Chapter 1: jon
It feels like ages, walking hand in hand from that grey beach to the tower, down its winding stairs, then back up through the tunnels. But after that, it all goes very fast. When the sun rises, it does so over rolling hills in muted greens and sleepy greys, and Jon watches it through the window of a sleeper train. Martin is snoring softly from the upper bunk bed and Jon doesn’t expect to sleep for himself, but it is a lulling, calming sound. A presence.
A few hours later, he drags a yawning Martin and their haphazardly packed suitcases onto a bus, and Martin just drops in his seat and lets his head fall on Jon’s shoulder. His grip is slack but he does not let go of Jon’s hand, and Jon doesn’t, either.
“You know, this is my first time travelling,” Martin says, distractedly. His voice is thick with exhaustion and his eyes still blurry, staring at the landscape without appearing to really take it in.
“I know,” Jon admits. The top of Martin’s head is pressed against his cheek and jaw and he can smell the scent of Martin’s hair. It’s nowhere near freshly-washed wafts of shampoo, but Jon doesn’t dislike it.
Martin hums quietly and doesn’t elaborate, and Jon remains silent as well to let him drift back to sleep. After a few minutes, though, Martin shifts, then sits up straight, pulls away, pressing himself to the window. “Is that,” he says, and gasps quietly. “Is that a cow? Are these cows?”
Jon leans on his back to look over his shoulder. “Yes. Fuzzier than standard, though.”
“That’s — so fuzzy.”
“Are those horns?”
“Yes. Cows have horns.”
“What do you mean cows have horns?? Stop— Stop laughing, what are — oh my god there are more, oh my God, Jon, look at all these cows —”
Jon tries to stop, he really does, but he has to smother it in Martin’s sweater, and Martin huffs in offense, but there’s that lilt to the end of it that means he’s not really angry and he knows Jon isn’t really making fun of him, and they’re on the run, fleeing from fear and horror and destruction and people who want them dead and a body-thief who wants worse, but that’s not what’s making Jon’s heart beat so fast.
“Waow,” Martin whispers, breathless, eyes wide, his nose smushed against the glass, his hand warm in Jon’s hand.
Chapter 2: martin
The fog clings, for a bit, perhaps not to Martin’s limbs anymore but in his head. His brain is always a confusing mess of darting thoughts anyway, but for a while after the Panopticon it’s full of clouds. So it’s all a blur, the path they take from that cold grey beach, through the tunnels.
There are a few clear things in his memory. Jon’s eyes, wide and unblinking, watching him, seeing him.
Jon’s hand, warm, on his shoulder, on his face, clutching his fingers as they walked. He’s not sure when Jon let go, thinks it took a while.
Of the Institute he has zero precise memory — a general feeling of dark, ugly chaos, but no specific detail, which is perfectly fine.
He doesn’t remember packing, either, or boarding the train. He remembers the cows (the cows!!), but the rest of the trip is barely more than a blur up until they reach the safehouse.
It’s cold. It’s that special kind of empty that not only hasn’t been lived in for ages, but has never truly been lived in, the emptiness of a space that has never been a home. One room; a small table, one chair, one bed. Not exactly the Ritz, he jokes while they unpack, but the truth is he kind of likes it, in the way he likes all unchosen things — the ugly lunchboxes discounted because they weren’t selling, the table left empty at the front row of the classroom, the two-legged puppy whose mom stopped feeding it, the old tarantula that the shelter couldn’t get anyone to adopt, the surly unfriendly colleague no one ever asked to join for lunch. It’s familiar. It’s easier to fit in.
Jon seems to find it comfortable, too.
A place to live alone in, a place to not be found, a place to be forgotten about.
Even for just a while. That’s all they’re asking for.
They put down their suitcases, start a fire in the fireplace, sweep away the layers of dust. Martin finds some old teabags in a box, though there’s no kettle, so he boils a pan of water on the gas stovetop. There’s no awkwardness, no worrying, no background anxiety to do something wrong: this space belongs to neither of them (to both of them), and it isn’t like they’ll have Daisy complain that they used too much water or put away the plates in the wrong cabinet. The advantages of a blank slate, of an unloved place.
They drink the tea together, Jon sitting on the one chair and Martin sitting on a corner of the table, their legs touching again, casually, even though even in this one room they have plenty enough space to avoid touching. They just don’t want to. Silence falls again as they drink, but the tea warms Martin’s mouth and throat and stomach, and the hearth crackles in the background and warms the room and his skin, and Jon’s leg is touching his leg. The block of ice is still there in Martin’s chest, and his head still half full of fog, and silence still easier than speaking, but he thinks it’s all receding, slowly.
“So, er,” he says, “one bed.”
“Yes,” Jon replies without missing a beat. “This was one of Daisy’s personal hideaways, from what I understand, not somewhere she would have shared with other officers.”
“Right,” Martin says. “Makes sense.”
Jon nods, and that seems to be the end of that for him, so Martin lets it be.
When night falls, Jon asks: “Which side do you prefer to sleep?” and Martin has been having trouble feeling his heart for months but right now he thinks it’s lodged right under his tongue.
“Oh,” he stutters, “ah, err. I don’t really care, do you?”
With a careful kind of tone, Jon says: “Can I be on your left?”
And Martin just shrugs and says, sure, accepting that they’re just not going to talk about that just like how they didn’t talk about the hug and they haven’t been talking about the hand-holding throughout the trip, okay, not making it a big deal, he can do that, he’s been a master of not making a big deal of things for over twenty years.
Except Jon gets into bed with him and twines his skinny legs with Martin’s legs, wraps his arms around Martin’s waist and asks, “Can I?” and slips his hands inside Martin’s shirt, curses quietly about Martin’s cold skin but doesn’t take them away, and lays his head on Martin’s chest, puts his ear on the left side of it, and oh. That’s why.
Martin breathes out, and Jon sighs contentedly and moves his ear closer to the exact location above Martin’s heart, and Martin, carefully, puts his arm around him and Jon mumbles in his shirt: “Perfect, thank you,” and gives all appearances of dropping dead asleep on the spot, as Martin realises he can, indeed, feel his heart beating again, fast and fragile but not afraid.