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bee pollen and apitoxin

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Jonathan Sims has made many, many stupid decisions in his lifetime. 

 

That isn’t a lead-in for a grand contradiction, a but that would suddenly color everything in a new light and justify the many, many stupid things he has done. It is just a statement of a fact. 

 

Jonathan Sims sat at a cafe at the edge of a park at a table that was just far enough away from the others that it offered a nice illusion of privacy. Flowers were in bloom, the sun was shining, it was a beautiful day, and he was about to have lunch with a monster. He drummed his fingers against the lattice of the iron table and it was wholly unsatisfying - didn’t even produce a proper tap. He stared at the glass of water in front of him with its melting ice and dripping condensation and his warped reflection looked back, asking, begging for an explanation. A good reason why. All he could do was shrug mentally and try not to run. He had so many reasons to run. 

 

Then he looked at the puckered, scarred flesh of his right hand that was somehow mostly healed and he knew that he couldn’t run. If he ran, that would’ve been for nothing. The fact that he was in public held no comfort - he met Jude in public as well and that didn’t stop her from giving him the worst burn the doctors at the hospital had ever seen.

 

It was a blur of lights and shouting and the most agonizing pain he had ever felt in his life. Melted wax adhered to flesh and ate and ate and ate and yet the nerve endings never died - 

 

Mutters of fourth-degree and amputation and what the hell even happened and he couldn’t form words and they didn’t even know how he was still conscious and all he could do was scream until they put him under but the pain still reached him there. 

 

He snapped awake, grabbing the wrist of a nurse with a hand that should not could not did not work and he ripped away everything that he could and more. 

 

He didn’t look at the shell that used to be a person and probably could be a person again one day as he ripped out the IV. He looked at his hand and it looked like a hand and that was enough for him to get on his feet and start walking. 

 

No-one stopped him. 

 

A gentle wind blew him out of his memories and Jon sighed, flexing his hand until the skin tightened as if it was about to rip. He relaxed and sipped his water and thought about what a nice day it was. What a fitting day for two monsters to meet. 

 

He wasn’t even sure if it counted as self-depreciation if it was true. The nurse’s twisted face flashed behind his eyelids every time he blinked and he could still taste her fear on his tongue. Even the memory was a cooling balm on his mind, gentle and numbing and so, so sweet that the absence ached. He needed more, he wanted more, and he – he wished that he didn’t hate himself so much for it. He wished that he felt the same joyful glee in his g-d’s love that Jude felt in hers. He hated himself for wishing it, but he couldn’t deny the simple fact that it would make everything so much easier than it was. 

 

He dug his fingers deeper into the mental wound and lost himself in the indulgence of self-pity, just for a moment. Just enough for the shift back into reality to feel like a slap to the face, to sting in a way he knew he deserved. A bee crawled on the knuckle of his mangled hand and he felt a surge of relief at the end of the waiting. Jon made sure to savor the calm before the storm. 

 

The monster arrived without much fanfare. He was a big man, tall and wide and all soft curves and edges smothered in clothes too warm for the weather. His hair was somewhere between dark blonde and light brown - dull and limp and clumped in tangles that might’ve been curls, once upon a time. He smiled at Jon and it felt too sincere. “Hello, Archivist,” he greeted, sliding onto the uncomfortable iron chair and holding out a hand. When Jon stared at the gleaming, spongy skin without making a move he withdrew it. “Yeah, I suppose that’s fair.” The smile never left his face and his cheeks were full and rosy and covered in freckles and his eyes were bright and honey-brown and everything was wrong. Too sweet, too trustworthy, cherubic, and cloying. Jon smelled honey in the wind, just shy of rancid. 

 

Jon waited as the monster took his order from the waiter, too tired and too underpaid to care about the utter wrongness of this table so far from all the others. 

 

When the waiter left all Jon said in greeting was, “Martin Blackwood.” 

 

Martin’s smile widened, eyes pleased and shining. “I see my name precedes me,” his voice was teasing in a way that should have been charming if it didn’t stick so heavily in the air. 

 

Jon swallowed. “Um, yes. I may… I may be familiar with some of your work. Statements find their way over, you know how it is.” 

 

“I’m curious,” Martin leaned forward with his bright face and soft smile and it took all of Jon’s willpower to not lean back, to not cover his nose and mouth as the air around them thickened. “What have you heard?” 

 

“Alice Delaney, found in her flat half encased in honeycomb after the landlord received countless complaints about a bee infestation - last seen with a young man giving her a jar of honey. Jeremy Lawson swore that his cab was full of invisible bees after dropping off a strange if very polite passenger. Diego Hernandez complained of a constant buzzing under his skin after spending the night with a man whose name he didn’t remember, but he swore it started with an M - of course, he was found dead a week later with a colony in his throat,” Jon took a deep breath as the waiter returned with a glass of water and a small bowl of fruit, before scurrying back to relative safety. “Is that enough for you?”

 

Martin hummed and it vibrated in Jon’s ribs. “Yes, I suppose,” he took a sugar packet, ripped it open, and poured the contents into his water. The paper stuck to his fingertips, but he didn’t seem to mind or even notice. “Alice was lovely, as was Diego - oh he was wonderful , I just couldn’t bear to let him go.” Martin’s smile tightened somewhat, annoyance dripping from the corner of his mouth. “The cab driver was unfortunate, but it’s hardly my fault that he was so afraid of bees, even after I spent all that time describing how vital they are the ecosystem.” He poured another packet of sugar into his water and stirred it in leisurely. 

 

A bee crawled from under the sleeve of his jumper and walked down his hand. Martin stopped stirring long enough for the bee to crawl onto the rim of the glass before continuing the slow, methodic action. “What are you expecting to learn from me, Archivist? You’ve already had your encounter with,” a small laugh, “my sister .” 

 

Jon’s flesh crawled at the reminder of Prentiss, of the worms and the CO2 and Tim and Sasha nearly being eaten alive. He absently flexed his hand. “I was hardly in a position to choose who I was going to meet next.” 

 

“Ah, yes, I almost forgot.” Without a warning, Martin reached over the table and took Jon’s hand. Jon immediately recoiled, but Martin’s grip was stronger than it should’ve been with how moist and loose his skin was. “Jude must’ve been in a good mood to send you to me,” he murmured, only half intending for Jon to hear. He ran his fingers over the ridges of ruined skin and scar tissue, soft and delicate. His hands were so warm and Jon choked on the intimacy of the moment, on the easy fondness radiating from the creature across from him, on the heady feeling of love that burrowed into his core for just the briefest moment. Martin let go of his hand and Jon snatched it back, terrified and breathless. 

 

He was so used to the constant thrum of pain and smoldering nerve endings that it took him a moment to realize it was gone. He looked at the hand and found it coated in thick, amber honey sealed over with a thin layer of wax. Jon knew immediately that it was not going to come off until the hand was healed. 

 

“That should feel better,” Martin rested his chin against his hands and looked at Jon with the dreamy expression of a lovesick teenager.  “Honey is good for burns, you know. Good for the skin, in general.” 

 

“Th… thank you,” Jon stuttered, still disoriented by the sickly sweet ghost of affection that clung to his throat and made his cheeks burn. He shook away the feeling and squared his shoulders and tried not to wilt at Martin’s vague disappointment. “Anyway, I’m sure we both have places we would rather be and I’d like to be done with this as soon as possible.” 

 

“Right, right,” Martin pouted, pouring another packet of sugar over his fruit. He took a grape from his bowl and squeezed until it popped, spilling the juice over his fingers. “Go on, then, do your thing.” 

 

Jon glanced down at the table, only just noticing the tape-recorder already whirring away. “Right,” he sighed. He took the recorder and lifted the speaker to his mouth and felt the gentle prickle of static rise in his throat. “Statement of Martin Blackwood, regarding the beehive in his chest. Audio recorded by Jonathan Sims, taken directly from subject, April 26th, 2017,” Jon took a breath and allowed the static to carry his voice directly into the core of what was before him, “ Statement begins.” 

 

Martin closed his eyes in thought and Jon could swear that he heard the distant sound of buzzing. “First of all, I don’t consider myself a hive. That was more of Jane’s thing and, to be honest, I never much cared for her. Too aggressive, too impatient. We both understood love in its purest form, but she was selfish with it. Wanted to keep all that love for herself and so those worms consumed her. In the end, she was nothing more than a worm in a dress - brain completely rotted with the affection of her children. I’m sure she found peace in that, but that was never for me.

 

“Did you know that what you call a hive is actually artificial? In the wild, bees form nests . I suppose that’s what I am: a nest. Maybe a colony if you want to get romantic with it,” he smiled, “or a family.” The distant buzzing swelled and Martin laughed, placing his hand on his jumper as the fabric bulged and writhed. “They liked that one.” He fell silent, keeping his hand where his heart should be. “I don’t mean to call Jane artificial or make myself out as something special. The Flesh Hive chose her and I chose my family. But I’m getting ahead of myself, am I? There are too many places to start, too many things that led me to where I am now.

 

“I was a lonely child, though I feel like this is a common trait amongst, well,” he made a vague gesture between the two of them, and Jon couldn’t help but huff in agreement. “I won’t bore you with stories of school - it was all very typical. In the end, all that matters is that I gained a reputation for being a total pushover. Whether it was homework, or a project, or just being a punching bag. It was nice, being wanted for something, you know?” Martin sighed, a dark look crossing his face. “My mother didn’t want me - I’ve made my peace with that, now. If you’d have asked me a few years ago, of course, I would’ve said that I loved her. She was my mother , after all. Now, I know that she was just a bitter woman lashing out at the easiest target. She got sick. I dropped out of school to take care of her and she never once looked at me.” 

 

Martin laughed, though it was choked and watery. A dark viscous liquid dripped from the corner of his eye like a parody of a tear. Jon fidgeted with his hands, caught somewhere between the inexplicable urge to comfort the man and the desire to sit back and watch. In the end, he did what he did best. He watched as too many bees crawled from the collar of Martin’s jumper, his hair, and even a few out of his mouth - all converging on the amber trail making its way down his cheek. They sat and did as bees do - they worked and they ate and they cleaned. Martin smiled and placed a finger to his cheek, gently ghosting against the mass on his face. 

 

“If only you could hear them,” Martin sighed, tension falling from his shoulders. A hum brushed Jon’s ears, melodious and haunting. A few stray bees flew over to Jon, curious. They crawled over his arms in patterns that he tried not to look at too closely. Martin showed no sign of calling them back, so Jon forced himself to relax, to not be as desperately afraid as he was, to not give them what they wanted. “Sorry for the interruption.” 

 

“Take your time,” Jon mumbled, careful to not open his mouth too wide as an especially daring bee landed on his cheek. He couldn’t quite suppress his shudder as he felt its tiny legs investigate his lips. 

 

Once again, Martin’s smile was painfully fond. “They’re not trying to scare you. I can call them back if you’re feeling too uncomfortable.”

 

Jon nodded, trying not to seem as desperate as he felt. 

 

“C’mon, Archivist, use your words. I’m not a mind reader.” 

 

Jon’s stomach lurched. “P… please ,” he whispered, before gagging as the bee took the opportunity to dart into his mouth. He spat it out, sputtering and coughing and finally allowing himself to show the fear he’s been holding in, if even for a moment. 

 

The single word seemed to be satisfactory enough, though. “Alright, ladies,” Martin called, a hum underneath his words. “Give the man some space.” 

 

Reluctantly, the bees returned to their hive - their nest , Jon corrected himself. He gave one last violent shudder before putting himself back together, putting back on the impassive mask that let him pretend he was actually safe, that he had some control. 

 

“They quite like you,” Martin said as the bees nestled into his hair and buzzed in his ear. 

 

“I’m sure they do,” Jon replied drily as he tried to ignore the crawling feeling that still remained on his skin. 

 

Many of the bees went back into their hiding places, though a few remained beneath Martin’s eyes, ready to wipe away more tears if they started to flow again. “Where was I…? Oh, yes, my mother,“ he scowled and dumped another packet of sugar into his water. He took his straw, pressed his finger against the opening on top, and lifted it out of the cup - water remaining suctioned in place. He cupped his hand and poured the sugar-water into his palm. He stared as his bees crawled from under his sleeve and gathered around the liquid. The process was continued until he was holding a pulsing, buzzing mass. The scowl didn’t quite leave Martin’s face, but it softened into something more thoughtful as he watched the insects crawl over each other. “She never looked at me, but I don’t have to worry about that now, right?” His voice was almost too low for Jon to hear and he knew the words were not meant for him.

 

 Martin’s eyes cleared and his scowl finally relaxed back into his easy smile. “I thought that she used to love me, once, before my dad left and I got my growth spurt, but I know what real love is now. It doesn’t matter anyway - she died a long time ago. Don’t look at me like that, Archivist, I didn’t kill her. Like I said: she was sick. I think she wanted to die - or at least she would’ve rather been dead than see my face again. So, I gave her what she wanted. I left and she was found in our home a few days later. A stroke, they said. The TV was still on.” He raked up his sleeve and dripped more water on his wrist and forearm. He watched the bees move. “Anyway, there was a farmer’s market near my street. Met every other week. I could never afford any of the stuff there - all my funds went to my mum and we never had much money, to begin with - but it was… it was nice to just be somewhere. Somewhere away from her glare and her silence and her disappointment. There was a stall I was particularly drawn to - a beekeeper selling jars of honey. I’m sure this might already sound familiar to you, I see the realization in your eyes.

 

“He got plenty of sales, so I don’t think he was too irritated by my loitering. I think he actually liked the company. He was the first person I visited after - well, after . I had to thank him, show him my gratitude. He…” Martin grimaced slightly, a sheepish tug of the mouth and squint of the eyes. “He didn’t understand. That was alright though. I was hardly coherent at the time, still swept up in the everything of it all. I guess what matters is that I tried - I let him be once I passed on my thanks. I wonder how he is now…?” 

 

“Still alive, although with a severe case of apiphobia. He will never be able to work with bees again nor can he walk down the honey aisle without having a panic attack.” Jon replied, voice flat and unsympathetic. 

 

“Oh, that’s a shame,” Martin frowned but didn’t seem to be particularly upset or surprised at the revelation. “He was so kind - so patient and willing to answer the questions I had. Or he just sat there and let me talk. Or we just sat in silence. He pitied me, but I didn’t mind. I was pathetic and clearly starved of any positive attention. So, when he offered to show me his apiary I jumped at the opportunity. I called off of work for the first time - thankfully someone was able to take my shift - and I went to his house instead, a cottage in a nearby village. He kept the bees in his backyard. 

 

“Nothing creepy happened, don’t worry. I didn’t even think of the possibility at the time - it wasn’t like I considered myself desirable in any way. I also had at least a foot and some stone on the man, so it wasn’t like I was small and defenseless. He showed me the bees and I fell in love, more than I already was. I watched him collect the honey and I wanted to be right there in the middle of that swarm. You should’ve heard the buzzing, Archivist, it was so beautiful. I wasn’t allowed any closer, though, as I didn’t have a suit and obviously none of his spares fit. It was painful, watching from so far away, but it was still the most magical experience of my life. At the time, anyway,” he smiled down at the bees in his hands, and honey dripped from his eyes. 

 

The pure joy in his voice cut through Jonathan like a hot knife. He reminded himself that Martin was a monster. That this man has ruined lives and killed for his own gain, however neatly he tried to justify it. A sob story was just a sob story. 

 

Still, Jon felt everything as Martin described it. For a moment, he swore that he heard the song… 

 

Martin continued, “Afterwards I was led back into the house with a new jar in my hands. He made us both some tea and asked me if I would be interested in an apprenticeship.” 

 

He paused for so long that Jon had to prompt, “And?” 

 

“And I cried. Broke down right in front of him, because I wanted it so badly, but I couldn't. Maybe if I didn't work two jobs, maybe if someone didn't depend on me - because as much as my mother hated me, she still depended on me. I was barely scraping by as it was. It… it was just an investment that I couldn't afford.

 

“He managed to calm me down and get me back home, but it felt like I left my heart in that apiary. I never went back to the farmer’s market. I couldn’t face him again, not after he saw me like that, not after I spilled my guts out on that table. I knew he pitied me, but I didn't want to see it. I still had the jar and if I held it close I could hear the faint echo of their song. I kept it by my bed and at night I would just lay there and listen.” 

 

Martin started humming, low and sonorous with a gentle rise and fall. The bees echoed him, harmonizing and adding to its melody. Jon's skin crawled and he tasted honey and it took so much of his willpower to resist joining the song. It truly was beautiful and, for just a moment, Jon thought he understood. 

 

Martin smiled, utterly content. 

 

He's a monster, Jon reminded himself. He's a monster, he's a monster, he's a monster- 

 

But I'm one too, aren't I? 

 

“I joined several beekeeping groups online,” Martin continued his story. “ Facebook pages, Reddit forums, even a few meme pages. Anything to fill that empty space in my chest. I held the jar close as I watched the videos and it almost felt like I was there. Almost. It was never enough. I still went to work, but I was distracted - enough for people to notice. My boss took me to the side and asked if I was sick - I didn't know how to reply at the time, but it's so funny now, isn't it? She wasn't quite wrong.

 

“It got bad enough that I was sent home. Neither job wanted me around - you look so tired, Martin. Are you alright? Have you been sleeping? - as if they cared. I was stuck at home for the next week with no company but my laptop and my mum. I think that was one of the best weeks I've had with her, actually. I was too out of it to care about what she said and I didn't have the energy to hover, to make sure she was fine. I fed her when she was hungry and I moved her when she needed to be moved, but there was no conversation. I think she enjoyed that. 

 

“I’m sure you can guess what I did all that week. I don't remember if I ate? Or slept? It was all a blur if I'm being honest. The last clear memory I have of that week is seeing a post on a local forum. A swarm was spotted, resting on the fence of an abandoned farm. A few hours away by bus and another thirty minutes walk. I knew exactly how to get there, though I didn’t question why at the time. I didn't even have to think about what I had to do next, the gentle hum of the jar told me all I needed to know.

 

“Mum was watching TV. I told her I was going out, she didn't say anything. I said I probably won't be back for a few days, she told me to piss off already. So, I left.” Martin sighed. “It's funny, the things you only notice after the fact. The post I saw didn't actually exist - the username was complete gibberish and it was in the wrong format for that forum. It wasn’t even the right season for swarming, anyway. It felt right, though. How could I question something that felt so correct?

 

“By the time I made it to that fence, it was night, but the moon was bright enough for me to see all I needed to. The music was so loud and so perfect - it was a moment people write poetry about, Archivist. The blurry photograph on the forum didn’t do the swarm any justice. It was a beautiful, dancing mass of workers and drones and a queen somewhere in the middle of it all. They were so happy to see me,” once again, honey started flowing from Martin’s eyes, but he was smiling so wide and all Jon could do was sit back and let the love and fear and pain and hope flow through him and try not to drown underneath it all. 

 

“I took off my shirt and hung it on the fence. I remember laughing at the time at how silly it was, that small attempt at normalcy. A few scouts landed on my shoulders - walked up and down my chest, inspecting what was to be their new home. They danced and sang and flew back to the swarm to give their report. I was perfect, they said. I was exactly what they were looking for. They loved me. They were going to make me into a home. 

 

“I took that jar of honey and I poured it over myself. It ran down my hair into my eyes and nose and mouth and chest. I was covered in it and then I was covered in them. They sang and sang and whispered the loveliest things into my ear. I sat in the dirt and rested my back against the post of the fence with my head cradled by the middle rail. Ants and flies immediately started to crawl, but we didn’t mind. They would make the job easier, get rid of the bothersome flesh separating the swarm from my heart. The queen landed on my cheek and whispered her praises. She was so proud of me, so grateful that I would offer my body to her colony. I was going to make such a wonderful home. I was never going to be alone again.

 

“I opened my mouth and the queen stepped inside. The rest followed soon after her. I stared at the moon and I cried as they went down my trachea. I don’t remember if it was from the pain or the relief or the fear or the regret. I was scared, but I’m full of so much love from my colony that I don’t understand how it could’ve possibly been scary. I’m glad that I don’t remember. I fell asleep to the queen singing me a lullaby and I woke up with that hole in my chest more filled than I could have ever possibly hoped,” Martin’s mouth suddenly snapped shut, overjoyed smile melting into a pensive frown. “Huh, interesting.”

 

Jon’s hand was shaking when he brought the recorder back to his mouth. “S-statement ends,” he said, before turning it off. 

 

They both sat in their chairs and stared at each other, exhausted and raw. Martin wiped the last of the honey from his eyes and coaxed his bees back into their nest. “Did you get what you wanted, Archivist?”

 

“My name is Jon,” Jonathan said instead of answering the question. “I don’t… Why do all of you call me Archivist? Like it’s… like it’s a name?” 

 

“You must be tired, Archivist ,” Martin laughed at Jon’s indignant huff. “That one didn’t have any power in it.”

 

Jon was tired, his eyes were heavy and every muscle felt like it was wrung out. He was so empty but so full at the same time - full of what he didn’t know and didn’t want to. “I didn’t get what I wanted.”

 

“Well, did you get what you needed?”

 

“I… I don’t- I’m just so confused,” Jon buried his head in his hands and pressed down hard to fight off the approaching headache. “I don’t understand.

 

“As far as I know, the Eye isn’t meant to understand. It’s there to watch and nothing more. If it’s any consolation, I had a rather nice time going down memory lane.” 

 

Jon laughed, sharp and bitter. “Well, thank g-d the monster had a pleasant experience.” 

 

He regretted the words as soon as an angry buzz filled the air and he felt legs crawl on the back of his neck. 

 

“I’m going to let that slide, considering you’re obviously upset right now,” Martin said, voice as warm and pleasant as ever. The buzzing died down, but the crawling remained. “You’re growing fast, but you’re still just a larva. Molting, yes, but nowhere close to pupating. You are me laying in bed listening to the jar of honey sing - aware of something taking root into your heart, but unaware of just how deep it goes into your soul. If you want to survive longer than this, I would very kindly suggest that you stop pissing off forces so much more powerful than you are.” There was a pause and the crawling lifted from Jon’s neck. “Unless you don’t want to survive.” 

 

Jon lifted his head to see Martin tilting his, looking confused and… concerned. “I’m still on the fence on that one,” he admitted, shrugging a shoulder and flashing a self-deprecating smile. 

 

“Better make your decision soon, before it’s made for you, then,” Martin’s eyes flickered across his face and a small crease formed between his eyebrows. “Though, it might’ve already been.” 

 

“Of course it has,” Jon sighed, running his hand through his hair in agitation. “At what point did you stop caring?”

 

Martin laughed, shaking his head, “Oh, I think you’re misunderstanding something, Archivist. I still care. I care more than I ever have before.”

 

Something flared up inside Jon - a fresh wave of anger. “What about Alice? Diego? Did you care about them?”

 

“Yes,” Martin insisted, with feeling. “So, so much. They were so lonely, you know, just like I was. I just couldn’t bear it - I had to do something to soothe that pain and I did and it was wonderful and they were happy. I can’t control whether or not the nest takes or collapses, but I can assure you that their last moments were gentle. I’ve always been a caretaker, it’s just in my nature. I used to resent it, but it turns out all I resented was the emptiness that came after giving everything away. I can’t remember what that emptiness feels like, Archivist. I’m so, so full - overflowing. How can I not share that? How can I sit back and watch these poor people live their empty lives? How can I just let them rot into nothingness without ever experiencing what it’s like to be loved so completely?

 

“I care , Archivist. I care so much more than what is good for me,” Martin sucked in a sharp breath, trembling all over. “That’s enough questions.”

 

Jon didn’t know what to say. “I- I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-” 

 

Martin held a hand up, stopping the sentence in its tracks. “It’s alright. It just means you need to make this worth my while. You can’t just take and take without giving something back.” 

 

“What -” Jon bit his tongue, thought about his next words carefully. “I want to know… what it is that you want me to give.” 

 

“You learn so quickly,” Martin smiled in appreciation. He stood from his seat and walked slowly around the table, trailing his fingers along the edge, leaving a faint residue. The air was filled with the thick scent of rotting flowers. “All I want is a kiss.”

 

Jon recoiled, unable to mask his revulsion at the idea of even touching this rotten corpse of a bee colony. “Absolutely not.” 

 

“It wasn’t a suggestion,” there was an edge of danger underlying Martin’s voice - the threat and anxiety of a sting if you made the wrong move. He slowly sank onto Jon’s lap, much lighter than he should’ve been due to his hollowed-out chest cavity. “Do you think you’re the only one allowed to rip out what you want from someone else? Don’t be a hypocrite.”

 

Jon could feel the rumble of countless bees beneath the man’s skin, could hear the hum, could feel the air thicken around them into something horribly saccharine. He pressed his back against the chair but he couldn’t move any farther. Martin absently brushed a strand of hair from Jon’s face and rested the tips of his fingers on his cheek, light and soft and so, so gentle. 

 

“I’d rather not take it by force, though. That just sours the whole experience,” he bent down and ghosted his lips against Jon’s forehead. “It’s alright, Jon, you’re safe with me,” he whispered, smiling when he felt Jon shiver at his name being said with such care. He leaned away to give Jon one last chance to fight back. “I won’t let them sting you,” he assured, slightly teasing. 

 

Jon took a deep breath, in and out, letting the intoxicating mixture of chemicals in the air relax his muscles and dissolve the rest of his unease. Hesitantly, he put his hands on Martin’s shoulders - the flesh gave slightly underneath. “Jude said the same thing.” 

 

“No,” Martin disagreed, looking down at Jon in that indulgent way one looks at a cute pet. “Jude said she wasn't going to hurt you. All I can promise is to keep you safe.” 

 

Jon looked back up at him, eyes full of anger and hatred and fear - a deep, deep curiosity and an even deeper shame for it. Martin’s face glowed as if Jon was the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. 

 

Then Martin’s mouth covered his and all Jon could do was cling to his shoulders and wait for it to be over.

 

It only lasted a blinding, agonizing moment but the moment stretched into eternity. He melted into the kiss and for that horrible, wonderful period of time, Jon understood what it felt like to be consumed. What it felt like to be loved so entirely that it rotted you from the inside out. 

 

All too quickly, Martin pulled away, lightly holding him back. “Caring is a beautiful thing,” he murmured against Jon’s lips, breath warm and sweet and noxious. “You should be glad it hasn’t been stripped away.”

 

And he was standing and Jon didn’t remember when he moved. He blinked up at him, eyes unfocused, and brain sluggishly trying to process what happened. He swallowed the thick glob of honey that stuck to the back of his throat. 

 

“You should get some rest, Archivist,” Martin’s smile was absolutely aching. “I really do hope that you find what you're looking for.”

 

And with that, Martin was gone, leaving Jon sitting there with a quiet hum in his ears and a new address in his shirt pocket.