Martin barely remembers walking to Jon’s flat. He must have, though; must have somehow gotten from the chaos and sirens around the Institute to this small, silent room. The walls look grey until Jon flicks on the lights — he has those energy-saving bulbs, Martin notes distantly, absurdly. They have a slightly yellow cast that warms the walls to a creamy off-white.
Like before, like the moment they left the Lonely, Jon looks back at him, smiling, and tugs Martin over the threshold by their linked hands. Martin’s palm tingles where Jon’s skin is touching it, almost painful but not quite.
“Are you okay?” Jon asks. His voice is rough with weariness. “Here, sit down.”
The flat is mostly bare, and Jon’s sofa is probably the only item to follow him from his old place. It’s too worn to have gained so many creases in the few months since Jon woke up from his coma. Since he came back from the dead.
Martin pushes away that thought with the ease of practice and runs his hand, newly bereft of Jon’s, over the soft fabric. “I’m fine,” he says at last. He suspects that he’s already let the pause stretch out a bit longer than natural.
Jon hums and says, “It’s okay if you’re not, you know.” Which mainly just confuses Martin.
He opens his mouth to clarify, or maybe object, but instead what comes out is, “You wouldn’t happen to have any tea, would you?”
That gets a laugh out of Jon. It’s brief, really more of a huff, but to Martin it seems to brighten the room. “Yes. Yes, of course,” Jon says, and crosses to the counter that probably serves as his kitchenette.
Martin leans back and closes his eyes, letting the sounds of another person bustling around the same space wash over him. The slight judder of the faucet before the rush of water. The click as the kettle is plugged in, the hushed roar as it starts heating up.
“Thank you,” Martin says quietly, without turning around.
He doesn’t think Jon can have heard him, but apparently he has. “It’s just tea, Martin. You must’ve made me a thousand cups before.”
There’s a creak as Jon presumably opens a cupboard. Martin keeps his eyes closed. It makes it easier to speak. “I mean. Thank you for coming after me. I know I haven’t done much to deserve it recently.”
The kettle whistles as it comes to a gurgling boil. Jon doesn’t say anything. Martin listens to the clink of two mugs being set down, and water being poured into them. Jon still doesn’t say anything.
Minutes pass while the tea steeps.
Then the silence takes on a different quality — Martin has become well-acquainted enough with silence to distinguish its types. He opens his eyes to find Jon standing next to him and holding out a mug. His brow is set in that particular furrow that means he’s upset. (As opposed to angry, worried, or most commonly: tired.)
“Here,” he says.
Martin takes a sip immediately, vaguely thinking it might stop him looking like that. The hot liquid scalds the roof of his mouth. It’s thick and teeth-achingly sweet. Good for shock, Martin muses. Three years ago, when he had stumbled out of those worm-infested tunnels babbling about finding Gertrude Robinson’s body, a kindly paramedic gave him tea just like this after establishing that he was unhurt. Is that why his head feels so distant? Is this shock, the aftermath of another narrow escape?
“Martin. Hey, careful!” Jon says, nudging the mug away from his lips. They’re smarting now from the heat.
He snaps to attention, starts to say, “Sorry, I don’t know why I...” to brush off his own silliness. Jon doesn’t even own a coffee table, so Martin ducks to set the tea on the floor. Huh. Looks like Jon has already done the same.
Jon cuts into his inane train of thought. “You’re freezing,” he says, almost accusingly. “I’m serious, Martin, are you okay? If there’s something medically wrong with you, I’m taking you to hospital, I don’t care if Elias finds us.”
He reaches for Martin’s hands and starts to rub warmth back into them — but a second later, Martin flinches and pulls away from him.
As soon as he does, he regrets it. He doesn’t not want Jon to touch him. Part of him actually wants Jon to hold him again, like he had in the Lonely, the solidity of him so comforting to cling to. Only he doesn’t know how to ask, and he certainly can’t now, not with the hurt and surprise flashing across Jon’s face as he pulls back in kind, holding up his hands as if Martin were a shying horse that needed to be calmed down.
“I’m fine,” he says again. Jon’s expression changes to one of disbelief and exasperation, so he hurriedly adds, “I promise. I feel okay, I’m just cold.”
Funny how he hadn’t noticed until just then.
Jon stares at him for a moment longer. “And you’d tell me if you felt otherwise.”
“Yes,” Martin confirms, with more certainty than he really has.
Slowly, Jon nods. Then he warns, “I’m reaching around you, but I’m not going to touch you,” and gives Martin plenty of room as he plucks a folded-up afghan from the back of the sofa. He unfurls it and drapes it over Martin, somehow managing to do this without coming particularly near him. The thickness and weight of the blanket are like an inanimate hug, comforting without being confronting.
“Bundle up,” Jon tells him needlessly. There’s a tenderness in his eyes that makes something in Martin’s chest twinge.
With numb fingers, he pulls at the blanket until it’s mostly settled around him. When he next looks up at Jon, he’s smiling at him again, but this time it’s tinged with sadness.
Martin wants to apologise. Or better yet, undo the last minute. Or better still, go back to that day in the hospital, in Jon’s private ward, and make himself say no to Peter Lukas. Make himself stay with Jon, wait just a little longer. He wouldn’t have been as uniquely positioned to distract Peter once Jon woke up, sure, but he would have saved them both a lot of pain. As it is, he seems to keep hurting Jon without meaning to.
And once again, he’s waited too long. Jon mutters, “I’ll get you my space heater,” and disappears into what must be his bedroom. Martin is left sitting there, clutching slightly scratchy wool and not knowing what he can say to fix this. Knowing, too, with a sort of dizzy, guilty pleasure, that Jon doesn’t expect him to, isn’t asking anything of him even as he looks after him.
It’s been so very long since another person cared for him.
After a while, Jon returns. He’s hefting the space heater with both hands — it’s a clunky, bulky old thing, and must be heavy for him — while using one shoulder to awkwardly hold his phone to his ear. Martin stands to relieve him of the heater and set it by the sofa. Jon shoots him a grateful look which he doesn’t feel like he deserves right now.
“No, stop,” Jon suddenly says into the phone. “Basira. I honestly don’t care if they find any bodies. You’re out, you’re safe. Don’t go back there.”
The room is quiet enough that Martin can just about make out Basira’s tinny response. “I have to,” she snaps. “I lost Daisy, I don’t know where she is.”
There is something wounding about the change that comes over Jon’s face then. “When did you last see her?” he asks softly.
Martin sits back down abruptly. He was never all that close to Basira, and his relationship with Daisy is... fraught, to say the least. But the news still hits him like a punch to the gut.
He scoots over on the sofa and without exchanging a word, Jon sits down next to him. Martin moves close enough to hear Basira again. Her voice has gone low and shaky.
“She gave in to the Hunt. We were cornered, and she said it was the only choice, but I know she did it for me. And I don’t — I don’t know if I can get her back.”
Jon is ever so slightly shaking his head. “I’m so sorry, Basira. I...” He trails off again. His breath shudders through him. He bows his head and tucks in his chin, curling up into himself as if defensively.
Martin hesitates for a second — but only a second. Then he leans gently against Jon. He doesn’t realise where the impulse comes from until after he does it. Then he remembers all too well the night he found a stray dog out in the rain and brought it back to the Institute. Jon had given him a thorough dressing-down for that, of course; Martin is unlikely to ever forget that particular lecture. But later, Jon had dug a spare towel out of his desk drawer and emptied the files out of a box in his office so the dog could sleep in it. He hadn’t even made fun of Martin when he went to line the box with a comfy old sweater. And when Martin returned from the pantry, having scrounged up some dog-appropriate leftovers and heated them up, he caught Jon adjusting the makeshift bedding while the mutt leaned contentedly against his leg. Its fur was still a bit damp at that point, despite the towelling, and it was leaving a steadily growing wet patch on Jon’s trousers. But he’d only remarked, “I’m really more of a cat person, you know,” and stayed put.
Some of the tension bleeds out of Jon’s taut, wiry frame. He returns a little pressure in a silent acknowledgement of Martin. Basira still hasn’t said anything more, and they all seem to be waiting for her, letting her take the time she needs. Martin sits still, breathing in subconscious tandem with Jon, and thinks wryly that he feels rather like a stray that Jon has brought in from the rain. He knows that that must have been the first time he saw his softer side. It was the reason he never entirely credited his ‘grumpy old man’ act, even if the Jon of that night didn’t make a reappearance until they were trapped together during Jane Prentiss’s attack.
He wonders when exactly he started thinking of Jon as a sheltering place.
I really loved you, you know, he’d told him, on that ethereal beach where the ocean dissolved into mist and the sun never appeared over the horizon. He thinks it should mortify him that his long-kept secret came out like that. But in a way, it’s a relief that Jon knows now. In a weirder way still, Martin feels divorced from the words, as if they were spoken by someone else. A ghost wearing his face.
At last, Basira speaks up. “Just tell me it was worth it,” she says tiredly. “Tell me you — tell me you found him?”
Jon startles. “Yes,” he says, then repeats it more softly: “Yes. I... I found Martin.”
The angle is such that Martin can’t see his face, but he can hear Jon’s smile in his voice. It makes the weird twinge happen in his chest again.
He gestures for the phone. Jon turns to him, confused, but Martin only gestures again, a bit impatiently now. He’s been struggling for words since he returned from Forsaken, it seems, but right now he knows exactly what to say.
“Uh — Martin wants to say something so I’m giving him the phone now,” Jon says all in a rush, handing over his mobile. Martin raises an eyebrow at him and pointedly puts the call on speaker. Jon can be an absolute Luddite sometimes.
He ignores Jon’s wide-eyed look, though. He needs to say this right. For Daisy and Basira, but also for himself and Jon.
“Basira, listen... I know we’ve had our differences, but. You’re going to get her back. You’re going to find her, and — and it’s not going to be too late.” Martin can feel Jon staring at him in a different way now. He can’t bring himself to meet his gaze. “I know it’s not, because I was... deep in the Lonely. And Jon pulled me out of it anyway.”
From the other end of the line, there’s only a sharp intake of breath from Basira. But she hasn’t interrupted, or threatened him with something pointy, so Martin keeps going, telling her what she needs to hear right now, and obliquely telling Jon what he couldn’t before.
“Daisy came to me once, said that company helped her stop hearing the call of the blood. I... I told her to go away, actually, which probably did not help—” Basira growls, then, and Martin gulps. “—but, but I knew how much she was trying to resist the Hunt. She isn’t lost yet. There’s really... really no such thing as too far gone.”
Without really meaning to, Martin holds his breath, waiting for Basira to say something in response. It takes long enough that he fancies he’s begun to see fizzy stars before she pipes up again. “What if you’re wrong?” she asks, but not meanly. Not to challenge him. Hope wars with dread in her voice.
He’s fumbling for words again, stumbling in the dark. He can’t help but feel like the old Martin would have said something much more reassuring and supportive here. But what comes to his mind is: “If I’m wrong, then I know it was worth it to her. If it meant saving you.”
And maybe there’s still something of the old Martin in him after all, because he’d told Peter that Jon was his reason for going as far into Forsaken as he had. The willing decoy. Less dramatic and heroic than Daisy in the tunnels, yes, but surely more monstrous. Selfish too, in a twisted way. And if that meant drifting further away, so what? I’d already grieved for him. And if it meant now saving him, it was worth it.
“Thank you,” Basira breathes, so quietly he thinks at first that he’s imagined it. He glances at Jon for confirmation.
Jon looks utterly stricken. “Oh, Martin,” he says softly.
It’s too much, too soon for Martin. He has to look away, clear his throat. Push on. “What can we do to help?” he asks Basira, speaking rather more loudly than he really needs to.
“Right,” she says, after a long, considering pause. Whatever pennies have dropped for her, though, she takes his cue and continues in her usual, businesslike manner. “You two need to lay low. Officially, you can’t be missing yet, since no one’s had time to look for you properly. But you need to get ready to go on the lam. You’ll need somewhere to hide. And I’m going to need a place to bring Daisy when I find her. She has several safehouses, but as long as I’ve been to one, Magnus might see it through my eyes.”
Martin decides to just run with the fact that his life now involves phrases like several safehouses and on the lam. “But then... we would need to find a safehouse you don’t know about.”
Singularly unhelpful commentary, he thinks dryly, but Basira surprises him by agreeing. “Which is why I’m making this very reluctant, very one-off request. Jon?”
Jon’s expression is suddenly pinched, hungry. “Yes?”
“I’m giving you permission to briefly invade our privacy. Try to control yourself, but... look.”
It seems to Martin that Jon barely has to expend effort to use his Beholding powers. His shoulders sag even as his eyes brighten and sharpen, focusing somewhere in the middle distance. “I...” Jon licks his lips. “I found one. It’s definitely remote enough. There’s not even an address, strictly speaking.”
“Good,” Basira says. Although she, too, seems taken aback by how quickly she got an answer. “What should I tell Daisy?”
“Scotland. That should be enough,” Jon replies. Martin blinks. Scotland? He’s barely ever been out of London.
Humourlessly, Basira laughs. “Alright. I’ll see you when I see you, then.”
“Wait,” Martin says, but Basira has already hung up. He turns to Jon. “She doesn’t have directions there. If she doesn’t find Daisy, she won’t know where to go.”
“She wouldn’t want to go,” Jon counters, and Martin starts at how hoarse his voice has suddenly gone. “She wouldn’t want to go and be safe somewhere without Daisy. Take it from me.”
There is something quite otherworldly about Jon’s eyes just then, dark and unfathomable. This time, Jon is the one to break from Martin’s gaze. Martin has the oddest sense that he doesn’t so much look askance as turn away to hide his eyes.
“What now?” Martin asks, if only to stop Jon looking like that.
Jon laughs, but it’s a brittle thing in the air between them. He keeps his gaze trained on the floor. “Now, I guess... we run after all.”
God help him, but Jonathan Sims looking so tired and crumpled and sounding so opaquely self-abasing cuts right through the fog in his mind. Martin shifts on the sofa, tucking one leg up and turning so he’s mostly facing Jon. “Hey,” he prompts quietly. “Look at me. Look at me, Jon.”
And Martin doesn’t know how to describe it, but Jon seems to come back to himself, settle back into his skin, as he looks at Martin and Martin looks back at him levelly. He blinks, and the feverish, hungry edge melts out of him.
“Okay,” Jon says nonsensically, nodding as if they’ve had an entire conversation. He takes a deep breath, and when he next speaks, he sounds resolute. “We’ll need to pack clothes, basic supplies. You’ll have to stop by your flat as soon as possible...”
Martin’s stomach lurches. It would be quicker, he sees at once, if he went now and grabbed some things before meeting Jon somewhere. It would be less conspicuous, too. But.
But he can’t face that empty apartment of his, so neglected it’s neat under the muffling layer of dust. The few times he’s gone there recently instead of sleeping in the Institute overnight, it’s always felt stale and still, uninhabited. To the point that he started to doubt his own living, breathing presence.
Martin pulls the afghan more snugly around himself. It had started to slip off one shoulder. “Not — not by myself?” he asks, tensing for Jon’s answer.
“No, I’ll go with you,” Jon offers at once. His tone is so matter-of-fact, it occurs to Martin that Jon hasn’t even considered the ‘divide and conquer’ option.
He relaxes and reaches for his tea. It’s cooled down by now, a bit past what Martin regards as the optimal temperature. But it’s still good, and he welcomes the warmth.
Jon clicks his tongue and kneels to fiddle with the abandoned space heater.
As he moves, the laundry tag on his cardigan pokes out over the collar. Martin wants to lean forward and tuck it back in for him. Casual as anything, the way he’s dreamed of it being between them for months on end.
Then he thinks about the slide of his cold fingers on the back of Jon’s neck, and stays motionless.
Eventually, Jon mutters a triumphant, “Aha!” as the beat-up contraption whirs to life. He sets it close by Martin’s feet — then frowns at him thoughtfully.
“Yes, I’ll make sure the blanket doesn’t catch fire,” Martin promises, tugging so more of it is draped on the sofa rather than hanging dangerously close to a heat source.
“You’re not in the Archives anymore. I’m not as fussed about potential ignition,” Jon says. He somehow manages to sound both reproachful and fond. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
Warm and supplied with tea, which is about as close to content as he generally gets these days, Martin nods.
He does a double-take when Jon returns with what must be the entire contents of his wardrobe. At least, he thinks that’s Jon staggering under the mountain of clothes. He can just about make out those thin, scarred arms wrapped around the bundle.
Jon doesn’t so much set the clothes down on the floor as stumble forward and nearly sprawl on top of them. Martin’s arm reflexively darts out to catch him by the elbow, steadying him. His tea doesn’t even slosh, which is a bit embarrassing, really. Yet it’s only when Jon flashes him a quick smile that Martin flushes, and releases him.
“What are you doing?” he asks. He rubs at his own hand absently.
“Packing,” Jon replies, bending to fish out a select few items from the pile.
Martin waits for elaboration, but it isn’t forthcoming. “You’ve got a very... interesting method.”
Jon only shrugs and looks sheepish. “I never can tell what I’ve forgotten to bring unless I lay it all out like this.”
That... doesn’t really make sense, given how much practice Jon must have gotten when he was doing all that travelling to find a way to stop the Unknowing. But it’s not like Martin was around for that bit. He’d barely seen Jon at all. For all he knows, Jon could be the world’s most disorganised packer.
Anyway, it’s not like he’s going to complain. He doesn’t relish the idea of being alone again. Martin wiggles deeper into his blanket cocoon, sighing.
Huh. “Where did you get this, anyway? You don’t seem the crocheting type.”
Jon looks up from where he’s been examining a brown stain on a shirt. Martin suspects it might be blood. “Georgie knitted it,” Jon says.
“No, this is crochet,” Martin says again. At the same time, Jon adds, “It was one of her hobbies when we met at Oxford. Helps with the stress, she said, but later on she adopted the Admiral and his little claws kept getting snagged. So she gave it to me.”
“Ah... the Admiral,” Martin echoes, even though it makes him sound a bit daft to keep repeating himself. In the conversations they’d had after Jon returned to the Institute and moved out of Georgie’s flat, the Admiral had cropped up, well, several times. And whenever Jon talks about that cat, he always gets this adorable crinkle around his eyes, a sure giveaway that he’s trying not to smile. “Don’t you miss him?” Martin teases.
But Jon just smiles — fully smiles, slow and indulgent and more radiant than the crinkling by several orders of magnitude. “Not as much as I miss you,” he tells Martin simply, and returns to packing.
Martin freezes in place. There’s a rushing in his ears that might be the crash of distant waves. “Are you? Still?” he croaks.
Jon frowns up at him. “That’s not a grammatical question, Martin.”
What a Jon thing that is to say. Martin rubs at his nose, frustrated with his own struggle to articulate what he actually wants to ask. “I mean — are you still missing me? Am I... am I still missing to you?”
“Are you punning right now?”
Martin drags his hands over his face. “I’m serious, Jon, I — You must have noticed. I feel... not all here. I see fog at the edges of my vision. Faintly, but it’s there. I didn’t notice I was cold until you said. I keep thinking about — about Orpheus and Eurydice, like you’ve tried to lead me back into the living world and I’m just a shade someone could walk right through.”
Wow. He has no idea where that came from. (Probably that one class in Classics he took at university, self-indulgently, before his mother got worse and he had to drop out.) But as soon as he’s said it, he knows it’s true. Poet that he is, or was, sometimes it’s only through imagery and allegory that he can express himself.
For a long moment, there’s only silence — and not a kind Martin is familiar with. Then Jon softly asks, “Can I touch you?”
Dazed, Martin nods. Jon reaches over and takes his hand. He gently runs his thumb over the back of it. “Hmm,” he says thoughtfully. “You’re very solid for a ghost.”
A sort of choked laugh escapes Martin. “Oh,” he says on an exhale, “oh, thank you. I needed that.”
Jon smiles that sad smile again, before letting go of his hand. “That hurts, doesn’t it? When I touch you.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Martin says, surprised.
A beat. “Are you sure?” Jon’s voice steps carefully, tentative. “It’s just... you sort of flinched, before.”
Martin searches himself. “It’s not painful,” he says slowly. “It’s like... when you’ve sat weirdly and your leg falls asleep. And you have to keep jiggling your foot to get the circulation back even though you get that... crawling-ants, TV-static feeling?”
Jon stares at him. “And that happens every time you even brush against something?”
“It really only happens when it’s another person,” Martin muses. “I guess no one’s touched me in a long while.”
Look at me, he thinks dryly, victim of an eldritch manifestation of depression and weaponised touch starvation. Not exactly how I thought an archiving job would turn out.
Jon swallows and says, “Martin,” entirely too sadly.
Martin holds out his hand, and waits for Jon to accept it.
“It’ll be fine,” he tells him. “I’ve got you. Now I just need time.”
“I... I can give you that.” Jon squeezes his hand lightly. “I’m good at waiting.”