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He wasn't expecting the dust and, at first, it's a relief. These days it's rare he doesn't know things in advance - mundane things, at least, like the contents of a book he hasn't read or the grocery store clerk's grandmother's cause of death. Little surprises are pleasant, even if this one in particular means he's ill-equipped to deal with the itchy eyes and runny nose that characterize his allergic reaction. 

Although, as he and Martin each grab a broom and all-purpose cleaner from the pantry (otherwise stocked with canned beans and what appear to be magazines not for reading, but for firearms), he wonders if common sense should have alerted him to the fact that Daisy's secret safehouse in rural Scotland would need some maintenance. As far as Jon can tell, no one has set foot in here in months, at the very least. 

He sweeps underneath the kitchen table, an itchy plume of dust billowing up into the air, and lets out his third series of rapidfire sneezes in the past minute. The surprise stops being pleasant immediately.

If you can't use your unwanted supernatural powers of clairvoyance to determine whether you'll need to pack your prescription allergy medication while escaping a paranormal investigation of your workplace, then what, pray tell, is the point?

He feels a tap on his shoulder and turns to see Martin smiling with a tissue at the ready, and he remembers: Right. That's the point.

Jon takes the offering with a grateful, albeit sheepish smile. "Thank you," he says, grimacing at the nasal tone of his voice. He blows his nose and makes a low noise of disgust in the back of his throat.

Martin chuckles, his freckled nose wrinkling under the wire frame of his glasses. He sets down the bottle of lemon-scented Clorox and the roll of paper towels he's been using on the countertops and leans back against the kitchen table, glancing around the room. It's cleaner now, but that makes all the more obvious how empty it is. Not that Jon isn't grateful to have a safe place to stay, it's just that he's had enough of empty spaces for a lifetime. At least they're not by the sea. 

"Not the most luxurious holiday, is it?" Martin muses.

Jon stuffs his used tissue into his pocket, sniffing. "It isn't a holiday at all. We're in hiding."

Martin snorts and begins picking at a loose thread in his jeans. "Compared to everything else that's happened to us, that's a holiday," he says, a wry smile curling his lip.

Jon thinks about everything that's happened to them; has been thinking about it since The Lonely. Unfortunately, thinking about it and nothing else has accomplished very little. They still haven't talked about it, any of it, not even to pass the time on the long train ride to Scotland. Instead, Martin fell asleep in the seat next to him, pressed into his side from shoulder to knee, and Jon thought about love confessions and verb tense and how the two fit together when you think you're dying. 

He scratches at the broomstick with his thumbnail, wondering what it would take for the wood to splinter. 

"I suppose that's true," he says finally. And he almost says more, almost reaches for Martin's hand, but even if Peter Lukas is gone, the memory of Martin recoiling from his touch, his words, his presence, isn't. It's not fair. None of it was fair. 

"I think I'd want to get out of London even if it were safe there," Martin says, head tipping back so his gaze can follow the slow rotations of the ceiling fan above. "At least for a little while. I was almost jealous when you did all that travelling a while back. I've never been outside the UK."

Jon looks at him, eyebrow arched. "Given how dangerous the situation was, I didn't exactly have the opportunity to go sightseeing," he says. "I went for research. It was stressful. And besides -- " He stops. When Martin gives him a questioning look, his gaze drops to his shoes.

"What?" Martin probes, leaning closer.

Jon clears his throat, scratching at the stubble on his chin, and shrugs. "Well," he says, "you were home."

At home. He meant to say at home. 

He's wondering if that would really have been any less incriminating when, out of the corner of his eye, he sees Martin smiling with his bottom lip caught between his teeth. It takes every ounce of restraint Jon has left to not Know what he's thinking.

"Come on," Martin says, pushing off the edge of the table. He puts his hand over Jon's, which is still wrapped around the broom. "Um. Let's switch. I think the floor is the dustiest bit and I don't have allergies, so - "

"Right," Jon says, a little too loudly, staring at Martin's hand, broad and soft and still folded over Jon's. "Thanks." He lets Martin take the broom.

"Once we're done here, maybe we can head into the village and do some grocery shopping?" Martin suggests, softly batting the broomstick from side to side between his palms. "I don't know about you, but I don't trust those canned beans." His nose wrinkles again, this time in playful distaste, and it fills Jon's chest with a fondness he can't quite explain.

"I'm afraid I'm not much of a cook," he admits.

Martin puts a hand over his cheek and gasps in what Jon doesn't need The Eye to know is mock-surprise. 

Jon feels his face heat up. "Shut up, Martin," he says even as his mouth forms a smile.

Martin snickers behind his hand, eyes crinkled but bright, and then makes a zipping motion over his grinning lips with his forefinger and thumb.

 


 

Jon finds himself shivering in his cardigan as he and Martin step outside. The sky is a soft white, not quite indicating oncoming rain but hiding the warmth of the sun nonetheless. Martin locks up behind them and soon enough they're making their way down the winding dirt path that leads to the village.

There's something bleak but beautiful about it, all cobblestone roads and rustic cottages against the backdrop of mossy hills in the distance. Church bells ring - it's mid afternoon now - and the sound echoes all throughout the valley. Jon tries to remember the last time he set foot in a church when the crunch of Martin's footsteps next to his comes to an abrupt halt. Jon turns around to see Martin staring at the small farm flanking the path.

He's about to ask what's wrong when Martin gasps at the sight of fluffy highland cows grazing behind the old wooden fence. He grabs Jon by the arm, grip so tight it's almost painful and grinning like a child on Christmas morning.

"Cows," he whispers in awe, hugging Jon's bicep to his chest for a brief moment during which Jon has to fight hard not to smile. " Cows , Jon. Oh, look at them." Martin releases him, skipping over to the fence in excitement.

"I'm looking," Jon says, watching Martin climb up on one of the slats, presumably to get a better view of the cow masticating in disinterest a few feet away. 

"Oh, this," Martin says sagely, "this is a good cow."

Jon joins him by the fence, resting his elbows on the splintering wood. "What are your criteria, exactly?" he asks, one eyebrow arched in amusement. 

Martin takes a moment to look down at him from his perch in visible disappointment before slowly beginning to shake his head. 

"Jon, Jon, Jon," he tuts, closing his eyes.

Jon makes a noise halfway between mirth and exasperation. "What?"

Martin pokes him in the side of the head. "You make it sound so academic ," he says as Jon swats his finger away. "You have to let your heart decide. It's an art, not a science."

"It's a cow."

Martin is aghast. "It's beautiful ." He reaches out an arm toward the cow, fingers wiggling. "Aren't you, girl? Aren't you just the sweetest bovine ruminant alive? Yes you are."

The cow turns toward them, blinks, and resumes its chewing.

"Enchanting," Jon says. Martin elbows him in the shoulder.

 


 

Martin's culinary expertise, as it turns out, goes far beyond the pots of tea he used to make in the archive kitchenette. Jon can't tell if it's hindsight bias or his clairvoyance playing catch-up, but as he watches Martin chop vegetables with ease and elegance, it feels right, somehow, that he would be good at this: creating and nourishing. Jon hovers at his side, feeling slightly useless but content to watch him work. 

"I haven't gotten the chance to really cook in a while," Martin hums, scooping up chopped onions in his palms and dropping them in the pan. 

Jon steps aside so Martin has more access to it, suddenly remembering Martin's other creative hobby. "And the poetry?" he asks.

He's not particularly fond of poetry in general, preferring to read longer literary works to really capture his interest - an inclination perhaps left over from a childhood spent immersed in books his grandmother foisted on him to keep him out of trouble for as long as possible. Martin's poetry, the last time Jon heard it, didn't interest him either, except in that he felt the need to deride it in one of his supplemental recordings. Jon tries not to cringe in embarrassment at the memory. It hurts to think about how awful he was to Martin back then. Being anything less than embarrassingly infatuated with the man seems completely alien to him looking back.

He's just different now, and whatever unwanted abilities or near-death experiences have been a part of that, what strikes him as the most significant change currently is that now all it would take to get him interested in even mediocre poetry is seeing it in Martin's handwriting.

Martin's poems are a little bad, but they're his. When did that start mattering so much?

Martin chuckles, lifting the pan off the stove and jerking it back and forth so its sizzling contents spread out over its surface. A savory aroma begins to fill the air. 

"Erm," he says, "I don't know. I have some ideas, I guess."

"Like what?"

Martin glances at him out of the corner of his eye, a strange smile on his face. "You don't have to pretend to be interested," he says, not unkindly. 

Jon blinks in bewilderment, a little affronted. "Why would you think I'm pretending?" 

Martin gives him a blank look and Jon wishes he could swallow his own tongue. He's not the only one who's been listening to the recordings, even the unflattering ones.

"Right," he says, drumming his fingers on the counter. "Sorry. Right." Martin hums in acknowledgement with a dismissive wave of his hand before reassuming his position in front of the cutting board. He grabs a bell pepper and begins chopping it into neat slices. Jon periodically opens and closes his mouth for a few moments, eyes darting around the room in search of inspiration, before he finally settles on, "I'm not, though. Pretending, I mean." He shifts his weight from one foot to the other. "I think about your poetry a lot. Given everything that's happened, I...think I've missed it."

I've missed you , he doesn't say, which of course does nothing to ease the uncomfortable pinch in his chest.

There's a chopping sound and then a yelp. Jon's gaze snaps from his socks to Martin, who is examining the fresh bead of blood on the tip of his forefinger. 

"Shit," he blurts, setting down his knife. "Uh --"

Without thinking, Jon grabs Martin's wrist with one hand and twists on the tap with the other. He guides Martin's finger under the running water, trying to ignore the fluttering pressure of Martin's heart beating into his palm.

"Are you alright?" he asks, brow knitted in concern.

Martin nods, his round cheeks looking distinctly redder than before. Jon doesn't understand why until he looks down to where their hands are joined and sees the gentle circles his thumb is rubbing into Martin's skin. He lets go with an awkward cough.

"Sorry," he says, just a little too loudly, which only increases his distress, because the only thing more embarrassing than doing something stupid is explicitly calling attention to it. If he were better at this, at loving, maybe he could take Martin's hand in earnest instead of having to make it look like an accident; no excuses, just an ache in his heart to soothe between their palms. Maybe he could meet his gaze and hold it. Maybe he could say something that matters.

"Nonono, please, it's -- " Martin sputters back in a strained, high-pitched voice, turning off the tap and shaking his hand dry. "It's fine, really. Um -- You don't suppose there's a first aid kit in here somewhere?"

"I'll check," Jon says, partially to be helpful and partially so he has enough privacy to tear at the roots of his hair and wonder how he, the alleged avatar of Beholding, of knowledge fucking incarnate, could be so fundamentally stupid. His patron owes him an explanation - and, while they're at it, an apology.

A few moments later he's back in the kitchen, fumbling with an unopened box of generic plasters he found in the bathroom closet. He pulls one out, peels the plastic tabs off, and wraps it around the tip of Martin's finger.

"Thank you," Martin says, smiling apologetically for reasons Jon doesn't understand.

Jon shakes his head, pushing down lightly on where the adhesive ends of the plaster meet around Martin's finger. His touch lingers for a moment, his hands drawn to the softness and warmth of Martin's. They're as broad and fair as the rest of him, less bony and mostly unmarred by scars, the opposite of Jon's in every way, and as Jon's fingers feel the movement of tendons under the delicate skin of the back of Martin's hand, a memory he hasn't thought about in years comes to him. 

It's of Georgie, a little drunk at some university function Jon didn't care about, laying her palm flat against his and marvelling loudly and facetiously at the difference in size between them. She revealed to him after they started dating that it had just been an excuse to touch him. He pretended he hadn't already known. 

Martin is smart; it must be obvious to him that Jon's tactility is as much about taking care of his wound as it is about soothing the ache pulling itself apart in his chest, if even for a moment. He knows this, and it still takes him ages before he begins to pull away.

Except, at the first sign of movement, Martin's hand flips over to snatch one of Jon's. To say he laces their fingers together would be too gentle; he locks them, pressing tight like the teeth of a zipper, and takes a quick step forward. 

Jon opens his mouth, but the words - whatever they would have been - don't come quick enough.

"You were saying something," Martin mumbles, his voice wavering, "about, uh, my poetry?" He bites his bottom lip, face tipped down as he peeks at Jon over the rims of his glasses.

Jon swallows, his fingers slowly daring to curl around Martin's knuckles, firm and deliberate.

They held hands before, when Jon led the way out of the Lonely, and it felt safe, because despite the cold, endless sea and misty dunes, they were tethered to each other and they were going home. Now they are safe, standing in Daisy's kitchen in the pastoral Scottish countryside they'll be living in together for the foreseeable future, and Jon doesn't understand how something that put him at ease just days ago now floods him with an overwhelming rush of effervescent heat. As far as he can tell, they're holding hands for no good reason - except that it feels good. And it does something to his heart that no entity could ever hope to match.

His hand prickles with warmth from the pressure of Martin's, almost to the point of pain. He holds it just a little bit tighter. He tries to say something that matters.

"It reminds me of Keats," he says. 

If he weren't so focused on the feeling of Martin's hand, he'd kick himself, but the pad of Martin's thumb rubs along the length of his, and it's impossible to think about anything else. 

Then Martin's eyes crinkle at the edges when he smiles, and something about it makes Jon think he's the one with the powers of clairvoyance here.

"I think you were saying something else," Martin says, his voice low.

And just like that, Jon can't take it anymore. He takes a step forward, the gap between them closing with the press of his chest against Martin's, and the contact makes his heart jump like a magnet meeting its other half.

"Martin," he sighs, desperate and relieved all at once, just as the smoke alarm goes off. 

His voice breaks into a shout as Martin whirls around to face the cloud of gray billowing from the sizzling pan. Martin lunges for one of the dials on the front of the stove and twists it counter-clockwise until something beeps and the burner lights switch off. Jon rushes to the window and slides it all the way open, trying to fan the smoke outside with frantic hands until he's distracted by a loud hissing sound. He looks up just in time for the sprinklers to shower his face.

"Oh, fuck off," Martin wails at the ceiling, throwing his arms up in exasperation. The cold water soaks him, turning his messy hair a shade darker than normal and making it stick to his furrowed brow. He sends Jon a helpless look.

Without knowing exactly why, Jon has to stifle a laugh, and when he fails, Martin starts to have to fight a smile of his own; the last straw before Jon is in hysterics, leaning on the kitchen counter for support. For a moment, the months - the years, even - of dancing around each other are just a bad dream, and Jon doesn't realize he'd forgotten what Martin's laugh sounds like until it rises above the ringing of the smoke alarm and the hiss of running water.

 


 

Dinner is, of course, ruined. After another round of cleaning, they lack the energy to do anything more than sit at the kitchen table sharing whatever snacks survived the downpour. But all things considered, it's nice, honestly. It's not Martin's cooking, which Jon would be lying if he said he wasn't disappointed he didn't get to try, but it's them, together, so still not a total loss. They talk about cows and they don't talk about poetry.

After they finish eating, Jon becomes acutely aware of how mopping up after the sprinklers has left him sore and tired and Martin, who Jon can see brushing his teeth in the bathroom mirror, seems to be in a similar state. Jon looks out the living room window; the sun is down, the stars are out, and it's been a long day. He yawns as he makes his way to the bedroom, thinks about how nice it will be to sleep, and is then faced with a startling reminder that there is at least one glaring problem that needs addressing before that can happen.

It's a problem Jon and Martin discovered not long after they first arrived earlier that day; a problem with implications that make Jon's face go hot. A quick self-guided tour led them both into the bedroom, wondering where the least-committal place to deposit their bags would be as they stood at the foot of the one solitary bed.

They made the silent but mutual decision to add this to the ever-growing list of things they make a point not to talk about, which was working out fabulously - until now.

By the time Martin wanders into the room, a towel draped over his head in what is presumably one last attempt to get his hair dry before going to sleep, Jon still hasn't thought of what to say, and the two of them are back to standing at the foot of the bed in heavy silence, deliberately not looking at each other. Jon's hand flexes without his permission, as of moving to hold something that isn't there.

He knows instinctively that they can't just pick up where they left off in the kitchen, but he still can't help but wonder why. 

Martin picks at a loose thread in the sleeve of his hoodie, a nervous habit Jon has observed many times over the years they've spent working at the Institute. 

"This doesn't have to be awkward," he says.

Jon nods. "I'll take the sofa."

( Sofa , incidentally, is putting it generously. The article of furniture he is referring to, which is situated in a dingy corner of the living room, is both too big to be called an armchair and too small to be called a loveseat. Sitting in it is as confusing as it is uncomfortable.)

Martin sighs, long and leaden. "That's not what I meant," he mutters. Jon watches him tug at the ends of the towel draped over his head, obscuring his face. 

"I know," Jon says quietly. "But it's -- I wouldn't mind, if that's what you'd - "

"Don't make it my choice," Martin snaps, turning to look at him. His expression is one of cool composure, his uncertainty betrayed only by the warm blush on his cheeks. It must be contagious; Jon suddenly feels the urge to tug at the collar of his shirt, heat crawling up his neck. 

Still, Martin's gaze is unwavering; vulnerable and resolute all at once. 

"Say what you want, Jon," he says.

Jon takes a deep breath and considers.

I want you , is the first thought that comes to him, and he feels the truth of it deep, deep down, under flesh and bone and blood and sinew, at the very core of him. He shuts his eyes. I want to drink your tea and read your poems, even the bad ones. I want to be with you forever, at the end of the world. I want to tell you, because you deserve to hear it.

He says, "I suppose the bed is big enough for two," and Martin smiles in something like relief, rolling his eyes.

Not ten minutes later, they're side by side under the covers, and Jon can feel him even without touching, at the periphery of his mind and body, hovering there like a little sun. Jon closes his eyes and tells himself it's enough; just this, just for now. Martin is warm and alive and here , right next to him, and even if Jon wishes he'd hold his hand again, it's enough just to be in the same room; hell, in the same dimension. He'll take it. Of course he'll take it.

He turns his head away from Martin and tries to sleep.

Noise in the country is different. Car sounds are few and far between, never more than a distant rumble. Crickets chirp outside the window. Somewhere in the valley, cowbells peal.

There's a lot more to focus on than the sound of Martin's breathing. A lot. But he can't.

"Jon?" 

Martin's voice is so quiet that if Jon weren't so attuned to him, he might think he'd imagined it. Then the mattress creaks and there's a warm hand on Jon's wrist, a finger tracing one of his many scars. Jon turns his head to face Martin and nearly jumps when he realizes just how close they really are; close enough that he can feel Martin's breath instead of just hearing it. He can see Martin's face, carved out of the dark like white marble by the moonlight shining through the curtains as his eyes slowly adjust, and it strikes him what a genuinely nice face it is, in every sense. Martin now seems to him so simple, so uncomplicated in all the ways the last few years haven't been, and Jon loves him for it.

"Martin," he answers, moving his arm so their hands meet somewhere under the covers.

"Is it," Martin whispers, "is it okay? For me to…" he trails off.

Jon rolls onto his side to face him completely, fingers squeezing into the gaps between his.

He hears Martin swallow. 

"I mean, is it alright for me to have this?" he asks, his voice high and breaking, and even in the dim light Jon can see the distress etched into his features. "Is it okay for me to feel like this?"

Jon feels a familiar pressure in his chest as a wave of admiration for how brave Martin is and always has been crashes over him like a riptide.

"Like what?" he asks, just to hear Martin tell him.

Because he knows. Of course he knows. He's read the poetry and heard the recordings and been cornered with office gossip in the archive break room, but that past tense confession in The Lonely has been gnawing at his heart since he first heard it and he needs to hear what Martin feels now . And he'll be damned if he uses his powers to find out.

"Like I could be happy with you forever," Martin says, and Jon can hear the way his throat closes around the words to choke back tears. Martin's free hand comes to rest on Jon's cheek, hesitant. "Is that okay?"

Jon softens. "Of course it's okay," he says, gentle but resolute. "Of course it is."

Martin bites back a sob. "God, I love you so much, Jon, it's -- "

There it is, that crucial inflection, and Jon's heart leaps and leaps and leaps and never quite sticks the landing. The knowledge is the same, but the telling is what makes it Jon's; a gift given in confidence and love instead of stolen treasure.

In one fluid motion, Jon rises to his elbow, leans over, and kisses him. The moment their lips touch, he suddenly can't fathom how he's gone so long without kissing him. He tastes the salt of Martin's tears and the spearmint toothpaste on his teeth and Martin is right: this feels like a miracle Jon's not sure he deserves, either, but if he stops now his heart might just stop, too.

Martin whimpers and Jon smothers the sound in kiss after kiss after kiss, trying not to cry himself when Martin meets him halfway. He puts his hand over Martin's where it's still cupping his cheek, holding it there and holding himself together. Martin's mouth opens under his like a blooming lily, sweet and soft as he slowly coaxes Jon's lips apart with his tongue, and suddenly the room is so warm Jon can't breathe. He angles his head, kissing Martin deeper, letting go of his hand to cradle the soft curve of his jaw and Martin's fingers sink into his hair. After a few moments Jon pulls away just far enough to catch his breath, already missing the press of Martin's lips against his.

Martin leans into his palm, trembling. "Jon," he croaks, hands moving to frame Jon's face, " God , Jon - "

"It's alright," Jon says, his own eyes stinging with unshed tears. He massages Martin's hand with his thumb, kissing the center of his palm, and then leans forward until their foreheads touch. "I won't leave you alone ever again." He knows he couldn't, even if he wanted to.

Martin sniffs, his eyes still squeezed shut. Jon kisses his palm again, shifting closer. He wonders briefly what he could do to reassure Martin, and the answer strikes him like an arrow to the heart.

For someone whose work consists of reading other people's statements, Jon consistently surprises himself with how spectacularly terrible he is with words of his own. Right now, holding Martin's hand, it feels like there's much more at stake than the end of the world.

If only Martin could compel him to say what he needs to say.

Then again, would it really make a difference? Does Jon have it in him to deny Martin anything right now, even without supernatural interference?

He swallows.

A pause, and then:

"Ask me what I see."

Martin's eyes blink open, wet and wide. "What?"

Jon nudges his nose with his own, catching Martin's gaze and holding it. "Ask me to tell you what I see," he says. 

Martin looks back at him, his eyes still glassy from tears. He sniffs. 

"...What do you see, Jon?" he asks, as if he's wary of the answer.

Jon looks at him. He looks at the shimmering streaks Martin's tears left on his skin and the swell of his bottom lip. He looks at the still-damp hair curling against his temple. He looks at the cluster of freckles on his nose. He looks and looks and looks, and there's only one word that fits. He takes a deep breath that somehow turns into a sigh, a sonnet, a promise, never breaking eye contact for a second:

"Love," he says. 

So much love, it's devastating.

Martin blinks at him, otherwise still as the night, and Jon is back to listening to him breathe, except it doesn't sound like he is. For a moment Jon wonders if he's said the wrong thing. Then he hears the peal of Martin's laugh and he's certain he has.

Every muscle in his body tenses up at once and his face reaches an unhealthy temperature that only increases when he realizes Martin must be able to feel it seeping into his palms. He presses his lips into a tight line. When Martin notices his discomfort, his warm laughter dying down to embers, he surges forward to kiss them soundly into a more agreeable shape. Jon nearly squeaks; it's shocking but wonderful being on the receiving end of a kiss like that, and suddenly he can't find it in himself to be upset with Martin for laughing.

"I can't believe you just said that," Martin whispers into the corner of Jon's mouth, as if he can't decide if he's amused or endeared by Jon's admission. Either way, he sounds happy, and, really, that's all Jon was after. He said the right thing after all.

Still, he lets out a wry chuckle. "Me neither," he mutters. Martin makes a sympathetic noise, squeezing his hand in encouragement. "But I - I really do mean it, Martin. And you deserved to hear it. Even if I'm not...particularly eloquent." He cringes, hiding his burning face in his pillow, and reminds himself that cringing in embarrassment at being sweet now is better than cringing in embarrassment at having been a dick before.

"I know you, Jon," he hears Martin say as he runs a hand down Jon's arm. "I know it's hard for you to talk about your feelings." Martin pokes Jon's cheek. "I didn't know you could be so corny when you do." His finger moves over Jon's cheekbone to his temple, tucking strands of hair behind his ear.

Jon lets out a long, deflating breath. "Thank you for that," he says, voice muffled by the pillow.

"Maybe you should try writing poetry." Martin's smile is audible.

Jon lifts his head, blowing stray hairs out of his face, and feels himself start to blush all over again. 

"I could," he says, "for you."

Martin lights up, brow quirking in interest. "Could you now."

Jon narrows his eyes at him. " Yes , I could. And you know what? I will." He reaches for one of the strings of Martin's hoodie, twirling it around his finger and tugging petulantly. "It'll be so evocative and affecting," he says, a mostly-feigned note of bitterness in his voice, "that you'll be sorry for laughing during my love confession. And you'll toss all your Keats volumes in the garbage, where they belong."

Martin snorts, still grinning. "Bring me my smelling salts, I'm feeling faint," he says, fanning himself with his hand like the swooning daughter of a Victorian aristocrat. His voice still has that post-lachrymal, nasal tone to it, but he really does sound happy. Jon likes being the reason for it.

"That's better," he says, fingers curling into the fabric of Martin's hoodie to pull him in. The last thing he sees before their lips meet is Martin rolling his eyes. Jon smiles into the kiss, then angles his head, pressing another into the softness of Martin's cheek. He hears Martin chuckle again and tuts at him.

"You and your laughing," he says under his breath, which only serves to make Martin laugh harder. "What's so funny?"

Martin puts a hand on Jon's side, pushing gently. "Your beard tickles."

Jon freezes for a second before experimentally rubbing his chin under Martin's jaw.

" Stop , you dick," Martin squeals, swatting Jon in the ribs.

Jon grins into his neck, rolling halfway on top of him, and feels comfort bloom in his chest when, after a moment of hesitation, Martin's thick arms wrap around his middle. He relaxes against him, putting his stubbly assault on hold and reaching a hand up to thread his fingers in Martin's hair. Martin rubs circles on his back, periodically turning his head to drop shy kisses on the junction of Jon's neck and shoulder. They decompress in each other's arms, comfortable silence filling the room, and it's that very comfort that makes Jon break it.

"I really do love you," he whispers in a small voice, tucking his too-warm face into the side of Martin's neck. "I really do."

Martin presses his face into Jon's shoulder. Jon can feel him smiling. "I love you too, Jon," he whispers back. He pats Jon on the back and Jon takes that as his cue to roll off of him, settling into his side instead. He rests his reddened cheek on Martin's chest, feeling it when Martin lets out a dreamy sigh. "You know, I...I've wanted this for so long."

Jon curls an arm around his middle and takes a deep breath in. "I'm sorry I used to be so awful to you," he says, resisting the urge to hide his face in his pillow again. "Maybe we could've had this sooner."

Martin laughs, resigned. "You really were such an asshole," he says, lightly pinching Jon's upper arm. "So prickly and rude. You're lucky you're pretty." Then he tenses, as if only just realizing he said that last part out loud.

Jon blinks at this, skin going hot for all kinds of reasons as Martin's words sink in. "Am I?" he asks, baffled.

Martin laughs again, a little awkwardly this time. "I think so," he admits, and Jon tries not to look too pleased, even if Martin can't see his face from this angle. "Anyway. You're forgiven. For having the emotional sensitivity of a cactus, not for being pretty."

"Please," Jon huffs, " Formerly having the emotional sensitivity of a cactus."

Martin snorts. After a moment, he says, "Remember when we were hiding from Prentiss in the archives together and you asked if I was a ghost?"

Jon sputters a surprised laugh. He hasn't thought about that in a long time. "Unfortunately," he says dryly, wondering where Martin is going with this.

Martin places a hand on his cheek, thumb brushing the ridge of his cheekbone, and the cynicism drains from Jon immediately. 

"That was so dumb," Martin says, but his voice is rich with fondness that makes Jon want to squirm, "and it was the most I'd ever liked you."

Jon feels a sheepish smile spread on his lips and warmth spread in his chest, leaning into Martin's touch. 

"It seems I set a very low bar," he says, pleased when Martin laughs again. 

After a short pause, he ventures, "What about now?" He bites the inside of his cheek, anticipating.

And then Martin's hand is at his chin, tipping his face back, and a delicate but indescribably warm kiss is placed on his lips. 

When they finally part, Martin is smiling.

"Guess."

Jon doesn't have to. In the most human way possible, he already knows.