like he's trying to unsuccessfully burgle his body heat, knees pressing into his back. Martin kicks him with a double-socked foot to complain at this flagrant abuse of privileges.
“Nothing out there?” he mumbles into the angled pillow of his own arm. Thought Jon would be up for a while yet with his thoughts, on his usual pretence of 'checking the perimeter'.
“All quiet,” says the stiflingly-close bundle breathing into the back of his neck, making the skin feel sweaty with condensation. Martin stretches out a little before coiling up again, feeling bony fingers clench at his hips before encircling his waist like a particular committed lock.
Martin doesn't say anything else. The warmth wreathes about his limbs. The small fire they're letting die for the night is still warm enough to throw out a mild corona of heat.
Jon is apparently in a restless mood. His long hands and fingers tracing little idle circles like an spirograph at the skin he can reach. Martin's stomach, his pyjama-covered thighs, his hips, like he's trying to smooth the skin out.
“Would you settle down?” Martin says, mumbling, mildly grumpy. “Keep your hands to yourself.”
Jon's lips are at the curve of his neck, mouthing softly. Not even kissing, maybe he's too tired for it, just motioning his lips over the skin. He's a looming question-mark shaped man, towering over Martin by half a foot, poor posture giving him a natural stoop, and his hold makes Martin feel enclosed, bound up in the intimacy of the space.
“Sorry,” he says, without sounding sorry in the slightest, almost cheeky. He bestows another kiss that is not a kiss to Martin's neck, scraping a little with his teeth.
“Sleep,” Martin repeats, groggy but firm, and traps the soft, unblemished skin of Jon's hands in his own.
“Fine,” Jon still sounds inordinately pleased with himself, but he seems to calm. Burrowing himself so close Martin's running out of room. Arms grip around him, winching tighter.
“Sleep,” he parrots Martin.
Martin tries. Really he does.
Something is stopping him. Some sensation of calm let out when the cool air swept in. There's a prickling at the seat of his spine.
He fidgets a little, before he turns over, extricating himself from Jon's vice with difficulty, thinking that the change in position will improve things.
Jon's staring at him with a considering smile that curls the edges of his lips like the end of a spiral. They've a solar-powered camping light set up nearby, shaped like a lantern, stolen from a gutted B&Q, and the illumination begun to dim hours ago. Martin watches the artificial light highlights Jon's pale white skin, the upshot of scrubby blonde hair like sun-dried grass already sticking up at the back in a cowlick.
They're so close that Jon's eyes are crossing a little to look at him.
“They'll get stuck like that,” Martin chides roughly.
“Hmm?” Jon asks. He doesn't blink.
“Your eyes,” Martin repeats. “You keep them like that and they'll get stuck.”
There's a pause, and then Jon's eyes snap up to normal like they're elasticated, seated dead-centre as bullseyes. His face beams in a wide smile that rips up to the same level as his ears.
“You're so funny, Martin,” he breathes. Delighted, a childish light ringing in his big green eyes. “Tell me another joke.”
Something fizzes at the bottom of Martin's chest. He wonders if he's eaten something off.
“Errr,” he starts, and it's harder when he's just so close, so crowded up against him. “Jon?”
“Yes, Martin?” Jon replies. He says his name as though he likes how it feels in his mouth, the flavour of the sound, the way it travels down his throat. It's the same way he said it on their first date, when he introduced Martin to his parents, when they got married.
“Can you...” Martin tries to clear his throat of the stifling air. “In my wallet. There's something... something I found earlier. I want to show you.”
“It's your birthday soon,” Martin says – August, his brain supplies with a dull clunking mechanism of recollection – and Jon pauses a beat before his lips curl back four-fold like petals and he says happily, like he's touched Martin's remembered.
“Yeah. Yeah, it is soon, isn't it. I'd almost forgot what with everything.”
The cold air siphons in as Jon clambers out. Raking through the bags with his long bony fingers, before he gives a triumphant here we are! and bounds back into the warmth of their cocoon, shivering from the chill, making an exaggerated brrr noise. He passes Martin the worn-down wallet before burrowing up against his side, heated like a furnace as Martin flicks it open.
“It's a surprise,” Martin reminds him, and Jon whines good-naturedly, spoilsport, but moves his head from where it lay on Martin's shoulder. Studies him unblinkingly with those eyes.
“Have it your way then.”
In the wallet section where he might have kept notes if paper currency still existed, Martin pulls out a folded paper. It crackles as he rights it into the bent photograph it is. Studies the fixed and frozen memory there; himself bundled up in two fleeces topped off with a cagoule slitted and damaged by unnatural rains, a slightly fire-singed bobble hat pulled down to smother hair that's been left alone to grow out into a frizzy unkempt afro, holding out the Polaroid camera at arms length to fit them both in frame. The thin-lipped but genuine smile of the man next to him, short, dark stubble maturing into the promises of a beard. Brown eyes faintly sunken, tired but happy, his arm anchored against Martin's. They took two pictures like this one, assurances, Jon had called them, and Martin knows Jon won't have it with him now if he asks to check.
Martin's hand doesn't shake. Doesn't look at Jon, at the man he went on a first date with to a pub where they had the football on too loud and someone was being rowdy at the fruit machine, and Jon ordered a whisky even though he told Martin later he hated the stuff, just wanted to impress him; at blonde hair he knows, has loved, has combed between his fingers while they've watched Jon's pretentious BBC Four documentaries; at green eyes he's seen sleepy and happy and angry and thrilled. Jon who is tapping his elongated fingers against the fabric of the sleeping bag almost impatiently, whose eyes are too yawning, too flattened for the well-boned structure of his face.
Martin has a knife in his pocket. He always has a knife in his pocket these days.
“Did you kill him?” he asks, almost breathless, more silent than sound.
“Hmm?” Jon replies, and Martin stabs him in the throat.
Jon skitters backwards out of the sleeping bag on legs that are fast becoming not. Cradling his throat, gargling out a confused 'Martin?' even as his eyes slide further down and off his face.
Martin's staggering up too, wondering if he has time to go for the cricket bat on Jon's side, the one he's abraded with roofing nails, the cross heads of screwdrivers. The knife feels too small in his fist and Jon looms, spine splaying out of his skin like a tent pole pushed through canvas, and he asks Martin? even as he stretches as though rolling out dough.
“Did you kill him?” he repeats, and his voice does not, will not, tremble.
Martin, the voice strings out like a melted chewy sweet. The bars of confectionery that stuck in Martin's teeth when he was a child; the sound drags and droops and pulls and echoes and it is not kind any more.
It reaches out again, and he thinks manically that it might be going to hug him when something hard and solid and remarkably identical to what a cricket bat decorated in roofing nails and screwdrivers might look like if someone swung it into marshmallow.
Jon screams and the sound cuts and it swings around with a freakish rotating of its legs in time to be struck across the cheek, sending its nose and freckles and one side of its mouth slopping off to one side like a ship near cap-sizing.
“Get down,” Martin is told and he feels his body submit, drop and hunker down despite itself, and so he does not see what makes the thing that is not Jon howl like wind scratching at a windowpane, like a sound trapped between stations, doesn't listen to whatever wordless command is shouted that undoes it loudly and aggressively from its mockery of life.
“I – Martin,” comes the voice again. Unsure now. Braided through with worry and exhaustion. “Please, I'm sor- ….Y-you – you can get up now.”
Martin's body can move again. He stands, legs shaky, feeling like a nerves been trapped somewhere under the skin. The cold is pimpling the flesh of his arms. He observes the dark-skinned, dark-eyed man in front of him. Cricket bat painted with gore along with the front of his coat. Martin doesn't let go of the knife, and the man doesn't ask him to.
Martin holds up the picture. Compares the awkward smiling man of his photo, lower half of his face almost lost to a thick scarf, pock-mark scars trailing over his cheek and up to edge onto his forehead, to this midnight terror decked in the aftermath of violence. Panting, a large slash across his forehead like he's been attacked, the wound which even now is sucking closed.
The man doesn't move. Waits for Martin to bridge the gap. There are two sets of memories wedged and warring in his head, and both of them are so real and it hurts, rifling through stuffed in remembrances of weddings and birthdays and picnics, Jon drunk off cider and his serenading more like caterwauling; Jon ashen, a machine breathing for him, his skin splintered with the ricochet of masonry and plasterboard and foundation stone; arguing over money and house prices and their cramped flat in Dagenham; Jon, his trousers soaked and stiff with sea-salt as they tramp across an desolate beach; sleepily swaying against one another like tired skittles in a game of ninepins at their station as they wait for the early morning commuter train. And it's not, it's so real but it isn't, not all of them can be, not when the corpse of their architect is hollowed out and ripped up, the air of it hissing out underfoot.
Jon – Jon whose scars decorate him like medals, Jon who is holding himself like he's hurt, Jon who drops his bat in a heartbeat when Martin closes the gap and grabs him, trying to shake off the false memories like water droplets – Jon shivers like he's frozen, and his hold is a grasping gripping panicked action. Martin, he says as though a placeholder to a hundred different things. His voice is low and raspy and ever so soft.
Jon, who is the realest thing Martin knows.
Martin holds him until he can trust in that again.
Not entirely sure how to tag this but better safe than sorry;
definite tws for body horror, violence
cws for dubcon touching, memory alteration, mindfuckery, the Stranger as a concept generally.
Chapter 9: injury
Martin should have said something. He knows he should have.
No tws or cws apply.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Martin realises that he's made a mistake in a sort of chronological tripodal structure of regret.
Primarily, it consists of the dazzling moment when Jon – striding ahead, jaw set and trying to work out where they should have started to go up-hill from the out-of-date ordinance survey map clenched in his hands – suddenly stopped with all the forewarning of a stubbed toe. Holding a hand up to signal that there might be something up ahead in the foliage. Martin, committedly focused on regular breathing and maintaining his ongoing argument with his oesophagus about whether he's going to be sick or not, didn't dodge. Bashing the whole front of his body against Jon's backpack, the arm he's kept so industriously curled up against his chest knocked hard. He thinks he might have made a bitten-off shriek. That shining testament to his mistakes was compounded by his follow-up action, which was to collapse like a felled tree, almost taking Jon down with him, paying fervent and painful homage to the undergrowth with his face.
Mostly he knows that he's really fucked up when he wakes up a few minutes later. Still lying on the ground, and apparently the tent sans-ground sheet has been abruptly set up around him like he's some sort of pop-up installation. The contents of the forest floor have made union with his now knotted hair, and it snags and tugs as he sits up. He can taste grit and dirt in his mouth and there's a stinging dampness on his upper lip. He blinks, coming to terms slowly, and it's then that he realises, just from a brief glance, that Jon is absolutely fuming.
The backpack has been upended without much dignity, its innards rifled through viciously, a platoon of bandages and medicines hastily assembled and called to order off to one side. Jon is hunched, squatted over the spoils of his ravagings, his fingers gripping two packets of prescription co-codamol that they snaffled from a gutted Lloyds pharmacy near Glasgow, looking for all the world like he's trying to frowningly read their instructions like rune-stones.
“J'n?” Martin mumbles blearily, and Jon looks over, a whiplash motion with all the focus of sunlight caught in glass. Once he's apparently satisfied that Martin isn't in any immediate danger, his glower returns like a storm front.
He should have told him, Martin knows. He should have, he should have. It had been so fast, and it had hurt but it had been manageable and they'd escaped so quickly, he would have told him eventually, he would have.
“Jon, will you...” he says, struggling to stand and failing rather dramatically at it. His apologies form a queue in his throat. “Will you just, Jon, come over here...”
Jon makes a harsh cutting gesture that rather obviously means shut up. He makes it again when Martin makes a token protest, and then – watching Martin's strenuous attempts to rise – forms another gesture and very clearly mouths the word sit.
Jon doesn't talk much any more. Not after Jonah Magnus stole his words from his throat. He avoids anything that might be read as an instruction, a command, a question, which exhaustively limits most of his conversation. He doesn't need to say anything now, not at the moment because usefully he's being really fucking obvious. Stony-faced and cloaked in the miasma of his prickling temper.
Martin flinches when Jon slams something. Jon stops immediately, has the decency to look shamefaced, if mulish, cooling his gestures into perfunctory and quiet actions that can't be read as threatening. He's letting his upset out like a bled radiator and Martin doesn't know what to do.
He passes Martin a water bottle and two small oval tablets expectantly, but quickly realises his own stupidity and takes them back with a frustrated huff. Finally, finally, Jon stops pacing, stops moving, going to his knees and edging closer to where Martin's sitting to help him take the medicine. His rough dry-skinned hand set like a brace at Martin's neck as he carefully tips the water back against his lips for Martin to drink. After he's swallowed, his hand lingers, and after Martin's sheepish thank you, it tentatively moves to thread into the outgrowth of hair at the nape of his neck.
“I'm sorry,” Martin says miserably, his arm now transitioning from smarting to a rather concerted throbbing, and he means it. “I – we needed to keep walking, and there was nowhere safe to stop yet and I know it was – I know I should have....”
Jon's hand has a tremor like a trapped nerve. Martin angles his head to look up at him, and there's messy furrowing tracks in the grubby dirt on his cheeks.
“I'm sorry,” Martin repeats, and Jon's head makes port against his own for a second.
“I thought...” comes a raspy, scraping voice, and Jon moves back to study him with wet eyes, and his face twisted in something pained. “I didn't know....”
He doesn't finish the sentence. He sucks in a steadying breathe that doesn't really help before he motions with his hand at the materials he's assembled like a medicinal hunter-gatherer. Martin understands exactly what he's not saying.
“We can't just leave it?” Martin asks, already knowing the answer with dread making a kernel in his stomach. Jon presses his lips tight and shakes his head and looks as though he'd rather do anything else but this.
To his credit, Jon's as professional and mercifully quick as can be expected. He cuts Martin's now swollen, bruise-bright arm out of his sleeve, padding the feverish skin with wadding and gauze without jostling it. He looks right at Martin and exaggeratedly demonstrates that it might be a good idea for Martin to copy his breathing, a deep in-and-out that Martin shakily joins in harmony with. Jon squeezes Martin's unencumbered hand that's hooking into a claw against his upper thigh before letting go.
Martin's breathing staggers and slips over into ragged whimpering cry when Jon sets the splint snugly against the injured bone, tries to bury his wet, gasping face into Jon's neck as the stick is tied in place with shoelaces and strips of ripped-up t-shirt at the elbow and wrist. Jon is shushing him, running his hands up and down his back once it's done, his voice plugged up with apologises and despairing, Martin sniffling and hiccuping through the after-shocks.
Martin begins to get drowsy after that, the codeine clearly sneaking into his system and blanketing him in a blissful muted haze, like someone's turned the sound down on the world. Jon takes his meek acceptance of further care as permission to fuss, and briskly rises to the occasion. He brushes out the leaves and small sticks from Martin's hair with a precise and focused intensity until the tangles meet with his internal satisfaction. Soaks a wash-cloth with the dregs of water from the bottle, cleaning away the dirt and small spots of blood from the minor scratches on Martin's face. A measured, stroking left-right motion that leaves Martin blinking heavily, content to half-mindedly watch a host of flickering expressions cross the pathways of Jon's face.
When Jon's done, he looks solemnly over his handiwork like he's overseeing some great project, sealing the act with a dry kiss against Martin's cheek.
“C'mere,” Martin slurs dozily, and Jon enfolds against him like two seas merging, careful not to knock his arm. The ground beneath them is chill, will turn frosty as it dips into nightfall, and they can't stay here, they've got miles to go before the nearest town, they're fast losing light.
Martin tries to say this, or he thinks he does, but Jon shushes him again and kisses the space between left eyebrow and hairline, over the cuts on his cheek that have long stopped smarting.
Jon doesn't tell him to rest. To close his eyes. Jon doesn't tell him to do anything these days, doesn't trust himself with it. But his body is still knelt down as a bedrock, and Martin thinks he might be rocking them both ever so faintly, his fingers trailing ouroboros maps into the weft of his newly combed hair. Martin takes it as permission enough.
Chapter 10: communicating
They're getting better at it.
A slight follow up to the premise set up by chapter 7, but it is absolutely not necessary to read that first.
Post episode 160. No tws.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It's not easy, the slapdash and imprecise art of communication. Martin's never been particularly adept. His words trip over footholds of his own making on their way out of his mouth. He has a stammer he's never quite rid himself of, his words too earnest or too anxious to showcase any finesse at the skill.
It wasn't simple before, twisting the tape back to the start of all this, Jon talking like a car trying to jump start when things felt too personal, his indelicate sincerity that struck with all the tenderness of an anvil. And Martin likes to think they were both getting better, before. They had three weeks of stumbling, artless practise, their amateur declarations witnessed by no-one but the wind and evening-dappled fields that stretched like lazy days for miles around.
Martin wouldn't say Jon's up to managing much talking now.
Oh, he's not silent. Chatty in his own way, and the conversations they have are tug-of-wars, teasing, testing to find the edges their pieces slot into.
Easy isn't the word for it though. Martin supposes, it was never going to be.
They've stopped for a few days to gather themselves. They've made it as far south as Melrose on the borders, and it would have been a pretty market town, antique fairs and village fetes and a eye-catching ruin of a fourteenth century monastery, if the Hunt hadn't passed this way, maybe the Spiral too. There isn't much left here in the way of civilisation, and little to nothing in the way of humanity. There are shadows like the imprints on wall after the outpouring shock of a bomb, but their limbs do not concede to the shape of limbs. They sway as leaves on a branch, like they're hanging from where their feet are stuck to the ground, and Martin tugs them clear of their gathering places.
They've managed to let themselves into the half-unhinged door of a little high street shop that used to sell fancy card and stationary. They had tried an art gallery further up the road, but the Dark had started to take root there like black mould, and it'd eaten away the ground floor to yawning inky nothing.
Martin asks Jon if they'll be safe here, and Jon rallies himself wearily, Looks. He replies that nothing will come for them, and that's as much as they can ask for these days.
Above the shop, accessed via a back-room still plugged up and packed with unopened boxes, up carpeted stairs on which bundles of unopened notebooks and special occasion cards balance committedly against the will of gravity, there's a small flat. The decoration in the flat is... interesting. It's more something one of Tim's friends would have had, the few times Tim got Martin to go out with him for one of his 'de-stress Friday' sessions. Martin would laugh at the wall-hangings like indoor curtains, the posters of the zodiac and some tie-dye hippy representation of chakras, the bong even still on the coffee table in the poky living room, except his attention is slightly more taken up by Jon at the moment. Leant against him like a downed tree, his eyes drooping closed and his legs fast failing him, shuddering from the effort of taking the stairs.
The way here was treacherous. There's a town further north about forty miles swallowed by the Vast. Jon tries to avoid Seeing as much as possible, of course he does, and Martin will never ask that of him outright, never, but they've had to check if the way is safe a number of times. And each time he opens the door or whatever metaphor Jon uses to understand it, it drains something from him it takes a long time to claw back.
Martin drops his backpack by the entrance. Divests Jon of his. Jon sways and blinks with lidded eyes, and his gestures are sloppy, poorly formed. Martin ends up carrying him to single bed off to the right of the staircase, the room still wreathed in the old stale smell of tobacco and weed.
Once Jon's out for the count, Martin checks the doors, the windows, their rations and supplies with the religious militancy of a man who knows what happens when they don't. He counts out rations, makes careful notations in his notebook with a stubby pencil sharpened by his pen-knife. The cupboards of the flat are mostly a bust, but there's a few cans of baked beans, tinned peaches, and the delight of finding a single can of tinned custard, which Martin stashes to surprise Jon with later.
There's a billy bookcase next to the non-functioning TV, crowded full of precarious piles of console game boxes and disordered books and back issues of the Fortean Times. Martin peruses through a number of books on mysticism, the paranormal and how one can access their inner self before he finds a glossy hardback on origami to entertain himself.
The sky outside is dark and scratched with an ugly bruising colour, but it's likely to be only mid afternoon. Martin ventures back down the staircase and grabs some coloured card before he settles back into the spring-less corner of a battered settee draped with a brightly adorned throw blanket. There's another, equally obnoxiously shaded blanket of clashing colours, and he places it over himself and gets comfortable.
It's a few hours later when he hears the bed squeak. A clearing of a throat, the unsteady padded steps of someone who hasn't found their equilibrium just yet.
Jon pushes the door open with a sighing squeak and peers blearily around.
The nap hasn't helped at all by the look of it. Martin turns mid-fold and gets to see a crime scene of disturbed sleep evidenced on Jon's body. One of Martin's long-sleeve t-shirts rucked up, the under arms and ring around his neck patched damp. His skin rippled with a thick sweat, hair coming wildly and carelessly from the band he'd tied it back in. He's rocking on the balls of his feet like he's still following the motion of running, and his eyes as he stares at Martin are unnaturally dilated, unnervingly steady even as he scrubs his face with his hand.
“Hey,” Martin says carefully. Knowing to keep his voice pitched low, calmer than Jon feels right now. “Are you... everything ok?”
Jon pauses, blinks just too slowly to seem natural, and shakes his head.
“What's wrong?” Martin asks. “If you can... if you want to say, that it.”
Jon pauses. It's habit now. A nervous tic. Mulling over what he wants to say and how he'll say it.
He has to be so careful with how he says things.
Martin's expecting a truncated gesture or two. A stumbling sign that Martin will have to parse, backed up by a thousand other signifiers of meaning in their home-spun language. But unusually, Jon clears his throat, bites his top lip anxiously before he opens his mouth.
Like tuning in a radio station mid-programme, someone else's words ring out.
“I allowed myself some brief hope,” Jon's voice sloshes out of his mouth with a South American cadence. “that maybe he'd just left me, maybe he'd escaped with just a divorce. But no. One call to the housing association confirmed that, as far as they were concerned, I'd always lived alone.”
Most of the statements Martin doesn't recognise. He's not been cursed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of them after all, a forced and unwilling archive now capable of speaking in every voice but his own. They're all the same anyway. The recycling of other people's tragedies and miseries, their worst days committed for posterity and recited dutifully by the archive Jonah Magnus created to house them.
Jon usually doesn't share the content of his dreams.
“Nightmare?” Martin says, deliberately lightly. He puts down his truly butchered attempt to make a swan and watches as Jon swallows, brings a hand to his mouth to gnaw at a nail.
He wonders if that's the right word, knows in his heart it isn't, not really. Because nightmares are a twisting of things that both are and aren't, a plaited deceitful recollection of an unkind brain. Jon's dreams are a hideous witnessing, with no hope of challenge of change.
Jon jerkily nods, before he says in that awful ventriloquism:
“... regarding a series of misplaced objects lost over the course of three months.”
Jon's started to rub his arms. His lips firmly closed again, as though embarrassed he's shared the history he's been watching in his dreams. But he did share it. And that's notable.
Martin holds up a corner of the blanket on the settee, and chides “Get in here, or you'll catch your death”, and Jon's crossing the distance as though he was waiting for the signal.
They don't say anything for the while. Jon folds himself up against Martin's side like a gangly greetings card, like one of his obviously failed origami projects. Martin puts an arm around his shoulder and consigns himself to the rather shocking robbery of body heat that's rapidly occurring. Jon accepts the arm, but the tension is still wound through his marrow, and he doesn't calm like he usually does.
“This one really bothered you, didn't it?” Martin says.
A twitchy up-down motion.
“How come?” Martin asks, before: “If you want to talk about it. If not, well, I can tell you all about my grand adventures in paper folding. A wild ride, I can promise.”
Jon raises an eyebrow at the truly dazzling menagerie of wobbly animals, and huffs a stale laugh.
He brings out his hands from where he'd buried them in the furnace of Martin's space, and makes a sign, a twisting hooked hand motion - Spiral. And then, shakier, flatter, his fingers closed like shutters – Lonely.
“As far as they were concerned,” he repeats with a mournful and stolen tongue, “I'd always lived alone.”
He makes a sign again, and meets Martin's eye like he's been trying not to – Lonely.
Jon reaches out, and like setting fingers to the board of a violin, delicately fits his hand against Martin's. Like he's memorised exactly the places where they go, the coves and shorelines where their islands can align.
Martin's grip has never been as careful. His fingers engulf Jon's smaller size, cushioning them in a sturdy grip.
“You've not lost me,” Martin says, reading in between the lines of Jon's gestures. “I'm here, yeah? Alright. And we're together. I'm not lost.”
Jon makes a grunt of acknowledgement, inclining his head in agreement, impatiently, as though he knows all this, like he begrudges being reminded. But clearly this knowledge hasn't stained every part of his waking yet, because there are tears slipping unwanted from his eyes and his hand grips Martin harder.
His gaze flickers like a camera shutter from the floor and its foot-scuffed rug to martin, back and forth. Martin wishes, not for the first time, that Jon could just ask for what he wants. Could stop feeling like he needs to justify every out-reaching motion to himself, approaching physical affection like he's trying to do the cryptic bloody crossword.
He's learning. They both are.
“What do you want me to do?” Martin asks instead.
Jon's eyes finally linger on him. Cheeks damp, eyes red. He removes his hand from Martin's grip like he's unmooring a ship from port. His next movements being planned behind his eyes. A methodical consideration of angle, of intent, of reciprocation that's as much caution as it is overthinking. Martin wonders sometimes whether this is the Jon he always was, or the Jon that's been made by this world and all that's been laid against him. Maybe it's one or the other or both, or maybe it doesn't matter much any more. This is Martin's Jon, the Jon that is, the one that is thinking about how he's going to place his limbs as though there's a wrong way to it, who will steady himself before he'll reach out. But who always does, eventually, in his own time.
His arms encircle Martin's neck now. A pause, a release of air, before he's pulling back, fretting like something hasn't worked. But he clearly wants something, enough to push through his dissatisfaction, face folded in on itself unhappily before it sets in determination and then he goes for around Martin's chest, fingers steadying, finding their own bony handholds in the material of Martin's jumper. The right angles of his elbows, the washboard of his ribs felt under his shirt, they don't have any give and Martin shifts a little to ease the hard sensation of it, try and reorient them better. Jon picks up on this, already trying to shift again or perhaps even move away, and if his tongue could still form apologies, he'd be making them.
Martin's arms come round decisively, closing the circuit of them.
“Stop fussing,” he murmurs, and Jon quietens. Face against the round of Martin's chest, the hand that's not still gripped vice-like carefully combining through his damp hair.
“This ok?” Martin says finally, wanting to know, wanting Jon to feel like he can tell him.
Jon lifts his head. Nods, brings their lips together for a skimming kiss, like he's sealing the sentiment.
He shuffles his body so he's wedged next to Martin, taking up any crevice he finds. After a moment, pulling and positioning Martin's arm back over his shoulder, so it drapes heavy and solid and present. A lightness on his face that sleep couldn't achieve but a victory Martin likes to claim as his own every time.
It is no hardship for Martin to understand every one of these expressions just fine.
Statement taken from Episode 38 - Lost and Found
Chapter 11: bathtime
Jon's being a one-man percussion band in the kitchen when Martin gets back. Clattering pans and clanking bowls and cutlery and tugging open drawers. The house is wreathed in the smells of spices that set off a tingling heat at the back of his throat.
The flavour is muted a little. Taste buds flat. The weather outside isn't dipping into single figures but it seems to have gotten under Martin's coat anyway, turning skin chilled and clammy.
In the past, he might have considered that he was coming down with something. A mild cold, a bout of the sniffles combated with Lemsip and cough sweets.
Martin knows a bit better now.
He kicks off his shoes without undoing the laces, throws his rucksack down to join the pile.
“That you?” Jon calls out.
Martin moves on socked feet into the tiled kitchen. Jon's trying to stir at least three pans at once, and a great waft of steam from the oven plumes in the air to throng like dragon's breath as he opens it to peer at his creations.
“Good day at work?” Jon asks, pecking Martin distractedly on the cheek before darting around him to stir something vigorously.
“Hmm,” Martin says non-committally. In truth it was regular, and uneventful, but he felt the numbness start to seep in as he sat on the Tube. He worries his lip with his teeth, wonders if he should say something at all. And it's not bad, not as it can be, and maybe it will go away in its own time, maybe Martin can deal with it alone.
But in the end, he comes up to wrap his arms bodily around Jon, his face smushed into his loose-hanging hair, pungent and twisted up with spices.
“You alright?” Jon asks, stilling for a moment, stopping to touch at the arms that have encircled him to try and ground themselves.
Martin doesn't answer for a moment. The kitchen is heavy with steam, he knows, not fog. It's a hard lesson to remember sometimes is all.
“A bit Cold, I guess,” he replies quietly after a while.
Jon knows what he means. The flat's a balmy mid-twenties in comparison to the mild outside, but that's not what he means.
Jon's hands pause before they run soothingly over Martin's exposed arms, and he turns to return the grip tightly, a haven of warm present body, before he pulls back, touches his palm against Martin's cheek briefly.
“I'll run a bath,” he says decidedly, and his eyes catch Martin's with the steadiness of waves and do not falter.
He angles his body around, briskly flicking the heat down on what was probably going to be their dinner, moving the pans off the heat so they don't burn. Whatever is in the oven clearly needs longer, because he rakes his eyes over it dismissively.
“Unless you're hungry, first?” he asks, looking back. “It's nearly ready if you do.”
Food sounds nice, but only objectively, and Martin's already shaking his head in answer. There's a warning mutedness beginning to carpet the bottom of him, a dim night held back by the beacon of Jon's gaze. The fog burning off slowly.
A nod, like Jon had expected it. And this has not been the only night like this, so maybe he did.
Jon enfolds their hands together.
“Come on,” he says. His voice is kind, and that's never died, no matter how the world bricked it up and starved it of sunlight. Jon's kind to his bones, and it wells up from the deep down of him.
Jon pulls the way, and Martin follows behind.
Martin sits on the closed toilet seat while Jon runs the bath. He sets his palms against his knees like he's trying to trap the vestiges of heat Jon left.
Jon will return, he knows. It's difficult, sometimes, to remember that. But Jon showed him that. Showed, he supposes. The constancy of this hard-won fellowship.
Jon approaches this preparation like he approaches cooking – a slapdash impatient alchemy where he adds things too soon because he can't bear to wait, dropping in whatever he unbottles, sniffs with a curious 'hm' as though he wants to see what will happen.
The bathroom mirror fogs up, but it's a tight close warmth, and Jon chatters away. Not expecting Martin to respond, aware that it's an ask of him at the moment but nonetheless leaving little doors in the conversation by which Martin might enter.
He splashes water onto his own shirt while testing the temperature of the water. He grumbles, a heatless little 'for the love of...' that trails off as he tries to twist the worst of it out, brow creased. Martin studies him, and a smile touches the corners of his lips at the sight.
Finally, Jon pronounces it ready. Martin stands, goes to take off his shirt but Jon bats his hands away, says 'Honestly, would you stop fussing and let me take care of you?' with a teasing rhythm, words furrowed into familiarity by time. Martin, recalling the lines of his role going rusty in his throat, pretends to roll his eyes, mutters 'Fine' like it's the greatest of burdens, and he's rewarded by the flickering delight of Jon's smile. Something is beginning to thaw at the base of him.
If that didn't work to banish the shadows in him, the bathwater does. Jon, apparently formed of some volcanic rock and uncaring of lesser mortals who don't take such joy in heat as he does, has drawn the bath far too hot. Even when they cool it with lashings of cold water, Martin's skin is still prickling pink and near-scalded as he gets in, folds his too-long legs in the space to fit.
Things start to unwind inside him, and he hums. Jon looks ever so smugly pleased at such an indicator of success.
“I'll be back, just a minute,” he promises. He touches Martin's shoulder, and the contact leaves an equally scalding heat as the water.
Outside the bathroom, Jon's doing something in the kitchen, making his usual racket, before Martin hears footsteps across the hallway to their bedroom.
Martin splashes idly for a while. Messing with the bubbles – too many as usual. The heat makes his head muggy and unspooled, but it is not muted, not with the sounds of life from the rest of the flat. The slosh and fizz of over-bubbled bathwater. It is not lonely.
Jon returns quickly, opening the door and closing it again to shut them inside the sauna they've made of their small bathroom. He's removed his socks, replaced jeans with pyjama shorts, and he goes back to the cabinet over the sink, drawing out bottles like potions from a magician's cabinet, soaks and gels and shampoos and scents, discarding a great number with a dismissive clatter.
“You can be a bit louder,” Martin mumbles. “I think downstairs might not have heard you yet.”
Jon doesn't give him a response except for a haughty 'humpf', and Martin buries his smile in the bubbles.
It crosses his mind, a stray knifing chill of a breeze to apologise, for all this fuss, for needing this; surely Jon must be hungry, he must have made plans that Martin wouldn't have derailed if he'd grit his teeth and gotten on with it, surely this is asking too much....
Those aren't his thoughts. It's easier to see the barbs they try and snag against his mind. He knows what Jon will say to any voicing of them, and he knows that they're not worth listening to.
He sinks a little lower under the water and allows himself to be taken care of.
Jon doesn't even hiss when his feet splash into the water, the salamander. There's a short ledge by Martin's head, on the opposite end to the taps where bottles usually throng and spawn, where Jon always leaves the empty ones for Martin to find and grumble at. Jon's shifted them so he can sit there, his potions in close reach. He's brought a plastic jug, and he positions himself so Martin's head is framed by his lanky worm-scratched legs.
“Any requests?” he says, his fingers threading and fiddling with the coils of Martin's hair, tussling it indulgently. Martin tilts his head back so he sees Jon upside down, and sleepily mumbles a no.
Jon rolls up his sleeves, leans down with obvious difficulty to press a close-mouthed kiss to Martin's crown.
“The works then, I think,” he responds, and no more is said.
Jon hums while he works. Old and sad songs that rise and coil and spiral with the rising heat.
Martin falls asleep in increments. Eyes fluttering heavy and hooded as Jon massages and lathers a cedarwood scented shampoo into his hair, limbs softened to immobile by the water as he carefully washes the suds out with water, hands on his face to shield his eyes. He's not sure how awake he is when Jon's hands starts to knead conditioner into his curls, paying devoted attention to every damp and tearaway lock.
When he wakes, he feels the water lapping lukewarm around him, and Jon's shaking his shoulder a little.
“Welcome back to the land of the living,” Jon says, and Martin blinks blearily. “How are you feeling?”
Martin pauses before he replies. He used to say 'fine' or 'ok' automatically, like a gag reflex, learned by rote and dutifully doled out, but he's getting better, he thinks, at expressing what he feels.
“Wet,” he replies finally, and Jon's brow crinkles in confusion before he sighs at the soft, teasing tone, still muddy with stupor.
“Out then, funny-man, before you start pruning,” he replies. It's a little too late for that. The ends of Martin's fingers have scrunched up at their ends with the damp.
Jon bundles him into one of the thickest towels that he clearly put on the radiator to heat, uses another scraggier one to scrub at his hair to get most of the water out. Martin mostly stands, feeling just a little overwhelmed, stupefied by the steadfast weight of Jon's affection. And he's not Cold, not even in the slightest; the Lonely's an old refrain too distant to hear, not with Jon reminding him so completely that he's loved, and cared for. That he's allowed to have this.
Jon presses a kiss to his cheek like he's signing off his work, then leans in for another, slower one. Martin returns it sleepily, his limbs heavy and body leaning in, but his face caught by a smile.
Jon holds up the weight of him like it's nothing at all.
Chapter 12: reclaim
[mid-conversation] …. rather find they show up by themselves. A curious if harmless side effect, I wouldn't pay them much mind. Unless you'd rather this little interruption was kept from him...?
[shortly] I don't really care.
How boorish. Peter didn't do much in the way of teaching you any manners.
He didn't teach anything worth listening to.
Oh, you were already an adept student of the Lonely before Peter decided to make you part of our wager. [as though noticing something] Forgive me. Would you like to sit down? Plenty of room at the table as you can see. I was just finished eating.
Pity. I do relish the opportunity of a good conversationalist. My present company... as you can see, he's not exactly been up for chatting recently.
[ignoring him, the steady tread of footsteps closer]
If you aren't going to be a hospitable guest, I think that's close enough. I'm sure you understand.
[stops walking] You're not surprised I take it?
To see you here? Not especially. I knew you'd end up here eventually. All brash, full of foolish righteous anger masquerading as justice, bolstered up on thoughts of my murder.
Read my mind, did you?
Oh, I didn't think I needed to for that one. You can be very possessive about what you consider yours.
Jon's not mine. He's not yours, he's not anybody's.
Jon hasn't been his own man for such a long time.
[a lull in the conversation, an impasse both are too proud to cross]
[deliberately, aiming to hurt] …. You can look at him, you know. See him alive, whole. But you won't, will you, or can't. Too many eyes in his head and none of them the ones you hoped you'd see.
[proud] I've moulded him. Shaped his becoming. And I watch my ruined world thanks to the words I pull from his dutiful throat.
You stole him.
It was a fair trade. I took nothing that wasn't offered. And he pleaded ever so movingly for your life.
[biting] And you're such the bleeding heart.
It was a business transaction. A life for a life.
This?! T-this is no life!
Not as you would understand it. Oh, but, look. Look at him, Martin. Isn't he magnificent?
[a roiling rumbling background sound of static]
[whispered, almost fearful] Yes.
[rallying, shaken] I – Jon – Is.... is he gone?
By which you mean, have I killed him?
You know what I'm asking.
And yet I rather think you've not quite considered how much of a question it is.
[sarcastic] Why don't you enlighten me if you're in sharing mood?
The Archivist has been dead before, has he not? You held his hand and said your little prayers over him as machines kept his body breathing, but I'm sure we can both agree that's not really a life. Jon was offered a choice, and he chose to embrace what he was becoming over death.
But the Jon who woke up is not the one who signed the contract to become my head archivist. Nor was that Jon the one who dragged himself and Ms Tonner out of the Buried. Nor, indeed, did any of those bear resemblance to the Jon who tore Peter Lukas apart to retrieve you from the Lonely. So many Jons, and maybe none of them still alive, none of them the man you want to find. Does that bother you?
I don't.... I'm not here to discuss the bloody specifics of being a person. I want to know if he's still in there. His... I don't know, his choice, his emotions, his feelings.
Are you hoping to appeal to his better nature? How quaint. But to set your mind at ease, let me clarify that the role of Archivist would be poorly served by an unfeeling watcher. Jon's always had to, how did he put it, 'sit in his feelings'.
No, Martin, he feels everything. My Archive is a repository of knowledge. A catalogue of horrors I can collect and sample and observe and store, and they are kept perfectly preserved for me.
[a lip-curling smile obvious in his voice] Shall I have him tell you a story?
[the sound rises to audible, as though it's been playing the entire time but the volume has been turned down to a murmur. An inflectionless rote recitation, tinged with someone else's voice overlapping like twisted signals interjecting over a radio broadcast]
… and I was sure I'd told her to leave, and I turned around, ready to shout at her, to say anything if it got her to run, but the doorway grew toothed and grinning before my eyes and there was something broken-backed and crooked in that space where nothing should have been...
[interrupting] Don't make him do that.
[there's the harsh horrifying sound of a jaw clacking shut, and it mimics the snap of a pause button]
You always liked listening to his voice. When it was the two of you in the Archives, all those late nights, you could hear him through his office door, and it would make you feel like you weren't so alone. We'll listen in on another one, shall we?
[a faint choking jerk, like a leash being pulled too tight, another snap of a play button, the dialogue restarting]
[reciting flatly] … I had the oddest thought then and even as I backed away towards the stairs, I started to get my phone out. The daft thing was...
[recognising, voice gone sharp] Stop it.
… I wasn't even going to call anyone for help, I just wanted to take a picture of the thing. To prove to you that it happened – you're always so quick to dismiss these statements and I wanted proof for you....
[cold ] You've made your point.
I think so. And, remind me, what was my point?
[silence except for Jon's now-muttered static. Careful listening and it's not static at all, but an unceasing recital of horror, statement after statement pouring from his mouth]
You come into my home clutching that knife with such intentions of bravado. I imagine you wanted to swoop in, rescue him. But I possess him in all the ways that matter. And you know, surely, that you aren't going to be enough to save him.
[Martin's breathing is harder]
I wasn't lying before. I have truly enjoyed your visit, you can be quite distracting company. That's been the whole point of this, hasn't it?
Wh – ?
[interrupting] Who is in the house, Jon?
Martin Blackwood is in the dining room.
[indulgently, playing for effect] Who else is in the house, Jon?
[a whirring, like the tape's stuck, the first sounds garbled, before a return to normal] Basira Hussain and Melanie King are approaching the east wing. Alice Tonner is patrolling the grounds of the estate.
You see? All the fear in this world and he can see all of it, every trembling terrified beat of a heart. You think they could approach unseen, hide when he can sense every firing neuron of their fear, the pulse and jump of their nerves? No one is fearless, not in my brave new world, and so he sees them all.
I underestimated you once, Martin. I don't make a habit of repeating my mistakes.
[dismissive] Oh do tell.
Why do you think I came here? Huh? Flimsy knife in hand, having to listen to your gloating.
Likely a poor attempt at trying to draw my attention.
And why do you think Basira, Melanie and Daisy came here?
To kill me, I should imagine.
All those eyes of yours, and they're always too busy focusing on what they shouldn't.
I had thought to spare you further indignities...
[almost scoffing] Yeah, this sounds familiar.
How about no. H-how about not this time, how about you shut up for a moment?
[huffing sound, almost a disbelieving laugh] It's just so – so easy to distract you.
Not much of a distraction if I know you're coming.
Who said I was the only distraction?
[a small patter of careful footsteps across marble flooring, and then a grunt, a wet slicing noise that sickeningly sounds like metal through meat]
[Magnus howls in agony. His voice echoing like a wind tunnel, a guttural gusty howling of static, the scrape of a chair shoved back, cutlery and tableware disturbed and smashing]
[another grunt of exertion and someone hitting the table, silverware clattering, before a heavier slump of a body hitting the floor]
You have to...!
I know! Just –
[sounds of a tussle for a few seconds, then a deep stabbing puncture, the noise like a punch. Magnus stops screaming]
Now. Now it's done.
That is... eurgh, that's so nasty.
Let me have this triumphant moment, huh?
Yeah. Sorry. When you said what you were planning, I thought.... it was a bit more like popping a tomato than expected.
[pause, adrenaline fast breathing, the Archives' static]
He's... he's gone. Elias is really gone.
Now, where's...? Holy f – Christ, Jon. Jon? Martin, is – that's not....?
What Elias left of him.
What's – What's he doing?
[darkly] What he was made for. There's so many more statements to archive now. He's being kept busy.
[hand over mouth] God, that's... Christ. [despairingly angry] I thought – I thought that would do it. That was the whole point of this, to get him back.
The point was to kill Elias. He's.... Jon's not tied to Elias, he's tied to the Eye.
[creak of a door hinge, footsteps]
[getting closer, echoing slightly in the space] He fell for it then?
[pulling herself back to the moment at hand] Yeah. Too busy monologuing at Martin.
[creeping closer, sucking air through her teeth] Aim was perfect.
She got him? Right across his eyes?
[Georgie makes a 'squish' noise as an affirmative]
Good. Fucker got what was coming.
There's still the matter of Jon to deal with.
... Martin, you sure about this?
[deep breath] As sure as I can be.
Can he... can Jon hear us?
The rest of us, more than likely.
[an agreeing 'hm'] He knew you were coming.
I'd accounted for that. But being to all intents and purposes 'fearless'? Your invisibility cloak worked on Magnus. As to Jon, no idea.
Look, we should hurry. Go, bring him back, Martin.
And if you can't...
[sharper] That's my call to make, not yours. We agreed.
[a heavy pause] Just don't stay in there too long.
Right. I'd... I'd stand back.
[there is a creaking static, like muted sound, a whip of rising wind. Martin makes a grunt of effort. Fading in to mix with the static is the rhythmic slosh of tide, the empty drone of wind over empty landscape.]
[a release of held breath]
[almost wistful] Back again.
[footsteps digging into sand]
Jon? J-jon, we've... you're ok, Elias, he's.... I know this won't, it won't disconnect you from the Eye or anything, but you told me, you told me it was muted here.
Give you some space, s-so you can come back. I know – I know you're in there
[a crunching chewing sound like a tape spool caught]
[a manic and aggressive fast-forward]
Come on, that's it. T-Try and talk to me.
… she had shattered the glass of the horrid thing, its spindling legs made into a constellation of shards on the kitchen floor, but I couldn't move, I couldn't believe that it was over, not until there was a knock at the door. The police, finally. And even then she had to coax me to move, saying that it was finished, it was dead.... [cut off]
He – he's gone, Jon. Really gone, he can't... you don't have to fight him any more. [a hopeful gasping exhale] Yeah, that's... that's it... yeah I know it's hard. [ harsh buzz of tape] Look at me, come on, yeah, good, you're doing it. You're out, you're... you're free.
[a crunching whirr, then intoning, tainted with the over-lay of Magnus' intonation, smug and congratulatory] You do not administer and preserve the records of fear, Jon, you are a record of fear... [a sickening buzzing, the sound of a tape recorder being forwarded] ... could be turned into a conduit for the coming of this – nightmare kingdom. Don't you see where I'm going...?
I – Jon, I don't understand.
...A conduit for the coming of this nightmare kingdom.
[softer, sounding closer] He did that to you. He forced you to say those words. That wasn't... that wasn't you, that's not your fault.
Look, we – that's why we need you back. We can, Jon, we can stop this – we've... well, Basira's got a plan, and it's a small chance, but we could, with you and Georgie, we could change something. But we need you.
[quieter] And I need you. I need you to come back.
[wrenching, cracking, choked] Mar –
[buzz, like a fucked up tape that goes on for several seconds] … I tried to explain, but all I could manage to say to get through the shaking sobs was 'I love you'.
[throat tight] Jon, fight this, you can, come on...
[a different recording tugged from his throat, a replication of Martin's own voice, shatter-hearted and Lonely, the faint echo of a hospital monitor] … but we need you, Jon. Please – just. Please.
That's – Don't, Jon. Don't use my voice like that.
I'm here. We weren't just going to leave you to him. So how can I... How can I stop this, how can I help you?
I don't understand– I'm trying but... no, no, no, come on Jon, eyes on me, yeah, look back up, not....
[ripped and ripe with comprehension] Oh.
Please [rewind]. Please [rewind]. Please.
I can't. Jon, I –
[more insistent] Please [rewind]. Please.
[forcefully] I won't be your murderer, Jon!
I won't. I'm sorry, but – [makes a deprecating noise] It's not even sharp. It was for show, all part of the act.
[moves in closer, tread of feet in sand] Listen to me, Jon. I know. Sweetheart, I know. I know you're tired. I know everything, everything's wrong, it's been all wrong for so long, and there's only so much hope we can all bear. [quieter, almost ashamed] And we could stay here. It would be so so easy. Sit down together on the shoreline, let the fog take us.
I've been thinking, you know. [huff] Yeah, dangerous habit. I've had a lot of... I've had a lot of time to think, about Magnus and his 'grand plan' or whatever. He chose you, and let every horrible thing out there have their own pound of flesh from you. And the statements, they feed on you too, don't they? You live this sick repetition of other people's horrors, and that feeds the Eye, but it's too much for you to bear. And Elias, or bloody, Jonah or whoever, even he wasn't sure you'd survive, even before all this mess happened. He wanted you hurt, and scared but he couldn't be sure it wouldn't kill you outright.
I read the statements too. Elias was very keen on giving me [dark laugh] well, professional development while you were away. And if that wasn't... wasn't enough –
Jane Prentiss trapped and terrorised me in my home, and after that, Christ, all that time ago, it all just kept happening. The whatever-it-was that called itself Michael, I was in those corridors with Tim for weeks, and I've been, huh – if being pinballed between working for some – some evil eyeball and Peter Lukas doesn't count, I don't know what does.
[a low breath, gearing up. The static continues, an intent and intense sedateness]
I've got all of them now, isn't that right, Jon? Whether it's the statements, or workplace collateral, or even just living in this horrifying hellscape of a world. That's all of them, leaving their mark. And Elias, I think you knew, [wry chuff] or Knew probably, that he would have made me Archivist. If you didn't make it. 's why he agreed to let me stay behind, while you all went to stop the Circus.
S-so my point is. I – I know. I know you're tired, I know you want this to stop. But we could end this, together. It's too much for you to take alone, s-so why don't you share it?
[gentler] You don't – You've never had to do this on your own. An Archivist always had Assistants, remember.
[a break in the static, like signal breaking in and out, a furious dip and rise of disparate statements] – And I told her no – […] He knew he could never ask that of – […] Please, please – [….] Martin – […] – through the shaking sobs was 'I love you' – […...]
You're not alone. Not now, not before. If we're to have any chance at all, you have to let me help.
[a staticky buzzing, low breathing, the distant call of gulls]
Look at me, Jon. Yeah, all those eyes of yours.
What do you See?
[the static rises like a wind swell]
[Martin gives an airless grunt]
That's it.... [gasp] Come on, Jon, let me in.
[Martin lets out a gasp that chokes into a clenched cry. He gags and swallows the sound, and it is dry and painful and crunching. The static over-washes the sound of the shore, and Martin starts making bitten-off hurt sounds, that soon devolve into screaming. This goes on for a long time.]
[He stops. The static stops]
[The loud sound of something heavy hitting the floor, Jon's breathing suddenly audible, mixed with Martin's panting. The scrape of sand, someone moving]
JONATHAN SIMS, THE ARCHIVIST
[slurring and mumbled, his tongue numb and awkward] Martin... Martin... are you...?
MARTIN BLACKWOOD, THE ARCHIVIST
[sucking in a harsh breath] Jon.
[muffled, like he's embracing someone, or being embraced] Christ, thank god, Jon, you're ok, you're here, you're back.
[even more muffled] God, I thought I was too late.
Are you – Martin, tell me please, are you...?
I'm fine, I'm just... [wincing groan] It's just a lot.
R-right. Breathe through it. Look... look at me, that's it. The rest of it, a-all the noise, it's background. That's all. It doesn't have to drown you.
[For several long moments, they breathe in tandem as Martin calms]
I could hear you. B-back with Jonah. It was all so loud but I could hear you.
Thank you. F-for coming to get me.
Well, Basira gave me two options so it was that or murder [clearly responding to some visual expression] I'm – I'm kidding. Of course I wasn't going to just leave you.
[a surprised noise] Jon. Your eye.
The left one, it's not... It's different, it's not like – it's blue, it's blue, did something go wrong, is it...
[ever so softly, clearly a page ahead] Yours has changed too. Brown suits you.
I – Oh. Right.
So we've both.... Yours and mine....
I think so.
That's.... that's crazy.
[thoughtful] I forgot how quiet it was, here.
You really think we can stop this?
Basira seems to have a plan. You and Georgie, your abilities. And well, me to some extent now, I guess. It could change everything back to the way it was, now Elias has gone.
What do you think?
I think we can stop this.
Then I believe you.
Martin, what you did –
Let's – We'll talk about it later. I promise. Once we're out of here. I'm... Today's been a lot.
OK. That's – OK. You should rest, when we get out of here. It's – it'll take a lot out of you, in the beginning.
I'm sure Elias wouldn't mind lending us his rooms. Not like he can complain.
We're in Jonah's house?
Well. More mansion. It's so ostentatiously gaudy, you'd hate it. Bet he has four poster beds and framed paintings of himself all over the place.
Hmm. Melanie's probably started on slashing up the fixtures.
[quieter] Come on, then. Let's get out of here. I know the way back.
[ever so softly] I've never doubted it.
tw for Elias and his general brand of Eye-based horribleness (mind-control, dehumanisation); tw for discussed suicidal intention
Chapter 13: night-times, redux
'The question isn't fully born before Martin's heaving great waves of sobs into the chest he's pillowed on. Like clockwork, the arms come round, always an inch too tight a grip, and somehow that makes this easier to bear.'
Martin has nightmares, sometimes.
For a prompt requesting cuddling after a nightmare.
tws and cws in the end notes.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
On the coast somewhere. A sentinel-stance, his hair knotty, wind-rushed. There's a craggy moss-stubbled headland jutting out like a broken jaw. The edges of his trainers toe the starting line of a curb. Before him, the grey waves of a cold-snap sea, broken by an irregular fortification against immersion, a patch of sand the colour of ashen skin that will soon be submerged.
A figure on the shoreline. Eyes out to the horizon, hair untethered, coat-less and shoe-less and immovable, reckless and wreckless against the sea that promises such storms.
Martin's the only one who can see the strengthening waves in the distance. Disturbed and agitated by some disaster, gathering to a tsunami.
There are stone steps, aged, foot-scored and weight-worn, and they're adorned with black railings kissed by rust. The steps curl around their path like hair around fingers to the beach front below.
Martin takes a step, and feels the glass of his legs crack. A hollow sound, reverberating with warning, the echo spiderwebbing through him. It doesn't hurt, not exactly, not really, and he takes another step, another, his eyes on the tide, the figure on the shore. The faster he goes, the more it splinters through him, feeling himself fragment, fracture, smithereens of glass crunching disconnected in his shoes, his socks, his trouser legs. Still he hobbles down the unforgiving stone, feeling limbs shatter with every shock of pressure, of misuse in a dull diamond cascade of the pieces of him that gather in his clothes where a man once was, and still he runs.
He's crumbling, an eroded cliff edge, a sand-swiped edifice to lost things and missed chances.
The figure on the beach doesn't move back, though surely they must hear how the wind is rising, surely they can't have failed to notice the tooth-filled snarling ferocity of the waves. Martin's throat is a sheen of slippery glass where words have no purchase, can't escape the lock of his throat.
The wind's wiping tears into his eyes that freeze into painful ragged shards almost immediately, and Martin feels the friction of his broken pieces as he tries to keep his shattered body moving, to go a bit faster, to get a bit closer.
The figure doesn't look back as they tread in the low tide and the wave ascends to greet them.
Curling round immediately, mummified in sweaty bed blankets, something lost and feral scrabbling in his throat that soon manifests into sound.
Sleepy, rousing to wakefulness.
'Martin? Oh. Oh, right.'
Arms pulling close. Neck at an uncomfortable twist, ear over collarbone, but he buries himself in the thick embrace of it.
'It was – ' he feels obliged to say. 'It was nothing, just a stupid – I'll, I'm fine, I'll...'
A default slide into poorly build but easily manned habits. A 'hush', fingers wiping sleep from his damp eyes.
'Do you – do you want to talk about it?'
An offer given more easily than he takes it, but he is reclaiming the ground of himself steadily.
'I think you were there.' Whispered to the dark, to the hazy heat of under-covers. 'You wouldn't turn around, and I was so – I thought …'
Fingers setting in the handholds of hips, another 'it's alright, it's alright' as he relates his horrors to the patient dark.
He follows Peter's bloody map to the forbidding centre of the Panopticon. The mouths of empty cells, their bars like bared teeth, all facing dead centre, the stage of this horrible show.
The throne has a newly crowned king.
They've taken Jon's eyes. The blood tracking like warpaint scratched down his cheeks, and what they plucked out, they replaced improperly, with eyes that are not eyes, wide gaping chasm things like the backs of moth's wings.
The magnetic tape of all those statements, those carefully archived reels, they've been unspooled and it gathers like it's clogged in Jon's mouth, down his throat. The black lines of it spilling out like the straw of some macabre scarecrow, and Martin's hands are shaking and he prays, ill-worded little invocations to an almighty scraped together from school assemblies, that Jon wasn't taken like that, choking on fear, overwhelmed and airless, fingers scrabbling at a winched-in throat as he tried to breathe around the morass of other people's terrors.
Martin's prayers are that Jon felt nothing at all.
His ribcage has been splayed open, pivoted neatly with hinges like the top of a musical box. Weirdly bloodless for all it is a gory butchery of a human body, sand-white ribs that Martin finds himself counting. The heart is still there, shrivelling, wrinkled by strain and abuse. The rest of his chest, where other lungs and organs and the mechanisms of life should be harboured, is compacted as though with stuffing, the brutal gavage of some farm-reared delicacy. The eyes that expand and swell in this space roll in their vitreous parcels like twitching frogspawn. And then they all swivel with the fluid grace of owl necks, look at Martin, a thousand bobbing pupils staring out of the meat of Jon's chest, and that's the moment Martin realises Jon isn't dead.
A harsh insistence poorly cloaking distress, hands against his shoulders, moving in aborted rocking shakes.
'I – er, what, fuck – was I...?' Returning does not sweep away the agitation, the shaking like an earth tremor through him, the branding recollection of those fathomless eyes.
'You were shouting.' Hair being wiped from his forehead, two eyes, two normal, worried, crow-footed eyes staring down at him.
'W-what time is it?' he asks, but it's not an answer he wants or needs, he's just making sounds, fronting calm he doesn't feel. Runs clammy fingers over the bony column of a throat, the round of an adam's apple, a shirtless chest unmutilated and breathing shallowly.
He feels the question form there, at the centre, the tentative journey it traverses before he hears 'Can I.... I mean, do you want to...?'
The question isn't fully born before he's heaving great waves of sobs into the chest he's pillowed on.
Like clockwork, the arms come round, always an inch too tight a grip, and somehow that makes this easier to bear.
There are no monsters. In the dream that is not a dream, more a memory played out to its worst extremities, Martin walks, meandering and careless, along a beach. The sand is greyer, colour-sapped, and the waves are choppy, over-touched with foaming white like a poorly rendered oil landscape painting. There are ships out to the distance, but they're too far away, dirt flecks on the windscreen of horizon.
After a while, he sits down on the sand. Soaking the seat of his trousers, the backs of his legs. He watches the immutable horizon, blank like a lost opportunity, like a canvas where something meaningful could have been painted, anything at all really other than nothing. There are no clouds, no birds, and around him the day happens, unfolding in undemanding hours and minutes that leave no footprints, ruffle no waves.
He didn't bring any gloves and his hands cramp, the skin of his cheeks pinched with the tweaking chill. There are the marks of hoar-frost, sparkling and spiking, beginning to carpet the hairs on his arm, the skin of his exposed ankles.
The temperature drops, though the sky doesn't change. His fingers are gripped into numb claws now, and he wonders without much of a sense at all if he'll lose them to the cold. The frost is curdling in his lungs and it's hard to breathe. It has become a sensation like all the rest of them, like hunger and fright and panic, it is something happening to him so far away, to the him before, the one burdening himself with feeling like a pack-mule and wondering why he never moved forward.
The light refracts snow-blind off the white of the waves, and soon it is easier to close his eyes. He is not tired, but maybe he could lie down for a moment. It would be so simple to –
Arms wrapped around chest from behind, a twinge as his ribs protest, his mouth forming a confused, displeased sound.
'Jon. W- are you ok? You having a nightmare?'
A voice night-rough and dry rumbled against the dip between his shoulder blades: 'You were going away again'.
The taste of chill is still enchanted and twisted up in the marrow of him, but it thaws in the near-ache of such a grip. Threading fingers together, palm union with palm, the soft rucks of scar tissue sliding against dry skin. He is held and beheld so tightly he lies there for a moment, his skin prickling with newly rediscovered heat.
'Do you want to talk about it?'
An offer. Given and given and given, no thought to retraction. It is hard to be Lonely when that holds such a lantern to the dark of the forest beyond.
'I'm, I'm ok, Jon,' he says, meaning it. Pulling arms slot around his stomach tighter. 'Thank you'.
A grunting 'don't mention it', already sweetened by a doziness. The weight against his back closer, the arms flung around him like a mooring line.
He drops back off sweltering in the muggy heat and sleeps dreamless till morning.
tws for body horror, mutilation. cws for dread, nightmares and intense emotional states, if those aren't anyone's jam