Music plays softly inside the café as Martin traces his fingers around the honeycombed metal of the outside tables. His tea has gotten cold because they don’t know how to make it right and the chill of winter is only just starting to subside in the warm breeze of spring. The timer on his arm is down to minutes now and his stomach lurches with nerves.
Perhaps it would be better if they didn’t show up at all?
No. He wants this, of course he does, always has. Has waited here, at this specific spot during every empty hour of his life knowing that one day they’d come and maybe he could trick fate into giving him that precious peace early. Maybe his soulmate would be just like him and want to know about the place they would meet beforehand, and they would get to meet and start their lives together before he was 28.
It never happened.
And now the day is here and his nerves and the strong smell of coffee from the café is making him nauseous and there’s now less than a minute left on his timer.
His fingers still and he looks around and no one is looking back.
Still a half a minute to go.
They could still show up.
That’s why he chose to be outside, right near the road, just in case they were running late.
A shaky breath comes from behind him as the timer ticks from 3 to 2 seconds.
From 2 to 1.
He stands as he turns around to face the sound. From 1 to 0.
Standing there is a man a head shorter than him, dark eyes, dark hair, and the start of a tentative smile revealing the smallest of dimples. He’s beautiful and Martin is suddenly stricken by thoughts of ‘that can’t possibly be right, he’s too pretty…’
The man lets out an airy, shaky chuckle, shaking his head and glances to their hands, where he’s intertwined them. His hands are closed against Martin’s and Martin finds that he can wrap his hand entirely around the much smaller one.
The countdown timer, now all 0’s, flashes brightly on their skin and just like that, it’s gone. The warmth that spreads through him is such a relief that he almost feels like he could collapse.
They were together. His soulmate came to him and now…
Now he wouldn’t be alone anymore. Never again.
The man falls against him suddenly, wrapping his arms under Martin’s and pressing himself wholly against him.
Martin laughs and hugs him back tight, the man's hair brushing against his cheek.
“Jonathan Sims,” the man says, shoulders dropped, and eyes closed. And oh… his voice. “Jon for short.”
Martin takes a steadying breath and swallows the lump in his throat. The man… Jonathan Sims, his soulmate. His Jon. “Martin Blackwood.”
Still wrapped up in his arms, Jon looks up to him with those beautiful eyes, dark as night, his lips pressed tightly together in a smile. He almost looks overwhelmed. He returns the small smile with a grin of his own. “Martin.” His voice is so smooth and Martin wants to hear him speak forever, just for him, monologue or sigh or simply say his name over and over again until it stops sounding like a word and all he could hear is the melodic undertones of his voice.
That’s when it happens.
With a small spasm in his forearm, the clock is back again, with ten minutes on the timer and another café a few minutes walk from the one they were currently standing in.
Jon pulls away and finds the same timer, the same café written on his own arm, timer steadily ticking down.
It takes them a second to come out of the daze it had put them in, before Jon shakes his head. “Are… Are we supposed to go there and meet again?” He looks up at Martin with a cocked eyebrow and its just now that Martin realizes that there were people standing across the street, staring at them as they held each other.
“I don’t… I don’t know?” His heart sinks. “What if this means we aren’t…”
Jon sighs like someone used to Martin’s nervous ramblings, like they’ve already known each other for years and Jon knows just the way to calm him. “Our markings were exactly the same and when we touched, they flashed.” He worms his hands around Martin’s neck and connects their gazes again. “And now they’re the exact same again.”
“R-right, no, I know… It’s just strange.”
“Welcome to my life, Martin Blackwood.”
There’s his name in Jon’s mouth again and the fear of what just happened fades from his heart as he’s warmed all over again. “I’m glad to be here, Jon.”
“Good.” Jon pulls Martin down a bit, enough to press their foreheads together. Martin closes his eyes and allows himself to drown in the intense feeling of rightness that the new numbers on his forearm want him to ignore. “Let’s go somewhere to talk.”
It’s not until they’ve reached the park that the numbers on their arms hit zero, this time with no flash or feeling as they fade away.
Jon talks about his job as though he can ignore the inkling of wrongness Martin can’t deny at the numbness of the flesh of his forearm.
It had been quite the day.
The numbers hit zero and he’s left sitting in the dark corner as they fade from his forearm. He pushes the sleeve of his leather jacket back down and pretends not to notice the waitress staring at him from across the vast empty space of the café.
Fate itself was against him here, he couldn’t even pretend that they had seen him, saw how he was dressed, saw his tattoos, saw the dark circles under his eyes and had changed their mind and split.
They hadn’t shown up at all and the proof was in a hole in the wall café, comically empty during lunch hour.
And here he sat at the far edge of it, coffee sitting cold at the center of the table, forgotten as he was.
Why had he come?
He had debated staying home and ignoring the burning pull towards this shitty little building, empty as it was. He had wanted to sit in his mother’s bookstore and ignore her smug smile as he pretended that not going to that café hadn’t gutted him.
And here he sat anyway, gutted and utterly alone.
There would be no ignoring the smug, knowing smile he was going to get when he went home now. This had been his only real chance at escaping. Of walking away from her and not losing everything.
Of being able to pull her toxic talons out of his skin and not collapsing against the weight of a world he didn’t belong to.
He put down a bill far too large for a cup of coffee and stalked out of the building, pulling his jacket tightly around him.