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The Cutting-Room Floor

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It’s not the first time Jon has worn a collar.

The collar Georgie gave him was dark blue, with a square buckle; nice, but not out of the price range of a couple of students. The edges of the leather had pressed against his skin every time he turned his head, until time and use had softened it. Georgie had given it to him on their one year anniversary, when they both decided their relationship was going somewhere.

(He had it for six months before they realized it wasn’t going anywhere good).

Martin’s collar is grey, etched with a faint diamond pattern and the initials MB. Next to the buckle there is a discrete loop, just large enough for Martin to hook a finger into - as he had proved, using it to pull Jon up from kneeling and kiss him.

Jon can’t stop thinking about how soft it feels. 

He could almost forget it was there, it fits so well to the curve of his neck. Like something that was always meant to be there. His fingers keep drifting up to trace the lines, and the shape of Martin’s initials, and every time Martin sees him doing it he looks happy and approving, and - well.

Jon is hyperaware of it all the way to the archives. Waiting for people passing on the street to notice it, start to stare - even though rationally he knows that a good quarter of London wears a collar, and it’s not like anybody knows how unlikely it is that somebody wanted Jonathan Sims as a sub, even knowing him, even now when he’s turning into a monster and his evil boss collared to an evil god wants him to -

There’s a tug against his neck. 

Martin smiles, soft and wry. “We good?”

“I - yes. Yes. We’re good.”

“Good,” Martin says. He lets go of the collar (Jon suppresses a small pang of disappointment), and takes Jon’s unbandaged wrist instead. His hand stays loosely wrapped around it the rest of the way to the Institute.

It’s a lot easier to ignore the crowd with that warm point of contact.

Of course, in the Institute, people actually do know Jonathan Sims. Rosie looks up when they come in and he can see her eyes immediately dart from Martin’s hand around his wrist to the collar around his neck.

“Congratulations!” She says - and she’s obviously surprised, but there’s a remarkable sincerity to the words as well.

Jon can feel himself flush. He has to look away with a quiet cough, fighting the urge to snap at her just in self-defence. (He’s not ashamed of this, he could never be, but -)

“Thank you,” Martin says. When Jon dares to glance over his face has gone red too, but he’s still smiling, warm and pleased and proud.

That’s the pattern with the other vaguely familiar institute staff they pass, for the ones that are paying enough attention to notice. Surprised glances at the collar and at Martin, and then nods, thumbs-up, more congratulations. It’s… good. More than Jon would have expected.

Martin has to let go of his wrist in the narrow stairwell down to the archives, but Jon can still feel the warmth and silent approval at his back.

The feeling of being watched grows, though, as he descends the stairs. It’s not just Martin’s eyes on him. And Jon knows it’s not random crowds, or Institute staff.

(Well. Maybe one of the Institute staff.) 

It doesn’t - ruin his mood, exactly. But it reminds him of everything else that changed yesterday. Martin hasn’t gone away (Jon can - almost trust that he won’t. He can try.) but neither has everything else that they have to deal with. The world is still ending, and they are still trapped.

Tim rounds the corner as Jon exits the stairwell, cup of coffee in hand. “Hey, welcome back to the hellpit,” he says, a bitter bite in his tone. “Evil boss sent down a stack of paperwork, and I’m not -”

He looks up.

Jon watches Tim’s face change, blood draining out of it in shock and betrayal and horror as his eyes land on the collar. He steps back jerkily, and the coffee sloshes, spilling onto his hand. He doesn’t seem to notice.

It’s like a bucket of ice water. Jon doesn’t know what to do. “Tim,” he manages. “I - what?”

“Jon?” Martin says, behind him.

There’s a tug on his neck, gentle, guiding. Jon steps to the side automatically, and Martin moves past him, out of the stairwell where Jon was blocking the door. “Hi, Tim,” Martin greets, still with his fingers curled in Jon’s collar.

It’s grounding. Jon breathes.

Tim’s gaze fixes on Martin and his hand on Jon’s collar, like it’s almost as much of a lifeline for him. The colour starts to return to his face. “Right,” he says. “You two?”

“Yeah,” Martin says. He shrugs, watching Tim a touch warily, but still obviously pleased. “I know it’s early, but-”

“What, are you joking?” Tim’s shoulders relax. 

Belatedly, Jon realizes what he must have assumed - what anyone would have, with Elias pulling that chain out of his shirt the other day, with his cool voice explaining that he considered himself collared to the Eye, with the way his gaze stayed fixed on Jon as he said it -

Martin tugs on his collar again, fingers pressing against Jon’s throat.

Tim is still talking. “- so when’s the wedding?”

Martin goes bright red. “We’re not - we haven’t - I mean, it’s a bit-” 

“We do have work to do,” Jon cuts in. “Tim, much as I agree with your position on the usual running of the Institute, there are new leads on the Unknowing that someone should follow up on. And I would like to see the state of my office, I’m sure it’s a disaster after this long away.”

“Yeah, we’ve been throwing wild parties in there,” Tim absently transfers his cup to his other hand and wipes the spilled coffee off with a grimace. “Add them to the pile, I’ll have a look.”

Jon’s office is, somewhat surprisingly, not a disaster area. Actually, it might be neater than he’s ever kept it, undone paperwork in one stack to the left of the desk and the boxes of files he had been looking at before - everything - placed tidily against the wall. The chair is new (probably not worth it to get the blood out of the upholstery), but everything else seems to be as he left it, without even any suspicious stains.

“I’ve been making sure it’s ready for you,” Martin says. He works his fingers out of the collar, pressing against it lightly before taking his hand away entirely.

“Thank you,” Jon says. He sits down gingerly in the new chair, and reaches over to grab the top packet of paper off the stack, which appears to be - payroll forms for Basira. Well, he probably should take care of that.

“Unless you need me for anything, I’m going to go help Tim. Also - do you mind if I go tell Melanie and Basira about us?”

Jon shakes his head absently. “No, that sounds - fine, that’s good.”

“Great.” There’s a touch on Jon’s jaw, and he lets Martin tip his head up for a soft kiss. “I’ll be back at lunch, then. Don’t record any statements without telling me first.”

(Sinking back into the rhythm of work is simple, almost effortless. But the gentle grip around Jon’s neck keeps him from getting lost.)