“Are you sure this is a good idea, Jon?”
Martin is giving him one of those looks, concern that is partly for him and partly for anyone who might get caught in the crossfire.
Jon shrugs helplessly. “No? I mean, I’m not sure that anything I do is a good idea. But I can’t just sit here and not do anything.”
Well, theoretically he could, but he doesn’t think that’s necessarily a better option than doing something, no matter how small. Eventually he’ll get hungry. Eventually they’ll run out of paper statements, or they’ll stop being enough, or something will come after them.
“Yeah, I know,” Martin says. He sighs and then smiles and he looks tired but so much brighter than he had a couple of months ago, when he’d been washed out, pale like sea-foam, with a gaze that never seemed to really see people. “Alright then, I guess we’d better head off. It’s a bit of a walk into the village.”
He leans down to kiss Jon’s cheek, a motion that is becoming a wonderful habit, and then goes upstairs to grab them both jumpers.
Jon stretches, bones cracking, and goes to the door to pull his boots on. They’re new sturdy ones, designed for walking through mud and rough ground. It had only taken a couple of days to realise how unsuitable their office footwear was for where they were living now. They’re coupled with thick wool socks, and the soles already have a fine layer of dried mud, like seasoning on cast iron. He likes them a lot. He’s never been the outdoorsy type, to absolutely no-one’s surprise, and he’s hardly planning to climb a mountain or go camping, but he’s enjoying exploring the area they’ve settled in. It makes him ache in a way that is completely unlike the aches and pains from hunching over a desk all day and getting jostled on the tube.
Martin thunders back down the stairs and lays a thick wool jumper over the back of Jon’s chair, while he goes to put on his own boots.
Jon takes a moment to enjoy the sight of him, the curve of his back as he stoops to pull on sturdy walking boots, tying the laces with thick, elegant fingers. The dregs of the sunlight have turned his hair golden, and the tip of his tongue pokes out between his lips. He is lovely, and Jon once again wonders how he is so lucky.
“Something wrong?” Martin asks, glancing over at Jon.
“Just looking at the extremely lovely man standing in our porch.”
Martin’s cheeks flare red. “Well, you should tell him to get lost. You’re taken.”
“I think he gets the idea,” Jon replies, and he wants to watch the pattern of Martin’s blush forever.
Martin huffs a soft laugh and pushes the hair out of his face. “Come on them. We don’t want to be late.”
He offers Jon a hand up, and Jon takes it, clasping their hands together. He only lets go to pull on the jumper and he grabs Martin’s hand again as soon as that’s done, keeping tight hold even when Martin shoves raincoats into his rucksack along with torches and a thermos of tea, just in case.
It’s already getting dark when they step outside, the light a sliver against the horizon. The air is cool and crisp in a way that you didn’t get in London except in the very early morning before it burned off in exhaust fumes. He takes a deep breath of it, lets it fill his lungs as though it can clear out some of the years of grime and tar from living in the city.
Jon twines his fingers with Martin’s and they set off.
It isn’t a long walk into the village, maybe a mile or so, twenty minutes if they walk at a steady pace, fifteen if they realise they’re short of milk for tea. The road is more of a track, hard compacted dirt and stones, and it’s only tarmacced about halfway to the village, when there’s the turnoff for the farm. At least it’s dry today, and the mud is more gravelly than slippy.
“What do we do if this goes wrong?” Martin asks when they reach the outskirts of the village where the street lights start to leave bright spots on the pavement.
Jon shrugs. “I’m only asking questions,” Jon says. “And its a parish council meeting, not negotiations with a crime lord.”
“I don’t know, those stern letters to the local paper can be pretty cutting,” Martin saying, giving him a sceptical look which melts into a grin.
Jon bumps his shoulder against Martin’s sending him a little bit off balance. It means he grabs onto Jon in an exaggerated attempt to remain upright, and then nuzzles his face against Jon’s shoulder.
“You like my arse,” Jon replies.
Martin gives a heavy, long-suffering sigh. “I do. It’s a burden I must bear.”
“Hmmm, love you too.” He squeezes Martin’s hand and turns his head to kiss his cheek.
It feels nice doing this, flirting, having silly little joke arguments that mean nothing and mean I Love You all at once. He’d never expected to get that. It still feels fragile. Delicate, like spun glass.
He’d seen pictures of a performance art piece once, a woman holding a bow, arrow aimed at her heart, her lover holding the string, taut and ready to fire. Absolute trust and vulnerability. But Jon thinks that this, with Martin, is the first time he’s been able to relax his grip on the bow in a long time.
They reach the village hall. It’s a small stone building, one floor, and that’s still a bit odd after London, where the trend is upwards and packed tight. He keeps his hand curls with Martin’s as they step in. There’s only a small entrance room, bathrooms and a small kitchen, and then the main hall opens up. Rows of blue plastic seats that remind Jon strongly of primary school assemblies, the ones that his grandmother had tried to attend, but had given up when both she and Jon realised that it was an intensely awkward experience.
He sometimes wonders if she had been as uncomfortable with the pity from the teachers and other parents as he had been. He’d never thought to ask. He’d always been a rather selfish and difficult child.
They take seats at the back of the hall. They’re not the last people there, but it’s clear that the meeting will be starting soon. There are still empty seats, but it seems rather well attended for a community council meeting. Jon recognises a few people; there’s the nice older lady who runs the tiny second-hand bookshop, and the manager of the local library. Martin greets a couple of people as they walk past. He’s more familiar with them; Jon tends to avoid the busier shops, just in case.
Finally the meeting is called to order and the chatter dies away as they jump into talk about the minutiae of daily administration. Jon hadn’t realised that so much went into running an area. There’s a new bin to be installed, and someone on the council had been on GDPR training and reported back on that.
Throughout the meeting, Jon’s gaze is drawn inexorably to the man in the neat pressed suit at the table at the front, where the councillors sit. Andrew Wellsby, that’s his name, but Jon would have known it was him anyway. He has that aura that Jon can’t really explain in words, but he knows it’s there. He tastes like secrets. And secrets are what Jon deals in.
Jon keeps his eyes on Andrew Wellsby, as he talks about planning applications. He’s very mundane looking. Jon isn’t sure why that surprises him. He’s met actual monsters who look like people. He is an actual monster who looks like a person.
He licks his lips in anticipation. But he has to hold off. Just for a bit.
He doesn’t even know if this will work. It’s probably a stupid idea, trying to twist the dubious gifts of a monstrous being to favourable ends. Hubristic at best and-
He startles when Martin elbows him in the ribs. “What?”
“It’s open floor, Jon,” Martin hisses. “You know, you wanted to ask a question?”
Oh. Oh yes. He can feel anticipation flutter in is stomach at the thought. He practically squirms in his seat as they sit through a young couple asking about something to do with school fundraising, and the ten minute discussion that follows.
And then finally it’s his turn.
He stands up and fixes the councillors with an intent gaze. He knows that can be off-putting, and a few of them shift uncomfortably.
“I have a question for Mr Wellsby,” he says, his voice clear in the room despite not making use of a microphone. It’s not even supernatural; the theatre group at Oxford was definitely responsible for that.
Andrew Wellsby smiles, confident and secure, and that anticipation grows, curling in Jon’s belly and wrapping around his throat and tongue and vocal cords. Something will be revealed, secrets prised open and exposed.
“Mr Wellsby,” he says, and the power prickles on his tongue, like needles and fireworks, “why are you supporting the application from Amstir International to build a golf course here?”
Wellsby smiles charmingly, and then he opens his mouth and the truth spills out. “Because they’re giving me a lot of money and a position on the board to push their application through and get rid of any objections.”
For a moment, there is silence. It’s the sort of silence, Jon thinks, that falls after you find out someone’s had an affair in one of those gritty BBC dramas. They’d always made him want to crawl out of his skin with discomfort when he watches them, but now, when he can feel the fear starting to drift off Wellsby, it’s like seeing the best meal in the world be carried to your table in a Michelin starred restaurant.
Wellsby’s expression shifts and warps, from smug confidence to shock, to slow dawning horror as he realises what he’s blurted out. As he realises that he has more attention from the room than he’d ever dreamed of. And all of that attention is hostile.
He doesn’t get a chance to speak, before there are more questions. Jon doesn’t even have to ask, everyone else in the room does that for him, tearing into the man. Apparently the golf course has been a sore spot for a while, a source of conflict and stress, and finding out that bribery and corruption is involved is… well, it’s intense.
And Jon drinks it all in.
The shouting of the people blends into white noise around him, and he doesn’t notice much beyond the lulling wash of fear and secrets dragged out into the cruel light, until Martin shakes his shoulder.
He gives a soft noise, and then blinks, dragging himself piece by piece back to his own form and mind. Martin is leaning in close, looking at him with eyes narrowed with concern. “Jon?”
“Mmm?” He wants to lose himself in this exquisite terror again, wants to drag out and expose every secret in this room and lay them bare and bloody.
“We should go,” Martin says, and he smiles and touches Jon’s cheek. “Before they start asking us questions.”
Oh. Oh right, yes, that would make sense wouldn’t it? Before they decide they want to know how he’d known what to ask. Before Andrew Wellsby decides to look for the person who made him speak. “Yes, that sounds like a plan.”
In the midst of the heated discussion, it’s easy for them to slip out. They don’t even get the promised tea and biscuits from the meeting. They had the nice sort too, the crumbly ones with the cream filling.
Martin notices Jon’s longing look and they stop in at the shop on the way home to pick up a packet of the biscuits.
It’s full dark by now, and the moon only dim. It’s a fair trade-off though because once they get to the track back to their cottage, the stars are amazing. They can see the Milky Way this far out, hazy stripes of it in the darkness.
“Feeling better?” Martin asks when they pause to break out one of the torches. Jon takes his hand when it’s offered.
He considers that, head slightly tilted in consideration. His body doesn’t thrum with need anymore, and the gnawing desperate hunger has subsided a little. It’s not gone; Jon doesn’t think it will ever be gone entirely, just the background noise of his life, but it’s calmer now, as close to sated as he gets.
“Yes, I think I am.”
Martin’s smile is lovely, and Jon can’t resist pushing himself up to kiss the corner of his mouth lightly.
“So what’s next?” Martin asks. “Today a local councillor in a tiny village in Scotland, tomorrow… the Prime Minister?”
He’s teasing, but Jon hums thoughtfully. “I do know someone who works for the Times. We went to university together. He’s a bit of a prick, but I’m sure there’s stories he’d love to break.”
Martin chuckles softly, and they set off walking again, hand in hand. “Well, we’ve got tomorrow to think about that, I suppose.”
“Maybe let this die down a bit first,’ Jon agrees.
It’s not an unambiguous good, that Jon’s done. He doesn’t think he’s capable of that. Maybe he never was. Maybe no-one is. He is still using evil powers to cause fear which he can feed on. People smarter than him have debated and philosophised the merits of utilitarianism and ethics for centuries without a conclusive answer.
But doing nothing is a choice too, and maybe if he can snatch some small good from this, it’s better than nothing.