Martin barely makes it to the end of the drive before he realizes he forgot his wallet.
He supposes it’s not that big a deal. He doesn’t really need it; he could just walk around, enjoy the fresh air, go back to the cottage when Jon’s finished up. But they ran out of tea two days ago, and he’d really hoped to grab some more at the little shop in the village.
He really should’ve just picked some up when he went in to pick up the box of statements shipped up from London, check in with Basira on the old payphone, but the statements felt like they took priority. Something about bringing a box of terror into the little Scottish storefront didn’t quite sit well with him.
Martin stops in his tracks and sighs.
He checks each of his pockets, carefully, just to be sure — Nope, definitely nothing. Martin’s forgetful enough on his best days, and the whole… thing he and Jon went through has not exactly helped.
it’s not the most arduous walk back to the cabin, but still, he doesn’t exactly relish backtracking, disrupting Jon, making a whole thing of it. He doesn’t want to be a bother.
But. Shit, okay, that’s not a good train of thought for him to let himself fall into. He just needs his wallet; he’s not going to bother anyone just by being there. He has to remind himself, sometimes. He’s— he’s allowed to just be. Jon won’t mind.
Alright. Now it’s become a whole thing for himself. Fine, he’ll go back.
It’s probably for the best; there’s some truly sinister looking clouds up ahead, and a nasty draft has picked up, making him reconsider heading out in just a thick sweater. Maybe he should grab his raincoat, or even an umbrella. He’s had a hard time staying warm ever since coming back from the Lonely, and getting caught in a rainstorm does not exactly sound ideal to him right now.
As if to really drive the point home, a fresh gust blows a leaf into his face, nearly getting lodged up under his glasses before finally blowing away again.
“Okay, okay,” he mumbles to himself, “i’m going.”
Gravel crunches under foot and eventually turns to dirt as Martin heads back up the drive, the wind picking up with every step he takes. It’s bad enough by the time he reaches the front door that he’s beginning to reconsider going out at all; if it’s going to storm maybe he should just wait till it blows over. He doesn’t love the idea of going another day without tea in the house, but it’s not like the world’s going to end if he doesn’t make it to the store.
As he’s rummaging around in his coat pocket for his keys, a pebble bounces off a windowpane, startling Martin so bad he jumps and nearly drops them.
“Christ,” he mutters, getting the door unlocked in a hurry.
Had he not realized he’d forgotten his wallet, he might be half-way into town by now, leaving him caught out unsuspecting in whatever storm is about to break around him. He slips inside, and gets the door shut behind him with a relieved huff and a quiet shiver, taking a moment to relax in the cozy warmth of the cottage.
Martin is not sure, exactly, when he realizes something is wrong.
As he settles, tries to remember where he left his wallet, he can hear Jon in the kitchen. He tries not to listen, at first. He always gets a bit unnerved by the statements, a bit squeamish. Even back when he’d have to read them in Jon’s absence they had made his skin crawl, tugged at something unpleasant and almost painful behind his ribcage.
But there’s… There’s something about Jon’s voice this time.
Martin pauses, halfway into the main room, takes a moment to listen. His tone. It’s so dreadfully familiar, and…
Martin finally manages to process the words—
“Do you see where I’m going, Jon?” He reads, smooth as silk and bitter as acid. “It does tickle me, that in this world of would-be occult dynasties and ageless monsters, the Chosen One is simply that: someone I chose.”
Martin starts to go numb all over.
Jon keeps reading. “It’s not in your blood, or your soul, or your destiny. It’s just in your own, rotten luck.”
He can’t remember deciding to move, he’s just. In the living room one moment, in the kitchen the next.
Jon is sitting right where Martin left him, but everything else about him has changed. His hands, his lovely, gentle hands with their long, delicate fingers are clutched so tight around a statement Martin’s surprised the paper hasn’t torn yet, especially when you add in the way his whole body shakes like there’s tectonic plates inside of him shifting with every word.
“I’ll admit, my options were limited, but my god. When you came to me already marked by the Web, I knew it had to be you.”
“Jon,” Martin breathes in alarm, but Jon… doesn’t stop.
His eyes have almost gone totally round with how wide they are, his face blanched and terrified around words Martin’s now convinced he can’t actually stop himself from reciting.
Jon’s always gotten engrossed when he reads statements, Martin knows this. He’s seen it, firsthand, the way he gets lost in another world under the Eye’s watchful gaze. He’s seen the Compulsion, too, but this…
This is something else.
This is something bad.
Martin doesn’t know what he’s hearing, but he knows what Jon looks like when he’s scared. And the Jon he is looking at right now is so far beyond scared; this Jon is overflowing with abject terror, a type of fear Martin’s not sure how to classify.
He hears Jon saying, “I even held out some small hope that you had been sent by the spider as—” and then he’s officially had enough.
Okay. Something bad is happening, and Martin has no idea what, but he decides it doesn’t matter anymore. It has something to do with the papers in his fingers, so he crosses to the table and yanks the statement roughly from Jon’s hands.
It does rip, finally, when Martin finally wrestles it free, little clumps of paper left behind in Jon’s white-knuckled grasp that Martin has to pry free.
Jon’s voice cuts off with the sound of tearing paper, like the words themselves are being ripped from his throat.
He sucks in a sharp breath, ragged and hoarse, and Martin wants, badly, to comfort him; to take Jon’s face in his hands or hold him or ask him what the hell he just walked into. But getting rid of this statement feels more important right now. This thing was hurting Jon, somehow, so it needs to be gone, now.
Martin has been politely pretending not to notice that Jon sneaks the occasional cigarette for the past four years, but he knows where Jon keeps his lighter anyway. By the front door, Jon’s coat hangs beside Martin’s on the rack. (It’s technically also Martin’s coat. Or it was, but Jon’s very much appropriated it since coming to Scotland, and Martin’s quite alright with that.)
Martin pulls a little gold zippo from the pocket, and remembers the last time he used this lighter, the night before the Unknowing, holed up in the Archives burning statements at his desk while nearly everyone he cared about walked into their deaths.
He thinks of just sending it up right there, but has enough sense to be safe about it.
He takes it to the kitchen sink and holds the bottom corner over the flame, waits for the paper to catch, lights another corner, and then a third, and finally the fourth, before letting it fall into the sink before the flames can reach his skin.
Martin catches fragments as it burns — sees statement of Jonah Magnus, sees Jon’s name, Gertrude’s name, sees something that looks like king of a ruined world before black char obscures readability entirely.
(Outside, he doesn’t notice the wind dying down, the clouds looking a little less ominous and a little more like any other fall rainstorm.)
He shivers, and watches, diligently, until every last fragment of paper has burned to ashes, runs the sink until even those vanish down the drain, out of their lives entirely. He doesn’t dare look away from it until it’s completely gone, until he sees only spotless steel staring back at him.
Only once he knows they’re safe from whatever cruel words Elias sent them does Martin finally, finally give into the need to go to Jon.
He’s still sitting at the table, bent forward with his hands clutched around the edge, saucer-round eyes fixed firmly on Martin.
“Jon,” Martin says again, and he’s at his side in a second, hands on his shoulders, cupping his face.
Jon doesn’t say anything. For a moment, he’s completely still, and then a second later he all but collapses into Martin.
Martin manages to haul Jon to his feet so he can wrap him up safely in his arms. Jon holds onto him, arms tight around him, every muscle in his body trembling like he’s on the verge of hypothermia, nearly hyperventilating.
“Hey,” Martin says, arms tight around Jon’s shoulders, one hand buried in his hair, the other rubbing his back in what he hopes to anything is a soothing gesture. “Hey, hey, hey. You’re alright. Breathe, Jon. Breathe.”
It’s easier said than done, but after a handful of agonizing moments Jon’s breath catches. He goes rigid for a moment, and then he sobs, his face tucked away at the juncture between Martin’s neck and his shoulder.
Martin’s heart leaps into his throat.
He… doesn’t think he’s ever heard Jon really cry before.
He saw him what he is fairly sure was very, very close to tears in the Lonely, but Martin had been so disconnected and numb it had barely even registered at the time. And anyway, he’d been working very hard to hold it together for Martin’s sake, terrified and sad but infinitely determined.
He doesn’t bother now; he breaks apart right in Martin’s arms, and Martin is helpless to do anything but hold him there and tell him he’s safe, and Martin’s here, and they’re okay.
For a long time, it’s just that.
Martin holds Jon up until, slowly, his sobs shift to miserable little sniffles and finally die down.
Martin cards his fingers gently through Jon’s hair, letting silence settle over them until it starts to feel comfortable.
After another stretch of minutes, Jon leans back. He doesn’t go far, keeps his right hand twisted in the fabric of Martin’s sweater, rubs at his throat with his left.
“Martin,” he finally says, voice hoarse and raw, like he’s swallowed sandpaper. Whether it’s from the crying or the statement, Martin’s not sure, but it sounds bad. It sounds like it hurts.
“Jon…” Martin says, “what— what just happened?”
Jon’s eyes get damp again, but he blinks rapidly until they clear. “It was— it was Elias— Jonah—” He breaks off with a panicked inhale.
“I mean, yeah, I figured as much,” Martin tells him gently. “His name was on that, that… That statement.”
Jon makes a noise in the back of his throat, plaintive and fearful. “Martin,” he croaks, more urgent this time, “Martin, please. I didn’t — I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want to — I couldn’t stop, Martin, I tried, but I couldn’t stop reading. Please, believe me, I didn’t want to.”
Martin frames Jon’s face with his hands. “Jon, hey. I believe you. Of course I believe you. I know that, it was never even a question.”
Jon relaxes, slumping forward into Martin’s space. Martin obligingly puts his arms around Jon again. “I think he was— Martin, I think he was using me to, to complete a ritual,” Jon says into the last few inches between their bodies. “I think he was trying to end the world.”
Martin swallows. “Oh.” He remembers watching the words I am to be king of a ruined world get eaten by curling flames, and feels a cold dread spread somewhere through him. “Oh, Christ,” he breathes, shutting his eyes.
Jon shudders, shivering in Martin’s arms.
Martin leans back a couple of inches so he can get a good look at Jon. “Are you, a-are you alright?” He asks, feeling a familiar, sticky fear building up inside of him. “Did he— did it— do anything to you? Are you… hurt?”
Jon shakes his head miserably. “I— I don’t know,” he admits in a raspy murmur. “… I’m scared.”
“Me, too,” Martin tells him. “But it’s okay. I burned it. It’s gone. I can even go through the rest of the box for you, make sure he didn’t try anything else.”
Jon looks up at him, finally meets his eyes, red and puffy and terrified. “I don’t know if it’s just the statements, Martin,” he says, “h-he said.” He grips at Martin like a lifeline. “It’s me. Jonah says he’s been preparing me, s-since I took the job. I’m the ritual.”
Martin blinks at him. “W-what?”
“He, he’s been. L-letting each of the fears… Mark me, so I could— With the. The Unknowing and Jane Prentiss and Jared Hopworth and the coma and, and, and all the rest of it. It was all on purpose. It needed to be all of them.” He breaks off again, shuts his eyes tight. “It’s me, Martin, it’s me. He’s been using me so he could end the world in his image and rule after everything’s gone. I’m the, the catalyst for the fucking apocalypse—”
Martin hastily pulls Jon back into another hug, holding onto him fiercely.
He remembers Peter talking about marks; remembers being told about the things he could do while touched by the Eye and serving the Lonely.
The implications of what Jon’s said are still settling in— and there’s a lot Martin still isn’t quite understanding— But he understands all he needs to right now: Elias (Jonah) never cared about stopping it at all. He just wanted to bide his time for his own stupid ritual, and he was… He was just using Jon the whole time.
The hurt and the fear and the confusion and grief, everyone they lost… it all comes back to Jonah fucking Magnus.
Martin buries his nose in Jon’s hair. “It’s not you,” Martin tells him, firmly. “This isn’t your fault, this is not on you, okay?”
“Martin,” Jon croaks into Martin’s sweater, but Martin doesn’t want to hear whatever self-deprecating denials he’s built up.
“No,” Martin says, firmly. His voice does not shake, but it is a very near thing. “This is him, Jon. This is Elias. Jonah. Whatever the hell he wants to call himself.”
Jon sniffs, clinging to Martin tight enough his fingers very nearly poke through the knit of his sweater. “He can’t do it without me.”
“And you’d never do it yourself,” Martin fires back. “It’s not like you woke up today and thought ‘oh, hey, think I’ll end the world real quick before supper.’ That was very much Jonah.”
“Martin,” Jon protests. “I appreciate what you’re doing, but you don’t need to, to try and make me feel better about this.”
“Well, you seem so insistent on beating yourself up about things that aren’t in any conceivable way your fault, so someone’s got to.”
“Look.” Martin cuts him off again. “I know you’re not going to believe me right away, and I know you can’t help feeling guilty about everything, but.” He swallows. “Can you please just… try?”
Jon looks up at him, brows pinched together. “Wh-what?”
“Just, just try to see it from my perspective, okay?” Martin asks. “I mean. If it was me. If Peter was the one who’d used me and tricked me into… that, would you blame me for it?”
Something indecipherable flashes across Jon’s face. “I… see where you’re going with this.”
“That doesn’t answer the question, Jon.”
Jon sighs. “It’s not that simple, Martin.”
“It really is,” Martin tells him. “I mean… In a way, it is my fault. If, if Jonah’s been manufacturing these marks from each entity, when do you think the Lonely would’ve gotten to you?”
Jon’s brows knit even closer together, and then his face falls and he shakes his head. “Hey, no, no, Martin, don’t—”
“Don’t what? Don’t try and punish myself for something someone else did to me?”
Jon opens his mouth, but he doesn’t seem to have a comeback to that. He slowly lets it close again, setting his face in a stubborn frown.
“Just… think about it,” Martin prompts again.
Jon sighs, shoulders sagging, whether from any actual acquiescence or simply because he’s too tired to keep arguing Martin isn’t sure, but he’ll take it nonetheless.
Martin kisses the top of Jon’s head, brushing his hair back behind his ears, trying not to fuss too much. “Are you— do you— Can I do anything? I can—" He sighs. “No, I can’t make you any tea, ‘cause we’re out of tea. Er. Well, I could— Get you some water? Or I could head to the store? Or we could both go, if you don’t want to be alone, or—”
“Martin,” Jon cuts him off this time, weary and still worryingly hoarse.
Martin shuts up.
Jon clears his throat. “It’s fine. Can we just… Will you just stay here?”
“Oh.” Martin softens like butter in a microwave. “Of course. Whatever you need.”
Jon folds himself back against Martin, tucking his head up under Martin’s chin. He still seems wobbly, unsteady on his feet, and although Martin’s willing to hold him up as long as he needs, he eventually manages to guide them both over to the couch so they can relax.
It takes a long time for the shaking to stop, for Jon to calm, and Martin holds him through all of it. They stay there, not saying much of any real consequence after that. Jon spent so long helping Martin put himself back together — is still helping him put him back together, really — after the Lonely, the least he can do now is hold Jon together while Jonah Magnus tries to rip him apart.
Later, they’ll figure this out. Jon will talk about it when he’s ready, and Martin will carefully comb through the rest of the statements, make sure they’re safe for Jon to read. And if they’re not, well.
Martin remembers, in what feels like another life entirely, the last time he slammed a door on Elias and burnt statements. That particular exchange had ended with Elias unlocking the door, and Martin finally finding out how much his mum really hated him, but he’d bought his friends the time they needed.
And Martin’s always known, somewhere in the back of his mind, that they would one day wind up having to face Elias. If he wants to try and take Jon from him, if he wants to force Martin’s hand, so be it. It’s not like he doesn’t have it coming.
It’s okay. They’ll make a plan later. For now, for tonight at the very least, they’re still safe, and that’s what matters.