Jon thinks it’s a normal nightmare, to start.
Martin’s been having them fairly often over the past two weeks: one every two or three days, at least that Jon can tell, and that’s not counting the ones that don’t wake him.
He’s been quietly hoping that with time and distance from everything – the Archives, Peter, the fog, all of it – Martin would be having them less frequently, but it’s difficult to say what the recovery period on maybe trauma, possibly supernatural-induced nightmares is, especially when Martin doesn’t really like to talk about them. And Jon doesn’t like to ask, for the danger of pushing Martin to say more than he’s really willing to let on.
In a lot of ways, Martin does already seem better, at least in Jon’s limited estimation. He’s been recovering his warmth and humour in soft, surprising turns that make Jon’s heart stop to witness – cracking a sarcastic joke at Jon’s expense, making soft conversation with a stranger on the bus ride up, taking the blanket that Jon offers with an easy, gentle smile as they sit by the fire.
It’s not like he’s bounced back to the person he was before Peter Lukas, as far as Jon can tell; he’s still more reserved, less effusive than he was before the Lonely. But the change is marked enough that sometimes Jon finds himself just looking at him and marvelling: how open he is now, how it’s getting so easy for him to smile. And it’s been at least three days since the last nightmare, so it’s with a heavier pang of sadness than normal that Jon wakes to hear Martin’s harsh breathing.
They’ve gotten into something of a routine with these, by now. Martin’s panicked breaths will wake Jon, who’ll roll over and say some soothing nonsense until Martin calms, and then Martin will stretch a hand across under the cover and Jon will take it and smooth his thumb over it until Martin’s pulse stops hammering under his fingertips. And then they’ll hold hands until they fall asleep again, Jon feeling equal parts overwhelmed at how fast Martin soothes at his touch, elated at the excuse to be close, and guilty for feeling so happy when it springs from an experience that is, for Martin, obviously so distressing.
Once – and Jon will never, ever admit to how often he thinks about this – once, after a particularly bad nightmare, they’d curled up together knee-to-knee, and then Jon had woken the next morning flung out over Martin, his cheek pressed into Martin’s chest. Heart pounding, he’d pretended to be asleep until Martin had woken up, frozen, and then also pretended to be asleep. They’d lain there like that for at least twenty minutes before he’d gotten up and snuck out without saying a word, giddy from the warmth of Martin still pressed into him from head to toe.
It’s not the only time they ever touch nowadays – in day to day life, there are friendly touches to the arm and fingers brushed when passing plates and Jon leaning on Martin’s arm when he’s cramped up and left his cane in a stupid place – but it’s the only time he feels like he ever gets close to being able to be close to Martin the way he wants to. After everything, it’s still – complicated, in ways that Jon is still trying to figure out the best words to describe, and this – in the darkness, speaking softly and linking fingers, getting to show Martin as plainly and clumsily as he can that he’s here in whatever way he can be – is the closest they get, for now.
So when Jon flops over onto his side, he feels the usual mix of worry and the sleepy roll of guilty happiness, deep in his stomach, of knowing that in less than a minute or two he’ll be able to curl his fingers loosely around Martin’s, safe in the guise of selfless reassurance.
“Martin?” he says, sleepily, “Nightmare?”
“Je-esus,” Martin breathes in response, and Jon feels the bed shake as he pushes himself upwards to sitting.
Jon’s already sliding over the bed himself, reaching out into the darkness.
“It’s okay, Martin,” he whispers, reassuringly. “It’s alright, you’re safe, it’s just a nightmare. It’ll pass, just give it a minute.”
“Where – Jon?” Martin rasps, and when Jon’s hand lands on his shoulder, he jerks away in a brutal flinch. “Jesus fucking Christ, Jonathan Sims? This isn’t my bed, where the bloody hell are we, what - what are you doing here?”
Jon freezes. He sounds – not just in words, but in voice – wrong. He can’t bring himself to pull his hand back towards himself, so it’s still hovering there in the darkness, in the space between himself and Martin. He tries again.
“Martin?” he says, carefully. “It’s me. It’s fine. We’re at Daisy’s safehouse, there’s nothing else here, it’s just the two of us. You had a nightmare. You’re safe.”
Martin takes one deep, shaky breath, and lets it out again. As his eyes slowly adjust to the darkness, Jon sees him: crouched over himself on the bed, shaking his head back and forth like he’s trying to clear it. It’s like Jon feels it coming, for a brief second: there’s a numbness trickling down over him that’s not entirely appropriate to the situation, not yet. Martin could still be tired and out of it; he could still be disoriented after a nightmare. He could still be fine.
And then after a moment, he watches Martin straighten up and clench his fists.
“Who the fuck is Daisy?” he says, enunciating clearly, and the bottom drops of out Jon’s world.
Martin doesn’t let Jon touch him again, but he does follow Jon’s numb suggestion that they go and move to the kitchen so they can, as Jon stupidly puts it, “Have a – have a sit and try and get things sorted.” Mostly what Jon’s angling for is the moment where he can get Martin out of the dark bedroom and into the light of the hallway, when most of him believes that whatever disorientation Martin’s feeling, it will – like many things that happen in the dark – dissipate as soon as the light touches it.
He doesn’t know exactly what he’s expecting will happen, but whatever it is, he doesn’t get it. When he turns, heart in his throat, as they step into weak light of the corridor, Martin just looks back at him with a blank and wary stare that’s almost bordering on hostile, and that’s it.
Jon turns away without saying a word. The pit in the bottom of his stomach feels gaping, endless. Numbly, he leads Martin downstairs to the tiny kitchen and gets him settled on one of the rickety wooden chairs.
Martin doesn’t say anything as Jon boils the kettle and fetches the mugs and goes for the teabags, which Jon is more grateful for than he really knows how to put in the words. He does, however, pipe up when Jon moves towards the fridge.
“I – um, I don’t take milk, I –“ he says hoarsely, but Jon’s already reaching up past the handle to grab a jar of sugar resting on top.
“I know,” says Jon quietly, his back still to Martin. I know you. He finds he’s gripping the jar so tight he’s in danger of dropping it. The lump in his throat is so big he’s having trouble breathing around it. Everything seems completely unreal – the bright white glare of the kitchen’s singular bulb casts everything in a screamingly harsh light, flattening the cabinets and jars and making everything around him seem like a prop. For an endless moment, as he feels the light burning into the back of his neck, he feels like he’s on the set of some Kafkaesque American sitcom: like Martin’s just playing a joke for the audience, and if he waits long enough Martin will crack a smile and the laugh track will drop and everything will go back to the way it was.
But the seconds pass and nothing happens, so he takes a deep breath and loosens his grip on the jar a little and turns back around to carry over the sugar. He can’t bring himself to look at Martin, so he busies himself pouring the water and stirring a few spoonfuls of sugar in while it’s still boiling hot, the way that Martin likes, and Martin doesn’t say a word the whole time.
It’s not until he pushes the mug across the table that Martin sucks in a breath and Jon finally looks at him: he’s staring at Jon’s hand.
After all this time, it’s easy for Jon to forget the way he looks nowadays, the violence of the last few years written onto his skin. It turns out to be surprisingly painful to see it through Martin’s eyes, and to hear his little hiss of breath as he looks over the rest of Jon’s scarring.
“Your hand, Jon,” says Martin, leaning across the table and ignoring the mug. “And your face – and your neck. Jesus, what happened to you?”
“Oh,” says Jon, numbly. “You don’t. Remember? Um. It’s complicated. What… what do you remember?”
Martin seems to shrink in on himself a little. It hurts to watch, especially after how Jon’s seen him so painstakingly grow back into his openness over the past few weeks.
“I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t – I don’t.”
“But you remember me?” says Jon, and he tries to keep as much feeling out of that question as he can.
Martin gives a short, wary little nod.
“Yeah,” he says. “Jonathan Sims, Head Archivist, my – my boss. We work together, in the Archives. You’ve been letting me stay in Document Storage while the whole worm thing is happening – God, is that why we’re here? I mean, wherever here is?”
For a brief, hysterical moment, Jon almost feels like laughing. How easy it was back then. How much he wants it to be like it was then – the four of them, he and Martin sniping at each other over tea and Tim ribbing him for always staying late and Sasha dragging him out on Fridays for drinks at the corner pub. And then, with a dawning horror that seeps slowly through him, like being soaked in frigid rain – just what that means, exactly how much Martin is missing. Document Storage. The worm thing. My – my boss.
“No,” he says, and it cracks in his throat a little. “No, I – not exactly. We’ve… come on a ways since then.”
Martin’s eyes narrow. He leans forwards in his chair.
“Since when?” he says, almost accusingly.
“You… don’t remember anything since the worms?” says Jon, quietly, and when Martin nods his head, he does the maths and lets out a shaky oof of breath.
“Oh. God. Um. Maybe three or four years – sorry, Martin, I’m so sorry –“ he says, as Martin keels sharply forward, putting out a hand on the table to steady himself.
“Four years?” Martin whispers, and for a brief moment he looks up to catch Jon’s gaze. It’s relieving in a way Jon wouldn’t really have thought possible, once: to have that moment of human connection is something he thinks he will never take for granted again. “You can’t be serious.”
“S-sorry,” Jon says, wringing his hands together in little, jerky movements. “Yeah. But sorry.”
“What happened?” says Martin. “God – where are we, why are we here?”
How to sum up, Jon thinks wildly.
“The Archives were – attacked. You – you were in danger, I went in to try and find you – it’s a long story, but we don’t know how much danger we’d be in in London. So we’re in Scotland. We’re staying at the house of a – a friend, waiting on another friend to let us know when we can come back, or when we can be useful.”
“Not Tim or Sasha?” Martin guesses, and then when Jon shakes his head, “So where are they? Are they safe? I mean, if the Archives were attacked – why aren’t they here? Did we have to split up?”
It feels like a punch to the gut. Jon doesn’t know what to say, but he thinks the devastated look on his face must do it for him: Martin rocks back in his chair.
“Jesus. Jesus,” he says again. “Oh, God, you can’t be serious?”
“Sorry,” Jon whispers hoarsely. “Yeah, I’m – I’m sorry. I mean, it wasn’t just now, it wasn’t this attack, but – yeah. Sorry, I’m not doing this right, I just didn’t expect -”
He tails off. Martin closes his eyes and exhales.
“This attack,” he whispers. A tremor crosses his face. “God. Oh my god. And Elias? What about everyone else in the building?”
Jon can feel his mouth twist into a grimace.
“A few injuries, a few – a few deaths. And Elias, you don’t have to worry about him – he’s part of it. I don’t know how, exactly, and I definitely don’t know what he’s planning, but none of us trust him.”
“So it’s just us,” Martin says quietly. Jon opens his mouth, and then thinks about it – about Basira, mistrusting and isolated, and Daisy, disappeared, and Melanie, away out of it all and safe. He closes his mouth and nods.
“And we were… sleeping in the same bed,” says Martin, dully, looking somewhere over Jon’s shoulder. “We passed another bedroom on the way in here, I saw it. You said it was just us here.”
“Yes,” says Jon, after a moment. He feels winded, gutted. The word comes out heavy and slow, like it’s dragged out of him. He can’t elaborate: he just looks at his hands. There’s nothing else he can think to say.
Martin doesn’t say anything in response. He just looks down, drawing his pyjama shirt tighter around him.
“Do you know why this is happening?” asks Jon, after he can’t sit quietly with his own thoughts any more. “Do you have any idea?”
Martin shakes his head vehemently.
“I feel fine,” he says. “I don’t even have a headache or anything. I would say everything’s normal, except for the fact that apparently, I woke up in – god, Scotland, instead of at home, or on that cot in the basement. And I wasn’t sick before this? I didn’t hit my head or anything?”
“No, no,” says Jon, “You were fine. You were –“ with me, he wants to say, happy, you were fine, you told a joke before I turned out the light and I laughed and we looked away from each other like we usually do when we get into bed and you were fine.
“Nothing happened,” he finishes instead, which also isn’t true in the way that he thinks of it, but it’s true in the way Martin is asking about. Martin frowns.
“It could be something else,” Jon suggests quietly, as it occurs to him, the thought making him freeze up inside. “You were somewhere – else – for a while, it could be something to do with that. And you have – had,” and he takes a deep breath, “powers. The memory loss – I mean, it could, conceivably, be within the realm of something you could do. I don’t know how, though.”
Martin snorts, and then when Jon shows no sign of cracking a smile, he goes even paler.
“You’re not serious,” he says, deadpan. “I have powers. What, like a superhero? Come on, Jon.”
Jon laughs, bitterly.
“Well, not exactly superpowers,” he says, and at his words Martin screws up his face.
“God, would you stop being so vague and cryptic?” he hisses, and the vehemence of it makes Jon startle. “I’m flying completely blind here, if you hadn’t noticed – I woke up in the dark with a co-worker somewhere I have never seen before, and apparently I’m missing four whole years of my life, so either be useful and give me some explanations or don’t say anything at all.”
It is a fair point, and one that Jon’s willing to concede, as much as the tone in Martin’s voice makes him feel sick inside.
“Sorry,” says Jon, and it feels like it’s drawn out of somewhere deep out of him. “Sorry, it’s just – this is a lot for me too. I mean clearly not as much, obviously, but I – I –“
Keep hoping this isn’t happening, is what he wants to say, but it’s about Martin right now. He takes several deep, deep breaths, and spreads his hands on the table.
“It’s a lot to sum up, I suppose. Um. The worms were one part of a much bigger – thing – part of a network, I suppose, of threats – we would call them Fears – that are trying to break through. Into our world. I mean, you saw the worms, you know they’re not natural, not-not normal. And these Fears, one of them is involved in the Institute. In the Archives. Always has been. And another one – well, a lot’s happened, but for a while another one was involved, and you got drawn up into it. And it changed you, so that’s why there’s certain things, I think, that you can do that you couldn’t before – we haven’t really talked about it much, but I know you can make yourself invisible – or, or ignorable, I suppose – and I don’t know what else.”
“And,” he says, gathering a rush of enthusiasm as he thinks it, knowing that what’s coming out is half-garbled at best, especially if the look on Martin’s face is anything to go by, “I have powers. I mean, they’re based around finding out information, about knowing things, I could – I could See. So I-I could try to find your memories. If – if you’d let me. I could try and fix this. All I’d have to do is Look, or Ask, and you could have them right back.”
Martin’s already shaking his head, wildly.
“God,” he says. “Sorry, but Jesus. Are you serious? Fears and powers and god knows what else – Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. But I mean – even if, if that’s true, Jon, you’re not messing with my head.”
“Are you sure?” says Jon, in a desperation that he is failing dreadfully to restrain. “It could be so easy, I – are you sure? You can always change your mind?”
“No,” says Martin again, stronger this time. “I mean, no offence, but I only have your word on all this. Like, okay, it’s not that I completely disbelieve you – God, I always knew there was something up with the Institute – I just. I mean, I don’t really know you, and I definitely don’t know what’s happened to you or what your powers are, so, sorry, but I’m not gonna let you try and root around in my head.”
There’s a brief, ugly little struggle raging inside Jon. If Martin just knew who Jon was now, if Jon could just show him – if Jon could just see whatever the problem is inside him and maybe just fix it, whatever it is, he’d be fine and they’d go back to normal and they wouldn’t have any problems. It’s the same struggle he was fighting the whole time Martin was working for Peter Lukas, really; the idea of what Jon knows is best versus what Martin wants, and how difficult it is for Jon to just let things be when the tantalising lure of being able to fix things is so difficult to resist.
Honestly, what clinches it is the sheer horror of the thought that Martin might look at him the same way Melanie did after his and Basira’s impromptu surgery. The way Martin’s looking at him right now, through about six layers of confusion and suspicion, is bad enough.
“And you can’t feel anything?” he says, in one last, desperate push. “Any idea why this might be happening?”
Martin thins his lips, and then shakes his head. Numbly, Jon spreads his hands out across the table in front of him.
“Okay. Alright. You should – get some sleep, we can figure things out in the morning,” he says. He stands before realising he has no idea what he was going to do next.
Martin just watches him, hunched in his chair. The expression in his eyes has drained and he’s curiously deadened, his face pale like a blank page. For a brief, maddening second, Jon wants to do anything, anything at all to snap him out of it – scream at him, shake him, grab his face and –
But he pushes it down, hard, and looks away.
“Oh. Right. Okay. I - I’ll make up the other bed,” he says, in as measured a tone as he can. Looking at the untouched cup of tea in front of Martin hurts in a way he can’t really put words to, so he looks towards the ceiling instead. “The other bedroom. I’ll get some sheets. Just get – get some rest, and we’ll see how things are in the morning. Okay?”
Martin doesn’t say anything, but he follows Jon out of the room up to the other bedroom, turning off the light as he goes.
When Jon fishes the sheets and covers out of the chest of drawers, Martin takes them from him without a second of hesitation and starts dressing the bed himself. Jon finds himself standing by the door for maybe twenty seconds before Martin’s pointedly turned back as he strips the sheets finally gets through to him.
“Alright,” he says, rubbing his hands together unconsciously. “I’ll see you in the morning, then.”
There’s no response from Martin. Jon watches him work for another few seconds, numb with a kind of hopeless disbelief that feels like a physical weight, and then he turns to leave. But he can’t stop himself from pausing by the door, hand on the frame and trying one more time to reach out.
“Martin,” he says, immediately shamed by the breathless, agonising way it falls out of his mouth. “I just – I’ll be next door. For anything. If – if you need me.”
There’s a brief spasm that passes through Martin where he’s hunched over, almost so fast Jon might think he’d imagined it if Martin’s hands hadn’t stilled where he was pulling a pillow cover on.
“Okay,” Martin says hoarsely, but with an unmistakable note of finality. He doesn’t turn around. “Thanks.”
Jon leaves without another word.
When he wakes the next morning, the gaping absence of Martin in the bed next to him is so acute that he has to roll over for a brief second, try to pretend that Martin’s still there. Except that doesn’t work, because there’s a specific kind of weight and warmth to a bed with Martin in it that he didn’t even realise he was registering until this moment. And he’s never felt like this, not for one second, with Martin lying next to him: lost. Scared. Undeniably, on his own.
If he’s being honest with himself, it’s not even the memory loss as much as it is just Martin. How standoffish he was the was the night before, how snappish and suspicious: it’s like being watching him lose himself to the Lonely all over again. Except with the Lonely, Martin had a plan and therefore, supposedly, an end point. Whereas this – Jon doesn’t have the first clue what this is, or if it’s going to end at all. The thought makes him tighten his arms over his stomach without thinking about it, like he’s trying to keep himself together.
When finally he stumbles out into the hall, he can see Martin up already through the kitchen door, searching through the cabinets. For a brief second, with his back turned, there’s a sharp hope rising in Jon’s chest, but then Martin turns around and eyes him for a second; not cold, not angry, just detached. He gives a sharp nod to Jon and a quick once over to his cane, not saying a word. And then after a second, he turns back to fetching mugs and plates from the cupboards, leaving Jon to stare at his back for a moment and think very hard of nothing at all.
They make and eat breakfast in silence, and then Jon washes up without saying a word. Martin sits at the table, drinking a cup of tea, looking steadily into the swoops and whorls of the wooden table.
“So what do we do around here, exactly, to pass the time?” he says eventually, fiddling with the handle of his mug. “I’m surprised you’ve not foisted a statement on me to research already.”
“Oh…” Jon says, surprised out of his absent thoughts. He puts the sponge down. “Well, work is… complicated, so you don’t need to worry about that. Mostly we’ve been trying to lay low, so… not much.”
Again, not entirely true, but it’s incredible how very little can fill an hour or a day or a week, depending on who you’re with. They'd spent most of the day together just looking at one patch of garden the previous week, Martin leaning on a spade while Jon sat and watched him and bantered back and forth, and a whole night when they got here drinking cheap wine from the corner shop and swapping stories about childhood, and Martin had even suggested making a big production out of dinner together sometime, taking a whole day to make something really good, but. Jon cuts the rest of that train of thought off before it goes any further, for his own sake.
“Um, Walks,” he starts again. “Books, board games, cards, magazines, whatever Daisy left. When the weather’s good, we do some work in the garden. You’ve been working on crochet. There’s not much signal here. Sometimes you go down to the village, but I, uh, stand out a little,” he gestures to his scarring, “and it’s a fair distance for me even on a good day. And we, we… talk.”
Martin just grimaces.
“And how long, exactly, are we supposed to be doing “not much” for?” he says. “Do we have a plan? Or are we expecting to just hang out here in this cottage for the rest of our lives?”
The hurts a lot more than Jon was really expecting it to, and he’s not entirely sure he suppresses the wince that it causes.
“Uh, no,” he says, and keeps his tone as matter-of-fact as possible. “What happened at the Archives – we’re waiting for the fuss around it to die down, and to get some more information. We have a friend left in London who’s monitoring the situation – B-Basira, her name is, she worked with us for a while – and she’s keeping us up to date. You usually call her, on the payphone in the village. She’ll let us know when it’s safe to come back.”
“And until then?” presses Martin.
“I don’t really know. Whatever you want, I suppose.”
Martin grimaces again.
“Perfect. Okay,” he says, and sighs heavily into his tea.
The day that follows is perhaps the longest Jon can remember spending since that endless month he spent in Nikola’s captivity. He doesn’t want to leave Martin entirely alone, given that they still have no idea what happened to him the previous night, and there’s a little part of him at the back of his mind frantically whispering that if he lets Martin out of his sight for too long, Martin will forget even more – maybe the Archives, maybe Tim and Sasha, maybe him.
But Martin is doing a truly excellent job of demonstrating without words how apathetic he is towards Jon’s company, resisting all of Jon’s thinly veiled olive-branches with non-committal grunts and one-word answers. So mostly what they spend the day doing is sitting at opposite ends of the living room, listening to the rain lash against the stone and separately doing their own thing.
Or, Martin does his own thing, fiddling around with his phone, jotting some brief lines down in his poetry notebook and leafing through a few dusty magazines. Jon, however, spends most of the day stupidly and fruitlessly trying to juggle several things all at once: pretending to read a book he hasn’t even glanced at the cover of, keeping his eye on Martin as much as possible, violently pretending he’s not keeping his eye on Martin whenever Martin happens to look up, and concocting the perfect nonchalant, offhand tone to affect when trying to get Martin to engage with him.
Unsurprisingly, none of this works particularly well. Jon watches Martin’s shoulders rise by inches over the hours in response to his gentle questions and comments, like an affronted cat. It’s on the third time Jon hesitantly offers him a cup of tea that he finally snaps.
“Oh my god, would you – just stop pretending to be nice,” he spits, slamming down his phone and hunching his shoulders. “It’s insulting, Jon, and I don’t need it.”
“God, Martin, I’m not – I’m not pretending,” says Jon, shocked. He puts his book down, abandoning all pretence of actually reading it. “I wouldn’t – that’s not what this is, Martin. I suppose I’m just – worried, I don’t think it’s unwarranted.”
Martin eyes him with a look of deep mistrust.
“Oh yeah, because that sounds exactly like you,” he says, bitterly. He rolls to his feet, stalks over the dusty carpet towards Jon. “You know, it took me a while to figure it out but I know what this is about. I know why you’re putting on this – this kid glove treatment. You feel guilty.”
It’s not untrue, but Jon has a terrible, sneaking suspicion that whatever’s brought Martin to this conclusion isn’t something he wants to hear. He’s already opening his mouth to protest when Martin cuts across him.
“Because I’m here,” he says, taking a deep breath. “And Tim and Sasha aren’t. And you feel guilty for wishing it was the other way around.”
It’s worse than Jon could have expected. All of his breath leaves his body in a rush.
“No. Don’t,” he says, and it comes out in a croak. This is his fault, of course, of course it’s his fault, because after the way he’d treated Martin when they’d both started in the Archives together, of course he’d think that way. The Jon that Martin remembers might even have said something as cruel as that, once, but he never for a second felt that way, and he’s not – he isn’t that Jon anymore. He rises without thinking about it, breathless. “You don’t –“
“Oh, so you don’t you wish that I’d died?” Martin barrels on, relentlessly, stabbing a finger towards Jon’s chest. “You don’t you wish it was me instead of Tim and Sasha?”
“Stop it,” hisses Jon. “Of course I don’t. God, Martin, you have no idea-“
“I know,” says Martin, balling his hands into fists now. The few scant feet between the two of them feel like an ocean Jon doesn’t know how to cross. He doesn’t know how they got here so fast: everything, all of it, happening so fast, enough that he feels dizzy, off-balance and stupid. He pushes a hand across his face, rubs his eyes, but Martin’s still spitting words at him like he can’t get them out fast enough, and each one of them stings like a bullet.
“I’m not stupid,” he says. “God. All those things you said about me to the others, or to your stupid tape recorder – you were never as subtle as you thought you were – if you were even trying to be. I know what you think about me, I know who you’d rather have survived, Jon, I know you wish it was me–”
“Shut up!” yells Jon, slamming a fist into the stone wall beside him, and the sweet second of relief that passes across Martin’s face makes him feel sick inside.
He leaves, before he can make things any worse.
After that, things go from bad to worse. They get up separately, eat separately, work and read and do things separately, go to bed separately: for Jon at least, the hours crawl by painfully. He feels like he’s waiting, endlessly, for nothing that he can really put a finger on.
Martin doesn’t seem to be taking it much better: the sight of his back as he leaves a room becomes intimately familiar to Jon. He thinks Martin doesn’t seem to like to stay still for too long – sometimes Jon will hear him pacing up and down the corridor like a caged animal. For most of the day, the rain keeps them cooped up inside, but Martin still braves the outpour occasionally when he’s particularly restless, and Jon can’t tell whether it’s easier or not when he’s out of the house. He decides he doesn’t want to examine that question too closely.
After about three days, the weather clears up, and Martin curtly requests directions to the village from him so he can take a walk, maybe try and call Basira for some updates. Jon’s saying no almost before Martin’s finished asking -“you don’t even know who Basira is,” he justifies quickly, in as reasonable a tone as he can, “and we have people after us, and you have no idea what they look like,” – but Martin very quickly turns his words from the first night back against him, in a way that makes Jon think he’s been thinking about this for a while.
“You said it was me that usually did it, and you stand out a lot more than I do,” he says tightly, which is already more words strung together than Jon’s used to hearing from him nowadays. “One of us has to go – you were the one that said we were waiting for information. And didn’t you say that I had – powers? If I was in any danger? That I can make myself disappear, or something?”
And Jon reminds himself, as he has so often over the last few days, that he’s trying so hard not to be the person that Martin remembers; untrusting, unwilling to co-operate.
So he writes the directions, and all the questions he wants Basira to answer, but he does it all with a mounting sense of dread on Martin’s behalf; anything could happen in the village. He could be seen; Jon can’t stop thinking. He could be tracked.
He’s acutely, endlessly aware that missing any memory of Daisy means there’s a chance Martin could walk right into her without even noticing, so he offers – just once more, as carefully as he can – to take the walk with him. But Martin refuses, firmly and inexorably, and Jon doesn’t want to push it. He has to make do with describing Daisy and the hunters to the best of his ability until he’s satisfied that he’s done the best he can to make sure Martin will be aware and safe, short of following at a distance with a knife from one of Daisy’s terrifyingly numerous hidden weapon stashes.
It’s not until he’s shadowing Martin to the door that he admits another fear that’s really freezing his insides: that Martin could decide to take a bus out and not look back. Jon’s here as long as he’s trapped here: he’s not safe anywhere else, and as long he’s got Martin and he has no information about the Archives or Elias, there’s no reason for him to go anywhere else. But for Martin, there’s nothing really tethering him here that Jon can see, especially if he doesn’t really believe Jon’s explanation of the situation in the way that Jon often suspects he doesn’t; especially if nowadays, he dislikes Jon’s company as much as it seems he does.
But for all that he wants to make Martin swear to be careful, not to take risks – to come back, to fucking come back – he keeps his mouth tightly shut as Martin opens the door. Martin’s mostly working off a baseline of detached disinterest these days, occasionally interspersed with flashes of anger just tinged with a fear that Jon, heartbreakingly, thinks he’s trying as hard as possible to conceal, and Jon is probably more scared than he should be of provoking Martin at a moment where he’s got a chance to realise that he can leave. So all in all, he thinks trying for a measure of restraint is probably the best way of handling this. If there is one at all.
His hand on the door, Martin gives one brief searching glance across his face, like he’s looking for something specific. Jon’s still keeping his face carefully blank, desperate to avoid saying or doing anything that might hurt or provoke him, but it doesn’t work anyway. Whatever Martin’s looking for, he doesn’t find it; his mouth twists, and he turns away.
He closes the door without looking back once. Jon has the awful, crawling feeling, like he does so often now, that he’s missing something important.
What follows is maybe the worst four hours of it so far. He could leave the cottage if he really wanted to, follow Martin: but he’s been sleeping badly every night since Martin woke him, and the pain in his leg is bad in the way that it gets when he’s not looking after himself – his usual pain relief barely taking the edge off – so the thought of the trek to the village isn’t a pleasant one at all. It’s a fleeting thought, anyway: he’s not panicking enough to really think following Martin would do any good.
Instead, he does as much as he can to take his mind off where Martin is and what he’s doing: fixes some food, builds a fire, tinkers with the ornery, ancient oven to try and get it working better. And then he runs out of stuff to do with his hands and his leg is screaming for rest, so he just sits and waits, and waits, and waits. By the time it’s started getting dark, he’s so jittery he can’t force himself to sit still, his good leg bouncing off the floor again and again.
When he hears the familiar clatter of Martin opening the door, he’s scrambling off the sofa and into the hall before he can really think about it: surprised, Martin drops the bag he’s placing down onto the mat and just looks at him.
Really, truly looks at him, in a way that makes Jon flush. He’s aware of the way he probably looks: drawn with pain and worry, grey with sleeplessness, bursting out into the shadowed hall in a panic, just at the sound of the door. But Martin doesn’t look angry, or distant, like he so often has over the recent days: at the sight of him, some emotion Jon can’t place crosses his face. He pulls off his scarf, looks at it, twists it in his hands. He’s opening his mouth to speak when he looks up at Jon’s face again and stops.
Jon doesn’t know what does it, but he watches Martin’s face close over and his shoulders drop. He leans down, reaches into the bag, pulls out a box of tea. When Martin moves towards him, Jon holds a hand out automatically, so Martin hands it over without really getting close at all.
“We were running out,” he says, distantly. He’s looking over Jon’s shoulder. There’s nothing in his voice for Jon to hang onto, nothing at all, and for the first time Jon stops thinking of this as something he’s running behind. It doesn’t feel that way anymore: like something desperate, but something he could catch up to, get on top of, figure out and fix.
It’s already swallowed him up. A fact, solid and immutable like the box in his hand, that he finally accepts that he needs to accept.
The thin card is chill under his fingers. Numbly, Jon focuses on that. He feels the force of Martin’s distant stare over his shoulder roll over him like a wave, as irresistible as the sea. It feels inescapable, overwhelming, deafening.
Martin steps around him without looking, leaves him standing in the dark of the hall.
He gives up on trying to reach out after that; focuses on trying to just get through each day with the minimum of fuss. He still doesn’t know exactly what it is that he’s waiting for – just something to change, he thinks, anything, anything at all. Because the worst part is the endlessness of it all. Time doesn’t mean very much to him, cooped up in the tiny cottage with precious little else to do: he doesn’t have the attention span for books any more, as often as he’ll pretend to thumb through them, and between the two of them they’ve fixed, cleaned and done pretty much everything possible in their little space.
But even if he’s stopped reaching out to Martin, he can’t stop himself from just watching him: especially given his lack of other recreational options. He’s still not very good at being surreptitious about it, even though he knows that it upsets Martin, because these days he can’t stop from letting it all hang out, from everything he’s feeling covering his face: the fear. The guilt. The quiet, profound misery.
The worst part is that even as he notices Martin noticing him, he still keeps doing it: he can’t stop himself. Because if Martin won’t reach out to him at all, the only thing he's got left is just looking at him, just thinking about him. And it’s clear Martin doesn’t like it, and Jon doesn’t blame him. How it must feel, to be stranded in a strange place with someone who won’t stop looking at you and seeing someone else.
He can tell the warning signs by now; the little tic Martin does with his hands when he’s preparing for an argument, the way the lines of his mouth pull tight. When he sees Martin put his book down with a snap and get to his feet, he knows what’s coming. For a second, he closes his eyes in weariness, preparing for another fight.
When he opens his eyes, he can tell Martin’s noticed; he’s got his shoulders hunched again and he looks even angrier than he did a second before. It says something that under it all Jon feels relief at this, that Martin’s anger is any kind of connection between them at all, and hard on the heels of that is a little resentment, for the first time: just a little, that Martin has brought him to this.
It’s unfair, and he knows it, he tells himself, he knows it, it’s not Martin’s fault, something bad happened to him, it’s reasonable he doesn’t like the Jon he remembers, he’s scared –
“Oh, don’t,” Martin snaps. “Don’t even think about trying to take the moral high ground. You keep looking at me like I’m dead – I mean, from the second you realised I’d lost my memories, Jon, you’ve been doing it the whole time. How do you think that feels, Jon? You told me you’ve been through so much – just, god, look at you, you’re a walking scrapbook of things that have apparently tried to hurt you. So what, exactly, makes me missing three years of memories such a bloody trial for you?”
It’s a fair question. It’s just not one that Jon really wants to think about answering.
“I don’t want to say,” Jon says, quietly, pressing down on everything that brings up inside him. “It’s – it’s really my issue, Martin, not yours. I really don’t think it would be fair to put that on you.”
“I don’t care,” says Martin. “You don’t – you don’t get to decide that for me.”
Jon works his jaw for a second, and Martin leans in closer.
“Why,” he says, seething, and finally, finally, Jon explodes.
“Fine,” he spits, standing, stepping closer. He notes, distantly, that his hands are already shaking. “Okay. Alright. You want to know why? Maybe at some point this would have been – I mean, not fine, but at least tolerable. God, you know what I mean. You’re alive, you’re safe, and maybe it would just have been another – another mystery to solve. But in the four years since we started working in the Archives, we have lost and lost and lost. And at a certain point, you – you were the only thing that I had left that was still here, that was still good, and you still almost –“
He bites that sentence off with a hiss of breath, avoiding Martin’s eyes.
“So when we came here, together, and it was like we were finally – you know, I didn’t want to let myself believe it, at first. It just felt wrong, after everything – the idea that maybe, finally, we could get some peace. And then I did, I let myself believe that maybe something good could happen, that we were working towards something. And that even after everything that happened to you because of me, we could – you could – be –“
“Be what?” Martin presses, and Jon drops into a chair, hands over his face. He stares though his fingers at the tabletop. All the bitterness that was pouring through him just a second ago is gone, and he feels – washed up. Wrung out. He doesn’t think he’s ever been so tired.
“Happy,” he says, softly. It physically hurts to say. “I thought that we could be happy.”
Martin sucks in a tight breath, and Jon laughs.
“Obviously. Obviously, I was so stupid,” he says. “And I know I haven’t been fair to you. I never meant to make you feel bad, I just – after everything, we were so close. So it’s not about the memories, Martin, it never was. It’s your – misery.”
He swallows, hard.
“And I’m sorry, I really am,” he says, and is embarrassed at the way that the tears are springing into his eyes. “That I didn’t get to give you that. Martin, I’m so sorry.”
When he glances over, Martin’s got his arms wrapped tightly around himself and he’s looking away, into the fire. For the first time, Jon sees openly on his face the kind of bone-deep sorrow he thinks has been hiding under Martin’s boiling anger this whole time. He looks so worn, so pale – and so gently, achingly Martin. There you are, Jon thinks, and then, almost as an afterthought, oh, God. I love you.
“No, you shouldn’t – oh, Jesus,” Martin says hoarsely, so quietly Jon has to strain to hear him. Something about the tone in his voice makes Jon’s heart beat faster just to hear it. “Oh, God. You’re right, I’m so, so sorry. I think you were right the first time. I think I did this. To you. I’m so – so fucking stupid, I didn’t think. I’m – I’m so sorry.”
“What – what do you mean?” says Jon, cautiously, a little breathlessly.
Martin’s still looking into the fire, folding forwards, his eyes glazed.
“I – I can feel the absence – I have been, the whole time. Like, I know there’s something there that’s just covered up, like I can’t get to it. And it feels familiar, inside me, it feels – like this fog of some kind, I guess,” and at that word Jon takes a sharp breath. “It’s all still there, I think, just blocked off. And every time I think about trying to get through it, or every time I look at you and you make me feel –“
He breaks off. Jon becomes aware that he’s frozen in place, a little throb of pain in the pit of his fists where his nails are digging into his palms.
“I get scared,” Martin says, quietly. His eyes are very bright, focused on nothing that Jon can see. “So I think – I think I did something. To myself. I think something happened to make me want to forget.”
“Oh,” says Jon, very quietly, drawing his arms across himself as if he can protect himself from how much that simple sentence hurts him. Because nothing, of course, has really happened to Martin since they came here, nothing that he can think of – except Jon.
Martin winces, still not looking at him.
“Don’t, please – I don’t think it was you, I think it was me. I mean, I think – I think I can guess. When I woke up on that first night – I was scared, I was disorientated, I didn’t know where I was. And then I heard your voice, and how it made me feel – God, it terrified me.”
He takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly.
“And what I heard from you, in your voice. The way – oh, Jon. The way you said my name.”
Jon’s staring at his hands, at the little marks his nails have left in his palms. This is how it feels, he thinks, every time he’s torn a statement from someone. Hearing the facts of the way he cares for Martin, the way Martin’s saying it, raw and open – it hurts in a different way to anything he’s ever felt before.
“I think I wiped myself, or something.” Martin says quietly, almost to himself. “Yeah, no, I’m sure I did. It must have been me. It really does feel so familiar.”
“But why – why would you do that,” says Jon, wildly, looking up. “Martin, why on earth would you do that to yourself?”
Martin opens and closes his mouth, and then shakes his head.
“I can’t – you’re gonna have to get that answer for yourself,” he says. “Maybe you could See me, or Ask, or whatever you said your powers do.”
“No – I mean, Martin, you really don’t have to tell me,” Jon says, shocked at the suggestion. “I don't need to know that much. My power – it’s not a good power. And that’s not how we work. Worked. You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.”
“Is it dangerous?” says Martin, looking at him. “Does it hurt? Like – if I want you to do it?”
“Well, I don’t think so–“ says Jon reluctantly, and Martin surges towards him, just an inch.
“Please,” he whispers, and he squeezes his eyes shut. “It’s not that I don’t want to – I know I owe you an explanation, I just – I don’t think I can do it any other way.”
“You’re… sure?” says Jon, doubtfully, and Martin nods without opening his eyes.
Jon breathes out, long and slow, and focuses.
“Why,” he says, and he feels the force of it flow through him like a wave.
In response, Martin takes one deep, shuddering breath, and then his shoulders relax. Jon watches a look of peace cross his face, like he’s about to let go of some enormous weight. He looks Jon dead in the eyes.
“I don’t think I know how to be loved,” he admits, and the simple way he says it breaks Jon’s fucking heart. “I think it scared me.”
Jon can’t do anything but look at him. Martin keeps talking, almost stumbling in his rush to get the words out.
“So forgetting was easier, and then making you get angry and trying to get you to hate me instead felt better than when you – the way you looked at me, Jon, I didn’t know what to do with it. And then I think somewhere, somehow I thought maybe eventually you’d – you’d give up. And I know it doesn’t make any sense, me wiping my own memories, or anything after, I don’t think I planned it or anything – I think I just got scared, you know? And reacted to it?“
He colours, and drops his gaze from Jon’s.
“God – sorry,” he says. “I honestly didn’t mean to say all of that, it sounds so dramatic – and it was, I guess. I know, it’s so stupid –“
“Stop. Please,” says Jon, hoarsely. “I mean – please stop talking about yourself like that.”
He has never wanted to reach out and touch someone so badly in his entire life. There’s nothing he can think to say that can capture the scope of all the things he’s feeling: the worry, the relief, the fucking ocean of care that he’s drowning in.
He looks over at Martin, who seems small and drawn in on himself in a way that Jon’s never seen before. Martin has always been so big to him – in stature, in personality, even in the Lonely or after all the worst things that Jon said to him when they first started working together. It hurts more than he can put words to that after everything, it’s been Jon’s care that’s done this to him: more than a knife to the finger, or fire on his hands, or a worm in his side, it hurts.
But when he reaches out a hand, nervously, Martin takes it and grips it tight. At his touch, Jon feels lightheaded: he’s almost embarrassed at the breath he lets out when he feels Martin’s fingers curl around his.
“Can you take it back?” Jon asks, voice cracking. Then he rephrases, to ask the question that really matters. “Or do – do you want to?”
Martin nods once.
“Oh, God,” Jon says involuntarily, closing his eyes and tipping his head back briefly in relief. “Okay. Okay. Do you know how?”
“No,” says Martin, looking panicked now. “I-I mean, I can try, but I wasn’t even sure I actually did it, until now. I mean, I didn’t even really believe you, about the powers, not even until you just did that – thing.”
“It’s okay,” Jon says, as reassuringly as he can. “It’s fine. You’ve got time, there’s no rush. And I meant – I meant what I said. If you can’t get them back – it doesn’t matter, as long as you’re okay.”
“Can you,” Martin says, and then he chokes and tries again. “Can you just – sit next to me?”
“I’ll be right here,” says Jon fervently, gripping Martin’s hand, and Martin looks back at him with a look of surprise that’s almost heart-breaking in its sincerity.
They spend the rest of the evening on the sofa, Martin pressed over on himself with his eyes tightly closed. Jon watches him for a while, the furrow in his brow deepening as the time passes, but after an hour or so he can’t really look at Martin beside him anymore without fighting a growing panic about what might be happening inside his head.
He watches the fire instead; the way it plays over the whole room, the way it bathes the two of them in flickering light; their hands where they’re still nested together on the cushion, Martin’s pale, freckled skin under his own. It helps.
After a few hours, Martin uncoils beside him, opening his eyes and shaking his head. Jon moves to touch his face before really thinking about it, and settles for placing a hand firmly in between them on the sofa instead.
“I can’t get it,” Martin says, bitterly. “I know it’s there, but I don’t know what’s behind it. I can’t get a grip on it – every time I try, it feels like I’m just passing a hand right through it.”
“But you’re alright?” says Jon, not bothering to keep the worry from his voice anymore. “It doesn’t hurt to try?”
“It doesn’t feel like anything,” says Martin, frustratedly. “That’s the problem. Maybe I can’t, but you said – maybe it’s something you can fix, Jon.” He doesn’t look up at Jon. “Did you still, um. Want to try?”
“I... can,” says Jon, and he shifts to face Martin. He lays his hands flat on the sofa. “If you're sure. This shouldn’t – this shouldn’t hurt, it should be just like it was before. I don’t know what it feels like, actually, but I think it’s only painful if you resist it. Uh. R-ready?”
Martin straightens his back and nods.
“What have you forgotten?” Jon asks, pushing as hard as he can, the power of the question like a tang of metal on his tongue.
Almost immediately, he knows that it’s not going to work; there’s a certain vibrancy to the way he feels when he’s about to get an answer that’s obviously lacking. But he waits anyway, watches Martin’s pensive expression deepen over the seconds until he shakes his head, grimacing.
“No dice, I guess. Sorry,” he says, hunching his shoulders. “I don’t… Jon, I don’t know where to go from here.”
Jon takes a slow, measured breath.
“I have something else I can try but, it – it might be painful,” he says, carefully. “I might have to – I don’t know – try and go into your head. And I don’t know if that will work, and if it does – I don’t know how that will make you feel. I think it might hurt.”
Martin looks pale, but his face is set in determination.
“Try it,” he says.
Jon arranges them both as comfortably as he can on the sofa, the two of them facing each other squarely, and then places his hands on either side of Martin’s head. They’re only a foot or so apart, closer than he usually lets himself get to Martin, and Martin’s cheeks and temples are cool and smooth under his fingers. It’s a strangely intimate position for what he needs to do, inappropriately so; he can’t stop thinking of it as a violation, of some kind, even with Martin asking him to do it.
“You can stop me any time,” he reminds Martin, at least twice. “If it hurts at all, if it’s uncomfortable. Or – I don’t know – if I’m looking at anything I shouldn’t. I mean, I’ll stay out of as much as I can, but. Just say, or pull away.”
Martin nods, fidgeting.
Jon brushes a thumb over Martin’s cheek before he thinks about it, just once, and while Martin’s just starting to flush, he focuses and falls inwards.
It’s so much like fighting back on the beach with Lukas that for a second he forgets where he is; the fog is thick and damp around him, swallowing him up. And then he shifts a leg, and the rough weave of the sofa chafes against his trousers and he’s back. Under his hands Martin is shifting, and almost under Martin’s skin Jon can See and Feel: the generic shapes of the things Martin carries with him, the way he feels, the thoughts he thinks, and over it all the patchy blanket of that familiar fog.
There’s drifts of it over everything, even the memories that feel fresh, and Jon wonders with a sickening jolt in his stomach if Martin’s still been forgetting things over the last few days, and he just hasn’t wanted to tell Jon about it. He finds himself falling into those memories, without thinking about it – just to check, says a voice in the back of his mind, aren’t you curious? Just to make sure he’s alright, don’t you want to See, to know if he’s okay? – and wrenches himself back out at the last second, horrified.
He’s not here to spy, he reminds himself. It’s not about indulging his power, or his curiosity – it’s about Martin, and making sure he’s alright.
He sticks to the surface after that, hovering over the fog. Or that’s what it feels like he’s doing; it’s difficult to put words to an experience that is so profoundly distinct from his tangible, corporeal senses. The greater part of him is still tied to his own body and the physical sensations that come with it – Martin’s skin cool under his palms, an itch under his shirt, the way his leg is cramping from sitting for so long – but the rest of him feels floating, detached. In a way, it’s kind of exhilarating, but he’s familiar enough by now with the dangerous promise of that power that he can mostly put that aside. He focuses on the fog and – as best as he can comprehend it – he begins to try and clear it.
For a brief, horrifying moment he doesn’t think he’s going to have any more luck than Martin did – the sensation that Martin described, like passing a hand right through it, is apt for how difficult the fog is to work with. But there’s a precision and power to his abilities that for once he’s exceedingly grateful for, and with a little focus he finds himself able to drill into the scraps of mist to dissipate them. It’s difficult to find an analogy to any of his physical capabilities: the best he can think of it is like turning a light onto a spot of shadow and watching the darkness flee.
It’s not a tidy business. Some scraps of fog are determined to cling on, no matter what Jon does or how hard he pushes at it; they’ll separate into smaller scraps, some too small for Jon to really get a hold of, and he finds himself having to scrape at them, leaving smaller traces behind. He doesn’t really know what that means for Martin; already he’s panting now, his face screwed up in a way that makes Jon sick to see. But he can only do the best that he can do, and already things feel better. Clearer. He has to hope it’s going to be enough.
And then he finds the centre of it. Tucked away in a corner is a whole section of shifting, moving mist that feels solid and physical in a way the rest of it isn’t. When he tries to interact with it, it’s like he slides straight over the surface of some invisible barrier: it’s tough and strong where the rest of the fog has given way underneath him, like it’s encapsulating something instead of just smothering it.
As he touches it, Martin hisses sharply and furrows his brow.
Jon tries again, a little more gently, but it doesn’t give at all. He’s aware of the headache building at his temples and the way his stomach is already churning, fast and sickening; he doesn’t know how much longer he can keep at it. He bites his lip.
“You can try again,” says Martin. His eyes are still tightly closed, and Jon can feel the edge of his jaw where it’s clenched under the ridge of his palm. “It’s okay. I don’t mind.”
“I’m hurting you,” says Jon, and there’s more panic in his tone than he really means to let slip. “Martin, are you sure?”
Martin takes a deep breath.
“It’s alright,” he says. “I trust you, Jon. I – want to remember you. Just do it.”
Jon steels himself, and throws himself at it again and again. When it begins to give way, Jon turns his focus narrower and thinner, burning like a spotlight, until it starts to give way. Caught up, he doesn't realise what he might be doing until he feels the skin underneath his palms begin to dampen: tears are leaking out of the corners of Martin’s eyes.
Horrified, Jon tries to pull away, Martin seizes his hands and brings them back to rest on either side of his head again. He’s shaking his head, but Jon can’t tell whether he even knows if he’s doing it.
“I’m so sorry,” Jon finds himself saying, over the sound of Martin’s harsh breathing, “God, Martin, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I – “
It pops like a balloon, exploding outwards a final sickening stab of pain that he can feel running through both of them, and instantly he’s pulled back into himself. Martin falls forward, gasping, his forehead against Jon’s breastbone, and Jon wraps his arms around him and buries his face in Martin’s hair, ignoring the pain and the nausea still crashing through him in waves.
“Did it work?” he says, urgently. “Martin?”
“I – Jon?” says Martin in a high, tight voice, and as soon as he starts crying Jon pulls him up to rest against his shoulder, dragging him up to lean them into each other. He’s holding Martin so tightly he’s worried he’s hurting him, his knuckles pale where they’re clutched over Martin’s arms. Martin doesn’t seem to notice. Jon has never seen a person cry so hard; he’s fighting for breath between sobs, gasping out over Jon’s shoulder.
“I was so stupid,” he sobs. “Jon, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I hurt you, I didn’t mean to, I just got scared –“
“It’s okay,” Jon says, tightly, into Martin’s jumper, fisting his hands into the fabric. “Please, I – it’s fine, Martin, it’s alright, it's fine, it's fine.”
When Martin’s sobs start to slow, Jon pulls back a little, pushing the hair out of Martin’s face so he can just look at him.
“Do you remember?” he says, a little more softly. “I mean, do you know who I am now?”
Martin looks back at him.
“Yeah. Yeah,” he says, his voice rough from crying. He keeps opening and closing his mouth like he’s waiting for the words to come, and then he reaches down and links his fingers with Jon’s, like he’d do in the night after troubled sleep.
Jon lets out a very long, very shaky breath.
“Please,” he says. “Do me a favour. Don’t – don’t do that again,” and Martin gives a little, hiccoughing laugh.
“I’m not planning on it,” he says. “Trust me.”
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Jon asks him quietly, ducking his head, and Martin blows out a long breath.
“Yeah. Okay. It was so stupid – sorry, sorry,” he says, grimacing when he catches a glimpse of Jon’s face. “Honestly, it wasn’t even anything big. You wanna know what it actually was? It was when we were getting into bed, and we weren’t –“ and he pauses, and flushes, “– you know, we weren’t talking about it. But you got settled, and you’d turned over in bed to face me, and you were just so close. One of your hands was resting on the duvet, right next to my chest. But you were so - relaxed. I remember looking at you in the dark, when you were falling asleep: you were just so close to me, and you were so happy. And all of a sudden, I had no idea what I was supposed to do with that. I didn’t know how we got here, I didn’t know where we were going – you, we, hadn’t said anything, and I was – scared. That I’d totally misread things, and I was gonna do something wrong.”
“Martin,” Jon breathes, but Martin’s still talking.
“And then I panicked,” he continues. “And then I really panicked, and then I kind of just – blacked out, and then when I came back it was just you and the darkness and how scared I was. I’m sorry. I know I lashed out – a lot, I know I was an arsehole.
“But, in my defence,” he says, looking up, and his tone is half-joking, half-nervous. “I didn’t really know it would matter that much to you. Or I’d convinced myself it wouldn’t. Like, the way I saw it, if you didn’t – I mean, if you – if you didn’t actually love me, then whether I remembered you or not wouldn’t really be that big a deal anyway.”
“You know you were wrong about that,” says Jon hoarsely, after a moment. He was angling for a playful tone, but there’s an inadvertent intensity to the way it comes out which makes him think he might be off by a mile or ten. “You, uh. You were really, really wrong about that, Martin.”
Martin catches his gaze, looks straight at him for just a few seconds before he ducks his head.
“I know now,” he says, chagrined, and the surge of fondness that rises inside Jon is so strong he feels like he might choke on it.
“I, uh. I won’t hold it against you,” Jon says, still aiming for light-hearted in a way that he keeps dropping short of. “As long as you’re better.”
In response, Martin grimaces in a way that makes Jon’s stomach drop instantly.
“You are better now,” Jon says again in dread, half a statement, half a question. He puts a hand against Martin's cheek: Martin leans into it. “You are better now, Martin?”
“I-“ says Martin, almost ashamed. “I – I don’t know. I mean, I’ve got a lot back now that I know I didn’t remember before – Peter, Prentiss, the circus. Tim. My – my mum. Daisy and Basira and Melanie. But Jon, I still don’t know how we got Elias put away, or – or what happened to Sasha, or even how I got off that beach. I – I don’t know what we did yesterday – parts of it are just totally gone. And I don’t know what else I don’t remember.”
“Do you want me to try again?” says Jon, ignoring the thundering pain in his head and the way his hands are shaking. “I could go back in, see what else I can draw off.”
Martin considers it for a second, and then reaches over, puts one hand on Jon’s chest where his heartbeat still hasn’t quite recovered. The coolness of Martin’s skin bleeding through Jon’s thin shirt is not entirely helping matters, Jon thinks.
“Later?” Martin says, and Jon nods. They smile at each other.
“You know,” Jon suggests hesitantly, after a moment. “Not all of what you’re missing is bad. I, um. I mean I can try and get it back for you later, but I can also just. Tell you about it. The good parts, if you wanted.”
Martin smiles a little wider.
“I’d like that,” he says, ducking his head.
Hesitantly, Jon shifts back into the cushions and tugs on Martin’s shoulder to draw him in. After a second, Martin allows himself be moved; he ends up resting along the length of the sofa, his knees tucked up to his chest to fit. His head is pillowed on Jon’s knees, facing away. Jon tugs a throw from over the back of the sofa, lays it over Martin’s side and shoulders. Carefully, he smooths it in.
When he lays a hesitant hand on the side of Martin’s head, Martin lets out a shaky breath, and finally, Jon feels him relax against him. Watching him, just looking at him, the familiar curl of his hair and curve of his head, the swell of feelings inside him is so strong that Jon feels like he might choke. Like he might sing.
“I do – I love you, you know,” says Jon to the back of his head, like he can’t hold it in for a moment longer. Martin turns his face and buries it in Jon’s leg.
“Okay,” he says thickly, and Jon smiles. He touches one hand to Martin’s cheek.
“So… about the beach,” he says, and Martin settles in to listen.
They try again a couple of times over the next few days to clear the rest of what’s in Martin’s head, but it’s not long before Jon starts to worry that his efforts are going to cause real problems for Martin. He’s started to get migraines, a couple bad enough that they make him throw up, and every time Jon clears less and less of the fog away. So after a few days they agree, together, to let things be, and just live with what they have.
Martin’s adamant that he’s okay, but it’s a worry for Jon – not just everything Martin’s missing, but everything that he’s going to be missing in the future: Martin confesses once, quietly, that he’s still having trouble remembering things. And once he knows what to look out for, Jon can see it. Sometimes Martin will answer a second too late, or say something that makes no sense, or blank something that he should know the answer to. And he’ll get embarrassed or quiet or angry, but most of the time he’ll let Jon take his hand and calm him down, a little, the way they still do in the middle of the night sometimes after a nightmare.
Part of the difficulty is not knowing when it’ll happen. Some things stay with acute clarity, and some things disappear; there’s no rhyme or reason to it as far as either of them can tell, or to the things Martin’s still missing from those four years.
Jon gets a little more of that time back, but in the end, he still has to tell Martin about what happened to Sasha. He holds Martin’s hand while Martin cries, quietly, and he tells Martin everything he remembers about the original Sasha: the things she did, not the way she looked, anything he might be sure of remembering correctly. He can’t tell whether it’s better or worse for Martin to be told than to remember it, but he feels better for doing it. In the wake of everything that happened after his panicked decision to smash the table, it feels like he never really got a chance to sit down and grieve for Sasha, and he doesn’t realise how heavily he’s been carrying that around until he’s had a chance to talk about it.
And in bits and pieces, they start making life work. Jon makes Martin a map of the area outside, just in case, and at his insistence Martin covers the surfaces around with little scraps of paper for the things that he might forget – the cupboards, the doors – and he repurposes his poetry journal to carry around with him and make notes in. Something about seeing Martin start filling up that journal again – his big, loopy handwriting – makes Jon feel a little at peace, even if it’s not the same as it was before.
When Jon kisses him for the first time – in the middle of making dinner, crowded up against the sink – Jon sees him pull out the journal almost immediately as soon as he’s gotten somewhere he thinks Jon can’t see. He watches Martin write a few lines with a tiny, soft grin, then close his eyes and rest his head against the book.
Jon doesn’t say anything about it. He doesn’t ask to read it. He knows what it says: he feels it too.
When Martin goes back to the village. Jon won’t deny that he’s nervous about it, even though it’s stupid. Martin came and went just fine before, and just because Jon knows about his memory now doesn’t change things – he’s even a little better now Jon’s got most of the fog out of him. But Jon still sequesters himself in their bedroom all the while Martin’s gone, fiddling around with Martin’s crochet things to give himself something to do and trying to stop himself from looking out the window over the desk every five minutes. And when he sees Martin’s broad figure emerging out of a stand of trees, he’s got enough time before Martin gets in to try and pretend he wasn’t worried at all. He trusts Martin, he thinks, to be able to know what's best for himself, what he can and can't do. He trusts him.
After less than two minutes, Martin appears at door of his room, waving the journal. In response, Jon smiles broadly at him, easy in a way that he’s still getting used to, and they immediately launch into the kind of breathless banter that Jon missed like a physical ache all the while Martin wasn’t talking to him, while Martin fills him in on everything Basira told him.
Eventually Martin stands, and takes his hand off Jon’s hair, while Jon tries to get one more parting bit in. Martin smiles at him, scoffs a little in a way that Jon can tell he doesn’t mean it.
“Of course I’ll let you know if I see any good cows,” he says, and Jon smiles at him, soft and heartfelt. He watches Martin walk away.
Jon’s not really thinking about this moment, but when he looks back later, he’ll remember Martin’s face as he turns at the door, in a way that he'll want to write down in Martin's journal, just to capture it. Gentle, open, a little self-conscious: still getting used to all this in the same way Jon is. And, like Jon is, absolutely in love. How stupidly simple it all is, in comparison to that. How terrifyingly fragile.
Martin raises a hand to his face; one side of his mouth pulls up in a smile. Gently, silently, he blows Jon a little kiss.
Jon watches as he closes the door.