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An Oath, Until the End

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1.

Jon isn't quite sure how they make it to Martin's flat. The trip out of the Lonely and then through London blurs together, until Jon can only recall a few unconnected snatches. For example: walking away from the Institute, sirens blaring behind them. Martin, hunched and miserable but trying to hide it as people bump into him over and over on the crowded Tube. Walking down a quiet street between apartment buildings, hands and arms brushing together but neither of them quite brave enough to grab on.

When Jon finally wakes up just after dawn, he’s stiff and sore, sitting upright on Martin's sofa with Martin still asleep beside him. But it’s not the light that wakes him; rather, it’s the sound of the door opening. Pure panic rushes through him and he yelps, staggering to his feet only to fall on his face as his shaky legs give out under him. He only has a moment to think well this is the end then before a familiar voice snaps him out of it.

"Jon? Are you all right?" asks Basira, standing in the doorway, hand still on the doorknob.

"'M fine," groans Jon, hauling himself off the floor. Martin, woken by either Jon's cut-off yell or the sound of him hitting the ground like a sack of potatoes, helps Jon upright. He quietly fusses over an already-fading bruise on Jon’s forearm where it had clipped the coffee table.

Basira walks into the flat, shutting the door behind her. "I'd tell you off for not locking your door at night, but I think we have more immediate issues. You two need to get out of London. The sooner, the better. How much cash do you have on you?" She perches on the edge of a fading armchair across the room. There's something... off about her appearance, Jon realizes. She's as tense as a piano wire and there are dark shadows under her eyes, but those eyes are alert. Bright. Too bright.

"Hang on," Martin mumbles groggily, rubbing at the corners of his own eyes. "How did you know where I live?"

Basira shrugs. "You must've told me at some point. Or I saw it in the Institute's records, or something. I have a good memory for detail." She's not blinking, realizes Jon. She hasn't blinked the whole time she's been here.

"How did you know the door was unlocked?" asks Jon. "You didn't knock or anything, you just walked in."

"I—" The expression on Basira's face freezes, something like horror rising behind her eyes. Then she closes them, shakes her head. "I don't know. I'll... I'll deal with it later. It's not important now."

"Basira—"

"I'll deal with it later, Jon. Right now, you need to get as far away from here as possible, as fast as possible. I don't know where the hunters are, or the not-Sasha thing, or Dai—" she chokes over the word, scrubs at her face with both hands. When she speaks again, her voice is steadier. "After everything that's happened at the Institute at the last few years, the amount of stuff you've been caught up in? There's no way you'll get out of this without spending time behind bars, even if you don't end up accused of anything. And believe me, that's not likely. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the sectioned officers decided to take matters into their own hands, too."

Dread, never entirely absent from the pit of Jon's stomach these days, intrudes on his awareness again. He takes a deep breath. "All right. How do you suggest we do this?"

“Do either of you have a car?” Both Jon and Martin shake their heads. Basira pinches the bridge of her nose. "Fine. Wait until rush hour, then take a train out of town. Daisy"—her voice wavers for a moment before firming up again—"has a safe house in Scotland. I'll text you the address; the keys are in the second-largest flowerpot on the stairs. Once you're out of London, switch trains a few times before heading there. Use cash for tickets and food unless you have no alternative. Cover your hair, but don't cover your faces—it'll make you more conspicuous, not less. Try to disguise your figures. If you can." Her tone is skeptical at that last, her gaze sweeping over Jon's tiny stick-figure build and Martin's enormously tall and broad frame.

Jon doesn't know which part of that to address first, so he settles on "I don't know if I have enough on me for multiple train tickets," more or less at random.

Basira digs her wallet out of her pocket before Jon can protest, but swears under her breath when she sees the inside. "I have an emergency fund in my flat, but it would take too long to go get it..." she trails off, obviously thinking hard.

"Erm," Martin interrupts tentatively. They both turn to look at him, and he seems to shrink under their gazes momentarily before straightening up. "I may have a solution?" Jon and Basira watch, first in confusion and then in shocked disbelief as Martin retrieves a fat envelope from the next room. At their looks, he hunches his shoulders slightly and says, a defensive note in his voice, "Peter made me run all sorts of errands for him, and I think the number of phone calls he would have had to make in order to set me up with an Institute credit card might have literally killed him."

Jon can't quite suppress a snort, which briefly threatens to turn into a fit of laughter before he gets himself under control again, because—well, it may not be literally true, but it is a hilariously apropos observation given the events of yesterday.

Basira, meanwhile, has moved on to discussing train schedules. Martin seems to be following along attentively, asking questions and taking notes on his phone. Jon is struck by a sudden rush of helpless affection. Everything has gone off the rails, they're dangerously short on allies, and Elias—no, Jonah fucking Magnus—is definitely up to some awful nefarious scheme. And yet Martin is somehow, against all odds, still his same old self. A little less sure of himself, perhaps, his natural nervousness converted to reticence and silence. But he's still here (he's still here, god, what a miracle), still working stubbornly away at whatever problem is before them. Still pulling salvation out of left field every time they’re in a tight spot, that streak of offbeat brilliance undiminished. For the first time, Jon allows himself to think about a future with Martin, about spending time together with nothing hanging over their heads. I wonder if he'd be a good cook, thinks Jon idly, he's certainly excellent with tea—

Basira clears her throat pointedly, and Jon hastily shoves his soppy daydreaming into the back of his head and focuses. She and Martin seem to have agreed on a travel itinerary, and now she's fixing them both with a hard stare.

"Normally, in a situation like this, I'd advise you to split up, travel separately," she says. Martin makes a tiny noise and grabs at the closest bit of Jon to hand, which happens to be his knee. Before either of them have a chance to argue, Basira holds up a hand. "But for obvious reasons, that's a terrible idea right now. So. Keep an eye on each other. Don't make any scenes. Don't go off alone, and don't let each other go off alone." Her voice goes wobbly again at the end of that sentence.

Jon nods seriously and glances up at Martin, whose face is pink. He can't seem to decide whether to meet Jon's eye or look at the floor. "We won't," says Jon, and his words have the weight of a promise. "We'll stay together."

 


2.

They arrive at Daisy's safehouse after dark, both exhausted from the trip. Neither has enough energy to do more than dig their pyjamas out of their respective bags and flop into the narrow bed. Jon makes a halfhearted offer to sleep on the sofa they'd passed in the front room, but Martin, bleary-eyed, scoots over to one side of the bed and pats the other side of the mattress, and Jon, too exhausted to protest further, squeezes in. Neither attempts to bridge the six inches of space between them, despite the fact that the bed is not strictly big enough to hold them both comfortably. Jon is asleep nearly as soon as his head touches the musty pillow.

He wakes in darkness to a low, muffled sound and the quivering of the mattress.

Jon is so used to his nightmares that it takes him a moment to realize that he isn't having one. It takes him a moment more to realize that Martin is crying, quietly enough that Jon doubts he would have woken if not for the bed shaking with the movement of Martin's shoulders. Jon is suddenly vividly, sickeningly reminded of crying himself to sleep night after night in the aftermath of his parents' deaths. Quietly, so quietly, in order to not wake his grandmother, who had been gentle and soothing and so obviously tired of having to wake up in the middle of the night to comfort him again that it was worse than if she hadn't come at all.

Jon wonders where Martin learned to cry so quietly and then immediately cuts off that train of thought before it hurts him more.

He hesitates, then scoots over to Martin and presses against his side. Martin makes a startled noise. "Jon? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. Go back to sleep." Martin's voice is raspy, his breaths unsteady and rattling in his chest.

"It's all right," murmurs Jon. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," sniffles Martin. "I'm fine. Just a, er, just a bad dream."

Tell me, Jon doesn't say. He waits until he's sure no compulsion will come through when he speaks before asking, "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No," says Martin. A few moments pass while Jon tries to think of what to say, how to comfort him. Then, "Yes. I was—I dreamed I woke up and you were—" A shuddering breath. "Gone. Your bags, all the stuff you brought with you. I looked for you but I couldn't find you, you weren't outside or anything, and then I realized that, that the floor was all dusty but there was only one set of footprints—and outside, outside the fog was closing in—" The rest of Martin's words dissolve into more near-silent sobs.

Jon's heart shatters into a million tiny razor-sharp splinters. Personal space be damned. He wriggles so he's lying half on top of Martin, curls his hands into Martin's worn pyjama shirt. "I'm here, Martin," he says, as gently as he can. "I'm right here, you're safe, I'm not going anywhere..." He continues to mumble words he hopes are appropriately soothing as Martin grabs hold of him, presses his face into Jon's hair. Gradually, the sobs slow, then cease.

"Sorry," mumbles Martin. He sniffles, fumbles at the bedside table, blows his nose.

"Sorry? For what?"

"I didn't mean to wake you," says Martin. His grip on Jon loosens and tightens in turns, as if he's trying to let go but can't quite make himself do it. "And I'm sorry for making, for making such a big deal out of it, it was just a bad dream."

Jon props himself up on one elbow. He can't make Martin's face out in the gloom, so his stern stare probably doesn't have much effect. "Martin, you don't have to apologize for any of that. What you went through, what you've been through, it was awful. And even aside from that, there's nothing wrong with crying when you have a nightmare."

"I woke you up," Martin wails softly. "You were so tired last night and I know you can't possibly have been sleeping well and I woke you up." He sounds so miserably guilty that Jon's heart, impossibly, breaks a little more.

"I don't care," says Jon. "I'd rather stay up all night than have you think that I'd left, or that you were back... there." A thought occurs to him. "Er. Is this all right? I can move over if you want more space."

Martin hesitantly tugs Jon back down onto him. "No. I don't... Please don't leave," he whispers into the top of Jon's head, so quietly that Jon can barely make out the words.

"I won't," Jon murmurs. "Never. I promise."

Martin doesn't reply out loud, just tightens his arms around Jon, who falls asleep to the sound of Martin's now-even breathing and the slow rise and fall of his chest under him. If he dreams, he doesn't remember it in the morning.

 


3.

Jon wakes uncharacteristically late when Martin slides out of the bed. He makes grabby motions at Martin's retreating back, but can't quite get his voice operational in time to protest out loud. When he wanders downstairs in a drowsy haze, Martin wishes him good morning with a cheerful smile and a mug of tea. Somehow, despite the frankly abysmal state of the supplies in the kitchen cabinets, it tastes exactly the same as every other cup of tea Martin has ever offered him, which is to say, exactly the way he likes it.

After the previous night, Jon had been fully intending to check in with Martin in the morning and discuss what they'd said to each other. But Martin keeps up the cheerful manner through the morning and into the afternoon, chattering away as the two of them air out the house, unpack their bags, and thoroughly rid each room of dust and cobwebs. It's—really nice, actually. Jon hadn't previously thought he was the sort to enjoy being talked at for hours on end, but it turns out that being deprived of Martin's incessant inconsequential rambling for so many months had left an aching, hollow space inside him. He hadn't even realized he was carrying until it was gone. Jon can't bring himself to disrupt the bright mood.

As evening falls, though, Martin becomes quieter, more withdrawn. Neither of them talk much over dinner. (Martin is, in fact, an excellent cook, Jon notes.) Gradually, Jon becomes aware of a tension in the air between them. As the two of them clear the plates from the worn coffee table—there was neither a dining table nor regular chairs, so they'd resorted to using the lumpy sofa—Jon debates how best to start the conversation he knows they need to have.

Martin beats him to it, though, breaking the silence as the two of them are cleaning up in the kitchen. "Did you mean it?" he asks, voice soft, eyes downcast. "What you said. Last night, I mean."

Jon carefully sets down the plate he'd been scrubbing, but doesn't turn away from the sink. Anxiety paralyzes his throat, makes his tongue feel leaden in his mouth. If he says the wrong thing—

The wrong thing? he asks himself. Martin loves you. He tried to sacrifice himself to the Lonely for you. He literally begged you not to leave him just last night. You're not going to scare him off by coming on too strong. The knowledge is staggering, and for a moment Jon can't breathe under the weight of it. It's every bit as overwhelming as receiving information from the Beholding, but for once Jon can't find so much as a speck of fear within himself.

Martin draws in a breath to speak and Jon realizes belatedly (and guiltily, and with a bit of panic as well) that he's been standing silently with his back to Martin for several seconds. The frantic need to pre-empt whatever words of self-deprecation or deflection are on Martin's tongue seizes him, and he spins and flings his arms around Martin's middle. Martin's hands end up trapped against his chest where he'd been wringing them. Jon's hands are soaked in soapy dishwater halfway up to the elbows. Oh well.

"I meant it," he says into Martin's shirt. "I promise I'll never leave." A sudden flicker of unease surges through him, and he forces himself to look up and say, "Un—unless you want me to. I wouldn't—I mean, if you wanted to leave, I'd understand, I'd probably leave me too—but if, if you don't tell me to go, I won't. Not ever."

Martin lifts his arms, effortlessly breaking Jon's grip. For a wild moment, Jon worries that he misjudged the situation horribly, but Martin just wraps his arms around Jon, clutching him close, one hand cautiously sliding into the hair at the nape of Jon's neck. Jon leans his head gently against Martin's soft round shoulder, carefully raising himself on tiptoes so that Martin doesn't have to hunch over so much. His forehead presses lightly against Martin's jaw. Jon slides his arms back around Martin's waist; with Martin's arms out of the way, he can clasp his hands together behind Martin's back.

"Thank you," says Martin in a choked voice barely above a whisper. Something wet drops onto Jon's forehead. Oh. He reaches up and swipes a thumb clumsily across Martin's cheek. His hands are still soapy. Damn.

The words don't come easily, but Martin needs to hear them, so he makes himself speak. "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you. You saved me, so many times, just by—existing. By being there, and being you. And... I love you. So I'll be here for you, too. As long as you still want me."

"Always," Martin sniffles. "I'll always want you with me." He reaches up to scrub at his face one-handed before replacing his arm around Jon. "I love you too."

They stand there, holding each other in the tiny kitchen, for about thirty more seconds before Martin shivers and says apologetically, "Jon, the back of my shirt is soaked and it's cold in here."

Jon detaches himself and stutters an embarrassed apology while Martin, tear-stained but smiling, wanders into the next room in search of a dry shirt. They spend the rest of the evening tidying in companionable quiet before curling up in the small bed again. They don't bother trying to give each other space this time, though, and Jon falls asleep with Martin solid and warm at his back, and a heavy arm holding him securely in place.

 


4.

The village is a mildly inconvenient distance without a car, so they try to make one big trip for groceries, bringing back as much as they can carry, rather than consigning themselves to making a trip every few days. It ends up taking two trips in the end; Martin may be strong as an ox, but Jon isn't, and they can only carry so many bags by hand anyway.

On the second trip, Jon spots a tiny bookstore a few doors down from the shop, and wanders inside before he can stop himself. By unspoken agreement, they decide that Peter's money will probably afford a frivolous purchase or two. After half an hour of blissful browsing, they leave with a long and rather dry tome on Scottish folklore (Jon), a handful of yellowing science fiction paperbacks (Martin), and a deck of cards with a picture of fluffy orange cows on the backs (Martin points it out, but Jon is the one to add it to their stack of purchases.)

They settle into a sort of routine over the next week. Jon typically wakes up first around dawn, but doesn't get out of bed until Martin wakes an hour or two later. Martin makes tea while Jon cobbles together breakfast, and they eat with their shoulders pressed together on the sofa, shivering a little in the early October chill. (The cottage is not well insulated. After the first few days, they keep a slightly scratchy red tartan blanket on the sofa to huddle under together.)

They clean up the breakfast dishes together, then bundle up and take a walk outside. Occasionally they head into the village, but more often they just wander the countryside near the house. It's usually foggy, which makes Martin uneasy and tense, but the brilliant green hills and herds of cows, not to mention Jon's stubborn presence at his side, seem to soothe him. After a while, he even stops avoiding the windows of the cottage when it’s gloomy out.

They don't usually sit down to lunch, instead snacking on whatever is close to hand as they read or play cards or just spend hours talking in the sparse front room. When they start getting properly hungry, Martin puts something on the antique stovetop or in the more-antique oven, and then perches on the lone stool in the kitchen scribbling something in a battered notebook that he refuses to show Jon. Meanwhile, Jon busies himself with whatever chores are undone from the morning or the day before. They eat in the front room again, and curl up together in the narrow bed afterwards, talking softly until one or the other of them drifts off.

By some miracle, they never have nightmares at the same time. There are even some nights when their dreams are merely anxious and confusing, rather than the unadulturated terror they’ve both become accustomed to.

---

It's sickeningly domestic, and a bit boring, and while the cottage is cute, it's not exactly equipped to be comfortable for stays of more than a day or two. Jon's never been happier in his entire life, and he has a suspicion that Martin feels exactly the same.

---

One fateful morning, while out walking, Jon spots a hedgehog under a bush, and Martin spends fully fifteen minutes kneeling in the dirt cooing nonsense at it before it notices him and scurries off. He pulls himself back to his feet, looking a bit bashful. Jon, leaning against a nearby fence, can't help teasing him a little. "The best nose? Are you quite sure? I could have sworn you said that the cow with the funny white spot we saw yesterday had the best nose."

A pink flush spreads across Martin's nose and cheekbones. "Shut up," he mumbles.

"And what about the cat in the bookshop?" continues Jon mercilessly as they start walking again. "Goodness, Martin, telling all these poor animals they have the best nose behind each other's backs, it's dishonest, really—"

"Oi!" Martin grumbles, slinging an arm around Jon's back and tugging him so that he stumbles a little, falling into Martin's side. "I seem to recall you telling that very cat that she had the prettiest ears in the world, when I know for a fact you also said that to the cat outside the train station on the way here—"

Jon, trying to think up a way to make Martin blush even harder (he's been practicing over the last few days, and thinks he had a pretty good handle on it by now), comes up with a reasonably good remark about how the best nose in fact belongs to Martin himself. But when he opens his mouth to say it, what comes out instead is, "Can I kiss you?"

It's certainly an effective tactic for making Martin blush. His ears are now the color of ripe strawberries. On the other hand, Jon's entire face has started radiating heat with the force of a bonfire.

After a beat of silence, Martin clears his throat. "Erm. Yes? If you—if you want to?"

When did it become July? Jon is going to die of heatstroke in approximately fifteen seconds. "I do. Want to, that is."

"Okay," squeaks Martin. For a moment neither of them move. Then Martin cautiously reaches down to press his hand against Jon's cheek and leans over, and Jon stands on tiptoe, steadying himself against Martin's shoulders, and tips his head back a bit, and it's—

It's—nice. It's really nice. It's much better than nice, in fact, but the part of Jon's brain that he usually uses for words is currently busy going !!! so "nice" is the best he can manage at present.

When they break apart, they're both breathing rather harder than normal. Every visible inch of Martin's skin is still red, and Jon could still probably heat up the whole cottage with his face alone. They stare at each other for a few seconds in silence, blinking, and then lean back together again.

---

After that, Jon starts kissing Martin every time he gets a chance. His cheek, as they sit side by side on the sofa. His lips, as they cuddle up face to face at night. He even makes a valiant effort to kiss Martin as they pass each other in the cottage’s tiny hallway, but Martin is so inconveniently tall that Jon has to settle for elbows and shoulders most of the time, or else tug on his collar or sleeve to get him to bend down. Martin seems to think this is funny, for some reason. 

When Jon finally swallows his pride and resorts to using the front stairs as a step stool one morning as they return from their walk, Martin laughs at him outright. Jon scowls. "Oh shut up, Martin, it's not my fault you're a giant."

Martin, still laughing, kisses Jon again. Or tries to—he can't stop smiling, which doesn't exactly make it easy. When their noses bump together uncomfortably, it just sets off Martin's giggles again. "Well, it's hardly my fault you're tiny," he manages to wheeze out. Jon fixes him with his most fearsome glare, but sometime between their transfer to the archives and now it seems to have lost all its potency. Pity.

Eventually, Martin's laughing subsides, and he sighs, a bit of melancholy creeping into his voice. "It'll be a sad day when you finally get tired of craning your neck all the time."

Jon may not be especially good at picking up on social cues, but even he can tell that Martin's not just talking about Jon's neck getting sore. "It's never going to happen," he says matter-of-factly.

"No?" asks Martin, shyly.

"Nope. Never. You’re stuck with me. Even if I have to," Jon casts about desperately for an appropriate joke to lighten the mood, "if I have to start carrying a box around everywhere I go so that I can stand on it." Before he’s even done speaking, Jon begins kicking himself internally. It may not be the dumbest thing he’s ever said, but it’s certainly a contender.

Martin nearly chokes. “A box? You’re going to carry around a, a box to stand on?” Jon chances a look up. Martin appears to be losing an epic battle with a second giggle fit.

Oh, this was such a mistake. “...Yes?” says Jon.

Martin is now properly laughing at him. Jon does not in fact wish for the ground to swallow him whole, as he's been there and it wasn't pleasant, but damn if it isn’t tempting. He fumbles with the key and the lock so that he doesn't have to look up.

“It’s not that funny,” he eventually grumbles when he gets the door open and Martin still hasn’t stopped laughing.

“It was a very cute mental image,” Martin gasps defensively, catching his breath. 

Jon groans and rolls his eyes. “Yes, yes, all right. Now come on inside. You’ll have plenty of time to laugh at me later.”

"Yeah," says Martin softly, and suddenly they’re not talking about Jon’s feeble attempts at humor anymore. "I will, won’t I?"

Jon glances across the threshold of their house—their home—at Martin, who's smiling at him so fondly Jon can hardly bear it. “You can count on it,” he says. “I seem to have a rather spectacular talent for making a fool of myself, and as I’ve said, you’re stuck with me.”

Martin finally follows Jon in out of the chill. "I have a better idea than the box, though," he says as he shuts the door behind him. Before Jon can ask what it is, Martin scoops him off the floor as if he weighs as much as a feather. The tips of their noses brush together. "See, this is much more convenient," says Martin with a mischievous smile.

"Yes, very convenient," is all Jon can manage to string together, the heat rising in his face again.

---

The next day, they head into the village to pick up some milk and eggs from the shop. Somehow, Jon manages to miss the small wooden crate Martin sneaks into the bottom of their largest shopping bag until he presents it with a smirk and a flourish after packing away the food in the rickety old refrigerator. Jon has a horrible sinking feeling that he's never going to live this one down.

(On the bright side, though, Martin seems to get over some of his shyness, and develops a habit of kissing the top of Jon’s head whenever he passes by. Jon decides to call the whole thing a wash.)

 


5.

One morning, nearly two weeks into their stay, the day dawns bright and sunny for once. The light through the crack in the curtains makes Martin's sleep-ruffled, not-quite-ginger curls look like spun gold. It also makes him screw his eyelids shut against the light, sleepily trying to pull the sheet over his face. Jon is helpless to stop himself from pressing a gentle peck to the corner of Martin's mouth.

Martin makes a little "hmmm" sound and turns his face to kiss Jon properly, then promptly pulls Jon close and rolls half on top of him, squishing him into the mattress. Jon instantly turns into a puddle of euphoric goo at the sensation, and lets out an undignified groan of contentment.

"Jon? Are you all right?" mumbles Martin, voice thick from sleep but still worried. "D'I squash you?"

"Yes," Jon sighs. "Don't move. S'nice."

"Are you sure?" Martin sounds more awake now, and still anxious. The lovely pressure lessens as Martin starts trying to roll off of Jon, so Jon grabs a double handful of Martin's shirt and pulls him down again.

"No. I mean yes. Stay," grumbles Jon, aware that he's being slightly ridiculous but utterly unwilling to stop.

Martin chuckles softly, and carefully rests his weight back on Jon, who promptly busies himself turning back into a puddle. They lie there until Martin's stomach gives a loud rumble, spoiling the cozy silence and making them both laugh.

After breakfast, instead of getting up to put the plates in the sink, Jon wriggles over behind Martin and tugs on him until Martin leans against him, pressing him into the back of the sofa. A split second of worry crosses his mind—is this a sign of some trouble ahead from the Buried?—but then he realizes why the sensation is so familiar, and relaxes.

"You really like that, don't you," says Martin, craning his neck to look at Jon over his own shoulder.

"Yeah," sighs Jon, wrapping his arms around Martin's stomach and resting his forehead against the bumps of Martin's spine. "'S like—like my favorite blanket when I was little."

"Your favorite blanket?" asks Martin, a smile in his voice.

"Mmm hmmm," says Jon, slightly muffled. His breathing is a little restricted from Martin's weight against his ribcage, but it's pleasant. Comforting. "It was a big duvet. Goose down, I think, and meant for a double bed, not a single like mine, so it had to be folded in half to fit."

"Sounds like it must have been very warm," says Martin, stroking the back of one of Jon's hands with his thumb.

"It was. But I liked the weight more than the warmth," says Jon. "Felt like the rest of the world just melted away. I always felt so... safe, I guess. When I was, oh, fourteen or so, it caught on an exposed screw on the desk in my room and tore open. The feathers all fell out and we had to throw it away."

Martin makes a soft noise of sympathy, squeezing both of Jon's hands in one of his.

"I got a new one, but it was actually sized for my bed, so it wasn't nearly as heavy," continues Jon. "Took me ages to get used to it. I had almost forgotten all about it, until this morning. I still miss it sometimes, though." Behind the sleepy comfort of Martin leaning against him, Jon feels an odd prickle of anxiety, or perhaps vulnerability. He's never told anyone about that blanket, not even Georgie. It feels like a silly, childish thing, to still be mourning the loss of an object from more than half his life ago.

There's a brief lull, and then Martin says hesitantly, "I never actually had a duvet, when I was little. My—my mum always got cold at night, so she got both of the heaviest blankets, and I had a pile of the thinner ones instead of one big one, but usually it wasn't really warm enough. Mum wouldn't let me keep the heating on at night." Martin pauses. "Sometimes I would take the pillows off of the sofa and pile them on top of myself in my bed when I had a bad day, or when it was really cold. It felt nice at first, but they always fell off as soon as I moved, and I had to put them back early the next morning before Mum woke up or she'd get mad at me." His next breath is a little unsteady. "Sorry. Didn't mean to, ah, start a pity party."

The quiet, age-worn sorrow in Martin's voice catches in Jon's chest, making his lungs ache. He's abruptly furious with the universe for treating Martin so carelessly for so long, but he can't let his rage seep into his voice or face, lest Martin think Jon is angry with him instead. When he trusts himself, he squeezes Martin's middle and then gently pushes on his back. Martin stands willingly, watching bemusedly as Jon collects the blanket from the back of the sofa and then tugs him towards the bedroom.

"Jon?" says Martin, a little wrinkle forming between his eyebrows. It's adorable. Jon has to resist the urge to go find the damn box so he can kiss it smooth. Instead, he pulls the sheet and the quilt off of the bed and gently shoves Martin down into it. Martin hasn't lost the confused look, so Jon indulges himself and kisses Martin's forehead before carefully spreading all three blankets back over him.

Martin chuckles, but it's a fragile sound. "Jon, you really don't need to—"

"Shh," says Jon. "I'm not done yet."

The bedroom is usually chilly at night, but they haven't really explored for the linen closet yet; they’d both brought warm pyjamas, having expected the cold weather. Besides, the chilly bedroom is an excellent excuse to sleep pressed close together. Jon finds a change of sheets, some spare pillowcases, an extra quilt, and—perfect. He lugs the heavy (and, unfortunately, rather musty) duvet out of the back of the closet, then after a moment of hesitation, grabs the quilt too.

Thus encumbered, he makes his way back to the bedroom, where Martin is half-sitting up, looking bashful. Jon rolls his eyes and gently presses Martin's shoulder back down before spreading both blankets over him. When everything is smoothed out to his satisfaction, he carefully slides under the bottom-most blanket, draping himself over Martin's chest.

"Oh," says Martin softly, and Jon can feel the tension abruptly drain from his body. They lie in silence for a few minutes as Jon struggles to put words to the powerful mix of emotions currently squeezing his throat.

"I love you," he finally starts, scooting up and arching his back slightly so that he can meet Martin's gaze. Martin smiles and shifts slightly under him, hands reaching up to clasp Jon's back.

"I l—" Martin begins to say, but Jon hastily frees one arm, presses a finger against Martin's lips to silence him.

"Wait. I—I know, but—let me finish." Martin looks up at him from the pillow, that little line of puzzlement (or perhaps worry) back between his eyebrows again. He doesn't speak, though, so Jon continues.

"You are—you are the bravest, and strongest, and best person I know. No, shhh, I'm not done yet. When we first met—I said shhh—I was an idiot and an arse to treat you the way I did. I'm sorry. I don't think I'll ever be sorry enough to make up for it."

"I've already forgiven you for all that, Jon," Martin mumbles past Jon's finger. Jon drops his head onto Martin's chest with a groan. "Sorry. I'll be quiet now."

Jon lifts his head back up, unable to help the fond smile tugging at his lips. "It's all right, Martin. And I know you have. I—well, I haven't. I don't think I'll ever really deserve you, or deserve your forgiveness. But that's not the point, is it?" Jon sighs. He's talking in circles. "What I mean to say is… I know we've only been together—really together—for a little while. But I've known you for, for a long time now. I've seen you when you were terrified and hurting, and I've seen you when you were furious, and I've also seen you when you were—really happy. Or at least I hope I have." Jon swallows. "And you've seen me at my best and my worst too. I—I like being around you. I like myself, I like the whole world better when you're around."

There are tears gathering in Martin's eyes. Jon hastens to finish before he gets too choked up to continue.

"So I just wanted to tell you that, that this is it for me. I want to make you happy. I want to spend my life making you happy. Whether that means little things like, like wrapping you up in blankets, or showing you pictures of cute animals, or big things like pulling you out of the Lonely or—whatever else comes our way next. I'm going to spend as much time as I have left trying to, to deserve you, Martin. Unless you tell me to get lost, I'm going to stay with you, or—or die trying." A tear falls from Jon's face to splash on Martin's cheek, vanishing into the stream already there.

"Come here," whispers Martin, and pulls Jon down into a kiss.

When Martin pulls back, he sniffles loudly and clutches Jon tightly against him. It's now officially too hot under the blanket pile, but neither of them care. "For a minute," says Martin with a damp chuckle, "for a minute I thought you were going to, I dunno, ask me to marry you or something."

Is it just Jon's imagination, or is there a hint of wistfulness in Martin's voice? Jon props himself up on one elbow. Martin won't quite meet his eyes. Not Jon's imagination, then. "I will if you want me to," says Jon earnestly.

"Jon, we—we've only been dating for, for like two weeks," protests Martin weakly. His eyes are huge, and shine with even more tears.

"I don't care," says Jon. "Like I said. I am... I'm very determined to make you happy. And it's not like we were ever going to be a normal couple anyway." Martin looks up at him with a very soft expression. Jon has to swallow against another lump in his throat. "Do you want me to ask?"

Martin stares at him with a stunned expression for five full seconds. Then, “Get me a ring, first?" he says timidly, sounding like he can't quite believe what he's saying. Like he's afraid that the minute he accepts that it’s real, the whole thing will be pulled out from under him.

"Okay," says Jon seriously, and flops on top of Martin again.

"Just like that," said Martin, faint with shock.

"Just like that," says Jon.

The midmorning sun turns the air to honey around them. They stay there, in each other’s quiet embrace, as long as they can.

 


+1.

They can't stay in the cottage. Not forever, anyway. Even if the food was enough to last longer than a week or two, they can't undo the apocalypse from here.

(Maybe they can't undo the apocalypse from anywhere. Maybe the whole idea is a fool's errand. But for Martin, the equation is simple. Jon had promised him a future, and a life of happiness. Jon had walked straight into Hell, more or less literally, to save Martin. And Jon had spent an hour shaking in Martin's arms, hysterical laughter transitioning into broken crying and stuttered apologies, in the broken shell of the cottage which had become their home. He’d even suggested that Martin should throw him out, which—no. No.)

(Martin is going to hold Jon to each and every promise, or die trying. And he's going to make Jonah Magnus pay.)

Jon's sobs have subsided by now. His eyes are still too bright, both in the manic sense and in the literally glowing sense, but he seems to have gone into some kind of shocked catatonia, and when Martin gently lifts him onto the sofa, he curls up into a ball and doesn't move. It's a marginal improvement over the flailing and staggering at least, so Martin wraps him in the scratchy blanket and goes to fetch a glass of water.

Jon drinks it in small sips, still seeming barely aware of his surroundings. When he finishes the glass, Martin carefully sets it aside and gently joggles Jon's shoulder until his eyes focus and he looks up at Martin and Martin is suddenly SEEN and KNOWN and FLAYED OPEN—

Jon shuts his eyes and cringes away. "Sorry—sorry—I didn't mean to do that, Martin, god, I'm so sorry—"

Martin touches Jon's cheek, gently turns his face back to Martin's. Jon's face is scrunched up from how tightly his eyes are shut. His eyelids have a distinct reddish glow, like a heavy-duty torch shining through the palm of a hand. "It's all right, Jon," says Martin softly. "I'm okay—”

Jon interrupts him. “It’s not all right! I just, I keep—why can’t I stop hurting you, it’s not fair, you never deserved any of this, you’re better off with—” He breaks down into sobs again. Martin can actually see the faint variations in brightness between sclera, iris, and pupil as Jon’s eyes move behind his eyelids. It’s extremely unnerving, and Martin feels another surge of hatred towards Magnus at the sight.

He takes a breath to steady himself. “It’s not your fault, Jon. Please, I know you don’t really believe me right now, but—I don’t blame you, and neither should you. Do you understand? It’s not your fault." Jon continues to quiver under Martin’s hands, his eyes twitching around, closed but still radiating that sickening glow. Martin doesn’t want to ask more of him, but if they’re going to leave the cottage, he needs to know. “Do you—is there any way you can—I'm sorry if this is a stupid question, but can you turn it off?"

Jon takes a few deep, shuddery breaths, then abruptly seizes Martin's hands and presses his face into Martin's shoulder. When he pulls back, there's still an alien gleam in his eyes, but the force of his gaze has lessened to what it was before Martin left on his walk, both a few hours and a lifetime ago. He seems a bit steadier, at least, leaning against Martin’s body instead of cringing back away from him.

"What are we going to do, Martin?" Jon whispers.

Truthfully, Martin has no idea what, if anything, could fix this. But gathering allies is better than sitting around, and half of a plan is better than nothing. "We're going to London to find Basira," says Martin, trying to inject a surety into the words he doesn't feel. "And we'll figure something out. At the very least, we can find out what Magnus is up to, and"—rip his stupid eyeballs out—"thwart his plans."

Jon nods, and Martin realizes abruptly just how exhausted he is. He looks as if he ran a marathon and then didn't sleep for a week. "Just—rest here for a little while. I'm going to start getting packed. We don't have to leave now, but we should try to go sooner rather than later, I think."

Martin presses a kiss into Jon's hair, fusses with the blanket a bit more, then heads to the bedroom to start filling their bags. He's halfway done with Jon's suitcase and in the middle of folding Jon's favorite (ugly and old-fashioned but somehow still adorable) sweater vest when a horrible thought strikes him.

Jon is self-sacrificing. Jon is impulsive. Despite Martin's reassurances to the contrary, Jon still seems to think this whole mess is his fault. Jon is alone, downstairs, near the door to the cottage. And Jon is being very, very quiet.

(You’re better off without me, Jon had been trying to say—)

Martin sprints back into the front room as fast as humanly possible, fully expecting to find Jon missing and the door ajar. The relief at seeing him still curled into a miserable ball in the corner of the ratty sofa, staring at nothing, hits Martin like a sledgehammer, and he doubles over, grabbing the wall for support as he gasps for breath.

"Martin?" Footsteps on the floor. A hand pats Martin's shoulder, awkward and hesitant. "Martin, are you all right, what's wrong?"

It turns out that when all the air in Jon's lungs is squeezed out at once, he makes a very undignified squeaky noise, rather like a dog toy. Martin guiltily loosens his grip. "Sorry," he manages when he regains enough breath. "Sorry—I thought—I couldn't hear you at all—" He forces the words out through the sudden lump in his throat. "The way you were talking before, I just thought, you might think I was better off alone and try to leave, and I couldn't—I can't do this without you, Jon. Please, don't make me do this without you."

Jon pulls back enough to look Martin in the eye. He looks... faintly puzzled? Martin didn't know what he was expecting after that speech, but it wasn't that. "Martin," says Jon, gently but very firmly. "I meant what I said."

"What?"

"I'm not leaving," says Jon. The haunted look hasn't left him, and his voice is hoarse from crying, but his tone is serious, and for the first time since it all went wrong, there's a hint of steel in his expression. "Not unless you send me away. I made you a promise." He says it like it's the simplest thing in the world. Grass is green, the world is ending, and Jon will never, ever leave him.

Martin doesn't quite know how to respond to that, so he settles for, "Oh."

Jon bites his lip, looks down. "You do... you do still want me here, right?"

Between the stress and the fear and the emotional whiplash of the last two minutes, Martin is helpless to stop the sarcastic response that bubbles out. "No, Jon, I pulled a muscle in my leg running back here to make sure you hadn't left me alone and then begged you not to go because I've decided that, actually, leaving the person I love behind and going it alone in an apocalyptic hellscape sounds like a great idea—"

Jon groans and hides his face in Martin's chest. "All right, all right, Martin, I get it," he grumbles, slightly muffled. His face is not buried deep enough to hide the fact that he's blushing all the way to his ears.

Maybe it's Jon's standard reaction to Martin teasing him juxtaposed with the weirdness and horror of the last few hours, but something about the whole situation suddenly strikes Martin as utterly hilarious. Before long he's sitting on the floor, his back to the wall, wheezing with laughter, Jon giggling helplessly into his shoulder. They both sound more than a bit hysterical, but it's fine. They're fine.

"We're a right pair, aren't we," gasps Jon, scrubbing tears of mirth from his eyes. Martin, still catching his breath, just nods.

They are, perhaps, the most ridiculous people on the planet, and the literal apocalypse is still raging outside. But a flicker of hope sparks fiercely to life in Martin's chest. If they're together, then maybe, just maybe, they stand a chance.