Jon’s never been a touchy person. His grandmother was spread a bit thin with his growing up, which he’ll never condemn her for. But she wasn’t as affectionate as one might assume. He doesn’t ever think much of it. She gave him hugs on some odd occasions, a kiss on the top of his head when she thought about it, but that’s about as far as her affection went. He did well enough holed up in his room with books, avoiding outside torment from neighborhood kids, and never really felt lacking from it.
Georgie was very touchy, and it took him a while to get used to it. She’d lean on him and take his hand and touch his face and kiss him and once he’d gotten used to someone wanting to touch him in a nice and pleasant way he’d liked it. Enjoyed wrapping his arms around her while watching a movie on her kind of lumpy couch or feeling her brush his hair back when he’d hunch over books during late study nights. Loved the feeling of her laying on top of him, ear pressed to his chest, his hands in her hair, half dozing on a lazy evening.
Things had ended messily, nasty things said on both sides that he’s certain they both regret, but he’s never been able to bring it up, even when they’d gotten their friendship back. It was too much, and he thinks it must have been the same for her.
He went through a few more years of having next to no opinions on touch, and then he landed himself the title of Head Archivist. It was exciting, if a bit annoying having to sort through Gertrude’s awful lack of a cataloguing system, and things seemed to be going well.
The joke ended up being on all of them, and Jon was left with very painful holes in his body, too many on his face and hands from trying to keep the worms out of his eyes, and a ceaseless paranoia about one of his coworkers trying to catch him unawares and murdering him for digging too deep.
So began two years of having no pleasant contact with another person.
Oh sure, there was crashing on Georgie’s couch and Martin handing him a cup of tea and dragging Daisy out of the Buried, but for the most part, it was all bad. Jon would do a lot of things to never have Nikola Orsinov touch him again, lotion or no lotion. His hand gets stiff sometimes from the burn Jude left on him. He can feel the places his ribs should be, the sharp pain he gets when he shifts wrong and can feel their absence acutely. Melanie’s stab was perfectly warranted, but it doesn’t change the fact that it hurt. Daisy’s knife against his throat hurt, cut deeper than he thought it did, and it’s one of the starker scars, ignoring the mass of circle scarred skin that inhabits his face and arms and hands from the worms. That’s still the worst, he thinks, feeling the burrowing, the sharpness, the holes all over his skin that fell empty when they shriveled up and died. He can feel them still sometimes, the digging, the squirming. He scratches at his face until it’s raw and then eats another statement to clear it up before anyone notices.
Hugging Martin in the Lonely had been the only reasonable action, and taking his hand to keep them together coming back out followed that same logic. Not letting go in the tunnels had been smart, it was dark. And falling asleep in Martin’s bed together before leaving for Daisy’s safehouse, well, how could he refuse? Martin had almost just disappeared entirely from being alone and without and Jon wasn’t going to deprive him of some much needed human contact.
His skin burns where they touch, and he bites down the almost violent shiver at being curled up in Martin’s arms. It’s pleasant in a way, deep down under the fizzing sensation. He thinks he could get used to it.
Scotland is beautiful but cold, and their coats keep out most of the chill but not all. Daisy’s safehouse is small and warm once the fire’s going, and there is yet again only one bed. Jon doesn’t mind sharing, not really. He likes being close to Martin, likes the feeling of his arm slung over his shoulders in his sleep, even if it makes his spine go rigid and fingers jitter. It’s comfortable in a way he needs to get used to, and god does he want to get used to it. Martin’s picked up on it some, doesn’t touch him quite so much out of sleep, and Jon hates the way that he’s relieved by it.
But he still wants it. He still wants the warmth and the heat of Martin at any given moment, which greatly complicates things.
“Is this alright?” Martin asks, and they’re barely touching but Jon is aware of each point of contact in intense detail. Their legs are pressed together, sitting next to each other on the couch. Martin’s arm is touching his shoulder, just slightly, but the pressure is there. His arm hovers over his shoulders hesitantly, and instead of answering Jon leans into his touch, pressing his body close. It’s comfortable and horrible at the same time, and Jon just does his best to focus on the good parts. Martin wraps the rest of his arm around him and he closes his eyes, taking a calming breath through his nose.
Jon’s hands are dry, something that he didn’t even think could happen to him anymore, and it’s gotten to a point he can’t really ignore anymore, so one morning as he’s getting ready for the day he squeezes some lotion into his hands and rubs them together. He ends up on the floor hunched in front of the toilet, heaving, trying his best not to vomit. The door isn’t closed and Martin comes in in a panic, sitting down next to him, hovering, unsure.
“Are you alright?” Martin asks him quietly, and he already knows the answer. Jon holds up a shaky thumbs up, feels the way his fingers slide together, and gags.
He knows what Martin is going to do, he Knows what Martin is going to do, his hand coming up to touch his back, give him some sort of comfort in the situation he has no control over, and Jon can’t bear the idea.
“Don’t,” he lets out harshly just before his hand makes contact and he stills, pulling his hand back. There’s hurt there but it gets squashed by worry just as quick and Jon’s relieved he doesn’t have to deal with that immediately. “I— could you hand me a… a towel?”
Martin looks at him for a second before letting out a quiet affirmative, reaching behind him to grab his towel from the hook on the wall. Jon takes it with shaking hands, fingers spread from each other to avoid sliding together, and scrubs at his hands until they’re a tolerable amount of greasy. Then he clambers to his feet, much to Martin’s alarm, and scrubs at his hands in the sink under the hot water until they’re red and raw feeling and Martin shuts the tap off.
“Jon,” he says, and his voice is heavy, concerned.
“I’m fine,” Jon says, not looking at him, nabbing the towel again and drying them even more thoroughly, making sure there’s no trace of it left. “Just felt sick for a second, it’s nothing.”
“Jon,” Martin repeats, quieter, sadder, and Jon looks at him. He’s got his hands at his sides, clenching and unclenching, and he’s looking at him with that look he gets when he’s not sure how to ask the question he really wants to ask.
“It’s alright,” he says. It is alright, he’s alright. He just needs a second to get his head on straight. “I’m… I’m alright.”
Martin looks a bit stricken, but he doesn’t press, and Jon’s grateful. He’s not sure how to explain that the feeling of lotion on his hands felt too much like lotion on his body rubbed in by Nikola or one of her Stranger lackeys. He’s not sure he wants to know what Martin’s reaction to that would be. Nothing pleasant, certainly not directed at him, but still not pleasant. He doesn’t want to give him that knowledge, that discomfort.
It takes a while for Martin to bring the whole situation up, and it happens in the middle of a rainy afternoon, both of them stuck inside the house, Jon making tea in the tiny kitchen.
“Hey,” Martin says gently, leaning on the counter next to him. Jon smiles at him.
“Do you want any tea?” he asks, motioning to the supplies he already has ready.
“No, thank you though,” he says, shifting a bit. “I wanted to… do you want me to stop touching you?”
“What?” Jon asks, looking at him. He’s confused. That’s not what he wants at all. Sure, it feels bad awful wrong sometimes, but underneath it is that spark of good, and if he tries hard enough it becomes mostly good. Sometimes. “No, what? Of course not.”
Martin just looks at him for a moment. “I know you don’t like it,” he says eventually, and his stance is a little more closed off, less inviting.
“I never said that?” Jon is feeling like he’s been left out of his own damn loop here. “That one time, in the bathroom, that wasn’t, Martin it’s not you. It’s not— no, no I don’t want you to stop touching me. Why are you even asking me that?”
“You might think you’re good at hiding things from people but you’re really not,” Martin says, clearly annoyed at the way Jon’s handling this. Then he winces. “Sorry, that came out… Maybe I’m just used to you? But I know it make you uncomfortable, and you always say it’s fine or lean into it, but I know what you pushing yourself looks like. You don’t have to force yourself to let me touch you.”
“I’m not,” he says, even if it is a blatant lie. “Not exactly. I like touching you. It’s nice. You’re… nice,” he finishes lamely. Martin’s looking at him extremely unimpressed.
“Nice,” Martin repeats back at him. “You tense up every time we brush up against each other, you always pause before reciprocating anything, and don’t get me started on the bathroom the other day.”
“That wasn’t you,” Jon says firmly, and it’s the first thing he’s said in this conversation that’s completely true. “I can promise you with a hundred percent certainty that that wasn’t because of you. It—”
Jon cuts himself of, rubbing at his eyes under his glasses. Thinking about it makes his skin crawl, and he doesn’t want to see the look of pity horror on Martin’s face, but he’ll just keep blaming himself for thigs that aren’t remotely his fault if he doesn’t have an explanation.
“When Nikola had me captive, she wanted my skin to be… ready for whenever she wanted to harvest it. Did a lot of moisturizing. It wasn’t, hm, it wasn’t exactly the most fun thing I’ve ever gone through, and I made the mistake of putting on lotion the other day. It wasn’t your fault, Martin. In any kind of way.”
He doesn’t look at him, and Martin takes a second to process that.
“Oh,” he says eventually. And then he says “Oh,” in a tone that Jon’s not sure how to take.
“Don’t go feeling sorry for me,” he jokes, trying his best to smile convincingly. “I hardly need worrying about.”
“That’s just blatantly false,” Martin says flatly. He’s looking him up and down, categorizing all the marks on his body from others, and he frowns. “I didn’t even think…”
“Hey now, none of that,” Jon says, hands on his hips. “I don’t need any of that. It’s all done anyway. It’s all over me, Martin, I know it, but it doesn’t mean I can’t make my own decisions about who I touch and when.”
“But it hurts you,” Martin tries, and maybe he’s right, but not all the way.
“Once I get used to it it’s more good than bad. Just getting used to it is a little tough. I like touching you, I like it when you hug me or touch my face or wrap an arm around me in your sleep. I really, really do like it. It’s just getting past all the bad parts of it that’s hard.”
“Is it an exposure thing?” Martin asks, crossing his arms and tilting his head.
“Maybe? I’m not really sure. It’s… the bad part isn’t even so bad. It’s kind of this fizzy feeling mixed with vertigo, and I panic a bit, but I’m panicking all the time so it’s not really all that different,” he says, trying to joke with the last part, but Martin just frowns. “I’d… Martin I’ll be honest. If it were only ever the bad parts I’d deal with them for the chance to be able to touch you all the time.”
Martin’s face colors and he snorts, rubbing at his arm. “I don’t want it to be bad for you, though.”
“Well, if it is exposure, there’s only one way to make it better,” he offers, raising an eyebrow
Martin stares at him before huffing out a laugh, pushing his hair back and grinning. “Jonathan Sims, you are ridiculous.”
“I do my best.”
“Can I?” Martin opens his arms up and Jon abandons the already mostly abandoned tea in favor of greeting his invitation.
His arms wrap around him, loose at first, and Jon lets himself be held. It’s there, that unpleasant feeling, but he tries to shove it aside, enjoy the feeling of Martin, Warm and breathing, surrounding him. Martin’s hold tightens a bit, and his hand rubs circles in his back. Jon chokes on air for a moment and Martin stops.
“Don’t,” Jon says in a reedy voice. “I’ll, I’ll tell you if I need you to.”
“Okay,” Martin says, continuing his ministrations. “Actually tell me, though, alright?”
“Of course,” Jon says, barely audible.
Martin hums and rubs a thumb on his back through his shirt. A hand comes up and rakes through the back of Jon’s hair and he goes absolutely boneless against him, smashing his face into Martin’s shoulder. It’s fizzy and staticky but it’s undoubtably good.
“Jon?” he asks, slightly panicked.
Jon hums out in response, mumbling an “I’m fine,” into his sweater.
“Hmm,” Martin says, keeping his hand pressed to his head. “Let’s do this.”
Jon’s lifted into the air, held by strong arms, and he swims in the sensation of being held aloft by someone he trusts enough to do it. Martin takes them to the couch, settles into the corner of it, and arranges Jon on top of him as he pleases. He’s sat in his lap, resting against his front, body held close by strong arms, one hand back in his hair again, and Jon can’t help the warbly noise that comes from his mouth. There’s pins and needles in his brain and the points of contact, but they’re tingling, not painful, so he leaves them be.
“Alright?” Martin asks and Jon says a very coherent “Hmmmm,” as his answer.
“That’s about what I thought,” Martin says, and there’s a smile in his voice. “You’re… relaxing at least?”
“Yes,” Jon manages to say, and he’s drowning in the feeling of being held. There’s a bit of that panic, the terror of being restrained and unable to remove himself from the situation, but it Jon were to move Martin would let him go immediately.
The static gives way to warm buzzing eventually, and the touch doesn’t hurt. It’s still fuzzy, but it’s a good kind of fuzzy. He welcomes it, shuts his eyes and mashes himself further into Martin’s torso. Martin laughs and pulls him closer, bringing his legs up on either side of him to keep him even more encased.
He’s limp, he realizes, all bodily autonomy gone, and that thought should scare him but it’s comforting instead. He doesn’t have to worry about his body, Martin’s got that handled. He won’t let anything bad happen to him, won’t let him get hurt or scared or taken. He’s just existing, floating in a hazy mess of good good yes don’t let go.
“I won’t,” Martin says, and Jon realizes he’s been slurring out those and similar phrases for a while now. “What’s on your mind?”
“Don’t have to think about my body,” he says tiredly. “Floating.”
“Yeah?” Martin asks, amused. His hand rubs through his hair, playing with strands, and if Jon could melt more he would. “Having a good time?”
“Very,” he answers very smartly.
A kiss is pressed to the top of his head, long and gentle, and Jon smiles.
“Love you,” he says, dazed. He feels the sensation of lips turning into a smile on his head.
“Love you, too,” Martin says, pressing his face into Jon’s hair.
“Wanna stay like this forever, Don’t wanna start the process over,” Jon says, thinking about what it’ll be like tonight once they’ve let each other go. Will he panic at touch again or sink into this? It’s much nicer, sinking into this.
“We’ll figure it out,” Martin says. “We’ll get you back to here, I promise.”
“Mm,” Jon says instead of a real response. He’d love to feel like this always, honey warm and floppy. It’s so much nicer than the forever tension lining his shoulders and spine and hands.
He falls into a doze, Martin running has hands through Jon’s hair, rubbing circles on his back, humming little songs sometimes, the vibrations buzzing around in Jon. This can’t last, they have to make dinner and get ready for bed and Jon should probably read a statement, having skipped out earlier, but right now it’s nice, it’s comfortable.
“You can sleep,” Martin says quietly. “I’ll wake you up when we have to do dinner?”
Jon nods, brushing his face over Martin sweater, and it’s all the more incentive he needs to drop into sleep.
Somewhere, deep in his mind, he Knows that Martin is smiling, and he smiles back.