The room was bright and sunny, large windows in the walls letting in the warm afternoon light. Speakers in the corners played music loud enough for everyone to hear, but not so loud that it made conversation impossible. Crowds of people swirled around, talking, laughing, dancing, catching up on stories they'd missed and retelling ones they'd lived together.
Actual crowds. The room was packed. Jon hadn't realized quite how much family Daisy and Basira had.
Still, it was a big occasion. Not even third cousins twice removed wanted to miss the wedding.
Jon could see the happy couple from where he stood, surrounded by congratulatory relatives, fingers entwined and leaning slightly into each other as they both tried to listen to at least five conversations at once. He bit back a smile as Daisy carefully intervened to steer Basira away from a particularly insistent aunt. Given Basira's tense smile, it was timely: the middle of her own wedding was not the best place to start a brawl, and whatever the aunt had been going on about had been sure to make her snap sooner or later.
Crisis averted, Daisy turned back to her own interlocutors; Jon was about to head over with some random excuse to get them both out of the scrimmage if they should wish it when someone tapped him on the shoulder.
"Any idea where the buffet is?"
He turned, smiling. Georgie stood behind him, resplendent in a flowing blue dress and grinning fit to burst. One hand was wrapped around the wrist of a much less cheerful Melanie, whose dark sunglasses matched well with her dark suit but didn't do anything to lessen her discomfort with the situation. She followed up on Georgie's question with a scowl.
"And please say it's away from these crowds. People keep apologizing for bumping into me, I can't take it anymore! Just because I'm blind doesn't mean I'm not shoving them on purpose because they're in my way."
Jon bit back a grin as Georgie rolled her eyes at him. Melanie was adapting quickly to the practicalities of her new situation, but she was just as quickly losing patience with the way other people perceived it.
"Honestly, I should have brought my white cane just to smack them over the head with."
"I, uh, I think it's on the other side of the room." Jon spoke up quickly before her threats turned serious. "Over by the windows."
"Thank you very much." Georgie tugged at Melanie's wrist, dragging her away. "Come on 'Lenie, you promised you wouldn't hit people at the wedding."
"They wouldn't know! I'm blind! Oh, sorry, didn't see you there - smack 'em right over the head - whoops, my bad, maybe if you stepped out of my way..."
Jon waved as they disappeared back into the crowd, Melanie's rant fading away into the background hum of conversation. Violent as it was, he couldn't help feeling glad she'd gotten some of her fight back. That had been a part of her long before she'd fallen prey to the Slaughter, and now that she was free of the Eye and the crushing despair that came with it, it was coming back as strong as ever.
The time she was spending around Georgie was certainly helping. The two had been practically inseparable since they started dating, and Jon knew from experience how grounding Georgie's personality could be. She didn't let you wallow in self-pity and regrets over how much you'd changed - not when you had the opportunity to push back and change again. Melanie was doing so much better, ever since she left the Institute.
They were all doing better, in fact, even though the rest of them were still trapped under its influence. Not that things were perfect. But Jon's hunger for statements, while never satisfied, seemed to not be killing him after all. He always felt on the verge of fading away, but he had felt like that for months and nothing had changed, for better or worse. So it seemed he was stable.
It was the same for Daisy and the Hunt. She looked... emaciated. She was tired all the time, always hearing the call of the blood that she refused to follow. But she was still here, still herself, and that was better than any of them could have hoped. And today of all days, surrounded by family and with her wife by her side, happiness and satisfaction with her decisions practically radiated off her.
Even Basira was better, now she knew Daisy would be okay. More confident, more stable, less likely to hurl herself into danger on the off chance it might help, somehow.
They were all doing better.
Jon found him in a corner of the room, shoulders hunched, hands shoved into his pockets, staring out at the crowd with a neutral expression.
Martin's eyes shifted to him briefly before returning to the room.
"Enjoying the wedding?"
A small shrug. Jon fought hard to keep the smile on his face. Martin had been cold and distant ever since he'd returned from Peter Lukas' employ, avoiding people whenever possible and restricting conversations to short, uninformative bursts. He'd explained what he felt he had to about stopping the Extinction, answered a few of their questions, and immediately shut them out again, as surely as if he'd never come back at all.
But he was here. He'd come to the wedding. That had to mean something.
"I'm happy for them. Daisy and Basira, I mean. It's good that they can have this, find some normalcy in life. Even in the midst of everything."
Martin didn't respond. Jon sighed, leaning back against the wall next to him. He supposed he deserved this, it was the same silent treatment he'd always given Martin back when they first joined the Archives and he wanted the man to stop talking so he could get back to his work. Still. Martin had never let it stop him. Jon wouldn't either.
"Did I tell you about the new coffeeshop I found? Right near the Institute, but somehow I'd never been there before. They make a pretty good chai tea. Of course, it's not a patch on yours..."
Jon rambled on, talking about whatever little thing came to mind. Martin didn't join in, but he didn't move away, either, and the longer Jon stood there the more emotion crept into his expression, neutrality giving way to a pained sort of confusion.
After a while he shook his head, grimacing and holding up a hand to stop Jon's tangent.
"Why are you talking to me?"
Jon blinked. "Sorry?"
"Why are you talking to me?"
"B-because..." Jon floundered. He couldn't think of a single reason he wouldn't talk to Martin. "Because I want to?"
There was that pain and confusion, shining bright in Martin's eyes. Jon wasn't sure if he was glad to see it or not. Surely it was better than the empty, emotionless blankness that had resided there since he returned, but he didn't want Martin to hurt, either.
"Why? Why do you still want to talk to me, after what I've done?"
"What you've done?" Jon frowned. "Martin, you saved the world."
"I abandoned you." Martin's voice was steady, but his eyes were burning with guilt and self-recriminations. "All of you, when you needed me most."
Jon closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. So that was it, was it? It was... hard, listening to Martin say that, listening to him tear himself down like that, but it certainly explained some things. And, perhaps, it could fix them too. If Martin was shutting himself away because he thought no one wanted to talk to him... well, that was a lot easier to handle than him not wanting to talk to them.
He opened his eyes again, laying a hand on Martin's arm. "I've done worse. You always forgave me. And I forgive you, Martin, though I hardly think I need to."
Martin turned away, shrugging off Jon's hand. Whether he didn't believe Jon, or whether he believed him but his words hadn't been enough, there was no way to say. "Yeah. Good for you."
Jon stared at him, brow slightly furrowed in worry. This wasn't the place he'd wanted to have this conversation, but now that he was here he wasn't going to give up until Martin listened. "Besides, you came back."
"Something came back." Martin bit out the words, lip twitching in a sneer. At himself, Jon guessed, all his anger and hatred was directed at himself. "Some one. I don't know if he's still me."
There was something Jon needed to say to that, something he himself had disregarded when he first heard it, but the truth of which had become painfully obvious as time passed. "You are as much Martin Blackwood as I am the Jonathan Sims who first walked into this Institute, all those years ago. We've all changed, Martin. It doesn't mean you're not still you."
Martin looked at him, then, a wary sort of curiosity in his eyes.
"Those aren't your words, are they?"
"No. They're not."
Martin nodded, but didn't ask whose they were. They lapsed back into silence.
Still, Jon felt a bit more optimistic. He thought he had the shape of it, now, where Martin's thoughts were at and why he was being so standoffish. It made it easier to push back, just a little, against that coldness, and hope that Martin wouldn't respond by shutting him out entirely.
"Do you want to dance?"
Martin raised an eyebrow at Jon's question. Jon tilted his head toward the dancefloor, smiling slightly.
"Come on. Everyone else is."
For a second that pain flashed in Martin's eyes again, something broken and hopeless. Then it was shut out, and he took Jon's proffered hand with a nod.
They stayed near the edge of the floor, keeping away from the bulk of the crowd. An upbeat song was playing; Jon grabbed Martin's hands and spun him around in an energetic circle. He could have sworn he saw a grin dancing around Martin's lips as they twirled, but by the time they came to a standstill his face was neutral again.
Jon kept his left hand gripped around Martin's right, but moved his right hand to Martin's shoulder. Martin slipped his left hand around to rest on Jon's back, on his shoulder blade, and Jon attempted to drag them both into a box step in time with the music. Martin almost immediately stepped on his toes; Jon winced. Thankfully the song changed, and the next was much slower tempo. They settled into a small rhythm, one-two-three-four on the corner of the dancefloor, while the couples around them leaned into each other's arms and the slow tune wound on.
There was a tight feeling in Jon's chest, growing worse the longer he danced with Martin. It was so... normal. Holding him, moving in time. Martin's hair was combed back from his face, thick curls barely tamed for the formal occasion, and he was wearing a well-fitted dark blue suit that set off his eyes rather nicely.
He sighed, closing those eyes and leaning closer to Jon. Jon's breath caught somewhere around his heart, and he ever-so-gently stepped closer to Martin, letting the hand on his shoulder drift until he held him in a half-embrace. Martin didn't push him away.
Jon thanked whatever lucky stars still shone on him that the music stayed slow. Over the course of several songs Martin shifted closer and closer, eyes still shut, until they were dancing cheek-to-cheek. Martin's hand had drifted from Jon's shoulder blade until his arm was wrapped around his waist; Jon's arm was looped securely around his shoulders. Their other hands were still entwined, and Jon was practically out of his mind with longing.
Martin's head fell softly onto his shoulder, and Jon caught a whiff of a fruity shampoo. He closed his eyes, breathing in deeply. God, he wanted to turn his head, bury his face in Martin's hair and dance with him for all eternity. It was so easy, in the moment, to imagine that he could: that this was real, that Martin truly did want to dance with him instead of just bowing to social convention. That they could dance like this again someday, perhaps at their own...
Jon twitched his head slightly, banishing the thought. Best not to go there. But was it really so far fetched? To think that Martin might want him, too? It had been a possibility, once. He knew it had, if only he had seen it in time.
The words were caught in his throat, a question he wasn't certain he wanted the answer to. But he had let cowardice rule his life too many times in the past: if ever there were a moment to ask, it was now.
“Martin?” It came out as a whisper.
“Hm?” Martin barely raised his head from Jon's shoulder.
“Do you- I know the answer is probably no, but I want to-" Jon cursed his own hesitance. Get to the point! "I mean, I listened to all the tapes. It was a long time ago, though. The more recent ones... I don't expect things to be the same.”
Martin actually laughed, at that, confusion lending him a levity he had been missing for far too long. “Jon, what are you talking about?”
“Do you-" he took a deep breath, forcing back the instincts that screamed at him to be happy with the moment and not ruin it hoping for more, “-still have feelings for me?”
Martin froze for a second before pulling away. He didn’t break the dance, just put a healthy few inches of space between them. The hand on Jon's waist was a feather-light touch, but his other squeezed Jon's fingers briefly as they swayed to the music.
“Yeah. I do.” It came out in the same emotionless voice he'd been using since he returned.
Jon inhaled sharply. “You do?”
“Yep. Probably always will, at this point. Sorry if it makes things awkward.” He wasn’t meeting Jon's eyes. His voice was so casual, so neutral, as though what he was saying didn't matter in the slightest, but that pain was back in his eyes.
“Oh thank god.” Jon lunged forward, winding his arm around Martin's shoulders again and finally, finally giving in to the urge to bury his face in his hair. It was as soft as it looked, and closer investigation proved the fruity scent to be apple. “I thought I was too late.”
“You- what?” Martin didn’t pull away, but he tensed in Jon's arms. “Are you saying-“
“I have feelings for you as well.” It came out half-laughing, giddy with relief. He knew he should be more cautious, with the way Martin had been acting recently, but he couldn't help it.
But Martin just sagged against him at the words, boneless with shock, before coming to life again and wrapping his own arms tightly around Jon. It meant he had to let go of his hand, but Jon didn’t mind. He hugged Martin back.
Martin's hands clutched tightly at the back of his suit jacket, his breath unsteady and stuttering against Jon's ear. "Do- Jon, do you really mean it? After everything, what I've done, what I've become-"
"Yes, Martin." Jon pressed a kiss into that curly hair, smiling so hard his face hurt. "Stop saying things like that, you saved the world, you're still you- you're more you than I am me!"
"But- but I left and-"
"Don't listen to the Lonely." Jon drew back, cupping Martin's face between his hands. Tears sparkled in his eyes, catching the light as he met Jon's eyes. "Stop telling yourself we're better off without you, stop hiding away because you think we don't want you back, I know you had to spend months convincing yourself your life was only worth the sacrifice it could provide but please. Now that you're back, believe me when I say I want you here. We want you here, all of us, do you really think Daisy and Basira would have invited you to their wedding if you weren't their friend? You have people in this world that care about you, Martin, please stop trying to tell us we don't."
The tears began to fall. Jon wiped them away with his thumbs. "And I know it's not that easy. I know me telling you this isn't going to fix everything. But please try to believe me, okay? Because-" His mouth twitched into a small smile. "I think we both just spent the last half hour slow dancing at a wedding pining over the person who was already in our arms, and that's way too embarrassing a situation to repeat."
That finally broke through; Martin gave a weak laugh, lifting his hands to grab Jon's and pressing a kiss to the back of one of them as he moved it away from his face. "That wasn't just me, then?"
"Definitely not." Jon squeezed Martin's hands.
"It's about time!" The voice came from behind. He jumped, glancing over his shoulder.
The music had picked up again without either of them noticing, and the press and spin of dancers around them moved energetically past their one spot of stillness. Daisy and Basira were nearby, stepping deftly through the crowd in time with the music and grinning their heads off as they watched Jon and Martin.
"Don't mind us, carry on!" Basira waved a hand at them. "We've all been waiting for this, trust me."
Jon felt a fierce blush creeping up his cheeks, and Martin ducked his head to bury it in Jon's chest, groaning in embarrassment.
Daisy laughed maniacally, looping her arms around Basira's waist and spinning her away across the dancefloor. Basira let out a shout of surprise, clinging to Daisy with one arm as her dress flew out behind her. Soon enough they disappeared back into the crowd.
Jon looked down at Martin in his arms. After a moment, he lifted his head to peer back.
"So, uh... that's a thing, I guess?"
Jon chuckled, glancing away shyly. "Yeah, they, uh... they may have had to put up with my... um. I hesitate to call it 'moping.'" Martin bit his lip, clearly repressing a grin. "They've had to put up with it for quite a while."
Martin squeezed his hand. "Well, I'll be happy to reprieve them of the burden."
"Good to know."
They had started moving again at some point, swaying gently several beats slower than the tempo of the music. Martin tucked his head back against Jon's shoulder, sighing softly. Jon smiled, wrapping his arms around Martin, drawing him close enough that he could feel his heartbeat. After a moment, Martin spoke.
"Thank you, Jon. For... for not giving up on me. I'm sorry I've been... sorry I've been giving up on myself."
Jon held him a bit tighter. "It's okay, Martin. I've been there. We all have, I think. You never gave up on the rest of us. I'm just... returning the favor, I suppose."
"Yeah..." Martin pressed his face into Jon's neck, and Jon could feel his smile. "Thanks, though."
Jon shook his head. "And thank you, for all you've done for me over the years. I owe you..." He sighed. "More than I can even say. We'd be here all night if I tried. So, since that's not exactly the best way to pass the time at a wedding, I'll keep it short: thank you."
Martin laughed softly, holding on for just a second more before he stepped back, tugging at Jon's hands.
"Come on. We're blocking the dancefloor."
Jon let himself be pulled along, following Martin's lead back into the rhythm of the music and the chaos of the crowd. Georgie and Melanie spun by, grinning like mad and giving the two of them a huge thumbs-up. Somewhere off in the crowd Daisy and Basira's raised voices could be heard, corralling various relatives into place for a photoshoot.
And Jon and Martin danced on, stepping on each other's toes and laughing, apologizing and leaning in close to share all the little things they hadn't had time to tell each other, and all the little things they had never had the courage to.
There were things they would have to deal with later, of course: fallouts and repercussions they couldn't foresee, adjustments and compromises they would have to make, not to mention fending off teasing from their friends; but that was later. Now, with sunlight pouring in through the large windows and shadows lengthening as the afternoon wore on, wrapped in each other's arms on a day of celebration... life was good.