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Again, and Again

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Everything happens in a rush, once they get out of the Lonely. Jon and Martin make the long and arduous trek back through the tunnels, with – blissfully – no sign of Elias (Jonah), though the walls are spattered with blood, and Basira, when she meets them at the trapdoor in Jon’s office, seems bodily exhausted. She asks peremptory questions, and takes their answers with little in the way of visible responses: Martin? Returned safe, by Jon’s hand (a tight mouth); Lukas? Dead, by Jon’s powers (a satisfied nod); Jonah? Missing (one clenched fist). When they ask for updates on her end, she says nothing for a long moment, which neither Jon nor Martin has the strength to interrupt.

“They're all gone,” she eventually says, pushing past the crack in her voice. “Daisy – Daisy’s not herself anymore. I don’t know if she’s coming back.”

“Is anyone else hurt?” asks Jon. “The rest of the Institute, are they –”

“Yes,” says Basira, and gives no more details. “I think you two should leave. It’s not safe for you here.” She hands them a key, and a slip of paper with an address written on it – somewhere near an obscure Scottish village, by the name – and holds Jon’s hand for the briefest moment, tight and secure. “I’ll hold down the fort.”

With most of Jon’s things living in boxes in the archives, it isn’t hard for him to pack some toiletries and changes of clothes into a bag, and they’re out of the way before the police arrive. Jon stubbornly keeps one hand on Martin's elbow, or the back of his shoulder, or reaching to keep their fingers entangled, as they navigate the teeming, bloodied crowd outside the Institute, and the Tube to Stockwell, because of course, in all of this, Martin never could afford to move house. He packs his own rucksack, digging through messy piles of clothes and sorting through the washed and unwashed with ease despite having left no visible distinctions. They book seats on the next train to Edinburgh as they head back towards London, checking their phones over and over again for news of the Institute, and by the time they arrive at King's Cross, they have just enough time to wolf down a couple of sandwiches and board the train, checking over their shoulders the entire way.

Jon and Martin barely talk as they travel, too afraid of being overheard, and they refuse to stop when they reach Edinburgh just before midnight. An overnight bus takes them to the nearest town to their destination, where they manage to find a taxi to take them to a nearby village, from which they walk, in the chill, dawning light, to the even smaller village further along, heels dragging and hands twined between them as they huddle close for warmth. From there, they find a map that leads them to the right field, and while the first house they try is occupied by some very baffled cattle breeders, the second one – a tiny stone cottage in a dip behind the next hill – matches Basira’s description. The building is old, but the windows look suspiciously thick, and the lock on the door is modern and shining. There are planters full of miserable-looking daisies under the front windowsills.

“This is it,” Jon breathes, with the conviction of knowledge he shouldn’t quite have. “We made it.”

“Are we going to be safe?” Martin returns. It's the most either of them have spoken in many dreary, exhausted hours.

“As safe as we can be,” Jon answers. His voice is soft and hoarse. “Come on.”

They check all the doors and windows before they can relax, of course; test the taps, open the sparsely-stocked cupboards, and wipe the dust off a number of surfaces. There is one, fairly large, bed piled with blankets, and Martin shakes the dust from the uppermost quilt as Jon lights a fire in the front room, and boils a saucepan of water for the crumbling tea. They drink it while perched on stools in the kitchen, changed into t-shirts, jumpers, and tracksuits against the cold. Jon’s naked toes rest curled against the wooden strut of his seat; only Martin had the sense to pack thick socks, and then to put them on.

Finally, as the sun once more begins its descent from noon, Jon sets his half-finished mug on the counter behind them, and, with a motion so steady it can only have been carefully planned, takes Martin's empty left hand between both of his own. The contact makes something in Martin's chest jump, and he watches Jon, curious and wary.

“I realise,” Jon starts, haltingly, eyes fixed on their joined hands – “that – that is, I feel I should say – Martin, I –” He lets out a frustrated snort of air, and mutters, “This shouldn't be so difficult,” before taking a breath and continuing stronger than before. “Look, it's no coincidence that we made it out of the Lonely, we – I...” At last he raises his eyes, and Martin gazes back at him, nonplussed, until Jon gives a sigh, and says: “Martin, I love you.”

It pulls at one corner of Martin's mouth, tugging his dry lips into a smile. He forgot to bring a chapstick.

“I figured,” he says; then sobers, before the warmth of happiness can bloom in Jon's chest. “But,” he adds – “how d'you know?”

“What?”

“I'm not –” Martin sighs and puts his mug down behind them, turning away from Jon but not extracting his hand. “I don't mean to sound morbid, but I'm not who you think I am,” he explains to the floor and the crackling fire. “I'm not the same person you used to know. How can you be sure that you – that you love me, if – if you don't even know me anymore?” He raises his head again, just enough to meet Jon's eye, an apology behind his gaze. “I don't mean to sound morbid,” he says again, in a resigned mumble – “but it's true.”

For a moment, the only thing that moves is the fire, dancing low in the hearth, and each of their breaths, pushing and pulling at their chests, one sharp and skinny, the other broad and round. Then Jon smiles, with a small huff of laughter and a glimpse of stained teeth.

“Martin,” he croaks, almost pityingly, and swallows, glancing away. He opens his mouth in silence for a moment, as if choosing his words with utmost precision, and when he speaks, it is slow and precise. “I... have fallen in love with you,” he goes on – “over, and over again. For...” His brow quirks with a realisation, almost embarrassed, and Martin doesn't interrupt – “two years now, I suppose, including the coma. After Prentiss, and Leitner, and your – apologising for not knowing I was kidnapped, and – and your plan with Elias –”

“Jonah,” Martin mutters, a rote reminder. Jon nods.

“Well,” he says, in recognition. “The point is, when I woke up, and you weren't around... I fell in love with you then, too. And no, you're not the same person you once were – but God knows, neither am I.” He says it with half a smile, rueful and forgiving, and his eyes back on Martin's face. His voice strengthens, and the words seem to come more steadily. “But Peter was wrong. Maybe we do create an image of the people we love, but that's not the end of it. It's just the beginning. Every time you make me adjust that image, I fall in love with you, and – well. You're seriously underestimating me if you think I won't be able to manage it again. And again, and again – for as long as you'll let me.”

Martin stares at him, at the open honesty on his face, gentling the lines and softening the eyes. It's one thing to feel love, to have it offered in a desolate place, to know that of course Jon loves him, or how did they ever escape? But it's quite another thing to hear it in so many words – to know that, while he was hopelessly crushing on his boss, maybe it wasn't entirely one-way – and in that soft, quiet voice Jon seems to have reserved for a privileged few, tired but contented, and so very, very gentle. Martin can't find a response, for so long that Jon glances between his eyes, and falters, sitting back without unclasping their hands.

“Sorry,” he breathes out in a rush, looking away. “I'm sorry, that was too much, too fast. You only just got out of the Lonely, Peter was working on you f–”

He cuts off with a muffled sound as Martin places his free hand around his jaw and kisses him, the wood of their stools creaking, leaning awkwardly around to reach him. Martin doesn't push for anything, but his palm is warm and solid, and the pressure of his mouth is insistent, two full lips slanted across Jon's and the space between them damp and warm, promising the taste of tea. Jon's breath stutters through his nose as his brain tries to catch up, and another strained, muted sound escapes his throat; until, finally, he closes his eyes and leans forward into the kiss, moving and pursing his lips so that they catch against the soft-dry and smooth-wet contradictions of Martin's mouth.

When Martin sits back – far enough to breathe, but not so far that he has to remove his hand from where it is cupped around Jon's cheek – Jon finds himself twisting to follow him, open-mouthed and close-eyed. He blinks and meets Martin's gaze, creased by cheeks pushed up by a smile.

“Sorry,” Martin murmurs, stroking his thumb back and forth below Jon's eye, dipping under the edge of his glasses. “Too much too fast?”

Jon shakes his head, and says, “Not at all.” He plucks one hand from the pile between them to trace his fingers along Martin's jaw from ear to chin, lightly scraping against his two-day stubble, and drinks in Martin's sighing breath and fluttering lashes, the tilt of his head along the lines Jon draws. It's a miracle the way Martin reacts to him – the very fact of him being here to react – flattering and fascinating in its vulnerability.

“So,” Jon forces out, aiming for nonchalance and barely managing a strained sense of purpose – “when you said you loved me...”

“Love,” Martin whispers, opening his eyes in earnest and searching for something in Jon's face. “I couldn't feel in there, not really – but out here... I still love you, Jon. Of course I do.”

Jon doesn't know what to say to that. Instead, he smooths his palm back, across the side of Martin's neck, until he can pull him in, meeting him with a hush of clothes and breath. Martin closes his mouth on Jon's with purpose and pressure, and although Jon is not in the habit of getting drunk, he knows what intoxication feels like, and this is definitely it. His world narrows down to what's right in front of him, spinning at the edges even when he closes his eyes, and every sense feels simultaneously dulled and intense, his fingers and feet tingling with the paradox. As Martin pulls him closer, he presses Jon's glasses in at an angle with a faint creak, wedging the frame into Jon's cheekbone and the bridge of his nose on one side; but it doesn't matter. All that matters is the stretch of Jon's neck as he reaches for Martin's height rather than letting him bow again to meet him, and the threadbare jumper collar under his hand as his drags it down, holding them both in place. His fingers tighten and loosen on the fabric according to the movement of Martin's lips, hooking at the edges or pressing flat to the swell of his chest, which yields wonderfully against him. The hands between them grip tighter atop Martin's leg, clinging to each other, as Jon awkwardly tries to mimic the parting of Martin's lips, and even more awkwardly yelps, blinking, when he tastes the sour of Martin's tongue as it smooths over the edge of his lower lip.

Martin doesn't withdraw from Jon, but his mouth retreats, and there's the start of a question in his teeth – “Is that all r–” – so Jon silences him, tugging on his hand and lunging back in, prompting a quiet moan. His urgent tongue is soon gentled into languid pleasure as they sink into each other and the warm, wet mingling of mouth and breath, lips mismatched and locked by turns so that Jon gets to taste the difference between Martin's tongue, and the corner of his mouth, and his top right canine, and all of his plush lower lip at once. The last pulls a luxurious groan from Martin's throat which leaves Jon very self-satisfied, and Martin's quivering hand pushes back, carding through the waves of Jon's greying, travel-soiled hair and holding them both up as he dips to realigns their mouths. The pressure of his fingers against the base of Jon's skull makes him want to purr.

The kissing doesn't go anywhere. Eventually, they nearly fall off their stools, Martin catching them both against the counter, and they laugh softly, surprised and out of breath. Half-delirious, Jon settles his glasses and tries to explain, tries to say that things could get complicated from here, that he's not really – he doesn't really –

But Martin just smooths back his greasy hair, and breathes “I know,” and “We'll talk about it later,” and “Let's just go to bed,” as Jon nods his relieved agreement. They stumble past the fire, happy to let it wear itself out, and through to the cramped bedroom, to crawl in under the mountain of quilts and hold hands between them as they settle down, and the sun sinks, and they finally drift off to sleep. They'll have to see to the generator in the morning, and figure out how to contact Basira, and deal with... everything. For now, however, they curl against each other on the surprisingly soft mattress, sharing warmth and breath, with Martin's head tucked into the crook of Jon's neck, and Jon's hand on his back, certain and secure in their closeness.

The end of the world may be coming, but they have this. At least they have had this.