They get to the safehouse just after sunset.
The sky still splashed indigo-violet-red over the Highlands when Jon pulls the car to a stop in the gravel driveway. He turns the keys in the ignition to silence the engine and next to him, Martin starts to stir. He’s been asleep in the passenger seat on-and-off nearly the whole drive up here. Which might be impressive, since they’ve been driving for over 10 hours, but the circumstances make it a little worrying.
Jon stares, watches him lift his head off the window, blink his eyes open.. He stares at a lot of things these days, but he can honestly say that this staring has nothing to do with Beholding. He’s just worried, and he needs to be sure the grogginess is just left over sleep, and not the fog coming back.
Martin yawns into his palm, pushes his glasses up, digs his fingers into his eyes. “Are we, um.” He clears his throat against the rasp of built up slumber. “W-where…”
“We’re here,” Jon tells him.
“Here— oh. Here-here?” His hands fall into his lap, twisting in his seat to look out the window. “Oh.”
Jon fights very hard not to make a face. “Something the matter?”
“No, no.” Martin turns back to him, offers a cautious smile. “Kind of the opposite, really. W-when I heard we’d be staying in Daisy’s safehouse I kind of pictured, well…”
“Some kind of isolated murder cabin?” Jon suggests.
Martin shrugs sheepishly. “I mean, yeah, sort of.”
“Well… we still haven’t seen inside yet.”
Martin actually laughs. Really just a startled huff, but a laugh anyway. “Point.” He stretches his arms up over his head. The car’s too small, and his hands bump into the ceiling, but that doesn’t seem to stop him. “Should we… Shall we go find out, then?”
“Ah.” Jon finally tears his eyes away from Martin, blinks out the windshield at the tiny cottage. “Ye-yeah. Yes. We should.”
Martin shivers against the breeze when they get out of the car, drawing his cardigan close around himself, tucks his arms together over his chest. Pulling their bags out of the back, Jon grapples with the urge to drop them in the dirt so he can go to Martin, put his arms around him, keep him warm himself.
Instead, he says, “Um. Here,” and hands Martin his duffel and marches right up to the house, digging the key out of the front pocket of his rucksack so he can get the door open. Martin wanders up behind him just as Jon turns the key in the lock. The door squeaks on its hinges as he pushes it open.
“Well.” Jon gives Martin a tight smile, precedes him inside on the off chance there’s something nasty waiting for them. “Safehouse… sweet safehouse?”
That earns him another of those gentle, huffed laughs, which makes Jon glow from the inside out.
Martin flips a switch on the wall, and dull orange light floods the room from a fixture in the middle of the ceiling. “Electricity,” he says, “that’s a good sign.”
Jon hums. “Definitely.”
“Oooh, and a fireplace,” he comments, standing just inside the doorway, head tilting as he looks around the main room. “That’s fun.”
Jon follows his gaze to the open brick mantle on the far wall, feels his mouth stretching into a fond smile. “That’ll be nice. Bet the winters will be quite cold up here.”
When he looks back to Martin, Martin’s already looking at him. “You think we’ll still be here for the winter?”
“Oh, uh.” Jon’s gaze drops, shoulders hunching. “Ah, I, I mean— I guess I’m not entirely sure? I, I sort of assumed, you know, what with everything, but—” When he looks back up, the expression Martin is wearing is so quietly happy — a delicate thing, unsure on Martin’s face after all this time, but so devastatingly honest — it stops Jon right in his tracks.
“I bet it snows up here,” Martin says quietly, “like, properly. We’ll need to stock up on, on blankets, and firewood, and— yeah.” He sort of fizzles out, looking sheepish and a little lost, but happy underneath it all.
“Yeah,” Jon agrees.
The moment falls into silence. It’s not uncomfortable, just heavy.
It’s Jon who breaks it. “Um.” He blinks down at his shoes. “Are you hungry? I-I know it’s late, but. I picked up some snacks at a service station awhile back.”
Martin shrugs. “I dunno. Maybe we should have a look around first? Get settled?”
“Martin.” Jon frowns. “Neither of us have eaten today.”
“Wow,” Martin says, “you’re going to lecture me about not eating enough?”
Jon bites the inside of his cheek against a dopey, lovesick smile. “Yes, well. We’ve all grown quite a bit, haven’t we?”
Martin rolls his eyes, but he’s still smiling, so Jon counts it as a win. “Okay, okay. I guess the house isn’t going anywhere.”
And maybe Jon finally understands where Martin was coming from, back in the early days, when he’d come badger Jon about lunch and tea like a persistent, jumper-clad sheep dog. The relief he feels, getting him to take care of himself, is enough to make his shoulders slump. “Okay, I have crisps and some sandwiches that are, er. Well, they’re edible, at least. I also got some chocolate, j-just for fun, and…”
He keeps going, letting his pack drop to the floor so he can rifle through the little plastic bag of snacks he’d picked up just after they crossed the border in case Martin woke up hungry in the car. Not exactly a meal of champions, but one he can share with Martin, so it’ll be good, anyway.
The house isn’t big. It takes them less than 20 minutes to thoroughly inspect every room and deem them… safe, if a bit… er, disused. Which is good, because by the time they get around to it, it’s late, and they’re both flagging. (Jon’s not sure how Martin manages to yawn so much when he spent the better part of the day asleep in the car, but. He’s not going to question it. Jon will let him sleep for a week, if that’s what he needs.)
There’s… Only the one bedroom, because of course there is. He doesn’t even try to bring it up; he knows Martin will try to take the couch if Jon makes it a thing, and the sofa in the living room barely looks big enough for Jon to lay down on, let alone Martin.
So he just… doesn’t say anything.
He brings his bag in the bathroom with him to change and get ready for bed: it’s attached to the bedroom, and Jon can hear Martin puttering around on the other side of the door the whole time. If Jon lets his mind wander, he can almost pretend things are different: that there’s no Elias. Maybe no Institute at all. No terrible, unknowable entity of fear lurking in the shadows, waiting for them. That they’re here, together, because they want to be. Maybe on holiday, or even on their honeym—
No, enough of that. Jon’s getting carried away.
Alright, sure, it would feel stupid to pretend there’s just nothing between them at this point. You don’t run off to a foreign country, don’t volunteer to spend the foreseeable future in a cramped cabin with no cell signal, internet, TV, or immediate signs of civilization with someone you don’t want to be around. He’s not that much of an idiot, he remembers how Martin had looked at him in the Lonely. For whatever inexplicable reason, Martin cares for him.
He just… isn’t going to push. After the last eight months, Jon’s not sure if he could take another rejection, and Martin is clearly still working through his Loneliness (and probably his loneliness, too.)
Jon spits toothpaste into the sink, rinses his toothbrush, slips it into the little cup Martin brought in from the kitchen. Tries not to get too worked up at the sight of his and Martin’s toothbrushes side by side, like part of a set.
Jon sneaks a look at himself in the mirror, smoothes his hands over his big sleep T-shirt — pilfered from Daisy back in the Archive, which she, in turn, nicked from Basira. With one last fortifying breath, he opens the door, flicks the bathroom light off and stands, for a moment, in the threshold between the two rooms.
The overhead light is off, leaving the bedside lamp as the only source of illumination, softening the room and everything in it sepia-tinted. Martin’s already sitting on the bed, pajama-clad legs crossed, leaned up against the headboard. He’s got his glasses off, face is screwed up and chewing on his bottom lip. He scrubs determinedly at the lenses with his shirt, pulled up so Jon can see his belly and the beginnings of a happy trail he’s going to have to try very, very hard to pretend he’s not a little obsessed with already.
Jon clears his throat, rubs at the back of his neck just to have something to do with his hands. “I’m not sure if that’s the best material for that.”
Martin’s nose scrunches up. “Not much else on hand, is there?”
Jon huffs. “Fair enough.”
“And there’s still bloody salt on the lenses from the —” He lets his shirt fall, squints at his glasses, turning them over in the lamplight— “stupid beach.”
Jon’s heart flutters, fingers curling. “Better?”
Martin hums consideringly, perches his glasses back on his face and blinks out of them. “Yeah. Still a bit smudged, but stains're gone, I think.”
“Good.” Jon nods, content to scrub any reminder of that horrid place from their lives. “Good.”
Martin turns to him, catches Jon’s eyes. For a moment, they’re frozen there, looking at each other in a moment of heavy, shy quiet.
It’s Jon who breaks first, again, looking down at his feet, scuffing his socked toes against the old, dingy carpet. “Er.”
“Right. So…” He risks a glance back up, offers Martin a nervous smile. “A-are you. Ah, are you settled?”
“Oh, yeah.” Martin nods, smiles shyly. “Surprisingly comfy, for a potential kill-room.”
Jon huffs, thoughts flashing, involuntarily, back to late nights spent curled in document storage with Daisy while she made him listen to the Archers when Basira was out of town. “Daisy likes her creature comforts. Sometimes.”
“Well.” Martin hums. “Guess that’s a lucky break for us.”
“About time we got one,” Jon says.
“Heh, yeah.” Martin picks at his thumbnail, looks down at his hands. The tips of his ears are pink, which is something Jon hasn’t realized how much he’s missed until he sees it again, here, and it feels like a sucker punch in the chest.
He bites his cheek. Swallows. “D-d you need anything before, er. Before bed?”
Martin opens his mouth, closes it again. Frowns, sits up. “A-actually, I could really go for a glass of water.”
“Ah.” Jon holds a hand out, stops just shy of actually touching Martin, lets it flutter awkwardly to his side again. “Stay there. I can— I’ll get it for you.”
“Oh, no, you don’t—”
“I’m already going,” Jon says, spinning on his heel, halfway across the room before he even finishes his sentence.
He thinks he hears another broken-off protest on his way out, but he’s out the door and down the hall before Martin can even think of calling him back. He finds the glasses in the cupboard beside the sink on his first try, not sure if he’s Known they were there or if it was just a lucky guess. He goes up on his toes to pull one down and fills it at the sink by the light of the moon and the stars through the little kitchen window and the dull illumination filtering out from the bedroom at the end of the hall.
Martin’s got his legs tucked under the blankets when Jon gets back, knees drawn up to his chest. There’s something almost terrifyingly vulnerable about it, especially when Martin looks up and gives Jon a honey-sweet smile.
“Here.” Jon hands him the glass.
Martin’s hand covers his for a moment in the handoff. “Thanks,” the one word warm like hearthfire.
Jon nods. “Of course.”
Martin’s throat bobs as he drinks. The glass clinks lightly when he sets it on the nightstand, beside the lamp, within reach if he gets thirsty again later. Finally, Jon snaps himself back to reality.
“Right, well.” Jon flexes his fingers, wraps his hands in the hem of his shirt to stop himself from actually wringing them together. “I, I’ll just…” He makes an aborted half-gesture over his shoulder, turns to go.
He’s not even managed to take a step before Martin’s hand catches him, wrapping around his wrist. His grip is so, so delicate, that for a second Jon’s heart flutters, does a nervous flip. It feels like his fingers might just phase right through Jon’s skin if his grip gets any softer, like fog twisting around his ankles.
“Wait,” Martin says, “w-where are you going?”
Jon opens his mouth, but anything he might have been planning on saying dies on his tongue when he sees the look on Martin’s face; open, imploring. Eyes wide, shining and alive in the liquid gold lamplight. Jon swallows once, twice, but his voice is still stiff and hoarse when he finally manages to force it out around the lump in his throat. “I, I was just… Um. N-nowhere,” Jon decides, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Martin relaxes, and Jon knows he’s finally managed to say the right thing. Martin’s thumb brushes against the back of Jon’s knuckles as he pulls his hand back.
“Um.” Jon fidgets, eyes darting around the room before finally landing back on Martin, nestled safely under Daisy’s quilt on her cozy double bed.
“Oh, god, yeah. Duh.” Martin shifts, wriggles backwards on the mattress until a space right in front of his chest opens up, just big enough for a person. “There.”
Jon wonders if he should pinch himself. Is this real? There’s no way this can be real. There’s no way Jon’s actually allowed this. He’ll climb into bed and close his eyes and when he opens them again he’ll be back on his uncomfortable cot in the Archives, Martin somewhere upstairs in a cold office with lovely brown eyes gone glazed and pale.
Jon bites the inside of his cheek and climbs onto the bed before he can talk himself out of it. Even though Jon is, er. Not exactly the largest man, he finds himself brushing up against Martin more than once as he tries to fit himself into the space Martin’s made for him. Still, Martin doesn’t move back. There’s plenty of space behind him; this has to be a choice, to keep this close.
Jon looks up to Martin’s eyes. There’s nothing there that could possibly read as hesitation — just a gentle, steady resoluteness, measured and soft and bold in a way Jon’s not sure he’s used to seeing on Martin.
Jon settles back against the pillow, gets situated in the bracket of Martin’s arms. When he’s finally still, laying on his side, facing Martin, Martin scooches closer still until their legs tangle. His hands are cold when Jon finds them under the covers. Not unnaturally so, but still cold enough that Jon notices.
Was Martin always this cold? He doesn’t think so: he remembers, what feels like lifetimes ago now, coming back to the Institute with his throat bloodied and cut. After the whole… unpleasantness with Elias, Martin had found Jon in the basement, sat him down, gingerly fixed a bandage over where not even an hour earlier Daisy had had a knife. The first thing he’d allowed himself to think, in order to stop himself melting into the unfamiliar bliss of a gentle touch, was how warm Martin’s fingers were. Even those few, lingering brushes of fingertips had sent warmth fanning out across his skin, radiating outward from every point of contact.
“Oh, wait, let me—”
Snapping Jon out of his reverie, Martin pushes himself up onto one elbow, leans up and over Jon so he can pull the string on the little bedside lamp, shutting it off and sending darkness pooling out across the room. Jon blinks, eyes adjusting as Martin settles back in bed facing him. His hands are still cold.
“Is this— Can I—” Jon’s not even sure what he’s asking, not sure what Martin says yes to until he does, and then it feels obvious as anything to slide his arm around Martin’s waist, pull himself close and tuck himself into up under Martin’s chin, chest to chest. With a quiet hum, Martin’s arm slips around Jon’s shoulders, fingers tightening in his T-shirt as he holds Jon to him.
“Your heart’s racing,” Martin murmurs into the darkness.
Jon hums. There’s no need for denial now. “Yes.”
“I…” Jon feels a long, shaky exhale against his hair. “Your heart’s beating.”
“It is,” Jon tells him. He wonders how cold his fingers were, in that hospital bed, no life in his veins to warm them. “I’m right here.”
“You are…” Martin marvels in a quiet, devastated awe that just makes Jon cling even tighter.
“I’m right here,” Jon repeats.
Martin starts drifting almost right after that, like the only thing he needed to finally rest was the feeling of Jon in his arms. Jon listens to Martin’s breathing even out, feels his hands gradually warming where they rest on the small of Jon’s back with their shared body heat.
Jon’s not sure how long it takes him for the exhaustion to finally hit, for the marvel of comfort to lull him and finally drag him under, but he spends that time before he falls asleep trying to memorize exactly how it feels to be held by Martin Blackwood.
The next day Martin takes the car into town to buy food and call Basira. Jon stays behind, too conspicuous to want to risk being seen in public, even if the ‘public’ is a quaint Scottish village of less than 1,000 people.
It’s fine, he tells himself. Martin is an adult, he managed on his own for — Christ, a year now. He won’t fade away into nothing if he’s alone for an hour buying groceries. But, god, he might, a little voice nags at the back of his head. The Lonely almost had him. Not even 48 hours earlier, it almost took him, he almost— almost gave himself to it.
So Jon spends the afternoon pacing agitated circles around the cottage. He tries to occupy himself with chores; wiping dust from the counters, shaking out all the sheets and blankets in Daisy’s linen closet and folding them back up as neatly as he can, cleaning out the kitchen.
Jon keeps half an ear out for the sound of the car rolling into the drive the whole while, so when he finally hears tires on gravel, he perks up immediately. Jon shuts off the sink, dries his hands from rinsing out Daisy’s dusty mug collection and pads over to the door just in time to hear keys in the lock.
“Hi, hi, sorry,” Martin says, as he shoulders the door open, hands full with two stuffed paper grocery bags. “Got a little held up—”
And then, as he’s heading past Jon to put the shopping up, he bends down, presses a kiss — lightning quick, caste, and casual as anything — to Jon’s lips.
“— Talking to Basira. Had to double back to the store to get change for the payphone, and— Jon?”
When Jon comes back to Earth, Martin’s over at the kitchen counter, eyes already on him. Jon doesn’t know what his face is doing, but Martin’s brows are furrowing, nose scrunched up, head tilted.
Right, Martin said his name. Jon opens his mouth, but… Yeah, he’s got nothing. No sound comes out, as he stands there, rooted to the spot, eyes wide.
“… Everything okay?”
Okay. Actual words would be nice. Anything. “Uh.” Great.
“Ah, um—” Almost without any conscious input, Jon’s fingers drift to his mouth, his first two fingers brushing against his bottom lip, chasing the buzz Martin’s lips left.
“Oh.” Martin’s still for a minute, and then his eyes go wide, his breath catching. “Oh. Oh, god. Was that— I mean— should I, should I not have? W-was that not—”
Jon catches up with the dangerous train of thought Martin’s following about half way through, and that about clears any lingering indecision Jon might’ve felt right out of his head. He’s across the room in an instant, slips his hands up onto Martin’s shoulders before he can let doubt slip in, and cuts Martin off with a kiss.
It’s clumsy, a little uncoordinated, seems to take them both by surprise a little bit, but it’s nice. Especially when Martin gets over his shock and kisses back.
Jon pulls away, drops back onto the flats of his feet. “Yes, ah. That was fine, d-don’t worry.”
This time, it’s Martin who draws a thumb along his lower lip. “Oh.” He huffs out a startled breath, mouth turning up into a fond little smile. “Cool.”
“I was just, er. Surprised,” Jon explains.
“Really?” Martin chuckles, almost sheepish. “You asked me to run off with you. Twice. I, I kind of thought— I mean—”
“No. No, you’re right. You thought right.” Jon touches his arm. “I just… didn’t want to… push you?”
“Hm.” Martin bends down, kisses the bridge of his nose. “You’re not pushing. I-I’m not either, right?”
Jon shakes his head. “Not in the slightest.”
Martin gives him another happy, warm smile. “Good. Now can you help me put these groceries away? There’s chicken in there I’d like to get in the fridge…”
And that’s that. Jon takes one of the bags, unloads it onto the counter while Martin does the same with the other. Jon takes the nonperishables and puts them up in the cupboards, while Martin fills the fridge with produce and meat and milk, stuffs the rest in the freezer before it can thaw.
It feels, for the first time in way, way too long, peaceful.
And so it goes.
Days pass quietly. They adjust to living in the cottage, and living with each other. The pass kisses back and forth as casual and easy as the words they share. Which is to say: it comes naturally, except for when one or both of them gets too in their heads, and then they need some time and some patience to come back to themselves before they feel human enough to be a part of a them again.
The longer they stay, Jon has to admit he’s almost been able to forget why they came up here in the first place. With no intrusion from the Fears, no mysteriously manifesting tape recorders, it’s been so… restful. He hasn’t even needed a statement the whole time he’s been up here.
They make fires in the fireplace, they cook together, make each other tea, hold each other at night. Jon’s never been good at relaxing, but it becomes routine; their new normal.
Still, they’ve been in Scotland for five days before they have any kind of… Conversation.
It’s getting late, the sun already set and a fire already glowing out from the hearth. Jon’s leaning back against the arm of the lumpy old sofa. Ostensibly, he’s reading. Or, he was, when he sat down, but by now he’s given up all pretense.
Right now, his book sits propped open on the floor beside him, while Martin sprawls back against his chest. It’s a bit funny, with how much taller Martin is, but his weight against Jon is a comfortable, comforting one. Even if his hair keeps tickling his throat when he moves.
Jon’s got one of his arms tucked around Martin’s shoulders, but Martin’s got hold of the other, turning it over between both of his own, fingers running over the skin of his knuckles, his fingers, his ruined palm.
“This must’ve hurt,” Martin murmurs softly, two fingers skimming over where Jon thinks he used to have lines on his palm before Jude left the whole thing shiny and pink.
Jon swallows. Martin’s been a lot more… forthright, since the Lonely. Blunt, in a way that might hurt, if it came from anyone else. From Martin, though, it just feels like understanding. Like acceptance. “It did,” Jon says pressing a kiss to the crown of his head.
“‘M sorry,” Martin tells him. He squeezes Jon’s hand, a gentle little I’m here.
It’s not an apology, Jon knows by now. Just an acknowledgment of the hurt. So Jon just squeezes back. “Your fingers are cold,” he says, with a faint little huff.
Martin takes one of his hands back, flexes his fingers into a fist and the back out again. “They are a bit, aren’t they?”
Jon reaches out with his free hand, snags Martin’s hand back. “Were they always like this? Or is that… New?”
Martin turns his hands over in Jon’s while he considers his answer. “No, it’s… It’s new. Everything’s been a bit… cold, since. Well, since. Y’know?”
Jon’s noticed that Martin wears two pairs of socks around the cottage. That he’s almost always in layers when he used to tote around the Archives in a T-shirt and a thin hoodie that he kept tied around his waist most of the day.
“S’okay,” Jon tells him, “I’ll keep you plenty warm.”
Martin snorts. “God, that’s cheesy.” He says, even as he pulls Jon’s hands to his mouth, kisses his knuckles.
“Hey,” Jon complains, “That was a very serious offer!”
“How chivalrous of you,” Martin says with a giggle.
“No, you see, it’s quite selfish, really,” Jon assures him. He wraps his arms around Martin, squeezes his whole body closer. “Just another excuse to do this.”
“You don’t need excuses, you know,” Martin tells him. “You can just… Just do it because— just because.”
“I know.” Jon bends down, kisses his temple. “And, and I hope you know this is because I want to—” Another kiss, to the shell of his ear— “and because I love you.”
He feels Martin’s breath catch, feels him go still against Jon’s chest.
It’s not the first time Jon’s said it. Actually, he… kind of says it whenever he can find a way to work it into conversation, and even sometimes when he can’t, just because it feels like he can’t keep the words in. He tries to say it as much as he can, wants to say it enough that Martin will stop looking surprised when he hears it, like he can’t believe anyone would ever feel that way about him.
Slowly, Martin exhales, pushes back against Jon’s ribs. He hooks his hands around Jon’s wrists, gives them a gentle tug. Jon lets Martin guide him, lets him pull him until he has to scooch down on the cushions to make his face level with Martin’s. Martin tilts his head, turns towards Jon, eyes flitting down to his lips, before he leans in and kisses him, soft and sweet and unhurried.
When he pulls back, there’s something deep and indecipherable on his face. “Yeah.” He nods. “Yeah, I do. I, I mean, I—” He screws up his face, shuts his eyes, sucks in his lower lip.
Jon shifts, scoots half out from under Martin so he can cup his face with one hand. “Hey. I know, too.”
Martin hasn’t said it back yet. There was that time in the Lonely, but Jon doesn’t count that. He didn’t tell Jon because he wanted to, he told him because he thought he wouldn’t make it out, and the distinction matters when it comes to this.
Jon will wait for him to say it for real.
Apparently Martin does not share his patience. He makes a frustrated little sound deep in his throat, pushes his glasses up and squeezes the bridge of his nose.
“It’s okay,” Jon tells him.
“It isn’t,” Martin says, “I— This didn’t used to be so hard for me. I, I can handle the icy fingers and the chill, I can handle the, the going very suddenly gray. But I can’t—” He takes a sharp breath. “I can’t handle not being able to, to tell you—”
“No! No, just—” He sits up very suddenly. Jon feels incredibly bereft of his warmth, his soothing presence. “It can’t have this too. I-it took so much from me, I don’t want it to take this.”
Jon follows him up, crossing his legs under himself and resting a hand delicately on Martin’s shoulder. He opens his mouth, but he can’t find a damn thing to say. What do you say to that? How do you make that better? Despite being the Archivist, despite wielding words as a shield and weapon in one, he finds, when it comes to this, he has no idea how to string the right words together to stop Martin from hurting.
“I’m… I’m sorry,” Jon practically whispers. Not an apology. Just an acknowledgment of the hurt.
Martin sighs. He leans into Jon’s hand, so Jon shuffles closer to him, slides his arm around Martin’s shoulders. “Yeah.”
“Look,” Jon says, “I love you. Even if you’ve… changed. God knows I’ve changed, too. T-there’s no rush. You can take your time, okay?”
Martin’s voice is so, so small when he says, “… What if I don’t like the person I’ve changed into?”
“Then I’ll like you enough for the both of us until you figure out how to.” Jon kisses his shoulder. “And you can do the same for me.”
Marvelously, that wins him another one of Martin’s surprised, huffed laughs. “Alright.” He nods. “Deal.”
“Deal,” Jon agrees, putting a hand on Martin’s chin and pulling him in so they can seal it with a kiss.
It’s another day and a half before it comes up again.
A week after they arrive, Martin goes back into town to check in with Basira and make another supply run to the little shop in the village. A lot can change in a week, and none of the anxious energy that sparked through Jon’s every nerve the last time Martin left the cottage is present this time.
This time, when Martin comes home (home! Huh, who a thought!) Jon’s in the kitchen cooking them a late lunch, tapping his foot along to whatever’s playing quietly from Daisy’s old radio. He doesn’t even know the song, but he hates the sound of total silence, so it’s still soothing.
The front door swings open, creaking on old hinges. “Jon?”
Jon smiles. “In the kitchen,” he calls.
Shuffling. Footsteps. And then Martin’s at his side, setting this week’s grocery haul on the counter and padding over to Jon’s side. He slips his arm around the small of Jon’s back, fingers resting against his hip, bends down to kiss his cheek. “Hi.”
“What are you making?”
“Just soup and sandwiches,” Jon tells him, “nothing fancy.”
“Nothing fancy,” Martin repeats, incredulous.
“What? It isn’t,” Jon says, cheeks warming up.
“Maybe not,” Martin agrees, “but you still made it. For us. So it’s special.”
Jon huffs, cheeks warm with a creeping flush. “You’re very easily impressed, aren’t you?”
Martin leans up against the counter, fingers wrapping around the edge. “What? I haven’t been cooked for since I was, like, eight.”
It’s handed to Jon so casually. Just another piece of Martin, not something to be prodded at or get upset over right now, so he carefully takes anything that might make him feel and sets it aside.
“… And,” Martin says, before Jon can say anything else, “maybe it’s just easy for you to impress me because I love you.”
And that. That does make Jon pause. He drops the wooden spoon he’s been stirring the soup with into the pot. “Oh.” He steps in front of Martin, looking up at him with wide, awe-struck eyes.
Martin smiles, looks sheepishly down at his feet. “Yeah.”
“Yeah.” Jon tugs on the sleeve of Martin’s jumper until Martin looks back up at him. Then he goes on his tiptoes and kisses him.
“I love you, too,” Jon tells him.
“I love you,” Martin says again, like he just needs to be sure he can.
“I love you.”
Martin huffs. “You always need to get the last word in, don’t you?”
Jon grins. “Maybe. Here,” he tugs on Martin’s hand, pulls him towards the stove. “Taste this for me? Tell me if there’s enough salt?”
“I’d love to,” Martin says.
So Jon, in an absolutely shameless display of domesticity, picks up his wooden spoon again, and holds it out to Martin.
Martin hums appreciatively. “Ooh, that’s great,” he says, “don’t change a thing.”
“Alright.” Jon nods. “In that case, I’d say everything’s done here. If you’re hungry, we can eat?”
“Yeah, I could eat,” Martin agrees. “Let me just put the groceries up first, then I’ll set the table.”
“Oh, you don’t have—”
“I know,” Martin cuts in, “I want to.”
And so the cupboards clatter, and then Martin brings bowls, plates, and silverware over to the kitchen table. Jon comes over a second later with the food he’s prepared. He dishes out soup, hands Martin a sandwich. (Bread lightly toasted, no tomatoes, because he knows Martin doesn’t like them.)
And they eat, together, in a kitchen that isn’t theirs but feels like home, anyway, just by the simple act of being there together, and when Martin’s hand finds Jon’s, even his chilly fingers feel like home, too.