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remind me how to smile

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Martin was sitting at his desk, staring blankly down at his keyboard when his phone chimed a notification. It was quite late by this point, but he really hadn't felt much like going home. There wasn't much waiting for him, there. But then, there wasn't much waiting for him here in the Archives anymore, either. Not with Jon in hiding, spending more time out of the Archives than in it, and Tim refusing to speak to anyone, and Melanie's acidic replies and Basira's indifference and Elias's...

Well. There just wasn't much of a place for Martin anywhere, anymore.

He picked up his phone and flicked a thumb against the screen. A notification, from Instagram. The woman who ran the What the Ghost podcast was live. Georgie Barker.

Martin absentmindedly tapped the notification, opening Instagram. He was growing to be quite a fan of What the Ghost, actually – it was nice to listen to someone else talk about the supernatural, for once, and he liked the soft lilting cadence of her voice. Plus, she was quite funny and with everything going on, Martin took what laughter he could where he could find it.

Georgie was grinning into the camera, holding one finger up over her lips as though asking the audience to be quiet with her. Martin could see a bit of couch in the background, as though she were sitting in her front room, and he could hear music in the background – a voice, singing indistinctly, in the next room, unaccompanied. It was quite nice-sounding, what little he could make out. He slid his thumbs to comment, to ask what she was listening to. She probably wouldn't answer, of course, but maybe someone else would see it and reply.

Georgie leaned closer to the camera. "Bloody hell, everyone," she whispered, eyes bright and alive. "It has been absolutely ages since I've heard him sing anything. Yes, it’s an update for all you mysterious flatmate conspiracy theorists – we used to be in a band together, way back in uni, and—"

Martin raised an eyebrow as Georgie cut off, leaning back against the couch to crane her neck, trying to peer into the next room. He must be missing something. As far as he'd been aware, Georgie Barker didn't have a flatmate. But hey, he was just a fan. He didn't exactly have the time to sit around the WTG forums or anything. He didn't even catch every episode on time.

Comments were streaming up the screen – garbled keysmashes and heart emojis and pleas for more info, for a glimpse of the mysterious roommate. Georgie shook her head. "He'd be livid," she informed the stream, keeping her voice low. "But... guys, it's really really good to hear him do something that isn't just stress-cleaning my flat."

Martin felt himself smile, at that. It felt strange to smile, like a muscle he hadn't used in a while was stretching unpleasantly, and he forced himself to smile wider. He thought about what he must look like, smiling too-wide alone in the dark office, face lit by the blue-light of his phone, and the smile dropped off his face.

Georgie got up off the couch and moved, the front room bouncing in and out of frame. The voice got a bit louder, and Martin could hear the words now. It was a soothing sound, the rough hoarseness of the singer soft over the clatter of dishware and the bubbling of a pot. The song was something sad, sweeping and romantic, and Martin felt an ache settle comfortably in his chest to listen to it. It really was a lovely bit of poetry, the lyrics, and for the first time in a very long time, he felt his fingers itching to hold a pen.

Georgie was smiling at the camera, leaning against the wall just outside what must be the flat's kitchen, her eyes half-closed as she listened with undisguised affection to the singer's voice. Martin wondered if this was Georgie's way of subtly telling her audience to stop hitting on her via Twitter; he wouldn't blame her, honestly.

Then the singer's voice faltered. "Ah," he said, and Martin sat bolt upright in his chair. That sounded almost like... but, no. It couldn't be.

"Georgie? Georgie, could you call the Admiral? He's apparently slowly starving to death next to his half-filled food dish."

Martin tapped the volume up on his phone, his palm leaving sweaty smears on his phone case as Georgie Barker looked into the camera. "Would you like to meet my cat?" she asked the chat, which exploded in a flurry of emojis.

"Are you talking to—ah, no. You're doing one of those... stream things then, I take it?"

Martin put his phone down flat on the desk, leaving the stream playing to the ceiling and buried his face in his hands. He took a deep, stuttering breath in and held it for three long seconds before letting it out again with a whoosh.

"Would you like to say hi?" Georgie was asking and Martin dove for his phone, desperation hot in his blood. Please, just let the camera turn to Jon, just for a moment. Just so Martin could see him with his own eyes, could know he was alright, just for the moment. He didn't... he didn't expect Jon to keep him updated, or anything, or even to— but why wouldn't he have let Martin know he needed help? Or a place to stay?

Did he think Martin wouldn't help him? Or did Martin not even cross his mind as an option? Did he think Martin wouldn't have cared one way or the other?

Martin wasn't sure which one was worse.

"Oh, absolutely not," Jon said from just off-camera, sounding vaguely horrified by the very idea, and Martin sagged at his desk. He could hear himself breathing ragged in the empty office as Georgie laughed.

"Well, you heard me, I tried," she informed the livestream, and Martin slowly straightened up. He typed his comment slowly, deliberately. He should feel embarrassed doing this, but he was just so tired that everything felt numb.

Please tell him that Martin is glad to hear he's alright.

He hit send and watched his comment flicker across the screen. Georgie blinked, the smile dimming just a bit on her face as her eyes skimmed the comments. Then the smile changed, growing softer, smaller, more personal, and she looked directly into the camera. "I'll tell him," she said and Martin sat back in his chair, heart thumping painfully against his sternum as the chat morphed into a flurry of confused emojis and question marks.

From off-camera, a cat meowed plaintively. "Tell me what?" Jon asked and Georgie waved at the camera before killing the stream.

Martin looked down at his phone screen for a long moment, waiting. But when one, two, three minutes passed and his phone remained dark and silent, he resigned himself to it, standing up and switching his computer off. It was too late to go home, but the cot was still there. Maybe he'd get lucky and be able to grab a few hours sleep.

His phone chimed in his pocket and Martin frowned, pausing in the dark hallway to fish it from his trousers.

It was another Instagram notification – a DM, this time. That was… odd. He didn't know a single person who would prefer to message him on Instagram rather than simply texting. Not that he got a lot of those either, these days. He opened the message, half-expecting another copy-paste bot, and was surprised to see whattheghostofficial at the top of the screen.

He's currently staring at his phone, typing messages and then deleting them before hitting send.

Now he's muttering under his breath.

This is Georgie, by the way. You're Jon's Martin, I take it?

Martin stared at the messages, unsure if he was hallucinating. He really ought to get some more sleep. He typed back, thumbs slow and clumsy as the phrase Jon's Martin burned hot in the pit of his stomach.

I wouldn't say I'm Jon's anything, exactly, but this is Martin Blackwood.

Is he... he's alright?

He waited, breathless, but Georgie’s response was quick.

He's alright. A little battered, but he's still on his feet. I'm glad to know he's got you looking out for him.

Martin felt something sick rise in his throat. He hadn't exactly been doing a great job of that, had he? Not lately. Not ever.

Tears burned hot behind his eyes and he sucked in a deep breath.

I'm glad he found someplace to go. I was worried.

What an absolute understatement that was.

I guess I was the only friend he had that he thought they wouldn't go after, whoever 'they' are. Jon’s being frustratingly vague on the details.

Martin swallowed. His thumbs hovered motionless over the keyboard. He wanted to ask her more, if Jon was truly alright, if he was eating enough, if he was sleeping. But he didn't really know Georgie Barker. How could he explain away his concern? What if she told Jon? Showed him the messages?

I need you to know that whatever Jon ends up texting you, he's been agonizing over it for like, fifteen minutes.

Martin made a confused noise, halfway between a laugh and a whimper. What did that mean?

I didn't really expect him to text me at all.

Thought he'd forgotten how?

At that Martin did laugh, leaning against the wall in the corridor as he typed his reply.

I mean, I'm assuming you've seen the tape recorders.

Don't get me started on the bloody tape recorders.

This message was accompanied by a gif of a woman smacking herself in the face and Martin grinned. He was growing to quite like Georgie Barker.

He's sleeping, though? Actually eating something that isn't just a stale biscuit with tea?

Yes to both.

Martin sagged against the corridor wall, letting out a faint sigh. Good. That was... good.

Brilliant.

He let his hand fall to his side, staring out into the dim hallway for a moment. Relief had left him feeling rather lightheaded. Or maybe that was just the lack of sleep.

His phone vibrated and he lifted it back to his eyes.

It was a picture, taken from one end of the couch that Martin had seen in Georgie's stream. In it Jon was sitting crumpled in a ball at the opposite end, his knees tucked up against his chest. An oversized What the Ghost hoodie drowned his painfully thin frame, the sleeves slipping down over his hands as he glowered at his phone, face tight in concentration. His hair was a wreck, long and messy, falling into his eyes, but it was undeniably Jon. Martin stared at the picture, a thick lump hard and hot in his throat.

Georgie's message appeared seconds later.

Photograph, digital. "Statement of Jonathan Sims". Georgie Barker, 2017.

Despite himself, Martin cracked a smile.

Tell him it's fine. He doesn't owe me an explanation or anything.

After a moment's hesitation, he typed another message, hitting send before he could second-guess himself.

But how did you know who I was, earlier?

His cheeks burned as he stared wildly at his phone, waiting for Georgie's reply.

Jon does tend to go on about you. I got the impression you two were rather close.

Martin felt his entire face go hot and sweaty almost instantly.

I suppose we're friends? I don't think he thinks much of me, though. Most of the time it's just complaints about my work.

Well, he's also kind of an idiot who has no idea how to explain to people that he cares about them so take all of that with a grain of salt.

The next message was a string of digits that Martin stared at for several long seconds before realizing that it must be Georgie's phone number.

So we don't have to rely on Instagram. Come round for dinner, one of these nights. I think it would do Jon some good to actually lay eyes on you, make sure you're doing alright, that sort of thing. And he's actually a halfway decent cook, when he's not trying to read or talk into those damn recorders while he does it.

Martin stared down at the phone, heart hammering in his chest.

Ah, if you're sure that would be

He backspaced.

Oh, I don't think that's

Backspace.

Yes. Yes, that would be nice. I can bring pie?

Pie? Come on, Martin. Embarrassment flooded him, strangling his breath in his throat for the long heart-stopping moments his phone remained silent. She obviously hadn’t meant the invitation – it must have been a joke, or— or he’d misunderstood, or something, and—

I love pie! You're welcome anytime.

Oh. Well then. Martin tried to bite down on his smile, but couldn't quite force it away. In his hand his phone buzzed again and he looked down, expecting to see another message from Georgie.

From: Jonathan Sims

Hello, Martin. I apologize for worrying you.

Martin stared at the text. Was that... was that it? Jon had been trying to compose a message for the entire time he and Georgie had been messaging and that's what he'd landed on?

Martin started to giggle, softly at first, and then to laugh properly, tipping his head back and resting it against the wall as he reached up with his free hand to scrub the tears away from his eyes.

To: Jonathan Sims

Hi, Jon. I'm really glad you're alright.

He locked his phone, turning away down the hallway. He needed to at least try and close his eyes for a little bit. Then, a thought struck him and he lifted his phone again, unlocking it with a swift tap of his thumb.

To: Jonathan Sims

You can make it up to me by showing me a picture of the cat.

Martin was nearly to the storage room by the time his phone buzzed again.

It was the fattest, grumpiest, squashiest looking cat Martin had ever seen, glowering up into the camera like it had done it a personal offense. Martin grinned broadly and pressed and held his thumb against the picture, reacting to it with a little red heart.

He sank onto the cot, reaching down to tug off his shoes and sliding his belt out of its loops, tucking it neatly coiled into one of his shoes. He flopped backwards, feeling exhaustion sit heavy in his bones. Now that the relief of knowing Jon was at least temporarily alright had begun to fade a bit, Martin was realizing just how bone-tired he was.

He drifted off to sleep, phone still loosely clutched in his hand, as there on the open text conversation, the little gray typing bubbles appeared, then vanished. Then appeared, then vanished again until eventually the phone screen went dark and the conversation vanished entirely from view.