Actions

Work Header

Of All The Unknowns

Chapter Text

The thing about working in the Accident and Emergency department at one of London’s busiest hospitals is this: it sucks.

Well, Martin admits, that’s not exactly it. It doesn’t suck. It’s busy, and it’s stressful, and working three 12-hour shifts in a row is hardly his idea of a good time, but it’s rewarding and engaging and every time he helps someone it reminds him of why he chose to be here. Not here, in terms of A&E, but here, in terms of being a nurse, helping people get better and fixing them up and generally doing something good in the world. He’s a student nurse, admittedly, but he’s a nurse all the same. He chose to study nursing, and he chose to be here, and he’s determined to make the most of it.

And besides, it turns out that you meet some rather interesting people at A&E. Which isn’t to say that you don’t meet interesting people in other departments of hospitals, of course, but some of the things he’s seen at A&E are… well, to put it simply, he’s starting to see where the over-dramatic medical dramas that he’s secretly rather fond of get their inspiration from. For example, he’s barely three hours into his shift and he’s already helped a woman who gave herself a nasty bump on the head by tripping over her pet snake, a man who discovered a burgeoning allergy to ginger after eating half a pack of ginger biscuits, and he’s currently half way through pulling small, wriggling insect larvae out of a man’s shoulder with a pair of shiny steel tweezers.

“There was an infestation,” the man says out of nowhere. The man’s name, Martin knows, is Jonathan Sims, though he’d introduced himself as Jon when Martin had walked into the room alongside his mentor and first laid eyes on him. His voice is soft, quiet and a little bit rough, but Martin can still hear his words clearly in the little examination room. They’re also the first words that Jon has said since the senior nurse left, leaving Martin alone in the room with the wan, haggard looking man, and Martin very nearly jumps at the sound of his voice. It’s a good thing that he didn’t. He wouldn’t want to have to explain to his mentor how a patient ended up with a popped insect larvae gooping up the inside of their shoulder.

Martin blinks. “I didn’t say anything.”

“You didn’t have to.” The man - Jon - shifts a little, stifling a soft groan as the motion tugs on his shoulder. “I could- ah- I could see you looking.”

“…You weren’t looking at me. I’m standing by your side.” Not to mention that, despite his size, Martin has been told on more than one occasion that he’s surprisingly easy to miss. Even now, Jon’s not even looking at him - he’s just staring ahead, his eyes fixed somewhere on the opposite wall, but Martin can see the small smile that crosses his face, thin and sharp like the edge of a scalpel.

“Fine,” Jon says. “I knew that you were looking.”

“How did you know?”

Jon shrugs. The action makes his shirt, only half-on, shift and flutter a little. He’d been surprisingly calm when the senior nurse had asked him to unbutton it and slip it off the shoulder in question to allow them a better view of the marks dotting his shoulder and arm. Martin knows that some people can become… awkward, when asked to undress in a hospital setting, but Jon had seemed completely fine with it, nodding and complying with the sort of attitude that suggests to Martin that he’s done something like this before.

He still seems completely blasé now, not even glancing at Martin as Martin continues to work away at his unpleasant task. He moves his arm slightly, allowing Martin to more easily access it, and finally speaks up again.

“I just knew,” Jon says. “Well, maybe assumed would be a better word. Melanie certainly had enough questions about how this whole situation happened.

“Yeah?”

“Mm. I figured it would likely be a reasonable assumption that you’d have questions, too.”

Martin nods. “I mean, you’re not wrong there.” He peers a little closer at Jon’s arm. Beneath his dark skin, he thinks he can occasionally spot something pale and bulbous wriggling. “This is definitely one of the, um, one of the odder things I think I’ve seen here.”

He’s not really listening for Jon’s response, if he’s honest. He’s only been a student nurse for a few years but he’s already found that it’s generally a good idea to keep up this sort of bland, friendly chatter, if only to distract the patient from what’s going on, like how you’d ask them about their holiday as you give them a nasty injection. Martin wishes that this was an injection. He lifts another bulbous, fleshy larva from Jon’s arm, setting it down on the steel tray where it twitches once before falling still. Disgusting things. Still, the senior nurse had assured Martin in a not entirely convincing tone that the parasite wouldn’t be able to cross between them, and that all Martin had to do was remove as many as he could to prevent infection as they died naturally. Martin’s got gloves on anyway, because that just seems eminently sensible, but they don’t stop him from trying to recoil a little when he feels something under his hand shifting, and lifts it to see yet another squirming bug. Shockingly, his several years of studying nursing at university had completely failed to prepare him for this sort of situation.

Even more shockingly, his beloved medical dramas had failed him, too.

“You said these were in your forearm as well, yeah?” Martin asks, glancing up for a moment to look at Jon.

Jon nods, not seeming to care that Martin’s abandoned whatever topic of conversation Jon was on before. “Forearm, upper arm, shoulder, and I think there’s a few in my face, as well,” he replies, his voice almost unsettlingly calm. Martin straightens up, for a moment abandoning work on Jon’s shoulder to look at his face instead. In the stark hospital lighting he looks almost gaunt, his cheeks hollowed and his eyes sunken, but he doesn’t actually look bad. Far from it, in fact.

Jon’s face is… well, perhaps the best word to describe it, other than ‘haggard’, ‘bug-spotted’, and ‘Remus Lupin-ey if he somehow got even less sleep’, would be ‘sharp’. He just looks sharp, in a way that Martin can’t quite explain. Not sharp in a sleek, fancy, fashionable way, like one of those models you sometimes see in a really, really good-looking suit, but sharp in a more general sense. He looks intelligent. He looks clever. He looks like he could glance at Martin and simply know every thought that’s ever gone through his head, which is a terrifying concept at the best of times and is somehow only made worse by how absolutely calm Jon has been about everything that’s gone on so far. He looks completely collected, like this is just an entirely normal thing that he does sometimes. Maybe it is. Martin doesn’t know Jon’s life. He just knows that he can see a few small zit-like marks on one side of Jon’s face, curling up under his jaw to scatter across his cheek like stars. They look just like the marks Martin’s been poking at since Jon arrived. Somehow, they don’t detract from the rest of Jon’s face as much as they should.

Which, Martin reminds himself, doesn’t mean anything, because Jon does not look attractive. Definitely not.

“O-oh,” Martin says, in a slightly strangled tone. “I- right, yeah, I- I see them. They’re definitely there. In your face.” Mentally, Martin gives himself a quick shake. Professional, he reminds himself, for what he’s sure will not be the last time today. We are a professional. “Don’t worry, though. I’ll, um, I’ll get those ones out, too. You’ll be out of here in no time.”

“Thank you, ah…”

Martin watches Jon’s eyes narrow slightly as he peers at Martin’s nametag. Martin knows what’s written across it, the black letters bold on the yellow background (for, as was explained to him, the benefit of dyslexic patients). It reads, Martin, and then beneath his name, in slightly smaller letters as though ashamed of admitting it, Student Nurse.

“…Martin,” Jon continues after a pause. He looks up and, for the first time since he arrived, he meets Martin’s gaze. His eyes are a startling shade that Martin can’t quite put into words, blue and green and grey and brown all swirled together into something that should just be a flat, muddy mess, but somehow isn’t. It’s impossible to describe. Martin thinks that he would like to try, though. Maybe later, after work, when he’s back home in his lonely, dingy little London flat, he might put pen to paper and try his absolute hardest to describe the colour of Jon’s eyes so that others might know, if only in part, what they look like.

And then Jon looks away, and Martin hastily shakes himself. He shouldn’t- he’s not going to be thinking that sort of stuff about a patient. He’s encountered attractive patients on his previous hospital placements, and he’s sure that he’ll encounter many more in the future, and Jon definitely isn’t attractive. He’s not. He’s just got nice eyes. That’s it. It’s fine. This is fine.

Martin swallows. All of a sudden, the little room feels much, much warmer.

“So,” he says suddenly, desperate to break the growing awkward silence, “you said- you said there was an infestation?”

Jon clears his throat, quickly looking away. “I- yes,” he stammers.  “There was- yes. Obviously, I didn’t realise that there was an- that there were so many bugs in the storage room, or I wouldn’t have slept there.”

“Oh, yes. Obviously,” Martin echoes. He doesn’t know what else to say. He feels rather like he’s just speaking on autopilot. Annoyingly, he’s also very aware of the fact that his autopilot for speaking is, to put it in layman’s terms, completely shit. “You- I’m sure you’re very sensible. About- about being in beds. With insects. Um.”

“I, ah… Well, normally I’d be inclined to agree with you,” Jon says wryly, “but I don’t think I can quite get away with it so well when you’re, um…” He waves his free hand vaguely towards Martin, jostling the arm that Martin has just gone back to working on as he does so. Martin tuts without even thinking about it, reaching out and gently pushing Jon’s arm back down.

“Don’t move, I’m trying very hard not to pop these.”

“Sorry, sorry…”

“It’s alright, just… I’m trying to make this as painless for you as possible. You sure you don’t want local anaesthetic?”

“I’m sure,” Jon says. “Thank you very much for the offer, but… no. I’ll be fine as it is.”

“Okay… If you change your mind, though, let me know?”

“I will.”

That seems to be that. A slightly uncomfortable silence gathers around them as Martin continues to work, but it’s a silence that he’s accustomed to, and one that he knows how to handle. He’s a (student) nurse, after all. He knows how to put people at ease.

“You were telling me about how you, um, how you found these?” he prompts. Jon startles slightly, snapping his head away as Martin glances up as though he’d been caught staring.

“Oh!” he says. “Oh, yes, yes I- I was doing that. I was working late in storage and I- well, Melanie has warned me not to in the past, but I was a bit tired and I haven’t been sleeping well recently, so I thought I’d have a lie-down on the bed that’s been down there for a while.” Jon gives a wry smile. “And- ow- as you can see, that didn’t quite work out so well.”

“Sorry,” Martin murmurs quietly, dropping the next larvae down on the tray. He’s only half been paying attention to what Jon’s been saying, too focused on not popping the larvae like they’re particularly wriggly bubble wrap, but a few words manage to stick. “Melanie?”

“My co-worker. I would say ‘friend’, but I feel that’s somewhat debatable right now. She was- she was not best pleased to find me in this state.”

“What, with worms coming out of your arm?”

Jon actually snorts at that.

“Yes,” he says wryly. “Yes, exactly that.” He shifts a little, giving a soft gasp when the motion tugs at his arm, but beyond that he doesn’t react at all. It makes Martin wonder what other things have happened to Jon, if he can be this calm and collected sitting on an uncomfortable hospital examination table as a stranger pulls actual, living insects out of his own flesh and skin. From his position by Jon’s side, Martin can see a matching pair of scars arcing across Jon’s chest beneath his pectorals, but he knows enough to be quite confident in his feeling that those are good scars as opposed to bad ones. “She was- ah- she was the one who noticed first, actually.”

Martin pauses. “…Noticed what?”

“The bugs. That I had… this.” Jon lifts a hand, gesturing vaguely at his shoulder as Martin continues to stare. “She was heading into storage to collect a saw, I think, and she- well, she noticed that there was some blood on my shirt. We actually thought it was rust at first – it’s happened before – but then I scratched at it because my arm was feeling rather itchy, and it- I- I felt something move.”

No judging, Martin tells himself. No judging the man with worms in his arm. “I- okay. You didn’t realise up until then?”

Jon gives a small shrug, not quite meeting Martin’s eyes. “Not really. I tend to wake up feeling a bit sore if I sleep in the wrong position – I thought this was just that coupled with saw-dust-covered bedsheets.”

“And your… the face ones?”

What follows Martin’s words is a pause so sheepish it could be turned into a jumper.

“…Melanie noticed those, too,” Jon admits eventually. “And then she told me to go to the hospital. And then she- and then she escorted me here, actually, if you must know. She called a taxi – which was completely unnecessary, I could have handled the tube just fine – and while we were waiting for it to arrive she spotted the ones in my- in my hand, too. She got a bit, ah, shouty.”

For a long, long few seconds, the only sound in the room is the soft humming of the fans and equipment. Jon doesn’t meet Martin’s gaze, staring fixedly at something just over Martin’s left shoulder. It’s for the best, probably. Martin’s not entirely sure what he could possibly say in response to that.

After all, what sort of a man is Jonathan Sims if he doesn’t even notice worms coming out of his own hand?

A patient, the more nursing-oriented part of Martin’s mind reminds him sharply. He’s a patient, and he’s probably not thinking straight because of all the worms in his shoulder, and I’m sure he had his reasons for sleeping on that bed, and anyway, we’re not here to judge where he chooses to sleep, or why.

Can we judge him just a little bit? asks Martin’s less nursing-oriented brain, in a slightly louder voice. Just a tiny bit? Please? He has bugs in his arm!

He does, and we are going to take the bugs out of his arm, because we are a professional.

Martin doesn’t have an argument against that, even inside his own head. He very carefully doesn’t make any sort of judgemental sound as he plucks out some more bugs, keeping his gaze focused on Jon’s shoulder and arm. He’s not going to judge Jon, the poor man. He’s going to focus on the task at hand. And speaking of…

“Right,” Martin says, his voice just slightly too loud in the little room. “I think- I think that’s all the ones in your shoulder and upper arm gone, so I’ll- I’m going to get the ones in your forearm and then finish with your, um, your neck. And your face,” he adds. “Is that- is that alright?”

Jon shrugs. “Honestly, Martin, I’m not particularly bothered. As long as I end up bug-free I don’t think I’ll have much to complain about. You seem quite handy with those tweezers of yours.”

Martin nods. He’d felt rather handy with his tweezers, like all his lonely hours playing Operation as a child finally paid off. “Thank you,” he says, and then, before he can stop himself, he adds, “a corkscrew would be better, though.”

“…Pardon?”

Oh, Christ. One of these days, Martin is going to learn not to trust his speaking autopilot. Apparently, today is not that day.

He swallows down his shame as best he can, carefully placing the final bug down on the tray. “W-well,” he says, doing his very best to sound professional and knowledgeable and not like some part of his brain that binge-watched crime dramas when he was a teenager is currently at the wheel, “a corkscrew is- these worms, or whatever they are, seem to move pretty slowly, but they’re rather slippery. I keep thinking I’ve got one and then it moves away, or you shift slightly-”

“Sorry about that.”

“-it’s alright, just please do try to stay still. But, as I was saying… a corkscrew would be able to sort of… chase after them, you know? Or catch them and sort of- sort of scoop them out. On the- on the twisty bits. Of the corkscrew. The screw bit.”

There’s a long, long pause.

Very, very slowly, Jon raises a single eyebrow. It’s a very pointed eyebrow. Martin feels like it’s looking at him.

“Shut up,” Martin mutters, feeling himself starting to blush.

“I didn’t say anything-”

“I know, I know, but I… it made sense in my head, alright?”

“No, no, I understand,” Jon says unexpectedly. “It- it does make a certain sort of sense, the idea of- well, of jamming a corkscrew into my arm to try and get these little bastards out, but I’m going to- I’m assuming that you don’t normally keep corkscrews on hand in A&E.”

Martin shakes his head. “Not sterile ones,” he replies. “And it might- well, it might need to be a specialised corkscrew. It was- I- it- I was just thinking of hypotheticals, alright?”

“They were very interesting hypotheticals. If you want to- I mean, if you want to keep talking them then you’re welcome to do that. It’s a, ah… it’s quite a nice distraction, actually. From all… this.”

Christ. Martin’s face must be the colour of a stop light, he’s sure of it. It feels like it should be glowing, he’s blushing so hard. “Right,” he croaks. “Yeah. Yeah, sure, of course, I can- yeah. Hypotheticals.”

“Hypotheticals,” Jon echoes. He smiles at Martin. It’s a small thing, so faint that it’s barely there at all, but it makes Martin’s chest do something all the same. “Corkscrew hypotheticals. I’ve got to say, I’m not sure a corkscrew would work so well for the ones in my face, but you’re the medical expert here, so I’ll- I think I’ll listen to the words of my friends and leave the matter in your rather more capable hands.”

Martin ponders this for a moment. “A smaller corkscrew might work for your face,” he says eventually, “but I’m not sure how painless it would be, and the skin there is thinner so it would be easier to mess up, and you’ve got a really nice face as it is.”

Jon makes a small, choking sound. Just for a second Martin is worried that he is actually choking, possibly on a worm or bug or larvae that somehow got into his throat, but then he sees the colour of Jon’s cheeks, and abruptly realises what he just said.

Oh, he thinks to himself. Oh, Christ.

He doesn’t say anything else. He can’t say anything, not after that. His only hope is to keep working, not react in the slightest, and pray to whatever god might hear him that Jon will manage to explain away Martin calling him attractive to his face. Maybe, he hopes desperately, this sort of thing has happened to Jon before. Maybe he’s accustomed to this. He doesn’t- he isn’t hot, definitely not, but he has a certain sort of snarky, sarcastic charm that somehow makes him almost attractive.

Just for a second, Martin lets himself peek at Jon’s face.

Jon’s still blushing but it’s faded a little now, his cheeks a little less red and the bug-marks a little more apparent. Even with the bug-marks dotting his cheek and jaw, Martin feels that what he said still holds true. Jon does have a really nice face. Martin can’t even explain how – it’s just nice. All of Jon looks nice, somehow. No one should look good under the overly-bright hospital lighting, and they especially shouldn’t look good when they’ve got under-eye bags so large they might as well be suitcases, several days’ worth of scruffy stubble covering their jaw, and literal insects climbing around inside their shoulder and arm. And Jon doesn’t look good. He doesn’t. Martin is absolutely sure of that. He looks- he looks- he looks like he hasn’t slept in a week, frankly, and Martin is quite sure that he was only attracted to that sort of look when he was going through his embarrassingly long edgy phase. Jon doesn’t look good. He looks terrible.

But he still looks nice.

Martin makes himself look away. He’s not looking away because Jon is unfairly attractive in a grubby, lightly beaten-up sort of way. He’s not looking away because his heart keeps trying to do something silly whenever Jon catches his eye. He’s looking away because he is a professional, and because he has important professional things to do, and he may not be a fully graduated and qualified nurse yet but he is on placement, which means that he’s working, which means that he’s acting as a qualified nurse, and that’s basically the same thing. That’s the only reason why he’s looking away. That’s it. Nothing else.

Without speaking, he reaches out for Jon’s arm. He lifts it, about to start working on Jon’s forearm, and then realises something.

“Um,” he says. “Um, Jon, I’ll need you to- could you please take off your shirt? I need to reach your arm. Your fore-arm. Not the- not the bit that’s already out. Um. I’ve- I think I got all the bugs out of there. You just- you only need to take off this half of it though-”

There’s a soft rustle of fabric as Jon finishing shrugging out of his shirt and bundling it up in his lap, the last few words leaving Martin’s mouth.

“Oh,” Martin says weakly.

Jon pulls an apologetic face. “Sorry. I can-”

“No, no, it’s alright, if it- if it makes you more comfortable-”

“-it was just- in case you’d- there might be some on my other arm that I hadn’t noticed, I thought this might be-”

“-yes, yes, that’s an- that’s an excellent point, I’ll- yes. Good.”

“Sorry,” Jon says again.

Martin shakes his head, already reaching for Jon’s forearm and hand. “It’s alright,” he repeats. “Now, if you could hold still…?”

“Oh, yes, of- of course.”

Jon doesn’t look away as Martin starts working on his arm. He doesn’t look away as Martin, now starting to feel like he’s getting the hang of this, carefully adds a few more squirming larvae to the collection on the tray, occasionally glancing up at Jon to make sure that he’s not in too much pain. He’s working on the assumption that Jon has to be experiencing some pain, seeing how Martin is repeatedly jabbing him in the hand and forearm with a pair of very shiny tweezers, but he’s already coming to the conclusion that Jon is just one of those people who either refuses to show pain, or refuses to let themselves admit that sometimes things hurt more than they let on. Occasionally Jon gives a small wince or a quiet gasp, but beyond that he’s almost completely silent, merely observing Martin work. It should be off-putting. It should be weird.

Martin definitely isn’t enjoying it.


Art of Martin pulling insects out of Jon's arm by @heidzdraws on Twitter

Eventually, Jon’s arm looks clean. Martin takes a moment to check it over, taking hold of Jon’s hand to turn it back and forth before quickly checking over his other exposed arm, but he can’t see anything that he missed.

“Well, that’s that done!” he says brightly. “Just the ones in your face left to go now, I think. You just sit still and I’ll get this over and done with as quickly as I can.”

This time, Martin doesn’t let himself hesitate. Very, very carefully, he reaches out and takes Jon’s face in his hand. Even through the thin layer of the glove he can feel the warmth of his skin, can faintly feel the prickle of stubble pressing against his palm and the slow, steady pattern of Jon’s breath. It’s very nearly distracting, but Martin forces himself to stay focused.

“Alright,” he says softly. “Try not to move, okay?”

Jon gives a quiet hum of agreement but doesn’t say anything – he just keeps staring at Martin, his seemingly permanent frown leaving a little dimple right between his eyebrows. It’s kind of adorable, Martin thinks absently.

And then he quickly and deliberately ruins the mood of the moment by sticking a pair of tweezers directly into Jon’s face.

It’s sort of hard to be distracted from then on. The wriggling insect larvae in Jon’s face seem more reluctant to come free than the others, and Martin’s sure that he must have pulled some very unattractive faces as he hunted them down and tugged them all free. Jon, concerningly, doesn’t really react at all; he just sits still and motionless on the examination table, occasionally flinching but otherwise letting Martin tilt and angle his head as necessary without a hint of complaint. After not too long all the bugs that Martin can see have been removed, leaving Jon looking just a little worse for wear, and then all that’s left is to sterilise the injuries and set about applying dressings to them. That, at least, is something that Martin’s done plenty of times before. It’s almost soothing, the process of picking up the roll of bandages and taking Jon’s arm to start applying them. Martin wraps the bandage around the still raw-looking injuries, his fingers gentle on Jon’s arm, and carefully ties it off.

“Thank you, Martin,” Jon says, his voice softer and gentler than Martin would have expected. He looks up at Martin with a smile that almost banishes the tiredness from his face, and Martin feels his stomach do something funny.

“Oh,” he says weakly. “Oh, well, I was just- that’s what I’m here for, you know. Helping people- helping people out. Pulling worms out of shoulders. Whatever’s needed.”

Just for a moment, Jon’s smile falters. “Ah. Ah, yes, I- I know, I understand, this is your job, but- thank you anyway, Martin. If nothing else, you’ve successfully stopped my flatmate from murdering me.”

Martin smiles a little at that. “Well, we couldn’t be having that. Especially since it seems like there’s a few people who want to murder you, based on what you’ve told me.”

Hah. Well, yes, maybe.”

“Melanie, and… was there someone else you mentioned?”

“Not that I recall. Though, come to mention it, Georgie probably won’t be best pleased when I finally get home.”

“Georgie?” Martin asks.

“The aforementioned flatmate,” Jon clarifies, and Martin resolutely ignores the flood of quiet relief that sweeps over him at Jon’s words, because he is in no way interested in Jon in anything other than a professional, medical capacity. “She and Melanie tend to, ah, share opinions on my… let’s say ‘medical tendencies’.”

“Medical tendencies like ending up in A&E with worms in your arm?”

“Mm, more or less.”

“Does this happen to you a lot?”

“Well, I- not this exact situation, but… according to Melanie I end up in A&E rather more often than I apparently should.”

Martin hums, reaching down to pick up a plaster and carefully applying it to the last nasty-looking wound. “Accident-prone?”

“Just unlucky, I think. Georgie does keep saying that I need to find someone to look after me, though.”

Once again, Martin very pointedly ignores whatever nonsense his body and brain are doing at the implication that Jon might be single. He hums again, smoothing the plaster down flat. “Well, until you find that person, you can always come to A&E!” he says cheerfully. “Anyway, I think I’m all done here, so you, um, you just sit tight for a moment, and I’ll- I’m just going to pop out and, ah, confer with my mentor for a second, okay?”

“Okay,” Jon replies. “I’ll see you in a bit, Martin.” He catches Martin’s eye, giving him a small smile, and for a moment Martin finds himself completely caught off-guard. Jon’s still got one hand half-curled around the fabric of his shirt, his dark skin a beautiful contrast against the soft blue of the fabric, and he looks almost completely at ease. He looks content. He looks nice.

“Um,” Martin says. “I- I, um, yes, you’ll- yes, I’ll-” He waves a hand at the door, gives an awkward little stammer, and then leaves as swiftly as he professionally can, shutting the door behind him.

Just for a moment, Martin lets himself lean against the wall.

Christ,” he mutters to himself. All around him, the noise of the hospital blankets him like static. “Pull yourself together, Blackwood. This isn’t- this isn’t a tv show or anything.”

Things would be a lot easier if it was, he felt. If this was a tv show he wouldn’t have to worry about things like parasitic worm-bug-insects, or the small issue of medical ethics, or any of that. If this was a tv show, all he’d really have to worry about would be bad writing and the possibility of queer-baiting. He wouldn’t have to worry about getting crushes on patients all the goddamn time. He wouldn’t have to worry about not having any idea what to do in this sort of situation.

More importantly, if this was a tv show he’d be able to swan back into the examination room, say something charming and flirtatious to Jon that makes him swoon, and ask him to dinner while simultaneously delivering a spectacular medical pun that perfectly demonstrates his wit and wisdom. It would be fantastic. It would get five-star reviews.

It would not be something that Martin Blackwood, disaster gay extraordinaire, would ever be able to do. He knows that. He admits that.

But he doesn’t have to be happy about it.

Martin lets himself sulk for all of ten seconds. He knows this is silly. He knows this is pointless. He knows that Jon is just a hot patient who he’ll never see once he leaves the examination room, and he knows that nothing will ever come of this, and he knows that he’s felt similarly about other hot and attractive patients in the past and that he will feel similarly again in the future. He gets crushes easily - it’s just a fact of his life. He crushes on strangers the same way he crushes on fictional characters – quickly, easily, with a vague sort of ‘type’ that definitely does not include people like Jon, and with a complete understanding that nothing will ever come of it.

Nothing will ever come of this.

Nothing ever can.

“Alright,” Martin mutters to himself. “Alright.”

He takes a deep breath. The air tastes sterile on the back of his throat, like bleach and soap and cleaning supplies that just about fail to mask the underlying smell of hospital. It’s a comforting smell to Martin. It’s reassuring. Martin knows where he stands in a hospital.

“Alright,” he says to himself one more time, and then he scrubs the back of his forearm over his eyes and steps away from the wall.

Suitably calmed down and put together, Martin sets off in search of his mentor, and tries very hard not to think about the attractive stranger sitting in examination room 4-79.

---

Eventually, Martin returns to the examination room.

“I spoke with my mentor!” he says once he’s shut the door behind him, giving Jon as cheerful a smile as he can muster while Jon hastily tucks his phone back into the pocket of his jeans. “Got a second opinion on this, contacted a few people, all that.”

“Oh?”

“Mhmm, yeah. Basic conclusion is that you’re to try and go a bit easier on this arm for a little while, just while your body patches itself up. I’ve written you a prescription for some anti-inflammatories and antibiotics to keep everything under control, and if you feel anything wriggling around in there you’re to come right back, okay? We’re also going to try and organise a follow-up appointment for you with parasitology just to make sure we- just to make sure that I didn’t miss anything.”

“I’m sure you didn’t,” Jon says, and for some reason entirely unrelated to Jon’s words, Martin feels something warm kindle in his belly. “I’m sure you did a fine job, Martin.”

“Oh, I, ah… thank you.”

“Mm.” Jon gives a little hum, not quite meeting Martin’s gaze. There’s something akin to a smile drifting around his lips, but beneath the tiredness that hangs heavy over him Martin can’t be entirely sure if that’s what it is. It looks nice, though. He’s barely known Jon for more than a couple of hours and yet he already wants to say something to make him smile more.

He doesn’t, though. He doesn’t trust himself not to say something embarrassingly stupid, and avoids letting himself speak by silently passing Jon his printed prescription. Just for a moment, their fingers brush. Martin very carefully doesn’t react at all, because this isn’t Pride And Prejudice (2005).

“So,” he says, “that’s- you’re all good to go now. Do you have someone waiting for you to help you get home? Mel- Melanie, was it?”

“Oh, I’ll just be getting the tube. I think Melanie went home the moment I walked into this room,” Jon replies dryly, tucking the prescription away. “She hates being in A&E just as much as I do. More, possibly.” There’s as pause, and Martin watches the realisation dawning in Jon’s eyes. A slight flush covers his face as his eyes widen, his gaze darting from Martin to the door and then back to Martin again. “I- I mean, I don’t- I don’t hate being here, I don’t- you’ve been perfectly lovely, it’s been- this has been about as pleasant as I think it could have been, you’ve been an exceptional nurse, Martin, but I- it’s- I-”

“It’s still a hospital,” Martin finishes for him with a small smile. He ignores the little bubble of warmth that settles in his chest when Jon calls him ‘lovely’. “No one really likes being in hospital, I know. And most people really dislike A&E, too. You’re not alone there.”

“No?”

“Oh, definitely not. Some patients can get really angr- some patients aren’t as calm as you are. You’ve been- you’ve been lovely, too.”

It could be a trick of the light, but Martin swears he sees Jon flush at that. He stammers something mostly inaudible that Martin thinks is an attempt at ‘thank you’ and then falls silent, his fingers twisting in the fabric of his shirt where he’s holding it in his lap.

 “…Can I put this back on?” Jon asks after a pause, lifting his shirt slightly without looking at Martin.

“Oh!” Martin exclaims. “O-oh, yes, of course, you can- yes! Please!” God damn it. Right when he was sure that he’d got himself under control, Jon just has to say something to make Martin feel the tips of his ears flaring red all over again. Martin awkwardly shifts his gaze away as Jon, seemingly completely oblivious to Martin’s imminent combustion, starts shrugging back into his shirt.

“Anything else I need to keep an eye on?” he asks. “Anything else I need to do to, ah, prevent another visit?”

“Not really,” Martin says. He glances back at Jon, and definitely doesn’t feel any relief when he immediately notices that Jon’s chest is covered once again. “Just… look after yourself, I suppose. “Don’t- don’t go sleeping on anymore insect-infested beds now, alright?”

Jon gives a little smile, his long, elegant fingers moving easily over the buttons of his shirt as he does it back up. “I’ll certainly try my best not to. Still, I don’t think I can make any promises.”

“Really? You encounter a lot of insect-infested beds in your line of work?”

“I encounter my fair share.”

“Is that fair share ‘one’?”

Just for a moment, Jon’s smile widens. He looks up, meeting Martin’s gaze as he finishes doing up the final button, every trace of white bandage now hidden beneath the fabric of his shirt. “It might be,” he says, a hint of something faintly teasing in his voice. Martin can’t quite tell if he’s imagining it. He hopes that he isn’t. “But you never know. Something dreadful could happen in the next few days and every bed I encounter could be full of bugs.”

Martin snorts. “That seems rather unlikely to me.”

“It’s still possible.”

“Mm, maybe so. But even if it does happen, you’re not to go sleeping in any of them, okay? Not even really comfy-looking ones.”

“Are those your official doctor’s orders, Mr… Martin?”

“Nurse’s orders,” Martin corrects, “and yes. Yes, they are. No sleeping in insect-infested beds. Not even once.”

Once again, that now-familiar smirk returns to Jon’s lips. It is, in Martin’s mind, unfairly attractive. He’s pretty certain that in some circles the smirk could almost be considered cheating, seeing how much of a disadvantage it feels like it puts him at. Cheating at what he’s not exactly sure, but he doesn’t think that particularly matters. It’s cheating. It’s definitely cheating. Jon’s smirk is small, and knowing, and annoying, and for some reason that Martin definitely isn’t going to think about, it makes him feel just a little bit warm and distracted.

He also feels a little like Jon is doing it on purpose.

He hopes Jon is doing it on purpose.

“I’ll do my best to keep that in mind,” Jon says, and stands from the examination table. “Thank you once again, Martin. Have a good evening.”

Be cool, Martin begs himself desperately. Please, please, for the love of God be cool. Even if we’re never going to see him again, we might as well leave a good parting impression. Be cool. Say something funny. Be interesting.

“Nygk,” he says. “I- yep. And you- you too. Have one. A good evening.”

God. Martin’s well aware of the structural integrity of the hospital, but that doesn’t make him hope for it to suddenly collapse on top of him any less. If a nice hole into the ground suddenly opened up right beneath his feet, he doesn’t think he’d complain. In fact, he’d probably thank it for sparing him the embarrassment of facing definitely not-hot Jon after that absolute disaster of a response. If the universe would politely intervene in whatever way it deems fit, then Martin would be absolutely fine with that.

The universe, however, is a cruel bastard, and doesn’t do anything at all to alleviate Martin’s suffering. In fact, it does quite the opposite – it makes Jon’s smile soften slightly, becoming just a little gentler around the edges in a way that makes Martin’s heart skip a beat in a mildly medically-concerning sort of way.

“Goodbye, Martin,” Jon says, and then he crosses the room, open the door, and leaves.

Behind him, the door shuts with a soft click.

For a few moments, the examination room is completely silent. Beyond the walls of it, Martin can still hear the hustle and bustle of the rest of the hospital, can hear the sound of fans whirring and machines running and people moving from place to place and speaking in a blur of distant, indistinguishable noise, but the room itself is quiet. It’s peaceful, insofar as any room in a hospital can be peaceful.

It feels much, much too empty with Jon no longer in it.

No,” Martin says sharply. In the little room, his voice nearly echoes. “No, come on, pull it together, me. We’re a professional! We’re not- we’re not doing this again! We’re not! We’ve had enough crushes on patients!”

And on co-workers. And fellow students. And, on one memorable occasion, a teacher in sixth form, but in Martin’s defence he was only barely clawing his way free of puberty at that point in time, so he feels that he really can’t be blamed. Either way, he’s been through this before. He knows that it’s going to end in nothingness, and he similarly knows that the best thing to do is to push the cru- the feeling as far away from his brain as possible. It’s not a crush. Jon isn’t attractive. He’s- he’s- he’s got worms in his arm for starters, or he did, and he looked like he was living off of raw coffee grounds and not enough sleep, and Martin is not attracted to him. He’s not. Which means that he has no reason to think about him at all, ever. Jon is just another patient that Martin’s treated. That’s it.

Martin takes a deep breath, opens the examination room door, and steps out into the hospital corridor. He’s not going to distract himself. He’s not going to think about Jon any more. He’s going to do his job, and he’s going to help people, and then he’s going to go home and not think about Jonathan ‘Man With Worms In His Arm’ Sims in the slightest.

Besides, Martin reasons, walking back into the chaos and noise of the A&E waiting room, it’s not like he’s going to be seeing Jon again any time soon.

Chapter Text

Not even a week later, Martin encounters Jon again.

He’s nearly at the end of his shift when the door to the examination room opens, the soft creaking of the hinges barely audible over the conversation going on in the corridor outside. Martin doesn’t even realise that it’s Jon at first – he’s just finishing tidying up from his last patient and only just about hears the door swinging shut behind him.

“Hello!” he says, quickly hurrying the last few items into their respective drawers. “How can I- oh. Jon.”

He can tell the moment Jon recognises him, and he definitely does not feel warm at how Jon recognises him the exact second he turns around. Jon’s eyes go wide behind the lenses of his glasses, his mouth dropping open into a little ‘o’ of surprise before he shuts it again. Almost absently, Martin notices that Jon is holding his stomach, one hand pressed flat to the plane of it with the other hand resting on top, but despite all his training and teaching something about it just doesn’t register. Jon also looks paler than he did last time Martin saw him, but beyond that he appears unchanged.

“Oh,” Jon says, sounding taken off-guard, and blinks twice. Somehow, the sight of it makes Martin think of an owl. A small, harried owl with more than a few greying feathers who looks rather like it slept in a hedge, and who is also wearing a smudged t-shirt which appears to be advertising for something called ‘Ironized Yeast’, but an owl all the same. Somehow, Martin feels like the baffling t-shirt only adds to the owl impression that he’s getting.

He also feels that, just like an owl, Jon would be entirely capable of rotating his head through 360 degrees without flinching. It’s not as off-putting a thought as it probably should be.

“Oh,” Jon says again. “I- Martin. I didn’t- I didn’t expect to see you here.”

Martin shrugs. It’s all he can do to keep himself distracted from the stupid, stupid bubble of warmth that gathers in his chest at how easily Jon says his name. At how easily Jon remembered his name. “Oh,” he replies as casually as he can, “well… I mean, I do work here!”

“I- I know-”

“At least for the next few months or so-”

“-it’s just- it’s odd to see you again- only the next few months?”

“Until my placement ends,” Martin clarifies.

Jon frowns. It’s adorable. “You- your placement?”

“Student nurse,” Martin reminds him, making Jon give a soft ‘oh’ of understanding. “I’m only here for a few months, and then it’s back to lectures and coursework and exams and more placement.”

Martin’s almost certainly imagining it, but he thinks Jon looks a bit crestfallen at that. “Oh,” he says again, and it’s quieter this time. “I- yes, I see.”

“I mean, I might get another placement here, that’s- that can happen. I knew someone in first year who had two placements at the same ward in the same hospital, so you never know!”

“Uh, y-yes.”

“I just- I wasn’t expecting to see you again so soon,” Martin says with as much desperate cheer as he can muster.

“No, I- I expect not.”

“Mm.”

“Mm.”

There’s a pause. And then, simultaneously, they both start speaking again.

“So what were you coming in for-”

“Basira thought that I should-”

“Sorry,” Martin says quickly. Jon shakes his head.

“No, no, it’s alright, you- what were you saying?”

“I was just asking what brought you to A&E. Um. What brought you to A&E this time, that is.”

Silently, Jon lifts up his shirt.

“Oh,” says Martin. “You’re- you’re bleeding. Onto some kitchen towel.”

“Yeah.”

“And you- you didn’t think to lead with that?”

Jon shrugs and immediately tries to hide his wince. “It seemed- ow- it seemed like it could wait.”

Martin stares at him, aghast. “…Jon!”

“What?” Jon retorts defensively. “We were- we were having a very nice conversation, and it’s really not that big of an injury-”

“You are bleeding!”

“-and the knife was only a little bit rusty!”

Martin’s fairly certain that the sound he proceeds to make could rival a tea kettle. “Jon! You- that’s not how cuts work!

“The lady at reception seemed to think it wasn’t urgent. She told me to sit down until someone was available to see me. Honestly, I would’ve been quite content to treat it at work, but Basira insisted that I get it checked because it got some rust on me and it wasn’t a very neat cut, so… here I am.”

“...With a rusty knife cut,” Martin repeats, as though by saying it again it’ll magically make more sense.

“Yes.”

“That you wanted to treat at work.”

“Yes. We have a first-aid box. We’ve got several of them, actually. It couldn’t have been that hard to patch up at my desk.”

“…You sound like someone in a medical drama,” Martin says before he can stop himself.

There’s a moment’s pause. In it, Jon raises an eyebrow in the slowest, most quietly judgemental way Martin has ever seen. “Oh? You watch- you watch medical dramas?”

“I-” Martin starts. The eyebrow doesn’t raise any further, seemingly at least somewhat constrained by the same laws of physics that constrain Jon, but it doesn’t stop being any less judgemental, either. “I- look, okay, some medical- some medical dramas are quite accurate, actually, and it can- it can be a nice little- it can be a fun challenge, you know to- to watch them, and try and figure out what’s going on based on what you know, and to pick out all the inaccuracies they have, but they- some of them are accurate! That’s all I’m saying.” Martin pauses. “In places. A little bit. Look, what matters here, though, is that whatever medical drama you’re referring to probably isn’t one of the accurate ones, and you should really start getting in the habit of going to A&E when your co-workers tell you to, Jon. Or, you know, trying not to get injured so much.”

“I do try,” Jon mutters. “It’s hardly my fault that Elias keeps asking me to dig things out of storage.”

“Can you get Elias to stop asking you to dig things out?”

“Hardly. He’s my boss.”

Martin hums at that. There’s not much he can really say to combat that – he’s dealt with enough terrible bosses over the course of his numerous pre-university part-time jobs – and so instead he focuses all of his attention on the task at hand. Carefully, he reaches out, starting to peel away the folded sheets of blood-soaked kitchen towel. Jon gives a little gasp as the dried blood tugs against his skin, hissing in a breath between his teeth.

“Sorry,” Martin murmurs. “I just- I need to see what sort of state it’s in. How long ago did this happen?”

“A few hours? I’m- honestly, I’m not entirely sure. The knife must have been sticking out of one of the stacks – someone probably forgot to put it away properly – but I was a bit distracted so I didn’t notice it at first. I was trying to get something off the top shelf and, well, I’m not as tall as you are, so…” Jon trails off, shrugging awkwardly. “It must have caught me when I was stretching.”

Martin peers at the cut. It doesn’t look like it caught Jon while he was stretching. It looks rather more like it cut directly across his stomach, leaving a harsh, jagged wound in its wake. “Right,” he says, putting as much polite disbelief into his voice as he can muster. “While you were stretching. Sure.”

“Look, I was- I was distracted, alright? I was thinking about- something.” Jon cuts himself off suddenly, his whole face colouring slightly as he abruptly looks away. Martin glances at him but Jon doesn’t meet his eyes, his gaze fixed on the chart pinned up on the far side of the room.

“…Okay,” Martin says slowly, and looks away. Jon can be weird and vague if he wants to be. It’s not Martin’s job to question that. It’s Martin’s job to fix him up, and send him on his way, and never see him again because Jon will magically stop getting injured, which will definitely be for the best because it would allow Martin’s stupid, pointless, non-existent crush to die in peace. He finishes uncovering Jon’s wound, murmuring to himself quietly. “This cut looks pretty nasty. All sort of… jagged. Are you sure this was a knife and not a- not a saw, or something?”

“It was definitely a knife,” Jon replies, still not looking at Martin.

“It doesn’t look much like a knife cut-”

“It was a bread knife. It was- ah- I said it was in storage.”

“Is this the same storage where you found that bed?” Martin asks, already starting to mentally pick out what he’ll need to treat the absolute disaster of a man standing in his examination room.

“…Possibly,” Jon replies after a small pause.

“Hm. Do you keep anything else in storage besides insect-infested beds and rusty bread knives?”

“Oh, the usual,” Jon replies with a small shrug. “Melanie’s saw and knife collection. Plenty of nails. Assorted bits of old furniture. Curtains. The flats stack. I think we have a bucket of chains and clamps in a corner, actually, as well as all the old files. I’ve been trying to tidy and re-order the place for Elias, hence why I’ve been spending a fair amount of time down there.”

“…Right,” Martin says after a short pause. “I- I understand.”

He absolutely does not understand. He’s aware that storage systems differ from place to place, and he’s aware that different jobs require different things, but even then, while he feels that maybe the rusty knife or the bed could be explained away if Jon worked at, say, a homeware store or a furniture shop, the bucket of chains and clamps definitely could not be. Not to mention the ‘flats stack’, whatever that is. Hell, what sort of job requires storage that holds beds, and saws, and rusty bread knives, and an entire bucket of chains? More importantly: what sort of job requires that Jon keep hold of all of those for no apparent reason?

What sort of job keeps getting Jon injured on them?

It’s not personal interest that’s making Martin so concerned, he’s sure of it. It’s professional interest. It’s definitely professional interest because, he reasons, any workplace that Jon keeps getting injured at is likely to get other people injured too, which is just a bad thing all round. It’s probably in violation of several health and safety codes too, by the sounds of it.

“Well, we’ll have to check when you last got a tetanus booster,” Martin says, crossing the room to start gathering up what he needs. “You might have to get another one if it’s been a while, just to make sure that you’re in the clear.”

“I think I got one quite recently, actually,” Jon remarks. “Elias wasn’t particularly bothered but Daisy can be quite ferocious when she wants to be. She insisted we all get one after Melanie got her leg injury a few months ago; Melanie and her group were all top of the priority list, of course, then followed by people- well, by people like myself.”

“…What does that mean?”

“People who have cause to go down to the basement,” Jon says, as if that clarifies anything. “To retrieve items from storage, or help with construction, or anything like that. I think Basira and Tim mostly got their boosters so they could join in with the rest of us. Turn it into a- a ‘fun work day out’, or something like that.”

“You all got tetanus boosters for a work day out?”

“Partially. And partially so that Daisy would stop glaring at us. Making it a fun work trip was Tim’s idea. He got us all matching t-shirts.”

“…Matching t-shirts,” Martin repeats slowly, on the off-chance that he completely misheard Jon’s words and foolishly thought that Jon had said something absurd like ‘matching t-shirt for tetanus shots’. “You got matching t-shirts for tetanus boosters.”

“They were a sort of rust red,” Jon says awkwardly, looking away from Martin as Martin turns and crosses the room back to him. “They were- they said ‘anti-tetanus gang’ on them.”

“Creative,” Martin replies. It’s all he can think to say.

“In Tim’s defence – God knows why I’m defending him – he only had a few days to design them.”

“Hm. I’m going to take a shot in the dark here, Jon, but the text… was it written in comic sans?”

Once again, that same small smile tugs on Jon’s lips. “It was,” he says, and the smile on his face is just as quietly audible in his voice. “Do you know Tim, Martin?”

“I think I know enough people like Tim to be able to infer a few things,” Martin replies dryly. “Does he ever do finger guns?”

“Occasionally.”

“Say things like ‘cool beans’?”

“He’s been known to.”

“Then, yeah. I’ve met a few Tims in my time.”

“He is quite a character.”

“He sounds like it.”

Jon gives a small, soft laugh at that, followed by a quiet gasp of pain. Martin tuts.

“You really have got to start looking out for yourself more,” he says, starting to dab gently at the wound. “No more return visits to A&E after this one, alright? Even if you are an extremely lovely patient and it’s always a pleasure treating you, it is probably in your best interest to try and avoid A&E for a little while. I mean, obviously come here if you need to, that’s- that’s why A&E exists, but apart from that, try and look out for yourself, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Jon echoes. “I’ll- yeah, I’ll try my best.”

“And don’t go doing what you did last time you were here where you said that you’d look out for yourself and then you didn’t.”

The corner of Jon’s mouth quirks up. “I did try to look out for myself, Martin. I just seemed to be rather unlucky with it.”

“Then become luckier.”

“I’m not sure that’s how luck works.”

“You seem like a smart man – I’m sure you can figure out some sort of agreement with it.”

Jon snorts. “What, just make a pact with some sort of luck deity and hope for the best?”

“Yes! Exactly that!”

Jon shakes his head, chuckling quietly. It’s a tiny sound, soft and dry like his throat isn’t accustomed to making it. For some reason, Martin wants to hear it more. He wants to make Jon laugh. He wants to make Jon smile. “I’ll see what I can do, Martin. Only because you asked, though.”

“Oh?”

“Mm. You’re rather persuasive, you know.” Jon glances at him as he says that, his eyes crinkling in amusement. “It’s rather… you’re rather charming.”

Martin doesn’t squeak. He knows that he doesn’t squeak because of how much effort he has to put into deliberately not squeaking. He can feel himself turning red, his entire face heating up, and all he manages to stammer out is another useless, stupid little “O-oh?” because Jon is flirting with him.

Except, of course, that he can’t be. There’s no way that Jon is flirting with him. Martin knows what he’s like, and he knows how he’s absorbed far too many romantic films and terrible novels over the years, and as a result of that he’s just deluding himself into thinking that Jon is flirting with him when he’s absolutely, definitely not. Jon isn’t flirting with him. Jon definitely isn’t flirting with him. Jon isn’t flirting with him because he isn’t interested in Martin, because who would be? And, Martin reminds himself, even if Jon is flirting with him then he isn’t going to reciprocate, nurse or not. Jon isn’t hot. Jon isn’t his type.

Jon, Martin notices, is still looking at him, amusement dancing in his eyes. Even now, so close to them that he can pick out every detail, Martin still can’t pin down their colour. It’s a nice colour, whatever it is. It’s a very nice colour.

“Uh,” he says. “I, uh, I’m- good. I’m glad I’m- I’m glad you find me so… persuasive.”

Just like that, whatever charm had been cast over them is broken. Jon coughs, abruptly yanking his gaze away.

“Quite,” he says, his voice hoarse. “You’re- yes. Persuasive. And- mm.”

“Uh-huh.” Martin doesn’t say anything else. He doesn’t want to risk his speaking autopilot saying anything horrifically embarrassing, like ‘I think you’re rather charming, too,’ or ‘please don’t come back to A&E because I do worry for your health but maybe you could meet me after work one day,’ or ‘please tell me if you’re flirting with me because I desperately need to know.’

He doesn’t say any of that. He just nods, turning his gaze back to the jagged cut stretched across Jon’s torso. He has a job to do. He’s got to stop Jon from bleeding everywhere and potentially contracting tetanus.

Martin coughs. “Anyway,” he says, fighting to keep his voice level. “Let’s see about getting you properly patched up, shall we?”

---

Three days later, Jon finds himself in A&E again.

For once, he hadn’t actually argued with Basira about the necessity of going to the hospital. Despite his what his previous actions may suggest he’s not actually an idiot, and even he had accepted that, just maybe, it might be worth paying a visit for this particular injury. Basira had seemed a little surprised at how quickly she’d managed to convince him, and Jon hadn’t the heart to mention that there may, possibly, have been some ulterior motives at work.

Like the potential of bumping into a certain nurse for the third time in two weeks.

It’s not going to happen, though. Jon knows that. It can’t happen. He’s got no idea when Martin is on-shift, or what hours he works at the hospital, and even if he is on-shift there’s no way that the universe, which seems so intent on causing him frequent bodily harm for no apparent purpose, will align itself in such a way that he bumps into Martin again. He might see Martin in a corridor – he’s not dismissing that as a possibility, absurd and pointlessly hopeful as it is – but the probability that he’s going to walk into an examination room and come face to face with Martin Surname Unknown is a million to one. The universe isn’t like that. The universe isn’t nice. The universe is a bastard.

The universe has apparently handed in its bastard pass, though, because no sooner does Jon walk through the door than he sees the now-familiar figure of Martin, standing with his back to the window and damn near haloed in the setting autumn sunlight. It’s probably rather pathetic, the way Jon can feel his heart flip-flop in his chest just from seeing someone who he barely knows, but he can’t stop it. He just stands and stares, while some small, still-coherent part of his brain hopes that he isn’t looking too much like an absolute weirdo.

Even if he is, the non-coherent part of him reasons, at least Martin will be looking like a weirdo too.

Eventually, Martin breaks the silence.

“Um,” he says. “Jon. It’s- it’s you. You’re here. Again.”

“Uh,” Jon says, intelligently. “I- yes. I am.”

“… Do you want to sit down?”

“Oh! Oh yes, yes, I’ll- I’ll do that.” Awkwardly, Jon crosses the room, taking a seat and resting his burned hand in his lap as Martin approaches. He can see the moment Martin notices the injury – his brows pinch together in concern and as soon as he’s close enough he reaches out towards Jon.

“What’s happened to you this time?” Martin asks. To Jon’s ears Martin’s voice almost sounds fond beneath the worry, but he knows that it isn’t. Martin isn’t interested in him like that. No one is interested in him like that. Martin is just a professional nurse who knows how to put people at ease and provide them with the healthcare that they require. That’s it. There’s nothing else to it.

All the same, he can feel his cheeks starting to heat up just a little when Martin’s fingers brush against his skin.

“Um,” he manages to say. He can feel the words getting stuck in his throat, catching on his larynx and tangling in his vocal chords. “I, um, we- we needed to have all the lamps safety-checked at work. We needed to- we had to hire someone in, you see, an external engineer called… Jude, I think her name was? Jude Berry? Perry? Something like that. Well, either way, she- she checked over everything, said it all looked alright, but I think someone must have forgotten to turn one of the par cans off because I was talking to Basira later, and I- I stumbled, and I went to catch myself on it, and I- well. You can see what happened.”

Martin hums softly. “It looks like a nasty burn.”

“It, ah, it wasn’t- yes. It wasn’t very pleasant.”

“No, I imagine not.” Martin’s eyes flick up, catching Jon’s gaze. “Do you mind if I…?”

Jon shrugs. “Go ahead,” he says, desperately trying to sound cool and collected and not horrifically smitten, and then Martin smiles at him, and Jon feels his breath catch. It’s only when Martin looks away, reaching for Jon’s hand, that Jon feels like he can breathe again.

Martin’s fingers caress against Jon’s wrist, the touch light and cool and soothing, and then they wrap around it gently. Martin’s hands, Jon realises absently, are rather larger than his own. Martin’s fingers wrap perfectly around his wrist, fingers touching together, but they don’t hold Jon in a way that makes him feel constrained. It just feels… nice. It feels pleasant. Martin’s touch is nice, and his voice is nice, and his presence is nice.

Just for a moment, Jon forgets the dull, aching pain of his burn. Martin isn’t even looking at him, his head bent over Jon’s burned hand, but Jon can’t make himself look away. This examination room, like the first one he’d been in, actually has a window, and the fading autumn sunlight shining through it catches on Martin’s hair, turning it auburn and amber and gold. It looks soft. Jon wants to touch it. 

But he can’t. He knows that he can’t. Martin is still little more than a stranger, and, more than that, he’s a professional. He’s just doing his job. And even if he wasn’t, it’s generally considered impolite and generally rude to just go around touching people’s hair without their permission.

“Does it hurt much?” Martin asks softly, successfully snapping Jon out of his Martin-hair-induced daze.

Jon gives a small huff of laughter. “It hurts like hell,” he says honestly, trying not to focus too much on just how carefully Martin is holding his hand.

“On a scale of one to ten?”

“…Maybe a two?”

“Two?”

“I’m sure there’s plenty of things that hurt a lot more than this.”

Martin gives him a look. “Jon.”

“It’s true!” Jon says, trying very hard not to sound too defensive. “I- that cut that I had last time I was here hurt worse than this, and it was hardly a major injury. There are plenty of things that could hurt more than this. This is, comparatively, a minor injury. I didn’t even want to come here.”

That last bit is a lie. At least, it’s a lie in part. He hadn’t wanted to come here, to the hospital, but he had wanted to come here, to Martin. He’d wanted to see Martin again. He dislikes hospitals, and he dislikes having to go to hospitals for injuries that he can, by all rights, just as easily treat at his own desk, but he likes Martin. He likes Martin a lot.

He likes Martin too much.

Jon stops himself from over-thinking his own feelings by looking back down at his hand. He can see the sullen red of the burn curled around his palm, stretching up towards his elbow in painful, angry lines. They look almost like grasping, reaching fingers clenched around his hand and arm, like he shook hands with a fire and it painted his skin with embers in return. It hurts, too. He wasn’t lying about that. He can feel it throbbing down in the marrow of his bones, scratching against his nerves and lighting up his mind with pain.

Martin’s touch doesn’t hurt, though. Martin’s touch doesn’t hurt at all.

“It’s quite a big burn,” Martin says, his fingers skating delicately around the edges of the injury. “It’s covering your entire palm. And it’s got all these… weird bits.” He moves his hand higher, his fingers starting to ghost along the burn marks winding up Jon’s arm.

Jon frowns at them. “I think the chains on the lamp must have heated up, too,” he says, turning his hand a little to inspect the marks. “The lamps shouldn’t be able to get to that sort of temperature, but I can’t think of anything else that could have caused it.”

“They don’t look much like chain patterns.”

“No?”

“Mm, no. They look more like… I don’t know, like fingers?”

“I mean, they do a bit, I suppose.”

“If it scars it could look quite hot,” Martin comments absently, before suddenly flushing a deep scarlet red. “I- I mean, obviously I don’t want this to scar, this is a very nasty and unpleasant injury and it- it’s definitely best if it heals fully, of course, but if it- if it does scar, you know, some people might- I’m just- that could be kind of, um- yeah.” Martin clears his throat. “Anyway, you just- you just sit tight, and let me look after you. I’ll have you out of A&E and back to- well, back to whatever it is that you do in no time!”

Before Jon has time to formulate any sort of response, Martin stands up. He crosses the room to the supply boxes, or whatever they are, and starts digging things out from them as, inside Jon’s head, a few of his words echo on a loop. It could look quite hot.

Jon feels his face growing warm the more he thinks about it. It could look quite hot. Martin had said that. Martin had absently, unthinkingly, calmly said that Jon’s burned hand could end up with a scar that would, at least to him, look hot. At least, Jon supposes that’s what he meant, though Martin’s later words had definitely confused things. Jon hadn’t even considered the possibility of it scarring, or of how those scars might look. He’s pretty sure the bug marks on his face and arm and hand are going to scar – would Martin consider those hot? Would Martin consider Jon to be hot?

Does Martin consider Jon to be hot right now?

It could look quite hot.

Maybe he’s reading into this too much. Maybe he’s hoping for too much. Maybe he’s just crushing on a trainee nurse who could very well be straight, or not single, or any one of a million other things that mean that he wouldn’t be interested in Jon. Even if he was interested, there’s also a little something by the name of ‘medical ethics’ that Jon imagines could put a damper on things, not to mention that there is absolutely no way in hell that Martin would be attracted to him, even if all of those issues weren’t there. Jon’s well aware of how he tends to look like he’s been dragged through a hedge backwards, shoved into business casual dress, and then flung out into the wider world. It’s a completely fine look for his job. It’s a completely fine look for his entire life.

It is not a completely fine look for attracting handsome nurses. It’s doubly not a completely fine look for attracting handsome nurses when the first time said handsome nurse encountered you, you had literal insects squirming around inside your arm. Jon’s not seen many medical dramas, but he’s pretty sure that even in them there has to be a certain level of meet-cute-ness for any doctor-patient romantic relationship to work. Bugs aren’t meet-cute. Bugs are just gross. Scars might be hot to some people, but he doubts even Martin could be attracted to a man full of bugs. Maybe Martin is, though. Maybe he was. Maybe he thinks that Jon’s insect scars are hot, too.

Jon’s still pondering on this when Martin returns, drawing up a seat opposite him. He sets a few things down on the table and then reaches out for Jon’s arm again, taking it in gloved hands. The gloves are cold against Jon’s skin, making him frown, but soon enough the warmth of Martin’s skin starts to come through.

“So…” Marin says slowly, as he starts doing whatever it is that he’s doing to Jon’s hand. “Did you- did you have a good summer? Get up to anything interesting? I would ask you about the weekend, but I did only see you a few days ago, so… yeah. How was your summer?”

“Hm?” Jon replies, quickly pulling his mind away from thoughts like scars and hot and Martin is almost holding my hand. “Oh, yes, I- I mean, I suppose it was alright. Mostly it was just work and doing whatever bizarre things Elias requests of me, but I did, um, I did actually- I went to Pride, over summer. With some- with some friends.”

There’s a pause.

“You were at Pride?” Martin asks. There’s something else to his voice when he speaks this time, an additional layer of something other that Jon can’t quite identify. He hopes it’s not judgement. He really, really hopes it’s not judgement. Martin is lovely, and kind, and sweet and caring and almost obnoxiously crush-able, and Jon just knows that he’s going to get looks from Basira if he starts moping because it turns out that Martin is less than fond of his… ‘lifestyle.’ He’s been getting looks from her as it is, and he hasn’t even been doing anything.

“I, ah, yes,” he says. “London- London Pride.” He swallows. He’s sure that Martin noticed his older scars the first time he was here – how could he not have? – and he’s not exactly fond of bringing it up for a variety of reasons, but if it turns out that Martin is secretly a dickhead, then Jon might as well find out exactly how much of a dickhead he is. “I don’t normally attend Pride – it’s not really my scene, I just find it too loud and I’m not very good at, ah, vocal pride, shall we say – but Basira insisted that I needed to get away from work for once and practically everyone else was going, so it seemed sensible. And, ah, some of- some of my friends are trying to get me to go to trans pride someday, too. Um. I haven’t- mm. I haven’t been to trans pride yet. Or much pride at all, actually.”

“I didn’t manage to attend Pride this year,” Martin says calmly. Instantly, the tight knot in Jon’s chest loosens.

“O-oh?” he asks, trying not to give away just how relieved he feels. He knows, logically, that Martin saying this doesn’t actually guarantee anything, but even if Martin was just planning to go in support, it’s still nice to know that he’s not a tremendous dickhead. “Why not?”

“I had placement,” Martin says with a small shrug, not looking up. “And I didn’t have anyone to go with – I still don’t, hah – and I figured that there would always be future prides to go to, so… it wasn’t that much of a loss, really. Though it would have been funny if we’d bumped into each other there.”

“It- yes, I suppose it would have been.”

“I mean, if we met at Pride, who knows where we’d be now. We could- we could be friends!”

“Friends,” Jon repeats. “We- I mean, I suppose so.”

“Or- or not. We could- anything could have happened at Pride, right? Even if- even if I was there we might not have seen each other. Or even if we had then you might- you might have hated me right off the bat.”

Jon frowns at that. “Don’t be absurd, Martin. You- I’m aware that we’ve only seen each other on a few, um, less than optimal occasions, but you seem- you seem perfectly nice. I can’t imagine any situation where I’d start off hating you for no good reason.”

Martin shrugs, not meeting Jon’s eyes. “Well, some people find me annoying pretty quickly. Apparently, I can be a bit too, um, optimistic, or so I’ve been told.”

“I don’t see why that would stop us from being friends-”

“Well, alright, maybe you’re just a lovely person who doesn’t mind the cheeriness, and the- the general ‘labrador energy.’”

“’Labrador energy?’”

“One of my flatmates in first year told me I had the same energy as a labrador,” Martin explains. “I don’t think she meant it as a compliment, though. We were never very close. I don’t think she really wanted to be my friend.”

Jon opens his mouth. He’s planning on saying something nice, and reassuring, and suitably not-pathetic, but it seems that his brain forgot to pass that message along to his mouth, because the very first thing that he says is, “I wouldn’t mind being your friend, Martin.”

Martin peeks up at him, a small smile curling the edges of his mouth. “No?”

Jon smiles back. It’s impossible not to. “No,” he says, and when Martin glances away again, Jon can see that his smile is just a little bit wider.

Jon loses track of how much time passes like that, conversation flowing between them as Martin tends to his hand. He barely even realises that his time in the hospital is drawing to a close when Martin starts wrapping his hand up, the action of it oddly familiar with the memory of their first meeting.

“There,” Martin says, finishing the wrapping with a small, satisfied smile. “That’s you all done, then.”

“Oh,” Jon replies. “I- really?”

“Yep! You’re all cleaned up and bandaged and all of that. Now, it’s a pretty bad burn – not third degree, thankfully – so it’s going to take a while to heal and it might scar, but it should be fine. We should- I mean, unless anything goes really wrong with it when it’s healing, we probably won’t have to see each other again.”

“Y-yeah.”

Jon doesn’t want this to be the last time that he sees Martin. He really, really doesn’t. He knows that it almost certainly will be, knows that there’s no way that fate is going to roll in his favour yet again, but, all the same, he hopes. He hopes that he will, somehow, by some miracle, encounter Martin again, maybe on the tube, or just on a street, or somewhere generally calm and casually where he’s not a patient and Martin isn’t a nurse and where they can just talk. Where Jon can find out how much of Martin’s niceness is Martin and how much of it is his job. Where he can actually, truly, properly get to know Martin as a person and, just maybe, figure out how to work around the whole issue of medical ethics. That would be nice. That would be very, very nice.

It won’t happen, though. Jon knows that it won’t.

He stands from the chair, forcing a smile to his lips. “I suppose I should go now. I need to- I think Basira asked me to message her,” he hears himself say. “Um. Thank you, Martin.”

Martin smiles back. His smile doesn’t look right – it looks like it’s hanging just before his face, like it’s projected rather than shown. “Of course, Jon,” he says quietly. “You look after yourself, okay? I want you to take at least two weeks off before coming back here again.”

Jon gives a soft huff of laughter. “I won’t make any promises.”

“Oh? Why not?”

“My job, ah- well, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, it leaves me rather liable to getting injured.”

“Are you sure it’s your job?” Martin asks. Jon can’t quite tell if he’s teasing or not. He desperately hopes that he is. “You told me yourself the first time we met that you were… I think you called yourself unlucky. Are you sure you haven’t picked up any cursed amulets recently? Wandered around somewhere that’s maybe just a little bit haunted?”

Jon snorts. “Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if my workplace was haunted,” he replies. “It’s certainly eerie enough.”

“And dangerous enough, if you’re anything to go by,” Martin retorts, but there’s no sting to his words. They feel light, easy and familiar as though this is entirely normal for them. Jon would like for it to be entirely normal for them. Jon would like that very much indeed. Jon would like to, by some miracle, obtain Martin’s number, or smoothly ask him if he’d perhaps like to get coffee, or in some other way indicate that he thinks that Martin is all around lovely and attractive and interesting and that he would very much like to get to know him better.

He doesn’t do that, though. What he does instead is look away as his ears start to heat up and his tongue manages to trip over just about every syllable of his next few words.

“I-” he manages to say. “You- I am not always injured, Martin.”

“You’ve been injured every time I’ve seen you.”

“That’s because this is a hospital.”

“Alright, fine, fair point. But maybe try fewer hospital visits in the future? You’re a delight to treat and talk to, but maybe… yeah. Just look out for yourself a bit. That’s all. Give your coworkers and yourself fewer reasons to complain.”

“Well, I certainly won’t complain if going to hospital means that I get to see you again,” Jon says without thinking.

The pause that passes between them is so utterly silent that Jon thinks he can hear the air itself moving as his cheeks gradually heat up. It seems to stretch on indefinitely, his eyes locked with Martin’s with no hope of breaking away. He can’t look away. He doesn’t know why, exactly, but he knows that he can’t. He has to stay cool. He has to stay collected. He has to think of something to say so that Martin doesn’t think that he’s an idiot.

And then, blessedly, wonderfully, Martin proves once and for all that he is the greatest individual that Jon has ever met by breaking the silence.

“I- I wouldn’t- I mean- I wouldn’t complain either,” Martin eventually stammers out. His face, Jon notices absently, has gone a particularly lovely shade of red. “About- about seeing you. Again. Seeing you again, here. At the hospital.”

“Oh. Oh, yes, I- I assumed at- I assumed at the hospital, that was just-”

“Yeah, yeah, sorry, we were- that’s what we were talking about-”

“-I mean, you work here, I wouldn’t know where else to find you-”

“-about how it wouldn’t be too bad if you were here again. And if we saw each other-”

“-I wouldn’t complain, you’re very, um, you’re very nice-”

“-so are you, I wouldn’t complain either-”

“-but I-”

“-but as a medical professional I probably shouldn’t be encouraging more A&E visits,” Martin finishes with a small, rueful smile. “And I mean, statistically… yeah.”

“It’s unlikely,” Jon says quietly. He doesn’t let his disappointment show on his face. Damn numbers. “I mean, it’s enough of a miracle that we’ve seen each other three times already! Hah.”

“Hah.”

Jon’s gaze slips from Martin’s face, coming to land instead on where Martin’s fingers are still pressed against his own, still and gentle above the wrapping of the gauze. Damn numbers, he thinks again, more vehemently. What have they ever done for us?

He swallows. “I- I suppose-… is that it? Have you- am I alright to leave now?”

“Oh!” Martin exclaims. He sounds surprised, like he hadn’t even noticed that he was still holding Jon’s hand. “I- yes, that’s you all done. You can- yeah. Just- well, keep an eye on it? And on your bread knife cut. And on your- on your everything?”

“I’ll do that.”

“Good. That’s- good. Um.” Martin takes a small step back, dropping Jon’s hand like he’s been burned. The air feels cold against Jon’s fingertips where Martin’s had once rested. “You know the way out, yeah?”

“I- yeah.” Jon forces himself to pick up his jacket from where he’d laid it down, folding it over his arm and half-turning towards the door. “I’ll- mm. Goodbye, Martin.”

“Goodbye, Jon. No getting injured again while I’m not looking, okay?”

Jon smiles. At least, he tries to smile. “Okay. You, ah, you have a good week.”

“You too,” Martin says, all softness and warmth, and then Jon steps through the door and back into the horrible, overwhelming noise of the hospital. After the close stillness of the examination room, it’s something of a shock to suddenly find himself surrounded by so much sound, but after three visits to A&E in a rather short period of time it thankfully doesn’t take Jon long to find his way out of the hospital and back onto London’s busy streets. Almost out of habit he finds himself fumbling for his phone once he steps through the hospital doors, vaguely aware that Basira had told him to text her once he’d left, but when he wakes it, it’s to find that he already has a waiting message from Basira. It doesn’t take him long to reply.

[Text from: Basira Hussain] Let me know when you get out of the hospital if you want me to pick you up

[Text to: Basira Hussain] I just left.

[Text from: Basira Hussain] Oh, great! How’s your hand? It looked pretty bad when I dropped you off

[Text to: Basira Hussain] It’s fine.

[Text from: Basira Hussain] That’s good, Elias will be happy. You alright?

[Text to: Basira Hussain] Yes.
[Text to: Basira Hussain] But I keep encountering this nurse and I need to talk to someone about him or else I might go mad [unsent]

Jon stares down at his phone until the screen turns itself off. He doesn’t know why he typed that. Or, rather, he knows exactly why he typed that, but he doesn’t want to admit it to himself. Martin doesn’t mean anything to him. Martin shouldn’t mean anything to him. Martin is just a nice nurse who’s patched him up a few times. That’s it. There’s nothing else there. There’s nothing to talk to anyone about, and there’s absolutely no point in letting Basira know about his… thoughts. He trusts that she won’t tell any of the others, at least not until she knows that he’s alright with it (which he very definitely isn’t), but there’s always the risk that she’ll actually want to talk about it. ‘It’ being, in this context, his feelings.

Jon feels a shudder pass through him at the thought. No. No, he’s not going to tell Basira anything. He’s not going to tell Basira anything because this doesn’t matter. It was just- it was a random fluke of luck, a massive coincidence that meant that he saw Martin so many times, and now he’s definitely never going to see Martin again, because even if he does somehow end up in A&E once more before the end of Martin’s placement, the likelihood of him encountering the same nurse four times in a row is practically non-existent. It’s statistically impossible, more or less. He knows how probability works.

Jon looks down at his blank phone screen. Martin isn’t important. He’s just a cute, kind, oddly charming nurse who Jon will never see again, and the sooner he can accept that, the better. There’s nothing else to do.

In the ceaseless bustle of a London street, Jon wakes up his phone and taps out his response.

[Text to: Basira Hussain] I’m fine. I’ll be back at work tomorrow.

[Text from: Basira Hussain] Great. Do you want a lift?

[Text to: Basira Hussain] No, thanks.
[Text to: Basira Hussain] I think I need a walk.


art of jon wearing an 'anti-tetanus gang' tshirt by @mosstrades on twitter

Chapter Text

Jon ends up taking more than just a walk. At Basira’s insistence (and Melanie’s, and Tim’s, and finally Daisy’s when no one else is able to convince him) he takes the next day off work in order to rest up from ‘all the bullshit you’ve inflicted on your body’, as Daisy had so kindly put it. Jon feels like it’s something of an overreaction, seeing how his worm injuries have mostly healed into small, shiny scars, and his bread knife cut is only occasionally painful, but he also hadn’t wanted to argue with Daisy. Daisy is, in the nicest way possible, completely and utterly terrifying when she wants to be, like she’s two seconds away from ripping out your jugular if you so much as think about disagreeing with her. For a stage manager, it’s extremely useful for corralling actors into doing what they’re meant to. It’s also indescribably chilling to have pointed in your personal direction.

Jon doesn’t stay away from work for longer than a day, though. He can’t. After all, he still has so many things left to do for Elias.

The theatre is quiet when Jon arrives, but he’s accustomed to that. He tends to arrive earlier and stay later than everyone else, and today is no exception. It’s nice, though. He likes the peace that seems to be baked into the very bones of the old building, curling through the solid stone walls that somehow catch and consume any wayward sound. It had been a church, once upon a time, for some strange group or cult or another, but any indication of their presence has been long since removed and replaced by everything the building would need to function as a full, complete theatre. The veritable maze of basement rooms had remained, however, and it’s to them that Jon heads, ducking through the stage door and taking the slightly too narrow stairs down to what Tim has occasionally referred to as his ‘spooky domain of mystery and darkness’.

The basement lights flicker on with the dry crackle of fluorescent bulbs sparking awake when Jon flips the switch, filling the hallway with a flat, yellow-white light. It shines weakly off the clouded glass inset into the nearly-identical doors that line it, entirely failing to illuminate the rooms that lie beyond them. Jon doesn’t hesitate at the darkness. He’s all too accustomed to the basement lights dying for inexplicable reasons. He’s not afraid of the dark down here.

He makes his way along the corridor to the room that has, somehow, become more or less known as his office. It’s not an official thing, and it’s a room that he shares with Melanie a lot of the time, seeing how they both need somewhere to write and organise and keep track of the countless sheets of paper that their jobs seem to constantly produce, but it’s his office all the same, mostly because he started working at the theatre before she did. It even has his name on the door, sharpied onto a piece of electrical tape and stuck not quite levelly across the glass window. There’s another piece of electrical tape beneath it. That piece reads 'Melanie’s office too.’

There’s also, Jon realises immediately upon opening the door, someone sitting in his chair.

Or, rather, something.

Jon pushes the door open further, taking a step inside. “Not Sasha?” he calls, fumbling for the light switch. “Is that you- oh, yes. I thought as much.” He steps in, approaching the figure sitting at his desk. “Good morning, Not Sasha. Did Tim put you here?”

Not Sasha doesn’t respond. Jon sighs, dropping his bag down beside the desk and reaching out for his chair.

“Just as I thought,” he mutters. “He doesn’t like you being at his sound desk so he moves you down here. I suppose the basement is more like your home, though. After all, you really are meant to stay in storage when we don’t need you.” He grabs the mannequin by the shoulders, feeling his fingers sinking slightly into the uncomfortably squishy fabric. “Right, come on, I need to sit down.” Awkwardly, he lifts Not Sasha out of his chair, trying not to hit anything with her flailing arms as he crosses the room to unceremoniously dump her in Melanie’s chair instead. “There you go. Now you can annoy Melanie instead of me.”

Jon drops into his own chair with a sigh, reaching into his bag to dig out his laptop. He keeps up his one-sided conversation with Not Sasha as he opens it, some part of him feeling slightly bad for so rudely moving her from her seat.

“Have you been down here for a while?” he asks. “You’re going to get all dusty if you stay down here for too long, you know. It happens to all of us. There’s a reason why we keep you in a box in storage, you know. Although, I suppose the dust wouldn’t matter much to you, would it? You don’t need to worry about keeping up appearances.”

“Talking to Not Sasha?” asks a voice.

Jon doesn’t even look up. “She was in my chair,” he replies.

“So you decided to move her to my chair?”

“I didn’t think you’d be in for a while.”

“Oh. Fair enough, then.” Jon hears Melanie shutting the door and crossing the room behind him, moving over to her desk to drop down her bag. “Morning, Not Sasha. You doing alright?”

“I don’t think she can be anything but alright.” Jon turns just in time to see Melanie gasp, clapping her hands over where Not Sasha’s ears would be if she had any.

“Hey, you don’t know that!” she replies. “She could have many feelings in her… stuffing. Who are we to judge?”

“I wasn’t judging!”

“Good. Only Sasha can judge Not Sasha.”

“Mm, fair enough. Do you know who left her down here, by the way?” Jon adds. “I’m quite certain that I left her in storage before I, ah, before… before yesterday.”

“Not sure. Probably Tim,” Melanie replies easily. She reaches out, picking Not Sasha up as though she weighs nothing, which Jon knows for a fact is not the case in the slightest. Not Sasha, he knows, is deceptively heavy, and Melanie, he also knows, is deceptively strong. Melanie doesn’t even struggle as she lifts the mannequin, moving her over to the corner of the room as she continues talking. “He seems to enjoy leaving Not Sasha down here for us to find. I think he – there we go, you just sit down in the corner there – I think he feels bad just putting her back in storage. He seems to like leaving her at your desk more than mine, though.”

“I’m assuming that he thinks there’s something amusing about leaving the weird, floppy, corpse mannequin at my desk, given how he keeps on telling me that I’m ‘working myself too hard’,” Jon says, rolling his eyes. “Which, first of all, is completely incorrect, and second of all, Not Sasha doesn’t even look like a corpse!”

Melanie shrugs. “I mean, she doesn’t have to. She just has to lie under sheets and look all ominous and spooky.”

“Or sit around the theatre looking all ominous and spooky.”

“That too. She does a damn fine job of it, though.” Melanie grins proudly, reaching out to ruffle where Not Sasha’s hair would be if she had any. She doesn’t, though, and so instead Melanie gently pats the weird, canvas-and-stuffing mannequin on top of its head with a small, fond smile. “Bless her cotton socks. She’s given me more than one heart attack, I’ll tell you that much.”

Jon gives a short huff of laughter. “I think she’s given all of us a heart attack at some point.”

“Mm. Not Georgie, though.”

“Yes, well, she’s not afraid of anything, is she?”

“Suppose not.” Melanie sighs, patting Not Sasha on the head again before stepping away.

“Anyway, what are you doing hanging around?” asks Jon. “You’re in unusually early.”

Melanie shrugs. “So are you.”

“That’s hardly out of the ordinary for me, though.”

“Mm, true. I thought you’d be resting up, though. Tending to your wounds and all that.”

“It’s not that bad,” Jon replies. Melanie gives him a disbelieving look. “It’s- it’s not, alright? It was just a burn. That’s all. And I even went to A&E to get it treated-”

“Because Basira was going to murder you if you didn’t.”

“-yes, yes, right, sure, whatever, but it’s all looked after now, and it should be fine!”

“Should be?”

Jon lifts his hand, showing off the bandage wrapped around it. “See? I went to A&E, and Mar- and a very nice nurse very kindly looked after my hand.” A very, very nice nurse. A very nice, very cute, very sweet nurse, who had told Jon that his scars could be hot. Who had seemed genuinely worried about him. Who had seemed genuinely interested in what he had to say.

Who almost certainly didn’t reciprocate his stupid, childish crush, and who Jon was never going to see ever again.

“You alright?” Melanie asks. “You looked sort of… I don’t know, somehow gloomier than usual. You got this really sad look for a moment. You feeling okay? Does your hand hurt?”

“It’s fine,” Jon mutters, trying to dismiss the memory of Martin in the sunlight from his mind.

“You sure?”

Yes.”

“Alright, alright, forgive me for caring about my boss’ health-”

“I’m not your boss, Melanie.”

“Eh, you’re close enough. You’re less of a dick than Elias, at least.”

Jon snorts. “That’s not exactly hard to achieve. Even when he is a bit, ah…”

“Stoned out of his mind?”

“…Yes.”

“He can still be a dick then,” Melanie points out. “He writes the most fucking ridiculous scenery suggestions when he’s high. God, some days I just want to stab him, you know? Or poison him, or something like that.”

“I think we all understand wanting to kill Elias,” Jon replies dryly. “But unfortunately, he is our boss, and murder is still illegal, and, most annoyingly of all, we do live in London, which means that-”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. We need to pay stupid amounts of rent.”

“Exactly.”

“Hm. Guess I’ll just have to content myself with daydreaming about it.”

Jon gives a short chuckle, turning back to his own work. “You do that. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”

“Right, right. I’ll let you get on with your… whatever it is that you’re doing.”

“Thank you. And I’ll let you get on with your whatever it is that you’re doing.”

Behind him, Jon hears Melanie laugh before peace descends on the little room. Jon can hear the lights humming quietly, filling the air with a soft blanket of static, but they’re not distracting. He’s accustomed to them, the same way he’s accustomed to the various noises of Melanie getting settled at her desk, rifling through her drawers to dig out what she needs before setting to work on… something. Jon’s not sure what. It doesn’t concern him, though. Whatever it is that she’s doing, he’s sure that he’ll know about it later. 

After all, he always does.

A number of hours pass like that. From above them, Jon can occasionally faintly hear the sounds of other people arriving at the theatre, walking back and forth past the open door down to the basement. He can’t make out what anyone’s saying, far away as he is, but he likes listening all the same. He feels, sometimes, that he can pick up on the mood of his co-workers just by listening to their footsteps.

Eventually, the comfortable peace is broken. Melanie stirs, standing with a quiet groan before reaching down to scoop up a notebook.

“You off?” Jon asks, turning his head just enough to watch her start heading towards the door.

“Yeah,” she replies. “I need to check storage to see if I need to make another CLS order.”

“Alright. Have fun.”

“I’ll do my best,” Melanie says with a short laugh, before returning Jon’s farewell wave and shutting the door behind her.

In the resulting silence, Jon slowly lowers his hand. In the soft lighting of his basement office the bandages wrapped around it are a grubby off-white, contrasting starkly against his skin. Jon turns his hand, flexing his fingers gently. The bandages are soft, tight enough to protect without being uncomfortable. Martin had done that. Martin had sat Jon down, and looked after him, and had spoken with him all quietly and gently in the little examination room. Martin had smiled at him. Martin had laughed at some of the things he’d said in a soft, understanding way.

Martin had been wonderful.

Distantly, Jon hears the click of a nearby door opening and closing, followed by a blur of words, but he doesn’t pay it any attention. He can’t pay it any attention. He’s still thinking about Martin, about Martin’s voice and Martin’s eyes and Martin’s hair and Martin, about every bit of him that Jon knows. He wishes he knew more. He wishes that he had spoken to him more. He wishes that he could, somehow, bump into Martin again, and get to know him better, and actually, maybe, possibly, become his friend. Or, he thinks longingly, something more.

“Jon.”

God, he would like to see Martin again. He knows that he won’t, knows that whatever tiny, atomically small chance he had of maybe asking Martin out had vanished the moment he set foot outside the hospital, but he longs all the same. Martin had been so nice. Jon knows plenty of nice people in his life, in the forms of his friends and flatmate and co-workers, but Martin had been… different. He’d been brighter, and softer, and altogether warmer in a way that Jon can’t possibly hope to pin down, like Martin’s presence alone had kindled something in the marrow of his bones that he carried with him long after leaving the hospital. He’d liked Martin. He still does like Martin. He knows practically nothing about him, but he likes him.

He likes him a lot.

Jon.

Jon feels a smile start tugging at his lips. He can still remember how Martin’s hands had felt against his own, how carefully he’d held his face when he had to get the bugs out of it. He remembers the soft, wonderful sound of Martin’s laughter, and Martin’s comment about how they could have been friends if only they’d met somewhere else. That would have been nice. That would have been very, very nice indeed.

Jonathan.”

Something sharp jabs against his shoulder. Jon shakes himself awake, quickly looking up at the figure at his side. Daisy looks down at him, wearing an expression somewhere between annoyance and curiosity. It’s just the tiniest bit unsettling.

Very quickly, Jon clears his throat. “I- yes? What was it?”

Daisy’s brow furrows. “Did you hear anything I just said?”

Not at all. “I- yes. Absolutely.”

“Was that a lie?”

“No,” Jon lies.

“Hmm. So you’ll be fine to tell me what I just asked you to do?” Daisy asks, a smile curling at the corner of her mouth. “Just so that I can make sure that I didn’t… miss any instructions?”

“Yes,” Jon says immediately. “Definitely. You were… you…” Quickly, he glances over Daisy’s form, hastily drawing together anything from the last few days that might aid him in pretending that he heard every last word that she said. “You… you wanted me to check the sign-in book to see if there’s been a pattern in when Michael has been showing up late to rehearsals. It’s not been particularly disruptive and it doesn’t happen often, but you want to know if it’ll happen again. You also want to ask me if Michael’s ever mentioned any external commitments that might be creating conflicts.” He gives a small smile. “How was that?”

There’s a long, uncomfortable pause wherein Daisy does nothing but stare at him. Jon feels his smile starting to falter. He was right. He’s sure that he was right. He knows Daisy, knows her very well indeed, and he knows what she tends to ask and he knows how the theatre works in its ridiculous, nonsensical sort of way and he knows that he has a talent for this. For looking at someone, and evaluating, and knowing what they were going to say.

After a few more seconds, Daisy speaks.

“That was bloody creepy,” she says. “Just like it always is.”

“Was I right, though?”

“… Yes.”

Jon smiles.

“Mostly.”

“Mostly?”

“I was going to ask about Helen, not Michael.”

“Oh. Well, they’re quite similar people.”

“Hm. Not when you’re stage managing them, they’re not.”

“No?”

“Not at all. They’re both good at pulling a disappearing act, though. Bastards.” She sighs, grabbing a nearby chair and dropping down into it, nodding towards Jon. “Anyway, what’s going on with you?”

“... Nothing.”

“Don’t lie, Jon. You’re a terrible liar.”

“Nothing is going on.”

“You’re being weird,” Daisy says. “Which is rarely a good thing from anyone, and especially not from you. Bad things happen when you get weird, Jon.”

“They don’t.”

“They do.”

“Give me one example.”

Daisy sighs again. “Do I really need to remind you of the time we all collectively took you to hospital because you’d got so worked up over one of Elias’ requests that you created quadruple-distilled coffee, drank three mugs of it, and then had a heart attack?”

“I didn’t have a heart attack; I thought I was having a heart attack.”

“Same difference. That wasn’t even the weirdest you’ve been, either.”

“I’m not ‘being weird’ now,” Jon replies, frowning.

“You are,” Daisy corrects. “Or, you were. You were being very weird when I showed up. You were… smiling.”

“And? I smile all the time.”

Daisy shakes her head. “Not like that, you don’t,” she says softly. She leans back in her chair, looking towards Jon with a curious expression. “Come on, out with it. What were you thinking about?”

“I’m not- I wasn’t- I wasn’t thinking about any-”

“Tell me.”

There’s a very long, very painful pause. Daisy doesn’t look away from him, her eyes boring into his like she’s planning on hunting down whatever secret he’s keeping from her, and after only a few seconds of prolonged eye contact Jon finally breaks.

“Fine,” he sighs. “There’s- I’m- look, there’s a very cute nurse I keep seeing at A&E, alright? That’s- that’s it.”

“Oh,” Daisy says flatly. There's a pause as she looks over Jon, and then her entire face wrinkles. “Oh, Christ, Jon, do you have a crush?”

Immediately, Jon feels his heart pick up. “I- no, no, definitely not, I don't- no, Daisy, that isn't what this is, I don't-”

“God, you do, don't you? Right, fine, I'm- no, no, you stay right there,” Daisy says, pushing her chair back and standing up. “I'm getting my girlfriend to deal with you.”

“Don’t get Basira-”

“I’m getting Basira-”

“Please, Daisy, she’ll make me talk about this-”

“Good. If she’s talking to you then you can’t be talking to me.”

Daisy-

Before Jon can finish his final, desperate plea for kindness Daisy turns, vanishing into the hallway and leaving the door to shut quietly behind her.

Around Jon, the gloomy basement room is entirely silent.

“Shit,” he breathes quietly. “I- shit.”

He could leave. He knows that. He could very easily stand up, and walk off, and vanish into the almost unending labyrinth of tunnels and basement rooms that run beneath the theatre, but he knows that not even that would keep Daisy – and, by extension, Basira – at bay for long. Daisy has a slightly terrifying knack for hunting people down no matter where they are, be they techies, stagehands, or, worst of all, actors.

Jon’s seen Daisy dragging actors to the stage for rehearsals when they’ve been somewhere they shouldn’t. It’s not a pretty sight. It’s not a fate he would ever wish to experience.

Jon sighs, slumps forward in his chair, and waits.

Thankfully, he doesn’t have to wait for long. Barely a handful of minutes pass before he hears familiar footsteps approaching down the hallway outside, followed by the click of the door opening and the increasingly loud footsteps as Basira enters the room. She crosses the room towards him in brisk, efficient strides, grabbing the chair that Daisy had so recently vacated and dropping down into it.

“Right,” she says flatly, without a hint of pre-amble. “Spill the beans.”

Jon swallows. “I- I don’t-”

“Don’t try to get out of this, Jon. Daisy’s already told me what’s going on.”

“No, she- she can’t have, I didn’t even-”

“She told me that you apparently have a crush. That’s all I need to get started.”

“I don’t-”

Jon.

Jon sighs. For a few seconds he just looks at his hands, twisting them together and watching the white fabric of his bandages shift and move around his knuckles and tendons. He still remembers how carefully Martin had wrapped it around his hand, still remembers the little divot of concentration between Martin’s eyebrows that had been so endearing. He remembers the warmth of Martin’s skin, separated from his own but still tangible. He remembers the care and concern in every one of Martin’s actions.

He remembers telling himself that nothing could ever, ever happen.

“Jon?” Basira prompts again. “This crush of yours. You gonna talk or what?”

Jon lifts a hand, rubbing at his temples. “I’ll talk,” he mutters. “I’ll- fine. If it’ll make Daisy stop needling me, then fine.”

“Oh, good. Wow. That was easier than I thought it would be.”

“Don’t take it for granted.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it. Now, tell me…” Basira leans forwards, nudging Jon’s ankle under the table. “This mystery person you’re crushing on. What’s their name?”

Jon sighs again. “Martin.”

Instantly, Basira’s nose wrinkles. “Ugh. Oh, God, I see what Daisy meant.”

Jon turns his head, frowning at her. “What’s that supposed to mean? And what’s with that face?”

“Daisy said you were being all sappy and weird but I didn’t believe her. I mean, no offense, Jon, but you’re- you’re you. You don’t really do feelings.”

“Hey, I have feelings-”

“Yeah, yeah, you do, but you don’t really… you don’t tend to express them often. But what you just did right then, with your…” Basira raises a hand, waving it at Jon’s face. Jon feels his frown deepen.

“With my face?”

“And your voice. You sounded like you’d been writing Martin’s name in little hearts in your script notes or something. You sounded like… you sounded like you were thinking about writing awful poetry about him. You sounded-”

“Alright, yes, I get the idea,” Jon interrupts, before so much blood diverts to his face that he dies on the spot from sheer mortified embarrassment. “…You got all that from how I said his name? Really?”

“Mhmm.”

“Wow.”

“It’s a knack. So, what does this guy do?”

Jon swallows. “He’s, ah, he’s a- a nurse, actually.”

“Oh?” Basira asks. “Did you meet him when you left the hospital or something?”

“Something like that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I may have- I- I may have met him while I was still inside the hospital,” Jon says, feeling his ears starting to burn.

“Like in the hallway?” Basira asks.

“Uh…”

“The waiting room?”

Jon pulls a face.

“The examination room?” Basira asks, her eyes widening. “Jon, do you really mean-”

“Martin might be the nurse who treated me,” Jon says, placing each individual word down as carefully as he can, like any one of them might explode in his face if it lands incorrectly. “Uh. Three times, in fact. He might- he may have ended up treating me the last three times I was at A&E.”

“…Jesus.”

“Yeah.”

“I didn’t even know that could happen.”

“Yeah, well, neither did I,” Jon replies, huffing out a short, exasperated sigh. “Apparently, there’s no law stopping you from being treated by the same nurse three times in a row. There’s also no law stopping you from, uh…”

“…Crushing on that same nurse?” Basira finishes for him. In her voice, Jon can pick up just the faintest hint of amusement.

He gives her a look. “…Yes,” he says, as the burn in his ears spreads to his cheeks. “I- yes. Exactly that.”

“And this guy… you like him, right?”

Jon snorts. “Obviously,” he mutters, even as he feels his entire face flush red.

“So just ask him out,” Basira says, shrugging.

“It’s really not that simple.”

“It can be. I mean, it worked for me and Daisy.”

“Yes, but you two had known each other for years before you started dating. You knew each other well enough to recognise that your feelings were at least reciprocated. Not to mention,” Jon continues vehemently, “that neither of you had the issue of medical ethics to worry about. Something that, I feel, might just put a tiny damper on the potential for any developing romance.”

Basira blinks. “Wow,” she says. “You’re actually serious about this guy.”

“I am- I am not-”

“You said ‘romance’, Jon. Without sneering or looking all disgusted or whatever like you normally do.”

“I don’t-”

“Yes, you do. All the time. It’s like that look you get whenever Tim mentions his partner. Or partners.”

“That’s different,” Jon insists. “That’s- Tim is- I don’t-” He sighs. “I don’t know what to do,” he says quietly. “I don’t- I’m well aware that there’s no chance that anything could ever come from this, and I know that there’s no point in thinking about Martin because I’m probably never going to see him again, but I can’t- I can’t stop.”

“Yeah,” Basira says casually, “that’s because it’s a crush.”

“It isn’t a-”

“You just told me yourself that you can’t stop thinking about him, Jon. You. I mean, I know you can be kind of obsessive at times about getting stuff exactly right, but you don’t get obsessive about people. You like him. Admit it.”

“I never said that I didn’t.”

Basira kicks his foot. “Don’t play smart with me. Tell me about him, and maybe I’ll actually be able to help you out. I mean, that’s what Daisy sent me down here to do. Is he at least gay? Bi? Do you know that much?”

Jon gives a small shrug, his shoulders rising and falling beneath his cardigan. “Not really. I mean, I mentioned going to Pride last time I saw him and he didn’t seem off-put by that, but lots of people are fine with Pride even when they’re not queer themselves. He did mention that he had wanted to go, but he could- he could just be an ally.”

Jon.”

“What? It’s- I’m- lots of people attend Pride as allies, Basira! I’m not- it’s a perfectly reasonable assumption to make.”

“It is,” Basira admits, “but, come on, really? Ninety percent of the time, if someone says they’re going to Pride it’s because they’re part of it in some way. That’s also a perfectly reasonable assumption to make.”

Jon glowers at her. It’s a very good glower; he’s sure of it. Melanie once told him that he had a glower so powerful that she could probably use his gaze as a laser if he was scowling hard enough. Coming from Melanie, that means a lot.

Basira doesn’t seem impressed by his glower, though. She leans back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest and raising an eyebrow. “Don’t give me that look. You know I’m right.”

“Don’t give you what look?”

“Your angry, grumpy, I-just-ate-three-lemons look. The one you’re making right now. It won’t work on me.”

Jon lets the glower fall, at least externally. Internally, he just glowers harder.

“Thank you. Maybe try not to make that face around your nursing boy, by the way. It’s not your most attractive look.”

“Hmph.”

“… Or I could not give you dating advice, if you’re going to be grumpy about it,” Basira adds. “That’s fine with me, too.”

“I don’t need dating advice,” Jon mutters sullenly. “I’m not even dating him.”

“You could be.”

Basira.

“It’s true! You seem to like him. Just brush up on your medical ethics and find a nice way to ask him out.”

“I’m not asking him out.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m- he’s- it’ll…” Jon trails off, making an undignified, uncertain sort of noise. “Because it won’t work. Because he’s- because he’s probably straight. Or not interested. Or taken. There’s no point in asking when it’ll most likely just result in failure.”

“…Wow,” Basira says flatly. “You know, for someone who claims to have a crush on this guy, you are really good at coming up with reasons not to ask him out.”

Jon chokes. “H-hey! I am- that is not what I’m doing here, I’m just- I’m trying to be realistic, that’s all! There’s no point in assuming anything-”

“There’s no point in not assuming anything.”

“-and Martin is- he’s- I’m just saying that he probably doesn’t like me anyway! I’ve read posts about not asking out people when they’re working, I understand all that! I’m not going to make him uncomfortable by asking for his number at the hospital, and that itself depends on me actually seeing him again!”

“Hm. You have a point with that. Asking people out at work is a dickish move.”

Thank you.”

“Why do you think that he doesn’t like you, though?”

Jon freezes. “What?”

Basira shrugs. “You just said it. Why do you think that this guy, Marvin-”

“Martin.”

“-Martin, sure. Why do you think that he doesn’t like you?”

“W-well, because, I… because I’m me. I’m, you know…”

“What, grumpy?” Basira suggests. “A theatre techie? Some idiot who doesn’t wear his glasses even when he knows he needs to?”

“It’s not that big of an issue, Basira, you don’t have to keep bugging me about my glasses. But… yes. Sort of. I’m just… I know that I can be a bit, ah, prickly, at times? Confrontational? Uh, finicky?”

“You can be a tiny bit of an arsehole at times. Just a little bit.”

“…You’re really not helping my mood here, Basira.”

Basira pulls a face, raising her hands. “Sorry. You said it first, though.”

“…It’s fine. And you’re right. But you see what I’m getting at, surely. Martin’s… not like that. He’s nice. He’s kind, and he’s caring, and I know that that’s his job but he seemed genuine about it. He listened. He actually listened to me rambling about you lot and he seemed interested, and he was just- he was- he was nice. He’s really nice.” Jon sighs. It’s not a lovesick sigh in any way, shape, or form, even though the look that Basira gives him strongly implies otherwise. “He’s… Martin’s… yeah…”

“…Christ,” Basira says after a pause. Jon merely hums. “You’ve got it bad. Like, really bad.” She leans forwards, resting her elbows on the table, and catches Jon’s attention long enough to look him dead in the eye. “Now, I’m going to suggest something here. It might seem crazy, but I need you to bear with me, alright?”

Jon frowns suspiciously. “…Alright.”

“Have you considered that this – that Martin – might actually like you, and isn’t just being nice because it’s his job?”

Jon snorts. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he mutters.

“I’m not.”

“You are.”

“I’m serious, Jon.”

So am I.”

Basira scoots back slightly in her chair, raising her hands defensively. “Yeah, clearly,” she replies. “I do have a point, though. You’ve got to admit it. You just said yourself that he seemed like he was being genuine in his niceness.”

“That doesn’t mean that he likes me. It probably just means that he’s… well, actually nice.”

Basira sighs. “Christ, sometimes I forget how bloody stubborn you are.”

“I’m not being stubborn!” Jon objects. “I’m just- I’m being realistic. That’s all. It’s- Martin’s a nurse. It is, quite literally, his job to make people feel better, and to put them at ease, and I imagine that a fair amount of that involves being nice to people. Despite what some of you seem to think from time to time I am still a person, which means that Martin was likely just being nice to be because I was a patient. Besides,” he adds, looking down at his hands where they rest against the table, “even if he isn’t that nice to everyone, I still doubt that he’d actually be interested in me.” He huffs out a sigh, and when he speaks again his words are quieter. “Let alone attracted to me…”

“What?” Basira asks. “I didn’t hear you.”

“I said I doubt that he’d actually be interested in-”

“No, no, I heard that bit. What was the other bit?”

Jon says nothing. He can feel his ears starting to burn under the intensity of Basira’s gaze.

“… Jon?” she prompts, and Jon sighs again.

“I said,” he replies, “that I doubt that Martin would be attracted to me.”

“Oh. I- I doubt that’s true.”

Jon snorts disbelievingly. “Really?”

“Yeah. You’re… nice.”

“You just said I can be an arsehole.”

“You’re not always an arsehole. And you’re- I mean- I guess you’re kind of good-ish looking? Like a grubby Jesus,” Basira offers.

“... Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

“It’s just…” Jon sighs again. “It’s- I mean, for god’s sake, Basira,” he continues, waving a hand vaguely in an attempt to gesture to his entire being, “what sort of reasonable person would possibly be attracted to me?”

---

“We’re not attracted to him,” Martin tells his reflection firmly. “We’re a reasonable, rational person, and we are not attracted to Jonathan Sims.”

In the mirror, Martin’s reflection stares back at him. It doesn’t look very convinced, even five or so minutes into Martin’s very pointed, very important discussion with himself. It looks like it only barely believes half the words that Martin is saying. It looks like how Martin feels.

Martin sighs.  From beyond the window of his small, cramped bathroom he can faintly hear the unending noise of a London morning, but inside his flat it’s surprisingly quiet, with only the sound of his own voice to break the silence. It makes talking to himself a bit weird, if he’s honest, because his voice has a tendency to echo in his bathroom in a slightly unsettling way, but Martin doesn’t let it get to him. This is far from the first time he’s had a good natter with only himself for company. And besides, it’s not like there’s anyone he could easily discuss this particular topic of conversation with. He definitely couldn’t discuss it with his co-workers, and what few friends he’d managed to make as a mature student at university had grown distant with placement eating up everyone’s time. The only person he can talk to about this is himself. That’s fine, though. He’s done that before.

He just wishes that he could give himself some better advice.

Martin groans, lifting a hand to rub at his face. “We’re not attracted to him,” he says again, as though by sheer power of repetition he could turn a statement into a fact and not a horrible, blatant lie. “We’re- we’re not! We’re just not! He’s not even hot!” Martin leans forwards, jabbing a finger against the glass. “We used to have standards,” he hisses. “We used to- we used to only get crushes on actually attractive guys, not- not- not people like Jon. Even if he does have really nice hands, and a good bum, and he’s kind of attractive in a grubby, hot professor sort of way. He’s not hot. We don’t think he’s hot. We don’t. He had worms in his arm.”

And a bread knife cut on his stomach. And a badly burned hand. And he’d somehow had all of those injuries within the space of two weeks, which only made things more concerning. Injuries aren’t attractive. Martin knows that. He treats injuries all the time, and the fact that he’d seen Jon three times in such a short space of time implies that he’d probably been at the hospital a lot more than that. After all, what are the chances that every single time he was at the hospital, Martin was the one to treat him? Admittedly he hadn’t mentioned going to the hospital any other times, and Martin hadn’t noticed any other injuries on him whenever he was not-so-subtly checking him out, but the universe just isn’t like that. Martin knows that. The universe would not drop a hot, scruffy, oddly charming man in front of him three times in a row and then let him keep on seeing him. That’s not how probability works.

Martin raises his hands, pressing them over his eyes until coloured stars burst behind his eyelids. “We’re not going to see him again,” he mutters. “It doesn’t matter how- how hot, or not-hot he is, we’re not going to see him again! We’re just not! He’s a- he’s a patient, and we’re going to think of him as a patient and only as a patient, and we’re barely even going to think of him as that because we are not going to see him again! That’s not- it’s just- it’s statistically impossible.” He pauses. “Well,” he amends, “it’s statistically improbable, at the very least.” Martin drops his hands with a sigh. “Besides,” he adds quietly, “it’s not like seeing him again will be any use.”

That’s possibly the most annoying bit. Martin knows that he likes Jon, in a polite and friendly and not at all crush-like sort of way. He knows that Jon could be considered attractive by someone who most certainly isn’t him. But even if he did like Jon in a crush-like way, and he did consider Jon attractive, and he did see Jon again, who’s to say that it would go anywhere?

Who’s to say that Jon would like him back?

Why would Jon even like him, after all? It’s not like he’s interesting, or attractive, or anything like that. He’s just Martin. He’s only ever been Martin. He’s a student nurse living in a tiny flat in London with practically no friends to speak of. He’s boring. He’s uninteresting. He likes knitting, for God’s sake! He likes knitting, and watching terrible medical dramas, and spending far too much time browsing the RSPCA website for dogs that his landlord will never let him have in the flat. He doesn’t know what kind of life Jon leads, with his worm-arm and bread knife cut and lamp burn, but he’s sure it’s a damn sight more interesting than his own. The only really interesting thing in Martin’s life is his job, which isn’t even a full job yet. It’s just placement. He’s not even a graduated nurse. He’s boring.

Jon isn’t boring. He might dress like someone who inherited their entire wardrobe from their grandparents, and he might look like he’s constantly on the verge of passing out from exhaustion, and he might laugh like he’s only heard about laughing as a concept but has never actually tried it himself, but he doesn’t seem boring. He seems interesting. It feels easy talking to him, even when Martin’s stumbling over his words so badly that it feels like he’s pulling random letters out of a bag of Scrabble pieces and then throwing them at Jon’s face. Jon talks about his friends, and his job, and group tetanus booster shots with a quiet but obvious fondness. He seems like he knows things. He seems like he’s nice. He’s definitely nice to talk to. He’s very nice to talk to.

He’s also, Martin’s brain reminds him helpfully, very, very nice to look at.

Jon’s not hot. Martin’s certain of that. He knows what his type is – or at least, what his type was – and Jon isn’t it. He’s not hot. He’s got lovely hands, with long, delicate fingers that had been just a little rougher than Martin had expected, and eyes that, even now, Martin still can’t figure out the colour of, and a small, wry, almost private smile that had made Martin’s heart skip a beat in his chest, but he’s not hot. He’s just… attractive. In a vague, indescribable, not-Martin’s-type sort of way. With a good bum. And soft-looking hair.

None of which means that Martin is attracted to him. Not at all. You can acknowledge that someone is attractive without actually being attracted to them yourself. It’s like… architecture. From an architectural viewpoint, Jon’s very attractive. Is Martin attracted to him, though? No. Definitely not. Not at all. Not in the slightest.

In the mirror, Martin catches his own eye. He watches as his own eyebrow raises, a small expression of disbelief crossing his face.

“Not hot,” he tells himself. “Not. Hot. Not hot, and not attractive, and not our type. We’re not crushing on him. We’re not going to ask him out. We’re never going to see him again, and we’re alright with that! That’s fine! That’s healthy. That’s perfectly normal and fine.”

Liar, his reflection seems to say. Martin glares at it. His reflection glares back.

“I’m going to make breakfast,” he announces to his mirror. “I am- I am going to make breakfast, and I will not think about Jon at all, unless it’s in a medical situation. Jon is not hot. Jon is- Jon is not someone that I have a crush on. And if by some miracle I do ever see him on the street, I am not going to do anything except politely greet him and then go about my day. I’m not- I don’t- I’m not crushing on him. At all. Not even a little bit.”

For a few seconds, Martin’s flat is completely, utterly silent. It’s nice. It’s peaceful. His mind is calm, all feelings for Jon safely pushed to the back of his brain to be discarded over the course of the day. He’s not attracted to Jon. He’s not crushing on Jon. He’s not even thinking about Jon, not in the slightest. He’s going to have breakfast, and tidy his flat, and enjoy his half-week off from placement, and everything will be absolutely, perfectly normal, and Jonathan Sims won’t cross his mind in the slightest.

That state of mind lasts for all of about two seconds, before Martin remembers seeing Jon’s tiny, barely-there little smile, and groans out loud.

“Bastard,” Martin grumbles to himself. “Absolute bastard. Who does he think he is, anyway? Going around being all- all hot, and nerdy, and cute, and- and- and hot? He’s distracting. It’s not- it’s not good!” He raises his head slightly, looking himself in the eye through the mirror, and then immediately looks away again. He can’t say this while looking at himself. He just can’t.

Martin sighs.

“He’s hot,” he mutters quietly. “He’s really, really hot, and really, really nice, and I’ve got a crush. I’ve got a big, stupid crush, on Jon of all people.” He groans again. It doesn’t help matters, but he feels better for doing it all the same. “Shit,” he swears. “Why? Why me?”

Because you have a type, his brain whispers.

“I do,” Martin admits. “But it’s not- it’s not Jon!”

Doesn’t matter. You have a crush on him.

“I don’t want to have a crush on him!”

Tough.

Martin groans again, louder this time. “Christ,” he moans. He presses his hands against his eyes once more, blotting out the world. It’s much nicer in the dark behind his eyelids. Back here, he doesn’t have to worry about potentially bumping into hot patients. Back here, he doesn’t have to look at his reflection judging himself in the mirror. Back here there’s just comfortable darkness, and the sound of his own breathing, and absolutely nothing and no one else.

Martin takes a few long, deep breaths. Gradually he feels his mind starting to settle, carefully repositioning his thoughts around the contrasting statements that 1) he definitely has a crush on Jon, and 2) there’s nothing that he can do about it. He needs to accept that. He needs to accept that, and process that, and move on. Life will continue as normal. Everything will be fine.

Everything will be fine.

Martin inhales once more, drops his hands, and leaves the bathroom.

One step outside the door, he freezes.

“Shit,” he says, and then he turns around, opens the bathroom door, and goes back in to brush his teeth.

Chapter Text

[Text from: Basira Hussain] I can’t believe you’re at A&E /again/

[Text to: Basira Hussain] Shut up.

[Text from: Basira Hussain] This is, what, your third time in three weeks?
[Text from: Basira Hussain] Answer me, Jon
[Text from: Basira Hussain] You may have turned off read receipts but I still know when you’re looking
[Text from: Basira Hussain] Jonathan

[Text to: Basira Hussain] Fourth.
[Text to: Basira Hussain] Fourth time in three weeks.

[Text from: Basira Hussain] Jesus Christ, Jon
[Text from: Basira Hussain] You’re a lawsuit waiting to happen

[Text to: Basira Hussain] Yes, well, that is why Daisy drove me here.
[Text to: Basira Hussain] Something about me getting seriously injured at the theatre not being good for insurance, or something like that.
[Text to: Basira Hussain] A bit dramatic of her, if you ask me.

[Text from: Basira Hussain] You’re hardly one to talk

[Text to: Basira Hussain] What’s that supposed to mean?

[Text from: Basira Hussain] You’re one of the most dramatic people I know

[Text to: Basira Hussain] I am not.

[Text from: Basira Hussain] You absolutely are
[Text from: Basira Hussain] You could complain for England when you’re in a bad mood
[Text from: Basira Hussain] Also I don’t need to be at the hospital to know how you’re glaring at your phone right now

[Text to: Basira Hussain] I am /not./

[Text from: Basira Hussain] Liar.
[Text from: Basira Hussain] Anyway, I’m glad to see that you’re not complaining about being forced to hospital for once
[Text from: Basira Hussain] Can’t imagine why that is

[Text to: Basira Hussain] Basira.

[Text from: Basira Hussain] What?

In the quiet of the empty examination room, Jon sighs. He doesn’t want to be having this conversation. He wouldn’t want to be having it at the best of times and he especially doesn’t want to be having it now, when his texting speed is being severely limited by one possibly-broken wrist.

[Text to: Basira Hussain] Can we not talk about this right now?

[Text from: Basira Hussain] Now’s the perfect time to talk about it
[Text from: Basira Hussain] You’re literally in hospital, waiting for your nurse in shining armour to show up

[Text to: Basira Hussain] You sound like Tim.

[Text from: Basira Hussain] Oh?

[Text to: Basira Hussain] [img attachment]
          [Text from: Tim Stoker] nice going boss, you get yourself that hot nurse
          [Text from: Tim Stoker] also, sorry for making you break your wrist
[Text to: Basira Hussain] See?

[Text from: Basira Hussain] I mean, he has a point

[Text to: Basira Hussain] BASIRA
[Text to: Basira Hussain] You know it’s not going to happen. Statistically, it’s impossible.

[Text from: Basira Hussain] *improbable

From beyond the door of the examination room, Jon hears approaching footsteps. They sound clearer than the ones he’s been hearing up until this point, and when they start slowing just outside the door he realises that it’s likely that he’s going to meet a nurse or doctor who definitely isn’t Martin very soon indeed.

[Text to: Basira Hussain] Need to go, I think the doctor is here.

[Text from: Basira Hussain] Of course they are
[Text from: Basira Hussain] Text me with your wrist news

Jon just about manages to finish tucking his phone back into his pocket when the handle of the door turns, the door swinging inwards with a barely audible groan.

“Sorry about that!” says a bright, heart-stoppingly familiar voice. “I hope the wait wasn’t too long- oh.”

No.

No, no, absolutely not. Jon blinks, half-turning to see the person who’d just walked through the door. It can’t be Martin. There’s no way that it could be Martin. The universe, cruel bastard that it is, just doesn’t operate like that. It can’t possibly operate like that. There is no conceivable way that the universe, the same universe that’s been gently kicking him in the shins for more or less his entire life, is in any way going to set things up so that Jon encounters Martin again.

And yet.

And yet there Martin is, standing in the doorway with eyes like saucers, staring at Jon like he can’t possibly fathom that he’s seeing him again. Jon understands. He thinks he might look much the same.

Say something, his brain hisses. Say hello. Say anything.

“I swear I’m not doing this on purpose,” Jon blurts, and immediately winces. Fantastic. The very first thing that he says to Martin and it definitely sounds like a lie. He needs to fix this. “I- I mean that. I’m not- this was another accident. Um. I didn’t- I didn’t know that you’d be here. I knew that you would be at the hospital, of course, you work here after all, hah, but I didn’t- Daisy told me to go to A&E. This was an accident. I promise.”

Martin stares at him. “Right,” he says slowly, not sounding entirely convinced. “I… okay.”

“Really,” Jon says. At the back of his mind, some significantly more sensible part of his brain is loudly and vocally telling him off for continuing to push the point, but he can’t stop. “I- there was an accident, Daisy can confirm it, as can Tim, and I- and now I’m here, again, and I- I didn’t know that you would be here, I didn’t- Daisy insisted that I come, that’s all, I had no idea that you would be the nurse seeing me, I can leave if you’d like-“

“Don’t be stupid,” Martin interrupts, cutting Jon short. He steps into the room, letting the door swing shut behind him. Jon thinks he can see a tiny, almost fond smile curling the corner of Martin’s mouth, but he knows that he’s imagining it. Martin wouldn’t be glad to see him again. “I mean, I’m already in the room, right? There’s- it doesn’t make any sense for me to go and get someone else.”

“Uh,” Jon says. “Uh, y-yes, yes, that’s- yes.”

“And I do believe you, by the way.”

“You- really?”

Martin hums. “No offense, but you strike me as a pretty terrible liar. That, and I know how accident-prone you seem to be. So, what is it that’s brought you in this time?”

Jon lifts one hand, gesturing vaguely at his possible-broken wrist. He’s still holding his arm close to his chest, trying to jostle it as little as possible. Daisy had told him to do that, but for once he’d already beaten her to it; his wrist hurt, and moving it just hurt it more. “I- I did something to my wrist.”

“Oh, Jon,” Martin says, and Jon resolutely ignores the funny little twist that his stomach makes at the soft, worried tone of Martin’s voice. Martin steps closer, his brows already drawing together in concern, and reaches for Jon’s hand. He doesn’t have far to reach. Jon’s already lifting his arm, holding it out towards Martin as best he can without aggravating his wrist. Martin makes a little noise of upset when he notices the swelling, his worried frown only becoming more pronounced. “Jon, what have you done to yourself?”

Jon doesn’t even argue the implied accusation that his possibly-broken wrist was his fault. “I tripped over Not Sasha,” he mumbles, feeling more than a little embarrassed about it. “I was- I was heading upstairs to talk to Tim about some paperwork that he needed to do before heading off, and I forgot that Melanie had moved Not Sasha back to where she normally lives. Except it seems that she’d fallen out of Tim’s chair, and I hadn’t noticed, so I, ah, I tripped…”

Martin hums quietly, his fingers ghosting over the swelling. “Tried to catch yourself as you fell, I’m guessing?”

“Y-yeah.” Jon swallows. He can’t think all of a sudden – the little examination room suddenly feels smaller and closer and more intimate than it had before Martin arrived, like the space is shrinking into a bubble around them. It doesn’t feel bad, though. It doesn’t feel claustrophobic. It just feels nice. It feels comfortable.

Martin feels comfortable.

Jon feels like he should look away. This moment, this closeness, this intimacy which he knows is nothing more than medical professionalism… it feels like too much, somehow. He can feel the weight of his phone in his pocket, laden down with countless texts from his co-workers, all too many of whom now know about his cru- about his feelings. If they find out that he saw Martin again, he’ll never hear the end of it. If they find out that he feels just the same now as he did last time he saw Martin, if not more so, they’ll probably go so far as to in some way immortalise the momentous occasion of Jonathan Sims having Feelings somewhere in the theatre. He should look away. He should let Martin do his job without staring at him like a creep.

But he doesn’t.

He can’t.

Martin hums again. “Looks painful,” he murmurs.

“Daisy thinks it might be broken,” Jon says helpfully.

“Well, I’ll be the judge of that,” Martin replies, starting to smile just a tiny bit more. He glances at Jon, meeting his gaze, and smiles wider. “That’s what I’m here to do. That and make you feel better.”

I already feel better, Jon thinks and doesn’t say, because despite what Basira and the others may believe, he’s not actually crushing on Martin quite as pathetically as they think. Instead he smiles back at Martin, and says something significantly less embarrassing. “I’m sure you’ll do an excellent job, Martin.”

“I’m touched by your faith in me.”

“Well, you’ve managed to make me feel better every other time I’ve been here.”

“Oh!” Martin says. His smile becomes a little warmer and he looks away, absently lifting one hand to brush a curl of hair back from his forehead. “Oh, that’s- that’s good! I’m glad to hear that, Jon. Means, hah, means that I’m doing my job properly, I suppose.”

Jon feels his smile fade a little at that. He knows that this is just Martin’s job. He knows that. He knows that Martin isn’t interested in him as a person, and that Martin wouldn’t want to know how it’s not just his diligent medical care that lifts Jon’s mood every single time he encounters him, but the words sting faintly all the same. “I, ah… yes. Yes, I suppose it does.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Does- what?”

“Your wrist. Does it hurt?”

“Oh! Oh, I, uh, yes. I- I suppose so.”

“On a scale of one to ten?”

“Two?”

Martin looks at him. “Jon,” he says, his voice somewhere between fond and exasperated, “one day you and I are going to have a talk about your perception of pain.”

“It’s not that-”

“You can’t say ‘it’s not that bad’ about a potentially broken wrist.”

“Why not?” Jon retorts. “Even if it’s broken, there’s not really much that I can do about it, and I do have another wrist. It’ll certainly be annoying, but I’m sure that I can cope with just one hand, at least for a while. I just won’t be able to move Not Sasha around as easily if Tim decides to leave her at my desk again.”

“…Jon?”

“Mm?”

“Who on earth is Not Sasha?”

“Oh!” Jon exclaims. Somehow, in all the excitement and confusing and delight of seeing Martin again, he’d completely forgotten that Martin, like the vast majority of people, has never heard of Not Sasha, let alone encountered her. “Oh, she’s a- she’s a corpse mannequin.”

Martin blinks. Some part of Jon’s brain, which started swooning the moment Martin stepped foot in the examination room and hasn’t stopped since, thinks it’s perhaps the most adorable, beautiful, wonderful blink Jon has ever seen. “A what?” Martin asks. “A- did you say a corpse mannequin?”

“Yeah. She’s useful for any scene where we need a body lying under a sheet, or something like that. She’s just a bit awkward to store and I think a few people feel bad that she lives most of her life in storage in the basement, so she tends to end up in… unexpected places. Like dressing rooms. Or my office. Or Tim’s desk.”

“…Right,” Martin says slowly. “…You know, I don’t think I actually know what it is that you do for a job. Which is a bit, um, a bit weird, when you think about how often we’ve seen each other. I mean, you- you know what I do, obviously, but I don’t- mm. What is it- can I ask that? What you do?” He glances at Jon, a small, teasing smile curving his lips. “Or do you do something super top-secret with your corpse mannequins and buckets of chains and- and breadknives? Are you a spy? Jon Bond?”

Jon huffs a breath of laughter. “If only. I feel being a spy would be a fair sight more exciting than my current job.”

“What is your current job? Unless you actually are a spy and you’re just trying to pull the wool over my eyes.”

“I’m really not a spy, Martin. I work at a theatre, actually. The- the Magnus Theatre.”

“Oh! Are you an actor?”

Jon snorts. “Hardly,” he mutters. “I can barely even do accents. Elias gets me to do the voice over for announcements sometimes when he thinks that Tim’s, ah, cadence doesn’t quite fit the show, and he doesn’t want any of the actors to do it for whatever reason, but… no. I’m not an actor.”

“Oh,” Martin says, sounding slightly disappointed. “I- okay. I was just- you said ‘theatre’, and that made me think about you doing Shakespeare or something. You know, ‘alas Horatio, I knew him well?’ Sitting around holding a skull, looking all dark and brooding and moody and hot. I think it’d suit you.”

By some miracle, Jon doesn’t choke on his next breath.

“O-oh?” he manages to ask. “You- you think so? Really?”

“Yeah! You have the right sort of… I don’t know, you have the right sort of energy for it.”

“Y-yeah?”

“Mhmm. You could definitely pull off the brooding, slightly-murderous-but-attractive-prince look.”

Please, lungs, Jon thinks desperately. Please don’t give up on me now. “Oh, I’m- I- I’m glad to hear that,” he stammers, feeling his face turning red. “Um. That’s a, a, that’s quite a compliment! Hah…” He swallows. “I- actually, I may- I may have- I may have done some Shakespeare before. Uh. Quite a while ago.”

Martin looks up, catching Jon’s eye. “I thought you just said you weren’t an actor.”

“Oh, I’m- I’m not an actor now, I’m not- not professionally, but I’ve- when I was at university, I may have been part of an AmDram society, just for a little while. It was… fun?”

Martin smiles slightly. “You don’t sound entirely certain about that,” he teases.

Jon shrugs, trying to stop himself from smiling right back at Martin. He fails. “It was enjoyable at the time. There were just a lot of… well, a lot of theatre kids, to be honest.”

“What, in a university AmDram society? Never.”

Despite himself, Jon laughs a little. “Hah. Yes, well, it came as a shock to me, too, as I’m sure you’ll understand.”

“Oh, absolutely. I can’t even imagine how awful it must have been, joining a theatre group and finding out that there were theatre kids in it. The mind recoils.”

Jon laughs again. It’s a graceless sound, short and rough and mostly exhaled through his nose, but Martin doesn’t seem to care how it sounds. He just smiles at Jon a little wider, his fingers stilling briefly against Jon’s wrist. “Well,” Jon says, “I didn’t actually stay with the theatre kids and actors for long, you know. I mean they were- they were fine, they were mostly lovely, if a bit, um, theatre-kid-ish, and I enjoyed getting to do monologues and just- and being someone else for a while, you know, but I was only in the society for, oh, a year or so? As an actor, that is. It was how I met Georgie, actually. She was doing work with the student radio and got volunteered to do sound for a show after our sound operator unexpectedly dropped out.”

“Is this the same Georgie as your flatmate Georgie?” Martin asks.

Jon blinks. “Yes,” he says, feeling warmth suffuse him as he realises that Martin remembered a single, tiny, throwaway thing he mentioned over a week ago. “I- yes, yeah, that’s her.”

“Wow. You must have known each other for quite a while.”

“About ten years or so now, give or take. She’s the one who got me off-stage. I had-” A little bit of a crush on her, Jon thinks, and by some miracle manages to stop himself from saying. It’s not a lie, and he knows it, but somehow he doesn’t feel like mentioning how he used to date his current flatmate to his current crush is a particularly good idea, even if said current crush doesn’t feel the same way in return. He feels it might give the wrong impression, and, despite everything, some tiny part of him is still clinging to hope. Better, maybe, to… well, maybe not to lie, but definitely to carefully skirt around the truth.

“I had an interest in what she was doing,” Jon says instead. “With all her- her dials, and microphones, and cables. It looked interesting. After she finished helping us with that play she ended up sticking around for a while, and I sort of… well, shadowed her, I suppose. She taught me the basics of sound operating and we both discovered rather quickly that I was pretty appalling at it, but by that time I’d found that I actually preferred being backstage. It’s alright being up on stage, pretending to be someone else, but backstage, where you can see everything but no one can see you, where you get to craft the show rather than just existing within it… I like that. I liked that a lot.”

“It sounds nice,” Martin says quietly, his voice thoughtful. “Is that what you do now, then? Backstage work?”

“Well I, ah… technically I’m part of the backstage crew, but it’s a bit, um… my actual job title is a bit misleading, honestly.”

“What is it?”

“’Senior technical director.’”

“Hm. Sounds kind of impressive, if you ask me.”

Jon doesn’t blush at that, but that’s mostly because he doesn’t think he has any blood left in the rest of his body to blush with. It still hasn’t left his face after Martin’s ‘brooding and hot’ comment. “You- I- it really isn’t.”

“No?”

“Not at all.”

“Hm, I think I’ll be the judge of that. What sort of stuff does it involve?”

“A bit of everything, if I’m honest with you. It’s a- really, it’s an odd blend of researcher, archivist, assistant stage manager, company manager, and stagehand, almost. And props manager. Just… everything. Whatever Elias needs me for, mostly.”

For a few moments, Martin doesn’t say anything. He gives a small nod, apparently turning something over in his mind as he continues to inspect Jon’s wrist. “Hm, well, alright. Just as I thought.”

“…What do you mean? Do you mean my wrist-”

“Your job is definitely impressive,” Martin finishes, looking up with a small smile. “I told you I’d be the judge of that, Jon, and that’s my judgement. It still sounds impressive to me.”

“O-oh. I- o-okay…”

“Judgement’s still out on your wrist though,” Martin continues blithely, and promptly saves Jon from possibly passing out from the sheer amount of blood that’s in his face by looking away from him and instead towards his wrist. “It’s not looking good, but I guess if it did then you wouldn’t be here. Though from the number of times you’ve mentioned your friends being the ones to actually make you come to A&E, maybe you would’ve tried to treat it yourself. Don’t think I’ve forgotten when you told me that you were willing to treat a bleeding cut at your desk.”

“I could’ve-”

“You absolutely could not have,” Martin interrupts. “Well, I mean, I guess you could have, but it wouldn’t have ended very well. Take my word for it.”

“You’ve seen a lot of self-treated cuts in your time?”

Martin shrugs. “I’ve seen enough. You see a lot of things at A&E. Cuts and broken bones, mostly. Speaking of, could you just flex your fingers for me?”

Jon does so. “Ow.”

“That hurt?”

“…A little bit.”

“Jon.”

“…A lot. I could do it, though.” He doesn’t do it again, though, because despite what Daisy, Melanie, Basira, Georgie, Tim, and Sasha all think, he isn’t actually a complete idiot. “It sort of, um, it sort of burned. It was just… unpleasant. Painful.”

Martin gives a little hum. “Was it painful over the bone? Or more sort of… generally?”

“Generally.”

“Oh! Oh, that’s good!” Martin does something else to Jon’s wrist, and a moment later he asks him another question, and then another after that. After a few minutes of questioning and poking, Martin stands upright fully, letting go of Jon’s hand and reaching out to rummage through a drawer with a small, content sort of smile. Jon doesn’t miss the warmth of Martin’s hand. Not in the slightest. “So,” Martin says, “I’ve got some good news for you: it isn’t broken! Bad news: you’ve definitely sprained it.”

“Oh,” Jon says. “I- alright. I suppose Daisy will be glad to hear that, at least.” He leans forwards a little, trying to see what Martin’s doing as he removes something from the drawer and starts to fuss over his wrist again. “What are you-”

“I’m wrapping it,” Martin answers before Jon can even finish asking his question. “Just getting some compression on it to help support it. You can take this off after a while, by the way, but try to avoid heat and alcohol to stop your wrist from swelling for the first few days.”

“I can do that.”

“And you also need to rest it for at least 48 hours, okay? No lifting anything even slightly heavy, no using it at all if you can help it, none of any of that. Look after it. Be nice to it.” He catches Jon’s eye. “And to yourself. You can take ibuprofen if you need it. You should probably also ice your wrist to keep the swelling down. Get some frozen peas or something, wrap them in a tea towel, and hold them on the sprain for about half an hour or so every three to four hours.”

“For how long?”

“A couple of days. Or until it stops hurting. Whichever’s first. Oh, and elevate your wrist above your heart as much as possible. Basically, if in doubt of what to do, ask Google.”

“Are you giving Google your professional seal of approval?”

“For sprains, yes. For rusty bread knife cuts, major burns, and weird, shoulder-eating bug infestations, no. You still need to come here for those.”

“Damn,” Jon says. “Even the bugs? Really?”

Especially the bugs,” Martin replies, smiling. “For this, though, you can always check Google. The most important thing right now is to rest it and look after it. Honestly, I’d recommend that you actually take the rest of the week off. Properly rest up and look after your wrist. The more you look after it, the quicker it’ll heal, and honestly, I imagine that all of you needs a bit of a break at this point.”

“I’m fine,” Jon says automatically.

Martin looks at him. “Jon.”

“What? I am.”

“You were here literally a week or so ago with a bread knife cut.” Martin turns his hand slightly, and just for a second the stupid, overly-romantic part of Jon’s mind is certain that he’s going to tangle their fingers together and take Jon’s hand in his own. He doesn’t. He just trails his fingers gently over Jon’s hand and wrist, following the pattern of small, circular worm scabs. “Not to mention these, or your burn. These still haven’t even healed fully! You need to look after yourself.”

“I’m fine,” Jon says again, more insistently. “Really, I am. Working keeps me busy. It means that I spend less time moping around the flat and annoying Georgie when she gets back from work.”

“Hm. Well, as long as you’re not annoying your co-workers.”

“I’m not,” Jon lies immediately. “I- they-”

All know about my painfully obvious crush, his brain finishes for him. Jon glances away from Martin, suddenly unable to look at him. They all know. They all know about you. They’re all going to ask me if I saw you, and when they realise that I’m lying they’re going to ask me what I did. Daisy will give me one of her terrifying looks. Tim will clap me on the back and tell me to ‘get some’. Basira will- she’ll-

She’ll ask if he did anything, Jon realises quietly. She’ll ask him if he did anything, and then she’ll be quietly disappointed but not even remotely surprised when he tells her that he didn’t. When he tells her that it was pointless. When he tells her that Martin doesn’t like him, and never will, and that even if the universe is flinging them together like a couple of conkers that there’s no point in him doing anything about it.

That there’s no point in doing anything because he’ll never see Martin again.

Against the back of his hand, Martin’s touch is soft and warm and wonderful.

Now’s my chance, Jon thinks. I’m not going to see him again after this, ever. London’s a massive place. We won’t even bump into each other in the street. I might as well just ask him now. He’s practically holding my hand. Just say it. Just ask him. Make Basira proud.

“Uh, Martin?” Jon hears himself say.

Martin hums. “Mm?”

“Would you, um…” Jon falls silent, biting his words back behind his teeth. He can’t just- he can’t just ask Martin out! Not here! Not now! He has to- he needs to be careful. He needs to be subtle. He needs to construct his ask in such a way that if Martin isn’t into him, which he most definitely isn’t, he won’t recognise the ask for a- for a date for what it is, and will instead think that Jon is just asking a question about something entirely unrelated to romance.

In Jon’s mind, an idea kindles. “You-” he begins, feeling the words start to stumble their way out, “you- you watch medical dramas and- and TV shows, right?”

Martin looks at him, his brows furrowing a little as he frowns. “Yeah…” he says slowly. “Why?”

“Oh, no reason, no real- no reason, hah, I was just- I was just wondering…” Jon lifts his free hand, absently brushing his hair back from his face. “I was… so, um, in- in medical dramas, when a, ah, when a patient rather likes a doctor – or a- a nurse, let’s say, for example – when they like a nurse, and the nurse- and the nurse, perhaps, feels similarly, and they’ve maybe met a few times due to, um, plot contrivances…” Jon trails off, swallowing. Christ. He shouldn’t be saying this. He shouldn’t be saying this. Under no circumstances should he ever even consider saying this to anyone, let alone Martin, and yet here he is, unable to stop his stupid mouth from stumbling its way through, quite possibly, the least subtle thing he has ever said in his life. He needs to shut up. He needs to stop talking, right now, and accept the medical care that Martin is providing to him because it is his job, and go back to the theatre, and bury whatever ridiculous feelings he may be having in work until he doesn’t remember Martin at all.

He should do that.

He will do that.

He absolutely doesn’t.

Jon shifts a little. “In those sorts of situations, um, in- in the dramas, I’ve- apparently- apparently sometimes the nurse and the- and the patient end up, um, together. Uh. In a- in a- yeah. Or they go on a- a- a date or… something. I was just… um…”

The silence in the room is absolute. Jon can hear the faint humming of the lights overhead, can hear the sounds of the hospital beyond the shut door, but none of them really manage to break the frozen bubble of absolute silence that’s wrapped around them both, holding them in this awful, terrible, painfully awkward moment as Jon, for all intents and purposes, gives every impression of having forgotten to speak.

“I- I mean,” Jon continues, as the silence continues to stretch and grow, “I understand- I know that medical ethics exist, and that medical dramas are, well, dramatized and all that, but I was- you said some of them were surprisingly accurate about some things. Um. The- the second time I was here. That was when you said that. So I was, well… I figured that if anyone would know about the accuracy of medical dramas it would be you – I mean, you said it yourself, hah – and I was curious, so… is it- is it a thing that happens? At all?”

There’s a single beat of silence.

“Absolutely not,” Martin says firmly and, immediately, Jon feels his heart shatter.

“Oh,” he says. “I- oh. Alright.” He leans back a bit, looking away from Martin as, inside his chest, his heart starts to shrivel up in shame.

“Any doctor would lose their medical license immediately if they were caught doing that,” Martin continues, seemingly unaware of how successfully he’s stamping on Jon’s poor, poor heart. “Any nurse, too. They’d never get another medical job at any hospital, at least not within the UK. Probably not anywhere in the world, either. I know medical dramas like to make it a- a thing, having someone in a caregiving role like nursing falling in love with a patient but it’s- it’s completely unethical. I can’t stand storylines like that. We know better. It’s… it’s like taking advantage of someone, you know?”

“Oh,” Jon says weakly. “O-oh. Um. Yes. I- I know. Thank you, Martin…”

Stupid, Jon’s brain hisses to him. As if Martin would be anything less than disgusted and offended by his question. As if Martin would see it as anything less than the pushy, demanding, poorly-masked request for a date that it is. And he’d asked it while Martin was at work, exactly how he’d told Basira he wouldn’t! No wonder Martin had cut it down as savagely and as sharply as he had. Jon completely understands. His crush - stupid, obnoxious thing that it is - is completely one-sided. Martin doesn’t like him. Martin never liked him. Martin is just a nice, friendly, professional nurse who is quite literally paid by the government to provide healthcare to him. That’s it. There’s nothing more to it than that. Martin doesn’t like him. He never has, and he never will, and the sooner Jon can accept that and move on, the better.

As if he ever had a hope, Jon thinks bitterly. As if this was ever more than a fantasy.

He’s still stewing in sullen, mopey bitterness, like a particularly upset cup of over-brewed coffee, when Martin speaks again.

“I- I mean,” he says. His voice is somehow different to before, a little higher and almost more nervous, but Jon doesn’t really notice. He can’t. He’s still berating himself inside his own head, nursing the beating that his useless, awful, pointless crush had just taken. “I mean, um, ah, that would- that wouldn’t be good, um, if a patient asked out a nurse, though it- though I suppose it would be worse if the nurse asked out the patient, hah, abuse of a position of power and all that, but I was- I was just going to say-” Martin swallows, his entire face flushing red as he looks away. “There are- there are some, um, hypothetical scenarios that could exist. Um. Potentially.”

Jon frowns. He’s not sure how to interpret that. “…Hypothetical? Like the hypothetical corkscrew we spoke about the first time I was here?”

“Uh, kind of? Not exactly like that, though.” Martin fidgets awkwardly on the spot, twisting his hands together as colour starts to gather in his cheeks. It is, Jon thinks absently, rather adorable. “More, um, more of a real hypothetical. A- a- a situation that could actually, maybe, exist, between two adults who- who agreed to it and understood what could happen as a consequence of it. Um.”

“… Isn’t that still a hypothetical situation?”

Martin’s face falls. “Nevermind,” he mutters. He turns away, making to move towards the other side of the room. “It- nevermind, forget I said anything.”

Unthinkingly, Jon reaches out, catching Martin’s hand with his own. The motion jostles his other arm, making him wince at the twinge of pain it sends lancing through his sprained wrist, but he doesn’t let go. “Wait,” he says urgently. “You- what were you going to say?”

Martin freezes. His eyes flick down, for a moment resting where Jon’s fingers curl weakly around his own, and then they flick back up, meeting Jon’s gaze before sliding away. He takes a breath, slow and deliberate like he’s preparing to run a marathon, and then, as though he’s not giving himself time to hesitate, he starts to speak.

“A nurse cannot ask out a patient, okay?” he says. “It’s just- it’s really bad, in pretty much every way imaginable. It’s abusing a position of power and trust, and it’s taking advantage of someone who depends on you for medical care, and it’s unpleasant and awful and just generally bad. It’s less bad if a patient asks out a doctor or a nurse, but it’s still not good, and we- and the nurse can’t exactly say yes because then you end up back in the same medical ethics situation. But,” Martin continues, looking fixedly at the wall one foot to the left of Jon’s head, “if a nurse and someone the nurse had treated were to accidentally bump into each other because they just so happen to live in the same city, and they hypothetically went to the same coffee shop, maybe one called- called Anglerfish Coffee, on North Street, at about 2pm on- on Sunday, maybe…” He trails off, taking a breath, and then switches his gaze to Jon and dives back in before Jon can process everything that he’s said. “If that were to hypothetically happen, because at 2pm you’ve avoided the worst of the lunch rush, and the patient were to ask the nurse if he maybe wanted to get a drink, and- and talk, and sit down together, and just hang out in a- a vague, maybe-date-ish sort of way, because they were both conveniently at the same coffee shop at the same time, then that would be… it would be alright. Because no one is asking someone out in a hospital. At all. But the nurse and the patient would still be getting coffee, or tea, or hot chocolate. Together. And talking. In a date-ish sort of way. Um.”

Jon blinks.

“Do you understand?” Martin asks, his voice almost desperate. “Do you understand, Jon? In a- in a hypothetical meeting at a hypothetical café, a nurse and a patient could meet up, and- and get a drink. In an okay sort of way. Hypothetically. And if they both wanted it to be a date and agreed to it being a date then it could be one. Yeah?”

Martin’s still looking at him, Jon realises. His gaze is still firmly fixed on Jon’s eyes, his attention never wavering as though his eyes have been locked in position. Looking at Martin how he is, Jon can’t help but notice the flush painted high up on his cheeks, staining them red beneath Martin’s smattering of freckles. He likes it.

He made it happen.

“Oh,” he says quietly. “I- yes. Yes, I- I understand.”

“And you- you understand that if this hypothetical scenario were to happen, then the nurse would never be able to treat the patient again, right?” Martin asks. He still doesn’t look away, his eyes holding more level determination than Jon had honestly expected. “Because- because we’re not allowed to treat anyone we know, like a family member, or a friend, or a- or a partner. So if this patient were to be in a job where he got injured a lot and frequently ended up in A&E, then he wouldn’t be able to see this nurse even if that nurse were on shift. Even if that nurse was supposed to be the one treating him. The nurse would have to leave, and get someone else, and that other nurse would have to treat the patient. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” Jon says immediately. “Yes, absolutely, I can- I understand. I understand, Martin.”

“You understand that I’ll- that this nurse will never be able to treat the patient again? Ever? No matter what? Not in a medical setting, at least?”

Yes,” Jon says, more emphatically. He wants to squeeze Martin’s hand but he can’t, so instead he shifts one leg a little, nudging his foot against Martin’s shin. He doesn’t know if Martin noticed. He doesn’t know if Martin understood. He hopes that he did. “I do, I understand. That’s- that’s fine. That’s completely fine. It’s- if I’m honest, it’s- I hadn’t realised that would be something that would happen, but it- it makes sense, and I’m alright with it, and I’d- you’re-” He pauses for a moment, catching his breath. “It’s fine,” he says, “It’s absolutely fine, I would- honestly, Martin, I would rather get to know you outside of the hospital. Um.” Shit. That feels like too much. “…Hypothetically.”

“I- I, ah, I would- yes,” Martin says. His face is red. It’s wonderful. “So you- you understand.”

Jon almost laughs with delight. He feels giddy, off-balance in a pleasant sort of way as though his whole body has been filled with bubbles. “I understand,” he says again. He can feel his lips curving up in a smile, can feel how red his face is, and he doesn’t care. He can’t care, not even in the slightest, because Martin is asking him out. It’s being presented as a careful hypothetical, and neither of them are using the actual words for it, but that’s what it is. Jon’s certain that that’s what it is. Martin is asking him out. Martin is holding his hand, and he’s looking right at Jon, and he is asking him to get coffee with him. “I- I understand, I do, I- yes. Anglerfish Coffee?”

“Hypothetically,” Martin adds quickly, but Jon can see him starting to smile now, the nervousness leaving his face as his eyes fill with something akin to excitement.

Jon gives a quiet breath of laughter. He can’t help it. “Hypothetically,” he agrees. “At, hypothetically, 2pm.”

“Yes.”

“To avoid the lunch rush.”

“Yes.”

“…I don’t suppose that this, ah, hypothetical patient would be able to get the nurse’s number-”

Martin cuts him off before he can finish speaking, quickly shaking his head. “Nope,” he says. “I’m afraid not. That falls back into hospital asking-out, unfortunately.”

“Oh.”

“But the hypothetical patient can definitely ask for the hypothetical nurse’s number on this hypothetical date.”

Jon raises an eyebrow. “It’s a date now?” he asks, as though his own heart isn’t hammering inside his chest.

Martin blushes. It’s an immediate thing, his entire face flushing red as his eyes widen. “I- I mean,” he stammers, “I- if you- if- it doesn’t have to be, that isn’t- I didn’t- God, I’m-”

“No, no, it’s alright,” Jon interrupts, trying not to laugh as he squeezes Martin’s hand. “It’s alright. I- I’d like that. Um. I’d really like that. For this to be a- a- a date.”

“…Really?”

“Of course. You’re- yes. I’d like that a lot, Martin.”

Martin smiles, just a little. “A hypothetical date,” he says quietly, and Jon does laugh this time, quiet and gentle in the little examination room.

“Yes,” he agrees, his voice softened by laughter. “A hypothetical date. For an entirely hypothetical patient and an entirely hypothetical nurse, at a hypothetical coffee shop in hypothetical London.”

Martin gives a little giggle. “We’ve said the word ‘hypothetical’ so many times now that it barely sounds like a word to me.”

“It’s starting to get to that point for me too, honestly,” Jon replies absently. He can’t stop looking at Martin, at the slope of his nose and the pattern of his freckles and at the smile that curves his mouth, tugging on his lips and making him look- making him look…

Jon doesn’t know. He doesn’t have the words. He barely has the word ‘hypothetical’ anymore, and he’s alright with that.

And then the moment is shattered when, inside his pocket, Jon’s phone suddenly buzzes.

“Shit,” he says, as his memory returns all at once. “I was meant to text Basira.”

Martin doesn’t flinch back, but it’s a near thing. He startles, letting go of Jon’s hand as he takes a small step back. “O-oh,” he says, his eyes widening slightly. “I- sorry, I’ve- I’ve kept you, your friends must be worried, you- I’m sure you need to get home, I’m-”

“My friends can wait,” Jon says, before giving a small sigh. “You’re right, though. I should- I should probably head home.” Reluctantly he stands, moving towards the door.

“I’ll see you around, then, Jon,” Martin says. His voice is quieter than normal, a tiny bit uncertain and a tiny bit concerned, like he’s afraid that Jon might suddenly change his mind. As if Jon would do that. As if Jon could ever do that.

Jon smiles at him, one hand on the doorhandle. “Yes,” he says. “I’ll- I’ll see you around.”

“…On Sunday.”

Jon smiles a little wider. “Hypothetically,” he says, and Martin laughs. It sounds like sunlight.

“Hypothetically,” he agrees.

“…Bye, Jon.”

“Goodbye, Martin.” Still smiling, Jon forces himself to step through the door, and out into the hospital.

Jon doesn’t even notice the journey home. He can’t. His feet carry him through the streets of London and towards the nearest tube stop on autopilot, his hands fumbling his Oyster card free of his wallet and some subconscious, London-grown part of his mind routing him through the tunnels and on and off the necessary trains. He doesn’t focus on his surroundings. He barely sees his surroundings. He barely sees the commuters and tourists and students walking through the streets and tunnels around him; he barely sees the adverts that adorn the walls of the tube line; he barely even sees the ticket barrier, but thankfully his hands know what to do and slap his Oyster card down on the reader before he manages to topple right over it. He doesn’t see any of that. All he sees is Martin, smiling and blushing and laughing and looking at him, seeing him and seeing what he was so desperately, terribly trying to ask, and making it alright. And making it better than alright. And making it wonderful.

Jon feels himself shutting a door behind him, and it’s only then that he really realises that he’s home. There’s a sound from further inside the flat but he doesn’t process it, though he knows it to be Georgie.

“Jon?” Georgie calls. She sounds confused, almost concerned, but Jon barely notices. Jon barely cares. “Are you- you alright? Melanie texted saying you went to A&E again.”

“I’m fine,” he mumbles. He reaches up, undoing his jacket and shrugging out of it with unthinking, automatic motions. He has a date. He has a date. More than that: he has a date with Martin Surname Unknown, who was the one to suggest the hypothetical situation in the first place. Martin asked him out! Martin asked him!

Martin likes me, Jon thinks, and feels himself smiling.

“Jon?” Georgie asks again. There’s a distant blur of footsteps and when she speaks again her voice is closer. “They didn’t give you any really strong painkillers, did they? You’re looking kind of loopy.”

“No, no, no painkillers.”

“Are you sure?”

“Quite sure, yes.” He finishes hanging up his jacket and bends down, starting to tug off his shoes. “It was just- it was a normal A&E visit. That’s all.”

“The fact that you have a metric for a ‘normal’ A&E visit isn’t reassuring,” Georgie replies, but Jon can hear the faint trace of humour in her voice. “But really, what’s up? And don’t lie to me – I’ve known you too long for you to get away with it.”

“Nothing happened.”

Jon.”

“What?”

Georgie sighs. “Fine,” she says. “If you’re going to be all secretive and weird about it then I’m going back to watching TV. You’re welcome to join me.” She turns, starting to leave, but she barely gets a step away before Jon calls her name, making her spin back round to face him with a raised, questioning eyebrow. “What?”

Jon makes a vague noise, waving a hand. “I, ah, I- it’s…”

Georgie’s eyebrow climbs higher. “What? Words, please, Jon.”

Just for a moment, Jon shuts his eyes. Against the back of his eyelids, in the quiet and darkness of his own mind, he can see Martin’s smile. He can see Martin’s smile, and Martin’s face, and can see Martin’s hand brushing against his own, gentle and warm and wonderful.

He can see Martin asking him, oh-so-carefully, to coffee.

Jon opens his eyes.

“I have a date,” he says, and grins.

Chapter Text

There’s an upside and a downside to everything, and Martin knows this. He knows that it’s good that he arrived outside Anglerfish Coffee Co a solid fifteen minutes earlier than he and Jon had agreed to meet, because, wonderful as London’s public transportation system is, there was always the chance that if he’d got the bus a bit later he would have got stuck in traffic and ended up running late, and he doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want to be late for his- for his date with Jon. He wants to be here on-time, or early, and he is early, and that’s a good thing. Arriving early to a date is definitely a very good thing.

The downside, however, is that arriving outside Anglerfish Coffee Co fifteen minutes early gives him just enough time to lose what composure he’d managed to gather at his flat, start worrying that Jon had only agreed to the meeting because he was relying on him for medical care, and promptly start panicking about anything and everything that could possibly go wrong.

“Stop this,” Martin mutters to himself, shifting his weight from foot to foot as he stands outside the coffee shop, constantly scanning the street for any sign of an approaching Jon. “Stop it, stop panicking, this is fine, this is all fine, there’s- there’s nothing to stress about. This is fine! We’re going to be fine.” He lifts a hand, brushing it over his face, and then immediately starts fidgeting with his collar instead, tugging it and adjusting it even though he knows that it’s already looking as good as it possibly can. He’d spent way too long fussing over his wardrobe this morning, flinging clothes all over his tiny, pocket-sized bedroom in a desperate attempt to find something that would fit the tone of this- this- this sort-of date. He can’t dress up, of course, because they’re just getting coffee, or tea, or hot chocolate, or whatever beverage it is that Jon drinks when he’s not injuring himself at a theatre, but he also doesn’t want to show up in just a t-shirt and hoodie. He wants to look good. He wants to look good for Jon.

He thinks he’s content with what he’s settled on, though. It’s not too fancy, but it’s still a step above the sort of clothes he’d throw on just to go to the shops. It’s just a nice, casual button-down under a jacket, with a pair of Primark jeans that haven’t given up on him yet and an actually nice pair of boots. He even spent some time on his hair, which he never normally does, tousling it into something that he thinks looks good. Overall, he’s content with his look. He thinks that he looks… decent.

He hopes that Jon thinks he looks decent.

He hopes that Jon thinks he looks better than decent.

God, he really, really hopes that Jon likes how he looks when he’s not in his scrubs. He hopes that Jon likes how he looks, and he hopes that Jon likes him, and he really, really, desperately hopes that Jon arrives soon, before his spiralling mind can dig itself any deeper into the miasma of doubt and fear that it’s been getting comfortable in for the last ten minutes.

Martin pulls his phone out of his pocket, clicking it awake just to glance at the time displayed on-screen: 13:53. It’s fine. Everything’s fine. He shouldn’t be panicking about Jon not showing up when it’s not even 2pm yet. They’d agreed to meet at 2, and Martin shouldn’t be expecting for Jon to show up any earlier than the time they’d agreed on, because not everyone feels a burning, all-consuming need to arrive everywhere at least fifteen minutes early. Jon’s not late. Jon won’t be late for another seven minutes at least. This is fine.

This is absolutely, entirely, completely fine, and Martin isn’t panicking at all.

“Martin!” calls a sudden voice. Martin looks up, hastily tucking his phone into his pocket, and immediately feels his already swift heart pick up further when he catches sight of Jon.

Jon’s walking down the street towards him, not quite jogging but definitely moving briskly around the other pedestrians. There’s a scarf fluttering at his neck, dark orange and amber pressed warm against his skin, and wrapped around his torso, the material dark beneath the pallid London sky, is a leather jacket.

Martin is so, so glad that Jon isn’t close enough to hear him wheeze.

Jesus Christ. He hadn’t- he’d never- he can’t- he can’t get his head around Jon in a leather jacket, but it looks like he’s going to because Jon is swiftly approaching. Beneath the open jacket Martin thinks he can see the same sort of shirt that Jon’s been wearing every time he’s shown up at the hospital, and something about the sight of the familiar, unpatterned fabric only makes Martin feel more annoyed at himself for reacting the way he is. Apart from the jacket and scarf, Jon is wearing the exact same goddamn outfit he’s been wearing every time Martin’s seen him before now. It’s the same sort of look as always, with the same sort of shirt and the same sort of jeans and the same sort of shoes and sure, maybe Martin’s never seen Jon wearing a leather jacket before and he’s having just a tiny bit of trouble getting his heart back under control, but that shouldn’t matter! This shouldn’t be affecting him like this! It shouldn’t be affecting him at all! It’s just clothes!

It’s just clothes being worn by a person who Martin, despite everything, is horrifically attracted to. He has just about enough time to get his breath back as Jon rapidly crosses the distance between them, his eyes bright and vibrant even beneath the heavy, overcast sky.

“Martin!” Jon says again, half-jogging the last few steps until he’s standing right before Martin. He reaches up with a smile, brushing a few strands of hair back behind one ear, and it’s only then that Martin realises that his hair has been braided back.

God, Martin thinks to himself. I think I’m going to die.

“Hi,” Jon says. His voice is quiet, a little bit soft and a little bit gentle and a little bit unsure, like he still isn’t sure entirely where they stand. “I- it’s- it’s good to see you, Martin.”

“Yeah,” Martin replies numbly. “It’s- it’s good to see you too. Um. You look… you- you’re- you didn’t strike me as a leather jacket sort of guy.”

Oh, Christ. Martin winces the moment the words leave his mouth, sheer force of will alone keeping him from turning tail on the spot and fleeing. He can’t- he can’t leave now. He can’t! He’s made it this far, after all – all he has to do now is say something, anything to salvage this, and then enter the coffee shop, and then he’ll be able to sit down and he’ll no longer be at risk of literally falling over because Jonathan bloody Sims has shown up to their oh-so-carefully arranged coffee date in a leather jacket.

“It’s, um, it’s actually Georgie’s,” Jon mutters before Martin can speak again. He sounds not quite ashamed but almost a little abashed, one hand raising to fidget absently with his scarf. “She- I may have had a very small, very minor, very unimportant, ah, concern this morning about what to wear to our- to- to this, and she kindly leant it to me. I, um, I used to have my own, actually, but I- I think I lost it somewhere between Oxford and London.”

“You- you used to-”

“At university,” Jon explains quickly. “At Oxford. I used to- I had a leather jacket back then. Um.”

“O-oh.”

“Yeah.”

Martin nods. Behind his eyes, all he can see is Jon lounging about on stage holding a skull, a leather jacket draped around his shoulders. It’s an incredibly attractive vision. It’s also, frustratingly, incredibly distracting. “Yeah,” Martin echoes, and then he forcibly shakes the image from his mind, tilting his head towards the door into the coffee shop. “So, um, should we- do you want to head in? It’s a bit chilly out here.”

“O-oh!” Jon exclaims. “Oh, yes, let’s.” He moves forwards quickly, all angles and awkwardness, and opens the door for Martin, standing back to let him enter first. “After you, please.”

Jesus Christ.

Martin does his very best not to swoon physically as he stammers out a thanks and makes his way into the coffee shop. He’s already swooning mentally –he still hasn’t finished swooning since the last time he saw Jon, if he’s entirely honest – but Jon doesn’t need to know just how affected he is by Jon’s careful, oddly adorable politeness. Jon doesn’t need to know how affected Martin is by his leather jacket. Jon doesn’t need to know how affected Martin is by his everything, from his voice to his hair to his eyes to his personality to the strange, wonderful charm that lies so closely tangled up with the awkwardness and sharpness with which he seems to approach the world. It shouldn’t be an attractive combination. Martin shouldn’t be into it. He shouldn’t be into Jon.

But he is, and he knows that he is. He’s accepted it. He’s accepted that he has a massive, ridiculous, completely absurd crush on this man.

What he hasn’t yet accepted, though, is that it seems that Jon might just have a crush on him, too.

The gentle chill of the outside world vanishes the moment Martin walks into the coffee shop, swept away by a wave of warm air that smells more than a little like tea, coffee, and the numerous syrups that people seem so fond of putting in their drinks. It’s a familiar smell, one that puts him at ease, and he finds himself relaxing a little, glancing over at Jon beside him.

“Do you want to order first and find us a table while I order?” Jon asks, nodding over towards the counter. “I don’t- I haven’t been here before, so it might take me a while.”

“Oh, sure!” Martin replies. “Do you want any sort of table in particular? Like a- a window one, or a little booth one, or anything else?”

Jon shakes his head. “Whichever you think is best. I trust your judgement, Martin.”

Martin tries very hard not to smile at that, and completely fails. Jesus. He’s known Jon for all of a couple of weeks, has met him only a handful of times, and yet here he is, feeling his cheeks starting to pinken just because Jon said that he trusts Martin’s judgement. It’s not like it’s even something important that he’s choosing, seeing how it’s literally just a table, but he’s smiling all the same. He doesn’t mind, though. It’s kind of nice. He likes that Jon can make him smile so easily.

“Alright,” he says quietly. He wants to stay standing next to Jon for longer, wants to stay close to him for longer, but he forces himself to step away and approach the counter. He doesn’t need to look at the board behind it – he’s been here often enough to more or less memorise the entire thing, and it takes barely half a second of thought for him to settle on a hot chocolate. He’s more than accustomed to the tiny caffeine boost that tea supplies, but he’s also not sure that making his heart beat any faster than it already is is a particularly good idea. It’s calmed down a little since he first saw Jon, now feeling closer to ‘brisk jog’ than ‘sprinting from a tiger’, but it’s still too fast for his liking, especially seeing how all they’re doing is standing around occasionally saying words at each other and generally fumbling their way through every interaction that they have. At least that’s familiar, Martin supposes. And he’s fumbled his way this far with Jon, so presumably he’s doing something right.

Jon certainly doesn’t seem to be complaining. Martin spots a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth as he places his order, his head occasionally turning to keep an eye on Martin as Martin collects his drink and then steps back to locate a table for them. There’s a lot of options available now that the worst of the lunch rush is over and he ends up going with a small window table tucked away in one corner, with nice views of the rest of the shop and the street outside. It feels cosy, almost, all hidden away and private with the sunlight slanting golden across the artfully weathered wood of the tabletop, catching on the handful of flowers that adorn the table in a little, spotted vase. It feels comfortable.

He takes a seat, watching Jon alternate between watching the brewing of his own drink and repeatedly glancing over at Martin. He smiles a few times - fleeting, awkward, uncertain things - and Martin smiles back every time, until eventually Jon approaches the table, a mug in one hand and a little teapot in the other.

“What did you go for?” Martin asks, nodding at the teapot.

“Earl Grey,” Jon answers.

“…Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me.”

Jon gives him a look. “No?” he asks, absently pulling his chair out with one foot and sitting down at the table. “Why not?”

Martin shrugs, curling both hands around his mug. “Don’t know. You just… you strike me as an Earl Grey sort of man, somehow.”

“Do I?”

“Mhmm.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“…I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing.”

Jon gives a small smile. “That doesn’t sound very reassuring.” He pours himself a mug, the fragrant steam drifting across the table to Martin. It turns golden as it passes through the sunlight, shimmering and sparkling for the space of a breath before dissipating again. “Now, do you, ah, do you…do you have anything that you want to talk about?” Jon asks, drumming his fingers against the sides of his mug. “Because I must admit, Martin, that I’m- I’m a little unprepared for this. I asked Georgie what to do but she told me to just ‘do whatever comes naturally’, as if that was any help. Apparently, that means asking each other questions about our jobs, and hobbies, and all of that. Finding out if we have any common interests.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure that’s how these sorts of things are supposed to go,” Martin replies, unable to stop himself from smiling a little. “It’s just conversation, right? Seeing if we get along and- and if we both, um, feel the- feel the same sort of things. For each other.”

Jon colours slightly. “Y-yes,” he says. “Um. Yes. That’s- that seems about right.”

There’s a pause.

“So, do you-”

“Georgie suggested-”

“You go first,” Martin says quickly, before they both get trapped in the spiral of apologies that he can see approaching them. “What did Georgie suggest?”

Jon gives a little cough, reaching out for his mug and quickly taking a sip before lowering it. “Sorry,” he murmurs, and Martin very deliberately does not apologise back. “She, um, she suggested a couple of… ah, nevermind.” He takes another sip. “So you, ah… so, you’re a nurse,” Jon says suddenly, and something about the blatant obviousness of that statement makes Martin laugh. It’s not a loud laugh, not really, but it still breaks the cloying silence, loosening some of the awkward tension that had been starting to build. Jon frowns at him and Martin quickly shakes his head, trying his best not to grin too widely.

“Sorry,” he says. “I was just- I mean, yes, I am a nurse, but it’s- that’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? It is how and why we met.”

“I- I know,” Jon replies. “I thought it- look, I thought it would be a good way to start a conversation, with some- some secure footing, so to speak-”

“No, no, it is, it’s a good start-”

“-and I know that you’re a nurse but I don’t know much beyond that except that you’re a student nurse-”

“-it was just- I just found it a little bit funny is all, but it was sort of charming-”

“-so I thought that I’d- what?”

Martin swallows. “I thought it was charming,” he says weakly, trying hard not to make the statement sound like a question. “You, um, you starting a conversation like that. You sounded so serious, like we were at a job interview or something.”

“I’m sorry-”

“No, no, it’s alright, it was… sweet. In an unexpected sort of way.”

Jon groans quietly. He lifts a hand, pressing it to his face. For a couple of seconds he remains like that, hidden behind his palm, but then Martin watches as his fingers shift, letting one of Jon’s eyes peak through them.

“Would you mind awfully if I started over?” Jon asks. His words are a little muted, muffled by his hand, and Martin can’t help but smile at them. “I don’t think I’m quite on top form yet.”

“Not enough tea yet?” Martin asks sympathetically.

Behind his hand, Jon smiles a little. “Very possibly.” He drops his hand, long fingers coming to wrap around the mug before him. “Sorry, I’m- it’s probably rather sad to admit, but I’ve done rather more job interviews than dates in the last several years.”

“Well, if it makes things easier you can keep treating this like a job interview,” Martin offers. “I mean, not like a- not like an actual job interview, this isn’t an interview, it’s just a date, but maybe we can sort of, um, start there and build on it?”

Jon stares at Martin. “…Yes,” he says slowly. “Yes, I think- I think I might do that. Thank you, Martin.” There’s something in his voice that sounds almost akin to humour. Martin tilts his head slightly, trying not to frown.

“You’re welcome,” he says, as neutrally as he possibly can. “Would you like to take the lead on this date-interview?”

“I think so.”

“Alright. Go ahead, then.”

Jon raises one hand, clearing his throat. “Ahem, excuse me.” He shifts a little, and as Martin watches he somehow sits up even straighter, amusement starting to show more apparently on his face. “So, Martin, you said you were a nurse?”

Martin smiles. “I did.”

“Hm, very good. Now, if I may ask, where do you see yourself in five years? What’s your career plan?”

Oh.

Martin swallows. Unknowingly, Jon had accidentally asked the exact question that was almost guaranteed to bring the mood down. Martin doesn’t mind talking about his job and subject of study, especially not given how rarely people tend to ask him about it, but he also seems to be marginally more aware of what happens on dates than Jon apparently is, and he knows that his area of interest can be far from pleasant to hear about for many people. It’s not exactly a cheerful thing to talk about.

But he’s going to talk about it anyway. Jon had asked, after all. And if he- if he’s interested in Martin, or if he likes Martin, or if he wants to keep dating Martin and maybe- and maybe more, then at some time he’ll have to learn.

That time might as well be now.

“I’d, um, I’d like to go into palliative care, actually,” Martin hears himself say, looking down at his mug and tracing one of the spirals adorning it with the tip of one finger.

Across the table from him, Jon makes a small sound of curiosity. “Palliative care?”

“End of life,” Martin clarifies, glancing up to meet Jon’s gaze. “People who- people who don’t have long to live, for whatever reason. Um. Just… looking after them, you know? Helping them live the kind of life they want to lead while they still can. Making them comfortable. Making them happy. It’s… yeah.” He trails off, looking back down at his mug, and gives a small shrug. At the very forefront of his mind, something is telling him in very large, very bold, very underlined letters, to shut up and stop talking about dying people when he’s literally on a date. Jon’s not going to be interested in that area of nursing, he’s sure of it. Very few people outside of healthcare workers are at all, and even people who do work in healthcare sometimes feel weird about it. He understands that. No one wants to think about death.

“I know what palliative care is, Martin,” Jon says, unexpectedly startling Martin from his thoughts, and immediately Martin feels his ears start to burn in embarrassment. Idiot. Of course Jon would know what palliative care is. Jon’s smart. He’s smart, and he’s clever, and even just from the handful of times they’ve interacted Martin’s still picked up this general vibe that Jon just knows things. Even if he didn’t just know things, lots of people know what ‘palliative’ is, even outside of nurses and doctors and all the other sorts of people that Martin interacts with while in lectures and on placement. Of course Jon knows. Martin never should have explained it.

He never should have brought it up.

“Sorry,” Martin murmurs. He lifts a hand, brushing a speck of nothing from the corner of his eye just to block his view of Jon, if only for a moment. Jon hasn’t looked away from him. He’s not staring at him, not exactly, but he’s still… looking, his brows drawn together and his head slightly tilted as though he’s still considering Martin’s words. “It’s- I know it’s not really the most cheerful topic, especially for a- for a date. We can- I don’t have to talk about it, though, it’s not- it’s not very important, we can talk about your job, that’s much more interesting-”

“If it’s important to you then it’s important,” Jon replies, his words stopping Martin short. “I- I don’t have much, um, experience with it, but it’s- I’m- I understand that it matters, and you- you strike me as a very intelligent and caring individual, Martin. I’m sure that whatever department or area of nursing you choose to specialise in, you’ll do it for a good reason.” Jon shifts a little, a look of distinct awkwardness overcoming him, but before Martin can think to ask him if he’s alright, he starts to move, reaching his non-sprained hand out across the table. A moment later, it comes to rest over Martin’s hand.

Just for a moment, Jon’s eyes meet his. He doesn’t need to speak for Martin to know what he’s asking: Is this alright?

Martin looks down, his heart in his throat, and gives a tiny nod. Around his hand, Jon’s skin is warm and dry. Jon’s fingers twitch a little, flexing as though he’s uncertain of just how much he should be holding Martin’s hand, but after a few moments they settle into a relaxed state, not holding but instead just resting, loosely curled around Martin’s hand like the first ferns of frost crossing a windowpane. It’s a light touch, so cautious that Martin can almost taste it. It’s not insisting. It’s not forceful. It’s just quiet, offering whatever encouragement or support Martin might need with no judgement behind it.

It’s just Jon.

“I don’t want people to suffer,” Martin says quietly. He doesn’t look away from where Jon’s hand is curled over his own, skin pressing to skin. “I don’t- I mean, we can’t stop people from dying, I know that, and people are always going to be out there in the world dying in awful, nasty, unpleasant, painful ways, and I can’t stop that. I know that I can’t stop that. I can help people who I see at the hospital, and I can give aid to an emergency that I see in the street, but I can’t- I can’t stop people from dying. No one can do that.” He pauses, drawing in a breath. The air tastes warm, of hot chocolate and coffee and Jon’s Earl Grey, twining together until Martin can barely tell them apart. It’s unexpectedly comforting.

Around his hand, just for a moment, he thinks he feels Jon’s hand squeeze.

That, more than anything else, makes him smile. It’s a tiny smile, one that feels almost out of place given what he’s talking about, but he can’t help it. Jon isn’t interrupting him. He isn’t trying to interject with any of the arguments or reminders that Martin’s already heard from countless people at university. He’s just listening, waiting for Martin to continue, as though Martin’s thoughts and Martin’s words are actually important.

As though Martin’s thoughts and words actually matter.

Martin glances up, meeting Jon’s steady, certain gaze, and feels himself starting to speak again. “But I can make it better,” he continues. “I can make it nicer. No one deserves pain, not really. No one deserves to be alone when they die. No one deserves to have their humanity taken away from them just because they don’t have long to live. We all die eventually, but if I can- if I can make it better, if I can make it nicer for someone, for anyone, then why wouldn’t I? It doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things because those people are still going to die and I know that, but it matters to them. I don’t want them suffering. I don’t want them spending their last few days or weeks or months or whatever in pain, or in misery, or just waiting for death to come and get them. That’s no way to live. And that’s kind of the whole point of it, because right up until the very moment that they die, they’re still alive. They’re still people. They’re still deserving of care. Everyone is deserving of care. Everyone should be allowed to die with dignity. And I- I want to help people do that. I want to help people move on in peace, however I can. That’s- that’s really it. I just want to help. I don’t want anyone to feel alone when they die…” He trails off, lapsing into silence. He feels oddly drained, as though all the words had been pulled out of him by Jon’s quiet, patient observation, but he doesn’t feel bad, somehow.

“Thank you,” Jon says quietly, after several long seconds of silence.

Martin frowns. “For what?”

“For sharing that with me.”

“Well you- you asked-”

“You didn’t have to answer. Not like that. Not in that much detail. It’s- it’s clear that this means a lot to you. Um. I don’t- I don’t really have anything to say – I mean, I’m not a nurse – but it’s- I understand why end of life care matters. So… thank you.”

Martin shrugs. It feels horribly insufficient for what Jon just said, feels horribly insufficient for their conversation in general, but it’s all he can think to do. “You… I-…” He trails off, his heart in his throat. He doesn’t know why this feels like such a big deal. He doesn’t know why this feels like so much. He’s just telling Jon his career plan, is just telling him where he’d like to specialise and why. He’s known that he’s wanted to work in palliative care even since before he started studying to become a nurse. He went into university with that end goal in mind. He knows his reasoning. He’s accustomed to it.

But he’s not accustomed to being listened to.

Without looking up, Martin turns his hand beneath Jon’s. He doesn’t know exactly why he’s doing it. He just knows that it feels like the right thing to do, here in this moment where his words have failed him. He feels Jon’s skin brushing against his own as he turns his hand to lie palm-up, feels Jon’s fingertips trailing against his palm until they press gently to his wrist, lying above his pulse and feeling every slow, living beat of his heart. Neither of them say anything as slowly, cautiously, Jon curls his fingers around Martin’s hand. He squeezes, just once. After a moment’s hesitation, Martin squeezes back.

“Thank you,” Jon says again. There’s no tension to lift, but the weird, almost melancholy mood of moments ago starts to dissipate. It’s like the strange, monochrome bubble surrounding them had suddenly burst, allowing the noise of the coffee shop to filter back in and fill the space around them with colour once again. Across the table from him, Jon smiles, small and soft and warm as sunlight. 

Martin smiles back.

“So,” he says, his voice as level as he can make it. “We, um, I think- that’s probably enough about me and my job. I haven’t- we should probably talk about your job now. You know, give both of us the chance to talk. Um.”

“Oh,” Jon says, blinking. “O-oh, yes, we should- we- yes. That’s, um, that’s a good point.”

“You said you- you said you worked for a theatre, right?”

“I- yes. The Magnus Theatre,” Jon clarifies. He shifts a little in his seat, leaning back as one hand curls around his mug, but he doesn’t let go of Martin’s hand. He doesn’t even seem to realise that he’s still holding it.

“Have you been working there for long?” Martin asks.

One of Jon’s shoulders rises in a shrug. “Long enough. About… oh, five years or so, now? Maybe six? Seven? It’s been a while, either way.”

“It sounded interesting, from what you’ve said.”

Jon huffs a breath of laughter. “Yes, well, that’s certainly one way to describe it. It’s… it’s not like any job I’ve ever had before, really.”

“…If I’m honest, it was a bit of a surprise when you first said that you worked for a theatre,” Martin admits after a moment.

Jon raises an eyebrow. “Really? Why?”

“Well you don’t- it’s- you don’t really look like you work at a theatre, you know? Not backstage, at least. I mean, maybe I could see you directing or- or acting, possibly, or doing something else like that, but it’s- I- it was unexpected. I can see it for you, though! It’s just… you don’t look like a theatre tech sort of person,” Martin finishes lamely.

At the corner of Jon’s mouth, an amused little smile starts to grow. “No?” he asks, amusement clear in his voice, and something above having that smile and that voice directed at him makes Martin’s stomach do something weird and wiggly and oddly pleasant. “Do you know a lot about backstage roles at a theatre, Martin?”

Despite the phrasing, the question doesn’t feel mean.

Martin blinks. “Um,” he says, desperately wracking his brain for any idea of what goes on behind the scenes in a theatre, “you have the- the people who move things about onstage-”

“The stagehands, yes.”

“-right, yes, them, and you have the- the people who deal with microphones and lights and sound effects-”

“The tech crew.”

“-and also the people who I guess have to make the set and scenery and all of that, and I imagine that they’re probably covered in sawdust or paint a lot of the time, and you don’t look like that or like what I’d imagine any of the others to look like!” Martin finishes all in a rush. “You look very, um, normal.”

Jon raises an eyebrow. It’s a very nice eyebrow. “Normal?” he asks, with a hint of something warm in his voice.

Martin feels his ears turn red. “Um,” he manages to say. Fantastic job, Martin. Way to put your foot in it. You need to fix this. “Not like- not like bad normal, I don’t think there is a bad normal, it’s good to be normal! And you look- you look very lovely, being all normal. It’s a very attractive normal. It’s- yep.”

Jon looks down. For a moment, Martin thinks he sees his cheeks pinken slightly. “I’m not often described as being ‘normal’,” Jon murmurs, and something in his voice, in the soft, surprised warmth and delight in it, makes Martin want to bundle him up in a hug and never let go.

He doesn’t, though. After all, there’s a table between them. Instead, he settles for sipping his drink and saying, “No?”

Jon shakes his head, looking back up. “No,” he confirms.

“How do people normally describe you?”

That makes Jon laugh. It’s a lovely laugh, all quiet and gentle and slightly rusty as though he hasn’t had much cause to laugh recently. “Ah, boring?” Jon says. “Grumpy? The exact opposite of the Duracell bunny? I think Melanie called me that. Apparently I dress like a depressed professor who hasn’t seen the light of day since the 70s and hasn’t realised that time has passed since then, either.”

Martin opens his mouth. What he intends to say is something along the lines of ‘don’t be absurd, you seem perfectly lovely.’

What comes out instead is, “I think you look like a very hot professor,” promptly followed by a dull thudding noise as Martin drops his head directly into his hand.

Across the table from him, Martin hears Jon inhale sharply. He doesn’t look up at him to see his reaction, though. He can’t. He might as well superglue his hand to his face now and be done with it, because there is no way that he is recovering from that. He just called Jon hot, to his face, on their very first date. He’s aware that he catches crushes fast, but even for him this is swift. He’s been on dates before! Not many, admittedly, and not for a while, but he knows what to do! He knows how to hold himself in check somewhat, and watch his tongue, and generally come across like a calm, collected, rational individual who doesn’t go blurting his attraction to his crush not even half an hour into their admittedly very lovely date. He used to be good at these!

Damn Jon, Martin thinks with all the bitterness of dark chocolate. Damn Jon, and damn his leather jacket, and damn his lovely eyes, and damn his goddamn cheekbones! He shuts his eyes, drawing in a long breath, and then forces himself to lower his hand and lift his face. Jon’s still staring at him, his eyes wide behind his glasses and a funny expression on his face like he isn’t sure whether to be shocked or delighted at Martin’s words. Martin doesn’t give himself long to ponder. With the hand that’s not still – still! – holding Jon’s he reaches out, picks up his mug, and takes a very long drink of hot chocolate to steady his nerves.

There’s a soft clunk as he sets his mug back down.

And then, before he can even think to react, Jon leans across the table towards him and brushes something from the end of his nose.

Martin freezes.

“Sorry,” Jon murmurs, apparently not having noticed Martin’s immediate reaction. He leans back, lowering his thumb to wipe it against a napkin. There’s a small blob of foam on the end of it. “Sorry, you had- you- um…” Jon glances up, catching Martin’s gaze, and immediately goes motionless. As Martin watches, colour blooms in his cheeks. “Um,” Jon says again. Somehow, impossibly, he turns even redder, his thumb now completely stationary against the napkin as the hot chocolate foam slowly seeps into it. “It- I was- you had some foam on your nose and I, uh, I was- I’m sorry, I didn’t think, I-”

“Oh,” Martin says uselessly. “Oh, no, that’s- that’s alright. Um. Thank you.”

Jon makes a small, stuttered noise. “You- ah- y-you-… you’re welcome.”

“If, um, if it- if it happens again then you can- you- just go for it if you see anymore foam on my nose, alright? I don’t- I don’t mind it.”

“…You don’t?”

“N-no, I don’t- no. This is, um, this is all going pretty well, I think, and I don’t- you’re- this is lovely,” Martin stammers. Christ. What is he even saying? Some absolute nonsense by the sound of it, and yet he can’t stop himself in the slightest. “You’re, um. Yes. This is going well. You can brush foam off my nose.”

Across the table from him, Jon smiles. It’s a shy little smile, soft and bashful and hopeful all at once. “You think this is going well?” he asks quietly.

There’s no way that Martin could ever destroy that hope. He squeezes Jon’s hand, rubbing his thumb over the ridges of his knuckles, and smiles right back at him.

“Yes,” he says, as definitely as he can. “Yes, I really, really do.”

Art of martin and jon sitting at a table smiling at each other and holding hands. Art by @heidzdraws on twitter.

---

They talk, and they talk, and then they talk some more. Somehow, despite numerous instances of both of them doing something unexpected or accidental that should have soured the mood with awkwardness, the mood of the date never really wavers. It just remains the same, every moment of conversation feeling warm and familiar as, little by little, they both learn about each other. It’s easy to lose time like that, Martin finds. The coffee shop isn’t tiny but it’s small enough to feel cosy, and every word that Jon says enraptures him, even when Jon’s tripping over his own tongue or stumbling his way through a sentence. It’s charming. Everything about Jon is charming. The window they’re sitting by lets in sunlight that slants over Jon’s face, catching on his nose and his eyelashes and on the streaks of grey that wind through his hair, gilding them in amber and gold. It paints shadows across his hand, too, carving out little spaces of darkness behind each defined ridge of knuckle. Martin thinks he can feel the sunlight warming his skin, but he’s not sure. It could just as easily be Jon’s touch. He’d rather it be Jon’s touch.

It’s only when the coffee shop starts closing up around them that Martin realises just how late it’s got. He knows that he should say something, knows that he should do the polite thing and leave before the employees have to ask them to, but he doesn’t want to have to go. He doesn’t want this to end.

He doesn’t want to leave Jon.

Thankfully, Jon does it for him. He lifts his head, glancing around and blinking in surprise as though he hadn’t noticed how much time had passed despite the long-cold mug sitting before him.

“Oh,” he says quietly. “Oh, I- we must have talked for a while. It looks like they’re shutting up.”

“Yeah,” Martin agrees. “It looks like they are.”

“I suppose we- I suppose we should leave, then.”

“Yeah…”

For a handful of seconds, neither of them move. Martin doesn’t want to be the one to stand up first, some part of him worrying that Jon will see that as a sign that he didn’t enjoy their date, but he knows that he has to leave and so, after another few seconds uncomfortable dithering, he rises to his feet, his chair dragging over the floor with an uncomfortable scraping sound. He watches Jon do the same, watches him incline his head towards the door and mumble a few words, and then they’re both moving, stepping out onto the now-chilly street.

“So…” Jon says slowly as the door shuts behind them. “That was, ah, that was good.”

Martin nods. “It was,” he agrees. “It was- it was very good. I, um, I had a lot of fun. I really enjoyed getting to know you.”

“Oh! Oh, that’s good. I- I enjoyed it too.”

“Oh, good!”

“Mm.”

“…”

“…Could I get your number now?” Jon asks all in a rush. “I- I mean, we’re not in the hospital anymore, so we shouldn’t- we should be alright for medical ethics, a-and- and you- you said, um, back at- back at the hospital-”

“You can have my number,” Martin interrupts, trying to stop himself from smiling too widely. “You can- yes, of course, of course you can have my number, Jon!”

“Oh! Oh, that’s- good! And do you, um, do you want my…”

“Yes.”

Jon beams at him, all uncertainty and charm, and Martin feels his heart melt into goop. God. He can’t- he can’t handle Jon, not like this, when he’s so awkward and enthusiastic and attractive all at once. He’s barely been able to handle Jon as it is, but somehow this is even harder to handle than normal, and he strongly suspects that it’s harder to handle because Jon wants his number. His! Jon wants Martin’s number, wants it so much that he’s asking about and remembering everything that Martin said only a few days ago at the hospital, and the tips of his ears are red and Martin cannot handle it. He can’t handle it at all. He thinks he might be making some rather undignified sounds because of it.

Quickly, he coughs, managing to stop another excited squeak in its tracks, and pulls his phone out of his pocket, swiping it to the right screen and unceremoniously shoving it towards Jon. Jon takes it, fingers flying rapidly over the keys, and passes it back, somehow freeing his own phone from his pocket in the same movement. Their fingers brush as Jon passes his phone to Martin, already open to the contacts. Somehow, despite the quite literal hand-holding that happened earlier, the touch doesn’t feel any smaller or less important. Martin still feels himself shiver a little at the touch of Jon’s skin against his own, his stomach doing something funny as he sets about quickly typing in his number and name before passing the phone back to Jon. Jon looks down at it, quickly reading over what Martin had just entered.

“Blackwood,” he says thoughtfully. “That’s- hm.”

Martin frowns, suddenly worried. “What?”

Jon shakes his head. “Nothing, nothing, it’s just… I must admit, I’ve got rather accustomed to calling you ‘Martin Surname Unknown’ in my head. Um. It’s a- it’s a good surname, though. It suits you. It’s- mm. It’s nice.”

“Y-yeah?”

“Yeah.” Jon doesn’t look up at Martin as he tucks his phone back into his pocket but barely a moment later he raises his head, catching his eye again. “I’ll, um, I’ll see you again soon, I hope?”

Martin nods. “Yes,” he replies, trying to put as much promise into his words as possible. Jon looks so uncertain, looks just as uncertain as Martin feels, and he hates it. He doesn’t want Jon to feel uncertain. He doesn’t want Jon to doubt himself, or to doubt how well the date went. He wants Jon to be happy, wants Jon to feel as happy as he had felt on the date, and some part of his brain picks up on that, and parses it, and comes to the immediate conclusion that what Jon obviously needs is a hug.

And so, because Martin’s conscious, clever, sensible brain apparently has as much control over his body as an ant, he steps forwards and, without even bothering to ask, wraps his arms around Jon in a hug.

Immediately, Jon freezes.

Crap, Martin thinks. I’ve just ruined this.

He goes to move back, dropping his arms from around Jon so that he can more quickly flee into the tangled streets of London and never have to risk seeing Jon ever again, but he gets barely a millimetre away before Jon reaches out, wraps his arms around Martin as best he can, and yanks him back into the hug.

There’s a brief moment of awful, tense awkwardness, neither of them quite settled into the embrace, and then, somehow, Jon seems to… shift.

And just like that, everything is alright.

Martin’s not even sure what Jon did. He’s not even sure if Jon did anything. He just knows that the hug was really, really awkward, neither of them entirely sure of where to put their arms, and then, suddenly, it wasn’t. He thinks he feels Jon pressing in a little closer, squeezing him a little tighter, but he can’t be sure. He’s not complaining, though. Far from it. The hug is nice.

The hug is really, really nice.

Martin feels himself relaxing. Jon’s arms are warm around him, the heat somehow seeping through the layers of their clothes until he almost thinks he can feel it brushing against his skin. This close to Jon he can smell whatever shampoo it is that he uses – it smells almost like Lush, but less overwhelming and generally softer. Martin has no idea what it is. It smells nice, though. Jon smells nice. Jon feels nice, too, like he’s the right size to fit in Martin’s arms, his body pressed against Martin’s front as though this hug is something entirely normal and commonplace for them. Martin would like for it to be normal for them. He’d like that a lot. The hug is close and tight and warm and good, and every breath that Martin draws feels like it settles more easily in his lungs, slowing his heart until it’s beating almost as slowly as it normally does.

After far too short a time, the hug ends. Jon shifts a little in Martin’s arms, mumbling something that Martin can’t quite make out, and then they both let go at more or less the same time. Martin’s grateful for that. It makes the hug ending feel less like rejection and more like something mutually agreed upon because, as much as he may like to, it’s generally considered a bit weird to hug people for extended periods of time on a random street. Maybe, Martin thinks hopefully, one day soon they won’t have to hug on the street, because they’ll be hugging at one of their flats. That would be nice.

“This was, um, this was good,” Jon stammers, not quite meeting Martin’s eyes. There’s a smile lingering around his mouth, a touch of red high up on his cheeks, and Martin so badly wants to reach out, and curl his hands in Jon’s ridiculous leather jacket, and pull him back in for another hug, but he doesn’t. That’s too much, somehow. That’s too soon. “This was- mm. I had, uh, I had a lot of fun, Martin. I really- I enjoyed this a lot.”

Martin smiles back. “I enjoyed it too,” he replies quietly. Jon nods, a single strand of hair coming loose to drift before his face, and Martin has to tuck his hands into his pockets to stop himself from brushing it back behind Jon’s ear. “I, um, if you’d, if you’d like to, I think- I mean, I’d really like to do something like this again. Have another- another date. If you’d like that-”

“I’d like that,” Jon interrupts before Martin even finishes speaking, and immediately Martin feels the quiet anxiety prickling beneath his skin vanish. “I’d really- I’d like that a lot, Martin.”

Oh, thank God. It had been an easy enough assumption to make, that Jon maybe wanted to see Martin again given how he’d acted both during and after their date, but it’s nice to know all the same. Hell, it’s more than nice – it’s lovely. It makes Martin’s toes curl slightly, makes his whole body feel warm all over at the absolute, certain, definite knowledge that Jon wants to see him again. That Jon met him outside the hospital, and listened to his stammering, and his rambling, and heard him snort with laughter, and still wants to see him again, and spend time with him again, and get to know him even better.

That Jon, just possibly, feels the same way for Martin that Martin does for him.

Against the back of his hand, Martin can still remember the soft touch of Jon’s fingers.

“I’ll text you,” Martin promises, smiling wider still. “We can arrange something.”

Jon gives a short laugh. “Sometime soon, I hope,” he says, but behind the cheer in his words Martin can hear the faint trace of uncertainty. He doesn’t blame Jon for feeling uncertain. He feels it himself. He doesn’t want to push this too far, too fast. He doesn’t want to scare Jon away. He doesn’t want Jon to feel uncomfortable.

But he does want to see him again. He really, really, desperately wants to see him again. They haven’t even parted ways yet but already Martin is thinking of what he can text Jon on his way home that isn’t too clingy or forward but is still enough to show how absolutely, definitely interested in Jon he is, because he is interested in Jon. He’s really interested in Jon. Jon’s nice. He’s nice, and he’s funny whether he means to be or not, and he’s interesting and charming and handsome and he listens. He really, truly, properly listens to Martin, no matter what he’s talking about. He’d paid Martin the exact same amount of attention when he’d been rambling about his love of highland cows that he had when Martin had been talking seriously about wanting to work in end of life care. He seems interested in Martin in a way that so few people ever are.

He seems to like Martin just as much as Martin likes him.

In the fading autumn sunlight, the small worm scars on Jon’s face shine almost as though they’ve been gilded in gold. It’s a strange thing to notice, Martin thinks, but it also seems oddly fitting. Without those weird little insects, he never would have met Jon. Without them, they wouldn’t be here. Without them, Martin wouldn’t already be thinking of other dates he and Jon could go on.

Martin smiles. Unthinkingly he frees one hand from his pocket, reaching out and taking Jon’s hand. Jon doesn’t even flinch – his fingers curl around Martin’s immediately, warm and solid and certain.

“Yes,” Martin promises. “Sometime soon.”

Chapter Text

Jon doesn’t slam the front door to the flat in his post-date excitement, but it’s a near thing. Despite his best efforts it still shuts noticeably louder than usual, the sound echoing through the hallway. He’s sure that Georgie heard it. He’s sure, too, that she probably managed to infer the majority of his mood from the sound that it made, but he doesn’t care. He can’t care.

He can’t stop thinking about Martin.

“Jon?” he hears Georgie call. The sound of her voice manages to somehow permeate the Martin-fog gathered around his mind, kicking him into action enough to make him start moving. He steps forwards from the door, moving to start taking off his jacket with unthinking, absent-minded hands. “How was it? How was your date?”

Jon shrugs out of his jacket, hanging it up on the hooks beside the door before bending down to untie his shoes. “It was good!” he calls back, as though those three words are in any way sufficient to convey just how absolutely wonderful the date was. “It was- it was very good!”

“Oh, great! Are you going to come through and talk about it or what?”

“I’m- I’m just taking my shoes off!” Jon shouts back, still fumbling with the laces. A date. He just went on a date, with Martin, and it went well. “Are you in the living room?”

“Yup!”

“Is the-”

“The Admiral’s napping on your bed.”

“Oh. Okay!” Jon manages to tug his shoes off, dropping them ungracefully to the side of the shoe rack before making his way through to the living room. He can hear Georgie shifting about as he approaches, and the moment he steps through the door she turns to face him, crossing her arms over the back of the sofa.

“Sooo, how was it?” Georgie asks, the delighted grin on her face almost impossibly wide. “Was it good? Because it looks good from where I’m standing. Did you look at any of the websites I suggested for good first date questions?”

“I looked at them on the tube,” Jon replies absently, dropping heavily onto the sofa next to Georgie. Immediately she pivots, leaning forwards to rest her chin on her hands as she continues to stare at him, her grin not fading in the slightest. “They were, um… they were interesting.”

“But were they useful? Did you use any of them?”

“…I forgot them all the moment I saw Martin.”

Georgie snorts at that. “Seriously?” she asks. “You actually had a swooning-lady-in-a-romance-novel moment?”

“I- I’m not sure I’d call it that, I didn’t swoon-”

“You forgot everything you’d just read, though.”

“-I was just- I was a little bit distracted, that was all.”

“Oh?” Georgie asks. “Were you now? Distracted by what?”

Everything, Jon thinks, and very resolutely does not say. Martin’s eyes. Martin’s hair. Martin’s smile. Martin’s jacket, and his boots, and the flush that had painted itself behind his freckles when Jon had opened the door for him. God. He wants to see that blush again. He wants to see Martin’s smile again. He wants to hear Martin’s laugh, and hold Martin’s laugh, and he wants to be so distracted by Martin that he can barely think about anything else.

But he can’t say that. He can’t say any of that. He loves Georgie, he really does, but he can’t go saying that sort of thing to her, especially when she has a direct line to Melanie. Jon’s not a stupid man, despite all the evidence. He’d rather not live the rest of his professional life being constantly teased by his co-workers for his massive, ridiculous, all-encompassing crush.

Jon opens his mouth, and very quickly thinks of something else to say in answer. “…He was there early.”

Georgie’s expression shifts into one of amused disbelief. “He was, yeah? And that was it? There was nothing else that may have got you all distracted? There wasn’t any hot-nurse-ness making you forget the articles?”

“He got there extremely early,” Jon replies hastily. “He got there even before I did. It- it caught me off-guard!”

“Oh, were you running late? You never do that.”

“No, I wasn’t- I wasn’t late, I was still early, you know what I’m like-”

“Yeah, you have to get everywhere early in case the world ends or something.”

“-but Martin was just – I don’t do it because of that, I do it to be polite – but Martin still got there before me,” Jon finishes quickly, not giving Georgie time to interrupt again. “I was planning on having a couple of minutes to myself to gather my thoughts and- and make sure that I looked presentable-”

“And fail to stop yourself from freaking out,” Georgie interrupts, grinning widely.

Jon narrows his eyes. “Do you want to hear how my date went or not?”

“No, yes, I want to hear! I’ll be quiet, I promise.”

“In over ten years I have never once known you to keep that promise.”

Hey! I can be quiet! Listen to me being quiet right now!”

Jon raises an eyebrow at her.

Georgie stares back, her lips firmly pressed together.

Jon’s eyebrow climbs higher.

“…Fine,” Georgie bursts out. “I’m not going to be quiet. I’m too curious. But you still have to tell me how it went! I tell you about my dates – it’s only fair. How was your nurse guy? Did he appreciate all the effort I put into making you look good?”

Almost instantly, Jon feels himself start to colour. It should be ridiculous, how quickly he starts to blush just from thinking about how Martin had looked at him. It is ridiculous. He doesn’t care. “I- he- I- I- I think so,” he manages to say. “I, um… he… he told me that I looked hot. Which was, um… which was nice. Very- it was very nice.”

“Well, I’m glad that he noticed. Do you know how many Youtube tutorials I watched to do your hair like that?”

“One?”

At least one,” Georgie interrupts. “Maybe even two. I mean, I gave up on following them and just sort of winged it, but I think it turned out alright.” She lifts a hand, fondly patting Jon’s hair, and Jon smiles.

“I think Martin would agree with you. Oh, and thank you for letting me borrow your jacket, by the way,” Jon adds. “That was- I think Martin rather liked it, honestly.”

“I told you!” Georgie crows delightedly, reaching over to elbow Jon in the side. Jon automatically lifts a hand, rubbing at the spot where her elbow hit, but he doesn’t stop smiling. “I told you this nursing boy of yours would like it! The soft and sweet ones always like a bit of a bad boy, I’m telling you. You need to start trusting me on these things.”

“I do trust you; you know that.”

“Well, yeah, but you don’t normally trust me with dating advice, even though I clearly know what I’m doing. It worked for you and everything.”

“It- well, yes, I suppose it did.”

“And you’re – no offense, Jon, I love you to pieces – but you’re a bit of a dick at times.”

“…Thank you, Georgie. Really.”

“Hey, it’s the truth. I can say it. I have best friend privileges.”

“You abuse those privileges,” Jon mutters darkly, but he can’t keep the fondness out of his voice.

“You let me abuse them.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not how that works-”

Anyway,” Georgie interrupts. “Your date. Tell me about it. You said it was good, which is a good start. What was Martin like?”

For a few seconds, Jon just stares at her. He doesn’t- he can’t- he has no idea how on earth he’s possibly meant to answer that question. He knows that he should be answering, that he should be spouting off some nonsense about how Martin is charming and delightful, but anything that he thinks to say just sounds trite and dull and insufficient. He can’t summarise Martin. Not with words.

All the same, he tries.

“Martin,” Jon starts, and immediately stops. He clears his throat, looking down at his hands, twisting them together in his lap, and tries again. “Martin was… he’s…”

Wonderful, Jon’s brain supplies immediately. Handsome. Charming. Just as sweet and kind and caring as he’d been at the hospital, if not more so. He’d almost been annoyingly charming, if such a thing were possible – he’d certainly been charming enough for Jon to make an absolute fool of himself when it came to doing just about everything. He’d somehow been awkward just holding a door open for Martin. He almost feels he should get some sort of award for that. But Martin, because he is wonderful, and sweet, and the most incredible person Jon has ever met, had been fine with it. He’d been fine with everything. He’d been fine with Jon arriving not quite as early as he normally would, and he’d been fine with Jon losing every shred of composure that he’d had when Martin had called him hot, and he’d even been fine with it when Jon had gathered together what little courage he had and reached out to take his hand.

He’d held Jon’s hand back.

He’d hugged him.

Jon feels himself starting to smile. Martin had hugged him. There’d been no warning, no indication that it had been about to happen – Martin had just, of his own free will, leaned in and hugged him. He’d hugged Jon like he wasn’t afraid to. It’s a strange thing to think but the words pop into Jon’s head all the same. For someone as prickly as he knows himself to be he gets a surprising number of hugs, from Georgie and Tim and sometimes Melanie, and he even gets awkward stiff, one-armed hugs from Basira from time to time. He’s had plenty of hugs in his life, but hugging Martin had been… different, somehow. It had felt warm, like all the autumn sunlight in London had been held between them, trapped in the microscopic spaces between their bodies.

It had felt safe.

Jon wants to hug Martin again. He really, really wants to hug Martin again.

Jon swallows. “He’s…” he says quietly. “He’s, um… he’s nice. He’s- he’s really nice. Uh. It was- he’s- yeah. He’s nice.”

“…Wow,” Georgie says slowly. “You must really, really like this guy.”

Jon blinks. “I- what?”

“You clearly like him. Like, a lot.”

“I- I- well, I mean, I-”

“You actually stopped talking,” Georgie continues. “For an extended period of time. Which almost never happens, and especially not when it comes to subjects that you’re all excited about. And you’re clearly excited about your nursing boy, so normally you going all quiet would be a bad sign, but this was… this was, like, a romantic quiet. A smitten quiet, even.”

Jon chokes on air. “I’m not- I’m- I’m not smitten, Georgie! I’ve met him once!”

“You’re still going bright red though. Look at you. You look like a tomato.”

Shut up.”

“No.”

Jon groans. “You are the worst,” he begins, and then he immediately stops talking, because he’s just felt his phone buzz twice.

He reaches for his pocket without even thinking, all of his attention suddenly focused on the little piece of plastic and metal and glass. It’s probably not Martin. He knows that it’s probably not Martin. It’s only been an hour or so since their date – there’s no way that Martin, who seems to have a much better grasp of this sort of thing than Jon does, would text him that quickly. It’s probably Dominos. Or his phone company. Or something equally unimportant-

It’s Martin.

[From: Martin Blackwood] Hey Jon, just wanted to say that I had a really nice time today ^-^
[From: Martin Blackwood] Also I saw this good cow and thought that you might like to see it
[From: Martin Blackwood] [img attached]

Jon’s going to die on the spot. He’s sure of it. He’s going to perish right here, right now, in his own flat, because his heart has physically stopped beating because of how adorable Martin Blackwood is. God. He’s pretty sure that his body wasn’t designed to deal with this sort of assault on his delicate senses. He doesn’t have the capacity to handle this, and as a result he’s quite certain that his entire body is going into shutdown.

Part of his brain, which Jon is also certain is going into shutdown, remarks absently that this would be much better if he had a nurse on hand to help him.

“Jon?” Georgie asks, her voice dispelling Jon’s impending death. Jon blinks and snaps his head up, meeting her gaze.

“Hm?”

She nods down at his phone, a knowing look dancing around her eyes. “What are you smiling at?”

Jon swallows. “I-I’m- it’s- nothing-”

“Uh-huh. What is it?”

Jon sighs. He can feel his blush all the way up in the tips of his ears, knows that he’s turning a truly ridiculous colour given the situation, but he finds that he doesn’t actually care in the slightest. Martin texted him. Martin texted him, not even a full hour after their date – their date! – ended, just so that he could send Jon a picture of a good cow. Martin gave Jon his number, and held his hand, and hugged him like it was the easiest thing in the world, and then he actually texted Jon. He texted Jon like he wanted to stay in touch with him. Like he was actually serious about them planning another date.

In Jon’s belly, something bright and warm starts to kindle. He feels himself smiling wider as he absently turns his phone over in his hands, all too aware of Georgie’s gaze boring into him. Martin went on a date with him. Martin went on a date with him, with Jonathan Sims, and it was good. Better than good, even – it was wonderful. It was better than Jon had ever let himself hope it would be. It was almost painfully awkward in the beginning, and he just about could have hit himself for asking Martin if he was a nurse of all things, but somehow it hadn’t been bad. Even when he’d been at his most awkward, and most socially oblivious, and most him, Martin had never let it be bad. He’d answered Jon’s questions. He’d asked his own. He’d spoken, and he’d listened, and he’d laughed so brightly that Jon could have sworn that the air had turned crystalline around him, if only for a moment. He doesn’t want to lose the sound of that laugh. He wants to hear it again. He wants to see Martin again.

God, he wants to see Martin again so badly.

“Jon?” Georgie asks quietly. Her voice is a little softer this time, a little gentler and almost a little more uncertain, but the teasing that’s been present in her tone since Jon arrived back at the flat still hasn’t entirely left. “Are you going to tell me what Martin texted you or not?”

“It’s- he… Martin texted me a very cute picture of a cow,” Jon admits quietly, feeling his ears burn.

There’s a long, drawn out silence.

“…That’s goddamn adorable,” Georgie says. “That’s- seriously, Jon, I’m kind of retroactively annoyed now. How come you never texted me a cute picture of a cow?”

“I- I didn’t know you liked cows.”

“All cows are good cows, Jon!”

Jon looks down, smiling at his phone. “Martin said that too,” he mumbles under his breath.

“What?” Georgie asks. “I missed that.”

“I said, Martin said that too.

“You’re still mumbling, Jon-”

“I said, Martin said that too,” Jon repeats loudly, very carefully not looking in Georgie’s direction. “He- we had a whole conversation about it. It was mostly about highland cows, but he brought up other ones and he seems to be of the opinion that cows, on the whole, are rather adorable, though highland cows are, according to Martin, the best and most good cows of all of them. It was- look, it was a very pleasant conversation.”

“Clearly,” Georgie replies. “Your boy’s clearly got good taste in cows. Also, what’s his surname?”

“You- what? Why?”

“I need to stalk him on Facebook,” Georgie answers promptly. “Make sure that he’s up to scratch and all that. I’m not just going to let anyone date my best mate, you know. I mean, yes, sure, I know, you have bodily autonomy and can make whatever decisions you want and I can’t and shouldn’t stop you, and I won’t, but anyone who can make you smile like that is someone that I need to meet! Or at least find online and hope that he doesn’t have his profile set to private. If he’s dating you then he needs to be worth it.”

For a few moments Jon stares at her, mouth half-open. “…What?”

“What?” Georgie replies. “It’s my job. Best friend duties. Best-friend-who-is-also-your-ex duties, too. I know exactly what you’re like, and I know what your taste is like, too. I need to make sure this Martin guy fits the bill. Checks the boxes. Is actually good.”

“You can’t go judging my taste in- my taste in men!” Jon retorts. “You- I’ve seen the people you go on dates with!”

“You’ve seen their Tinder profiles,” Georgie corrects. “You’ve never actually met any of them.”

“Because you never bring them back to the flat. Or if you do, we always make sure that I’m out of the flat way ahead of time, and none of them ever stick around afterwards. Or at all.”

“Hey, don’t judge how I live my life.”

“I’m not, I’m not, just… I’ve seen them- I’ve seen their Tinder profiles. They’re not, um, they’re not very impressive.”

Georgie shrugs. “Look, sometimes you just need to find someone to get dinner with when your flatmate has the culinary palette of a teaspoon, and if that person is a mountain climber on Tinder who happens to be into Hungarian food, then so be it. Anyway.” She digs her phone out of her pocket. “Martin. Surname. Now.”

Jon glares at her.

Georgie doesn’t look impressed in the slightest, but Jon was expecting that. He’s lived with Georgie for too long for her to be even remoted cowed by his ‘laser gaze’, as Tim had so kindly dubbed it, but it still would have been nice for her to at least pretend. She doesn’t pretend, though. She just lifts an eyebrow, her thumbs poised over her phone. “Martin,” she repeats. “Surname. Best friend duties.”

“…Blackwood.”

“Spooky,” Georgie comments, and then there’s a brief flurry of movement as her thumbs fly across the screen. “…Huh.”

“…’Huh’, what? That didn’t sound like a good ‘huh.’”

“It wasn’t.” Georgie turns her phone to show Jon the screen. “He’s not on Facebook, as far as I can tell.”

Jon leans forwards, peering at the screen. “…Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“…Is that bad?”

Yes, it’s bad!” Georgie exclaims, sitting back with a huff. “It means I can’t internet-stalk him, for starters. And he could be a secret serial killer or something.”

“Him potentially being a serial killer comes second on your list?” Jon asks. “Really? And you did just say that he has good taste in cows.”

“Anyone with eyes can have a good taste in cows, Jon. Even serial killers. And yes, that comes second on the list. I’ve got best friend duties to attend to! I need to find out what he’s into! If we have any mutual friends! If he’s secretly a bastard! All of that stuff. Also if he’s a serial killer. You never know.”

“I don’t think that Martin is a serial killer.”

“Really?” Georgie asks. “Why not?”

Jon shrugs. He remembers Martin’s small, wonderful smile, how it brightened his entire face and made Jon’s stomach do something particularly ridiculous. “He’s just… well, he’s too-”

“Don’t say he’s too nice-”

“He’s too nice.”

Georgie groans. “Jon! That is exactly the sort of attitude that gets someone serial-killed! Don’t you know that a lot of serial killers are really charming? And they’re often drawn to medical professions, like surgery and all that.”

“Ah, he’s not a surgeon. He’s a nurse. A student nurse, actually.”

“Same thing.”

“I’m really not sure that it is-”

“Look, it’s close enough, anyway. It’s still medical. And he’s still not on Facebook. Or anything else, as far as I can tell.”

Jon sighs. “Well, maybe he’s just using a different name,” he suggests. He doesn’t want to be feeding into Georgie’s borderline scary determination with hunting Martin down, but he more urgently doesn’t want her to keep calling Martin, of all people, a potential serial killer. “You know, like how a lot of teachers go by a slightly different name on Facebook so that their students can’t find them. It could be something similar for nurses. There’s probably a very good, normal, sensible reason why you can’t find him. I just… he’s nice, Georgie. He’s- he’s very nice.”

From the corner of his eye, Jon sees Georgie’s posture relax slightly. “Yeah,” she says quietly. “I can- somehow, I was getting that impression from you. You seem to really like him.”

Just from those few simple words, Jon can feel himself starting to smile again.

“I do,” he says quietly. “I- yeah, I do. I really do.”

“Yeah, I can tell. You’re actually smiling.”

“Hey, I- why does everyone seem to think that I don’t smile? I smile all the time.”

“I know, but you normally smile like… like… not like this,” Georgie says emphatically. “I’ve not seen you smile like this in a really long time, Jon. Not since… well.”

“…Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“…I’m sorry-”

“No, no, it’s alright. It’s- I mean, it’s literally been years. And we’re good as friends. We’re better as friends, actually.”

“You think?”

“Oh, yeah. It means I don’t have to put up with your snoring, for starters.”

“I do not snore.”

“You absolutely do,” Georgie says, almost before he’s even finished speaking. “And you drool. It’s incredibly ungraceful. Really ruins your bad boy history teacher aesthetic.”

“I do not dr-”

“You’ve never seen you when you’re sleeping.”

“I- well, no, but I-”

“Hopefully this Martin of yours will be able to put up with it,” Georgie continues, making Jon almost swallow his tongue at the mere thought of napping with Martin. “Do you know when you’re going to be seeing him again?”

By some miracle, Jon doesn’t actually choke to death. “I- I don’t- no,” he manages to say eventually. “Not yet. We did, um, we did agree to go on another- another date, though. Um. At the end of this one.” He snorts. “I said ‘sometime soon’. Just that. Martin agreed to it, but… well, it’s hardly a defined date or time, is it?”

“I don’t know, it’s still something. At least you know that he wants to go on a second date. He’s texting you and everything.”

Jon feels his mouth starting to curve into a smile at that. A second date. Somehow it sounds impossibly more real when Georgie says it. He knows, logically, that they both agreed to a second date, knows that they just had their first date, knows that it went well and that Martin was so unbelievably lovely that Jon can still feel his heart starting to speed up if he so much as thinks about him for too long, but to hear Georgie say ‘a second date’ aloud is… something else. It grounds it, makes it tangible. It’s not just something that happened in his mind and his memory – Georgie knows about it now, too. She knows that, at some point, it’ll happen. She knows that, at some point, she’ll have to help Jon pick out what to wear again, and send him on his way, and then assault him with questions that he’s pretending to dislike more than he actually does when he gets back. A second date.

God.

Jon smiles wider. “He is texting me,” he agrees quietly. “He, um… I was actually thinking about texting him when I was on the tube, but I- I didn’t know if that was too, ah, too fast. I read some of the articles you sent me, and I… yeah. And there’s never any signal on the tube, which I think hindered matters somewhat.”

“You could text him now,” Georgie suggests.

Jon shifts slightly. “Isn’t that- isn’t that soon, though? I mean, we only just had our first date-”

“And he’s already texting you,” Georgie points out. “With really quite sickeningly cute pictures of cows.”

“That’s just because we talked about good cows, it doesn’t mean anything-”

Jon.” Georgie reaches out, grabbing Jon’s face firmly between her hands. The action squishes the legs of Jon’s glasses against his head, making him grimace at the uncomfortable press of plastic, but she doesn’t let go. “Listen to me. This guy, this Martin, very clearly likes you. He might be a serial killer with no social media, but he still likes you.”

“…Are you telling me to date a potential serial killer?”

“I am telling you to be happy,” Georgie says insistently. “My happy is sheep cheese; your happy can be dating a serial killer.”

“I really don’t think that he’s-”

“Yes, I know, he’s probably not actually a serial killer, whatever. My point is, though, that he’s clearly making you happy. Very happy. And he’s texting you, and you wanted to text him, so you might as well text him back and just go for it. Live your best life. Be brave. Be bold. Be all those other words that Instagram posts tell you to be.” Georgie’s eyes go wide. “Although…”

Jon frowns at her. He didn’t think he had more face to frown at her with, but apparently he does. “…What?”

“I’ve not checked Instagram for him.”

Jon groans. “Georgie. He’s not- Martin isn’t a serial killer!”

“Mm, try telling me that when you’re dead,” Georgie retorts, but Jon can hear the humour in her voice as she starts tapping away at her phone screen. “Hm. No luck here, either. Looks like you’ve found yourself a ghost. You should still text him back, though.”

“I- I don’t- I don’t know, Georgie, maybe I-”

Jonathan.”

Jon, guiltily, meets her gaze.

Just for a moment, Georgie’s face softens. “Text him,” she says again, and her voice is gentler this time. “Seriously. You clearly like him. It seems like he likes you. You’ve just got to pick your phone up and send him a few texts. That’s all. You can’t let your anxiety get in the way, you know.”

“I’m- I’m not-”

“You’re just going to keep coming up with excuses the more you put it off,” Georgie adds. She reaches out, grabbing his hand and giving it a squeeze. “If you want,” she adds kindly, “I’ll even proof-read your texts for you.”

That makes Jon snort. “Thank you,” he says dryly. “Truly, Georgie. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Georgie grins. “Oh, I know exactly what you’d do without me.”

“Do you now?”

“Oh, yeah. You’d mope yourself into a stupor for starters,” she says, cheery as ever. “Now stop getting away from the point. Pick up your phone, and text your hot nursing boy back!”

Jon picks up his phone. It’s easy enough to unlock it and navigate to his messages, but the moment that he opens his conversation with Martin he feels his thoughts stumble to a standstill. Shit. What on earth is he meant to say now? He can’t just go directly into asking Martin out on another date, surely. He needs to be- he needs to be subtle, and charming, and suave, and other such descriptors that he doesn’t think have or will ever apply to him.

Jon swallows, his thumbs hovering over the screen. Why is this suddenly so hard? He’s texted countless people countless times, and yet suddenly, the moment it comes to Martin he’s at a complete loss. And he knows that Martin is lovely, too. He knows that Martin likely won’t judge his text at all, and that he’ll probably look down at his phone with the same wonderful, beautiful, gorgeous smile that he’d worn so often during their date when Jon had managed to surprise or charm him with something unexpected, and that he might lift his hand to try and hide his smile behind it and wow, but Jon really needs to send something because the longer he sits here, thumbs hovering awkwardly above his phone, the stronger he can feel Georgie’s gaze becoming.

Quickly, Jon gives himself a mental shake. This is- this is fine. He can do this. He can be charming. He can be suave. He did theatre, once upon a time. At the very least he can fake being charming and suave with some degree of accuracy. Admittedly he’s never tried being charming and suave over text, but he’s sure it can’t be too difficult. It’s just words. He deals with words all the time. He’s thinking in words right now. How hard could it possibly be to send some charming, suave, intelligent words to Martin? It’s just pressing buttons on a screen. It should be easy.

Jon takes a breath, taps out a few words, and hits ‘send.’

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] Thank you for the good cow, Martin.

“God, I forget sometimes that you text like an old man,” Georgie says directly into Jon’s ear, dropping her head to plant her chin firmly against Jon’s shoulder. “It’s like reading a text from a teacher.”

Jon doesn’t even flinch. “If it’s so distressing to you, you don’t have to read what I’m texting him-”

“Best friend duties; I absolutely do.”

Jon rolls his eyes. “Fine,” he mutters. “But you don’t get to make any more comments like that.”

“I make no promises.”

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] I had a very good time today, too.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood] I was wondering if we would be able to plan our next date soon. I’d rather like to see you again [unsent]

“You sound like someone in a Brontë novel,” Georgie remarks before Jon even has the chance to open his mouth. “Or an Austen. It’s very Mr Darcy of you. Why aren’t you sending it?”

“Because I sound like someone in a Brontë novel,” Jon replies dryly. “I’m not actually as oblivious to my own texting as you think I am, Georgie. Anyway, what happened to your promise not to comment?”

“I literally said ‘I make no promises.’ Your fault for not listening.”

“Hm. Do you at least have any words of wisdom for me? Any advice from your own dating experience?”

Georgie hums, reaching over Jon’s shoulder to grab his phone. He relinquishes it without hesitation, though with some small amount of concern. Georgie scrolls up through their extremely short conversation, one eyebrow raising at the picture of the cow, and then quickly types out a message before handing the phone back to Jon.

“Try that,” she says. “It’ll probably do the trick.”

Jon looks at the message. “You think?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s got the Georgie seal of approval. You know that means it’s good.”

“Hm. I don’t think you can approve your own work-”

“Alright, fine, shut up! Unless you want to write your own text…”

Jon shakes his head. “No, no, fine, you’re- yes, you’re right. It’s fine. It’s all fine. This is- it’s, um, it’s good. It’s a good message. Thank you.”

“No problem.”

“Mm.”

“…Are you going to send it now or what?”

Jon stares at his phone. “…Yes.”

“…You’re not sending it.”

“I’m- I’m working up to it.”

“Yeah?”

“Just… look, Georgie, I trust you, you know I do, but I don’t- what if Martin doesn’t like it?” Jon asks, blurting the words out suddenly. “What if- what if he finds me annoying, or- or too much? I mean, we’ve only met once, this might- I don’t want to come on too strong, I don’t-”

“You’ll be fine,” Georgie says quickly. She reaches out, patting Jon on the shoulder reassuringly. Beneath her hand, Jon sags a little. “Trust me. Martin’s going to love it.”

---

Martin’s phone buzzes.

Martin doesn’t exactly pounce on it, because that would imply that he had spent the last ten minutes sitting on his sofa staring at his phone while waiting desperately for Jon to reply to his texts, and he hadn’t done that. He hadn’t thrown his phone to the far side of the sofa immediately after sending the texts to Jon, and he hadn’t then picked it up again while telling himself that he can’t control how quickly Jon replies and thus shouldn’t be stressed about the passage of time anyway, and he definitely hadn’t instantly flung it away again, berating himself for texting Jon so soon after meeting him. This isn’t a romance novel, after all. It’s not- it’s not a romance novel, or a TV show, or anything like that, and Jon will reply whenever he gets round to it because he, like Martin, has a life and things to do. It’s fine. It’s all fine.

All the same, he lunges just a tiny bit when, in the silence of his flat, his phone gives the familiar buzzing pattern of a received text.

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] Would you like to meet again soon? I’d like to get to know you better.

Martin’s heart skips a beat. It should be concerning, the power that Jonathan Sims seem to have over some of his major organs, but Martin can’t bring himself to care. He’s too damn happy to care. He’d been so afraid when he’d sent those last texts of his, had been so concerned that he’d got the wrong number, or that Jon wouldn’t see them, or that Jon wouldn’t like them, but now all that anxiety is gone, leaving only delight in its wake. Martin doesn’t even hesitate to type out and send his reply. He knows, distantly, that he should probably wait for a bit, play it cool and distant and alluring, or whatever it is that pulpy magazines recommend, but he doesn’t. He can’t.

He needs to talk to Jon.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] I’d love to!
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Do you have anything in mind?

---

Jon stares at his phone. “Georgie,” he says. “Georgie, help.”

“With what?”

“I’ve forgotten everywhere in London that isn’t drowning in tourists.”

Georgie sighs. “You’re a smart man, Jon. I’m sure you’ve got something in mind for a second date.”

“I really, really don’t.”

“Nothing? You could go to a nice museum, that’s your kind of thing.”

Jon makes a small, pained noise. “But is it Martin’s thing?” he asks. “I don’t- I’ve only met him once, I don’t know if he’d enjoy being dragged around a museum-”

“Then ask him.”

“I can’t.”

Georgie sighs again, flopping her head onto Jon’s shoulder. “Look,” she says, clearly trying to sound as calm as she possibly can, “if you really can’t think of anything, then just tell him that. Be honest. Apparently guys are into that.”

“… I should just be honest?”

“Yeah.”

Jon looks down at his phone. He can do that. He can be honest. He can be honest, and straightforward, and not accidentally tell Martin just how much he wants to see him and talk to him and spend time with him.

“Alright,” he says. “Honesty it is.”

---

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] I honestly don’t know.
[Text from: Jonathan Sims] I’m sorry, I know that isn’t very useful, especially seeing how you planned our last date.
[Text from: Jonathan Sims] I’m just not really bothered by where we go or what we do.
[Text from: Jonathan Sims] I’d just like to see you again.

Martin lifts a fist to his mouth and tries very hard not to make any sound at all. Christ above. He’s going to die. He’s going to die, or pass out, or accidentally send Jon a keysmash, or do something along those lines because there is no thought in his head right now that isn’t either ‘nyfhlkj’ or ‘oh good God I don’t know how to handle this.’ He shouldn’t be this smitten by a tired, grandad-dressing, previously-arm-worm-infested man who he’s met no more than five times. He shouldn’t be smitten at all. He definitely shouldn’t be fighting off the urge to shove his face into a cushion and grin like an idiot because Jonathan Sims wants to see him again.

He does grin, though. He can’t stop that. Jonathan Sims, a man who first met Martin with bugs in his arm and dresses like a hot history professor, wants to see him again. Him. He wants to see Martin again, of his own free will. Admittedly he doesn’t know where he wants to see Martin, but that’s alright. Martin has some ideas.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Well… seeing how we avoided the lunch rush last time, maybe we could try and be part of it on this date?
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] We could get lunch together, if you’d like
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Sorry, I know it’s not very creative

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] No, no, it’s perfect!
[Text from: Jonathan Sims] I’d love to get lunch with you, Martin.

Martin shuts his eyes, just for a moment. Breathe, he tells himself. Breathe. Even over text he can still somehow hear the way Jon’s voice wraps around his name, all soft and gentle as though Martin’s name is something to be treasured. It makes all of him feel weird and sort of fluttery, but in a good way. He likes hearing Jon say his name.

In his hand, his phone buzzes again.

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] When were you thinking of doing this?

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] I’ve got placement for the next three days but I could do Thursday?
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Or Friday, or the weekend if you can’t do a weekday!

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] Thursday would be wonderful.
[Text from: Jonathan Sims] I should be able to leave the theatre at around 1, if that works for you?

Martin tries very hard not to wiggle in place from excitement. There’s no one around to see him but he feels it’s somewhat undignified, even if he is alone in his flat. Thursday’s so close, for all that, at the exact same time, it feels horrifically far away, because Martin will have to wait for more than five minutes to see Jon again. He doesn’t want to have to wait until Thursday. He wants to see Jon now, because apparently he’s a love-struck sap who’s living inside a pulpy romance novel. He knows that he should wait. He knows that that’s the polite, normal, sensible thing to do.

He just also doesn’t particularly care.

Martin lets himself wiggle, just a little bit. He’s got a second date. He’s got a second date, with Jon, and it’s on Thursday. Jon likes him! Jon wants to meet up with him again! He’s going to get to see Jon again, and talk to him again, and maybe hold his hand or hug him again, if Jon’s alright with that. Martin hopes that Jon’s alright with that. He really wants to hug him again. He’d really, really liked hugging Jon.

And now he only has to wait until Thursday to find out if Jon felt the same.

Martin takes a few deep breaths, trying to get himself under control, and then very calmly and normally opens his phone, rereads Jon’s messages, gives another little delighted wiggle, and then types out his reply.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] That works great for me!
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] I’ll see you then, Jon ^-^

Martin stares down at his phone, a grin on his face, and waits for Jon to reply.

---

“Put an ‘x.’”

“I’m not putting an ‘x.’”

“Do it.”

“No!”

“It’ll be cute! He’ll like it, I promise.”

“I’ve met him once, Georgie.”

“From what you’ve told me, you’ve met him significantly more than just once.”

Fine. I’ve met him for a date once. Is that better?”

“Hm. A bit. He seems the romantic sort, though. Just go for it. Be fearless!”

“Not all of us are you, you know.”

Ugh. Fine. Be boring instead, then. Not my fault if he doesn’t propose to you by the end of the month.”

Jon, flawlessly eloquent as always, splutters at her.

---

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] Yes, I’ll see you then.

Martin breathes out a sigh of relief. He doesn’t know why it took Jon so long to send that one short text, seeing how quickly he’d been replying before, but he hopes it’s nothing serious. It probably isn’t. It was probably just normal life stuff. It was probably just normal, regular, boring life stuff, and it definitely wasn’t Jon secretly finding Martin incredibly annoying but agreeing to go on a second date with him anyway just to tease him about it later. It’s not that. Martin knows that it’s not that, but now that the thought’s in his head, he can’t get it out again.

Shit. What if Jon isn’t actually serious about any of this? What if- what if he likes Martin but doesn’t like him, not the same way that Martin likes him back? What if this is just casual dating? Martin snorts a little at that thought, fingers squeezing his phone. He’s being ridiculous. This is just casual dating, because there’s no way that it can be anything else yet. They’ve only met each other a couple of times, after all. They’ve only been on one date! This could end at any moment, for any reason, and Martin will be completely fine with that because neither of them have developed any feelings beyond a crush yet. It’s fine. It’s all fine. If it turns out that Jon isn’t actually all that into him, or that Jon’s changed his mind, or that Jon will change his mind once he’s had time to think about what he’s actually doing… well, Martin won’t deny that it’ll hurt, but he’ll deal with it. He’ll handle it.

In his hand, his phone buzzes again.

Immediately Martin wakes his screen, and feels his heart skip a beat at the messages displayed on it.

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] (Sorry if this is too forward, but Thursday is annoyingly far away right now.)
[Text from: Jonathan Sims] ((Georgie told me not to text that.))
[Text from: Jonathan Sims] ((I may have ignored her.))

Martin doesn’t even make a sound in response to the texts. He can’t. He feels like he should be doing something, saying something, like he should be laughing or squeaking or anything at all, but he can’t. He can’t do anything. All he can do is stare at his phone, and smile like an idiot, and feel warmth flood over him at the knowledge that, just possibly, Jon likes him just as much as he likes Jon.

At the knowledge that, very soon, he’ll get to see Jon again.

Just four days, and he gets to see Jonathan Sims again. He can wait four days. He can definitely wait four days. He’s a grown man with a life and a job (well, placement, which is close enough), and hobbies. He can wait for four days without turning into a love-sick puppy.

After two seconds thought, Martin texts Jon back.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Don’t worry, I feel the same.
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Thursday is much too far away.

Chapter Text

“You’re awfully chipper this morning,” Melanie says, barely two seconds after Jon greets her on Monday morning. “Like, weirdly chipper. Is your wrist hurting less now or something?”

It takes Jon an almost embarrassingly long stretch of time to start to parse Melanie’s words. He can’t quite focus on what she’s saying, for all that he knows that he really should be listening to his co-worker and friend. Melanie often has important things to say, after all, that relate to the theatre or to her life or to any one of countless other things. He should listen to the important things that she could be saying. Even if she doesn’t have something important to say right now, he should still listen, because that’s just the polite thing to do. And he is listening, or at least he’s trying to, but her words keep sliding off his brain like rainwater, every single one of them displaced by a significantly larger, louder, more important thought.

I went on a date with Martin yesterday, Jon thinks, and tries very hard not to smile.

Before him, Melanie frowns. “Jon?” she asks again, starting to sound slightly concerned. She drops her bag down beside her desk and nods towards Jon’s hand where it lies atop his desk. “Is your wrist doing alright? Do you need ibuprofen or something? You’re looking… I don’t know, kind of out of it, like how you did after the hospital. Does your wrist still hurt? You haven’t been doing any lifting with it, have you? Because Google told me to tell you not to do that.”

Somehow, that breaks through the wall of Martin surrounding Jon’s thoughts. “What?” he asks, blinking. “You- Google?”

“Mhmm. I figured I’d ask the internet what not to do with a sprain so that I could stop you from doing anything stupid.”

“Oh,” Jon says intelligently. “I- huh. Alright.” He pauses, and then adds, “And no, I haven’t been doing anything with my wrist. You know Daisy would put a knife to my throat if I so much as thought about doing anything before it’s entirely healed.”

“You say that like it’ll actually stop you.”

“I do actually care about my health, Melanie.”

“Strong words coming from a man who went to A&E five times in three weeks.”

“Ah, no, it wasn’t five times,” Jon hastens to correct. “It was only four.”

Melanie gives a short snort of laughter. “Right, yes, of course, my deepest apologies. Four times. Which is, as we all know, vastly different from going to A&E five times.”

“Look, none of those were exactly my fault-”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m just messing with you,” Melanie says, leaning over to gently whack Jon on the shoulder. “But, still. That’s kind of impressive, in a concerning sort of way. You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d almost think there were some reason you kept on going to A&E.”

Jon narrows his eyes. “Melanie?”

“Yeah, boss?”

“I don’t- this isn’t- I haven’t been doing this on purpose, you know.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, I know, I’m just saying that, y’know, if there was, say, for example, a very cute nurse at A&E who you just so happened to like, I can imagine that that might, just possibly, sort of… encourage you to go to hospital a bit more. Maybe.”

“…I knew I shouldn’t have let Basira tell you about Martin,” Jon says after a pause.

Melanie grins. It’s probably meant to be a happy grin. To Jon, it just looks insufferably smug. “Oh, yeah, that definitely wasn’t your brightest idea.”

“Hmm.”

“Letting her tell Tim maybe wasn’t a smart idea either.”

“Few things involving Tim count as ‘a smart idea’.”

“…Yeah, fair, good point.”

“Thank you.”

“I am glad you told us, though. About your nursing boy.”

Jon frowns, leaning back in his chair slightly. “Why?” he asks, trying not to sound suspicious and missing by a mile. He knows that he should trust Melanie – and he does, really – but he’s always been wary when it comes to people asking about his personal life. Georgie and Martin aside, the idea of anyone, even a co-worker, actually knowing about his life can sometimes be enough to put his teeth on edge.

Melanie just looks at him. “Because I actually care about you?” she suggests. “Because it’s nice feeling like you actually want to share your life with us sometimes? I mean, no judgement, I know how you like to be all secretive and mysterious to hide the fact that you’re a massive nerd – don’t give me that look, you know it’s true – but I can still be glad that you’re actually telling us things. Even if Tim is being, y’know, Tim, when it comes to your nursing boy.”

“Martin,” Jon says.

“Yeah, Martin.”

Jon nods a little, absently dropping his gaze to his hand. The bandages are off now, leaving no more traces of Martin’s ministrations resting against his skin, but beneath the fizzing glow of the basement lights he can clearly see his accumulated scars shining back at him, can see the pockmarks of the worms and the twisting grasp of the lamp burn. He likes to think that he can feel the line of the breadknife across his torso, too, still a little raw and tender but holding together with Martin’s care and help.

Although, Jon reminds himself in the solitude and safety of his own head, that can’t happen again. If he gets injured at the theatre again – when he gets injured at the theatre again – Martin won’t be allowed to treat him. Martin won’t be allowed to look after him. Martin won’t be allowed to cluck like a worried hen and fuss over him, chastising him for not looking after himself and making Jon’s stomach do funny, twisty little things in delight with every other word.

And Martin won’t be able to do any of that because, as of Sunday, they’re dating.

Jonathan Sims is dating Martin Blackwood, and he has no idea how he managed to do it.

“…Jon?” Melanie asks slowly. Her voice sounds far away, muffled and fuzzy like static, and Jon forces himself to stop daydreaming about Martin and actually look at her. He turns his head, glancing up at her.

“Mm?” he hums.

“What happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“What happened with Martin?”

Jon tries very, very hard not to smile. He can do that. He’s an expert at not smiling. “Nothing-”

“Don’t lie to me, you’re all- you’re smiling. As in, properly big smiling. It’s kind of creepy, actually, but I’m going to assume that it means that something good happened over the weekend.”

“It was a very normal weekend, Melanie. How was- how was your weekend?”

“Boring,” Melanie answers immediately. “So why don’t we talk about yours instead? Why don’t we talk about why you’re acting all zoned-out, and weird, and all sort of… I don’t know. If I didn’t know you better, I’d almost say you seemed like you were daydreaming.”

“I’m not daydreaming, Melanie,” says Jon. “I’m just- I’m thinking about… things. That’s all.”

“Ah, yes,” Melanie says knowingly. “Things. Martin-things. Martin, in fact, I’d assume.”

“I’m not thinking about- about Martin.”

“That’s a lie.”

“It’s not,” Jon lies. He’s definitely still thinking about Martin. He hasn’t been able to stop thinking about Martin since- well, since the first time he saw him, really, but it’s only gotten worse with recent events. He can still remember the three texts he’d woken up to that morning, after sending Martin a picture of a highland cow the night before, several hours after Martin had told him that he was going to bed. They’d been tiny texts, short and sweet and with no overtly romantic meaning to them, but Jon had found himself grinning like an idiot when he’d first read them all the same.

Even now, hours later, he still finds himself starting to smile just from thinking about the texts that are still open on his phone.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Thank you for the good cow picture, Jon!
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] It really brightened my morning ^-^
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] I hope you have a good day, by the way!

Jon hadn’t quite had to hide his face in his pillow when he’d read that last text, but it had been a near thing. He’s not prepared for Martin at the best of times, as was made clearly apparent on his date (his date!), and it seems that he’s particularly susceptible to Martin’s Martin-ness when he’s only just woken up and hasn’t had quite enough time to mentally steel himself against the inevitable bastardry of the universe. At times like that, it turns out, all it takes is a small handful of texts to turn him into a swooning mess. He doesn’t really feel like he can be blamed for that, though. Martin is- he’s just- he’s Martin. He’s Martin, and he’s wonderful, and kind, and sweet, and charming, and, for reasons that Jon is yet to figure out, he actually seems to want to be around Jon. He wants to talk to Jon. He wants to go on dates with Jon. He wants to hug Jon, and hold Jon’s hand, and send Jon good-morning texts to tell him that he hopes that Jon has a good day. Even with all the quiet daydreaming Jon had done in the weeks prior to his asking Martin out, he’d never truly thought about what it would be like to date Martin. He’d not thought about the panic he’d experience before a date, or the elation afterwards, or any of that.

He’d never thought about how now, with the memory of Martin’s smile nestled bright and warm inside his heart, he would be so loath to share the memory of the date with others. It’s his memory. He knows it’s a little hypocritical, to tell Georgie everything but tell Melanie nothing, but Georgie had already known that it was happening. Georgie knows everything in his life by default. That’s just how things are. At work, Jon generally prefers to keep some degree of separation between his co-workers and his actual, personal life, even though every single one of the aforementioned co-workers seems completely determined to squash that separation down to absolutely nothing.

Just as Melanie currently seems to be doing.

She gives a short snort of amused laughter, moving over to perch on the corner of Jon’s desk. “Right,” she says, her voice practically dripping with sarcasm and disbelief. “You’re not thinking about Martin. Nothing happened with Martin recently. Nothing at all.”

“Mm.”

“…’Mm’, nothing happened, or ‘mm’, something actually did happen?”

“One of those.”

Melanie groans. “Ugh, Jon! You can’t just- look, just tell me what happened! Tell me what happened with your hot nurse boy!”

“Why?” Jon asks.

“Because despite everything, I actually care about you, you dick! And you’re, like, actually happy. Like, happy-happy. Like, ‘I just found a box of fifty-year-old scripts that I’m going to spend the afternoon meticulously filing’-happy.”

“They were actually closer to sixty-”

Just tell me what happened, Jon!”

Jon smiles a little. “No,” he says.

Melanie groans louder. “Jon.”

“It’s not your business what I get up to outside of work.”

“It is if it’s something important. And this- this whatever-it-is was clearly important.”

Jon just shrugs. “It wasn’t anything monumental,” he says, though the words almost feel like a lie. It’s the truth, though. He knows it’s the truth. Going on a date with Martin had been wonderful, and incredible, and they’ve already got their second date planned and Jon would be lying if he said that he wasn’t mentally counting down the days to it, but it wasn’t… their first date hadn’t been monumental. It had just been nice. It had just been so, so, so damn nice, and easy, and familiar despite all the lingering awkwardness. Despite everything, despite Jon’s stumbled words and awkward questions and general Jon-ish-ness, he’d never felt uncomfortable. It had never felt challenging.

It had just felt normal, in the most comforting and wonderful of ways.

Melanie doesn’t seem convinced by his words, though. She raises a doubtful eyebrow, crossing her arms over her chest. “Really? Are you sure about that? I know your lying face, Jon. It’s the same one you get when you tell me that Elias only has ‘a few small revisions’ for the set.”

“I’m not lying,” Jon says, “I’m just… this weekend wasn’t…” He trails off. He can’t say that the weekend wasn’t important, not in good conscience. It was important. It was undeniably important. He had a date with Martin, for God’s sake, and he’s well aware of how Basira and Daisy and Melanie and Tim and even Gerry like to tell him that he can, apparently, be a tad over-dramatic at times – which is, he feels, a complete fabrication – but he doesn’t think it’s an over-exaggeration to say that Sunday was one of the best days in his living memory. He just doesn’t want to tell Melanie that.

But, at the same time, he does. He wants to tell everyone.

Well, maybe that’s not accurate. He doesn’t want to tell Melanie, or any of the others, because that would involve actually talking about it, and for reasons that he can’t explain, he feels like talking about it will somehow make it less real, making the moment less his own and more something that’s shared out between all his friends, and he doesn’t want that. He likes Martin. He likes Martin a lot. And he wants everyone to know just how wonderful and handsome and incredible Martin is, and how happy Martin makes him, and how thoughtful Martin is about his future career plan and how he feels for his job and course of study and- and everything about Martin, but he can’t. He can’t share that. He can’t tell them that. He just needs them to know, needs the information to be dropped directly into their brains without him having to say a single word, so that he can talk with them about Martin while simultaneously completely avoiding the awkward period wherein he explains to them that yes, he did somehow ask Martin out and yes, it did somehow work. He just needs that to happen.

Unfortunately, he’s pretty sure that that’s impossible.

Jon sighs. “Melanie,” he starts, but before he can continue Melanie shakes her head, speaking up over him.

“No, no, I understand,” she says, plunging a hand into her pocket and yanking out her phone. “It’s clear you’re not going to tell me.”

Jon frowns. “What are you doing?” he asks. “Are you texting-”

“If you won’t tell me, then Georgie will.”

Oh. “I- Melanie-”

“Too late,” Melanie says, just a touch too gleefully. She lifts her phone, showing Jon the screen. Jon squints at it. “Georgie won’t let me down. She never has.”

“That’s because Georgie is terrible.”

“And yet she’s still your best friend. Weird, that.”

Jon sighs, slumping back in his chair. He watches in moody, brooding, possibly Hamlet-ish silence as Melanie continues to type, sending a sequence of texts in rapid succession. He doesn’t want Georgie to tell her anything. He wants Georgie to tell her everything. He wants for everyone to know, and he doesn’t want for them to make a fuss over it, and he wants to keep his personal life entirely separate from his work life, and he wants for it to be Thursday right now, and-

And in his pocket, he can feel his phone buzzing with received texts.

It’s almost certainly not Martin.

But it could be.

With as much poise and composure as possible, Jon withdraws his phone from his pocket. He can feel his heart starting to beat faster in his chest just from the pointless, ridiculous hope that it could be Martin texting him, but that hope is crushed flat the second he turns on the screen.

[Text from: Georgie Barker] hey Jon, Melanie just texted me asking about you and Martin
[Text from: Georgie Barker] is it alright if I tell her that you had a date? No worries if it’s not <3

In the soft, dim, familiar light of the basement, Jon smiles. Oh, but bless Georgie. Bless her, and bless her for understanding exactly what Jon is like, and bless her for checking before replying to Melanie’s texts. Bless her for everything.

Bless her, very specifically, for giving Jon a way to make sure that Melanie can know absolutely everything about what happened on Sunday without Jon actually having to submit himself to the mortifying ordeal of talking about his feelings.

After barely a second of looking at his phone, Jon texts back.

[Text to: Georgie Barker] You can tell her.
[Text to: Georgie Barker] It means that I don’t have to.

[Text from: Georgie Barker] yeah, I suppose that’s true
[Text from: Georgie Barker] she’d probably appreciate hearing it from you, though
[Text from: Georgie Barker] you know, show her that you actually trust her and all that

[Text to: Georgie Barker] I know.
[Text to: Georgie Barker] It’s just…
[Text to: Georgie Barker] I’m not very good at… this.

[Text from: Georgie Barker] yeah, yeah, I know
[Text from: Georgie Barker] you can’t let people know you have ‘’’’feelings’’’’

[Text to: Georgie Barker] That’s not what I meant.

[Text from: Georgie Barker] yeah it is
[Text from: Georgie Barker] anyway, stand by for Melanie exploding at you in about 10 seconds x

[Text to: Georgie Barker] Standing by.

One, Jon counts in his head. Two. Three, four, five, six, seve-

What?!” Melanie exclaims, looking up from her phone. “You- what? Jon!”

Jon smiles awkwardly. He can’t think of anything else to do in that moment. He feels that he should be talking, feels that he should be saying something, but he also knows perfectly well that Melanie’s going to continue talking in less than a second, so there’s not really much point in trying to defend himself right now.

Half a breath later, he’s proven absolutely right.

“You had a date!” Melanie exclaims. “You- what? When? How?”

In her hand, her phone buzzes again. Jon watches as Melanie’s eyes dart across the screen, growing wider with every word.

“You- what?” she says again. “You actually- holy shit, Jon, did you actually ask hot nurse boy out on a date? Did you do it? Did you- holy shit!”

“I… may have,” Jon replies.

“Without, you know, really messing it up?”

“…More or less.”

Melanie laughs. “Well, whatever you did, it clearly worked.” Her phone buzzes again. “Christ. Did you really borrow Georgie’s jacket?”

“…Possibly. It’s a very good jacket though.”

“Oh, yeah, I’m not disagreeing with that,” Melanie says, not looking up from her phone. “Damn. Damn.”

There’s a tiny pause.

“We’re telling the others,” she says firmly, springing up from her chair and striding forward to – carefully – grab Jon’s wrist. “Come on. We’re telling them, right now, because I’m going to explode if I don’t, and because I know that you want to be smug and love-struck in their general vicinity.”

“I don’t-” Jon starts to protest, but it’s weak. Even as he speaks he’s starting to stand, letting Melanie drag him to the door and out into the hallway. “I- Melanie-”

“No, nope, no complaining! We’re going upstairs.”

“…How far upstairs?”

“To the lighting box,” Melanie says, and starts climbing the stairs.

Jon likes spending time up in the lighting box. It’s about as far from his domain of spooky corridors and creepy shadows and far too many boxes of old props and files as it’s possible to get in the theatre, but he likes it all the same. There’s something oddly calmly in climbing up the ladder to the weird door in the side and stepping out onto the catwalks hanging above the rows of seats, looking out over seating and stage alike and simply observing. It’s more Basira’s domain than his own, seeing how she’s the one who actually hangs the lights and programs the desk and does all of the fiddly cabling that seems to require endless amounts of electrical tape and cable ties, but she’s never complained at Jon for being there. If anything she seems to appreciate his presence and the way he always just knows where another roll of white tape is.

Admittedly, there had been a very awkward period of a couple of weeks after she’d joined the theatre where Tim, who could see their feet from his sound desk if they were standing on the catwalks, had been utterly convinced that they were getting up to other, significantly less work-related activities, but that time has long since passed. Even now, Jon’s still not sure how Tim came to that conclusion. After all, doing anything even remotely in that area up on the catwalks would be incredibly dangerous for all parties involved.

He doesn’t have much time to dwell on that thought, though, because Melanie very rapidly starts urging him up the narrow, twisty little flight of stairs that leads to the lighting box. Through the little glass window in the door, Jon can see Tim and Basira sat by Tim’s sound desk, discussing something as Daisy watches on. If Jon had had more time he probably would have been able to figure out what they were talking about, but as it is he glimpses them for barely more than a millisecond before Melanie reaches the door, grabs the handle, and flings it open with more showmanship than Jon feels is really necessary.

“This man went on a date,” Melanie announces loudly, instantly grabbing the attention of everyone in the lighting box. “He went on a date, with an actual human, and do you know who told me about it?”

There’s a beat of silence.

“No-” Basira starts, only for Melanie to immediately talk over her.

“Georgie,” she says. “Georgie was the one to tell me that our Jon went on an actual date. Yesterday! He went on a date, yesterday, and he didn’t even tell me!”

“I didn’t think you’d be interested!” Jon protests. He can feel himself starting to wither a little under the weight of everyone’s gaze, his skin starting to prickle the longer they all look at him. He loves his friends, he really does, but what he’d felt alright and maybe just a little smug discussing with Melanie suddenly feels like too much to be discussing here, with everyone watching him like hawks. “I didn’t- it’s not a big deal.”

“Don’t lie, Jon,” Daisy interrupts. “You know that’s a big deal, especially here.”

“It’s not- it was just one date.” One date, and the promise of another, and a truly absurd number of texts traded in the meantime. Even now, some part of Jon’s mind is still waiting impatiently for his phone to buzz, even though he knows that Martin is likely busy working at the hospital, helping people and saving lives and generally being good and wonderful and Martin.

“According to Georgie, you two already have another date planned,” Melanie adds slyly. “According to her, you’re seeing him again on Thursday.”

Tim raises a hand. “Quick question: who’s ‘he’?”

“I’m assuming this is Jon’s nursing boy,” Basira comments. “Marvin, was it?”

“Martin,” Jon corrects before he can stop himself. Immediately a knowing, disconcertingly cunning smile starts to slip across Basira’s face.

“Martin, was it?” she asks. “Sorry for getting his name wrong.”

Jon glares at her. It’s a half-hearted glare at best, and he knows it, but he still feels like it needs to be done. Who does Basira think she is, being all cunning and making him say Martin’s name out loud in front of all of them? “It’s fine,” he forces himself to say, and Basira’s smile grows wider. Bastard. He’s surrounded by absolute bastards. Basira is a bastard, and Melanie is a bastard, and Georgie is a bastard, and Daisy is a bastard but Jon would never dare tell her to her face, and even Tim is a bastard, with his dyed hair and big grin and that twinkle in his eye that Jon knows means trouble.

“Oh hell yeah, boss!” Tim says enthusiastically. He raises a hand, reaching out towards Jon. “Get some!”

Automatically, Jon raises a hand back. “I’m not your-”

There’s a loud slap as Tim smacks his hand against Jon’s with enough force to make him wince.

“I am so proud of you,” Tim continues, sounding, perhaps for the first time since Jon met him, utterly sincere. “Seriously, boss-man. Good job.”

“…I’m not your boss,” Jon says after a moment’s pause, dropping his hand and quickly shaking it.

Tim merely laughs. “That’s not important,” he continues. “You can’t stop me from calling you it. And anyway, that doesn’t matter! What matters is that you saw your hot nurse again!”

“His name’s Martin,” Melanie interjects helpfully.

“Yeah, him! Martin! You saw him again. You went on a date.” Tim leans back in his chair, making the mechanism supporting the back squeak loudly, and gives a theatrical sniffle, raising a hand to brush non-existent tears from his eyes. “I’m so proud of you. You’re growing up, dating hot nurses… you’ve come so far.”

“Tim.”

“No, no, it’s alright, Jon, you don’t have to thank me. I know I taught you everything you know. It’s time for you to fly the nest, spread your wings and find all the hot nurses you could dream of.”

Tim.”

“And if you ever feel like you need pointers, or advice, or advice,” Tim continues, waggling his eyebrows terribly, “you just let me know, yeah?”

Jon sighs, lifting a hand to rub at his temples in a weak attempt to hide the blush that’s trying to overtake his entire face. “Tim,” he says again. “I- I don’t- thank you for the offer, I suppose, but I assure you that I- I really do not need any pointers in that, um, in that… area.”

“Oh?” Tim asks delightedly. Behind his hand, Jon frowns. He doesn’t know how Tim interpreted his words, but he doesn’t trust the grin he just knows is on Tim’s face. “Oh, is that so? Well, as long as you’re being safe, that’s all that matters.”

From beside him, Melanie makes a quiet gagging sound. “Jesus,” she says, “can we- can you please not talk about Jon doing- about Jon doing stuff while I’m in the room? Please?”

“I’d also like to be exempt,” Basira adds, wrinkling her nose.

Daisy nods. “Same for me. I mean, Jon, you know that I love you, but I do not want to be thinking about… that, and I know you don’t either.”

Jon shoots Daisy a grateful look. Everyone listens to Daisy. Even Tim. “Yes,” he says emphatically. “Yes, you- you make a very good point. Tim, could we- can we maybe not talk about… that? Here?”

“Alright, alright,” Tim replies. “We can talk about it later.”

“We absolutely cannot talk about it later.”

“Look, enough talking about Jon and- and- and things,” Melanie interrupts. “We’re moving on! Namely, we’re moving on to the fact that I want to meet Jon’s nursing boy, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one, either.”

“He’s not ‘my nursing boy’,” Jon mutters, even as he feels his stomach give a delighted little twist at how the three words sound together. It’s a silly and childish sounding description of Martin, one that does nothing at all to convey what he’s actually like as a person, and Jon knows that he should hate it and he does, but he also likes it far more than he should. It’s… nice, hearing how easily his friends talk about Martin. How easily they talk about Martin in relation to him.

Your nursing boy. Stupid. Childish. Jon hates it.

(He absolutely loves it.)

Before him, Melanie grins. “He is,” she says. “He absolutely is. I mean, none of us know him, so we can’t say that he’s our nursing boy, and you’ve already told us that he’s a nurse, and that he’s a guy, so it’s really a pretty apt description of him, when you think about it.”

“I-I- you- Melanie-”

Admit it.”

Jon glowers. From over Melanie’s shoulder, Daisy glowers back at him. It’s a significantly more impressive glower than his. “…Fine,” he spits. “Fine, he’s- he’s my- he’s my ‘nursing boy’, I suppose.”

“And we’re going to meet him.”

“You are not going to meet him. Not yet, at least.”

“Not yet?” Basira echoes, a small smile tugging at her mouth. “So we’re going to meet him at some point, yeah?”

“I didn’t- no, wait, I didn’t say that-”

“When can we meet him?”

“I didn’t- Melanie, I didn’t say that-”

“No, Melanie’s got a point-”

Thank you, Daisy-”

“-you should let us meet him-”

“I am not having Martin meet any of you-”

“Ooh, actually, you know what you should do?” Tim asks suddenly, his voice clearly cutting over the sound of everyone else’s chatter in a way that implies that he was told about ‘indoor voices’ at primary school, but never actually developed one. “You should invite him to my leaving drinks! We’re all going to be there – it’ll be great!”

“Are you really sure that’s a good idea?” Basira asks, at the exact same time that Melanie slaps an enthusiastic hand down on the table.

Yes,” she says. “Perfect. Tim, my man, you’re a genius.”

“I know.”

“Jon, you’ve got to bring Martin to Tim’s leaving drinks. It’s gotta happen.”

“I’m not bringing Martin,” Jon says firmly.

“Why not? You don’t even have to bring him to the theatre – just drag him along to the pub with you, introduce us, and see what happens!”

“It’s the ‘see what happens’ bit that concerns me most, you know.”

“Nah, it’ll be great!” Tim continues excitedly. “We’ll get to meet him, he’ll get to meet us, we’ll tell him about all the embarrassing stuff that you’ve done in your entire life, and then nothing that you do in the future will ever be a surprise! We’ll be- we’ll be pre-preparing him for more Jon-isms.”

“…Isn’t that just called ‘preparing’?” Basira asks.

“Nope,” Tim says, popping the ‘p’. “Definitely pre-preparing. Super-preparing. Nursing boy is going to be so prepared to deal with Jon that he won’t know what hit him.”

“Nursing boy will absolutely know what hit him,” Daisy says dryly. “Talking to you is like wading through a hurricane, sometimes.”

“Thank you!”

“That wasn’t a compliment.”

“Well, thank you anyway,” Tim replies, flashing Daisy a bright grin that was probably intended to be charming, but was sadly prevented from being charming by being issued by Tim. “Also, Jon, you do realise that you have a debt to repay right now, right?”

Jon frowns. “I… no, I wasn’t aware. I don’t owe you anything. I paid you back for the satmat Nando’s order weeks ago.”

“You did, and I’m eternally grateful for that, but I’m not talking about the loading bay Nando’s.”

“Then what are you talking about?”

Tim raises a hand and points meaningfully at Jon’s wrist.

“Oh,” Jon says. “Oh.”

“Yup.”

“You- right.”

“Mmhmm.”

“You’re talking about how you sent me to A&E.”

“Yes, I am,” Tim replies, with rather more delight than Jon feels the situation really merits. “If you think about it, you really have me to thank for your date. Without me-”

“You didn’t really do anything, though; I tripped over Not Sasha.”

“-without me,” Tim continues more emphatically, “you would’ve been safely out of A&E for another two days at least, which means that you wouldn’t have encountered Martin again, which means that you wouldn’t have gone on your date! I’m basically your cupid. You’re welcome. Also, you owe me for it. And as the owner of that owe – the owe-ner, if you will-”

“I’m going to stab you,” Daisy says flatly.

“-as the owe-ner, I’m going to use my power to make sure that you, Jonathan Sims, bring yourself and your hot nursing boy to my leaving drinks.”

“I don’t- I don’t know if that’s the best idea,” Jon says as firmly as he can. “It’s- I haven’t known Martin for very long, and I- I mean, you’re all absolutely lovely, of course, but you’re also, ah…”

“Theatre people?” Basira suggests.

“…That’s one way of putting it, yes.”

Basira shrugs. “Look, if this Martin of yours is going to be sticking around for any period of time then he’s going to have to meet us eventually. I mean, we are pretty much your only friends.”

“H-hey! I have other friends!”

“Name them.”

“Georgie.”

“Name one other.”

Jon wracks his mind. “There’s, uh, there’s- there’s- there’s Gerry.”

“Stagehand Gerry?” Melanie interrupts. “The lanky goth kid who dresses in stage blacks literally all the time?”

“Do you know another Gerry?”

“Well, no, I was just- how often do you actually speak to Gerry? Or see him? We’re both basement-dwellers, Jon. Even if you do hang out in the lighting box a lot. It’s still not exactly Gerry-city.”

“Gerry does actually come up here sometimes,” Basira adds. “He helps me swap out the light gels and gobos on the older lamps.”

“Alright, fine. It’s a Gerry-village, population: one.”

“I like Gerry,” Daisy says unexpectedly. “He’s sensible. Doesn’t cause any trouble.”

“He absolutely does-”

“He doesn’t cause any trouble that troubles me,” Daisy clarifies. “Which might as well be the same thing. And he puts props back where they’re meant to be.”

“Oh. Nice. That’s pretty impressive.”

“Mm. Gerry’s good. I don’t think he’s going to be at Tim’s leaving drinks, though.”

“He’s not,” Tim confirms. “He’s got something with his mum happening then, or something like that.”

“Martin had better be though,” continues Daisy lowly. She looks up at Jon, the light glancing off her face, and just for a moment Jon swears that her teeth are sharper than they were before. “If Martin doesn’t join us, I’ll rip his throat out.”

Jon gulps. “You, uh… ah…”

“…That was a joke, Jon.”

“Oh! That was- yes, very- very good, ahaha, hah…. hah…”

Daisy sighs, rolling her eyes. “Just bring him, alright? We’ll be on our best behaviour if you do.”

“I won’t be,” Tim says.

“Yes, you will.”

“…Yes, I will.”

“That’s what I thought.”

Despite himself, Jon gives a little snort of laughter. He can feel himself warming to the idea, absurd and terrible as he knows it is. It would be nice for Martin to meet his friends. It would be nice for his friends to meet Martin. It would be nice to be able to introduce Martin to them, and have them see for themselves just how wonderful he is, and Jon knows that it’s much, much too soon for him to even consider doing anything like that, but he wants it all the same. It’s a terrible idea, made all the worse because it’s Tim suggesting it, but he still likes it in spite of all his protests. Maybe it would be alright. Maybe it would be… fun.

“Do you promise to make sure that they all behave themselves?” Jon asks, catching Daisy’s eye.

Daisy smiles. “Yes,” she says simply. “I know where they all live.”

“Basira doesn’t count when you live with her,” Melanie interjects.

“I know where you live, though.”

“… Oh, shit, yeah, you do, don’t you?”

“I do,” Daisy replies, sounding just a tiny bit smug. “You asked me to pick the lock on your door after you locked yourself out while ghost-hunting.”

“I’ve only done that once, though.”

“Once is enough.”

“And I could have moved since then.”

“You haven’t moved. You’re still exactly where you used to be, and you still go ghost hunting sometimes, and I might not know exactly where Tim will be living in a few weeks, but I know where he lives right now.”

Basira glances down at Daisy, giving her a small grin that Daisy returns with a small twitch of her lips. “I’ll find out where he’s staying soon enough, don’t worry about that. Though, come to think of it… remind me again what it is that you’re doing, Tim?”

Tim leans back in his chair theatrically, crossing his arms across his chest with a look of deep contentment and satisfaction. The chair squeaks again, for a moment making Jon worry that the ancient, brittle plastic might finally accept its age and snap in half, dropping Tim unceremoniously to the floor, but it doesn’t. He just continues to recline like a lord of a remarkably tiny realm, gazing out at his subjects before bestowing upon them his blessing.

“I,” Tim says smugly, “have got myself a kayaking job.”

“What, here?” Melanie exclaims. “In London? You taking people kayaking down the Thames or something?”

“No, not in London, don’t be absurd. It’s up north, where they have actual rivers and nice valleys and exciting things and all that.”

“And better water,” Jon adds absently. “According to Martin, at least.”

“I’m sorry, Jon, but are you telling me that you and Martin had a chat about water quality? On your date?”

Jon shrugs, feeling his ears starting to turn scarlet. “I- it- we- we might have. For a while. According to Martin, the water here ruins how Yorkshire Tea tastes so he’s had to swap to Twinings.”

“…Jon?”

“…Yes?”

“That’s bloody adorable,” says Tim. “I mean, seriously. Of all the things to talk about on a date and you talked about tea.”

“It was- look, it was relevant to the date,” Jon says, feeling a bit like he needs to explain himself, absurd as that feeling is. “It was- we went to a little café that Martin knows, and I- I had tea, because I- well, because I wanted tea, and Martin had hot chocolate, and we- I- well, at one point he was talking about Scotland and highland cows and he mentioned how the water in Scotland and the north in general is much better than London water! The water here is full of limescale.”

“I’m not saying that it’s not,” Tim replies. He laughs a little but there’s no meanness to it; there never is with Tim, not really. “It’s just- you talked about the quality of water! On a date! Only you, Jon. Seriously.”

“It was relevant to the conversation at hand-”

“I know, I know, you just said that. It’s just… well, you said your nursing boy was the one to bring it up, yeah?”

“Martin. And yes.”

Tim shrugs. “Well, that’s a good thing, right? Means he likes to talk about the same kind of nerdy and boring stuff that you do. I’m not saying that you’re boring, of course, because you’re a deeply fascinating man who just coincidentally happens to inhabit a basement full of dusty files, but it’s… it’s good that you could have those sorts of conversations. That’s all I’m saying. I’m glad that you’ve found someone like that, Jon.”

“…Are you mocking me?”

“No! No, no, genuinely, I’m not, I swear to God!” Tim says. He’s still laughing a little, his words tinged with amusement, but even with the laughter bubbling through them there’s still an undeniable current of sincerity underlying everything Tim says. “Really, Jon. I mean it. You’re clearly, you know, kind of a tiny bit completely smitten with this guy, and I’m- I’m really happy that you actually managed to ask him out. And that you had a date! That’s great! And you got on, and talked about- about cows, apparently, and water quality, which admittedly isn’t my idea of a good date, but it seems to me like you had a good time.”

“…I did,” Jon says after a short pause. His words are received with a chorus of ‘aw’s from his co-workers, but he finds that he doesn’t really mind it as much as he thought he would. It’s nice. This is nice. “I, um… I really did, actually. It was- he’s- Martin’s… yeah.”

“And you’re seeing him again on Thursday, right?”

“…Yes.”

Tim grins. “Aw, look at you all smiling! That’s so cute. So you’re seeing him on Thursday, and probably at some point after that if you’re both as adorably smitten as you seem to be, and, basically, what I’m saying is that you’ve got a couple of weeks to get to know him better. So, I mean, I’m just saying… you could get him accustomed to the idea of coming out with us. Tell him lots of stories about how great and cool we all are. Maybe mention that we’d probably pay for his drinks because we’re just that nice and lovely and charming to anyone that you date.”

“You’ve never been that nice or charming to anyone that I’ve dated,” Melanie grumbles, crossing her arms over her chest.

“That’s because you’re not Jon.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jon asks, at the exact same time that Melanie loudly exclaims, “Hey!”

Tim grins wider, leaning back in his chair with a deeply concerning creak of ancient, complaining plastic. “It means whatever you interpret it to mean,” he says, as diplomatically as he can. “Namely, that you, Melanie, have a smidge more social skills than old Jonny-boy over here.”

“Don’t call me Jonny-”

“By which I mean, of course, that you can actually talk to most normal, non-theatre people for more than ten minutes without scaring them off. Also, Jon never dates anyone, so this is an occasion worth celebrating. And because I am so incredibly lovely and wonderful, I’m willing to share my very own leaving drinks with just this occasion.”

Jon sighs, though he knows that he’s smiling a little now. He can’t help it. Despite their weirdness, and their odd fascination with the romantic facet of his personal life, and all their prying questions, he’s actually been very nearly enjoying this conversation, as absurd as it sounds. It’s nice, somehow. It’s nice to know that his friends are excited for him. It’s nice to know that his friends are excited to learn about Martin. It’s nice to know that they want to meet him, in the same sort of way that it was oddly nice to know that Georgie had her heart set on finding Martin on social media so that she could learn everything she could about him. It’s just… nice. His friends care.

His friends care about him.

Fine,” Jon says. His voice isn’t loud but it carries well, immediately shutting up whatever small, half-bickered conversation Tim and Melanie were having. He doesn’t look up, still staring down at the now-blank screen of his phone, but he can feel the weight of their eyes on him. “Fine, I’ll- I’ll mention it to Martin. Later, though. Not- not now. But I’ll- yes. I’ll mention it to him and see if he’d like to join us. I’m not making any promises,” he adds loudly, just as Tim starts to open his mouth, “but I will- I’ll tell Martin that it’s happening and that, for whatever reason, you are all apparently very eager to meet him. If he doesn’t want to come, though, I am not going to force him.” Jon looks over at Daisy. “…Sorry.”

Daisy smiles at him. “Good. I’d rather he come because he wants to.”

“And I promise to keep Tim in check,” Basira adds, making Jon smile a little. “Cross my heart.”

“I’ll help you with that.”

“Thanks, Melanie.”

“No problem.”

“Hey, I am not that much of a problem!”

“You are sometimes, Tim.”

“I am not!”

Jon listens to his friends descend back into their normal friendly bickering. It’s a familiar background sound to him, one that’s as comforting as it is gently annoying when he’s trying to focus. They’re all good people; he knows that. They’re good people, and they care about him, and they care about his happiness.

They care about Martin.

Jon thinks about his friends meeting Martin, and smiles a little wider.

Chapter Text

 

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Hey! My tube got delayed so I’m running just a couple of minutes late, sorry! ^^;

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] That’s quite alright. You’ve still got a good ten minutes until we were going to meet, and I don’t mind waiting for you.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] I know, I know, but I like being early
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] I don’t want to keep you waiting
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Anyway, I managed to dodge past some tourists so I’m nearly there!
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] I think I see you!

“Jon!”

Jon barely has time to see Martin’s last message appear on his phone screen before he hears his name being called. He looks up, unable to stop himself from smiling when he spots Martin approaching, half-jogging the last few yards to him with his open jacket flapping slightly in the cool autumn breeze.

“Martin!” Jon replies, not even trying to keep the delight out of his voice. “You’re- hello.”

“You’re here early,” Martin says, sounding just a little out of breath as though he’s been jogging since the tube station and not just for the last few yards. “I wasn’t- sorry, I didn’t mean to be late.”

“Oh, no, no, it’s quite alright, I was- I didn’t want to run late like I did last time and I think I over-compensated,” Jon replies. “I’ve, um, I’ve actually been here for a few minutes. Georgie didn’t have to- I was less, ah, less disorganised this time.”

Martin smiles. “Did Georgie lend you her jacket again?”

“…She might have.”

“Well, tell her I say thanks. You, um, you look good.”

Instantly, Jon feels his entire face starting to burn.

“O-oh,” he stammers, trying desperately not to wheeze like an asthmatic goose just because Martin complimented him. Jesus. He should be better at this. “I- thank you, Martin. You, um, you look- you look good, too. Um. Very good. You look very good.”

“Oh! You- yeah?”

“Mm.”

“Well, th-thank you, Jon.”

“You’re, ah, you’re welcome.”

There’s a short pause.

“So…” Martin says slowly. “Shall we- lunch?”

“O-oh, yes, right,” Jon replies. “Lunch.” He turns, following after Martin as they start ambling down the street. They walk together for a few minutes, conversation passing between them, before Martin, who’s been looking around for potential lunch spots while Jon simply stares at him, comes to an abrupt stop.

“Sorry,” Martin says apologetically. “I- I know we were going to get lunch, and I’d still- I’d still love to get lunch with you Jon, please don’t think otherwise, but I- could we-…” He trails off, glancing awkwardly to one side, and Jon feels his forehead furrow in a frown.

“Could we what?”

“…Could we stop by this yarn shop?” Martin asks all in a rush. “Could we- it’s silly, I know, I’m sorry, but I- I’ve been meaning to pick up some more yarn but placement’s really been throwing my schedule off, and I don’t want to just buy it online because you can’t tell what it feels like, and I know I could order a yarn swatch card but most brands don’t actually do those, so I-”

“Yes,” Jon says, cutting Martin’s half-anxious, half-embarrassed rambling short. “I- yes, of course. I told you when I texted you on Sunday, Martin – I don’t mind where we go or what we do. I really don’t.”

“We agreed to get lunch, though.”

“We did,” Jon acknowledges, “but we can get lunch afterwards.” He swallows. “I- I want to get to know you better,” he continues, his voice a little quieter and a little softer. It feels like it’s too much, somehow, to be saying this when they’re still so early on in doing anything, but it doesn’t feel wrong. It doesn’t feel bad. It feels normal. It feels safe. “I want to get to know you. So if this- if you want to look at yarn, then we can do that. If it’s a hobby of yours then I- I want to learn about it. I want to learn about you Martin.”

For a long moment, neither of them speak. Jon looks away from Martin, digging his nails into his palms in the safety of his pockets. He doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know if that was the right thing to say. He thinks that it was but he can’t tell, not when Martin is being so silent, staring at him like he can’t believe what he just heard.

And then, just before Jon can start to say the apology he can feel building on his tongue, Martin speaks.

“You’re sweet,” he says quietly, immediately filling Jon’s chest with glowing, delighted butterflies. “You’re- thank you, Jon.”

“Of course,” Jon wheezes. He thinks there’s a butterfly stuck in his throat. “I- of course. Mm.” He nods at the door. “S-so, um, should we…?”

“Oh!” Martin exclaims. “O-oh, yes, let me just…” He reaches out, grabbing the door, and holds it open for Jon. “After you,” he says, smiling slightly.

Jesus Christ.

It shouldn’t be affecting Jon as much as it is, this simple act of Martin holding open a door for him. None of this should be affecting him as much as it is. He shouldn’t be this affected by Martin’s smile, or by Martin’s glasses, or by Martin in general, and yet he is. He hears himself stumbling over a ‘thank you’ as he steps through the door, painfully aware of how close he passes to Martin to do so, because Martin is holding the door open for him. Martin is being polite. Martin is being kind. Martin is being Martin.

Martin wants to be here, and he wants Jon to be here, too.

“I’ve been wanting to come by here again for a while, you know,” Martin says conversationally, stepping into the shop behind Jon. The little bell above the door gives a cheerful tinkle as the door swings shut behind Martin, making him step up until he’s right behind Jon’s back. Jon can’t see him but he can feel him, close and warm and real. “It’s a really nice little place.”

“Yeah?” Jon asks.

“Mm.” From the corner of his eye, Jon sees Martin step out beside him, waving a hand in quiet greeting to the lady behind the counter. “I’ve only been here a few times – you know, supporting my local indie business and all – but it’s nice. They’ve got a good range of yarns.” He turns slightly, smiling at Jon, and inclines his head towards the rest of the shop. “And, um, if you, if you wanted to learn about me and my- and my hobbies, I suppose this is… this is a pretty good place to start!”

There’s a blush on his cheeks, Jon realises. It’s not as strong as the one that had been there when Martin told him that he thought that Jon was hot on their last date – which is still something that Jon thinks about on an embarrassingly regular basis – but it’s still present, soft and faint and somehow almost ashamed, like he’s embarrassed to have knitting as one of his hobbies. Jon can’t imagine why. He thinks it’s a perfectly lovely hobby.

“I think it’s a lovely hobby,” he says. Martin exhales a soft breath of laughter, glancing away as his blush climbs higher.

“It’s a bit of an old-man hobby,” he replies. “It’s a bit, um… it’s not very interesting.”

Jon shrugs. “Well, maybe not to some people. But I’m sure there’s people out there to find every hobby dull, no matter what it is. It seems like a nice hobby to me. It’s, um… it’s creative. And useful, I’d imagine.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty true. It’s nice to know that I can always make someone an emergency present if I need to.”

“Mm.” Jon hums quietly, his gaze darting over the contents of the shop before them. He can see racks of knitting needles off to one side, along with little plastic clips, and little plastic things, and massive plastic contraptions that look rather like scaled-up safety pins. He can’t imagine what they’re used for, but he’s sure that they have some sort of purpose. Martin probably knows, though. Martin probably knows about everything in this shop.

Jon clears his throat. “U-um, Martin?”

“Yeah?”

What are those giant safety pins? Jon means to say, and doesn’t. He feels himself opening his mouth, feels the words starting to line up, and then, before he can say them, some other, significantly less charismatic part of his brain takes over, and has him say something entirely different.

“Do you knit?” Jon hears himself ask, and instantly mentally berates himself. Jesus Christ. Of course Martin knits. Of course he does. Why else would he bring Jon into a wool- into a yarn shop, and wave to the lady behind the counter, and talk about his hobbies and how this is one of them if he doesn’t even knit? Do you knit? It is, quite possibly, the most ridiculous question that Jon has asked in his entire life, and he’s got half a mind to just turn around right then and there, step out onto the streets of London, find a quiet-ish alley to panic in, and then desperately text Georgie to ask for help and/or rescue.

He doesn’t, though. He can’t. Martin’s looking at him, his eyes crinkled in quiet amusement, and there’s a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Jon doesn’t want to leave, not really. He doesn’t want to leave Martin. He likes Martin.

He likes Martin a lot.

“I do knit,” Martin confirms. There’s nothing in his voice to imply that he found Jon’s question stupid, or annoying, or in any way bad or judgement-worthy. He just sounds quietly amused, his voice all warm and pleasant like autumn sunlight. “I’ve, um, I’ve been knitting for a while, now. Do you know much about it?”

Jon shakes his head. He doesn’t know anything about knitting, not really, but he’s seen Georgie knit a few times, when she’s watching TV or listening to a podcast or in some way doing something that leaves her hands free. At least, he thinks it’s knitting. It has to be knitting, surely. There’s wool involved – or, has Georgie repeatedly reminds him, yarn, which can be made from wool but might not be – and admittedly she normally uses one hook-ended needle instead of two pointy ones, but Jon can’t imagine there’s too much difference between them. There’s still yarn involved. There’s still slightly concerningly pointy sticks. There’s still some sort of end product which tends to be wearable, even if the only thing wearing it is the teapot. It’s knitting.

Probably.

“Well,” Jon says, “I’ve definitely heard of it.”

That, somehow, makes Martin laugh.

“Yeah?” he asks, his voice made golden by his amusement. “That’s- that’s good. That’s very good. I don’t suppose you knit yourself…?”

Jon shakes his head. “Ah, no, I’m afraid not. It’s not, um… I don’t know. I’ve just never really had much reason to try it.”

“Oh. Oh, well, that’s alright, a lot of people don’t knit. Most people, in fact. Um.”

Jon can’t stop himself from smiling. “Well, unfortunately I’m one of them. So I’m afraid that if you’re looking for a second opinion on your, ah, your yarn, you may find me rather lacking.”

“Oh, that’s- that’s alright! This shouldn’t take long,” Martin says, sounding apologetic as he starts leading Jon deeper into the shop.

“Take as long as you need, Martin. What did- what was it that you needed the yarn for?” Jon asks, once again proving his eloquence as he follows Martin through the shop. Martin doesn’t hesitate when he walks, beelining over towards a side of the room full of tall, white-painted shelves filled with neatly-arranged balls of yarn, set up almost like library stacks. The yarns aren’t quite ordered by colour but there’s still some structure to their arrangement, some pattern that Jon can see but can’t quite understand. Martin seems to understand it, though. He glances back at Jon as he walks, leading him over to one particular corner of the stacks.

“I ran out of yarn for a project I’m working on,” he says, sounding almost sheepish. “It was- it’s not a big project, but I started it with some scrap yarn I had, more as a sort of practise than anything else, and now I kind of want to finish it.”

Desperately, Jon wracks his memory for anything that Georgie may ever have said about yarn. “Do you- don’t you need the same yarn, then? To keep the- to keep it all looking the same? To make it match? Wouldn’t you need the same yarn?”

Just for a moment, Martin looks surprised. “I- yes,” he says. “Um. Well. No, actually. It depends. That was- I mean, yes, it does help if you do everything with the same yarn, because it does tend to make sure that it all ends up the same size and it doesn’t go all weird in places because different brands have different ideas of what ‘chunky’ yarn is, but it- with something silly like what I’m working on, it’s not actually that important. It would be clear if I went from a double knitting yarn to super chunky, obviously, but this is- as long as I get the same weight, it should be fine.” He reaches out, absently picking up a ball of yarn from the shelf next to him. It’s a nice enough looking ball of yarn, as far as Jon can tell – the colours in it blend smoothly from red through dusty orange to dull gold, with hints of teal woven in throughout. It looks nice. “Now, for something like this,” Martin continues, giving the ball a little squish before holding it out to Jon, “for something like this, you would want the same yarn, because yarn brands all dye their yarns differently, see, and if you have a sort of- a mottled-ey looking one like this with different colours in it then you might not be able to find anything similar by a different brand, so it’ll look really weird if you change yarns. Unless that’s what you’re going for, of course. Sometimes it can be nice to have mixed colourways broken up with solid colours. It’s a- I mean, it’s not really my kind of thing, it tends to look rather modern, but if you do it with the right colours you can get really nice-looking end results.”

Jon nods slowly. “Right,” he says. “I- right, okay.”

“Oh, and you need to remember to make a note of the dye lot if you really want to be absolutely certain that the yarns will match,” Martin adds. “That’s because, um, that’s because when companies dye their yarns they obviously can’t do it all at the same time, so sometimes different batches will come out looking a tiny bit different, which isn’t really that big of an issue if I’m honest, it’s never really been a problem for me, but I guess that with fancy yarns you don’t want to risk half your project not matching the other half, hah, because you, um, because you… because the dye lots…” Martin trails off, his words growing quietly. “Because, um…” He shakes his head, a smile curving the corner of his lips. In contrast to how Jon normally feels about Martin’s smiles, he finds that he doesn’t like this one. It doesn’t feel genuine. It doesn’t feel like Martin. It feels forced, and even that slight indication that Martin might be faking his happiness makes discomfort prickle over Jon’s skin like thorns.

“Sorry,” Martin mutters. “I’ve- I’ve been going on about yarn for ages, you’re probably really bored by now-”

“I’m not,” Jon interrupts. “I- I’m really not, Martin, this is- I don’t really know anything about knitting, or yarns, or any of that, if I’m entirely honest. This is- it’s really very interesting.”

Martin glances at him. “Yeah?”

Just for a moment, Jon feels his breath catch in his throat. Martin looks so- he looks so- he looks so uncertain, looks like he’s never had anyone tell him that they thought that yarn and knitting could be even remotely interesting. He looks like, even now, he’s half-expecting for Jon to suddenly decide that Martin is far too boring for him and to leave their date then and there, because apparently liking knitting in some way overrules everything else that makes Martin so incredibly wonderful. Jon almost wants to laugh, the idea is so absurd, but he doesn’t. That wouldn’t help matters. That would just make Martin feel bad, more than anything else, and Jon doesn’t want to do that. He never wants to do that.

So instead he just smiles back, and feels the sunlight of Martin’s presence in his bones.

“Yeah,” he echoes. “I’m really enjoying this, Martin. Promise.”

As Jon watches, the uncertainty in Martin’s face melts. It doesn’t all vanish, some traces of it still lingering in the corners of his eyes and in the worried furrow between his brows, but there’s less there than there was mere seconds ago, and that alone is enough to make Jon feel warm all over. He did that. He did that. He made Martin feel better, even if just by a tiny bit. He helped. He helped, and he’s going to try to continue to help, even if he doesn’t really know how to go about doing that.

“So…” Jon says, “have you been knitting for very long? You said you’ve been knitting for a while.”

Just for a moment, Martin looks caught off-guard. It’s a tiny expression, fleeting and brief and so small and to be practically invisible, but Jon sees it anyway. He doesn’t know why his question would come as a surprise to Martin considering the context of their conversation, but he’s not going to question it. He’s not going to make Martin explain anything he doesn’t want to.

The expression of quiet surprise has already faded from Martin’s face, anyway. He’s still looking away from Jon, eyes scanning the shelves before him, and after a moment he tilts his head from side to side in a so-so sort of gesture.

“I’ve been knitting for long enough, I’d say,” Martin replies. He doesn’t look at Jon as he answers, his gaze still resting on the rows of colourful yarn in front of him as he trails his fingertips over them. “My mum taught me how to knit, actually. This was years ago, before she- before I started studying nursing. It… we’d been going through a bit of a rocky patch, not quite getting along, you know how it is, and I… she used to knit a lot. I don’t know how many projects she actually finished, but I knew that she liked to knit in the evenings. I still have a jumper somewhere that she made me.” Atop the yarn, Martin’s fingers slow to a stop. He blinks once, the sunlight getting caught in his lashes, and Jon feels something in his heart twist at the sight of Martin, at the soft carefulness of his hands and the quietness of his voice. Jon can feel something shifting behind his oh-so-carefully chosen words, close enough to touch but not close enough to see, not yet. He doesn’t know what it is, cannot feel the shape of it, but whatever it is it’s heavy and lumbering - some slow, old beast that’s laid undisturbed for a long, long time. He doesn’t want to disturb it.

He doesn’t know how not to.

“It’s, um… it still fits me, you know. The jumper.” Martin blinks again, but his eyes don’t refocus when he opens them again. He’s not looking at the yarn anymore. To Jon, it almost looks like he’s looking beyond it. “It’s- it-… It’s a nice jumper. I didn’t wear it a lot when Mum first gave it to me, but I’ve… I’ve grown to love it, you know.”

“Is that why you learned how to knit?” Jon asks quietly. The little shop is so, so quiet around them, deserted save for the two of them. The shelves of yarn stretch high overhead, potential coiled up in every twist of acrylic and cotton and wool, and Martin’s fingers still haven’t moved from where they stopped, resting atop a skein of chunky, soft-looking yarn in a rich, dark red colour. “To make jumpers?”

“Not really,” Martin replies. “I mean, yeah, I did think it would nice to be able to knit presents for my fr- for people, and it seemed like a nice little hobby to have, and I knew that my mum enjoyed it so maybe I would too, but it- that wasn’t it. Not really.”

“Why did you learn, then?”

“I thought it could be a nice way to bond with my mum,” Martin says simply. “We hadn’t- I don’t know, there’d just been something between us for a while, ever since Dad- ever since… well, either way, I thought it would be nice to spend some evenings with her. Learn her hobbies and interests, you know? We all- we all spend so much time with our parents, but so few of us actually know them, I think. We don’t- we don’t really know them as people. We just know them as our parents. And I didn’t want that. I was- I was growing up, starting to match my dad in height, and I was starting to think that I’d be heading off to uni soon, heh…” Martin trails off, giving a quiet, empty little laugh. It’s not a sad sound, not exactly, but it’s not as happy as a laugh should be. It’s not as happy as Martin should be.

Jon glances down. At Martin’s side, his other hand is curled into a loose fist, thumb wrapped around the outside of his fingers. There’s no tension in it, not that Jon can see, but in the shadow of Martin’s tendons Jon thinks he can read some signs of the old stressors that Martin’s so delicately talking around.

Jon aches to reach out and take Martin’s hand.

He doesn’t.

Before Jon, Martin gives his head a quick shake, like he’s knocking spiderwebs free from his thoughts. “Anyway,” he continues, “I, um, that- that didn’t happen, clearly, but I, um… I started learning to knit then, from my mum. I just sort of… I went up to her one day, and I asked if she’d teach me, and I think she was a bit surprised but she said yes anyway, and then she- and then she started teaching me. And that was it.”

“Were you any good?” Jon hears himself ask.

Martin snorts. “Oh, God, no. No, I was awful. Couldn’t figure out how to hold the yarn, couldn’t figure out how to hold the needles. I made a proper pig’s ear of it, you know. It all just kept falling apart. All my yarn kept slipping off my needles. It was terrible.”

“But you stuck at it.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I- I did. I didn’t- I don’t know, I guess I just didn’t want my mum to think she was a bad teacher,” Martin says, shrugging a little. He’s still not meeting Jon’s eyes. Jon can’t make himself look away. “It was- honestly, knitting really sucked at first. It was so much trickier than she made it look, and, I mean, I knew it wouldn’t be particularly easy, but it was still a surprise. I couldn’t- I couldn’t do anything right. But she’d been so surprised when I asked her to teach me, and I didn’t want to disappoint her by giving up. So I- I just sort of kept sitting next to her every evening, doing some more knitting until I got the knack for it. It took ages, but she was really patient with me, and eventually I even managed to make a hat. It was the first thing I’d made that wasn’t just a wonky square. I was really proud of it, even if it was a little bit wonky.”

Jon can feel himself smiling a little. “I’m sure it was a lovely hat.”

“It really wasn’t. It was just made out of scrap yarn – I didn’t want to buy nice yarn just to ruin it on my first project.”

“Mm, alright. Though, I’m a little surprised you didn’t make a scarf,” Jon adds, “I’ve- I’ve heard that’s the traditional first thing to knit.”

At the corner of Martin’s mouth, his lips start twitching upwards in a smile. It’s a tiny smile, so small as to be almost invisible, but Jon sees it anyway. It makes him feel warm beneath the familiar weight of Georgie’s jacket, like heat is diffusing through his bones. It’s nice. He likes Martin’s smile. He likes being able to make Martin smile.

“I didn’t make a scarf,” Martin confirms. “I definitely considered it, I was-”

“You were going to make a Fourth Doctor’s scarf, weren’t you?”

“… I… I might have been,” Martin replies slowly, but there’s humour in his voice this time, true and genuine and there because of Jon. He glances over at Jon, meeting his eye for the first time in several minutes, and his smile widens a little, his eyes crinkling slightly behind his glasses. He’s not as happy as he was on their last date, and Jon can see that, but he’s getting closer to it. The quiet hurt isn’t as visible anymore. “Was it really that obvious?”

“Ah, just a little bit,” Jon replies, unable to keep the warmth out of his voice, and Martin’s smile grows a little wider once more. “You have that sort of- you give off that sort of impression.”

“What, of being a massive nerd?”

“N-no, not quite, not- not that! More that you… I don’t know many people our age who didn’t grow up watching a fair bit of Doctor Who. That’s all. And it’s- it’s a classic scarf.”

“It’s bloody long is what it is,” Martin says, and Jon laughs a little at that, a soft breath of sound that’s somehow still enough to make Martin smile wider still. “And it’s got so many colours in it! I didn’t want to try and change yarns mid-project when I was just learning. That sounded like a nightmare.”

“So you made a hat instead? Wouldn’t that- can you knit in circles? Wouldn’t that be trickier?”

“Well, you… I mean, you can knit in circles, kind of, but you need special needles for it. Hats are easy, though. You actually just knit a rectangle and then sew it together.”

“Sew it...?”

“With a tapestry needle.”

“…”

“It’s a really big needle for yarn,” Martin continues helpfully, still smiling. “You just make a rectangle, sew it up, and then you have a hat. I thought that might be easier than making a massive scarf so I- I made a hat instead.”

“Oh. I- I see.”

“I did make a scarf later, though. It wasn’t a Fourth Doctor’s scarf,” Martin says, cutting Jon off with a smile just as Jon starts to open his mouth. “It was a, um. It was- it was a present for my mum, actually. As a… sort of as a ‘thank you’ for teaching me how to knit. She- I think she liked it. It was a bit wonky, and she didn’t wear it much, but she- I think she liked it.” Martin swallows, his expression once again becoming a little bit distant. Down by his side, the fingers of his fist twitch just once.

Jon longs to take his hand.

He doesn’t know why he’s so suddenly overtaken with the desire to hold Martin’s hand, but he is. He doesn’t know what it is that Martin’s so carefully not talking about, and he doesn’t know enough about knitting to helpfully contribute to Martin’s yarn browsing, but he so desperately wants to help. He can taste the old hurt in Martin’s words on the back of his throat, stinging and sharp and bitter and numb, and he wishes that it wasn’t there. He wishes that he could help.

Maybe he can.

It’s okay, Jon tells himself. It’s okay. This is- this is going to be okay. We held Martin’s hand last time. We hugged him. This is okay. We’re allowed to do this.

This is okay.

Jon draws in a breath, gathering his courage around his heart, and takes Martin’s hand.

There’s the briefest, tiniest of pauses.

And then, before Jon has time to start to panic, Martin’s fingers curl around his own.

In the quiet of the little shop, Jon thinks he can hear Martin’s breath hitch when he gives Martin’s hand a tiny squeeze. It’s a miniscule thing, barely more than a twitching of his fingers, but Martin’s hand tightens around his own all the same, his fingers squeezing as though he’s suddenly afraid that Jon’s hand might slip through his fingers like sand. He raises his eyes, meeting Jon’s gaze, and Jon squeezes his hand again, a little more firmly this time. He doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know what to do. He just knows that there had been something else lingering between Martin’s words, something older and duller and darker than Martin’s talk of knitting and yarn could convey. He’s not going to seek it, though. That information isn’t his. It’s Martin’s, and Martin’s only, and Jon will not try to take it for himself, no matter how much he desperately wants to know. He wants to know everything about Martin’s past with knitting.

He wants to know everything about Martin in general.

He can feel Martin’s fingers around his own, warm and soft and so, so careful. Jon knows how careful they are. He’s felt how careful they are. He’s felt how careful Martin is when he’s bandaging him up, or cleaning his rusty knife cut, or following the edge of a burn scar with his fingertips. There’s so much delicacy to his hands, so much attention and so much thoughtfulness. He holds Jon’s hand the same way he speaks; with tenderness and certainty and strength and trembling caution behind it all.

Jon can’t picture Martin’s hands holding knitting needles, because despite all his years living with Georgie he’s still not actually sure how they’re held, but he can imagine it all the same. He can see how, just like with holding Jon’s hand, Martin would be so careful and yet so certain with how he holds them. Jon can imagine the yarn sitting in Martin’s lap, can imagine him quietly and carefully spinning usefulness out of a bundle of fibres. He can imagine him muttering to himself as he knits the same way that Georgie does, counting stitches and grumbling when he realises that he’s dropped one because he was watching something else. He can imagine all of it.

He can imagine Martin’s hands around his own as he tries to hold knitting needles for the first time.

“Would you teach me?” Jon blurts out before he can stop himself. “Um. Knitting. How to knit. Would you teach me how to knit?”

Immediately, Martin’s eyebrows rise. He looks more shocked than surprised, as though he wasn’t expecting to hear Jon say anything even slightly like that. His reaction isn’t unexpected but the silence that follows is; after a few seconds of waiting Jon feels himself starting to shift uncomfortably, wondering if he somehow crossed some line that he didn’t even know existed.

Barely a few seconds later, though, Martin opens his mouth.

“Why?” he asks. His eyes immediately go wide, for all the world making him look like even he wasn’t expecting to hear himself say that. “I- I mean- yes, of course, I’d- I’d love to do that, Jon, I’d- of course, I’m just- it’s- I wasn’t expecting to hear you say that.”

“Why not?” Jon asks. It’s all he can think to say. “Y-you- you’re- I’m sure you’d be a wonderful teacher, Martin.”

Martin gives a weak smile. “Thank you,” he says softly. “I’m not so sure of that, though. I haven’t- I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to teach anyone anything, really, and I- not many people know that I knit, and those that do don’t really care much for it. I’m just… I’m not sure how good of a teacher I’d be, is all. I wouldn’t want to teach you something wrong.”

“It’s knitting, Martin,” Jon says. “You just said yourself that you can knit. And you’ve been knitting for years, by your own counting, so I’d imagine that you’re rather good at it. And besides,” Jon adds, “it’s more likely that no matter how bad a teacher you turn out to be – and I still don’t believe that you’d be a bad one in any way – I’d likely be a much worse student.”

Martin’s smile turns curious. “Oh?”

“Mm.”

“Are you going to explain any further?”

“I was, ah, I was a bit of… I was a bit of an annoying child at school, apparently,” Jon admits. “I was, um… I got bored very easily with most things, so I was rarely content. Honestly, I was a little bit of an arsehole.”

“Oh. Well, I think lots of us weren’t at our best at primary school-”

“I was annoying at secondary school, too,” Jon continues, barrelling on over Martin’s words. If Martin really wants to teach Jon how to knit – and God, but Jon really, really hopes that he does – then he might as well know what he’s getting himself into. “And at sixth form. I was less of an arsehole at university, I think, but I didn’t have to interact with people as much there.”

Martin’s smile twists into a smirk. “Didn’t you say you were a theatre kid?”

“I… well, yes, but only for a short while. Why?”

“Oh, no reason, no reason. Just… well, going by your own attitude towards theatre kids on our last date, maybe you were, um, maybe you…”

Jon narrows his eyes. “Maybe I what?”

“Maybe you were continuing that, um, that… that tendency of yours from primary school,” Martin continues. “You know. Just, um, just a tiny bit. Possibly. Maybe.”

“…Well, fine, maybe so.”

“I’m just saying.”

“You might- I suppose you might have a point.”

“You said it yourself.”

Jon laughs. He can’t help it. “Alright, fine, perhaps I did. But theatre-kid tendencies aside, I was apparently a nightmare to teach. I certainly won’t say no to you, um, to you- to you teaching me how to knit, but I felt that I should give you some warning.”

“Well, thank you. I appreciate it.”

“Mm, you’re welcome.”

“…Do you want to pick some yarn out, then? If I’m going to be teaching you how to knit at some point?”

Jon shakes his head. “I think I’ll defer to your expertise here, Martin,” he replies. “I trust you’ll pick something suitable.”

Martin doesn’t even hesitate.

“I think I’ll get this one, then,” he says, looking back at the shelf and down at the skein his fingers are still resting on. “It’s- hm.” He raises his head, glancing over at Jon, and then, for a reason Jon can’t identify, he blushes, his cheeks pinkening beneath the soft, warm light of the shop. Quickly, Martin turns his head again, looking back at the yarns before him. “Y-yes,” he stammers. “I- this one. Um. It’s- it’s nice. It’s- yes.”

Jon steps in a little closer, his shoulder nudging against Martin’s as he looks at the yarn. “What is it?” he asks. “Beyond- I mean, I know that it’s yarn, I just- I just meant- is it a, um, is it a particularly good yarn?”

“Well, it’s just a standard chunky acrylic yarn,” Martin answers. His blush, Jon notices, is still present, but his voice is becoming more stable now, evening out as he talks about something familiar and beloved to him. “It’s nothing really special, honestly, though I do actually really like this brand, you know. They do a lot of really nice yarns. They have this one which is sort of- they have all these different sort of mottled colourways, and they’re all named after cities or towns or- or places, depending on the weight of yarn you get, and they’re this wonderful acrylic-cotton-wool blend which is really, really soft. It’s kind of expensive, though, and you need a lot for a project of any decent size.” He picks up the ball, his fingers pressing gently into the smoothly wrapped yarn. “This isn’t that fancy, though,” he continues. “I mean, it’s pretty much identical to every other bog-standard, cheap acrylic yarn that you’re going to find, but it’s… I don’t know, I just like this brand. Their stuff tends to be a little softer than some other brands I’ve tried, and it doesn’t really pill too much, and it washes really nicely, too. It’s- tell you what, hold this.”

Quite suddenly, Jon finds himself with a handful of yarn. He watches in pleasantly surprised silence as Martin turns back to the shelves, a frown furrowing his forehead.

“Let me just…” Martin reaches out, eyes scanning over the shelves before his hand darts out to pull free a different ball of yarn. He half-turns on the spot, his hand never once leaving Jon’s, and holds out the yarn to him. “Here,” he says simply. “Feel this.”

“Um,” Jon says.

“Really,” Martin replies. “It’s- look, I know it’s silly, but just- just feel this one, and compare it with the one I just gave you, and tell me that you can’t feel the difference.”

“I- I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“You’re still holding my hand.”

“…Oh.”

Right before Jon’s eyes, Martin’s cheeks bloom with scarlet, so bright and so strong that his freckles are almost entirely invisible. His mouth opens and closes a few times, little half-formed sounds getting cut off in his throat, but he doesn’t actually say anything for a good handful of seconds. Jon doesn’t mind, though. He feels much the same way.

“…Right,” Martin manages to say eventually. “I- yes, right, that’s a, um, that’s a- that’s a good point, let me just, um, let me…”

There’s a few moments of awkward fumbling as Martin tries to let go of Jon’s hand. He would be more successful, Jon feels, if he himself were actually contributing, but he’s found that he rather likes holding Martin’s hand, and even if he knows logically that letting go would make this whole process much easier, it seems that his hand has other ideas. Eventually, though, Jon manages to make his hand cooperate somewhat, and soon he’s got two handfuls of yarn, with Martin’s hands resting just above the yarn in question.

There,” Martin says triumphantly. “You- see? Now just… just feel the yarn, okay? Tell me there’s not a difference between them.”

“I, um, alright…” Jon trails off, frowning to himself a little as he focuses on the yarn in his hands. If he’s honest, they both feel more or less the same, both of them being soft and squishy and just slightly warmed by Martin’s body heat, but beyond that there’s not many differences that he can identify.

That may be, though, because he’s not paying much attention to the yarns.

That may be, though, because Jon is coming to realise that he really, really wants to kiss Martin right now.

And he could.

There’s no one else in the shop that Jon can see. He’s not heard anyone moving around, not beyond the lady at the counter, and tucked away in the corner as they are, he doesn’t even think that they could be seen from the pavement. It’s just the two of them, pressed together in the corner of a shop with Martin’s hands laid over Jon’s own, his thumbs rubbing gently against Jon’s as though he forgot to stop moving them. It’s nice. It’s so nice. It’s soft, and gentle, and quiet, and Martin is right there, right before Jon, with the light shining off his glasses and catching on the curve of his lips. Jon could kiss him. He could so, so easily kiss him. He could stretch up, right here and now, and press his lips to Martin’s. He could put the yarn aside, and turn his hands to take Martin’s, and he could step in and lean up and kiss him, all soft and sweet and quick and fleeting and wonderful. He could do that. He could do that right now.

He wants to do that.

He doesn’t.

Jon swallows, feeling his cheeks heating up as he hastily glances away. He- he can’t- he can’t kiss Martin. Not yet. They’ve only been on two dates – one and a half, really – and he- he doesn’t know much about dating, not unless he’s dating Georgie, but even he knows that this is kind of fast, especially for him. They haven’t known each other for all that long in the grand scheme of things. They’ve known each other in an ethically sound, not-patient-and-nurse kind of way for even less time. He barely knows Martin at all when it comes down to it, and Martin might not even want Jon to kiss him! It’s not like Jon has his permission, or his consent – he just wants to kiss Martin, wants to kiss him and hold his hand and be close to him and learn the shape of Martin’s smile on his lips. He just wants. He just wants so, so much.

But that doesn’t mean that he should have it.

Jon glances back at Martin, peeking up at him from the corner of his eye. Martin’s looking down now, a slight blush painting his cheeks, but his hands are still above Jon’s, separated only by the yarns lying twisted between them. Jon can feel it brushing against his knuckles, as soft as Martin’s touch but nowhere near as warm. He kind of wishes that it wasn’t there. He wants to hold Martin’s hands.

But he also wants to show Martin that he’s listening, and that he’s paying attention, and that he’s interested in Martin’s hobby because he is, so he forces himself to take a breath, and ignore the scent of Martin’s aftershave, or whatever it is that smells so damn good, and focus on the yarn between his fingers.

“I like this yarn,” Jon blurts out. “It’s, um. It’s nice.”

Martin blinks. “O-oh,” he says, sounding for all the world as though he’d completely forgotten what they were doing. “You- yeah?”

Jon nods. “Yeah.”

“This one?”

“Mm.” Jon shifts his hands a little, lifting the ball of yarn that Martin had first given to him. “It’s, ah… it’s softer.”

“I told you that it was softer!”

“Mm.” Jon swallows. Martin is so close. “It’s um, it’s… it’s good yarn. It’s a nice colour.” He has no idea what colour the yarn is. He thinks it might be red.

Martin frowns. “It- hm.” He shifts a little, lifting the yarn in question to hold it up beside Jon’s face. “Yeah… this is a nice colour, actually. It suits you. I think this would look good on you.” His gaze shifts to the yarn, mere moments before Jon feels his entire face starting to burn. “Hmm. I’m… yeah… This would look good.”

“Oh,” Jon croaks. “I- oh. Okay.” He swallows. “Didn’t you, um, isn’t that- didn’t you already say you were going to get that one?”

Jon’s pretty sure that the blush that covers Martin’s face almost exactly matches his own. “I- yes,” Martin stammers. “It’s, ah, it’s a good colour, and I- I know what other shades I need, I just- it can be nice to browse, and this is a nice one, it’s- I’m sorry, that was probably really weird-”

“No, no, it’s alright, Martin, I don’t- I don’t mind-”

“-I didn’t mean to make you uncomfort- you don’t mind?”

“I don’t, really, it’s- it’s rather sweet, actually,” Jon admits. God, he won’t be surprised if he’s the same colour as the yarn itself by this point. “That you, um. That you- yeah.” He coughs, feeling simultaneously horrifically awkward and incredibly flattered and smitten. It’s not a combination of feelings that he’s ever felt before. “If you, ah, if you wanted to- if you wanted to pick up those other yarns that you needed, a-and- and this one too, that would- I would- that would be fine. Um. We could- lunch?”

“Oh,” Martin replies quietly. “O-oh, right, we were going to- yeah, we were going to get lunch. Sorry, I- I think I got a bit, um, a bit distracted.”

Jon gives a short, quiet laugh. “I think I got a bit distracted, too. Did you want to go now, or…?”

Martin pulls a slight face. “…Is it terrible if I say that I’d like to keep looking around for a little bit longer? Sometimes they have yarns on sale that are normally outside my budget and you never know what you might find if you take the time to look. Sorry, I know you’re probably really bored by now-”

In one quick, unusually graceful movement, Jon places the other ball of yarn back on the shelf and reaches out to take Martin’s hand. He surprises himself as much as he surprises Martin, if the expression on Martin’s face is anything to go by, but he doesn’t let go, and almost instantly he feels Martin’s fingers twisting with his own, a small smile starting to cross Martin’s face.

“It’s alright,” Jon says. Martin’s hand is warm around his own, his fingers slotting between Jon’s as though they’re meant to be there, filling the space that Jon never truly noticed before. It feels normal to hold Martin’s hand, like it’s something that they’ve been doing for months or years instead of for barely a week, but it’s still something that fills Jon’s stomach and lungs with butterflies, making his breath catch in his throat whenever Martin so much as squeezes his hand. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get tired of holding Martin’s hand. He doesn’t think he ever wants to.

“It’s alright,” he says again. “I really, really don’t mind.”

Chapter Text

The staff room at the hospital isn’t quiet, because it never is, but it’s quieter than the ward, and after many long hours spent on his feet, Martin’s more than a little relieved to settle down in the relative peace of the carefully neutrally furnished room. He’s rarely bothered by anyone in here, and it’s kind of nice to be able to sit in relative silence for a while, in a strange, lonely sort of way. It means he can spend an hour (or half an hour, if he’s entirely honest with himself) gathering his energy, recharging, and occasionally catching snippets of conversation or laughter from his fellow nurses. It’s a place to settle, and breathe, and quickly eat some food, and scroll mindlessly through his phone.

It’s also, to Martin, one of the few places where he can text Jon.

Martin smiles to himself as he sits down, already reaching into his pocket to pull his phone free. He’d felt it buzzing while he was on shift but he hadn’t had the chance to check it, but he’s less bothered about that than he thought he’d be when he’d first started texting Jon with any degree of regularity. It makes his lunchtimes and breaks even nicer, knowing that there’ll be a collection of texts waiting for him when he finally gets the chance to sit down and rest his feet. He’s sure that once he gets swapped to night shifts the number of texts he’s been receiving will drop dramatically, but for now he’s enjoying it. He likes talking to Jon. He likes talking to Jon an awful lot.

Inside the cage of his ribs, Martin feels his heart start to flutter. Gods. He hasn’t even seen the texts yet but he’s already feeling almost pathetically lovey-dovey, just because he knows that they’re there, because he knows that Jon texted him. And he does know that Jon texted him, because it’s not like anyone else would. On his phone, right now, there’s texts from Jonathan Sims, sent deliberately to him, Martin Blackwood, because they are dating.

They’re actually, truly, properly dating.

Martin takes a deep breath, opens his phone, and tries not to grin too obviously.

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] Yes, well, you have a point, but even when you put personal taste aside, some of the objects on Antiques Roadshow are objectively terrible.
[Text from: Jonathan Sims] I can understand being more drawn to an object if it reminds you of a certain time or individual in your life, but even then, Martin, they’re just… they’re atrocious.
[Text from: Jonathan Sims] ‘A gold-plated, spiderweb-patterned lighter.’ I’ll admit that I’d give it certain points for catering to a very particular and respectable aesthetic, but it’s not exactly the classiest of objects, is it?

Jesus Christ. Martin can feel warmth flood over him as he reads Jon’s texts, and then reads them again. It’s ridiculous. He knows that it’s ridiculous. There’s nothing special about any of these messages – they’re just a continuation of the conversation they were having last night about Antiques Roadshow, once they’d realised that they were both secretly rather fond of it – but, somehow, they still feel special to Martin. They’re familiar, and easy, and admittedly Martin’s unaccustomed enough to people texting him that he gets excited by just about any text that he gets, even if it is just from Dominos, but he still feels like this is a step too far. He can feel his heart starting to beat faster, can feel himself grinning like a love-struck fool, and he doesn’t care.

He doesn’t care at all.

Martin rereads Jon’s texts one more time. He’s already processed what they say but he still likes rereading them, the act of scanning the words multiple times somehow reassuring the not-so-small part of him that’s still convinced that all of this is too good to be true. The texts are still there. They were sent over an hour ago, and they’re still there. Jon hasn’t suddenly changed his mind. He hasn’t deleted them. He wants to be talking to Martin, and Martin wants to be talking to him.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] A respectable aesthetic? Really?

Jon texts back almost immediately. Martin isn’t absurdly delighted by this.

(He absolutely is.)

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] Yes.
[Text from: Jonathan Sims] Maybe not the gold-plating, but the spiderweb design could fit in rather nicely with a more gothic environment.
[Text from: Jonathan Sims] The theatre I work at is constructed inside an old church. I feel that a spiderweb-patterned lighter wouldn’t look particularly out of place there.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] From what you’ve told me about the things you apparently have in storage, I get the impression that it would fit in rather well indeed
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] You know, rusty bread knife, bucket of chains, spiderweb lighter
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] All perfectly normal things to keep in a basement

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] Ahah, yes. Indeed.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Still doesn’t make it a ‘respectable’ aesthetic, though

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] It can be respectable.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Hm. You’re defending this point rather hard, you know

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] I am not ‘defending’ it.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] You absolutely are
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Almost makes me think you’re hiding something… ^-^

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] Look, Martin I
[Text from: Jonathan Sims] There’s no easy way to say this.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] ?

Martin waits, his heart in his throat. Eventually, his phone buzzes again.

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] There is a slight chance that I may have had an ‘edgy’ phase at one point in my life.

Martin snorts. Of course Jonathan Sims had an edgy phase. Of course he did. Martin knows that he’s hardly one to judge, seeing how his own edgy phase was embarrassingly long and has left marks scattered throughout his wardrobe, but it’s still simultaneously hilarious and completely understandable.  Of course Jon had an edgy phase. Of course Jon, with his scruffy history teacher aesthetic, and his stilted manner of speech, and his texts that sound damn-near robotic, and his old leather jacket had an edgy phase. It makes perfect sense.

It also makes Martin extremely, extremely curious.

He knows what his own edgy phase was like, after all. He remembers the ripped jeans, and the t-shirts, and the black nail polish, and the piercings that he still has, because there’s nothing wrong with jewellery and he rather likes how they look on him. He remembers the accessories.

He remembers the eyeliner.

He needs to know. He has to know. The image is in his head now and there’s no way that it’s going to leave, not for a good long while. Martin doesn’t even think to stop himself from typing out a text and then sending it, his thumbs moving on autopilot as that image clings to the very forefront of his mind.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Jon
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Jon, please, just let me know, I have one extremely important question for you

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] Of course, what is it?

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Was there eyeliner involved?

There’s a long, long pause.

And then, right when Martin’s just about ready to start spiralling into anxiety over potentially offending or upsetting Jon, his phone buzzes again.

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] …There might have been.

Martin very, very, very carefully doesn’t make any sort of audible sound, but it’s a hard-won battle. Christ. Every time he thinks he’s finally managed to process just how absurdly, impossibly hot Jon is, in his weirdly attractive ‘messed-up Professor Lupin’ sort of way, Jon tells him something that drops Martin right back into the pits of a terrible crush all over again. Eyeliner. Jesus Christ. Jesus goddamn Christ in heaven, but once upon a time, Jon had worn eyeliner. He’d worn eyeliner, and he’d swanned around on-stage performing Shakespeare, and he’d worn a leather jacket, and maybe he hadn’t done all of those at the exact same time, but that isn’t going to stop Martin from imagining it. He doesn’t think anything could stop him from imagining it, not even going back on shift. He’s pretty sure that that mental image is seared onto his mind’s eye forever, and he can’t even feel annoyed at it.

Jon in eyeliner. God.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] If you [unsent]
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Why didn’t I know this before [unsent]
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Jon this is extremely unfair to me and my poor queer heart you can’t keep doing this or I’m going to die [unsent]
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Please tell me that you did Shakespeare in eyeliner. Please. [unsent]

Martin shuts his eyes, text still unsent. He needs- he needs to think about this. He draws in a long, slow breath through his nose, exhaling through his mouth, and then does it again. He needs to phrase his response carefully. He needs to be subtle with this. He needs to let Jon know that he has no issues at all with his past with eyeliner, and that he actually thinks that guys in eyeliner are almost always unfailingly hot, and that maybe his punk phase has left more marks on him than he really cares to admit, but he also knows that he should be trying to ‘play it cool’. At least, he thinks that he should be ‘playing it cool’, whatever that entails. He’s seen enough films to know that that’s the done thing. He can’t let Jon know how rather pathetically smitten he is with everything he does, and he can’t let Jon know how mind-blowingly, heart-racingly, stupidly attractive he is, with his glasses and his scars and his eyeliner and Shakespeare and leather jacket that he borrowed from his flatmate. He can’t.

At least, not yet.

Martin opens his eyes. All around him, the staff room is still bustling, people walking to and fro to sit in groups and talk to their friends. No one pays him any attention. In his little corner of the room it’s quiet, with no one but him, and his thoughts, and his phone.

After a few more moments of deliberation, Martin sends a short sequence of texts.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] I wouldn’t complain if you decided to wear eyeliner again.
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Just so you know.

In the pause that follows, Martin thinks he can feel his heart beating through every vein in his body.

Eventually, his phone buzzes.

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] Oh.
[Text from: Jonathan Sims] Thank you, Martin.
[Text from: Jonathan Sims] I’ll keep that in mind.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] No problem!!
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] I just thought you should know, that’s all, haha

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] Well, I appreciate it.

[Text to: Jonathan Sims] I’m glad to hear it
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] Well, read it, I suppose, because obviously I can’t hear you when we’re both texting
[Text to: Jonathan Sims] You know what I mean

[Text from: Jonathan Sims] I do, Martin

Martin smiles down at his phone. He can so easily hear Jon’s voice in his head, can so easily hear how his name sounds from Jon’s mouth, and it makes him feel warm, seeing his name written so clearly in a message right next to Jon’s name.

Well.

Almost.

On Martin’s phone screen, the words ‘Jonathan Sims’ stare up at him in clear, bold letters. It feels weird seeing them now that Jon is so much more than just a name or a patient. Martin saw ‘Jonathan Sims’ for the first time on Jon’s medical file, right next to his date of birth and all other relevant details. It’s Jon’s name, obviously, and Martin knows that it is, but it still feels weird. Jon isn’t Jonathan. He’s Jon.

Martin likes ‘Jon.’ He likes ‘Jon’ a lot. It feels more personal, somehow, even though Martin’s pretty sure that Jon goes by ‘Jon’ to just about everyone. He’d introduced himself as it the first time they’d met at the hospital anyway, giving his name to Martin’s mentor as Martin loitered, mostly unseen, off to one side. It shouldn’t feel special, this idea of changing Jon’s name to ‘Jon’ in his phone.

But it does.

It’s a small thing, and it shouldn’t matter, but it does. Martin is just changing what Jon’s saved as in his contacts. Jon won’t even ever know. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. He knows it doesn’t matter, but now he can’t stop thinking about it. Changing Jon’s contact details, as trivial as it may be, somehow marks this… this whole… this thing of theirs, this dating thing, as actually being real. He’s making a small, tiny change, but in doing so he’s further cementing Jon into his life. He’s personalising this. He’s making it his. He’s making Jon familiar to himself.

In the busy staff room of the hospital, Martin quietly changes Jon’s name in his phone, smiling to himself the entire time.

---

It is, Jon discovers over the next few days, incredibly easy to lose track of how many texts you’ve sent to a person when you text them every single day. Even when those texts are somewhat scattered, broken up by his job, and Martin’s hospital shifts, and the business of life in general, it’s still an almost embarrassing amount of texts that are traded between them in the days following their second date. Admittedly, Jon was never really keeping track to begin with, because (according to Georgie) ‘that’s just weird’, but if he had been then this would be when he started to lose count. He texts Martin a lot. He texts Martin so much that sometimes he worries that he’s being annoying.

But that’s alright, because Martin texts him a lot, too.

Were Martin anyone else, Jon’s sure that he would have started finding his texts annoying after not too long, but he doesn’t. He finds he enjoys it, this new routine of waking up in the morning to a text from Martin, sending one or two or five of his own back and then either texting back and forth with Martin as he goes into work or waiting patiently until Martin takes a break, depending on if he’s on placement or not. Jon knows it’s probably pathetic, how much delight he derives from these simple messages, but he doesn’t care. He can’t bring himself to care. He likes texting Martin. He likes talking to Martin. He likes Martin, likes him a ridiculous amount considering how long they’ve known each other, and he doesn’t care.

He especially doesn’t care today, because today he and Martin are going to get lunch.

Jon smiles down at his phone, skimming over Martin’s last text. It’s barely anything, just confirmation of where they’re going to be meeting, but it makes him happy anyway. In just a few short hours, he’s going to see Martin again. In just a few short hours, he’ll be able to see Martin, and talk to him, and hear about his day and about how his knitting project is going, and he-

Behind Jon, the door of the office abruptly crashes open. Jon doesn’t flinch and instinctively hide his phone, because he’s not ashamed of texting Martin in the slightest, but if his phone somehow ends up in his pocket by the time Melanie shoves the door shut behind her, well… she doesn’t need to know.

I just had a meeting with Elias,” Melanie says without any preamble, flopping down in her chair with enough force to make the withered plastic squeak like a particularly upset deflating football. “He caught me as I was heading down, insisted that we needed to have a chat about something.”

 “Oh?” Jon asks, calming his startled heart as best he can.

“Mm.”

“Dare I ask what this chat was about?”

Melanie spins in her chair, staring up at the ceiling. “It,” she says, dramatic weight hanging even from those two simple letters, “was about a play. Specifically, about the play that we’re currently doing. Specifically specifically, about how we are, apparently, no longer doing that play. Specifically specifically specifically, it was about how Elias, in all his wisdom, has decided to change shows entirely right after I place a wood order.”

“Oh,” Jon says. He can see the storm clouds gathering on the horizon of Melanie’s words. He can see what they spell. “Oh, oh no-”

“He’s changing us to another goddamn Leitner.”

Jon groans. Just as he’d thought, the storm clouds on the horizon had been spelling ‘BASTARD’. “Oh, Christ, is he?”

“Afraid so.”

“Incredible,” Jon mutters. “That’s- wonderful. Fantastic. I had just- I was so close to being done with getting all the rights for this one, and making sure we could get enough script copies, and now bloody Elias wants us to work on another Leitner. Fantastic. Fantastic.”

“Hey, at least you’re getting a heads-up,” Melanie reminds him. “I just got the joy of a surprise meeting with Mr Bouchard himself telling me to change the CLS order that I’d already made.”

“God, I’m sorry. Was Elias-”

“Incredibly, he wasn’t stoned this time.”

Jon raises an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Mm.”

“He’s pivoting us to a Leitner and he’s not currently high?”

Melanie shrugs. “Well, he probably was when he decided to make the swap, I’m not arguing that, but… no. Right now, he seems pretty normal. Insofar as Elias can be normal, that is.”

“Ah. ‘Normal’ Elias. Meaning that he’s currently swanning around the theatre like a budget Bond villain,” Jon replies dryly. “Understood.”

“Yeah, exactly that. He’s a- I think ‘Lidl’s own-brand Bond villain’ would be a good way to describe him today.”

“’Tesco’s finest’ Bond villain?”

“That works too.”

“’Waitrose’s essential?’”

“I think that’s pushing it a bit far,” Melanie replies, starting to crack a small smile. “I mean, how important is he, really? What has Elias ever done for us?”

“Owned the theatre?” Jon suggests. “Paid our salaries? Somehow managed to make money out of this place?”

“I still don’t think he does that, you know, there’s no way that this place makes any money at all-”

“Yes, yes, I know, it’s probably a money-laundering front, but at least he pays us-”

Knock, knock.”

The door to the basement room swings open. There’s no creak of hinges but somehow the door still gives the impression that there should be one, opening before the man stood behind it with so much reluctance that Jon can almost hear the gently rusted metal complaining. He can’t hear it complaining, though. All he can hear is the fizzing of the lightbulbs and the fading sound of Elias’ voice as the man himself smiles at him.

“Hello, Jon,” he says. “Hello, Melanie. I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything?”

“Nothing important,” Melanie says, already turning away so that she doesn’t have to look at Elias and whatever awful tie he picked out today. “We were just chatting. About normal things. Nothing serious.”

“Oh, good. I’m glad you find the atmosphere of the theatre a, ah, normal and chatty one to be in. Anyway, Jon, I’m glad I managed to find you,” Elias continues, as though he doesn’t know that the basement and the lighting box are the two places where Jon spends 90% of his time. “I was just looking for you. Do you mind coming up to my office for a moment? I need to have a few words with you.”

Jon glances over at Melanie. She pulls a face, mouthing the word ‘Leitner’, then shrugs, quickly mimes stabbing someone, gestures over her shoulder at Elias, and turns back to her desk.

Jon looks back at Elias. Elias, the bastard that he is, doesn’t seem to have noticed Melanie’s impromptu little pantomime in the slightest.

“Well?” he asks.

Jon sighs. “Fine,” he says, standing from his desk. “Will I need to take notes?”

“Oh, no, I trust you to remember what I’ll be telling you. It’s not much, either. Just a few short things that I thought I should mention to you.”

“Right,” Jon replies cautiously, glancing at Melanie once again. “Right now?”

“If you wouldn’t mind.”

Well, he can hardly say ‘no’. Jon nods towards the door, slipping his hands into his pockets. Against his fingertips, he can feel the cool glass of his phone screen. “After you.”

“Wonderful. Follow me.”

Jon does. It doesn’t take long for them to reach Elias’ office, tucked away in a corner of the theatre and furnished in a style that strongly implied that an antiques shop exploded in it. Elias seats himself behind his desk, gesturing for Jon to take a seat opposite.

“Now, Jon,” he says, leaning forward across the smooth, age-worn wood, “I need you to listen. I’ve decided to, ah, make a few small changes to our current project. Nothing too major, nothing that will cause the end of the world, hah, but it’s… well, as my beloved archivist and indirect company manager, I felt that you should be one of the first to know.” He grins at Jon, slick and shiny like oil. “We’re changing plays,” he says bluntly. “Entirely. I’ve had a bit of a brainwave, you see. This new play… it’s going to be something a little bit different, you understand? A little bit unique, a little bit special-”

“It’s a Leitner, isn’t it?” Jon asks flatly.

Elias barely bats an eye at Jon’s interruption. “Yes, it is a Leitner,” he says, sounding obnoxiously delighted. “Excellent work, Jon. You’re really getting rather good at, ah, keeping an eye on things, hah.”

“Mm.”

“Now, anyway, I thought that I’d just give you a bit of a heads-up on it, so to speak. I haven’t told the rest of the cast and crew yet apart from Melanie, because she gets rather, ah, stabby if I tell her too late, and then she feels all ‘rushed’ and like she ‘wants to drop arsenic in my coffee.’ Which is ridiculous, of course, because I would obviously taste the arsenic at the very first sip, but, anyway, that’s beside the point.” Elias waves a hand, leaning further across the desk, his eyes sparkling with what Jon can only call ‘delighted directorial malice.’ “We are changing to a Leitner. It’s a marvellous Leitner, Jon – I really think you’re going to enjoy the unique challenge that it presents.”

Jon narrows his eyes. He’s been working at the Magnus Theatre long enough to understand what Elias is actually saying, and he knows that those words only ever mean trouble. “’Unique’ how?”

“Oh, you’ll see.”

“Can’t you just tell me?”

“Ahah, no.” Elias grins. “This is something to be experienced, Jonathan.” He sits back in his chair, steepling his fingers and smiling broadly over the top of them. “And speaking of experiencing it, I’m going to need you to look over the script as soon as possible, if you wouldn’t mind. I’d rather not carry anything over from the, ugh, the old show, but Melanie keeps talking about ‘budgets’ and ‘time frames’ and I would rather she stop picking up a knife every time she sees me, so you two might need to have a little chat. See what we have in storage that we can possibly use again. Oh, and I’ll need you to get the rights to it. And the script copies. And maybe chat with Daisy if you can before she tries to hunt me down, or anything ridiculous like that. Give her a bit of a heads-up.”

“I- alright,” Jon replies. “When did you want this all done by, Elias?”

“Tomorrow, if you’d be so kind.”

“…Tomorrow.”

“Yes.”

“I… I see.”

“Mm.” Elias smiles. “I trust you’ll get it all done just fine, Jon. I know how hard working you are. You’re the best archivist – amongst other vital roles, of course – that this theatre has seen in decades. Now,” he gestures to the door, “do hurry along. I don’t want you to have to stay too late.”

Jon leaves. It’s all he can do. He shuts Elias’ door as gently as he can, settling the wood back into it’s old, age-stained frame, and walks quietly along the corridor, down the stairs that lead him to the ground level of the theatre. He walks past the doors onto the stage, nodding absently at Gerry, and then he walks down the stairs to his beloved, familiar basement.

It’s only once he’s in the basement, safely out of Elias’ eye- and ear-shot, that he leans back against the wall, squeezes his eyes shut, and groans in frustration. Damn it. Damn Elias and damn his goddamn Leitners. The day had started so bloody well, too, with a sleepy good morning text from Martin and a surprisingly not overcrowded tube carriage and a distinct lack of drizzle given the time of year. Jon should’ve known. He should’ve known that the universe wasn’t done being a bastard to him quite yet.

Jon groans quietly. He’s going to have to tell Martin, and he’s going to have to tell Martin soon that he can’t make lunch. There’s no way that he can make lunch, not with everything that Elias wants him to do, and the sooner he tells Martin that, the better. It’ll be fine, of course. He knows that it’ll be fine. Martin will understand, because he’s lovely and decidedly not a bastard, and Jon will apologise, and they’ll somehow figure out a way to glue together what spare time they both have and meet up again. It’ll be fine. It’ll all be fine.

He just has to send the texts.

Jon breathes in. On the back of his throat, the air tastes like dust and static and old, abandoned places. It’s familiar to him. It’s comforting.

Martin will not hate him for this.

Jon digs his phone out of his pocket, wakes it up, and sends a handful of texts.

---

Martin’s standing before his wardrobe, trying to pick out a suitable outfit for their lunch date, when his phone buzzes.

[Text from: Jon] Sorry, Elias just dropped by. He’s got some urgent changes he needs me to work on.
[Text from: Jon] He’s changing the entire play.
[Text from: Jon] I think I might have to cancel our lunch plans.
[Text from: Jon] I’m sorry, Martin.

Martin doesn’t feel immediately glum from those texts. He knows that he doesn’t feel immediately glum from those texts because he’s trying very hard not to, because he is a grown, adult, sensible man, who doesn’t feel his entire mood start to plummet just because the man that he’s dating is cancelling their date for extremely understandable, sensible, adult reasons. He’s not upset about it. He’s not. He knows that Jon has a life outside of him – it would be concerning if he didn’t, really – and these things happen. Martin knows that these sort of things happen. He’s amazed that they haven’t happened sooner, if he’s entirely honest, because as much as he loves his degree and as much as he loves his job, working three or four twelve-hour shifts in a row isn’t exactly conducive to regular dates.

And yet.

And yet he still feels his brows drawing together, still feels himself slumping a little where he stands as he rereads the texts, and then rereads them again. I might have to cancel our lunch plans.

It’s fine. It’s definitely fine. It’s completely fine, and normal, and there’s no reason to feel upset because it isn’t his fault, not even in the slightest. Admittedly, it is his fault that they had to have lunch today, because he has placement eating up so much of his time, and it’s also his fault that they can’t meet up because of the aforementioned placement, but this isn’t his fault. He knows it’s not his fault. He knows that he did nothing to cause this, knows that some things in life are just outside of his control and that that’s to be expected, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling guilty anyway.

I might have to cancel our lunch plans.

Martin breathes in, breathes out, and texts back.

[Text to: Jon] Oh, that’s alright! I understand ^-^

[Text from: Jon] I’m really very sorry, Martin.
[Text from: Jon] My boss is a bit… bizarre.
[Text from: Jon] I should have let you know that things like this do just happen to me on occasion.

[Text to: Jon] Really Jon, it’s alright
[Text to: Jon] Sometimes life is just like that
[Text to: Jon] I’m hardly one to talk! I’m away half the week on placement anyway!
[Text to: Jon] And we can always just reschedule
[Text to: Jon] If you’d like

Jon, wonderful man that he is, texts back almost immediately, giving Martin no time at all to start panicking over his own forwardness.

[Text from: Jon] I would like that, Martin.
[Text from: Jon] When do you go back on shift? You said Wednesday, right?

[Text to: Jon] Yeah, Wednesday!

[Text from: Jon] Could we try tomorrow? It may have to be a short lunch, depending on how much work I manage to get done today, but I’d rather not have to wait until the weekend to see you again.

“Don’t be weird,” Martin mutters to himself. “Don’t be weird.”

[Text to: Jon] I don’t want to have to wait until the weekend to see you, either
[Text to: Jon] I’d love to get lunch with you tomorrow

[Text from: Jon] Oh, good.
[Text from: Jon] Would it be alright if we figured out an exact meeting time tomorrow?  I’m very short on time right now.

[Text to: Jon] That’s fine, Jon
[Text to: Jon] We can definitely figure out a time later ^-^

---

They figure out a time later.

---

“So,” Martin says, swallowing a bite of his sandwich, “what were these changes that Elias needed you to make?”

Jon sighs, poking at the food on his plate. “He decided to pivot the show,” he says, his words laced with an exhausted but well-used venom which is audible even over the background noise of the little café they’ve found themselves in. “We’re- we’re already a number of weeks into this current play, and I know that Melanie has already started on construction and that Tim is already working on his microphone plots so that they’re ready for his replacement, and I had almost got the rights for the play that Elias wanted us to do and then he- then he changed it. For no apparent reason.”

Martin blinks. “Oh,” he says. It feels insufficient in the face of Jon’s obvious ire, but it’s all he can think to say. “That sounds, um, pretty annoying.”

Jon pokes his food again, more vehemently this time. “It’s just a little bit annoying, yes.”

“Uh. Is there- is there anything I can do to help?”

“Not unless you know a way to make theatre rights holders read and reply to emails faster.”

“I… don’t. Sorry.”

“It’s alright.”

“…I could maybe send them annoyed emails on your behalf, though?” Martin offers. “Send them a strongly worded complaint? Maybe tweet at them? I’ve heard that negative press isn’t very good; maybe that’ll make them hurry up a bit.”

Jon snorts. “Maybe,” he says wryly, just a hint of amusement colouring his words. “But they’re already being stubborn pricks about it, so I doubt this’ll do much.” He drums his fingers against the table, short nails scratching against the wood. “Apart from that, though…”

“What?”

“Could you- can you- could you just be you?” Jon asks quietly, meeting Martin’s gaze. His eyes are soft, yesterday’s stress and tiredness still lingering around the edges, but his expression is gentle and fond and makes Martin feel warm all the way down to his marrow. “It’s- you’re a very lovely- you’re- you’re a very nice distraction, Martin.”

“O-oh,” Martin says weakly. He can’t look away. Jon’s eyes are so- they’re so- they’re beautiful. He can’t describe them, not now, and possibly not ever. He’s already tried to commit them to poetry and had failed time and time again, feeling the words fading and failing as they leaked from his pen. He’ll never be able to capture Jon’s eyes, not in words. He’s more okay with that than he thought he would be. “I’m- I’m glad to hear that, Jon. I’m really- I’m glad I can help.” Martin stretches one hand across the table, and before he even makes it halfway he feels Jon’s fingers curl around his own, warm and familiar. Martin squeezes. “If there’s anything else I can do just let me know, yeah?”

“Thank you, Martin,” Jon says softly. “Really.”

“You- you’re- you’re welcome. And I- I mean it, alright? If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know. If you- if you need a distraction from your boss – from Elias – or if you- maybe you need to vent, or complain, or bounce ideas, or- or anything, you can always text me, alright? Or call me. That’s- that’s fine, too. I mean, obviously not if I’m on shift, I’ll be- I’ll be a bit busy then, b-but you can still text me! That’s okay! It’ll just take me a while to reply. Um.”

Jon’s smile widens. The corners of his eyes crinkle, the sunlight lighting his skin up with warmth. Against his cheeks, Martin can see the beginnings of a blush. He wants to touch it.

He wants to kiss him.

“Thank you,” Jon says again. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Martin yanks his gaze away from Jon’s lips, suddenly aware that he’s been staring. “Of- of course! And you, um, y-you- it’s- I’m- s-so this- your play, what is it, um, what’s it about?”

Jon sighs. “It’s a Leitner,” he says, with such disgust in his voice that Martin actually leans back somewhat, trying to actively distancing himself from whatever the hell a ‘Leitner’ is. He’s never heard of it before, but based off Jon’s expression, tone, body language, and just about everything else, he can’t imagine that it’s good. “It’s another one of Elias’ bloody Leitners, which means that it’s going to be a pain to get anything done with and it’s probably going to curse the theatre, too.”

“What, like Macbeth?” Martin asks before he can stop himself.

Jon gives a sharp, amused smile. “Yes,” he says, “like Macbeth. Although, if you’d allow me to be somewhat, ah, superstitious for a moment, I might actually go so far as to say that Leitners are more cursed than Macbeth. At least the ‘curse’ of Macbeth makes sense.”

“Really? How?”

“Well, actors are a superstitious bunch in general, and they – don’t give me that look, Martin, they are-”

“You just said to pardon you for being superstitious,” Martin says, trying very hard not to smile and utterly failing. “And you used to be a theatre kid, so…”

Jon glowers at him. Martin just smiles wider. He can tell that there’s no heat to Jon’s glower, save for the sullen attractiveness of it that makes Martin start thinking of eyeliner all over again. It’s just a glower for the sake of glowering, and Martin can all too clearly see amused fondness creeping around the edges of it.

“Fine,” Jon says after a pause. “Maybe I was-”

“’Was?’”

“-God, Martin, fine, maybe I am a somewhat superstitious ex-theatre kid, but it’s- most actors are significantly more superstitious than me, and superstition over a ‘cursed’ play makes people twitchy. Specifically, it makes actors twitchy, because actors are just like that. And it just so happens that Macbeth is a play with a lot of swords, and daggers, and other assorted pieces of blunt but still heavy stage weaponry, all of which the actors have access to, even when they’ve been told to leave them alone. And it turns out that when you combine twitchy actors with dangerous items, people tend to get hurt. The Macbeth ‘curse’ is all just superstitious nonsense. There’s nothing to it.”

“But Leitners are cursed?” Martin asks.

“More so than Macbeth, certainly.”

“How? Aren’t they just- aren’t they just books? Or scripts?”

“Well, yes,” Jon admits, “but they’re- they- look, odd things just happen when you perform a Leitner, alright? Or- or start rehearsing one, or making the scenery and props for one, or even reading one. The last one we did was about some- I don’t know, some entity made of darkness personified and some cult or another who followed it and were trying to create an evil sun – yes, I know, it sounds funny, but it was actually rather creepy once on stage – and I swear, Martin, that the week before we were set to perform it, every last bulb in the theatre blew. All of them. For no good reason. We’d had all the stage lights checked recently to make sure they were working, but everything went. Now, I don’t exactly believe in most supernatural stuff because frankly the vast majority of it was rubbish, but this was… it was unsettling. And odd. And according to Elias, at the Leitner he saw being performed in Edinburgh, there was a fire backstage on the closing night.” Jon gives Martin a pointed look.

“Was the… was the play about a fire?” Martin asks tentatively. “Or about setting fires-”

Yes,” Jon says. “It was about a fire cult.”

“There’s a lot of cults in these plays.”

“You get used to it. Leitners are- they’re just cursed. I’m sure that you could come up with a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this, but they’re… I don’t like working on them. No one likes working on them. People seem to enjoy watching them because they tend to get excellent reviews, but no one likes them.”

“Dare I ask what this one is about, then?”

Incredibly, Jon actually smiles a little at that. “It’s about - this sounds absurd, but honestly, for a Leitner this is rather tame – it’s about two delivery men working to bring about the apocalypse.”

Martin chokes on his water. “It- what?”

“It’s about two delivery men working to bring about the apocalypse,” Jon repeats, his voice now coloured with a touch of amusement. “Immortal delivery men, too. I should have specified.”

Immortal?”

“Mm.”

“…Why?!” Martin asks. It’s about all he can think to ask.

Jon sighs. “If I’m honest, Martin, I’ve got absolutely no idea. Leitner… he produced a lot of very strange plays, to put it lightly. There’s some running themes going through some of them, mostly to do with these ‘entities’ that he keeps referring to, but a lot of the stranger occurrences in them never get explained.”

“Like immortal delivery men?”

“Like immortal delivery men.”

“Hmm. Have you done a lot of these- of these Leitners?”

“We’ve done enough,” Jon replies dryly. “Elias… he first got introduced to them by someone he met at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years back. He- apparently, he saw some show, and he thought it was incredible, and he managed to find and talk to the director afterwards – some English man called Adam, or Alex, or Alexander, or something like that. He had an initial between his first name and surname, apparently – anyway, Elias managed to find him, and this Adam or Alex or Alexander said that the play they’d performed was a Leitner.” Jon lifts a hand, rubbing at his temple. “After which,” he continues, starting to sound almost weary, “Elias returned to London, started hunting for Leitners, and we’ve not been free of them since.”

“Oh.”

“Mm. I don’t think this one will be as bad as some of the others, though. It’s- it spans a lot of different time periods, which is going to make designing the stage for it a nightmare, and I’ll have to do a lot of research into clothing from all those time periods and regions because Elias is insistent on ‘absolute historical accuracy’, but I read through the script a couple of times to memorise the plot and I don’t think we’ll have too many things that wayward actors could hurt themselves on.”

Martin frowns. At the back of his mind, something is itching at him. “…Hang on, didn’t you say that your boss-”

“Elias.”

“-right, Elias. Didn’t you say that he only changed to this script yesterday?”

Jon nods. “Yes. Just before lunchtime, actually. It’s not an uncommon thing for him to do, really, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.”

“So you’ve had this new story for less than twenty-four hours.”

“Yes.”

“And you’ve already memorised most of the plot?”

In the warm sunshine pouring in through the window, Martin thinks he sees Jon’s cheeks pinken. “I-I-“ Jon stammers, “I-… yes. It’s- it is my job, you know. And it’s no longer than most of the plays we perform, and I stayed a little bit later to make sure that I had enough time to read it fully, because Georgie tells me that it ‘isn’t good for me’ to bring my work home, and I- it’s my job.”

Martin doesn’t think before he speaks. “Jon?”

“What?”

“That’s really impressive.”

Jon colours instantly. “It’s- I mean- it is my job, Martin-”

“No, no, I’m serious!” Martin continues, feeling that if he’s going to be confessing how attractive he finds Jon’s intelligence to be then he might as well go all the way. “That’s- that’s really pretty damn impressive, you know? You just- you’ve had this script for a day, a script that you’ve never seen before, and you already know pretty much everything about it! That’s amazing! I couldn’t do that, and I read a lot. It’s- it’s kind of hot, honestly.” Martin swallows. Across the table from him, Jon glances away, but the corner of his mouth is twitching in a small smile, half pleased and half flustered. It’s a good look on him, Martin thinks. It’s a really, really good look.

And then Jon coughs, shifting awkwardly in his seat, and the moment is shattered.

Martin lets go of Jon’s hand, leaning back to start eating again as Jon makes small noises that Martin thinks are meant to be words. Eventually the noises start blending together, forming full syllables, and then Jon’s actually speaking in words again, his face and ears now a deep, charming red.

“S-so, Tim was, um, Tim- he- Tim asked me to ask you something the other day,” Jon says, somehow managing to time his question to perfectly align with Martin taking a bite of his sandwich. Martin makes a small, muffled sound, his eyes going wide behind his glasses.

“Mm?”

“Mm, yes. He was, um…” Jon trails off, looking down at his plate.

“Mm?” Martin chews hastily, quickly swallowing. “He- what did he ask you? To, um, to ask me?” And why?

“He was, uh, he was- it’s- Tim was wondering if you’d like to come to his leaving drinks on Friday,” Jon says, laying each word down carefully and neatly as though trying not to disturb anything as Martin continues to stare at him. “He’s, ah, he’s going to be leaving the company soon – he’s got a new job somewhere up north, doing kayaking – and he’s- he’s having his leaving drinks this Friday, and he asked me if you would, perhaps, like to join us. There’s no pressure, of course, and it’s- well, I can’t make any promises for how quiet it’ll be, knowing what Tim’s like, but they’ve all promised to behave themselves and not be too, ah, theatre-people-ish.

“I- okay,” Martin replies. He doesn’t know what he’s meant to say in this sort of situation. He’s not been invited to a lot of events like this, not even socially at university, and he’s honestly unsure of how to feel about it. On the one hand it’s nice, knowing that Jon talks about him to his coworkers enough that they actually want to invite him to things, but on the other hand, it’s more than a little bit terrifying. Martin’s never met these people before. He doesn’t know who they are. He doesn’t know what they’ll be like. He doesn’t even know how many of them there’ll be.

Martin clears his throat. “How, um, how many other people will be there?”

“Oh!” Jon exclaims. “Oh, well, I’ll be there, obviously, as well as Tim, and I think Melanie, Daisy, and Basira are joining us, too.” Jon pauses, frowning. “I’m not sure if Georgie will be there, though…”

“Georgie?” Martin echoes, feeling nervous, panicky frost starting to creep along his veins. “As in, your flatmate Georgie?”

“Mhmm.”

“As in, your best friend Georgie?”

“Yes.”

Martin takes a drink. “R-right,” he says as levelly as he possibly can, while his heart continues beating out a Top 40 hit inside his chest. “That’s- right, okay. Drinks. With your best friend. And your co-workers. I- mm.”

“You don’t have to come,” Jon adds quickly. Martin wonders if he can feel the table vibrating from how fast his heart is beating, though it’s more likely that Jon can just see the panic etched clear as day on his face. “You don’t- I told Tim that you- I told Tim that I wasn’t going to force you, because I know it- it can be a lot, meeting my, um, meeting my friends, and I didn’t want you to be uncomfortable, and this is all rather fast, and I-”

“I’ll go,” Martin hears himself say.

Instantly, Jon falls silent. “You’ll- what?”

Martin swallows. “I’ll go,” he repeats weakly. “I’ll- these are your friends, Jon. I should- if we’re going to keep doing, um, this, as in- as in- well, dating, and- and- and all of that, then I should- I mean, I should probably meet them at some point, right? Get to know them? They’re important to you, and it’s probably important that I get on with them if we’re- yup. S-so… yes. I’ll go. I’ll go to Tim’s leaving drinks with you.”

“O-oh,” Jon says. “You- really? Don’t you have placement on Friday?”

Martin resolutely ignores how warm his chest feels from that single question. He shouldn’t be this smitten just because Jon remembers when he’s busy. “I- I mean, yeah, I do, but it’s- I’m assuming this is going to be in the evening, and I normally leave the hospital just after seven, so if it’s- depending on where you’re going it might take me a while to get there, but I’ll- yeah. I’ll go.”

“Oh,” Jon says again. He sounds surprised but pleasantly so. “That’s- I’m really glad to hear that, Martin. I’m- I’m really glad.” Jon suddenly smiles wider. “And,” he adds, “I know the others will be glad to hear that, too. Daisy especially. She was rather, ah, she was rather insistent that I bring you.”

“Well, based on what I’ve heard about Daisy from your texts, I kind of get the impression that she might kill you if you don’t drag me along,” Martin replies, aiming for humour but landing significantly closer to ‘gentle terror’. “Or- or me! I mean, she doesn’t know where I live, or anything about me beyond what I’ve told you, and I’m not on Facebook or anything like that, but you’ve- I think you’ve said before that she’s, um, terrifying. And good at finding people.”

“She is good at finding people,” Jon confirms, not helping Martin’s fear in the slightest. “One time she found Michael hiding behind a door in the basement that even I didn’t know was there.”

“O-oh?”

“Mm. He was, ah, he was rather surprised, to put it lightly.”

“God, I can imagine.”

“I don’t think Daisy would do that to you, though. She’s, um, I think she’s going to try to be less terrifying than normal, if at all possible. I mean, she didn’t say that, because she isn’t really one for conversation, but she- I got that impression from her. Um. If you- if you weren’t to come, that is. Which would be fine, of course, there’s no- there’s no pressure, you can change your mind on this whenever you want, that’s absolutely fine-”

“I’ll be there,” Martin interrupts, and instantly the concern and worry on Jon’s face fades. Martin can still feel his heart thrumming inside his chest, can still feel the fear and anxiety pricking at his skin, but he pushes it aside as best he can. Jon wants him to be there. Jon wants him to meet his friends. Jon is serious about this. “I promise,” Martin says, quieter. “I’ll likely be kind of tired, and exhausted, and smelling like a hospital, but I’ll be there. I promise.”

Chapter Text

It’s not hard to find a Wetherspoons in London, and Martin knows this. They’re not everywhere, because that would probably be bad for any other shops trying to turn a profit on London’s busy streets, but, to put it lightly, there’s more than enough of them around. The upside of this is that if you’re out with friends and looking for a Spoons, you’re more than likely to find one.

The downside is that it can be really, really easy to get your Spoons mixed up if you have, for example, just come off a 12-hour shift at A&E and are already panicking about meeting the friends of the person that you’re dating.

Thankfully, Martin manages to find the Wetherspoons in question. He arrives a solid 15 minutes after he said he would, his backpack heavy against his shoulders and his phone still clutched in his hand, scanning the busy, noisy not-quite-pub from the moment he steps through the doors. He’d been texting back and forth with Jon the entire way here, and thanks to Jon’s instructions it doesn’t take him long to spot the group.

They’re sitting in a little corner booth, clustered around a table that’s already got a collection of drinks scattered across it. There seem to be five figures sat around the table, two of them in chairs and the other three in the curved booth. One of the three is clearly Jon. The other two are very definitely not, as evidenced by just about everything about them.

Quite abruptly, Martin wishes that he’d thought to ask Jon for pictures of his co-workers, because he has no idea who any of them are, and he doesn’t want to make a fool of himself by immediately forgetting all of their names.

Well. Maybe not all of their names.

Even from where he’s standing, always across the room from them, Martin immediately feels fairly certain that he can identify Daisy. Jon has been rather lacking in physical descriptions of any of his friends, but he’s mentioned multiple times now how absolutely terrifying Daisy can be, and Martin’s pretty sure that that terrifying aura is exactly what he’s feeling, looking at the woman slouched comfortably against the other not-Jon figure in the booth. There’s nothing about her that’s immediately scary, nothing that should be putting him edge, but the longer Martin looks and the closer he walks, the more he gets the impression that this lady could, with very little effort, murder him just by thinking about it. Her words aren’t exactly reassuring, either.

“Actors are not people,” presumably-Daisy is saying, her voice somehow carrying clearly through the noise of the pub despite how softly she’s speaking. “They are not people, and they do not have rights. I should know. Most of my friends are actors, and they disgust me.”

“Hey!” exclaims the other guy sat at the table who isn’t Jon. From this piece of information, paired with the snapback that the man is wearing in what Martin can only call an ‘early 2000s’ sort of way and the sheer volume of his voice, Martin quickly assumes that this is Tim. “Daisy! I am not an actor!”

 “You were a YouTuber for a while, Tim,” replies the lady sat next to Daisy, one of her arms draped casually around Daisy’s shoulders. “That’s almost worse.”

“It is worse,” Daisy agrees, a slick, sharp smile crossing her face. “Though you’ll be glad to know that I don’t actually consider you to be an actor, Tim. That’s why I only said ‘most’ of my friends.”

“I’m never going to stop being shocked that you know people outside of us,” presumably-Tim says.

Daisy’s grin widens. Just for a moment, Martin falters approaching the table. “Oh?” she says. “Why?”

Even from a few yards away, Martin can see Tim swallow. “Because,” he says, “because you’re- well, because- I-”

“Please continue, Timothy.”

“-don’t you full-name me – because-”

Martin,” Jon says suddenly and loudly, cutting over Tim’s voice. He stands quickly, his gaze fixed on Martin as a soft smile blooms across his face, making Martin’s stomach do something silly and embarrassing. “You’re- Martin, you- you made it.”

“Yep!” Martin says as brightly as he can, trying very hard not to wither under the combined weight of Tim, Melanie, Daisy, and Basira’s stares as they all turn to look at him. “I’m- I’m here! Just like I said I would be! Hah. Sorry I’m late, by the way, I was- there’s- I got a little bit lost on my way here.”

“Oh, no, that’s- that’s alright, that’s fine-”

“Are you going to introduce us or not?” the woman sitting at the table next to almost-certainly-Tim asks suddenly, interrupting Jon with an amused smile. Jon jumps, pulling his gaze away from Martin with an almost guilty expression.

“Oh,” he says. “O-oh, yes, right, I was…” He trails off, quickly clearing his throat. “Everyone, this is m- this is Martin. Martin, these are the arseholes that I work with. This is- this is Melanie, and Tim, and Basira, and Daisy, and- well, and Georgie said that she was going to be here, but I think she’s since changed that to her joining us all later, so you’re free from meeting her for now! Ahah.”

Martin smiles weakly. “W-well, I’m sure I’ll still be meeting her at some point! Um. I-I mean, I hope I get to meet her, she seems… nice.”

“She is, she’s very- she’s very nice, she’s been wanting to meet you for a while, actually, but she couldn’t… something came up at work, apparently, so she couldn’t make this.”

“She’s going to be at Del’s, though,” says definitely-Tim. “Just so you know.”

“Georgie always shows up for Del’s,” Jon replies. He glances at Martin before moving back over to his seat, scooting along in the booth to make space for him. There’s no other chairs at the table. Even if there had been, Martin thinks he would have gone for the booth anyway. It’s ridiculous how excited he’s getting at the mere thought of being able to sit close to Jon, but he doesn’t give himself time to dwell on that. He just drops his bag down at the side of the booth and scoots right in after Jon, feeling their knees nudging together underneath the table. It’s normal. It’s to be expected.

It makes Martin smile all the same, though.

“So, Martin, what is it that you do?” Basira asks, settling back in her seat and settling her arm around Daisy’s shoulders once again. “Jon said that you were a nurse.”

“He did?” Martin asks, immediately feeling his chest grow warm. He knows, logically, that Jon has been talking about him to his friends, has known it for a while now, but it still feels weirdly pleasant to get actual, out-loud confirmation of that from one of Jon’s aforementioned friends. Jon talks about me, Martin thinks, feeling himself starting to smile. Jon likes me!

Basira gives a short laugh. “He might have mentioned it once or twice.”

“Or constantly,” Melanie interrupts. “But then again, you did keep bumping into each other in A&E, or at least that’s what he says…”

“Oh, no, we- we did!” Martin says. “We, um, he- he met my senior mentor first, actually, but then I ended up taking over the, uh, the worm-removal, and we just sort of… started talking. And then he came in again. And- and again. And I, um…”

“Wait, really?” Basira asks. “I mean, no offence, Jon, but I kind of thought you were kidding about it. You actually kept meeting each other in A&E? Without planning it?”

At Martin’s side, Jon makes a small, spluttering sort of sound. Without thinking Martin reaches out, absently placing his hand on Jon’s knee underneath the table.

“Well, yeah,” he confirms, shrugging slightly as, beside him, Jon’s spluttering and stammering cuts off abruptly with an undignified, almost inaudible squeak. “I didn’t- I didn’t plan it, because that would just be creepy, and Jon told me that he didn’t plan it either, but I- I…” Martin trails off, swallowing. He doesn’t know how much to tell them. He’s only just met Jon’s friends, after all – it might be a bit early to start telling them about how immediately he started crushing on Jon.

But, then again, he is dating Jon now. He’s actually, truly, properly dating Jon, to the extent that he’s actually here, meeting Jon’s friends. Jon wants him to meet them. Jon isn’t ashamed of him, isn’t ashamed of their relationship, and if he wants Martin to meet his friends then surely that means that he wants to keep being with Martin, or at the very least dating him, for a while longer still. Surely that makes this okay.

Surely.

“I, um, I actually- I actually kind of liked him from the first time we met,” Martin blurts out, feeling himself turning scarlet. “But there was, um, it was- I didn’t know if he, um, if he swung my way, o-or- or if he was interested-”

“He was,” Daisy interrupts, her voice flat and level. “Trust me, Martin. Jon wouldn’t bloody shut up about you.”

“Or he’d shut up about you too much, if that makes sense,” Basira adds. “He couldn’t seem to decide if he wanted to tell us everything or keep it all to himself. We only found out that you’d been on an actual date from Georgie, and it took a fair amount of badgering from Tim to convince him to let us actually meet you.”

“You’re welcome for that, by the way,” says Tim. “Because I, in all my wisdom and glory, clearly picked the best possible time to quit this hell-hole of a theatre and go off to do new and better things.”

“Yeah, about that, how are you even getting north?” Basira asks. “I thought you didn’t have a car.”

Tim grins at her. “I don’t.”

“Yeah, I know, I literally just said that. So how are you-”

“I’m getting a lift.”

Daisy snorts. “Not with me, you’re not. If you’re thinking of asking me for a lift now, in a situation that I can’t easily escape from, then you can think again. I’m not having you blasting musical numbers from my speakers for a second time.”

Tim gasps, raising a hand to press it over his chest. His hand, Martin notices absently, is just a few inches to the side of where his heart actually rests.

“How dare you,” Tim replies. “The audacity. I would never ask you for a lift so late, Daisy, I can’t believe you’d even suggest that to me, to my face, here, in the holy grounds of Spoons, where I am paying for your drinks-”

“Oh, you’re paying for all of them now?”

“-where I am paying for your first drink, because I am a good man who is escaping London forever, except for when I feel the urge to come back and see all your beautiful faces again. I, you’ll be delighted to know, do not need a lift north.” Tim pauses. Martin feels that it’s probably for dramatic effect, but it’s hard to keep a pause quiet while sitting in the middle of a Wetherspoons in London, and after barely a second of less-than-expectant waiting, Tim continues. “And I do not need a lift north because I already have one.”

He sits back, grinning widely.

Daisy raises a single, pointed eyebrow. “Oh?” she asks. “With who?”

“I,” Tim says, “am getting a lift with Peter.”

This time, the pause is more obvious. Martin can’t quite tell if it’s a shocked one or a confused one, but he knows that, at least from where he’s sitting, it’s a very confused one indeed. He leans over, nudging his shoulder against Jon’s.

“Who’s Peter?” he whispers, at the exact same time that Melanie makes a choking, spluttering sound, and slams her glass down on the table.

What?!” Melanie shouts. “You- what? How? How are you getting a lift with Peter? I’ve never even met Peter! None of us have ever met Peter! When did you meet Peter?”

Jon smiles. “Peter is Elias’ husband,” he whispers back to Martin, his voice soft and amused and utterly, utterly wonderful. “Well, ex-husband. Well, ex-ex-husband, really, if you want to be pedantic about it. It’s a bit convoluted. He owns the theatre because he’s disgustingly wealthy, and he’s also never, ever seen, or even so much as heard from. He’s a bit of a mystery.”

“Oh,” Martin whispers back as, before them, Melanie continues to question Tim with barely a pause for breath. “I- okay.”

“He’s also, based on what Elias has told us about him, not exactly the sort of person who would choose to associate with Tim.”

Martin nods to himself, and turns his attention back to the man in question.

“Nah, Peter’s great!” Tim’s saying enthusiastically to a seemingly very unconvinced Melanie. “He’s awesome! He’s got some big, massive, empty family house or something near the town I’m going to be working in so he offered to let me stay there while I look for a flat! Apparently it can be hard to find if you don’t know where it is, so he’s giving me a lift there, too! He’s great! I invited him to Spoons with us but he said he was busy.”

Melanie gapes at him. “You invited Peter?” she repeats. “To Spoons?”

“Sure. He said he might join us next time I’m down in London.”

“Seriously?”

“Yup. Like I said: Peter’s great. He said he was thinking of going antiques browsing after he dropped me off and I think I might join him. I think we could have some really great chats.”

“Since when were you interested in antiques?” Daisy asks.

“Since Peter mentioned that he used to be a sea captain,” Tim shoots back instantly. “Or that he might still be one. Honestly, he was kind of unclear about it, but I’m definitely going to be asking him about it on the drive up. Or while antique-ing. I think that’s what it’s called. I’m sure there’s boat antiques. Though, come to think of it… do you reckon that, seeing how he used to be a sea captain, Peter might enjoy kayaking? I never thought to ask him.”

“How would we know?” Basira asks. “None of us have ever met him.”

“Well, yeah, alright, I suppose that’s true, I am the only person here to have met Peter Lukas in the flesh-”

“Stop sounding so smug, Tim.”

“-but you all know about him. Excluding Martin, obviously.” Tim looks over at Martin, giving him an apologetic smile. “Sorry.”

Martin smiles back. “Nah, you’re alright. I mean, it is true! I don’t know anything about him beyond what Jon’s told me.”

“Oh? How much has he told you?”

“Nothing,” Martin replies promptly, smiling a little wider. From the corner of his eye he peeks out at Jon, delighted and encouraged to see the small smile on his face. “Jon’s been a little, ah… well, he’s told me about the rest of you, and about your boss- about Elias, but he’s never mentioned a Peter.”

“I’ve never needed to mention Peter before,” Jon replies. He sounds a little put-out, but Martin can hear the warm, fond humour beneath his voice, softening his words. “Peter’s only ever relevant in that he owns the theatre, even if he doesn’t act like it. He’s a bit of… well, truth be told, he’s a bit of a non-entity.”

Tim laughs. “That’s what you think! I mean, yeah, Peter’s a little bit bland, but I’m going to fix that. I’m going to show this man culture. I’m going to give this man taste. Allow me to assure you that by the end of this drive, our beloved, unseen, twice-divorced, thrice-married Mr Lukas-Bouchard will be, at the very least, very, very, very well acquainted with the work of one Stephen Schwartz.”

Just for a moment, Melanie looks hopeful. “Stephen Schwartz?” she repeats. “Are you going to be showing him Wicked-”

“Absolutely not,” Tim interrupts, grinning from ear to ear and giving the very strong impression that he’s relishing every single moment of this discussion. “I’m going to be starting him off with that funky little jazz snake number in Children Of Eden and then it’s all going to be downhill from there. I’m talking Pippin, I’m talking Bat Boy-”

“That’s not a Schwartz.”

“-I’m talking All Shook Up-”

“Also not a Schwartz, and definitely an improvement from Bat Boy,” Basira interrupts. “Seriously, Tim. I thought you said it was all going to be downhill.”

“Look, a man’s gotta have some degree of taste!”

“Are those all musicals?” Martin whispers to Jon. “I mean, I know about Wicked, but the others…?”

Jon nods. “They’re all musicals,” he confirms. “Tim has, ah… a somewhat eclectic taste. Sound checks before shows are always a… let’s call them an experience.”

“I’m getting the impression that anything to do with Tim could be called an ‘experience.’”

Jon smiles wider. “I’m not going to say that you’re wrong.”

“Jon!” Daisy calls suddenly, making Jon snap his head away from Martin. Martin sits back a little, suddenly aware of how close he’d been leaning into Jon, and is about to start fussing with his phone to distract himself from how red his face is turning when Tim leans across the table, taps his arm, and grins.

“Hey,” he says.

Martin smiles weakly. “Hey.”

“Jon did tell you what I was going to do, right?”

Martin’s smile starts to falter. “He, um, he- I don’t-”

“He told you that I was going to buy you a drink, yeah?”

“O-oh!” Martin says, recollection suddenly flooding back to him. “Oh, yes, he- he did say that.”

Tim sits back, grinning wider. Whatever conversation Daisy had called Jon into seems to be heating up, but Tim doesn’t pay it any heed, merely pulling his phone out of his pocket and opening the Wetherspoons app. “Aces,” he says. “What’s your poison?”

---

Time passes.

Just as promised, Tim buys Martin a drink. It calms him somewhat, having something familiar to fiddle with, and with every passing minute he feels himself growing more and more relaxed, settling back in his seat and half-accidentally pressing up against Jon’s side. Jon doesn’t seem to mind. He glanced over at Martin the first time Martin leant in in a not particularly subtle way, his eyes softening as a small, warm smile crossed his face. It had been easier after that to lean in closer, to scoot along in the booth until he’s pressed right up against Jon’s side, feeling the soft fabric of Jon’s shirt brushing against his arm every time he lifts his glass to take a drink. Martin hasn’t really been speaking much, but he’s alright with that. It’s just nice, being here.

It’s just nice, being around Jon.

Martin watches Jon, smiling to himself. He likes this. He likes this a lot. He likes sitting here, tucked away in a corner of a Wetherspoons with Jon and Jon’s friends, already feeling like part of their little group despite having met them all not even an hour earlier. He likes watching Jon’s face as he talks, likes seeing how animated he gets as he argues and bickers with Daisy about things that Martin can’t even start to fathom the importance of. He likes hearing Jon’s voice, likes the weight of Jon’s body against his side, likes feeling the warmth of Jon’s thigh pressing against his own underneath the table. He likes how close Jon is.

He really, really likes how close Jon is.

He likes how warm Jon is, too. Even through the layers of their clothing he can feel the warmth of Jon’s skin seeping into his own, sinking into his body and making a home for itself in his bones. Jon’s so goddamn warm, and he’s so goddamn close, and across the table Martin can see Basira and Daisy, can see how easily Basira’s arm is draped around Daisy’s shoulders and how little everyone else seems to care. No one’s questioning it. No one’s paying it attention. Admittedly, that may in part be due to how terrifying Daisy apparently is, but even then Martin feels like it’s more than that. He trusts Jon’s friends. He’s known them for all of an hour, and he trusts them. They won’t tease him for being affectionate with Jon. They might tease Jon – something that Jon has complained about countless times over text – but they won’t tease him. Martin can do what he so suddenly wants to do. He’s allowed to do what he so suddenly wants to do.

He can put his arm around Jon’s shoulder.

So he will.

Martin swallows the last of his pint, putting the glass down on the table as calmly and as casually as he possibly can. No one pays him any attention as he does. No one pays him any attention as he shifts just a little closer to Jon, but it’s not bad, this lack of attention. He doesn’t feel ignored the way he so often does at lectures or on placement. He doesn’t feel isolated. They’re all acknowledging his presence, sending him little glances every now and again, and at one point Basira looks him dead in the eye, nods vaguely towards Jon, and then rolls her eyes with a grin, but they’re not focusing on him. He’s not in the spotlight, here. No one is in the spotlight. They’re just a group of friends, hanging out and talking nonsense. Martin thinks that Jon might be talking nonsense right now. He’s not actually entirely sure what he’s saying to Daisy but he can hear the rising and falling of his voice as he gets more and more engaged in whatever friendly argument he’s having. Martin can’t tell. Martin can’t focus on the words. He can’t focus on much beyond the warmth of Jon against his side, the brush of Jon’s hair against his cheek, the smell of dust and tea and static that clings so closely to Jon’s skin. Jon’s so close. He’s so, so close.

Martin carefully, slowly, moves his arm. Jon doesn’t seem to notice, slipping into the space against Martin’s side that Martin made without even seeming to be aware of his actions. It’s easy. It’s natural. He presses his side against Martin, resting some of his weight against him even as he starts jabbing at the table, making some point or another that Daisy merely laughs at as Basira quirks a small, fond smile. There’s no tension in his body that Martin can feel, not beyond what he’s accustomed now to seeing Jon carry in his shoulders. He’s relaxed. He’s calm. He’s confident, here in this space with his friends and with- and with Martin. Whatever Martin may be to him.

Now’s not the time to think about that.

In Martin’s lungs, the air smells only of Jon. He can taste the static and ozone on the back of his throat, can remember the scent of the tea that Jon had ordered on their first date. It’s comforting, and familiar, and it calms his nerves for reasons that he can’t even start to comprehend. It’s just Jon. It’s just Jon. And Jon is safe.

Martin breathes in, breathes out, and then, before he can let himself chicken out of it, Martin raises his arm, and drops it around Jon’s shoulder as casually as he can.

Immediately, Jon falls silent. The word he was saying dies in his throat, choked off into a small, unimpressive squeak. For a moment, Martin feels his heart freeze in his chest as Jon tenses beneath him, but barely half a second later Jon relaxes beneath the weight of his arm, shifting his body to press impossibly closer to Martin’s side.

“Is this alright?” Martin asks quietly. Jon nods immediately, a few strands of hair slipping free from his ponytail and falling around his face.

“I-,” he says, “I- it’s- this is-”

“Oh, wow, you’ve got a ‘shut Jon up’ ability!” Daisy interrupts delightedly, with more feeling than Martin’s seen from her for the entire evening. Martin jerks his head up to look at her, almost caught off-guard by the smile on her face. “That’s incredible. Normally I can’t get him to shut up without threatening him. I don’t suppose you’re looking for a job in theatre, are you? We could really use someone like you for when Jon starts his pointless rambling.”

“I’m only looking at medical theatres right now, I’m afraid,” Martin replies instinctively. It’s a stupid joke, automatic and terrible, but Daisy snorts into her glass anyway, giving Martin a smile that’s noticeably less terrifying than the ones she was giving out earlier.

“Yeah?” she asks. “Well, with the way this one is going, I wouldn’t be surprised if we found him in your sort of theatre some time soon.”

“Hey!” Jon exclaims.

Daisy doesn’t bat an eyelid. “Am I wrong?”

“You- yes, Daisy, you are, you are very wrong, I’m-”

“I’d better not find you in ‘my sort of theatre’ any time soon,” Martin blurts out before he can stop himself. He looks down at Jon, twisting himself a little in order to meet his gaze. Jon looks up at him. In the not particularly bright Wetherspoon’s lighting, his pupils are so large they eclipse almost his entire iris.

Martin swallows.

“I’m serious,” he says, his voice quieter now. “I’m- I know you’ve apparently done something to really annoy the god of fate, but- try to keep out of medical theatres, alright? They’re- they’re not really a good place to be in.”

Jon smiles back at him, small and just a little bit defensive. “They weren’t particularly awful the last time I was in one, Martin.”

Oh.

“Ah, yeah, right, fair point, that,” Martin amends. “That’s- yeah, you’ve got me, that’s fair.”

“Admittedly, the time before that wasn’t quite as pleasant, but they’re not all bad.”

“Was that the time you got scissors stuck in your shoulder?” Daisy asks before Martin gets a chance to ask Jon why he was in a medical theatre for an unpleasant reason.

Jon sighs, rolling his eyes. “No, Daisy, this was before that. I didn’t need surgery for the scissors.”

“From what I remember, you didn’t think you needed anything for the scissors.”

“I was fine.”

“You were ranting about hemlines is what you were.”

“It was important,” Jon snaps back, no real anger in his voice.

Daisy raises an eyebrow as, beside her, Basira shakes her head slowly, meeting Martin’s gaze with a small smile. “Oh, I know how you feel about hemlines, but this was still quite a lot, even for you. All I’m saying, Jon, is that I have never met a man, let alone an asexual one, who is as completely obsessed over the length of hemlines as you are.”

“Hemlines are important,” Jon insists vehemently. In Martin’s brain, something small and quiet is starting to click. “They matter, Daisy. They say a lot about the time period a scene is set in for starters, and you know how Elias is about accuracy.”

“Trust me, Jon, I definitely know how Elias is about accuracy.”

“So you’ll know that, even though costuming is very much not my department, he nevertheless expects me to double- and triple-check the accuracy of everything before it even so much as looks at the stage, and that means looking at hemlines.”

“And flinging yourself at scissors.”

“That was one time, Daisy.”

Jon’s asexual, something at the back of Martin’s mind whispers. He’s aware that he’s still got his glass raised, his arm frozen as Jon continues to bicker with Daisy, seemingly entirely unaware of what his friend had just let slip. He’s asexual. He’s asexual, and I didn’t know.

Why would he need to know, though? Why should it matter? Why does it matter, at least to the part of his brain that won’t bloody shut up about it? Martin glances over at Jon, watching the now-familiar furrow form between his eyebrows as he glares at Daisy. He hasn’t moved away from Martin’s arm. He hasn’t pushed Martin away. He’s not acting any differently, isn’t different in any way at all, and yet, at least to Martin, it suddenly feels like the world’s been tilted just two or three degrees off its axis.

Martin swallows. Slowly, carefully, he lowers his glass to the table, trying to look as calm and collected as possible while, in his head, at least seven different trains of thought are fighting to be heard. Jon’s asexual, he thinks. He’s asexual, and he didn’t tell me. Just for a moment, Martin shuts his eyes, blocking out the Spoons around him. It’s fine. This is fine. He’s fine. So Jon’s asexual. So what? He’s still Jon. He’s still the guy that Martin’s pathetically smitten over. And, sure, maybe he’s been thinking of Jon as being horrifically hot this entire time and now doesn’t know if Jon would even feel comfortable being called that, but Jon hasn’t brought it up so far, so that must mean that it’s not a big deal. That probably means that it doesn’t change anything.

Or, Martin thinks to himself, it means that Jon’s worried that it’ll change everything.

Martin opens his eyes. If Jon hasn’t brought it up, it’s probably for a reason. Martin’s not going to pretend to be the most educated guy in the world, but he knows what asexuality is. He can imagine what concerns asexual people might have about relationships. He doesn’t know if he can imagine Jon having those concerns, because Jon has always seemed quietly confident in himself in a way that Martin can’t even begin to fathom feeling, but he can imagine them all the same.

Martin turns his head, looking at Jon. His eyes are narrowed as he talks to Daisy, his face expressive and engaging and just as wonderful and attractive as always. Jon hasn’t changed. Nothing has changed. Jon’s still Jon, just as he always was, and this- this whole thing… it doesn’t matter.

Beneath Martin’s hand, he can feel the warmth of Jon’s skin bleeding through his shirt.

It doesn’t matter, he tells himself again. It doesn’t matter. He has Jon. That’s what matters. He likes Jon, and Jon likes him, and that’s what matters. Not Jon’s sexuality, or lack thereof. Not something mentioned by a friend of his in passing. What matters, more than anything else, is Jon. This doesn’t matter.

This doesn’t matter.

Martin breathes in, relaxing against Jon’s side, and lets the evening continue around him. It takes him a few minutes to relax entirely, his mind repeatedly looping round to focus on that one, single fact, but as the evening passes and still nothing changes, it becomes easier and easier for Martin to push that thought aside, and focus on the conversation on hand, and focus on Jon.

At one point, Jon raises his hand to tangle it with Martin’s. Martin’s not entirely sure when it happens – he’s just listening to Jon’s friends chatting, occasionally speaking up when they ask him a question or where he feels brave enough to contribute, and then, after maybe an hour or so of conversation, he becomes aware that Jon’s fingers have become tangled with his own, Jon’s thumb stroking absently against his wrist where it rests against Jon’s chest. It’s a small touch, casual and quiet, but Martin still feels his heart skip a beat in his chest when he notices it. He doesn’t know if Jon’s noticed what he’s doing. He doesn’t seem to be paying it any attention, not even when he glances up at Martin with the small, soft smile that Martin is so fond of. He just seems entirely comfortable, nestled against Martin’s side like he’s meant to be there, his fingers tangled with Martin’s as though he’s never planning on letting go.

Martin’s not entirely sure how much time they spend in the Wetherspoons, conversation flowing back and forth between them all. It was already getting late when he arrived from placement, and after what feels like a few hours of comfortable, easy chatter and banter, some of the others start shifting and making noises about possibly heading out, the entire group seemingly coming to some unspoken agreement.

“We’re meeting with Georgie at Del’s,” Tim says, standing from his chair and tugging his denim jacket on. “It’s this great little gay club just down the way, Martin – you’re welcome to join us if you want to. See if you can convince Jon to come out and actually have fun for once.”

Martin gives a small laugh, quickly shaking his head. “Thank you, Tim, but no. I’m- truth be told, I’m kind of completely shattered.”

“Nursing life,” Tim says understandingly. “Gotcha.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, no worries, then.” He glances over at Jon. “I’m going to assume that you’re going to be following your ‘old man’ tradition and heading home right about now?”

Jon nods. “More or less,” he replies. Jon stands as well, stretching to a chorus of clicks and pops from his joints, and then starts patting at his pockets in an absent-minded way that rapidly becomes noticeably more frantic. “Shit,” Jon swears suddenly. “I haven’t- bollocks, I haven’t got my keys.”

“Did you drop them?” Basira asks.

“No, I didn’t- I know exactly where they are.”

“Oh? Where’s that.”

Jon sighs. “I left them in the bloody basement,” he mutters. “They were- I think they were on my desk. Georgie’s the only other person with keys and she’s-”

“She’s going to be meeting us at Del’s,” Melanie says. “It’s not that far away, though. You could hang out in the bar until she shows up and then borrow hers.”

“I’d really rather not go somewhere that’s likely to give me a headache when I haven’t got my earplugs on me, Melanie-”

“Um,” Martin says. Instantly the group falls silent, all attention turning to him.

Martin swallows. He doesn’t look away from Jon.

“You could stay at mine,” he says weakly, “if you- if you’d like. I live pretty close to here so we could probably get a- an Uber, or we could walk, or we could, um. Uh.”

In the pause that follows, Martin thinks he can hear his own heart trying to escape his body via his eardrums.

“I don’t have any pyjamas,” Jon says suddenly. He blinks, looking for all the world like a deer caught in the headlights, and then looks directly at Martin, his gaze seeming to focus somewhat. “I don’t- I- I-I- I mean yes, that would be- yes, I would- that would be wonderful, Martin, but I don’t- I don’t have anything-”

“That’s alright,” Martin hears himself say over the sound of his own pulse. Much to his surprise, he somehow sounds almost entirely normal, and he surprises himself further by reaching out to take Jon’s hand, tangling their fingers together and squeezing gently. “You can- I can lend you a t-shirt. To, um, to sleep in. If you’d like.”

“If that’s-” Jon stammers, “If that’s- I don’t want to impose-”

“No, no, you won’t, that’s- I mean, I am offering-”

“-o-oh, yes, that’s- mm, yeah, good point-”

“You two are ridiculous,” Basira interrupts. “You’re actually ridiculous, oh my God. I mean, Christ, Jon, I thought you were bad enough just talking about him, but this is…” She trails off, shaking her head. For a moment Martin feels anxiety starting to creep around his mind again, abruptly concerned that he’s coming across as too much, but then he spots the small, fond smile playing around Basira’s lips. “Really,” she says, looking up at them. “I’ve got no judgement for you, Martin, because I can only imagine how you’re holding up what with meeting us lot all at once, but, Jon, seriously?”

Martin can feel Jon starting to bristle. “I-” he starts, somehow managing to stumble over that one, single letter. “I-I- look, Basira, this is-”

“It’s fine,” Basira butts in, her smile now audible. “I was just messing with you, Jon. You two are sickeningly adorable, which admittedly isn’t a word I ever thought I’d associate with you, but you’re also completely ridiculous. If you want to stay over at Martin’s, and Martin’s alright with it, then just do it. We’re not going to judge.”

“I am,” Tim pipes up helpfully. There’s a quick blur of motion from Daisy’s elbow, followed by an ‘ow’, followed by Tim saying, rather quieter than before, “or, on second thoughts, maybe not.”

Basira smiles. “See? All good. You can head off, stay at Martin’s, and then have Georgie let you back in tomorrow morning. Or, worst comes to the worst, you wait for Georgie to get home from Melanie’s if she ends up there and then she’ll let you in. Simple.”

It does sound simple, at least to Martin. He’s almost pathetically grateful that Basira laid it out for Jon, too, meaning that he himself didn’t have to stumble his way through a significantly more long-winded explanation of the exact same thing. He feels Jon’s hand tightening around his own and a moment later Jon looks over at him, his eyes wide and dark in the not-quite-bright-enough lighting of the Spoons.

“Would that be alright?” he asks, a little dimple appearing between his brows. “Would that- I don’t want to impose, Martin, and I know you must be busy, now that- now that you’re off-shift, but would that- would that be alright?”

Martin smiles. “Of course it would be alright, Jon,” he replies. He doesn’t need Daisy’s eyeroll to tell him just how soft and fond his voice sounds. “I’d- I’d really like for you to stay, actually.”

“You- yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“See?” Basira says. “Problem solved. We can let Georgie know the situation when we see her, if you want.”

“O-oh!” Jon suddenly exclaims. He starts patting at his pockets with his free hand, seemingly unaware that he’s still holding Martin’s. “That’s a very good point, Basira. I need to- I should probably text her now, let her know that I won’t be home tonight-”

“Already on it, boss.”

“I’m not your boss, Tim.”

“You’re always going to be my boss in my heart, boss” Tim replies, looking up from his phone with a wide grin. “And Georgie shouldn’t be disturbing you two any time soon with any texts or phone calls. Just so you know. In case you wanted to… well. Just in case.”

Jon pauses. Martin watches as various emotions flicker over his face, dancing through frustration and embarrassment and annoyance before eventually settling on a sort of resigned gratitude. “…Thank you,” Jon says quietly. “For, um- for that.”

“Not a problem. You know me, Jon; I’m a regular cupid.”

Melanie snorts gracelessly. “Yeah, sure, of course you are.”

“I am.” Tim starts walking towards the exit, half-turning to wave vaguely at Jon and Martin’s joined hands. “I made this happen, for starters, and you all know it.”

“You didn’t-”

“No, nope, no interruptions, Jon. Me and Not Sasha, we made all this happen. You’re welcome.”

“You didn’t-”

“Can’t hear you because I’m leaving Spoons!” Tim calls out cheerfully, ducking out of the door just ahead of everyone else.

It’s quieter outside the Wetherspoons, but not by much. The drop in temperature is significantly more noticeable, though, and it makes Martin glad that he’d brought one of his less fashionable but significantly warmer jackets with him. It’s not as flattering on him as the one he’d worn on their first date, but it’s comfortable and keeps the light breeze off, and between it and the slightly wrinkled shirt he’s wearing beneath it, he’s pleasantly warm.

Jon, it becomes immediately apparent, is not.

Almost the exact moment they step outside of Spoons he flinches, shivering visibly as a gust of cool air blows down the street. Martin waits for a moment, half-expecting Jon to shrug into his jacket or jumper or cardigan or whatever it was that he was wearing over the top of his shirt, but he doesn’t. He just stands there, his hand briefly tightening around Martin’s as the breeze blows again, and very rapidly Martin starts to notice that something is missing.

Melanie notices first, though.

“Jon!” she says, immediately catching the attention of everyone else in their group. “Where’s your jacket? Did you leave it in Spoons?”

“What?” Jon replies immediately. “I- no, no, it’s not in Spoons, I forgot it back at the theatre. I think it’s down in the basement.”

“With your keys?”

“My keys were in my jacket.”

“And you couldn’t have mentioned this earlier?”

Jon shrugs, raising his free hand to absently hug himself, rubbing along his arm. “It didn’t seem relevant at the time. And, look, it’s fine. I’ll be back at- I’ll be back at Martin’s soon, anyway. I can pick my jacket up on Monday. It’s not really a problem.”

“You’re literally shivering.”

“It’s fine,” Jon repeats. “Martin said he lived nearby.”

Martin pulls a slight face. “Nearby-ish,” he amends. “It’s still about a forty-minute walk.”

“That’s close enough. You lot all head off,” Jon says, nodding at his co-workers. “There’s no point in waiting around getting cold.”

“Says you,” Melanie mutters.

“Yes, says me.”

“Well, I’m not going to wait until Del’s gets too busy to let us all in. See you on Monday, Jon,” Tim says, clapping him on the shoulder with a grin. “You’re still not going to be free of me for another week.”

“Wonderful,” Jon replies. “See you on Monday.”

The group head off then amid a chorus of ‘bye’s, chatting amongst themselves as they head down the street. There’s no silence to rush to fill their absence, because London is never silent, but in the lull after they leave Martin can so very clearly feel Jon starting to shiver again, his hand twitching in Martin’s grasp.

Martin glances over at him. Jon’s looking resolutely ahead, apparently trying to ward off the chill by force of will alone. “…Jon?” he asks quietly.

Jon glances up. “Mm?”

“Are you- do you want to call a taxi or something? It’s not going to get much warmer.”

Jon shakes his head. “I’ll be fine for the walk,” he says, shivering again. He rubs absently at his arm again, his gaze flicking away from Martin’s face, and in that moment, Martin makes a decision.

“Here,” Martin says. Without thinking he drops Jon’s hand, stepping back just slightly to shrug out of his jacket. The cold air makes him shiver, but it’s more than worth it for the look of shocked surprise and fondness that instantly dawns on Jon’s face.

“You,” he says, his gaze flicking between the jacket and Martin. “You- really?”

Martin smiles. “Really,” he says.

“But won’t you- you’ll get cold, then.”

“I’ve got enough insulation as it is,” Martin says with a small, self-deprecating shrug. “You, meanwhile, are all skin and bone, Mr Sims. Not exactly the best for keeping you warm on these, um, frigid London streets.” He gives his jacket a little shake. “The longer you leave it waiting, the colder it’s going to get. Just saying.”

At Jon’s side, his hand gives a small, immediately restrained twitch. “Are you-”

Yes, Jon, I’m sure.”

“Thank you, Martin,” Jon says quietly. He reaches out for the jacket, taking it carefully from Martin’s grasp. Just for a moment, their knuckles brush. Already Martin can feel the chill of Jon’s touch, the warmth he’s so accustomed to feeling in his fingers robbed from his skin by the night air, but he doesn’t have long to ponder it as he watches Jon pull on his jacket. It’s a big jacket, clearly several sizes too large for Jon’s slight frame; it swamps him, the sleeves hanging down almost to his fingertips, and it should really look completely ridiculous on him but, somehow, it doesn’t. It just looks… comfortable. Jon looks comfortable. He lifts his hands, doing up the jacket with long, delicate fingers, and then tucks his hands into the jacket pockets, looking up at Martin with a small smile.

Martin wants to kiss him.

Beneath the streetlamps stretching up overhead, Jon’s eyes are dark and golden. The light catches on his cheeks, on the slope of his nose, paints amber and gold along his lashes and gathers shadow in pools in the hollows of his throat. It stains his lips gold, too, the light smeared across them and so beautiful that Martin cannot possibly look away. He wants to kiss Jon. He wants to kiss Jon right now, wants to step in and press a hand to Jon’s waist and feel the shape of his hip through his jacket and duck his head and kiss him, and taste the intangible gold on his lips. He wants to kiss him so badly that it hurts.

But he doesn’t. There’s so much that he needs to ask first, is so much that he needs to know, but he doesn’t know how. He doesn’t even know if Jon realises what Daisy let slip during their discussion, doesn’t even know if Jon realises that it’s not something that he’s mentioned before. Martin feels somewhat like he should just ignore it, push it aside and wait for Jon to bring it up himself, but he can’t. Or, rather, he can, but he also really desperately wants to kiss Jon right now, but he doesn’t know if that’s alright. Above all else, he doesn’t want to make Jon uncomfortable. He wants to kiss him, wants to kiss him so badly that he barely knows how to think about anything else, but he doesn’t know if Jon wants that too. Martin knows shamefully little about asexuality, but he’s aware enough to understand that, just as in all aspects of life, everyone is different. The only way to know for sure what Jon is comfortable with, the only way to know if kissing him, right here and now, would be alright, is to ask him.

But that’s not a conversation for right now, when the autumn breeze is still sighing against their skin. It’s a conversation for later, at Martin’s flat, or at Jon’s flat, or at some place that isn’t here, standing by the side of a street as Jon’s co-workers make their way off to enjoy the rest of their night. It’s a conversation that they’ll need to have, certainly, but not now. Martin wants to have it soon, though. He wants to know if he can kiss Jon.

He wants to know if Jon wants to kiss him.

In the soft light of night-time London, Jon looks at him, comfortable and warm in Martin’s own jacket, and smiles.

“So,” Jon says, his voice warm and familiar and so, so beautiful. “Back to yours?”

Martin smiles back. He can’t stop it. He doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to stop it. “Yeah,” he says. In Jon’s hair, the amber light gathers like a scattered halo. “Back to mine.”

Chapter Text

They end up calling a taxi. More accurately, Martin ends up calling a taxi as Jon stands and huddles down inside his jacket, damn near drowning in the fabric of it and not complaining in the slightest. It’s warm in Martin’s jacket, the thick fabric keeping out the breeze that occasionally sighs around him, and it smells of whatever aftershave it is that Martin uses. Jon doesn’t know. He’s never been good at identifying smells, normally finding them too overwhelming to even consider staying around for long enough to learn them, but Martin’s aftershave isn’t overwhelming. It’s just nice, a little bit warm and a little bit woodsy and a little bit sweet, like some of Martin’s own kindness has mixed in with it. It doesn’t take long for the taxi to reach them but Jon still presses his nose to the collar of Martin’s jacket an almost embarrassing number of times in that short period. He doesn’t know if Martin notices. He thinks Martin notices. If he does, though, he doesn’t say anything about it – he just smiles at Jon, his hand warm around Jon’s own. Beneath London’s endless lights, his eyes look like they hold galaxies.

And then, after some period of time – maybe a few minutes, maybe half an hour, Jon doesn’t know – the taxi arrives. They bundle into the back of it, sitting pressed close together for the short journey to Martin’s flat. Martin’s thigh is warm against Jon’s, his body warm against Jon’s side, and it’s so, so tempting to lean just a little to one side, and turn his head, and press his lips to Martin’s jaw in a kiss. But he doesn’t. He can’t. Not yet.

Eventually, they get back to Martin’s flat. Martin leads the way up to it, holding the front door open for Jon as his eyes dart over him, still swamped in Martin’s jacket. Jon starts taking his shoes off almost out of habit once he’s inside, his eyes adjusting to the slightly too-dim lights of Martin’s hallway. Martin’s flat is, from what he can see, a perfectly pleasant little place in the classic London style of what could generously be referred to as ‘cosy’. It’s almost surprisingly plain, though, with little decoration to indicate the presence of the man who lives within it, but here and there Jon can spot small decorative items or framed prints to indicate Martin’s existence. It’s nice.

He’d like to spend more time here.

It’s as Jon’s putting his shoes away on the familiar IKEA shoe rack beside the door that Martin speaks up, his voice cutting through the comfortable silence that had been resting between them.

“Daisy, um, Daisy said something at Spoons,” Martin says out of nowhere, his voice quiet and more than a little uncertain. Jon turns to look at him but Martin doesn’t meet his gaze, instead staring down at the floor between his feet.

“Did she?” Jon asks. “Nothing terrifying, I hope. I did tell you that she can be a little, ah, disconcerting at times.”

Martin shakes his head, giving a short laugh, but there’s no humour to it. “No,” he replies. “No, nothing- nothing scary, or anything like that. It was… I don’t think she realised she said it at all, actually. Or, well, I mean, I guess she knew that she was saying it, but I don’t think she realised that not everyone present had, um, had heard that particular piece of information before.”

Jon frowns. “What did she say?” He doesn’t like this, he’s starting to realise. He doesn’t like the tension he can see in Martin’s body or the uncertainty he can hear in his voice. It makes him feel on-edge, like his skin is prickling all over, and every second that passes before Martin speaks again only adds to it.

Martin draws in a breath. “She said,” he says carefully, “that you are asexual. Um. Not- not to me, you know, not directly, but she- she sort of mentioned it in passing while talking to you, and I realised that I haven’t- that you’ve not mentioned that before, which- which is fine, of course, that’s- that’s your business, I didn’t want to, um, I didn’t want to pressure you, but it… it got me thinking. Um.”

Oh.

Oh, Christ.

The second that Martin mentions it, Jon remembers the moment it had happened. He’d heard Daisy’s words, had processed them just fine, but he’d somehow completely forgotten that, of everyone at the table, Martin was the only one who didn’t know about his asexuality. Logically, he knows that Martin doesn’t know – or, more accurately, didn’t know – but it was almost something that he’d forgotten about. He’s not accustomed to thinking about his sexuality. It doesn’t matter, most of the time. It shouldn’t matter now.

But it does.

Jon draws in a breath, feeling his heart starting to twist in on itself. He knew this was going to happen. He knew this was going to happen, knew that what he had with Martin was too good to be true, but he’s annoyed and bitter and frustrated and upset by it all the same. He doesn’t want this to be the end. He doesn’t want this to be the bit where Martin leaves him. He doesn’t want to have to stand here, in Martin’s hallway, in Martin’s jacket, and explain something that doesn’t matter, that shouldn’t matter, and watch as Martin realises what it means.

And watch as Martin realises that he doesn’t want to be with Jon anymore.

There’s a reason that Jon hasn’t mentioned his sexuality already. There’s a number of reasons, actually, the largest of which is that he just doesn’t care about it all that much, but a smaller, sharper, much more painful reason is that he’s all too aware of how people who aren’t like him might react to it. He’s experienced how people react to it. Not Georgie, of course, because Georgie was and is lovely, but other people. He doesn’t know if Martin will be like those ‘other people’. He hopes that he isn’t. He really, truly, desperately hopes that he isn’t. He likes Martin. He likes Martin a lot.

Martin is still staring at him. There’s no sign of impatience on his face, but somehow that almost makes things worse. He doesn’t look like he’s judging Jon. He doesn’t even look like he’s hoping for Jon to deny what Daisy mentioned at Wetherspoons. He just looks concerned, like he’s worried that he was the one who did something wrong when Jon is the one who failed to mention anything at all.

Jon hates the concern. He hates it because, when it turns to disgust and realisation, it will just be that much more painful to observe.

He needs to do this. He needs to say this. The quicker he answers, the quicker Martin will realise, the quicker this will be over with, the quicker he can push all of his feelings for Martin into a box at the back of his mind and ignore that they ever existed. The quicker he can ignore that Martin ever existed.

Bite the bullet, Jon.

“Yes,” he says flatly. He doesn’t want to keep looking at Martin, half-afraid of what he might see in his eyes, but he forces himself to. “I’m- yes. I’m asexual. I don’t care for sex, and I have no desire to take part in it in any capacity. I’m aware that I probably should have brought this up earlier, because apparently a fair number of people consider this to be something of a deal breaker in a relationship,” Jon continues, feeling a sneer tugging at his lips, “and so I apologise for that, but I will not apologise for being asexual. It’s not going to change. You are not going to change it. So if you were asking to find out what ‘sort’ of asexual person I am… well, now you know.”

Jon can hear the bitterness in his own voice as he speaks, and he doesn’t try to hold it back.  He hates that it’s there, hates that he’s being so brusque and short with Martin who he cares so much about, but it’s a necessary harshness. It’s distancing, plain and simple, making little steps to push Martin away, because if he can be the one to control the inevitable separation then maybe it won’t hurt so much. It hurts already. Jon can already feel the fear and loss and frustration curling through his lungs like oil, clinging wherever they touch and making his every breath short and painful, and with every second that passes, the feeling just gets worse.

Martin blinks. “Actually,” he says, his words almost absent-minded, “I was asking because I wanted to know if it was alright to kiss you.”

Oh.

Oh.

That’s- that’s not what Jon was expecting. That’s not what Jon was expecting at all. He stares at Martin as the silence stretches out between them, unable to make himself look away. He can hear Martin’s words echoing around his skull, trying desperately to find somewhere to settle, but they can’t because they don’t make sense. They shouldn’t make sense. People don’t- they don’t ask things like that, not of Jon, not after finding out something like this. They don’t hear him talk about how he’s not interested in sex, and they don’t hear the sharpness in his voice, and they don’t then say that they wanted to kiss him. They don’t say that they were asking because they wanted to kiss him. That doesn’t happen.

“You- what?” Jon says intelligently. “You were- you wanted to ask- to ask- um.”

“I just wanted to know if it was alright to kiss you,” Martin says again. He lifts his hands, twisting them together, and glances away as a soft blush paints his cheeks. “I wanted- look, I’m going to be honest here, and please don’t judge me for it, but I’ve kind of been wanting to kiss you for a while now. A-and I hadn’t- well, I mean, obviously I haven’t kissed you yet, heh, but after, um, after what Daisy said I sort of realised that I didn’t even know if you’d want to be kissed, and if we were going to have to talk about that then we might as well just talk about all of it at the same time and figure out what you do and don’t like or want to do so that I know to avoid it. But I, um. I just wanted to kiss you, and I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable or feel pressured into doing something that you didn’t want to, so, um. Yeah.” Martin swallows. “And,” he continues quietly, “if you don’t want to kiss then that’s- then that’s okay! That’s alright. Just- I just wanted to ask. That’s all.”

“…You really weren’t asking about sex?” He can’t think of anything else to say. He can’t think of anything else to do. All that’s in his head now is Martin, and Martin’s words, and the slow, dawning realisation that this isn’t the end of things, that this isn’t where he has to say goodbye to Martin.

Martin shrugs a little. “I- I mean, I was curious about it, yeah, but I’m not- I don’t care about that, Jon,” Martin replies. His voice is soft, quiet and uncertain but undeniably earnest beneath it all. “I don’t care that you’re asexual. I mean I- I do care, because it’s- it’s part of you, and it’s important and all, but I don’t- it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that you don’t want to have sex. That’s- that’s fine. I don’t mind.”

Jon blinks. “But,” he says, “but it’s- we’re dating.”

“Yeah, we are.”

“And it’s- I- I mean, I- I assumed that you’d um, at some point you would…” He trails off, feeling horribly awkward and uncertain.

For a few moments, Martin just stares at him.

“You… what?” he asks eventually. “I- did you think that I was dating you for sex?”

Jon shrugs, making Martin’s face pull tight in some emotion that Jon doesn’t want to try and name.

“You- Jon!” Martin exclaims.

“What?” Jon replies defensively. “It’s- look, I know how relationships work, Martin. I know that- that sex is an expected aspect of it for the vast majority of people once you reach a certain point, and I know that I’m very much with the minority when it comes to my feelings about sex, and it’s- it’s just safer, alright? For me to assume that people- that they’ll want that eventually. Even if it’s not the end goal of all- of this, then it’s still expected.”

Before him, Jon watches as Martin’s expression crumples. “Jon,” he says softly. “You don’t- I’m not dating you for sex, you know. I was never dating you for sex.”

Jon blinks. “What?” he asks, hearing his voice as though from a long way away. “I thought- it’s a significant part of a relationship, though. Having- having sex.”

Martin sighs, lifting a hand to scrub it over his face. “I mean, yeah?” he replies. “Sort of? But not- not really. It doesn’t have to be. And if it’s something that makes you uncomfortable, then I don’t want it to be. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable, Jon. And if this- if sex makes you uncomfortable, or if it’s just not something that you’re interested in, then that’s fine. I can- I can take care of myself,” Martin continues, his face flushing a deep, beautiful red behind his hand, “but I’m not going to pressure you. I’m not going to force you to do anything you don’t want to do, ever. I was never dating you for sex, Jon.”

“So- I-”

“I was dating you for you,” Martin says hopelessly. He drops his hand, meeting Jon’s eyes with a gaze that’s far more certain and sure than Jon had ever expected. “That’s it. I’m dating you because I like you, Jon. Because I really, really like you. I like you a lot. I like being with you, and I like talking to you, and I like holding your hand and listening to you talk about theatre and your job and your life and I just like you, alright? That’s all there is to it. And I’d really, really like to keep dating you, with or without sex, so long as you want that too.”

There’s no deceit in his voice. There’s no lie to his words that Jon can hear. Martin doesn’t look like he’s lying, either – he looks worried and confused and almost painfully earnest, but not like he’s trying to trick Jon. He looks like he’s trying to understand, like he’s trying to get Jon to understand.

He looks like he actually means what he’s saying.

Jon swallows thickly. “Martin…” He can feel tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. He refuses to let them fall. He shouldn’t be- he shouldn’t be this goddamn emotional about this! He shouldn’t be this goddamn emotional about being listened to, and understood, and he shouldn’t be this emotional over the realisation that what he has with Martin isn’t going to end. That Martin doesn’t want it to end. That Martin knows that he’s asexual, and knows what that means, and is okay with it.

That Martin likes him.

That Martin wants to be with him.

“Jon,” Martin says softly. He reaches out, his hand hanging in the space between them like a lifeline, and Jon takes it instantly. Martin’s fingers fit between his own like they were meant to be there, squeezing gently as his thumb strokes over the back of Jon’s hand. Martin smiles. “Jon,” he says again. To Jon’s ears, his voice is the only sound in the world. “I mean it, you know. I’m not going- I’m not going to break up with you or- or end this just because you’re asexual. I mean, yeah, it might take me a while to process it completely, because I’ll admit that I may have gone into this with that, um, ‘typical’ relationship progression in mind, but I don’t- I don’t mind. I really, really don’t mind. I like you. I like you a lot. And if you’re- if you’re comfortable with it, I’d really like to keep doing all of… all of this.” He lifts his free hand, waving vaguely at the two of them, and Jon hears himself give a short, weak, relieved breath of laughter.

“I’d like to keep doing it, too,” he replies. “I’d, um. I’d like that a lot. I’d really like that a lot, Martin.”

“Good,” Martin says simply. “Because I think you’re rather marvellous, honestly.”

In the soft, slightly too-dim light of Martin’s hallway, Jon can see everything. He can see the rumpled line of Martin’s collar, can see the uncertain fidgeting of his hand at his side, can see his eyes, wide and earnest and so, so honest. There’s no lie there. There’s no deceit. There’s only honesty, raw and open and true. Martin’s not lying to him. He’s not trying to trick him. He’s not telling Jon that he’s alright with it only to turn around and change his mind a few days, a few weeks, a few months from now. He’s just waiting. He’s just listening. He’s just accepting, telling Jon with absolute certainty that he doesn’t mind, that he only wants Jon to be comfortable, and Jon-

And Jon-

Jon kisses him.

It’s all he can think to do. He doesn’t know how else to respond to Martin’s words, doesn’t know how else to show the feelings that are welling up inside of him, strong and overwhelming and urging him to do something. He needs to kiss Martin. He has to kiss Martin. He’s been wanting to kiss Martin for so, so long now, has been wanting to kiss him and touch him and know him but he’s never known how, has never known what Martin will read in the kiss or what else he might want beyond it. He’s never known how to handle it. He’s never known if Martin wants it.

He knows now.

Jon doesn't even hesitate. He doesn’t know if it’s the strength of his feelings, or if it’s his surprise, or if it's just how comfortable he feels around Martin, but there's barely a pause between him thinking 'I want to kiss Martin' and him doing it. He lets go of Martin's hand so that he can reach out, gripping onto Martin's shirt with both hands and leaning in to kiss him, capturing the shocked, surprised gasp on Martin's lips. For a tiny, terrible, fleeting moment he thinks that he's done something wrong, that he's pushed this too far and too fast, but then Martin softens beneath him, and a moment later Jon feels Martin's hands coming to rest on his waist.

“Hey,” Martin mumbles. He sounds surprised but pleasantly so, his words a little muffled and a little murmured, but he makes no move to pull away. “I- hey, okay, alright.”

“Sorry,” Jon whispers against Martin's lips. He tries not to kiss him again, he really does, but he fails immediately, stretching up to press another quick kiss to Martin's lips. “I'm- sorry, I meant to ask, I didn't mean to-”

“No, no, this is alright, this is- this is great-”

“-You don't mind-”

“-Not at all, honestly, I did just say that I wanted to ask if I could kiss you. You can definitely kiss me more if you’d like to.”

Jon smiles a little, so close to Martin that Martin cannot see it. “I think I’d like to,” he whispers. Against his sides, Martin's hands are as warm as sunlight. 

Martin laughs again. It's softer this time, quieter and gentler and unspeakably intimate, and Jon loves it. He adores it. He wants to taste it on Martin's lips. “Go ahead,” Martin murmurs, his lips brushing against Jon's with every word. “I'm not going to complain.”

Jon kisses him again. It's impossible not to, when Martin is so close and so warm and Jon has his absolute, definite permission. He tilts his head a little, slanting his mouth across Martin's, and kisses him again, and then again after that, light and quick and soft like the touch of starlight. Their glasses bump together a few times but somehow nothing is ruined - the moment feels as soft and as close as ever, and when Martin reaches up, fumbling his glasses off his face and reaching out blindly to set them down next to his keys, Jon feels his heart swell.

He also feels his heart stop, just for a moment, when Martin raises his hands to cradle his face.

“Jon,” Martin sighs. His lips are soft. His voice is soft. Everything about him is soft, soft, soft, in a way that so little in Jon's life is. He murmurs Jon's name like a prayer, sighs it against his lips and kisses it to his skin like speaking his name alone is an act of faith. “Jon, you- I- do you want me to-”

“Hm?” Jon hums. He kisses Martin again and then forces himself to lean back, not wanting to miss anything that Martin has to say. “What- what is it?”

Martin lifts one finger, tapping it against the leg of Jon's glasses with a small, almost shy smile. “Do you want me to take these off?” he asks. “I don't- I don’t want you to be uncomfortable, and I know that kissing with glasses can sometimes get annoying if you leave them on, and we're going to bed anyway, and it- I don't know, if feels a little bit rude, maybe, that I took mine off and you still have yours on, so... Yeah.”

There is no chapel that could ever hold the fondness that Jon feels in his heart.

In the soft hallway lighting he can see the blush painted across Martin's face, can see how it masks his freckles and can see how his lips are just a little pinker than they were before. He did that. He, Jon, did that. He kissed Martin, and Martin kissed him back, and now Martin is standing before him asking if he can take off Jon's glasses because he doesn't want Jon to be uncomfortable and because he doesn't want to be inconsiderate, and Jon is going to say yes, because even though he can barely see two feet without his glasses, he trusts Martin. He trusts that this will be alright. Martin said it himself, too - they're going to be going to bed. They're going to stand here and kiss for however long is necessary, and then they're going to go to Martin's bedroom, and Martin will lend Jon one of his t-shirts (and Jon refuses to acknowledge how his heart speeds up at the thought of that) and then they will go to bed. Jon will go to bed, in Martin's house, in Martin's bed, by Martin's side. 

Before him Martin smiles, soft and uncertain and sweet, and Jon feels warm all the way down to his toes.

“Please,” he breathes. “You- yes, please, Martin, that would be- that would be excellent.” He pauses. “Although, I should warn you that I can barely see anything with them off, so...you might have to make sure that I don't put the t-shirt on back to front or anything like that. Um. If we're- if we're still doing that.”

“I'd like to do that,” Martin says simply. “I mean, if you- if you still want to, that is, there's no- there's no pressure-”

“No, no, I still want to,” Jon interrupts hastily, feeling himself starting to smile. “I was just- I just thought I should warn you. So that if I suddenly start stumbling over my own feet you'll understand why.”

“I'll make sure the path is clear, don't worry. Just promise not to judge me for kicking stuff out of the way to make said path.”

Jon smiles wider. “I can't exactly judge what I can't see,” he says, his voice light and as teasing as he can make it, and when Martin laughs again, all quiet and delighted, he can feel his toes curl in delight.

“Alright, stop being clever,” Martin says, his words softened by his laughter. He shifts one hand, curling it around the back of Jon's head and carding his fingers seemingly unconsciously through Jon's hair, and then between one breath and the next he gently lifts Jon's glasses from his face, setting them down alongside his own. “It's too late to be smarmy and smart.”

“I thought you liked me being smarmy and smart,” Jon says before he can stop himself.

“Oh, I definitely do, don't get me wrong. It's very- it's very attractive, you being all brainy and knowledgeable and all that. Really adds back in to the depressed professor vibe, but in a- in a good way. In a very good way. I'm just saying that it's also very late, and I'd rather like to head to bed and maybe, do some more kissing. Your call.”

Jon answers Martin with a kiss.

He's not sure how many kisses they trade after that. At some point between the hallway and the bed he loses count, though he was never really keeping track to begin with. He just kisses Martin, and kisses him again, and laughs when Martin tries to start walking them backwards and they both end up nearly tripping over their own feet.

“It was supposed to be romantic,” Martin mutters, sounding just a little put-out, and Jon kisses him for it. “It was- they do it in movies all the time, and it always works great for them!”

“That's because they're movies, Martin,” Jon replies, his voice steeped in fondness. “They don’t have to worry about reality.”

“Well they should. Reality matters. We live in it, after all.”

“Surely you've heard of escapism-”

“No, no, no more being smart! It's too late to be smart!” Martin says, and then he kisses Jon again.

Somehow, they manage to make it to Martin's bedroom. Jon blinks at the bright flood of light that greets them when Martin's half-flailing hand finds the lightswitch, and after a few horrible, painfully empty moments wherein Martin isn't kissing him, Martin returns to press a t-shirt into his hands.

“It's clean,” he says, as if that was something that Jon was actually thinking about instead of how badly he wants to kiss Martin again and cuddle up to him like a limpet.

“Oh,” Jon replies. “I was- oh, yes, that's good. That's- mm. Good. Alright. Should I...”

“The bathroom is just down the hall,” Martin says, gesturing towards it. “Lightswitch is outside. You- I'll get changed in here, and then we'll, um, we'll-”

“...I'll knock when I get back,” Jon finishes for him. He can feel himself blushing. He can see that Martin is blushing, too. “You said the lightswitch is outside?”

“Yeah.”

Jon nods and turns to leave. It takes him a little while to actually get changed, mostly because he wasn't joking about being blind without his glasses and the lightswitches in Martin's flat are, annoyingly, the exact same colour as the walls, meaning that Jon ends up caressing various parts of the wall for a good couple of minutes before finally locating the switch. After that it's relatively quick and simple for him to get changed and rub a little bit of toothpaste across his teeth with a finger in absence of an actual toothbrush. He's well aware that Martin just spent the last several minutes kissing him without a hint of complaint, but he still wants Martin to actually want to kiss him some more. He feels like the toothpaste should help.

And then, when he's standing in Martin's bathroom in nothing but his boxers and one of Martin's t-shirts which is wonderfully oversized on him, his own jeans and shirt and socks held in a bundle under his arm, he returns to the bedroom. He knocks on the door when he arrives, just as he said he would, and waits to hear Martin's 'come in!' before he opens the door and lets himself inside.

Even past the blur of his vision, he can just about make out the dairy cows that seem to pattern Martin's pyjama trousers.

“Hello,” Jon says, pointlessly. He doesn't know what else to say. He lifts his clothing bundle a little bit, glancing around the room. “Should I- is there somewhere I should put this, or...?”

“Just leave it on the floor,” Martin says. “It's- I mean, the floor is clean, you know, I just don't- I don't really have anything else you could put it on, but I could clear off a chair if you-”

Jon shakes his head. “The floor will be fine,” he says, and then to prove it he drops his clothes by the foot of the bed before moving up to where Martin is standing. Martin smiles as Jon approaches, reaching out to take one of his hands, and once again Jon feels his heart skip a beat. It's ridiculous. His own reactions to anything that Martin does are ridiculous. He's ridiculous, in fact, but that's alright, because Martin is just a little bit ridiculous, too. He smiles back at Martin, all small and smitten, and Martin tugs gently on his hand.

“Come on,” he says, “you can have whichever side you like, I'm not bothered.” Martin pauses, and Jon watches as something akin to trepidation suddenly crosses his face. “Although,” Martin continues, “I, um, I realise now that I should have warned you about this earlier, but I thought better late than never so, just so you know, I'm kind of- I- I'm a little bit of a cuddler? I mean, I won't- if you don't want to cuddle that's completely fine, we don't have to, and I can even- I can sleep on the sofa, if that would make you more comfortable? I'm just letting you know because I know that not everyone is as touchy as I am and apparently I cuddle people in my sleep and I didn't want to startle you or- or make you uncomfortable or anything like that, and I-”

At which point Jon stops listening, because his mind is entirely full of the thought of cuddling Martin.

God. How the fuck had he never considered this before? He's spent so much time thinking about touching Martin, and kissing Martin, and holding Martin's hand, and generally doing all the sorts of things that makes Basira roll her eyes and tell him that he's being a sap, but not even once had the concept of cuddling Martin crossed his mind. He'd never once thought about how it would feel to lie down next to Martin, safely ensconced in the warmth of a duvet, and feel Martin's arm across his waist, or Martin's legs tangling with his own, or Martin's chest against his, all of him warm and soft and wonderful.

He'd never once considered what it would be like to be spooned by Martin, he realises, and finds himself speaking before he even knows what he's about to say.

I'd be absolutely fine with some cuddling,” he says all in a rush, the words very nearly tripping over each other in their haste to get out. “I'd be absolutely- yes, yes, that would be- that would be fine, that would- I'm alright with that.”

“Oh,” Martin says, visibly relieved. “Oh, that's- that's good! That's very good. I didn't want to make you uncom-”

“You won't,” Jon assures him quickly. “You- cuddling is absolutely fine. It's absolutely- I have no problems with it.”

“Oh, okay, good, good, I'm- good. And what about, um, what about, what about spooning...?”

“Fine,” Jon says. “I'm- yes.”

“Do you go big or little-”

“Yes.”

“...'Yes' little spoon or 'yes' big spoon?”

“Just 'yes',” Jon says unhelpfully. He can feel himself blushing and knows that he must be beet-red by now. He doesn't particularly care. He's going to spoon Martin. “Whichever you- whichever you prefer, I suppose.”

“...I think I'll be the big spoon, then,” Martin says after a pause.

Jon has never swooned before, but he thinks he might be swooning now.

“Good,” he manages to croak. “That's- yes, fantastic. Excellent.” He gestures to the bed. “Do you- shall we...?”

Martin smiles at him. On his cheeks, Jon can barely see his freckles beneath the force of his blush. “Yes,” he agrees. “Lets.”

They do.

Martin tugs Jon's hand as they climb into bed, settling down without another word and very quickly fluffing the pillows before Jon settles down next to him. There's a few awkward moments as Martin has to climb back out of bed to turn off both the hallway and bedroom lights, and then a few more awkward moments as he climbs back into bed and they both shuffle around into a comfortable position.

They don’t end up spooning, though. Jon still wants to kiss Martin some more – he doesn’t think he’ll ever stop wanting to kiss Martin, now that he knows that he can – and he can’t stop himself from rolling over to press a kiss to Martin’s collarbone, and then to his neck, and his jaw, and the corner of his mouth before kissing him fully again. Martin makes a small, happy little humming sound against him, his hands settling on Jon’s hips, and it’s so, so easy to just move a little further, and push himself up on one hand as Martin settles back against the pillows beneath him. Martin moves easily, trustingly, sighing against Jon as Jon kisses him again, and again, and again, scattering kisses across his face like lost constellations before returning unerringly to his lips.

“Jon,” Martin breathes. On his tongue, Jon’s name sounds like adoration. “Oh, Jon…” He huffs a short breath against Jon’s lips, his mouth curling into a smile, and then Jon hears him giggle softly, his laugh little more than breath. “Jon, you- your hair-”

“What?” Jon asks.

“Your hair’s in my face,” Martin whispers, still trying to fight back giggles. Immediately Jon starts back, reaching up to start brushing his hair back from his face and attempting to recreate the simple half-ponytail he’d had it in earlier.

“Oh, I’m- I’m sorry,” he stammers, “I can tie it back-”

“Hey, no, it’s okay, I like it-”

“-it’s- you like it?”

“Yeah,” Martin says simply. He smiles up at Jon, raising a hand and running it through his hair, his fingers soft and careful and so, so gentle. “I really like your hair Jon. It’s nice. It looks good. It looks- can I call you hot? Are you okay with that?”

“You can call me hot,” Jon replies, blinking.

Martin smiles, and between one breath and the next he leans up a little, pressing a kiss to Jon’s cheek. “Good,” he says. “Your hair always looks hot, you know. I thought you looked really hot when you had it all braided back on our first date. That was- that was a really good look on you. Um. And it- and it looks hot now, too.” He runs his fingers through Jon’s hair again. “It looks hot all the time, actually.” He swallows. He doesn’t look away. “You look hot all the time, Jon.”

Jon can’t see his own face, but he knows that it’s scarlet. “O-oh?” he stammers. “Th-thank you. I- you- really?”

“Mm.” Martin runs his fingers through Jon’s hair again, his touch impossibly careful and kind. “Just so- just so you know.”

Jon doesn’t know what to say, so he turns to his instincts. “You’re very attractive too,” he blurts out. “Just, um, just in case that wasn’t clear. You’re very- yes.”

“I’m very yes?”

“…Yes.”

Martin smiles up at him. It’s a strange smile, a little bit nervous and a little bit unsure, but happy and bashful and pleased all the same. “Are you going to elaborate on that?”

“Um,” Jon replies coherently. “You’re, um, you- you’re- you look- you look… nice. Um. Very nice. All the time. You look- you look very handsome, honestly. And, um, and- and just nice.” He sighs. “Sorry,” he murmurs. “I’m not- I’m not very good at compliments. But, uh, all of that was genuine. Just so you know.”

“Oh, no, I know it was.” There’s a blur of motion and a moment later Jon feels Martin’s lips pressing to the corner of his mouth in a kiss. “Thank you,” he murmurs quietly. “I’m glad that you find me very yes.”

Jon snorts. He can’t help himself. “Martin.”

Martin kisses him again. “Yes, Jon?”

“You’re- you’re ridiculous.”

“Maybe so, but I’m also very yes.”

Martin.”

Martin giggles, soft and quiet and completely, utterly, delighted. “You said it first,” he whispers. He strokes a hand down Jon’s back, curling it around the jut of his hip, and Jon sighs at the touch of his hand, twisting a little further so that he can kiss Martin again. Martin hums against him, kissing him back, but barely a moment later he pulls away, creating the barest sliver of space between them. “Jon?”

“Mm?”

“…Are you comfortable?”

Jon contemplates this. He is a little uncomfortable, holding himself up above Martin like this – he can feel his spine starting to complain already, can feel his hips groaning softly in their sockets, and he knows that it’ll just get worse the longer he leaves it. “I’m- I’m comfortable enough,” he says.

Martin raises an eyebrow at him. “Really?”

“…I could be more comfortable.”

“That’s what I thought. Do you want to shift and keep kissing, or, um, do you- I mean, we could go to bed now. If you- if you’d prefer.”

It’s barely even a question in Jon’s mind. “I’d like to keep kissing some more,” he replies instantly, and feels warmth spread through his body at Martin’s immediate smile.

“Good,” Martin says simply. “I’d like to, too.” He tugs gently on Jon’s hip, starting to move him. “Now, come on, just- we’ll figure something out.”

They do figure something out. Jon follows Martin’s lead as Martin moves him, guiding him until he’s more or less kneeling astride his body with Martin’s duvet a heavy, comforting weight around his shoulders. It’s warm and soft and close and his hips don’t complain like this, hovering above Martin as Martin smiles up at him, his blush nearly invisible in the darkness of the room but no less beautiful for it.

Jon smiles back. “Hello,” he says quietly.

“Hi,” Martin says. “You comfy up there?”

“Very, yes. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Do you want to keep kissing now?”

Jon smiles wider. “I think I’d like that,” he says, and muffles Martin’s soft laugh with a kiss. Martin laughs again, quiet and delighted, but the laugh soon fades as he tilts his head, stretching up just a little to kiss Jon back. His fingers splay out across Jon’s spine, across the curve of his hips, pressing gently against his skin. They’re big and solid and perfect and wonderful and Jon loves them, giving a soft sigh of contentment against Martin’s lips when he feels Martin’s thumb stroking warm over the jut of his hipbone.

“Is this alright?” Martin whispers in the darkness of his room, his voice just a tiny bit rough, and Jon can only hum quietly, pressing a kiss to the corner of Martin’s mouth.

“Yeah,” he murmurs. He kisses Martin again, kisses him deeper. Martin’s hair slips like silk between his fingers as he tangles them in it, holding Martin close as he kisses him again. “This is- this is excellent.”

“O-oh! Oh, that’s- that’s good.”

“Mm.” Another kiss. “Martin…”

“Yeah?”

Martin…”

It’s not a question. Jon kisses Martin again, sighing softly. He’s not thinking anymore. He’s not thinking about anything. He’s not thinking about work, or about the theatre, or even about the conversation that they just had. All that’s in his head now is Martin, Martin, Martin; a litany of devotion repeated over and over and over again as he fits his lips to Martin’s and kisses him. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever stop kissing Martin. He doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter.

“Martin,” Jon sighs again. Martin hums beneath him, hands flexing as he gently tugs Jon down closer. Jon goes easily, pressing himself against Martin’s body. He can feel Martin everywhere, now, can feel the warmth of his body through the layers of their pyjamas, can feel Martin’s hands on his hip and back, can feel Martin’s lips against his own as their kisses grow steadily deeper and slower, mouths parting and breath coming just a tiny bit shorter. It’s not heated, Jon realises absently. It’s not heavy. There’s no urgency to the kisses, no desperation, no indication that they might lead to anything else. They’re just slow and soft and wonderful, breath traded with breath as tongues touch and tangle. They’re easy. They’re comfortable.

Everything about this is comfortable.

Jon shifts his hands, slipping them free of Martin’s hair. Martin makes a soft, confused noise, but a moment later he falls silent as Jon’s hands come to rest on his face, cradling gently as he continues to kiss him. The room is dark and quiet around them, the silence broken only by the quiet sound of their kisses. Jon can’t even hear the constant background hum of London here in Martin’s flat. There’s no other sound at all. There’s no rumble of busses, or blurred cacophony of people yelling, or even the distant wail of police sirens. It’s just quiet. It’s just entirely, blessedly quiet, like they’ve been isolated away from the rest of the world if only for a night. Jon doesn’t have any problems with that. Jon doesn’t have any problems with that at all.

Jon drowns himself in Martin’s kisses, in Martin’s presence, in Martin. They kiss for what feels like hours, for what could be hours, before the kisses finally start to slow, gradually coming further and further apart until they are nothing at all. Jon brushes his lips against Martin’s one last time and then drops his head with a soft sigh of Martin’s name, resting against Martin’s chest. He doesn’t ask if he can. He knows that the answer is ‘yes’. Distantly he feels one of Martin’s hands shifting, coming to settle in his hair, and he turns his head a bit to press into the touch of it as Martin starts carding his fingers through Jon’s hair. It’s nice. It’s all so, so damn nice.

“Jon?” Martin asks quietly.

“Mm?” Jon hums.

“Why do you keep saying my name?”

Jon shrugs. “I don’t know,” he replies. “I like it. I like you.”

“And that makes you want to say my name?”

“Apparently so. Are you complaining?”

“Me? Oh, no, no, not at all. It’s- I really like how you say my name, actually. It sounds all- it sounds all soft.”

“Yeah?”

“Mm.”

Jon smiles a little. He knows Martin can’t see it in the darkness, not with how his head is still cushioned against Martin’s chest with the sound of Martin’s heartbeat echoing around his skull like a metronome, but he rather suspects that, when he speaks again, Martin can hear his smile in his voice. “I like your name,” he says again. “I like you, quite, um, quite a bit, so I- I suspect that might, perhaps, be why your name sounds like that.”

“…Jon?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m glad that you like me,” Martin says quietly. “I’m- I’m really, really glad that you like me.”

Jon frowns. “Why wouldn’t I like you?”

Beneath him, Martin shrugs. His fingers don’t still in Jon’s hair, don’t stop stroking lazily along his spine, but Jon can feel his body tense beneath him, just for a moment. “Oh,” Martin says, far too casually for it to be genuine, “well, I mean… I know I’m not- I’m not exactly the most attractive guy, and I’m- some people find the cheeriness tiring or annoying, and I- I’m- I’m just glad that you like me. That’s all. It’s- it’s nice. It’s really nice. Knowing that you, um. Yeah.” Martin swallows. “It’s nice,” he repeats softly. “It’s nice feeling wanted.”

“Anyone that doesn’t want you is an idiot,” Jon says before he can stop himself. “You’re- listen, Martin, you’re just- you’re-”

“I’m very yes?” Martin offers.

Yes,” Jon replies emphatically. “You’re very- you are very yes. You’re marvellous. You’re- you- you’re Martin.” He doesn’t know what else he can say. He doesn’t know what else there is to say. “You’re Martin,” he repeats again. “You’re Martin, and you’re wonderful.”

Martin smiles, just a little. “Thank you,” he says again, and Jon kisses him for it. “…Do you, um, do you still want to spoon?”

Jon startles. “What?” he asks. “I- uh, yes, I- yes, that would be excellent. So long as you still want to spoon, of course-”

“Oh, no, I do, I was just- you seemed very comfortable-”

“-I am very comfortable, but I’d still- I’d still like to spoon, Martin.”

Martin huffs out a little breath of laughter. Jon can feel it stirring his hair and echoing through Martin’s chest beneath his head, the sound of it reverberating through his very bones. He loves it. “Well, I’m glad to hear that,” Martin replies, his voice light with teasing. He raises a hand, patting gently at Jon’s arm. “Come on,” he says. “I need you to shift a little.”

Jon sighs, reluctantly pushing himself up from Martin’s chest. The duvet slips around his shoulders, making him shiver at the rush of cool air, but Martin’s quick to grab it and tug it back up around them. There’s a few moments of slightly awkward shuffling as they reposition on the bed, Martin rolling over onto his side, but then, part way through the shuffling, when they've ended up in something approaching a spooning position, Martin suddenly reaches out and drapes an arm over Jon's waist, and something between them clicks.

After that, everything is easy. Jon relaxes beneath the weight of Martin's arm immediately, tilting his head back a little so that he can feel the reassuring solidity of Martin behind him and shuffling back until he’s entirely bracketed by Martin's body. Martin's legs tangle with his own a little, just enough that Jon feels anchored in a delightfully grounding way, and his hand splays warm across Jon's stomach, rucking up the soft cotton of his t-shirt to press skin to skin. Jon loves it. He doesn't think he'll ever be able to get enough of it. Martin is so warm, is so warm and so soft and so, so close, wrapped around Jon's back like a closing parenthesis as he breathes soft and slow against Jon's neck. Everything around Jon now smells of Martin, smells of Martin and Martin's shampoo and Martin's soap and just Martin, seeping into Jon's lungs until he can smell nothing else. It's wonderful. He loves it.

He never, ever wants to leave.

Against his neck, Martin makes a soft sound. “This is nice,” he whispers, his words quiet in the darkness of his bedroom.

Jon smiles. “It is,” he agrees, though he feels that ‘nice’ alone is a tremendous understatement. “This is- you're very warm.”

“Oh, sorry about that, I tend to run hot-”

“No, no, it's alright, it's a good thing, I like it-”

“-You like it?”

“I do, it's nice, you're very- it's nice.” Jon smiles a little wider. “You're a very good big spoon,” he says, feeling completely ridiculous.

Martin laughs quietly. “Why, thank you,” he says. “I try my best. You're an adequate little spoon.”

“Oh, only adequate? That's very harsh of you, Mr Blackwood.”

“You're a bit bony,” Martin says, his voice laced with teasing. He shifts his hand higher, running it over Jon's ribcage. “See? All bone.”

“I thought people were supposed to have bones in them.”

“Oh, people just think that, but it's not actually true. We don't need them.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Oh, definitely. It's one of the first things they teach you when you start studying nursing.”

Jon snorts. “Ah, right, I see,” he says dryly. “I apologise for my foolish mistake.”

“It's alright, it's an easy one to make. I forgive you.”

“Hm. Good.”

Martin laughs again. A moment later, Jon feels his lips pressing to the nape of his neck. “Go to sleep, Jon,” Martin mumbles.

“You're the one keeping me awake with conversation-”

“Shh. Less talking, more sleeping.”

Jon rolls his eyes. “Ridiculous,” he mutters, but he shuts his eyes all the same.

In the darkness and safety of Martin's bedroom, in Martin's arms, Jon sleeps.


art of Jon kissing Martin by @heidzdraws on twitter

Chapter Text

When Martin wakes, he wakes to softness and silence.

His flat is quiet around him, the noise of London muffled by the walls in the slightly disconcerting way that he’s long since grown accustomed to. There’s no alarm blaring at him from his bedside table, shattering the silence into the exhaustion and inevitable rush and business of the morning that’s now so normal for him. There’s no surge of panic that he’s running late for placement. There’s no anything beyond peace and quiet and absolute, complete comfort, wrapping him up like a cocoon and holding him close. He can see the light shining from beyond his shut lids, can feel the warm weight of Jon in his arms, and everything is so soft and so slow and so beautifully, wonderfully calming that for a long, long few minutes, Martin just lets himself lie there, soaking up the warmth that surrounds him both inside and out. Everything’s warm. Jon’s warm, and his bed is warm, and his heart itself feels warm, growing warmer with every second as the mantle of sleep slowly gives way to consciousness.

Martin opens his eyes, and the first thing that he sees is Jon.

At some point during the night, Jon must have rolled to face him – it takes Martin barely a split second to realise that they’re no longer spooning, though they’re no less close than they were the night before. He’s still got an arm wrapped around Jon’s body, his hand now pressing warm against the curve of Jon’s spine beneath the thin cotton of his t-shirt, and he can feel one of Jon’s hands loosely curled in his own pyjama top, as though he hadn’t wanted to let go of Martin even in slumber. Jon’s snoring quietly, his breath coming out in soft little whistles, and Martin’s pretty certain that he can feel a damp patch on his top from where Jon’s drooling a little in his sleep, but he doesn’t mind. He can’t mind. He’s here. Jon’s here. Jon’s here, in his bed, in his flat, in his arms, comfortable and content and snoring just loud enough to be heard. He’s here because yesterday Martin joined him and his co-workers for drinks. He’s here because, after Tim’s leaving celebration, he decided to go back to Martin’s. He’s here because Martin plucked up the courage, and asked about his asexuality, and they talked about it and he told Jon that he was fine with it because he is, and then Jon-

And then Jon had kissed him.

Martin can feel himself smiling. Jon had kissed him. Jon had kissed him, and he’d apologised for it, and Martin had told him that he wanted it too and then Jon had kissed him again. Jon had kissed him so many times, and Martin had kissed him back, and it had been soft and nervous and fumbled and a little bit awkward in places when their glasses had clacked together, and it had been wonderful. It had been better than wonderful. Martin doesn’t have the words for how it had felt to kiss Jon, to skim his knuckles against Jon’s sides and run his fingers through Jon’s hair and feel Jon sighing contentedly against his mouth, utterly relaxed and trusting.

He doesn’t have words for how it feels now, to look at Jon in the weak stream of sunlight filtering through the gap in his curtains. The light falls across Jon’s face in a beam of gold, gilding his skin and shining on his scars, turning them into little pools of silver that lie scattered across his cheek and down the line of his neck. His eyelashes paint long shadows against his skin, shifting occasionally as, behind his shut lids, Jon’s eyes periodically flicker and move in dreams, but he seems peaceful. He looks peaceful.

He looks beautiful.

He looks so, so goddamn beautiful.

Martin can see Jon’s hair spread out over the pillow behind him; a sea of black shot through with silver. It looks soft. It is soft. Martin knows that now. He knows that it’s soft because he’s touched it, because he’s run his fingers through it, because he’s brushed it back from Jon’s face so that he can kiss him and kiss him again. He knows how it feels. He knows how Jon’s lips feel, too. Martin lets his gaze drop to them. Jon’s lips are slightly parted, his breathing soft and slow and steady as he sleeps peacefully in Martin’s bed. He looks younger, too, Martin realises absently. His hair is still streaked with grey in that way that makes him look like a frustratingly attractive lecturer in the better calibre of rom-com, and Martin knows all too well how Jon’s wardrobe seems to be primarily made of clothes that would look more at home in a charity shop than in the wardrobe of someone his age, but the lines that form so easily on Jon’s forehead are gone now, smoothed out by slumber and dreams. Jon doesn’t look tired. He doesn’t look weighed down by responsibility and stress. He just looks peaceful. He looks comfortable.

Martin wants to kiss him so, so badly.

And so, because he can, he does.

He ducks his head, moving slowly and carefully so as not to disturb Jon, and presses a quick kiss to his cheek. Jon’s skin is warm beneath his lips, pockmarked by now-familiar scars, and he stirs a little when Martin’s lips touch his cheek, but not enough to entirely wake up. Martin kisses him again, following the path of sunlight, and when it paints gold across Jon’s mouth, he doesn’t hesitate to kiss him there, too, touching lips to lips with all the softness of starlight. Some small part of him, buried deep down within his chest and far back in his memories, feels like he shouldn’t have this, but he pushes that thought aside. This is alright. He knows that it’s alright. He knows that Jon wants this just as much as he does.

Martin kisses Jon one more time. When he leans back, it’s to see Jon looking at him with one eye open, staring at him blearily across the expanse of the pillow.

“Good morning,” Martin says quietly. He can’t keep the smile out of his voice.

Jon shuts his eye. “Mrhm,” he grumbles, shuffling forwards and shoving his head directly underneath Martin’s chin. His hand tightens in Martin’s shirt, curling in the fabric of it as though he’s trying to hold Martin in place, and he grumbles again. “Mr’ng.”

Martin laughs quietly, feeling that same warmth from before pulsing through his bones. “Are you trying to say ‘morning’?”

“Mm.”

“You’re not particularly coherent when you first wake up, are you?”

Jon shakes his head. At least, Martin thinks that Jon’s shaking his head. He’s not entirely sure. “Mrnm.”

“That’s alright,” Martin replies. He can hear how soft his own voice is. He can hear how soft it is, how quiet it is, how achingly, utterly fond it is, and he doesn’t try to hold it back. Jon knows how much he likes him, now. There’s nothing left to hide. He lifts a hand, settling it in Jon’s hair, and starts running his fingers through the strands, feeling them slip between his fingers like silk. Jon sighs softly, shifting just enough to press up into Martin’s touch, blind and half-asleep and completely trusting, and, in his chest, Martin feels his heart melt a little.

He swallows.

“That’s alright,” he says again. His words are little more than a murmur. He shifts forwards across the non-existent space between them, pressing another kiss to Jon’s cheek. Jon turns his head a little, making another small sound, and Martin can’t stop himself from kissing Jon again, properly this time. It’s light and fleeting but it’s still there, is still a kiss, is still wanted, and that alone makes Martin smile against Jon’s lips. “Hey,” he murmurs quietly. Jon murmurs something back, soft and content-sounding, and Martin kisses him again. “Don’t worry about waking up, Jon. There’s no rush.”

“Mm,” Jon hums. He tilts his head towards Martin in a silent, blind request for a kiss that Martin immediately grants, and then snuggles down further under the duvet, pressing his forehead to the curve of Martin’s shoulder. Unthinkingly, Martin tightens his arm around Jon’s torso, holding him closer still, and Jon gives yet another quiet, content sigh, the sound of it getting lost somewhere between their bodies.  

Beyond them and around them, all the world is softness and silence.

Martin doesn’t know how long they lie like that, letting the morning break over them in slowly cresting waves. He can’t see his alarm clock from where he’s lying, can’t reach out for his phone with one arm pinned beneath the pillow by Jon’s head and the other holding Jon close against his chest, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t want to disturb Jon, not when he looks so peaceful and so content, catching up on what Martin can only imagine is some much-needed sleep. He doesn’t want to ruin this moment. It’s so simple, and so small, and it’s theirs. It’s only theirs. This little, sleepy, quiet moment belongs to him, and to Jon, and to no-one else. It’s a silly thing to feel possessive over, and Martin knows it, but he feels possessive all the same. He has this. Jon has this.

They have each other.

Martin shuts his eyes, presses his lips to Jon’s forehead in a kiss, and lets himself slip back into slumber.

---

Some time later, Martin wakes again to the duvet shifting over him. He blinks open his eyes, lifting a hand to rub the sleep from them, and when he lowers it it’s to see Jon watching him, his eyes dark and sharp as though he’s been awake for a while.

“Good morning,” Jon says quietly. His voice is low, made rough by sleep like there’s still dreams caught at the back of his larynx.

Martin smiles. “Good morning,” he echoes, stifling a yawn. “Did you- did you sleep well?”

“Mm, I did, actually,” Jon replies, starting to smile. “You’re very- you weren’t lying when you said that you were warm.”

Martin feels his smile widen. “I thought you were going to call me ‘very yes’ again for a moment there,” he teases, making Jon roll his eyes with a small, irrepressible smile.

“Shut up,” he mutters.

Martin’s smile turns into a grin. “No.”

Martin.”

“You’re the one who called me ‘very yes’, Jon! You made this happen.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to keep reminding me of my mistakes!”

“I think you’ll find that it does, actually.”

“Shut up,” Jon says again, but the words are fond. He glances at Martin, meeting his gaze, and, just for a moment, Martin watches as Jon’s gaze drops to his lips.

Say ‘make me,’ Martin hears his brain hiss. Just say it. It’s what always happens on TV. One person says ‘shut up,’ and the other person says ‘make me,’ and then the first person kisses the second person. Just say it!

Martin swallows. “Um,” he says weakly, “um, I- alright.”

Jon doesn’t look away. Martin swallows again, unsure of what’s going on behind Jon’s eyes, but then, before he has a chance to really process what’s going on, Jon leans forwards and kisses him.

There’s no weight to the kiss. It’s light, soft and sweet and as slow as honey, with Jon’s breath brushing over Martin’s lips as he kisses him and then kisses him again, one hand raising to curl through Martin’s hair. Jon leans back barely a second later, his hand slipping down to brush gently over Martin’s cheek before dropping to the mattress between them, and he presses one last ghost of a kiss to Martin’s lips before pulling away, his eyes half-lidded and impossibly gentle.

“What was that for?” Martin asks. He doesn’t mean to say the words but he does all the same, feeling confused but no less delighted for it. Across the pillow from him, Jon shrugs, looking away almost guiltily.

“I just- I- I just wanted to,” he stammers. “I, ah, it was- I just wanted to kiss you. I hope that was alright, I’m sorry, I should’ve asked-”

“No, no, that’s- that’s fine, Jon, you can kiss me whenever you want, I was just- I was just a little surprised by it, that’s all.”

Jon smiles weakly. “It was a good surprise, I hope?”

“Oh, definitely,” Martin agrees instantly. “It was- yes. A very good surprise. Um. The best surprise, in fact. You’re more than welcome to surprise me again. Even if it’s- even if it’s less of a surprise, because I’ll know to expect it. Um.”

Jon kisses him again. It is, just as Martin thought, significantly less of a surprise this time, but that doesn’t make it any less wonderful. He feels himself melting into it, sighing softly before Jon pulls away again. It doesn’t feel like rejection. It just feels like the ending of a soft, small, perfect kiss.

Some small, fuzzy part of Martin’s brain, which is significantly more awake but no less pathetically smitten, thinks that he’d rather like to start every morning like this. He’d like to start every morning like this, with Jon by his side and Jon’s lips soft against his own, the morning dawning slowly over the both of them. It’s maybe a bit much to be thinking, this early into whatever as-yet unnamed relationship they have, but Martin doesn’t try to hold the thought back. As long as he doesn’t say it aloud, it’ll be alright.

So, instead, he says something entirely different.

Martin clears his throat quietly. “Jon?” he asks.

Jon hums. “Yeah?”

“Would you- could you tell me more about this play of yours? The one you were talking about at lunch?”

Jon frowns. “What?” he asks.

“Tell me more about this play of yours,” Martin repeats. “The- the Leitner.”

“…Why?”

Jon doesn’t sound like he’s judging, at least not to Martin’s ears. There’s no distrust in his tone, no indication that he thinks Martin is foolish for asking such a question. He just sounds curious, as though he can’t understand why on earth Martin would care enough about his job to ask.

Martin just shrugs. “It sounded interesting,” he replies. “The- the other day, when you were talking about it over lunch… I don’t know, it just sounded interesting. Kind of weird, and apparently cursed, but still interesting. You said it had immortal deliverymen in it. That’s pretty weird and interesting. I’d like- I’d like to know more. Unless, y’know, that’s spoilers, or something.”

“It’s only really spoilers if you’re going to be seeing it,” Jon points out. “Which there’s- there’s no pressure to do so, of course, theatre isn’t- it’s not really everyone’s thing, I understand that, I know that my perception is a bit skewed because of how much time I spend with theatre people, but it’s-”

“I’d like to see it,” Martin interrupts. “I’d- I’d like to see it, Jon. I mean, I don’t really see much theatre, and I won’t pretend to know a lot about it, but… yeah, I think I’d like to see it. And I don’t mind spoilers, either. It’s… I don’t know, I just think that sometimes spoilers are actually a good thing. Plot twists are great and all, especially when they’re well done, but equally well it can sometimes be nice to go into something knowing what to expect. It means that you get to pick up on all the foreshadowing, and it can still be a really nice surprise when it happens. Or a horrible surprise, I suppose. It depends on the story.”

Jon smiles. “I’m fairly certain the twist in this play would count as a ‘horrible surprise.’”

“Yeah?”

“Mm. It’s, ah… you’re really alright with spoilers?”

“Really.”

“Well, alright, but you can’t get annoyed at me later.”

Martin smiles back. “I won’t,” he promises. Beneath the sheets he reaches out, taking Jon’s hand and squeezing gently. Jon squeezes back, the action immediate and unconscious and instinctive. “Please, tell me everything.”

Jon’s smile widens. “Thank you, Martin,” he says quietly. “So it’s… I’ve told you so far that it’s about a pair of immortal deliverymen called Breekon and Hope who are attempting to bring about the apocalypse, correct?”

“Mm,” Martin hums. Against the back of his hand, Jon’s thumb is stroking in slow, easy sweeps. “You- you didn’t tell me much more than that, though. You got a little bit distracted talking about cursed plays.”

“Leitners are cursed plays, Martin-”

“I know, I know, I’m just- that’s about all I really know about this one so far.”

“Oh. Well. I suppose I can get somewhat, ah, waylaid when talking about Leitners,” Jon admits. “But they’re- no, you know what, I’ll- I’ll talk more about cursed Leitners another time. Um. If you- if you want to hear me talk about them, that is, I know that- I know that theatre and superstition isn’t exactly everyone’s thing-”

Martin squeezes Jon’s hand again, making Jon fall silent immediately. “Jon,” he says softly. “I don’t know anything at all about theatre, but I would love to hear you talk about cursed plays. Really. You’re- I like listening to you talk about things that you’re interested in. And,” he adds, “I only feel it’s fair that you get a chance to ramble at me after I rambled at you about yarn and knitting for God knows how long.”

“I rather enjoyed that rambling, though.”

“And I enjoy your rambling. I don’t need to understand it or understand theatre to the same level that you do to enjoy it. It’s- it’s kind of hot.” Martin can feel himself blushing. He can see that Jon’s blushing just a little too. “And I- I know I told you that the first time, but it’s- it’s true. I like you being all smart and knowledgeable. I really like you being all smart and knowledgeable. So, please… tell me all about this play of yours.”

Jon smiles. It’s a small smile, little more than a slight uplifting at the corners of his mouth, but Martin sees it all the same. He feels it, too, in how Jon squeezes his hand, in how his feet nudge against Martin’s before coming to rest.

“Alright,” he says quietly. “You- you remember the concept, yes? Breekon and Hope, deliveries, the apocalypse?”

“Mm.”

“Well, that’s- Breekon and Hope are definitely the focal point of this play, but what makes it so fascinating – what makes it a Leitner, is that Breekon and Hope… they’re not the heroes of the play, you understand. I mean, it’s somewhat obvious, seeing how they’re actively attempting to end the world, but they’re- they’re not really villains, either. They’re doing all these things, collecting all these items and delivering them to where they need to go, and they’re certainly aiding in the apocalypse, but they’re not- they’re not driven to it, you understand? They aren’t- it’s a conscious decision on their part, all these things that they’re doing, but it’s- their motivation, their drive isn’t to end the world. That’s more of a side effect than anything else.”

Martin frowns. “Then what is their drive?”

“To deliver,” Jon says simply. “That’s it. They’re not even- they don’t even have names for most of the play. They’re just called ‘The Deliverymen’. The script doesn’t even differentiate which one of them is speaking, even after they get their names. They, um, they take their names, actually, from someone they start working for. It’s never really explained why, but a lot of the play isn’t explained. For example, you never even see the apocalypse that Breekon and Hope are supposedly bringing about,” Jon continues, his eyes shining. “You never- you never actually find out what it is, or how they’re bringing it about, or what will happen once they do. Some people – well, Elias and this ‘Alex’ person who first introduced him to Leitners – think that there was supposed to be a- a sequel play of sorts, a parallel play, where you see the actual ‘tragic hero’ and the actual apocalypse and the actual villain, but personally, I’m not convinced that that play exists. And even if it did, it wouldn’t be as interesting as this one.”

“Why not?” Martin asks. “I mean, you’re just sort of watching people do things in this one, right?” He pauses. “I mean, I- I guess you’re always watching people when you’re watching a play, but you know what I mean, yeah? It’s not- maybe I’ve misunderstood, but they’re not exactly doing anything big. They’re just moving stuff from place to place.”

“No, no, that’s exactly it! You’ve understood it perfectly, Martin,” Jon replies, with such soft, quiet delight and fondness in his voice that Martin actually feels his toes curl from it. “But it’s- that’s the whole point. The whole point of this one is that we never see what’s truly going on. We can only experience it through Breekon and Hope. It’s like they’re… it’s like they’re telling a story just with their existence. They’re not heroes, or even villains, despite the whole-”

“Despite the whole ‘apocalypse’ thing?”

“-yes, right, exactly that. They’re not evil. They’re just… existing. The whole play is technically a tragedy, because the majority of Leitners are, but Breekon and Hope aren’t the ones suffering for it. They see it happen, and so the audience do, too, but the real people suffering, the real hero suffering, is someone else entirely.”

“Who are they?”

“The play just refers to him as ‘The Archivist,’” Jon replies, lifting the hand that isn’t still half-curled with Martin’s and air-quoting with it. “He only starts getting mentioned in act two, when the story, in so far as there is one, starts becoming more apparent. He’s an-”

“Archivist?” Martin asks before he can stop himself, grinning widely. Jon rolls his eyes, giving a short, sharp sigh, but when he speaks again there’s amusement in his voice.

“Yes,” he says. “As I was about to say, Martin, he is an archivist. He’s an archivist working for an institution which is either dedicated to preventing the apocalypse or to researching these, ah, ‘supernatural beings’. It’s not entirely clear which one it is. He’s about the closest thing the play has to a hero, but he’s- you never see him.”

Martin frowns. “What, ever?”

“Never,” Jon confirms.

“But… why?”

“Because it’s not his story.”

“But you just said that he’s the hero-”

“Y-yes, yes, I did, I know, but he’s… the story isn’t about him, not really. The tragic experience of the play isn’t tied to the hero of the story, Martin. That’s the whole point of this Leitner. It doesn’t- it doesn’t matter that we never see the ‘hero’ here. It doesn’t even matter what he does, whether he wins or loses or suffers in his futile attempts to prevent the end of the world. The tragic experience, in this story, is about the people who witness and live through the tragic event. It’s about the watchers, Martin. It’s about everyone else. It’s about what they behold.”

Jon trails off, his voice falling into silence. For a moment he just stays like that, unspeaking, but Martin can feel that there’s more that he wants to say. He stays silent, absently playing with Jon’s hair, until Jon speaks up again.

“It’s about beholding,” he says quietly. “It’s about- it’s about being part of that beholding as the audience. Because even in plays where there is a hero, even when you’re rooting for them, or supporting them, or watching them, no matter how well the actor plays the part or how immersive the set is or how well any of it is done, you’re still not them. You’re not the hero. No one is the hero, not even the actor, not truly. That’s how theatre works. It’s how all acting works, really. But in this play, in this Leitner, you are in exactly the same place as everyone around Breekon and Hope. You just… watch them. You see what they’re doing, and you don’t understand it, at least not at first. They’re as strange and unsettling to you as they are to everyone else, but unlike everyone else in the story, you see them over a much, much greater length of time. You see them for long enough to be able to understand what it is that they’re doing. You see the tragic experience in the people around them, in the people that they encounter. You observe the whole thing, from beginning to end. And at the end of the play, at the very end of it, you see everything. You see all of it. And it’s beautiful.”

In the soft silence of Martin’s bedroom, the only sound is their breathing.

“It sounds kind of beautiful,” Martin says softly, when it becomes clear that Jon isn’t going to say anything else. Jon blinks, shaking his head like he’s knocking loose cobwebs, and meets Martin’s gaze again, giving a small, tiny smile.

“You think?” he asks. “Most people just think it’s weird. I know Melanie does.”

“Well, no, it’s- it is weird, I’m not denying that, but it’s… I don’t know, it just feels… kind of nice. The idea of being able to watch this story over a really long period of time and getting to see how it all ties back into itself, like a- a web, or something. It sounds… I don’t know if I’d call it ‘beautiful’, but definitely nice. Interesting. Though… Jon?”

“Yeah?”

“I thought you hated Leitners.”

“I do,” Jon replies. His response is immediate, unhesitating, and Martin can’t help but frown at it.

“You’re not sounding like you hate this one.”

Jon pulls a face. “It’s- it’s complicated.”

“Yeah?”

“Mm.”

Martin smiles. “Can you try to explain it to me anyway?” he asks quietly. “I’d like to understand, Jon.” I’d like to understand you.

He doesn’t say that last bit. Despite everything, it still feels like too much, like it’s too serious for this soft, quiet, in-between space they’ve found themselves in, where there’s no rush and no hurry and nothing at all beyond the two of them, cocooned and comfortable in Martin’s bed. He hopes that Jon understands that it’s there, though. He hopes that, after everything that they discussed yesterday evening, Jon understands that Martin wants to be here. That he wants to be with Jon. That he wants to know him, and understand him, and find out what things he likes and dislikes and is interested in. He wants to know Jon, if only Jon will let him.

Jon sighs. “It’s… as plays, individually, they’re… fine, I suppose. They tend to be strange, veering towards nonsensical, and a fair few of them are post-dramatic, which Elias is a tremendous fan of.”

“Post-dramatic?” Martin echoes.

“Plotless,” Jon replies. “They don’t have any true stories, or arcs, or even villains or heroes or any of the typical roles you might find in a play. They’re just… people, doing things, and somehow it’s meant to convey something. Admittedly, good post-dramatic plays do exist, but mostly they’re just the sort of confusing nonsense that Michael and Helen and Elias all seem to thoroughly enjoy. They can be a nightmare to organise, too, especially when Elias is directing, which he always is.”

“What, always?”

“Mm, more or less. He’s not really a fan of letting other people dictate what we do. He’s a bit of a nightmare to work with in person, but… he pays well, I suppose. Enough to cover rent and bills and all that, at least. I mean, Melanie is convinced that the whole thing is a money laundering front, which is fair enough, but if that is the case then Elias has done a damn good job at not getting caught.”

“Clearly,” Martin comments. He shifts a little, starting to grow aware of just how long it’s been since he had a hurried dinner on his way to Wetherspoons yesterday. “…Jon?”

Jon hums. “Mm?”

“…Do you want breakfast?”

Jon gives a short, soft laugh. “I’d love breakfast,” he says, sounding caught off guard and more than a little delighted. “That’d be- that’d be excellent, actually.”

“I don’t- I’d love to offer you a fry up but I think I’ve only really got toast right now,” Martin says apologetically. “I meant to get groceries but I- I forgot.”

“Toast would be fine, Martin.”

“And tea?”

“Tea would be more than fine.”

Martin smiles. “Toast and tea, then,” he says, before kissing Jon quickly just because he can. “Let me just- I need to get up.”

It takes more effort than Martin wants to admit to get out of bed, but he forces himself to. His bed is warm, and soft, and familiar, and Jon’s in it looking all soft and sleep-rumpled, but he knows that they can’t stay there forever, much as he may want to. He’s already getting hungry, and he can imagine that Jon is, too, and so he forces himself up with a sigh and starts moving to leave the bed. Unfortunately, what with how his bed is carefully jammed into one corner of the room to give him the maximum possible remaining floorspace, getting out of bed means that he needs to go past Jon.

Jon, it turns out, seems equally reluctant to leave bed, if the way that he pulls Martin down for kiss after kiss before finally climbing out of bed himself is anything to go by.

Eventually, though, they manage to make their way through to Martin’s tiny, pocket-sized kitchen, Martin now clad in one of his numerous hoodies and Jon absolutely drowning in his gingham dressing gown. It’s almost amusing, the way he has to keep pushing up the sleeves, but somehow he makes it work. Or maybe that’s just Martin. Maybe that’s just Martin and his huge, ridiculous, all-consuming crush on Jon.

It’s okay, though. He’s allowed to crush on Jon. He’s allowed to think that Jon’s attractive. He’s allowed to think that Jon’s hot. Jon’s told him that he can. And besides, Martin remembers, smiling a little as he starts pulling out plates, Jon thinks that he’s attractive, too.

“What do you want on your toast?” Martin asks, trying to stop himself from thinking exclusively about Jon. “I’ve got jam somewhere, and butter, and Marmite too if you want it. You strike me as a Marmite man,” he adds absently, putting the plates down and starting to pull out the bread.

“Really?” Jon asks from the doorway. Even without looking at him, Martin can see his eyebrow raising.

“Mhmm,” he hums, trying to hide his smile and entirely failing. “Just a little bit, yeah.”

“…I’m not sure if I’m supposed to take that as a compliment or not.”

“Well,” Martin says, carefully keeping his back to Jon as he pops a couple of slices of bread into the toaster, “I suppose that depends on how you feel about Marmite.”

“I think Marmite’s fine.”

“Then it’s a compliment.”

“I’m not sure that’s how compliments work-”

“It definitely is. Also,” Martin continues before Jon can interrupt, turning around and leaning back against the counter, “just while we’re waiting for these to toast, I was just wondering… do you have- is there- is there anything that you wanted to do today? While you’re, um, while you’re here?”

Jon laughs, soft and quiet and just as rusty as always. “I’ll be honest, Martin, I didn’t exactly plan this far ahead. I was just- I don’t really mind what we do. It’s just nice, being- being here. With you.”

“Oh,” Martin says quietly.

“Mm. Do you, um, do you- do you have any ideas?”

“Well…” Martin says, scratching the back of his neck. “I’ve got- I think there’s some Antiques Roadshow repeats we can watch, if you’d like that. We could- it’s not a very big sofa, but we could, um, we could cuddle, if you’d- if you’d like.”

Martin can feel how hard he’s blushing. He feels a little bit ridiculous, that the mere thought of potentially cuddling with Jon makes him turn scarlet when he spent the entire night with Jon plastered to his side like a particularly affectionate limpet, but he can’t help it. He doesn’t really mind though, because, across the room from him, Jon is blushing, too.

“Martin,” Jon replies, “I’d love nothing more.”

---

In bits and pieces, the day passes.

Martin doesn’t really notice the time passing. It’s so easy to lose track of time around Jon, when his every second is filled with Jon’s words and Jon’s voice and Jon’s presence. Even when they’re not talking, both of them just curled up on the sofa as Antiques Roadshow plays on the old TV that Martin picked up from Gumtree several years ago, Martin still finds his attention drifting, his eyes running over Jon’s face as Jon mutters to himself about the state of the varnish on a coffee table and how the owners really should have taken better care of it.

They come up with a game pretty quickly, too, though ‘game’ is a terrible word to describe it. It’s a very simple game, and one which, Martin discovers very quickly, Jon is almost terrifyingly good at.  Periodically, Jon will catch his attention by pointing out a particular piece that’s been presented, tapping his arm where it’s resting across his stomach to get his notice. They’ll discuss the item, neither of them really paying any attention to what’s actually being said on-screen, and then they’ll both try to guess at how much it’s worth before the value is revealed. The winner, or whoever guesses closest to the correct answer, gets a kiss from the loser.

It becomes very, very quickly apparent that Jon is likely to win every single time.

Martin has zero complaints about this. He has zero complaints about Jon kissing him, and he has zero complaints about Jon cuddling with him, and he has zero complaints about making lunch with him, and chatting with him, and watching TV with him as, beyond the windows, night gathers around them. Neither of them mention what they both know.  It’s only when it’s dark outside the windows, the sky lit up in dim amber by London’s constant light, that Jon, his head pillowed on Martin’s shoulder, starts making small, annoyed grumbling noises.

“I need to head off soon,” he says, his voice full of thinly-veiled disappointment, like he’s frustrated that time itself would dare take him away from Martin so soon. “I need to- I think Georgie might start wondering what’s happened to me if she doesn’t see me soon.”

“Oh,” Martin says quietly. Reflexively, the arm that he’s got wrapped around Jon’s waist tightens a little, just for a moment. “I- I- okay. That’s- yeah, that’s- that’s fair, it is getting pretty late. Though…” He swallows. “You could, um, if you wanted, you could stay for dinner? If- if you’d like. We could, um, like I said, I don’t have many groceries right now, but there’s a, ah, there’s a pretty decent Chinese take-away near here, just on the corner.”

Jon sighs. “I wish I could. Georgie might actually ask Daisy to hunt me down if I don’t go home, though. She’s still not entirely convinced that you’re not a serial killer.”

“…Okay,” Martin says slowly. “Any particular reason she might think that?”

“Apparently, not having any social media presence marks you down as a potential serial killer in her books. God knows why.”

“Oh. Oh, right, well that’s just… I don’t really have much use for it, that’s all. Most of my friends- I just prefer to talk to people in person or over text.” He shrugs, shifting on the sofa as Jon stands with a chorus of cracks and pops from his joints. “…Should your bones be making those noises?”

“They’ve always been making those noises,” Jon replies absently as Martin stands too, slowly making his way out to the hallway as Martin follows after him, his every step weighed down with reluctance. He doesn’t want Jon to leave. He feels a bit like a petulant toddler for thinking it, but it’s true. He doesn’t want Jon to leave.

But he knows that Jon has to.

He watches quietly as Jon starts fussing about in the hallway, tugging his shoes on and patting his pockets to make sure that he’s got what he needs.

“Have you got everything?” Martin asks, more out of habit than anything else. “Phone? Wallet? Keys? Jacket?”

“I left my jacket at the theatre,” Jon mutters.

“Oh,” Martin says. “Oh! Oh, yes, right, you- you mentioned that last night. Do you- your keys are there too, right?”

“Mm, they are. That’s not too much of an issue, though. I can just- I’ll text Georgie, let her know that I’m heading back. Hopefully she’s at home.”

“And if she’s not?”

Jon shrugs. “Then I suppose I’ll find somewhere to wait for her to get home. She’ll probably just be at Melanie’s, though. They’re, um… they’re close.”

“Oh,” Martin says again. “Oh. Are they-”

“I’ve got no idea.”

“R-right. That’s- right, yes, that’s- that’s fair enough. Do you want, um, do you want to borrow something, by the way? To go home in? It’s kind of chilly outside.”

“I don’t- I don’t want to be a bother-” Jon starts, and then immediately falls silent as Martin steps back and quickly tugs off his hoodie.

“Here,” Martin says. He lifts his hand, holding the hoodie out towards Jon, and watches as Jon’s gaze darts from his face to the hoodie and then back again. “You can borrow this.”

Jon swallows. “Are you- are you sure?” he asks. “I don’t- it’s not that cold- it’s- that’s your hoodie, Martin.”

In the soft lamplight, Martin can see the soft blush on Jon’s cheeks.

Martin smiles. “Yeah,” he says. “I know. That’s kind of the point here, Jon.”

“But-”

“I have other hoodies, you know. This one’s hardly special. Just make sure that you give it back at some point, alright? It’s comfy. And,” Martin adds, with a sudden flash of inspiration, “if you don’t borrow it and end up getting hypothermia as a result, I’ll tell Daisy that you turned it down.”

Jon gasps. “You wouldn’t.”

“I absolutely would.”

“You don’t even know how to get in touch with her.”

“You said yourself that she’s ‘terrifyingly good’ at hunting people down,” Martin reminds him, making Jon give a little snort, though he can see the smile curling at the edges of his mouth. “I’m pretty confident that she’ll be able to find me if I just think hard enough. You know, light up the Daisy signal and summon her to my flat.”

“I can’t believe you,” Jon mutters, but he’s reaching out as he speaks, taking the hoodie from Martin’s grasp. The blush on his cheeks still hasn’t faded. “I- I can’t believe- I introduce you to my friends and this is how you repay me? By turning them against me? Unbelievable.”

“It’s for your own good.”

“It’s not ‘for my own good’ if Daisy kills me.”

“At least your corpse will be warm,” Martin replies, watching as Jon tugs the hoodie on. It’s almost comically oversized on him, for all that, when it really comes down to it, there’s not that much difference in height between them. It hangs past his hips, the sleeves coming down to cover his hands almost entirely. It’s adorable. It’s hot. It’s somehow both at the same time, and Martin doesn’t know how to deal with it. He just knows that he likes seeing Jon in his clothes. He’d figured that out last night, when Jon had shown up in his bedroom doorway in one of Martin’s own t-shirts, and it still holds true now. He really, really likes seeing Jon in his clothes. He likes how much Jon seems to like it. He likes how Jon seems to burrow down in them as much as he can while still standing, pressing his nose to the collar when he thinks Martin isn’t looking. Martin had noticed him doing something similar when they’d been cuddling earlier, too, after they’d both gotten dressed; Jon had kept turning his head, pressing closer against Martin’s skin and damn-near snuggling up against him like a particularly affectionate cat. Martin had had no complaints, though. After all, Jon being that close had only made it easier to kiss him.

Martin thinks he wants to kiss Jon now, and so he does.

It’s so easy to step in towards Jon; Jon starts reaching for Martin almost before he even starts to move, one hand tangling loosely in his shirt as the other comes to settle on his waist, his fingers light and warm against Martin’s side. Martin can see Jon stretching up as he moves in closer, can see the way his gaze keeps darting down to his lips, and he doesn’t waste any time. He kisses Jon, right there in the hallway, feeling how Jon’s breath catches when their lips touch more than hearing it. He can do this. He can kiss Jon, and it’s alright. It’s more than alright – it’s wanted, because Jon wants Martin to kiss him and because Jon wants Martin. The thought makes Martin smile as he kisses Jon again. Jon wants him. Jon likes him. Jon likes him just as much as he likes Jon.

And, now, Jon has to leave.

“Bye, Jon,” Martin makes himself whisper. He can’t see Jon’s face, not really, not with how close they are to each other, but he can feel the smile on Jon’s lips when he kisses him again, and then again after that. He should let Jon leave. He knows that he should let Jon leave, because Jon is a grown man with things of his own to do, but he can’t help himself. He doesn’t want to stop kissing Jon. He doesn’t want Jon to go.

Thankfully, it seems that Jon doesn’t want to leave, either. He kisses Martin back with a soft sigh, his hand curling in the fabric of Martin’s shirt like he’s trying to hold onto him. Through the thin material of his shirt, Martin can feel the warmth of Jon’s skin pressing into his body and curling through his veins, making a home for itself far down in his marrow. It feels familiar, for all that they’ve barely been doing this for longer than a handful of weeks. Jon feels familiar.

Martin doesn’t want him to go.

“Goodbye, Martin,” Jon murmurs back. He leans in, kissing Martin one more time, and then nods to himself as though content, taking a small step back. He doesn’t let go of Martin’s shirt, though. He doesn’t let go until he has to step back aside so that Martin can open the door and its weird double-lock for him.

“I’ll see you soon?” Martin asks.

Jon smiles. “Yes,” he promises. “I- soon. Definitely soon. You- we could get lunch again, if you’d like?”

“I’d like lunch.”

“Oh, good. I’d- I’d like lunch too. Maybe, ah, maybe this coming week? When are you off placement?”

Martin smiles wider. “Saturday,” he says. “I don’t start until Wednesday, though. I’ll text you about it. Hopefully this time Elias won’t make us reschedule.”

“Hah, yes, quite.” For a moment, Jon pauses. He looks like he’s going to say something, his mouth opening and then closing a few times, but when he does speak up again all he says is, “I suppose I should get going, then…”

“Yeah,” Martin makes himself say. “Yeah, I- I suppose so. You, um… get home safe, alright?”

“I’ll do what I can.”

Jon.”

“What?”

“You- that’s not exactly the most reassuring answer, you know.”

Jon shrugs. “Well, much as I wish I did, I can’t control all of London to stop it from potentially injuring me, you know.” He catches Martin’s eye. “…I will do what I can, though.”

“Good. I don’t want to be seeing you in A&E again any time soon.”

“You won’t,” Jon promises, and his words are so soft and earnest and true that Martin kisses him for them. He barely has to move at all, stepping in and leaning down to meet Jon halfway, finding that Jon is already stretching up to meet him. When the kiss ends, he steps back and over to one side, making space for Jon to leave.

“Bye, Jon,” Martin says quietly. Jon blinks, quickly shaking his head, and then moves past Martin until he’s on the other side of the door.

“Y-yeah,” he says. “I’m- goodbye, Martin.”

“I’ll see you soon?”

“Yeah. I’ll see you soon.”

The door shuts behind Jon with a soft click, leaving Martin standing behind it with a soft, hopelessly love-struck smile.

Unseen by Martin, on the other side of the door, Jon is smiling, too.

Chapter Text

Jon doesn’t stop smiling the whole way home. He’s sure it makes him look a bit mad, wandering the streets and tube stops of London in a hoodie that’s almost comically oversized on him while grinning like an idiot the whole time, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care what other people think. He rarely does to begin with, if he’s entirely honest, but he cares even less than usual today. He’s in Martin’s hoodie, and very little else matters. He’s in Martin’s hoodie, after staying the night at Martin’s flat, after sharing Martin’s bed with him.

After kissing him.

Jon pauses just outside the door to his flat. He’d done that, he realises. He’d kissed Martin. He’d kissed Martin just like he’d been wanting to for so, so long, and Martin had kissed him back. Martin had wanted it. Martin had wanted Jon to kiss him, had wanted Jon to touch him – he’d wanted all of it, even after everything they’d discussed.

Martin wanted him.

Martin still does want him.

“Jesus,” Jon whispers to himself. “Jesus.”

For a long couple of seconds Jon stares at the door, trying to wrap his head around the events of yesterday. It should be a simple thing to grasp, he feels. People like other people all the time. People want other people all the time. And it’s not like he’s entirely new to the concept of people wanting or liking him, either, but it’s… somehow, it still feels odd. Just like how it had with Georgie, it still feels odd that someone as good and as sweet and as lovely as Martin would want him.

But Martin does.

And Jon knows that.

Jon forces himself to take a deep breath. He can’t- he can’t keep dwelling on it, not to the extent that he was, because if he does keep dwelling on it then he’ll just end up staring into space for hours on end. He needs to- he needs to walk inside the flat, for starters, and then he needs to take his shoes off, and say hello to Georgie, and make dinner, and go to bed, and text Martin because oh God but he already wants to talk to Martin again. It’s not even been an hour since he last spoke to him, and already he’s longing to hear the sound of his voice. God. He’s pathetic.

And he doesn’t care at all.

Jon raises a hand, knocking on the door. From the other side of it he can distantly hear noises that sound like conversation coming from the living room, but he doesn’t focus on them. He can barely pull his train of thought away from Martin as it is. After a few seconds, though, he hears footsteps approaching the door, followed by a familiar voice. 

“Is that you, Jon?” he hears Georgie call, her voice getting louder as she approaches. 

“No,” he calls back. “It’s someone else who happens to have the exact same voice as your flatmate. It’s a- it’s a strange, eldritch stranger, here to replace the true Jonathan Sims with something more akin to an awkward mannequin.”

From the other side of the door there’s the sound of a laugh, followed by a soft clattering before the door swings open to reveal Georgie. “Really?” she asks, grinning. “Oh, great! Does this awkward mannequin do the dishes he forgot he left in the sink on Friday morning?”

Jon steps inside, leaning down to start untying his shoes. “He can,” he replies. “But I think the real Jon can do those, too.”

“Will he, though?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

“After dinner,” Jon promises. “I’ll- I’ll do all the washing up to make up for it, how about that?”

“Hmm,” Georgie replies thoughtfully. “I suppose that’ll do. And by the way, is that Martin’s hoodie?”

Jon straightens up, nudging his shoes somewhere in the vague direction of the shoe rack as he gives Georgie a look. “It might be,” he replies, refusing to let himself blush. He has no reason to blush. Clothes-sharing is a perfectly normal part of dating, and he’s not going to be embarrassed by Georgie asking him about it. He steps away from the door, heading towards the living room. “What gave it away?”

“What, apart from the fact that it looks like you’re wearing a tent?” Georgie asks. She steps back slightly, making space for Jon to walk past her before following after him “The ‘nursing society’ logo was a tiny bit of a hint.”

Jon looks down. “Oh,” he says, sounding faintly surprised. “O-oh, it- huh. I hadn’t noticed that.”

“…How long have you been wearing this hoodie for?”

“Not long,” Jon replies vaguely. He steps into the living room, nodding unblinkingly at the person already sat on the sofa. “Hi, Melanie.”

Melanie raises a hand. “Hey,” she replies. “Is that Martin’s hoodie?”

“…Yes.”

“It’s a bit big on you.”

“I’m aware.”

“Looks like you’re wearing a tent.”

“Yes, thank you, Georgie’s already mentioned that to me.”

“She has?” Melanie asks, grinning. “Oh, excellent. Just means it’s doubly true.”

“I’m not sure that’s how it works-”

“It might as well be,” replies Melanie. “Besides, at least you can actually pull off the oversized-hoodie look, at least somewhat. More than you could pull off wearing Martin’s jacket, certainly.”

Jon freezes. “You… what?” he asks, feeling his face turning scarlet. “Y-you- you saw that?”

“Oh, yeah,” Melanie says, now positively smirking with delight. She leans back against Georgie’s side, crossing her arms over her chest as Georgie settles back into the sofa cushions, smiling just as widely.

Jon, eloquently, splutters at her. “But you had- you’d- you’d all left by then!”

“Well, yeah, but we weren’t that far away,” Melanie reminds him, her eyes sparkling with what Jon can only think to call ‘delighted benevolent mischief.’ “And you know how Tim likes to amble when there’s no particular rush to get somewhere. I just turned back to make sure you guys were doing okay and I saw Martin giving you his jacket and I-”

“Told all of them?”

“Yup,” Melanie replies instantly. “I thought it was disgustingly cute and I figured the others would all like to see it. I’m amazed you didn’t hear Tim, come to think of it, but I guess he was trying to be quiet.”

“Tim saw?”

“Tim took a picture.”

“And then sent it to me,” Georgie adds.

“And then sent it to everyone else,” Melanie says helpfully. “Including Gerry. And-”

In a horrible flash on understanding, Jon sees exactly what she’s about to say. “No,” he says, cutting her off. “No, please, tell me- tell me Tim didn’t send it to Peter.”

“Of course he didn’t send it to Peter, he’s not a complete bastard,” Melanie replies, rolling her eyes. “No, he sent it to Sasha.”

“Oh. Oh. Oh, right, that’s- that’s fine then.”

“Though he did say he might show it to Peter on the drive up.”

Jon groans. “Fantastic,” he mutters. “Fantastic. That’s- great, excellent, brilliant, in fact. The first time Peter ever sees me is going to be when Tim shows him a picture of me being- being-…” He trails off, chewing at his lip. “Being, well… unprofessional, I suppose.”

Georgie laughs. “Really? Unprofessional? I saw the picture, Jon – it’s really not that bad. It’s adorable, actually.”

“’Adorable’ still isn’t ‘professional,’” Jon retorts, trying very hard to keep his circulation under control.

“Does it matter, though?” Melanie asks. “I mean, it’s not like you’re ever actually going to meet Peter. Not unless Elias suddenly gets arrested for money-laundering and assorted other crimes and Peter comes in as his replacement.”

“I- I mean… fine, I suppose you have a point.”

“Oh, and completely unrelated to all the Peter stuff - just so you know, I’m going to be crashing here tonight,” Melanie adds. “Sorry. I probably should have mentioned that.”

“Don’t worry,” Jon says easily, shaking his head. “It’s- it’s been an interesting few days. Although, if you, um, if you want, I can- I can vacate, if you need me to, I can-”

“You’re fine,” Melanie says, waving a hand at him. “I mean, you do kind of live here. Like actually live here, not like the way I stay over from time to time. Don’t worry about it. Besides,” she adds, stretching out on the sofa, “it’s not like this is the first time that it’s happened. You can stop being weird about it. You know that it’s fine.”

“Well, yes, but I- I respect your privacy, and Georgie’s privacy, and I don’t want to impose when you’re, ah…”

“Being gross?” Georgie suggests.

“Being… what you are,” Jon says. “Being… well, being you. It’s- I’d rather not third-wheel and make you feel uncomfortable.”

“I live with you,” Georgie says, at the exact same time that Melanie says, “I’ve seen you do too much weird shit at work.”

Jon cracks a smile at that. “Alright, then.” He leans back on the sofa, stretching his legs out before him. “So,” he says, “what terrible TV were you planning on watching?”

Melanie grins. “Oh, Jon,” she says. “You’re going to love it.”

The rest of the evening passes with as much peace and quiet as there can be when Melanie and Georgie are in the same room together. Jon, for his part, rather enjoys it – he likes the easy way they all talk as the TV plays in the background, their jokes and in-jokes and in-in-jokes all familiar and comfortable to him, built up by years of friendship. They don’t get takeaway but they do end up cooking together – a process that mostly consists of Jon and Georgie watching from a safe distance as Melanie chops things with terrifying speed and precision – and then, a few hours after that, Jon excuses himself for bed. He’s not hugely tired, not with how well he slept at Martin’s, but he doesn’t want to impose on them any longer while they’re being all casually affectionate. He still doesn’t know exactly what the nature of their relationship is seeing how neither of them have yet used the words ‘dating’ or ‘girlfriends,’ hence why he didn’t confirm anything to Martin, but he knows that they’re very, very close. He doesn’t want to third-wheel, even if it never really feels like he is with Melanie and Georgie. They may not be uncomfortable or annoyed with him hanging out in the living room, but he still feels a little weird about it, and so after not too long he returns to his room.

He gets ready for bed without really thinking about it, going through the motions as his mind drifts a few hours back to settle on all the time he’d spent with Martin. God. He’d spent an entire day with Martin, more or less. He’d stayed at Martin’s flat, in Martin’s bed, and he’d kissed Martin more times than he could possibly count, and he’d woken up to see Martin sleeping quietly across from him, one of his arms draped over Jon’s waist, and then Martin had made him breakfast. They’d had breakfast together, in the peace and quiet of Martin’s little flat. They’d watched Antiques Roadshow together. They’d chatted. They’d kissed. They’d kissed a lot.

And then, when the time came for Jon to head home, Martin had leant Jon his hoodie.

Jon finds himself reaching for Martin’s hoodie again once he’s got changed into his pyjamas, tugging the soft, warm fabric of it over his head almost without thinking of it. It’s only when he pulls it on entirely, pushing the hood back and reaching up to tie back his hair, that he really realises what he’s done.

In the privacy and safety of his bedroom, Jon freezes.

Shit.

He’d just- he’d- he hadn’t thought. He hadn’t thought at all. He’d been getting ready for bed, brushing his teeth and getting changed and all those normal things, and then, for whatever reason, his brain had decided that the next sensible step was to pick up Martin’s hoodie from where he’d dropped it over the back of a chair, and put it back on. Jon glances towards the door, some part of him feeling almost afraid that Georgie, or Melanie, or even The Admiral had just seen what he did. Is it weird? Would Martin think that it’s weird? It’s not like he needs to wear the hoodie, after all – his flat is perfectly warm and comfortable, the chilly autumn night kept at bay beyond the building’s windows, and he’s got plenty of blankets piled up on his bed above his duvet, each one adding just a little extra weight and security. He’s never had to sleep with a hoodie on before, not even during the particularly cold winter they’d had a few years back, when the snow in London had actually managed to settle for long enough to become a bit more than a mere inconvenience. He doesn’t need to wear Martin’s hoodie. He doesn’t need to be weird, and odd, and maybe more than a little bit pathetic, and go to bed wearing Martin’s hoodie just because it smells nice and makes him feel safe and comfortable and wanted. He doesn’t have to do it.

But he wants to.

Jon draws in a breath, finishes tying his hair back, and lowers his hand. He wants to do this. He knows that he does. It’s not like Martin ever has to know about it, either. No one has to know about it. No one will know about it. He can just go to bed like he does every night, setting five or six alarms on his phone and burrowing down under his blankets and turning the light out and falling asleep, and no one has to know that he’s doing all of that while wearing Martin’s hoodie. Georgie’s not in his room. Martin’s not in his room. There’s no one there at all to see him, to judge him for what he’s doing. He can do this. It’s fine. He’s fine. He’s unwatched. The only person who might see him in Martin’s hoodie is The Admiral if he starts clawing at his door demanding cuddles and affection, and Jon’s fairly certain that The Admiral judges everyone for everything, so it won’t be much of a change. This is fine. It might not be something that he’s discussed with Martin, and he feels more than a little bit weird about that, but it’s fine.

Jon ducks his head, lifting up the collar of the hoodie and breathing in deeply. The smell of Martin’s aftershave – or whatever it is that smells so damn good – has faded a little, but it’s still just as present as ever, filling Jon’s lungs like the smoke of the cigarettes that he managed to kick just a year or so ago. It’s a warm smell, soft and familiar and all-encompassing, and Jon can feel his heart starting to calm already, his thoughts slowing and settling as he breathes and breathes again. He likes wearing Martin’s hoodie. It’s as simple as that. He just… he just likes it. He likes knowing that Martin gave him this, because that implies that Martin is certain that he’s going to see Jon again. It implies that Martin trusts Jon to return it. It implies that Martin wants to become a fixture in Jon’s life the way that he already is, whether he knows it or not. It implies a lot of things. And maybe Jon’s reading into it too much, maybe he’s getting his hopes up, but right now, in this moment, with Martin’s hoodie warm around his shoulders, he doesn’t think that he is.

Jon remembers the conversation they had yesterday, stood in Martin’s hallway as the realisation of what Daisy had said gathered in his veins like lead. He remembers his immediate defensiveness, his immediate rebuttal, his immediate assumption that things were over and done with, and he remembers Martin bypassing all of that. He remembers Martin telling him that he didn’t care. That he doesn’t care.

He remembers Martin telling him that he wants to keep doing this.

That he wants to keep being with Jon.

No one has to know about this, Jon reminds himself. Martin doesn’t have to know. Georgie doesn’t have to know. Martin wanted to give Jon his hoodie, and he wanted Jon to wear it, and even if he were to know, he probably wouldn’t mind. This is fine.

This is fine.

Quietly, carefully, Jon gets into bed. He does his best not to think about the hoodie he’s clad in, not focusing on the thought of it too hard in case it bursts like a soap bubble and shatters the carefully constructed acceptance he’s built up around it. He settles down, tugging his duvet up around his shoulders. He can faintly make out the light of the hallway seeping under his bedroom door, stretching across the carpet but not quite reaching him, leaving him alone in his little island of comfortable shadow. After a moment’s contemplation, Jon tugs up the hood of the hoodie, snuggling down further beneath the duvet so that he’s entirely cocooned in blankets and warmth and Martin’s hoodie. He can feel the ends of the sleeves hanging over his hands, the cuffs brushing against his fingertips. It’s not the same as having Martin there, warm and close and real and holding Jon like he’s something to be treasured, but it’s better than nothing.

Jon shuts his eyes, thinks of Martin, and sleeps.

---

In the morning, Jon is woken by the harsh buzzing of his phone.

He reaches over without lifting his head from the pillow, flailing blindly at his bed-side table until his hand eventually encounters his phone. He lifts it, expecting to see his normal alarm displayed on the screen, but he doesn’t.

Instead, what’s displayed on-screen is a little message indicator.

Jon squints at it. After a second, his phone buzzes again. This time, Jon can just about make out the name attached to the message as it pops up.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Good morning Jon!
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] I hope you slept well ^-^

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] I did, thank you.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood] Not as well as last night, though. [unsent]

Jon pauses, his thumb hovering over the screen. Is that too much? He can barely tell, his brain still only just about functional, but it feels like it might be, and he’s not awake enough to pick through the finer nuances of dating, so, after a second or two, he deletes the message outright.

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] Did you sleep well?

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] I did!
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Not as well as I did last night, though
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Anyway, if it’s alright, I actually wanted to ask you something

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] What is it?

There’s a pause. Jon continues to stare blearily at his phone until the screen goes dark, but a moment later it lights up again.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Actually
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Is it okay if I call you?

Jon doesn’t even hesitate. In that moment, he can’t imagine anything better than hearing Martin’s voice so soon after waking up.

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] Of course.

Instantly, his phone starts to buzz, but it’s not a normal phonecall like Jon had expected. It’s a video call, one of the ones that Jon has never had any cause to accept or call himself.

He has cause now.

Jon taps the little ‘accept’ button. There’s a brief period where his screen goes dark, and then it floods with colour as Martin’s face fills the screen.

“Um,” he says. “Um, is this- can you see me, Jon?”

Jon squints. “I- yes,” he says. He can hear how rough his own voice is. “I can- you’re rather blurry.”

“Oh, sorry, I don’t really know how to do this.”

“No, no, it’s- I need- hang on.” Jon sits up, feeling the duvet slipping down around his shoulders, and reaches out for his bed-side table, grabbing his glasses and quickly putting them on. Martin is still a bit blurry when he looks back at the screen but he’s nowhere near as blurry as he was before - he has form, now, beyond just being a vague blob of mostly Martin-coloured pixels. Jon can see the buildings behind him – it seems that, for some reason, Martin is calling him from outside – but he doesn’t focus on them. They’re not important. They’re not Martin.

Jon smiles.

“Good morning,” he says. “I can see you now.”

Martin laughs. It comes out a bit tinny through Jon’s speakers, like it’s coming from far away, but it’s Martin’s laugh all the same, and that alone is enough to make Jon smile wider. He settles down in bed, making himself comfortable, and lifts his phone so that he can see Martin even better.

“Good morning to you, too,” Martin says. He pauses, his eyes scanning over the screen, and then, as Jon watches, his expression seems to falter. “Are you- I didn’t wake you up, did I?”

Jon shakes his head. “It’s alright,” he says, stifling a yawn. “It’s- I needed to get up anyway. Besides, this was- you’re a very nice thing to wake up to.”

“Oh! Oh, thank you. You’re- you’re very nice to wake up to too, Jon.”

“Mm.” Jon hums, half-asleep and more than a little delighted at Martin’s words. “I’m- I’m glad that’s the case.”

“…Jon?”

“Mm?”

“Is that… are you wearing my hoodie?”

“What?” Jon asks. He blinks once, blearily, and then looks down at himself. Even in the dim light of his unlit bedroom, the sunlight just about slipping in around the edges of his curtains, he recognises Martin’s hoodie. He supposes it explains why he’s feeling so warm. “Oh. Yes. Yes, I- I suppose I am.” He looks back at his phone, squinting slightly so that he can make out Martin’s face. “Why? Is that a- is that a problem?”

“What?” Martin replies, his face colouring delightfully. “N-no, that’s- it’s- that’s fine, I just- I just wasn’t expecting to see you being all cute and sleepy and in my hoodie while walking to Lidl. It was, um… unexpected. But- but good unexpected, definitely good unexpected! It’s, um, you’re- you’re- you look cute in it. Um. Really cute, actually.”

“…Oh,” Jon says intelligently. “I, um… thank you.”

“Mm.” Martin doesn’t look back at the screen. “It’s- I- yeah.

“It’s a very warm hoodie,” Jon says, but he’s not trying to defend himself. He’s still half-asleep, his brain not yet aware enough to make him feel self-conscious. He’s just stating a fact, plain and simple. “It’s very- it’s very comfortable.”

“Oh, I know,” Martin replies. “That is kind of why I let you borrow it. I didn’t want you to be cold on your way home.”

“I wasn’t. Um. Cold. I wasn’t cold, Martin. It was- it was very warm.” It had still been warm from Martin’s body when Jon had put it on, the heat of it sinking into his skin in tandem with the warmth that he always felt whenever Martin did something particularly delightful. Admittedly, Jon’s definition of ‘particularly delightful’ when it came to Martin started at ‘breathing’ and didn’t seem to end anywhere, either, but that wasn’t important. What was important was that Martin had leant Jon his hoodie, and that he had wanted Jon to be warm in it, and that he thought that Jon looked cute. Jon knows that he’s blushing a little. He doesn’t care. “It was- thank you. For letting me borrow it.”

“Oh, no problem! I’m just glad that it kept you warm. And, um, that you- that you seem to like it so much, if this is anything to go by. It’s- that’s nice,” Martin continues, smiling a little. He sounds, to Jon’s surprise, entirely genuine, like he’s genuinely happy to see Jon still wearing his hoodie. Like he’s happy to find out that Jon went to bed in it.

Jon blinks. “You don’t- you don’t mind?” he asks. You don’t think it’s weird?

Martin gives a short laugh. “I don’t mind,” he says, instantly loosening the knot of worry that had been forming in Jon’s chest. “I don’t- I mean, I wasn’t expecting it, of course, but it’s- I don’t mind. You look cute. Um.” He pauses, swallowing. When he speaks again, his voice is quieter. “It, um, it actually… it kind of makes me wish I was there, you know. Um. With- with you. Sorry, that’s- that’s a bit weird, I didn’t-”

“It’s not weird,” Jon blurts out. “It’s not- I don’t think it’s weird. I’d, um, I’d- I’d like that a lot, actually. For you to be here.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Jon replies immediately. “I’d really like for you to be here, Martin. And I- I certainly wouldn’t complain, if you- if you wanted to stay over at my flat at some point. That would- that would be excellent. I would- mm. That would be great, actually. I’d- I’d really like that, Martin.”

“…Really?” Martin asks, his voice soft and quiet and just a little bit hopeful, like he can’t entirely believe what Jon is saying.

“Yeah. I mean, you’d probably meet Georgie, which is… well, I’m sure it’d be fine, but… yeah. I’d really like you to come over some time. That would be- it would be nice.” Nice. It’s such a pathetically insufficient word, but it’s all Jon can think to say. It would be more than nice if Martin were to visit. It would be so, so much more than just ‘nice’. He doesn’t know exactly what it would be, not when he’s still operating on a level of zero caffeine, but he knows that it would be lovely, to see Martin in his home and his space. It would be so lovely. It would be so lovely to cuddle up with Martin on his own sofa, or in his own bed, and know that Martin wanted to be there. That Martin wanted to be with him.

Jon swallows.

“It would be really nice,” he repeats quietly. “I’d really like it a lot, Martin. O-or to stay at yours again. If, ah, if that’s- if that’s alright with you, of course-”

“That’s alright! That’s definitely alright with me!”

When? Jon thinks, and doesn’t say. He’s still in the process of waking up, but he still knows that immediately asking Martin when he can next stay over at his flat might make him seem a bit… clingy. And, admittedly, maybe he had been rather clingy in his sleep, and maybe Martin had been too, but he doesn’t- he doesn’t-

He doesn’t what? He doesn’t want Martin to know how much he likes him? He doesn’t want Martin to know that he thinks that he’s marvellous? He doesn’t want Martin to know that he genuinely can’t remember an evening that he’s enjoyed more than that one, Martin’s chest warm against his back and his lips warm against Jon’s neck?

He could just say that. He could just ask Martin when he could next stay over. He could just tell Martin how much he enjoyed it, how much he’d enjoyed kissing Martin, how much he’d loved the feeling of Martin’s hands against his skin and how much he’d adored feeling Martin’s arms around his waist. He could tell Martin all of that. He knows that he could.

But he doesn’t.

Instead, he changes the subject entirely.

Jon shakes his head, knocking the thoughts loose like cobwebs. “S-sorry,” he stammers, trying not to focus on the sensation of his ears not so much burning as gently smouldering. “Sorry, I just- I just remembered that I think you asked me something over text and I’ve completely forgotten what it was. I’m- I’m not at my sharpest when I’ve just woken up, unfortunately.”

“Oh! Oh, no, you- I actually called you to ask the- the thing,” Martin says, giving a short, nervous laugh. “But I sort, of, um, I got a bit- I got a bit distracted. By… well, by you.”

“Oh, sorry-“

“No, no, don’t apologise, you were a very lovely distraction, Jon. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a walk to Lidl this much before.”

Jon smiles, just a little. “Is that so? Well, I’m glad I could help. And if, ah, if you would ever like me to distract you again, just- well, just let me know.”

“I’ll be sure to do that,” Martin replies warmly. Even with the terrible resolution of the video call, Jon can still see the blush on Martin’s cheeks. “A-anyway, I- the question. I didn’t- I didn’t text it to you because I just felt like it would be easier to ask out loud, you know? I tried typing it but it got all rambly and weird and I- it just felt messy, so I thought that I’d call you. Um. To talk about it.”

Jon frowns. “Yeah?” he asks. “What did you want to ask about?”

“Your- you know the play you’re working on?”

“I’m aware of it, yes.”

“It’s just- I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit since, um, since yesterday,” Martin continues, glancing down at his phone as he continues to walk. Behind him, Jon can see building after building passing by in a blur, the stone façade only broken up by the occasional tree. “Um, specifically I’ve been thinking about what you said before telling me about it. About… about spoilers. And if I wanted to go see it.”

Jon pushes himself up slightly, resting his weight on one arm so that he can see his phone a bit more easily. “Oh?”

“Yeah. And I- look, would it be weird for me to see your play?” Martin asks. “Is that- would that be weird? I don’t really know the, um, the etiquette of seeing a play, especially not when you’re also seeing someone who’s working on it. I don’t want to, you know, bring down bad luck on you or the theatre or anything. Especially not seeing how the play is apparently already cursed, hah. I just- I don’t know. I wanted to check.” He lifts a hand, scrubbing it over his face. “Sorry,” he mutters. “Sorry, that was- that was probably a really weird thing to ask, you don’t have to answer, I was- sorry-”

“It wouldn’t be weird,” Jon says as quickly as he can while still sounding coherent. “It’s not- as far as I’m aware, there’s no theatre curses to do with- with someone’s partner seeing their play, not even when it comes to Leitners. It’s- I’d love for you to see it. I mean, it’s going to be a rather odd play, you already know that, but it’s- if you want to come and see it, then please do.”

“Oh,” Martin says. “O-oh, okay then! Is it- when would I need to get a ticket?”

“Not for a while yet,” Jon replies. “I mean it’s- it’s not going to be finished for quite a while, you know. Elias is- he’s pushing us all to get it done as soon as possible, but we still have to wait on things like wood deliveries, and him agreeing to the lighting plot, and Melanie and the others actually physically constructing the set and all that. And the actors, I suppose,” he adds almost as an afterthought. “We need to wait for them to learn their lines and their- and their blocking. And to be cast, actually. I don’t think Elias has done that yet.”

“What, really?”

“Mm. He’s still in the middle of ‘crafting his artistic vision,’ which basically means that he’s writing a lot of notes for us that don’t make any sense and asking us to get started on twenty different projects without actually committing to any of them.”

There’s a pause.

“No offence, Jon, but he sounds like a bit of a prick,” Martin says. “I mean, I know he’s your boss and all, but he’s- are all theatre directors like that?”

“Enough of them are,” Jon answers dryly. “Granted, I’d never met once who was quite at Elias’ level, but he pays well, and it’s hard enough to get any sort of theatre job in London, let alone one that actually covers the bills.”

“Yeah, you said that yesterday. Apparently, Melanie thinks that the theatre’s a money-laundering front, you said.”

“Oh. Oh, right, yes, I- I did say that, didn’t I?”

“Mm.”

“Oh. Well… it’s still true. He’s a pain to work with most of the time, and his preference in plays is frankly nightmarish, but… it’s interesting, I suppose.”

Martin laughs quietly. “It sounds it. Didn’t you say you’ve got a- a corpse mannequin in the basement or something like that?”

“We do have a corpse mannequin, but a lot of theatres do. They can be surprisingly versatile.”

“Do you use a corpse mannequin a lot?”

“More than you’d think.” Jon shifts a little, adjusting his position and pushing his glasses further up his nose. “Most companies end up naming theirs, too. Or at least, I’ve heard that other companies name theirs. I’ve only worked for one other theatre before working for Elias, and I wasn’t there for very long.”

“You said yours is called Not Sasha, right?”

“She is.”

“Dare I ask why she’s called Not Sasha?”

“It’s a bit… odd.”

Martin shrugs. “I’ve still got a way to walk to Lidl,” he replies, “and I’d like to hear it. It sounds… okay, well actually it sounds kind of spooky and weird, naming a literal corpse mannequin after a person who I’m assuming is or was a real person, but it also sounds kind of interesting. It’s- it’s like morbid curiosity. Morbid interesting-ness.”

Jon gives a short breath of laughter. “Morbid interesting-ness?”

“Don’t judge me for ‘morbid interesting-ness,’ Mr ‘very yes.’”

“…”

Martin glances down at the camera on his phone and flashes a smile so bright and delighted that Jon very nearly swoons all over again from it. “You said it first,” he reminds Jon, his eyes twinkling. “You called me ‘very yes.’ Which, in case you’d forgotten, I did very much appreciate. But, anyway, tell me about Not Sasha.”

Jon laughs again, even as he can feel his face burning. “Fine,” he mutters. “Fine. It’s- Sasha used to be someone who also worked at the theatre, in another backstage role. She’d always felt a bit suspicious of the place – she’s the one who started the money-laundering idea, actually – and after a year or so she just… left, suddenly and unexpectedly. A few days after she left, Elias brought in this ghastly mannequin for us to use in plays.”

“Oh. Oh, Jesus, that’s- is she alright?”

“Oh, yes, she’s fine. Turns out she’d been quietly applying for jobs but hadn’t wanted Elias to jinx her, so when she got an offer she left immediately, almost before Elias even realised she was gone. It was all legal – apparently she found some very particular loopholes in her Magnus statement and contract – and Tim suggested that we call the mannequin Not Sasha in honour of the time we all, even if only for a little while, were definitely convinced that our boss had turned our friend into a mannequin.”

“…Wow,” Martin says slowly. “That’s- that’s quite a story!”

“Quite,” Jon agrees. “Not to mention that- oh, wait, hang on.”

“What is it?”

Jon lifts his head, briefly glancing over at his bedroom door. From the other side of it, he can hear the familiar sound of quiet, persistent scratching. “I think The Admiral’s trying to get in.”

Martin blinks. “The- who?” he asks. “Who’s The Admiral?”

“Georgie’s cat,” Jon replies absently, standing from his bed. He doesn’t take his phone with him, leaving it on his pillow, but he can hear Martin’s soft, delighted gasp as he walks over to the door. “I was sure I’d mentioned him to you at some point.”

“You’ve definitely not mentioned any cat to me – I’d have remembered if you had.”

“Oh. Well, now you know, I suppose.”

“Can I see him?”

Jon laughs. He reaches the door, turning the handle and easing it open to reveal the cat on the other side. “If he deigns to actually grace us with his presence, absolutely,” he calls back. From his bed he hears Martin laugh, soft and delighted, and feels briefly grateful that Martin can’t see his immediate fond smile. The Admiral, for his part, mostly ignores Jon. The cat glances briefly up at him, his tail swishing, and then looks away again, for all the world giving the impression that he most certainly was not scratching at the door begging for entry only ten seconds ago.

Jon raises an eyebrow at him. “Really?” he asks. “I know that you’re just going to start scratching again if I shut this door.”

The Admiral looks at him, and then looks away.

Jon sighs. “Alright,” he says. “I suppose that you didn’t really want to come into my room. I suppose that you didn’t really want any morning cuddles. I’m going to shut the door now, just so you know…”

“Are you talking to the cat?”

“He’s being a cat about coming into my room!” Jon calls back, making Martin laugh again. Slowly, casually, he starts to close the door. “Not coming in?” he asks the cat. “Well, fine, that’s your decision. No warm bed for you, I suppose. No belly rubs. No- aaand there we go.”

At the last possible moment, The Admiral darts through the door, flicking his tail against Jon’s leg. He doesn’t look up at Jon, trotting quickly across the room.

“Admiral inbound,” Jon announces dryly. He pushes the door shut once The Admiral has fully entered, leaving it just ajar enough that the cat could still nudge it open to leave if he wanted to. He follows The Admiral over to his bed, climbing up again with a soft groan that turns into a sigh when The Admiral nudges up against him.

“Is he here?” Martin asks from the pillow. “Is he- Jon, you left me staring at the ceiling, is The Admiral- oh!”

Martin gasps as Jon picks his phone up, angling it towards The Admiral. The angle isn’t perfect and the lighting is barely enough for The Admiral to show up on the phone’s camera, but it’s still enough to make Martin gasp in delight again as The Admiral yawns, stretching his paws out in front of him and arching his back.

“Oh, he’s lovely!” Martin says, his voice practically a coo.

Jon snorts. “He’s a bastard is what he is,” he replies, automatically making space for The Admiral to cuddle up next to him beneath the blankets. “He’s a bastard of a cat who naps on my bed and covers it with hair and then sticks his arse in my face when I try to pet him.” Jon shifts around a bit, finding a comfortable position where he can both tuck The Admiral under his arm and continue to see Martin. He ends up propping his phone up against his pillow, tugging the duvet down so that Martin’s view of The Admiral isn’t blocked, and then continues speaking. “He is rather adorable, though. I’ll admit that.”

“He’s extremely adorable, I’ll think you’ll find,” Martin replies immediately. “He’s an extremely adorable cat, just like all cats are.”

“What, even those hairless ones?”

“Yes, even sphinx cats! They have their own sort of charm, you know. They have… they have a sort of ‘adorable goblin’ look to them.”

Despite himself, Jon laughs. “I suppose they do look slightly goblin-ish,” he admits. “But looks aren’t everything, you know. The Admiral is certainly very fluffy and cute, but that doesn’t stop him from being a bastard.”

“He can be adorable and a bastard, Jon. I’m not disagreeing with you.” Martin pauses, swallowing visibly, but before Jon can think to ask if he’s alright, he continues. “Just like- well, a bit like you, I suppose,” he says. His voice sounds just a little bit weak, like he’s not entirely sure if he should be saying what he’s saying. “I- I- I mean I don’t think you’re a bastard, of course, I think you’re very lovely and charming, b-but based on your, um, on your colleagues, they seem to- I noticed- they-”

“It’s alright,” Jon says, his voice warm with amused fondness. “It’s alright, Martin. I know what you’re saying.”

“Oh,” Martin says, sounding immensely relieved. “O-oh, um… good! That’s- that’s good.”

“They do all call me a bastard from time to time, that is true. Whether or not it’s actually deserved is, at least in my opinion, significantly more up for debate, but… yes. I understand what you’re saying.”

“And the- the other bit? I’m going to assume that the rest of them don’t call you that.”

“…What other bit?”

Martin clears his throat. “The… ‘adorable’ bit,” he says slowly. “Or, well, more ‘hot,’ I suppose. Though you were very adorable when you woke up. That’s- you were both, actually.”

“Yeah?” Jon hears himself say. “That’s- you’re- I’m-” Just say ‘thank you,’ he thinks to himself. That’s all you have to say. Just say ‘thank you’. “You’re, um… you’re very hot, too.” Jon tries not to pull a face the moment the words leave his lips, and doesn’t entirely succeed. God. What on Earth was that? He doesn’t- that’s not something that he says. It’s true, of course, because Martin is undeniably attractive, but it doesn’t feel right to say. It never has. Even now, he still doesn’t get the word ‘hot.’ He knows what it means, of course, and he knows the context of when it would be used, and he has a vague sort of understanding of what people tend to consider ‘hot,’ but it’s not something that he’s ever really related to as a descriptor for other people. He knows that it’s a compliment, and he’s certainly not complaining about Martin calling him hot (even if, privately, he doesn’t understand why Martin would,) but saying it himself just feels… weird. He means it, of course, because Martin is incredibly attractive, and he should be made aware of that fact, but the word still feels odd and lumpy on his tongue, uncomfortable and awkward against his larynx.

On the other end of the phone, Martin gives a short burst of surprised, delighted laughter. “Jon,” he says, his voice steeped in fondness. “That’s- I appreciate that, I really do, but… just out of curiosity, and I promise this isn’t me fishing for information, but have you ever called anyone ‘hot’ before? Because, and I mean this in the kindest way possible, you really sounded like you’ve never called anyone ‘hot’ a day in your life.”

Jon doesn’t squawk. He doesn’t. He does make a rather undignified noise at just how uncannily accurate Martin is being, but he certainly doesn’t squawk. “I-I- I’m- I mean- well, no, I- I haven’t, I don’t- it’s not really something that I do, calling people ‘hot.’ It’s… I mean, you- you are hot, Martin, definitely, I’m sure, I just…” He sighs. “I don’t know,” he mutters. “’Apparently’ you’re meant to find people hot instead of just attractive.”

“If it’s any help, I really like it when you call me attractive,” Martin says softly. “Um, a lot. I’m very glad that you find me attractive, Jon.”

“G-good. That’s- good. Because I- because I do. A lot. You’re very- um.”

“Very yes?”

“…yes,” Jon admits. “You’re very yes.”

“You are too.” Martin pauses, looking up and pulling a face. “...Damn.”

“What is it?”

“I’m at Lidl. And I don’t want to be that person who walks around Lidl while on the phone because that’s- well, that’s how people end up staring at you frankly, so I might, ah…”

“No, no, it’s alright,” Jon says. “I should- I need to start getting up, anyway. Feed The Admiral. Get dressed. All of that.”

“…Jon?”

“Mm?”

“Do you want to talk later? I don’t really have anything planned for this afternoon.”

Jon beams. “I would love that,” he says, his words quiet and utterly sincere, and Martin smiles right back.

“Great. I’ll talk to you later then, Jon,” Martin says warmly. “Have a good day, alright?”

“I will,” Jon replies, and he means it.

Chapter Text

“You’re doing it again,” Basira says to Jon on Monday, when Jon’s been absently staring into space for something approaching twenty minutes. Jon doesn’t jump at the sound of her voice but it’s a close thing, his twitching hand automatically yanking his phone back into the safety of his pocket. Basira, because she’s Basira, doesn’t even bat an eyelid at this. She just takes a seat next to him, giving a small nod of greeting.

Jon looks over at her. “Doing what?” he asks, aiming for innocence and missing by a mile.

Basira gestures at him. “Pulling your Martin face.”

“I don’t have a ‘Martin face’, what are you talking-”

“It’s the face you make when you’re thinking about Martin,” Basira answers immediately. “You had it all day on Friday, and after that time you had lunch with Martin, but I’ve never seen it this bad before. It’s kind of… weird. But, still, I guess it’s better than your other Martin face.”

Jon frowns. “…What’s my ‘other Martin face?’” he asks cautiously.

“It’s the face you make when you’re waiting for Martin to text you back. You look all sort of… not glum, I guess, but kind of distant. Like you’ve been drizzled on, but internally.”

“…What?”

“You look gloomy,” Basira says. “I mean not right now, obviously, because right now you look a tiny bit loopy if I’m entirely honest with you. That’s your second ‘Martin face’, by the way. The one where you look like there might as well be love hearts or something drifting around your face. That’s all.”

Jon frowns. He knows how perceptive Basira can be but it still irks him, this feeling of being known. “I can stop smiling if you’d prefer-”

“No, no, don’t!” Basira interrupts quickly. “It’s- look, I’m not complaining, Jon. Promise. It’s good that you’re smiling this much, because God knows you didn’t use to. I am happy for you, you know. I mean it. And, yeah, I’m going to tease you for being disgustingly smitten utterly mercilessly, but that’s what friends do! I’m taking the piss because I care about you.”

Jon grumbles to himself. There were meant to be words in the grumble but he thinks they got lost somewhere in the vague swamp of syllables.

“What was that?” Basira asks.

Jon sighs. “I said that I didn’t take the piss of you and Daisy when you first got together. I just- this feels a little unfair, is all.”

“You didn’t take the piss of me and Daisy because you were terrified of her,” Basira reminds him. “And because you still are.”

“Yes, well, everyone’s terrified of Daisy. That’s hardly an uncommon occurrence.”

“Mm, yeah, that’s pretty fair. This is what we do, though. You know that.” Basira leans forward across Jon’s desk, clapping him on the shoulder. “Jon,” she says, looking him dead in the eye, “never, ever forget that we’re shits to you because we love you, alright? There’s no other reason.”

“According to most of you, I’m an arsehole.”

“There’s one other reason.”

Despite himself, Jon smiles. “Well, thank you, I’m sure. I’m glad to know that my reputation is consistent, if nothing else.”

Basira claps his shoulder again before sitting back. “You’re the best asshole not-boss we could hope for, you know. You’re like… you’re like a very small cactus with a Santa hat on.”

“…I’m what?”

“Kind of a prick, but also oddly adorable,” Basira clarifies. “Also, hard to get annoyed at for long periods of time. Like, if you stab your finger on the cactus, or if the cactus actively seeks you out to stab you, then, yeah, you’re going to get annoyed, but also it’s got a Santa hat on, so you can’t really be mad at it for too long, you know?”

Jon stares at her. “…Are you feeling alright?”

“Yeah, fine,” Basira replies. “Why?”

 Jon gestures at her.

Basira frowns. “What?”

“A cactus? Really?”

“What? Are you going to disagree with me?”

“Well, I-”

“Because I’m right. Melanie would back me up if she wasn’t currently arguing with Gerry, and I’m pretty sure your nursing boy-”

“Martin.”

“-Martin would agree with me, too.”

 “I’m- I’m not so sure of that.”

“Oh?”

“No.”

“Yeah, is that so? Any particular reason for that? Anything that happened recently that would make Martin particularly smitten with you?” Basira asks, leaning in with a small, discomforting, knowing smile. “Like, say, what happened on Friday? You can skip the stuff at Spoons; we all saw that. You can skip the jacket-sharing, too. Though it was adorable, by the way. I think Tim snagged a photo of you.”

“Yes, I’ve been made aware of that,” Jon mutters darkly. “Apparently he sent it to just about every last one of our mutual friends, too.”

“He might have done.”

“And you couldn’t have stopped him?”

“Sorry, was I supposed to have?” Basira asks. “I wasn’t aware that was my responsibility.”

“I’m fairly sure it’s your responsibility as my friend,” Jon replies, glowering at her. Basira, using skills she likely picked up from Daisy, doesn’t react to the glower in the slightest.

“Yeah?” she says. “Well, I’ll try to remember that in future.”

“Hm. Well, I’m not sure quite how worth it it’ll be now, seeing how the damage has already been done. Tim already has this picture, and you lot do, too, so I can’t imagine-”

“Don’t say you can’t imagine Tim getting any even more embarrassing pictures of you,” Basira interrupts before he can finish. “Because he can. He absolutely can, and you know it.”

“He’s only got a week to do it before he leaves, though. Five days, even. Four, if we’re not including today.”

“Yeah, but he’s still going to come back to London at some point. And besides, I’m pretty sure he’s got a fair few pictures of you from the early days of us all working here that could definitely be considered embarrassing by your standards.”

“Oh,” Jon says, abruptly remembering some other times he’s been around Tim when he wasn’t quite on his best form. “Oh, oh, God, right, yeah, like the- from that-”

“From that time you cried over the Mechs when someone put on some of their music at that one afterparty? Yeah. He still has pictures of you sobbing.”

“Oh, Christ, he does, doesn’t he?”

“Mhmm.”

“At least he didn’t put them online, I suppose.”

“Yeah, small mercies. They still exist, though.”

“…In my defence, they’re a very good band, Basira.”

“They are,” Basira replies, “but you still cried.”

“You cried too.”

“Look, we all cried,” Basira says with an exasperated sigh, “but unfortunately, you just so happen to be the stone-hearted bastard that we never get to see cry.”

“Hey!” Jon exclaims. “That’s- that’s not true! I cry! I have feelings! If anything- if anything Daisy should be more of a target for this than me!”

“Well, yeah, sure, but she’s also smart,” Basira replies, ignoring the dark look that Jon shoots at her at the not-so-subtle implication. “She knew to leave the room when the Mechs started playing so that she could cry in the bathroom, or leave the flat entirely, or something like that. She knew to get out of Tim camera-range. Anyway, what I’m saying is that this is hardly the first ‘embarrassing’ picture of you that Tim’s taken, and it’s not going to be the last. You just need to get used to that. At least your nursing boy probably won’t judge you if he sees this one, seeing how he was the one who leant you his jacket.”

Despite himself, Jon smiles. “He did,” he agrees. He can hear his voice softening, can hear the fondness curling around the edges of it. “He- he did do that…” Not just his jacket, either – he’d leant Jon his hoodie to wear home and had gone so far as to call Jon cute when he saw him still wearing it the next morning. He’d done that. Martin had done that. He’d leant Jon his jacket, and his hoodie, and he’d called Jon cute. He’d called Jon hot.

He’d told Jon that he was dating him for him.

He’d kissed him.

“…Jon?”

Jon looks up at Basira, blinking. “Mm?”

Basira raises a hand, gesturing at Jon’s face with a faint smile dancing around her lips. “See this?” she asks, waving her hand again. “All of- all of this? This is exactly what I was talking about. This is your Martin face. Your happy Martin face, specifically. You look kind of like someone in one of those Christmas romance films, you know? But in a good way.”

“…Thank you?” Jon says. “Though you do realise that I can’t see my own face right now, right?”

“Eh, you’re smart, I’m sure you can figure out what you look like. When are you next seeing your boy again, anyway?”

“Tomorrow,” Jon replies immediately. “It’s- Martin goes back on shift on Wednesday so we wanted to, ah, to try and see each other before then.”

“Yeah?” Basira asks, sounding genuinely delighted. “What are you getting up to?”

“We’re just- we’re just getting lunch,” Jon answers, fighting desperately to keep his face neutral. He’s not lying to Basira. He’s not lying to Basira. He’s very carefully not lying to Basira, because he knows all too well just how good Basira is at spotting lies, so he’s not lying. He’s just carefully, quietly, not mentioning that he’s also going to be seeing Martin later that week on Friday, when he shows up at his flat to stay the night. Basira doesn’t need to know that.

Basira’s smile widens. “That’s it?” she asks.

Jon swallows. “Yes.”

“Nothing else going on?”

“N-no, that’s- that’s it for Tuesday. Just lunch and- um. Just lunch.”

“…Jon?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re a terrible liar.”

“I’m not lying,” Jon protests immediately.

Basira shrugs, leaning back in her chair. “Hm, well, maybe not, but there’s definitely something that you’re not saying. Lies of omission are a thing too, you know.”

“I- I know.”

“Anyway,” Basira continues, mercifully abandoning the subject, “I actually came down here to tell you something. Something work-related, that is, beyond all the… all the everything else.”

“Oh?” Jon asks. “What?”

Basira nods towards the door. “Elias was looking for you earlier. Apparently, he wants to discuss something.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“And you didn’t think to lead with that?”

“He said there was no rush. And besides, I wanted to bug you about Martin. Not to mention that it’s getting kind of loud up in the lighting box – Tim’s been digging out his snack collection from all over the place and generally trying to get his stuff in order. It’s going about as well as you’d expect.”

“Oh. Oh, God, do you- does he need any help with it?”

Basira shrugs. “No idea, I didn’t ask. He seemed to be doing fine, though. He was singing along to Disney tunes when I left him. I don’t think he actually noticed me leave. I think he might have roped Michael in to help him out too, though I’m really not sure if anything that Michael does would count as ‘helping.’”

“So the entire lighting box is a chaos zone, currently?”

“Yeah, more or less.”

With a sigh, Jon heaves himself out of his chair. His hips and knees greet him with a symphony of cracks and clicks as he stands, making Basira wince, but he pays them no heed. He’s accustomed to the noises that his joints like to make when he hasn’t moved around enough, and besides, it’s not like they hurt enough to be annoying.

“Right,” he says, “I don’t suppose you know where Elias is at the moment, do you?”

“Probably in his office, where he normally is,” Basira replies, still giving him a bit of a weird look.

“Thank you, I did assume that. I just thought he might be out, ah, inspiring the company.”

Basira snorts. “He’s not, thank God. At least, I haven’t seen him yet.”

“That’s a relief, I suppose. Well, wish me luck,” Jon says, smiling slightly, and then, before Basira has a chance to reply, he leaves, and sets off to find Elias.

Even if the meeting is awful, he figures, at least he can still look forward to lunch with Martin.

---

"So,” Martin says at lunch the next day, “how’s work been treating you?”

Jon hums neutrally, poking at the food on his plate. “About as well as can be expected?” he replies. “What with the new Leitner, and Tim leaving, and all that. It’s been- well, sort of busy, I suppose? Busier than it was last week, at least, but that’s to be expected. Mostly it’s just a little- a little odd, I suppose. Elias is being Elias, which we’re all sort of accustomed to by now, but Tim leaving at the same time just… I don’t know. It makes things feel a little off-balance.”

“Do you have a replacement lined up for him?” Martin asks, only to immediately pull a slight face. “God, sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. ‘Replacement’ sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? I just- what I mean is that… Tim does something with sound, right?”

Jon nods. “Yes, he’s the sound engineer and operator. He sets up the microphones and does sound checks and plays the Pokémon theme in the auditorium when he feels like we need to ‘lift our spirits.’”

“Really?”

“Mhmm.”

“Hm, sounds fun.”

“It’s certainly an experience, I can say that much. Daisy seems to enjoy it, though, which is why Tim’s been able to get away with playing it for so long.”

For a moment, Martin just gapes at him. Jon lifts his mug, hiding a smile behind it as he takes a sip.

Eventually, Martin speaks again.

Daisy?” he says. “She- really?”

Jon lowers his mug, setting it down with a little click of porcelain against wood. “Mm, really. Apparently she watched and played a lot of Pokémon when she was younger so she doesn’t mind it when Tim blasts it loud enough for Melanie and I to hear it down in the basement. Apparently, it brings back fond memories for her. I think she’s secretly a little upset that there likely won’t be any more unexpected Pokémon music when Tim leaves.”

“Do you know who the new person is?” Martin asks. “Maybe- maybe they’ll play Pokémon music?”

Jon nods. “I do, though I can’t comment on the Pokémon music yet, sadly. Sorry to let you down. I think Elias has been interviewing people for the last few weeks, which is, ah, concerning. I mean, I know he’s the director and all, and he also owns the place, and is possibly using it as an illegal money-laundering front or something, and he can be quite charming when he needs to be, but still, it’s… he’s…”

“Elias?” Martin offers, and Jon can’t help but smile at him.

“Yes,” he agrees. “He’s Elias. Admittedly, everyone that he’s hired so far has been quite exceptional, but I do sometimes wonder if he’s perhaps the best, ah, introduction to the theatre we could give to someone.”

Martin shrugs, absently lifting a hand to brush a strand of hair back from his face. Just for a moment, Jon finds himself fixated on Martin’s hand, on the shape of his knuckles and the curve of his fingers and the delicacy with which he moves his hair, and then the moment passes. “Well,” Martin says slowly, “you’ve said before that everyone has to meet Elias eventually right. For a- a performance review? Right. Well, if they have to meet Elias at some point, it might as well be early on so they can get it over and done with. See what the absolute worst the theatre has to offer is. Decide if they want to slam a door in his face and- and burn his files, or something like that.”

“God, I hope they don’t burn his files. I’m the one who has to sift through all of them, and I’ve had concerns for a long time about how flammable the theatre is-”

“It was a joke, Jon,” Martin interrupts, smiling. He reaches out, brushing his knuckles against the back of Jon’s hand where it still lies curled around his mug. Beneath the table, his knee presses warm again Jon’s. “It was a joke. I don’t- I don’t think anyone would really set fire to anything in the theatre just because of a bad interview.”

“You’d be surprised at some of the people Elias interviews,” Jon replies, trying not to give away how fast his heart is beating just from those few small, simple touches. “But, anyway… yes, we do have a new sound engineer, as far as I know. Some young man or another called Mike Crew, I believe.”

“Didn’t you say you already have a Michael in the cast?” Martin asks, instantly making Jon’s entire mind flood with warmth at how Martin remembered one tiny, throwaway detail that Jon’s fairly certain he’s only mentioned twice at most. “Isn’t that going to confuse things?”

Jon shrugs, forcing his face into some semblance of neutrality so that he doesn’t look too absurdly smitten in the middle of a café. “W-well, maybe, but we only have the two of them, so I think we’ll be alright. It’s not like we have seven people all called different variations of ‘Mike’ or ‘Michael’, though I think Michael would be rather delighted if we did. He’s quite enthusiastic about that sort of… of low-key chaos, I suppose.”

“Mm, I’ve gathered that.”

“It might- I mean, I’m sure that having a Mike and a Michael will certainly add to the chaos at least a little bit, but I’m sure things will be calmer once Tim leaves. I- I mean- I love Tim, or course I do, Tim’s fantastic, and his brother’s lovely, too, but he’s… he can be a little, ah… loud, sometimes.”

Martin nods understandingly. “Finger guns,” he says. “Cool beans.”

“Yes.”

“Anti-tetanus gang t-shirts.”

Jon laughs quietly. “Hah, yes, those too. He’s- he’s a force of nature, is Tim.”

“He was, um… he was certainly a character, when I met him. I- I mean, he was nice, definitely, he was lovely, all your friends are lovely, but Tim was, um…”

“He’s a theatre person,” Jon says understandingly. “He’s a theatre person, and we’re all theatre people, and Elias is simultaneously the most and least theatre-ey of all of us. Mostly he’s just a pain, though.”

“I’ve gathered.”

“Elias had a meeting with me yesterday, actually,” Jon continues, stabbing viciously at his salad as though he could, out of sheer workplace-related annoyance, somehow transfer the violence from salad leaves to his boss. He doesn’t think that he can, seeing how all past attempts at salad-inflicted-unpleasantness have failed, but he’s willing to try.

Martin instantly pulls a face. “I’m guessing it wasn’t a good one?”

Jon stabs at his salad again. Part of him is starting to feel a bit bad for it. Most of him is too annoyed at Elias to care. “Meetings with Elias are rarely good, Martin. But this one- suffice to say, I think this one went worse than usual.”

“Oh. Do I- do I want to know why?”

“Probably not.”

“You sure? If you- Jon, if you need to vent, you’re more than welcome to. I don’t mind. Really.”

Jon shakes his head, even as something warm curls around his heart at Martin’s words. “I don’t think you’ll want me to recount what it was like trying to convince Elias that bringing an actual horse into the theatre for a play might not be a good idea.”

“Oh. Oh! Is this- I’ve heard about this!” Jon looks up, more than a little surprised by the sudden enthusiasm in Martin’s voice. Martin shifts a hand, tapping his fingers together as his brow furrows, but he looks excited, somehow, keen and interested and slightly annoyed, like he can’t quite remember what he wants to. “It’s- there’s that- there’s a saying, right? Never work with- with children and animals! That’s it!” He looks back at Jon, grinning widely.

Just for a moment, Jon feels his heart stop.

Martin looks so… so… he looks so Martin. A few curls of hair are falling into his face, hanging loose before his eyes but somehow not blocking the view of them in the slightest. He looks excited, proud that he’d managed to remember the saying correctly and proud that he’d been able to contribute to the conversation, and, for just a moment, Jon can’t think of anything at all but the sound of Martin’s voice and the slight flush on his cheeks and the colour of his eyes and his everything. He can’t think of anything but Martin. He doesn’t want to think of anything but Martin.

He so, so badly wants to kiss him.

But, frustratingly, there’s a table between them.

“Y-yes,” he says, barely aware of how faintly hoarse his own voice is. “Y-yes, that’s- that’s exactly it. Um.” He shakes his head. “S-sorry,” Jon mutters. “I’ve been- you’ve been letting me complain at you about my job and how tiring it is but I know that yours is significantly more exhausting. I can- I’ll be quiet now. You can- how’s your week been?”

“Pretty good, actually,” Martin replies. “You can keep complaining if you need to, Jon. I don’t mind.”

“No, no, it’s- this hardly makes for good date conversation. And besides, I like hearing about your day, Martin.”

“…You sure?”

“Mhmm.”

“It’s really not very exciting.”

Jon shrugs. “I’d like to know anyway,” he says. “It’s- I’d like to know.” I’d like to know you.

“Well… if you’re sure…” Martin begins slowly. He still looks a little concerned and so Jon gives him a small, encouraging smile, nodding just slightly. “I- I mean, I bought groceries on Sunday, but you already knew that. That’s honestly the most exciting thing I’ve done since you were over at my flat, I think – apart from that it’s mostly been cleaning the flat, making sure I’ve got stuff frozen for when I go back on shift. Twelve-hour shifts are always rough, especially when they swap you to night ones, but they’re- I’ve got enough stuff prepared to not have to worry about cooking. I am swapping to night shifts next week, though, I think I-”

“Yeah, you said, you- you texted me about it.”

“-yeah, right, exactly.” Martin pauses, looking at Jon with a smile so soft that Jon can feel his toes curling from it. “Thank you for the pigeon picture, by the way,” he adds quietly. One hand reaches across the table, the action almost subconscious, and Jon doesn’t even hesitate before taking it, curling his fingers around Martin’s and squeezing gently. “When I was- when I was complaining about what I’ve chosen to do for the rest of my life. That was- it was a really good pigeon.”

“You said you liked pigeons,” Jon says weakly. “I- you said you liked pigeons. You think they’re cute.”

“They are cute. And it’s not their fault that we domesticated them and then abandoned them, you know, that’s-”

“I know, I know, you’ve told me about the plight of pigeons, I just- I saw that brown and white pigeon wandering around outside the theatre and it- it reminded me of you,” Jon continues. He can feel his ears starting to burn the longer Martin looks at him. “It was- it looked, um, cute. And sweet. And it made me think about what you said about how sad it is that we collectively decided that pigeons were unfashionable and let them go, but they were already domesticated so they couldn’t really go back to being wild birds, so I thought I’d take a picture of it for you.” He shrugs. “It made more sense at the time,” he mutters, glancing away. “I’m just- I’m glad you liked the pigeon, Martin.”

Martin squeezes his hand. Beneath the table, his foot nudges against Jon’s, tapping once before coming to rest; another tether drawn between the two of them. “Thank you,” he says again, his voice quiet but still audible over the background chatter of the shop. “Really. That was really sweet of you, Jon. And if you happen to see any more pigeons that remind you of me, please feel free to send them my way.”

“Even while you’re on shift?”

Especially while I’m on shift,” Martin says emphatically. His thumb starts rubbing gently against Jon’s hand, but he gives no indication of having noticed that he’s doing it. “I mean, you already brighten up my day enough just by texting me – a good pigeon picture is really just going to add to that.”

Jon smiles. “And good cow pictures?” he asks. “Are those permitted while you’re on shift?”

“Good cow pictures are always permitted,” Martin replies. “There is never a time when good cow pictures aren’t permitted.” He smiles again, just as heart-stopping as before. Jon thinks that, one day, he would like to take Martin to a farm petting zoo, just so that Martin could pet a cow. Shockingly, there’s not a lot of cows in London, and he doesn’t know how far they’d have to go to encounter them, but he’s not bothered by that. Even if they have to go all the way up to Scotland so that Martin can meet the Highland cows he loves so much, Jon thinks it’ll be worth it. It’ll be worth it to see Martin smile in that soft, delighted way that he does sometimes, like he can’t entirely believe what he’s seeing.

He’d smiled like that after Jon had kissed him, Jon remembers. He’d smiled like that whenever Jon had caught his eye the next day. He’d smiled like that when Jon had run a hand through his hair while kissing him on the sofa, all slow and lazy and sweet like honey. Jon loves Martin’s smile. He loves all of Martin’s smiles. He loves-

In Jon’s pocket, his phone buzzes sharply, twice.

Almost without thinking Jon digs it out, and the messages he sees on the screen bring his thoughts about Martin to a sudden, shrieking stop.

[Text from: Elias Bitchard] Jon. Need you back at the theatre ASAP.
[Text from: Elias Bitchard] I’ve had an idea.

Jon doesn’t groan in frustration, but it’s a near thing. He tries not to react too visibly, tries to keep calm, but Martin responds immediately all the same.

“What is it?” he asks. “Is it-”

“It’s Elias,” Jon confirms. “He’s got… well, it doesn’t actually say. He just says that he’s had ‘an idea.’”

Martin pulls a face. “Sounds ominous.”

“Coming from Elias, it definitely is.”

“Mm, I can imagine.” Martin pauses, fidgeting with the edge of his napkin. “Is he- I mean, was that it?”

Jon shakes his head. He doesn’t respond to the texts, sliding his phone back into his pocket without giving it a second glance, but now that they’re in his head, he can’t ignore them. “He wants me back at the theatre,” he says with a sigh. “He probably wants to talk about… about whatever his idea is. You know, ask me if it’s feasible to cover the entire stage with several inches of meat for the Flesh bit of the play, and then ignore me anyway when I try to tell him how incredibly awful an idea that is.”

“The what bit of the play?”

“Spoilers,” Jon replies instantly, making Martin roll his eyes at him with a small smile. It’s a tiny action, practically insignificant, but it makes him feel warm anyway, seeing this little acknowledgement that Martin is genuinely going to come and see his play. He hasn’t bought a ticket yet because they haven’t gone on sale due to how Elias still hasn’t decided when he wants them to perform, but he is going to see the play. Martin doesn’t care about spoilers, and so he rolls his eyes when Jon mentions them, but he’s still going to see Jon’s play, in however many months from now it is that it’s on. He’s dedicated to this. He’s dedicated to their relationship.

He’s dedicated to Jon.

“Fine,” Martin mutters, his voice laced with fond teasing. “Fine, fine, don’t tell me why your director wants to cover an entire stage with meat. Leave me in the dark. I see how it is.”

“I don’t want to ruin the surprise,” Jon replies. He can’t stop himself from smiling back even as he starts shifting his chair, scooting back to make space to rise from the table. Martin watches him move, their hands still joined, but when Jon finally, reluctantly lets go, his expression starts to falter.

“Jon?” Martin asks. “Couldn’t you- couldn’t you pretend not to have got his texts?” His voice sounds simultaneously hopeful and hopeless, like he doesn’t know whether or not he should be saying what he’s saying. “You could- I mean, it’s not like he knows, right? You could- you could say that your phone was out of battery.”

Jon sighs. “I could,” he admits. “But it’s- Elias is… I need to get back. I don’t want to let him down.”

“It’s not letting him down to have your lunch break, Jon. That’s just- that’s just looking after yourself.”

“I know, but… it’s Elias,” Jon says hopelessly.

“And Elias somehow knows when you’ve seen your texts.”

“He does if you have read receipts on.”

“…Oh. Oh, right, yeah, that’s- fair point.”

“Which I- which I don’t, by the way.”

Martin smiles. “I know, Jon. We do kind of text all the time, you know.”

 “O-oh, yes, I’m- I know. That’s- I’m just- I like talking to you a lot, Martin. You’re, um…”

“Very yes?”

“…yes.” Jon sighs again. “But it’s- this is… I don’t want to go, you know, because I- I really do enjoy…this-” he lifts a hand, waving it at the two of them, “-getting lunch with you, a-and going on dates with you, and all of- all of this, but Elias… I have to. It’s- yeah.” He swallows. He can’t meet Martin’s eyes. He can’t find the words to explain himself, either, and he hates that, hates it so goddamn much because it means that Martin won’t understand why he has to go, that he does have to go, because you can’t just say ‘no’ to Elias. Or, at the very least, Jon can’t just say ‘no’ to Elias. He’s never been able to. But he doesn’t know how to explain that to Martin. He doesn’t know how to make Martin understand.

Jon risks a glance up. Martin is still looking at him, his face creased in concern. “Jon,” he starts, his voice soft and quiet, and then cuts himself off. He opens and closes his mouth a few times, looking like he’s trying to say something more, but then he sighs and says, with no trace of frustration in his voice, “Alright.”

Jon blinks at him. “You- alright?”

“Yeah,” Martin replies. He finishes his lunch in two quick bites and then pushes his own chair back, standing as Jon does. “It’s- this is theatre people stuff, I’m assuming. Specifically, Elias theatre people stuff. And you’re- I know your job is important to you, Jon.” He holds the door open for Jon as they reach it, following him outside into the chilly autumn drizzle. “If you- if you need to get back to the theatre, then get back to the theatre, alright? Do what you need to do. We can always get lunch again later, and I’m seeing you later this week anyway!”

For a while, all Jon can do is stare at Martin. All he can do is stare at Martin, and watch the mist-fine rain gather in his hair, and marvel at how understanding Martin is. At how kind Martin is. At how Martin just accepts Jon’s job, and Jon’s life, and Jon with all his flaws and problems, and doesn’t seem to judge him for any of them. He’s incredible. He’s wonderful.

Jon needs to kiss Martin.

So he does.

Jon leans in, pressing his lips to Martin’s in a quick kiss and doing his very best to ignore how much his stomach flutters as he does so. He knows that this is fine. He knows that this is allowed. He’s a grown man, and Martin is a grown man, and they have talked about this, but that somehow doesn’t make it any less exciting that he can just lean in and kiss Martin whenever he wants. The kiss is barely anything at all, just a dry brush of lips against lips, but somehow the sheer simplicity of it makes it all the more important to Jon. It’s just casual, easy like they’ve done it a hundred times before. And, yes, admittedly they have kissed a lot over the last handful of days, but not really like this. Not in this casual, easy, simple way. They’d shared plenty of kisses over the weekend, of course, but they’d been… different, somehow. Exciting. There’d been a small thrill beneath each one, even when they were just absent kisses traded during the advert break of Antiques Roadshow. They’d still been new. They’d still held that wonder for Jon that he was allowed to do that.

And, somehow, this kiss holds that wonder too, in an entirely different way. It’s thrilling not because it’s a new, exciting thing, happening immediately after a conversation that had been far more emotional than Jon had honestly expected it to be, but instead it’s thrilling exactly because it’s so simple. It’s thrilling because it means there will be more kisses like this. It’s thrilling because it isn’t exciting, because there’s no urgency, now. They can kiss whenever they want. It’s wonderful.

Jon’s well aware that he’s starting to think like a character in a romance novel, and does his best to dismiss that inclination from his mind as he leans back from the kiss. It’s hard, though. It’s hard to stop being sappy and romantic and generally completely smitten when Martin’s smiling at him like that, like Jon hung the sun and moon for him when all he actually did was give him a quick, fleeting kiss on the lips.

“See you on Friday?” Martin asks quietly. His voice is soft, barely audible over the sound of the street, but Jon hears him anyway.

He smiles. “Yeah,” he says. “I’ll see you on Friday. Eight o’clock, right?”

“Yeah. Well, there abouts. Depends when my mentor lets me off-shift, but we’re meant to be finishing at seven so I should be back home by eight to let you in.”

“That’s fine. I might be running a little late, too. I’ll just- text me when you’re ready for me to head over, alright?”

Martin smiles back. “Alright,” he says, and Jon feels himself smiling wider still. He can feel himself starting to get excited just from thinking about it. He’s going to be staying the night at Martin’s. Or, more accurately, he’s going to be staying the night at Martin’s again. He’s going to be staying at Martin’s, where he can kiss and cuddle and touch him as much as he wants without anyone else knowing or seeing, and he’s going to be there because Martin wants him to be there. Because Martin had been the one to ask him on Sunday if he wanted to stay over again, calling Jon almost the moment he’d got home from Lidl.

“I’ll see you on Friday,” Jon says again, and feels Martin squeeze his hand.

“See you on Friday,” Martin echoes. There’s a brief beat of calm, quiet stillness, and then, before Jon can react, Martin ducks his head and kisses Jon again. It’s a firmer kiss than the one that Jon had given him, solid and certain, and Jon can feel himself melting into it almost immediately, his free hand raising to brush his knuckles against Martin’s stomach. Martin’s jumper is soft against his skin, his lips soft against Jon’s, and when they part barely a second later, Jon almost has to remind himself to breathe.

“Oh,” he says, blinking. “I- okay.”

“Sorry,” Martin replies. “Was that- was that alright? We haven’t really, um, we haven’t really discussed kissing in public yet.”

“No, yeah, that was- that was fine. It was- that was,” Jon stammers. He licks his lips. “Um. More than fine, actually. I- thank you.”

There’s a pause.

“…Jon,” Martin says slowly, as he starts to smile, “did you just thank me? For kissing you?”

Jon looks away. “Uh… yes?”

“…Jon?”

“Yes?”

“That was very sweet of you.”

Jon looks back at Martin. Martin’s looking at him with an expression that Jon can’t entirely decipher, like he’s caught halfway between fondness and amusement but with something else mixed in that makes Jon feel pleasantly warm all over, as though he’d just stepped out into summer sunlight. Martin looks entertained, definitely, but it’s more than just that. It’s more than just affection. Jon doesn’t know exactly what it is that Martin’s feeling, but he desperately wants to. He wants to know if Martin feels the same warmth that he does, if Martin feels the same non-excitement-excitement that he does, if Martin feels as warm and as affectionate and as completely, hopelessly, romance-novel-ey smitten as he does. Maybe Martin does. Jon certainly hopes so.

But he doesn’t know. He won’t know. He’s not- he’s not going to ask Martin that. Not now. Not here. He can’t.

And so, instead, Jon stretches up, and kisses Martin again, capturing his soft, surprised sound before leaning away again.

“Bye, Martin,” he murmurs, and then he takes a breath, steps back, and prepares himself for yet another meeting with Elias.

---

Martin watches Jon go, trying not to stare too obviously as Jon vanishes down the street. His lips are still lifted in a small smile, his whole body warm from their date and the surprise kiss and their plans for Friday, but as the seconds tick by, he can feel that warmth starting to fade, something in his mind beginning to needle at him. He doesn’t think Jon even really noticed what he said, not in the same way that he himself had, but he still feels bad about it. He still feels bad about what he suggested.

Martin wants to say that it felt selfish, asking Jon to stay for just a little bit longer, but it didn’t. It was selfish, at least a little bit, and he knows that, but it didn’t feel it. He’d wanted to spend more time with Jon. He’s pretty certain that Jon had wanted to spend more time with him. And they’d had more time, too – they’d still had some fifteen minutes or so until Jon’s lunch break, insofar as he had one, came to a close, and that was even after they took a few minutes out of it for Jon to walk back to the theatre. Maybe it’s pathetic, just how much Martin wants to spend time with Jon, but he can’t help it. He likes Jon. He really, really, really likes Jon, and Jon likes him, and it’s- he’s…

Martin sighs. Was it selfish? Was it possessive? Was he- Christ, was he being some sort of massive arsehole by trying to- to dictate what Jon did with his time? Martin gives his head a little shake, hunkering down further inside his jacket as he continues along the street, feeling the cool wind drifting around his neck and toying with his hair. He’s not being an arsehole, surely. He wasn’t demanding that Jon spend his lunchtime with him or anything like that. He’d just wanted to see him for a little while longer. That was all. He’d just wanted to see him, and talk with him, and hold his hand and kiss his cheek and hug him and just be with him, however possible. He hadn’t wanted Jon to leave. That’s not selfishness.

…Right?

He wants to text someone, Martin realises belatedly. He wants to text someone, or call someone, or in some way talk to someone and ask for their advice, get a second opinion from someone who knows both him and Jon and can tell him if he’s being a dick or not. He doesn’t think that he is, but now that the seed of doubt has planted itself he can feel the roots of it started to grow, winding their way through his thoughts. He doesn’t want to be a dick. He really, really doesn’t want to be a dick, even accidentally. He likes Jon. He likes Jon a lot. He wants Jon to be happy, and content, and to be himself.

What he needs, Martin realises, is to talk to a friend.

The moment the thought makes itself known, Martin can’t stop himself from giving a little snort of wry, unamused laughter. Of course. Of course he needs to talk a friend. Of course he, Martin Blackwood, needs to talk to someone else to try and get his own thoughts in order. Martin doesn’t even bother opening his phone. He’s all too well aware of the frankly pitiful number of contacts that he has. He could, he supposes, contact someone from his nursing course at uni that he’s got on WhatsApp for the single purpose of sharing essay references, but he doesn’t really know them. He just… acknowledges them, and they acknowledge him. And that’s fine. That’s always been fine. He’s fine. He’s accustomed to it. And he- it’s not like he actually needs to talk to anyone else, either. He’s talked himself through problems countless times before. He can talk himself through this one. He can sit down, on his own, in his flat, and figure this out.

Martin forces himself to take a breath. He can taste the fumes of London on the back of his throat, mingling with the scent of the cool, damp air. He can’t smell Jon, now, not like he could when he kissed him. He misses him already. Martin takes another breath, holding it just for a second before exhaling again. This is fine. He’s being ridiculous. He’s definitely being ridiculous. He’s not being an arsehole, and he’s not being a dick, and he’s not being selfish or possessive for wanting to spend more time with his- with his…

With his what?

All of a sudden, Martin becomes very, very aware of the shape of his phone pressing against his leg. What are he and Jon? They’re more than just dating at this point – or at least, Martin likes to think that they are. They’ve kissed, multiple times, and Jon’s stayed the night at Martin’s, and Martin has met Jon’s friends, and they’re definitely no longer in the weird, uncertain phase of dating where they’re not sure if anything serious is going to come of it. They both seem pretty serious about it. Martin knows that he’s pretty serious about it, if nothing else, and Jon’s given no indication of being on a different page. He texts Martin just as much as Martin texts him. More, even, if only due to how it’s sort of hard to reply to texts when you’re working a busy A&E ward. Martin’s not been keeping count. He’s not. He’s just- he’s just excited that Jon texts him, and that Jon calls him, and that Jon likes him and wants to spend time with him and wants to kiss him and introduce him to his friends. All of those things mean something. Martin knows that. They all speak of closeness and intimacy in their varied, countless ways. They speak of the potential for something more.

They speak of him and Jon, and of whatever they may be.

If Martin’s entirely honest, he doesn’t actually know.

But that’s alright. Martin doesn’t really mind what they are. He’s never been particularly bothered by labels, and he especially doesn’t feel the need to label whatever it is that he has with Jon. He likes what he has with Jon. He likes what he has with Jon, and he feels fairly confident in saying that Jon seems to like it, too. Certainly he knows that Jon likes him, and that thought alone is enough to make Martin smile to himself as he approaches his tube stop. Jon likes him. Jon really, truly, properly likes him, and Martin knows this because Jon told him. Because Jon kissed him. Because Jon wanted to kiss him, and he wanted them to go on this date, and he wants to spend time with Martin. He’s not being selfish. Martin isn’t being selfish. He just likes Jon. He just likes Jon a lot.

Martin hurries down the stairs into the tube station, feeling the air growing damp and clammy about him. He can’t stop himself from smiling. The more he thinks about it, the more he feels his anxiety starting to fade. He’s alright. Jon’s alright. And whatever they have… that’s alright, too.

Chapter Text

Friday starts with Tim leaving. 

It’s a somewhat more sombre affair than the Spoons outing, though still extremely cheerful and upbeat thanks to Tim’s constant Tim-ish-ness. He gathers them all together in the open loading bay at the back of the theatre, running around the building like an excited puppy who’s trying very hard not to get caught as he secrets them away from Elias and the rest of the theatre staff with a remarkable lack of subtlety. He manages to get them all gathered together by 10am, because apparently ‘it’s not like Elias can fire me for arriving late or leaving early at this point’.

Jon finds himself inclined to agree with him.

“I’m going to miss you, you absolute prat,” Basira says affectionately, stepping in to give Tim a hug. Even from where he’s standing, Jon can see how tightly she squeezes him, and he knows from experience how tightly Tim is squeezing back. Until very recently, he’d been in agreement with the rest of the crew that Tim hugs were, quite possibly, the best hugs anywhere on the planet. After hugging Martin, though, he’s no longer so sure. Tim hugs are good – he’s not going to deny that – and they’re helped by the fact that, beneath all the finger guns and ‘cool beans’ Tim is genuinely a lovely individual, but they’re not… they’re not quite… they’re not Martin.

Jon shakes his head, hoping that no one saw the love-struck expression that he’s sure had just covered his face. Thankfully, it seems that everyone else is too preoccupied watching Tim briefly trying his best to lift Basira off her feet in the hug as she says something to him, making him laugh before he replies.

“I’ll miss you too,” Tim’s saying. He turns his head, pressing a quick kiss to Basira’s cheek that makes her smile wider, and then sets her down and steps back, still holding her shoulders gently. “Look after yourself, will you? And the rest of this lot,” he adds, gesturing at them without looking away. “I mean, not Daisy, obviously, because she’s stronger than all of us and is more than capable of looking after herself, but the others. Look after my replacement too. Make sure that Mike NewGuy knows all the best snack-hiding spots. Keep me in the gossip loop.”

“I can keep you in the gossip loop as well,” Melanie offers. “Why does Basira get to be chief gossip-relay-er?”

“Because she knows things,” Tim replies, looking over with a roll of his eyes. “And- no, yeah, right, don’t interrupt, I was just about to say that you and Jon and Daisy and Gerry all know things too, but you get really aggressive in your gossip-sharing, Daisy sends gossip updates like she’s commandeering a battleship or something, and Jon texts like an old man. Makes me feel like I’m getting gossip updates from my grandad.”

“What about Gerry?” Jon asks, pointedly ignoring the ‘old man’ comment.

Tim grins. “He’s already agreed to it. He’s going to give me the gossip updates that Basira might miss.”

“Actually, I said that I’d collaborate with her,” Gerry replies. “If you recall.”

“Collaborate, cover for… it’s all the same, really.”

“It’s really not.”

Anyway,” Tim says loudly, stepping away from Basira. “Less talking, more hugging! Come here!”

Gerry sighs, but Jon can see the smile on his face when he steps forwards into Tim’s embrace. Tim hugs him with just as much enthusiasm as he hugged Basira, squeezing him close and likewise kissing him on the cheek when they part. After Gerry, it’s Melanie’s turn, and then Daisy’s, and finally Jon lets himself be pulled into Tim’s embrace, not even bothering to pretend to resist. There’s no shame in enjoying Tim’s hugs, not now. Not here.

Jon hears Tim exhale in a long, content-sounding sigh, one his hands patting his back a few times before squeezing him. Jon lifts his arms without thinking about it, winding them around Tim and hugging him back as tightly as he can. Tim, it seems, notices the attempt – he laughs quietly, his voice soft and familiar, and squeezes Jon tighter still before turning his head to kiss him on the cheek.

“Tell Martin that I say bye, will you?” Tim asks, stepping back from hugging Jon with a grin. “I mean, I’d love to hug him, too, but he’s sort of not here, so I’ll need you to pass the message along for me. Tell him that he’s welcome to text me whenever he wants, and that I owe him a hug, and that he can always come visit me, and that me and him really need to go to Spoons again at some point and have some good old lads and blokes time together.”

“I’ll do that,” Jon promises, ignoring the delighted humming at the back of his mind at how easily Tim has accepted Martin being a facet in Jon’s life. “I’ll- I’ll text him once I get back inside.”

“Awesome,” Tim replies. He looks at Jon, scanning his face as though he’s looking for something. Jon looks back at him. He can’t quite make out the expression on Tim’s face, and after a second or so Tim’s smile starts to slip, his expression turning serious. “Jon?”

“…Yeah?”

“I’m really happy for you, you know,” Tim says quietly. He glances at Jon’s eyes and then looks away, only to look back at him a split second later, his eyes soft and serious. “Really, Jon. I’m really happy for you. I’m glad that you’ve found Martin. He seems really nice, and it’s pretty clear to me that you two like each other. It’s nice that you’re smiling more often. So… be good to him, yeah? Keep me updated with what’s going on? Keep smiling some more so that your face gets used to it?”

“I will,” Jon says quietly. It’s all he can think to say. “I- I will. I promise.”

“Good.” Tim claps Jon on the shoulder again and smiles, his grin covering the seriousness that he just exhibited like a mask. He takes another step back, turning towards the others. “Right! Any last requests for a hug? A serenade? Anything else you lot want before I head off?”

“Just go,” Basira says, shaking her head with a laugh.

“Yeah! And have fun on your road trip!” Melanie adds.

Tim beams back at her, a sparkle of something mischievous but not malicious in his eyes. “Oh, I will,” he promises. He lifts his phone, wiggling it at them. “This baby is loaded and ready to go. Petey-boy’s going to have the time of his life on the way up, trust me.”

Jon smiles. “Tim?” he asks.

“Yeah, ex-boss-man?”

Jon pulls a slight face at the name, but doesn’t react to it otherwise. He’s got more important things to ask. “Could I- is there any chance I could ask a favour of you while you’re driving up?”

“Sure,” Tim replies easily. “What is it?”

“If you- if you get the chance, I don’t suppose you’d be able to, ah, record your road trip for us, would you? Just some of it? Namely, Peter reacting to a few of the songs I’m sure you’ve got prepared.”

Yes,” Melanie exclaims, even before Tim gets a chance to reply. “You- yes, Tim, you need to- you need to do that. Promise me that you’re going to do that. I need to see Mr Lukas reacting to Cats. Tell me that you have Cats on your phone.”

“Of course I have Cats on my phone,” Tim replies, looking genuinely a little offended. “I’m- Christ, Melanie, who do you take me for? Of course I’ve got Cats on my phone, I’m not a- I’m not a monster. Jesus.”

“I was just checking! These things matter, Tim!”

“I’m not going to go on a road trip of any length without Cats! Even if it wasn’t a road trip with Peter!”

“Well… good! Introduce Peter to Cats!”

“I’m going to introduce Peter to Cats!”

“Tim?” Daisy calls, interrupting the bickering that Jon can see brewing clear as day on the horizon.

Tim looks over at her. “Yeah?”

“Stay safe, alright?”

Tim grins, lifting a hand in a lazy salute. “Will do, Daisy, don’t you fret.”

“Don’t get yourself killed or anything.”

“What, while kayaking?”

“Or driving up. It could happen. Just- you’re a good guy. And you mean a lot to a lot of us, so… look after yourself. Stay safe. Don’t do anything stupid- well, I suppose you’re you. Don’t do anything too stupid.” She smiles. “And don’t be a stranger,” she adds softly. “You’re always welcome to crash on my sofa if you want to visit.”

There’s a pause.

“Wow,” Tim says eventually. “I think that’s the most touching thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

Daisy sniffs, crossing her arms over her chest. “Yeah, well, don’t get used to it.”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t dream of it. That was way too weird for me. I think I actually prefer you when you’re actively being terrifying.”

Daisy grins in a bright flash of teeth. “Good.”

Tim shudders theatrically. “Oof. Yeah, see, that? That right there? That little… that smile? That’s the Daisy I know and love.”

Somehow, impossibly, Daisy’s smile grows even sharper.

Tim shudders again. “Right,” he says, “that’s me off, then! I need to- need to finish packing so Peter can drive me up tomorrow.” Tim steps back, snapping his fingers and fingergunning at them. “I love you all, stay safe, don’t do anything I would, and I’ll see you all… at some point. Peace, guys!” he adds, and then, without waiting for a response, he turns and leaves.

The rest of the theatre crew stand in silence as Tim walks away, eventually turning a corner and vanishing from sight. From beyond the open loading bay doors Jon can hear the ceaseless noise of London, busses and cars and pedestrians overlapping each other in an unending blur of noise. It’s not peaceful, but it’s familiar.

All of a sudden, things feel very, very weird.

Jon frowns to himself. He’d known for months that Tim was planning on leaving, and he’d known for weeks that he was going to, but it still feels… odd. The theatre feels not just quieter in Tim’s absence, but somehow darker, too. Jon raises his head, glancing around at the others. They all look like how he feels, to varying extents – Daisy looks almost entirely unaffected, as does Gerry, but he can still see the slight downturn of their mouths.

“Right,” Daisy says, her voice shattering the silence despite how soft it is. “Back inside, everyone. We’ve all got things we need to be doing.”

No one disagrees with that. They all file back inside, splitting up and heading their own separate ways. Melanie heads towards the stairs down to the basement but Jon doesn’t go with her, for once not following her down to the familiar space. Instead, he finds himself turning to follow Basira as she takes the stairs up to the lighting box that had, until a few minutes ago, more or less doubled as Tim’s office.

“Don’t you have stuff you should be doing?” Basira asks, glancing back over her shoulder as she reaches the top of the stairs and catching Jon’s eye.

Jon shrugs. “Probably,” he agrees. “But it’s- it can wait. Elias will likely just tell me that it needs to be changed anyway.

Basira hums. Her eyes dart over Jon, scanning him from head to toe; Jon doesn’t know what she reads on him, but whatever it is, it makes her face relax into an expression of quiet understanding after barely a second. She nods, inclining her head towards the door to the lighting box. “Yeah, fair enough. Well, you’re welcome to join me up here for a bit, if you want to.”

“Yes, please,” Jon replies quietly. Basira hums again, holding the door open for him and shutting it quietly once he enters. “What is it that you’re doing, anyway?”

“Looking for snacks that Tim missed in his clear-out,” Basira answers. She crosses to Tim’s- to the sound engineer’s desk, pulling open the topmost drawer until it catches on the dent in the desk and gets stuck. The desk itself is almost spotless beyond the myriad of marks and stains that accumulate on every backstage surface at the theatre, with none of the assorted Kinder Egg toys that Tim left to decorate it with left to be seen. It looks barren, desolate and bare, and it makes Jon feel uncomfortable, seeing the absolute absence of any indication of Tim. It looks like he was never there at all. Which, he knows, is rather the point, but that doesn’t make him feel any better.

God, Jon thinks to himself, watching as Basira peers inside the drawer, I’m really going to miss Tim.

“You going to keep watching or are you going to make yourself useful?” Basira asks, not looking up from the drawer. “There’s other drawers and cupboards, you know. If you’re going to stand around looking mopey, you might as well be useful while doing it.”

“I’m not moping,” Jon snaps, removing his glasses and rubbing at his eyes for reasons that have nothing to do with how he’s suddenly feeling a little choked up and everything to do with how horribly dusty it always is in the lighting box. “I’m- I’m- I’m not moping.”

“Didn’t say you were,” Basira replies. “Just said that you were looking mopey. Anyway: are you helping, yes or no? Because you can just sit and hang out and ignore Elias if you really want to, but I will judge you for it, at least just a little bit.”

“…I’ll help.”

“Good, that was the right answer.” Basira fishes a bundle of keys out of her pocket, tossing it to Jon. “One of those will open the cupboard at the back. Make sure that Tim hasn’t left anything in it, will you?”

“Shall do.”

They lapse into a comfortable half-silence after that as they both start checking the various drawers and cupboard scattered throughout the lighting box. Occasionally one of them will speak up, commenting on what they’ve found or, in Basira’s place, exclaiming at the sheer numbers of spiders she unearths, but it’s mostly peaceful, the space quiet and calm and just a little bit too empty.

It’s as Jon is poking through another one of the seemingly infinite cupboards that he feels his phone buzz in his pocket. He digs it out absently, still stretching up to peer at the topmost shelves, but the moment he turns the screen on and checks his messages, all his attention turns to his phone.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Sorry for taking a while to reply, I only just managed to catch a break
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] I really think you’re underestimating my willingness to sneak a dog into my flat though, Jon
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] I know my landlord says I’m not allowed dogs, but I’m willing to risk it
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] I saw a corgi puppy on the way in to the hospital that I meant to text you about
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Because 1) corgi puppies are incredibly adorable and 2) corgi puppies are incredibly tiny
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] I could definitely fit a corgi puppy into my backpack
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Just you watch me
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Anyway, how’s your day been so far? ^-^

Jesus. Jon thinks he feels his heart swell to at least three times its original size as he reads Martin’s texts and then reads them again, smiling to himself the whole time. He lifts a hand, trying pointlessly to hide his smile behind it. He can’t get the image of Martin with a corgi puppy out of his head. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get the image of Martin with a corgi puppy out of his head. He’s fairly sure that if he ever saw Martin and a corgi puppy together, in the same place, he might just die on the spot. He’s not even much of a dog person but he knows that Martin is, and just the thought of how delighted Martin would be to encounter any puppy makes him feel warm down to his bones.

Distantly he hears Basira calling his name, but he doesn’t look up. He taps at the screen, meaning to reply, but all that comes to mind is Martin and a corgi puppy. He can’t think of anything else.

“Jon?” Basira says again, her voice followed by the sound of approaching footsteps. Jon doesn’t look up but he hears her slowing to a stop beside him. “Oh, Christ. Is that-”

“Martin’s texting me,” Jon replies, still not looking at her.

“Yeah, I figured. You’ve got that look on your face again.”

“He’s talking about dogs.”

Jon hears Basira sigh again, but it sounds softer this time, almost fonder. “Yeah?” she echoes. “What kind of dogs? He’d better have a good taste in dogs.”

“Martin has an excellent taste in dogs,” Jon retorts immediately. He looks up to glare at her but Basira’s not looking at him, still focused on the phone in Jon’s hands.

“Hm,” she hums, her eyes scanning the texts. “Well, alright. Corgis are a bit… eh, I dunno, but they’re a solid choice. Still, any dog is better than spiders.”

“…Where are the spiders coming from in this conversation?”

“I found loads of dead ones in some of the cupboards,” Basira replies immediately. “I think I’ve got cobwebs on my clothes. Kind of hard to think about anything but spiders when you see, like, twenty dead ones all at once.”

Jon pulls a face. “Sounds unpleasant. I’ve only encountered one or two.”

“Lucky bastard.” Basira nods down at Jon’s phone, smiling slightly. “What about your nursing boy? Martin? Reckon he’s seen any spiders today?”

“I doubt so,” Jon replies, looking back at his phone. “Not a lot of spiders out in the open in active hospitals, I’d imagine.” He drums his thumbs against the sides of his phone, rereading Martin’s texts once more. He wants to reply, because he loves talking with Martin, but he doesn’t know if it would be rude when he’s having a conversation with Basira at the same time.

Thankfully, Basira solves that internal battle for him.

“So, are you going to text him back?” she asks, making Jon jump. “You keep staring at your phone.”

“I don’t- I didn’t want to be rude.”

“You’re not being rude for texting your boy,” Basira replies, rolling her eyes. “Go on. Be all weirdly adorable. Text him back.”

Jon texts him back.

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] I’m absolutely sure you could smuggle a puppy into your flat, Martin. I’m not disagreeing with you in the slightest.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood] And my day’s been fine so far. Currently I’m cleaning out the lighting box with Basira.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Oh, that sounds nice! Tell Basira I say hi, will you?

“Martin says hi,” Jon says, not looking up.

“Tell him I say hey,” Basira replies. “Also ask him how he feels about spiders.”

Jon dutifully relays her messages.

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] Basira says hey.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood] She also wants me to ask you how you feel about spiders.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] What, really?

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] Apparently.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Oh.
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Well, to be honest, I don’t mind them as much as most people do.
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] I think a lot of people fuss over them for no good reason.

At his side, Jon hears Basira snort.

“Is that so?” she says. “Jon, please tell Martin that I disagree. Please tell Martin that spiders are tiny bastards who die in my lamps but only after filling the inside with cobwebs.”

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] Basira disagrees.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood] Basira says that spiders are bastards.

“Hey, hey, don’t just leave it at that! Tell him the rest of it. He needs to know.”

Jon sighs.

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] Basira says that spiders are bastards who die in her lamps after filling the inside with cobwebs.

“You could text him this yourself, you know,” Jon says absently.

“Can’t,” Basira replies. “I don’t have his number. Only you do.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t look so smug.”

“I’m not looking smug.”

“You’re looking incredibly smug, Jon. Your face is doing its… thing. It’s a well-designed face for looking smug.”

“…”

“That was a compliment,” Basira adds unconvincingly.

Jon looks up at her. “You’ve told me before that Elias has the perfect face for looking incredibly smug,” he reminds her, “so I’m fairly sure that that wasn’t a compliment.”

“Oh. Well, that doesn’t matter. You were looking smug. Has Martin replied?”

Jon looks back down at his phone. “He’s typing.”

“Still?”

“Mm. It seems he has something rather significant to say. Oh- wait. He’s stopped typing.”

Basira leans closer, peering over Jon’s shoulder. “...He’s started again.”

“So he has.”

“Aaand now he’s stopped. Wonder why.”

Jon hums quietly, staring at his phone. After a few more seconds the screen falls dark, reflecting both their faces back at them.

In Jon’s hand, his phone starts buzzing loudly. 

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] >:O
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Basira!
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] How DARE you!!!
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Spiders are NOT bastards!

“I think you wounded him,” Jon says dryly, angling his phone so that Basira can see. Basira snorts, leaning down and peering at the screen, the light of it reflected back in her eyes.

“Huh,” she says. To Jon’s ears, her voice is entirely without mercy. “Jonathan, please inform Martin that spiders have no place in my theatre, and definitely not in my lighting box or rig. Please let Martin know that any spider I encounter will be evicted – politely, with a glass and a piece of card, because I’m not a monster – so that I can actually change the lamps and the gels without encountering burned, shrivelled spider husks. Please kindly inform your beloved that spiders, while useful, also kind of suck and are creepy as all hell.”

“…You want me to send him all of that?” Jon asks, trying and failing not to turn scarlet over ‘your beloved’.

“Yes,” Basira replies, thankfully not looking away from his phone screen. “Right now, please. Off you go.”

 “Would you mind if I abridged it a little?”

“You may abridge it.”

Jon nods to himself, starting to type.

Barely half a second later, Basira stops him with a hand on his arm.

“I said you could abridge it a little,” she says admonishingly. “I didn’t say that you could shorten my entire argument down to- to ‘Basira disagrees and hates all spiders.’ I said way more than that and you know it. Write it again.”

Jon writes it again. He feels it’s not worth the argument, and so, a minute or so later, he sends off an entire block of text to Martin. After barely a second, Martin replies.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Jon, please tell Basira that she is completely incorrect

“Martin says that you’re completely incorrect,” says Jon, not looking up from his phone.

“Tell Martin that he sucks.”

“I am- I am not telling Martin that he sucks.”

“Tell Martin that spiders are not qualified to be above the stage.”

“I don’t think that’s-”

“Tell Martin that spiders, like actors, do not have rights, and that, also like actors, they are not allowed to enter my line or sight or I will physically remove them from the area.”

“…I think you’ve been spending too much time with Daisy,” Jon says after a moment’s contemplative silence.

“Probably,” Basira agrees. “I’m right, though. Spiders don’t have rights, at least not inside, and definitely not in my flat or my lighting box. They don’t pay rent, and they’re not insured. Therefore: no spiders allowed. If you can show me a spider that’s insured and qualified to be above stage then I’d gladly welcome them into the crew. I reckon a qualified and insured Miss or Mr Spider would be pretty handy to have around. But as it is, I’m yet to see a spider with documentation, which means, as far as I’m concerned, that they can all piss off.”

Jon blinks at her. “…You feel very strongly about spiders.”

“Maybe a little bit, yeah. Has Martin said anything else?”

Jon glances at his phone.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Look, spiders are just useful, alright?
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] They’re useful, and they’re polite, and most of them are pretty cute too, okay?
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Spiders are sweet.
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] They don’t deserve their bad rep

“…Huh,” Jon says quietly.

“What?” Basira asks. “What is it, what did he say?”

“He thinks that spiders are… he thinks that spiders are cute,” Jon says, still not looking away from his phone. He can so clearly see how he’s sure Martin looked while typing those messages – he can see the little dimple forming between Martin’s brows and he frowns, can see the determined expression of his face, can see how it’s tempered with the softness that Martin always seems to carry with him.

Jon really, really wishes he could hug Martin right now.

But he can’t. He won’t be able to hug Martin until this evening, which suddenly feels much, much too far away. At least, he supposes, he’ll be able to hug Martin as much as he wants this evening. He’ll be able to hug Martin as much as he wants, and kiss Martin as much as he wants, and cuddle Martin and listen to his laugh and spend as much time as he wants with Martin because he’s going to be staying the night again.

Jon’s possibly a little bit too excited at the idea of staying over at Martin’s again. He also possibly doesn’t care about that at all. He’s staying at Martin’s. Whatever embarrassment he may feel about having soft, mushy feelings is being temporarily pushed to the side by the sheer marvel and wonder that is Martin as a person. 

“Give me your phone,” Basira says, snapping Jon out of his trance and holding out her hand.

“What?” Jon asks, startling slightly. “Why?”

“I need to text Martin.”

“Can’t you just tell me what to text him?”

“Not for this.”

Jon narrows his eyes. “You do realise that that just makes me less likely to give you my phone, right?”

“Look,” Basira says, sighing, “Jon. What I’m about to text Martin… he needs to hear it from me directly, alright? You won’t be able to get across the nuance of it. Not even,” she continues quickly, seeing Jon open his mouth to reply, “if you write it down exactly how I say it. Just… you need to trust me on this.”

“…Fine,” Jon says.

“Oh! Oh, great, thanks! I’m going to be honest, I didn’t think it would be that easy.”

“Yes, well… Martin seems to be as invested in this argument as you are, so…”

“…So are you going to give me your phone now, or…?” 

“Let me just… one moment,” Jon says, and then he turns back to his phone and very hastily sends a couple of texts.

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] Basira is demanding my phone from me so that she can text you.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood] I apologise in advance for anything she may say.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Oh, okay!
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Thank you for telling me, Jon x

“Jon?” Jon hears Basira say. “You alright? You’ve gone all red.”

“Fine,” Jon manages to choke out, still staring at the little ‘x.’ “I’m- yes, I’m- I’m fine, I’m good, this is- yep.”

“…What did Martin say?”

“Nothing.”

“You do realise that I’m going to see what he texted you as soon as you give me your phone, right?”

No. “Yes.”

Basira sighs. It’s the long-suffering sigh of someone who’s been putting up with Jon ever since he first encountered Martin and doesn’t see any end in sight yet. “…Jon?”

“Yes?”

“Please give me your phone.”

Jon gives Basira his phone. “If you do-”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, if I do anything to upset him then you’ll be a prick about it for the next few days,” Basira mutters, not looking up from the screen as her thumbs fly across the keyboard. “If I make him sad, or hurt his feelings, or anything like that, then I’ll be promptly evicted from the theatre, or made to do all the Nandos runs for the next however long.”

“I’m glad we’re on the same page.”

“Mm.” Basira types out a few more words and then hits ‘send’, passing Jon his phone back. Jon takes it immediately, already reading over the surprisingly short collection of texts that Basira sent. “There,” Basira says, though Jon barely pays her any heed. “See for yourself.”

Jon sees for himself. 

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] Martin, this is Basira speaking.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood] First things first: what the fuck

---

“Basira’s right, you know,” Jon comments to Martin the next day, carefully sidestepping to avoid a puddle as they walk side by side down the path. “Well, I mean, at least in part. It is annoying when you keep finding dead spiders in every corner of the theatre.”

Martin tuts. “They’re just doing their job!” he replies, briefly squeezing Jon’s hand. “They’re just- look, it’s not their fault that your theatre happens to be in an old church, you know. That’s prime spider territory and it always has been. They’re helping.”

“By leaving cobwebs everywhere?”

“By eating all the flies,” Martin retorts. He turns his head, meaning to glower at Jon the way he’s seen Jon glower at his phone when he gets messages from Elias in the middle of their dates, but he’s pretty sure he’s doing a terrible job of it. He just doesn’t have the face for glowering. Or, at the very least, he doesn’t have the face for glowering at Jon, and especially not when Jon’s all bundled up in his scarf and coat and cardigan and is holding Martin’s hand after spending another night at Martin’s flat. Martin especially can’t glower at him then. He’s sure that one day he’ll figure out how to glower at Jon the way he saw Jon glower at the TV last night when someone incorrectly identified a font on the documentary they’d stumbled across, but, for now, glowering is off the books. Instead, the books are embarrassingly full of smitten glances, fond looks, and other equally sappy expressions, like a wine list of romantic tropes.

Martin shakes his head. “Anyway,” he continues, suddenly aware that he’s been staring, “it’s- they’re- spiders are good. That’s- they’re just good, a-and helpful, and nice, and I know it’s a common saying but they really are more afraid of us than we are of them, and they just want to live their little spider-ey lives and exist and be happy! That’s all! They don’t mean to get in the way, you know.” 

“Oh, I know,” Jon replies quickly, squeezing Martin’s hand in an absent-minded, casual way that makes Martin’s heart do something truly ridiculous inside his chest, “but… even when something doesn’t mean to be annoying, it still can be. Just look at- at- I don’t know, at ice. It doesn’t really mean to be annoying, but it definitely is when you slip on it.”

“…Spiders aren’t ice, Jon.”

“I’m not saying that they are! I’m saying that- that- that spiders are good, and useful, a-and all of that, you’re completely correct there, but they can also be annoying.”

“They’re just trying to help!”

Martin.”

Jon,” Martin replies, entirely failing to suppress his smile. Jon huffs at him, rolling his eyes, but Martin can see the fond smile tugging at the corners of Jon’s mouth. It makes him feel warm, knowing that he was the one to make Jon smile like that.

“Well, fine,” Jon says, shaking his head a little. “Maybe you’re- maybe you’re completely pro-spiders, Martin, but you must- surely you know people who aren’t. Apart from Basira, obviously. Surely you’ve got friends who- who dislike spiders.”

Martin shrugs. “Well, I’m… I don’t know. I don’t really, um…” Talk to anyone he thinks, and doesn’t say. Jon doesn’t need to know that. “I mean, I don’t- I don’t- I don’t really talk to many people about spiders. Not my friends, at least,” Martin continues, aiming desperately for ‘cool’ and missing by a significant amount. He swallows, carefully not looking at Jon’s face as he continues to speak. “I mean I- I have friends, of course, there’s- there’s-… well, there’s- I talk to people on placement, and I- and I talk to you, and I- I-…” Shit. Martin swallows. Around his hand, Jon’s fingers suddenly feel like a brand. “I have friends,” he continues weakly. “Just not… just not many of them. Um. At all. I don’t… yeah.”

Jon snorts. “You’re being ridiculous,” he says. His voice is brusque, short to the point of being dismissive, but when Martin glances over at him, half-afraid of the pity or judgement he’s dreading to see in Jon’s eyes, all he sees is the now-familiar, but no less warming kindness. Jon doesn’t look like he’s judging him for not having many – or any – friends. He looks like he believes what he’s saying, looks like he does truly think that Martin is being ridiculous, but it leans closer towards amusement and disbelief than anything else. He looks kind.

He always looks kind.

 “Everyone at the theatre considers you a friend, you know,” Jon continues. He doesn’t look away from Martin, his gaze flitting from eye to eye like he’s not entirely sure of where to rest it, but Martin’s accustomed to that. He squeezes Jon’s hand in a silent acknowledgement that he sees what Jon is doing, and Jon smiles, just a tiny bit. “They do,” he continues, his voice softening. “Really, Martin. Basira definitely does, and Daisy has started asking me how you’re doing – which means a lot coming from her, believe you me – and Melanie keeps asking when you’ll next be coming out with us, and you saw how excited Georgie was in my texts when you agreed to stay over next week. Even Tim’s been texting me to ask how you’re doing, and he’s only been gone a day.” Jon looks away, fumbling in his pocket to quickly dig out his phone. “See?” He holds the phone up, showing Martin the screen. Martin leans in, peering at the little letters.

[Text from: Tim Stoker] how’s your nursing boy getting along, by the way?
[Text from: Tim Stoker] you two been getting up to anything ~fun?

[Text to: Tim Stoker] Martin’s been just fine, Tim.
[Text to: Tim Stoker] Busy, because he’s been on shift, but fine.
[Text to: Tim Stoker] And I’m staying over at his tonight before we go to the park tomorrow, if you must know.

[Text from: Tim Stoker] aw, that’s adorable!
[Text from: Tim Stoker] look at you, being all cute and romantic
[Text from: Tim Stoker] make sure you feed the ducks for me
[Text from: Tim Stoker] and stay safe x

[Text to: Tim Stoker] Tim.

[Text from: Tim Stoker] xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
[Text from: Tim Stoker] anyway gtg, I’m about to introduce peter to cats the musical

“Oh,” Martin says quietly. He swallows, reading over the texts again. He’d liked Tim when he first met him at Wetherspoons, and he’d hoped that Tim had liked him too, at least tolerated him, but he hadn’t- he hadn’t expected this. He hadn’t expected for Tim, or for any of the others, honestly, to actually care.

Martin reads over the texts again. He needs to say something. He needs to say something more than just ‘oh,’ needs to say something that shows that he’s perfectly fine and calm and isn’t getting stupidly emotional because his- because Jon’s friends like him and consider him to be their friend. He needs to say something. He needs to say anything.

“Did Tim really introduce Peter to Cats?” Martin hears himself asking faintly. “Did he- did he actually do that?”

“He did,” Jon replies. “He managed to film it, too. It was, ah… I think Melanie described it as ‘an experience’ in the group chat.”

“Yeah, I can- I can imagine.”

“I think even Elias found it at least somewhat amusing.”

Elias saw it?” Martin repeats, sure that he must have misheard. “He- really?”

Jon nods, smiling slightly. “Really. He, um, he texted after work asking me to send him the video. I don’t know how he found out that it existed, seeing how he’s very definitely not in the groupchat, but Elias seems to have his ways.”

“And you sent it to him.”

“I did.”

“And he- what did he say?” Martin asks, more than happy to veer the topic of conversation away from his lacking friend group.

Jon doesn’t answer, at least not vocally. Instead, he wakes his phone up again, rapidly swiping through his text messages before passing his phone to Martin.

[Text from: Elias Bitchard] haha.
[Text from: Elias Bitchard] very funny.
[Text from: Elias Bitchard] also I need you to look over that paperwork for monday. It has a deadline

 “Wow,” Martin says.

 “Yup.”

“That’s… that’s certainly something.”

“It really is.”

“Do you think he was being serious with the ‘haha?’”

Jon shrugs, tucking his phone back into his pocket and starting to walk again, his hand tightening around Martin’s for a moment. “Possibly? Elias texts like that a lot.”

“Oh.”

“Mm.”

“…By the way, why do you keep letting Elias tell you what to do?” Martin says suddenly, and immediately feels his face turn scarlet. Great job, Martin. Way to insult Jon’s boss while you’re on a date. “I- I mean- I know he’s your boss and all, I get that, but it’s- he- he texts you even when you’re not at work.” Martin pulls a face at himself as he finishes saying that, raising a hand to briefly cover his face. “Sorry,” he adds, his voice a little muffled by his fingers. “That was- sorry, I sounded really arsehole-ish and- and jealous then, I know. I don’t- you can ignore that.”

“No, no, you didn’t, you…” Jon trails off, sighing. He lifts a hand, brushing a loose strand of hair back from his face, and for a moment, some small, extra-romantic part of Martin’s brain wants to take Jon’s hand, and lift it to his lips, and kiss the knuckles of it. He’s getting accustomed to wanting to kiss Jon more or less all the time, but the thought still catches him off-guard in the brief moment that it exists before he dismisses it. He can kiss Jon’s hand later. He can kiss Jon’s hand later when they’re not talking about Jon’s bastard boss.

 Jon sighs again. “You didn’t sound jealous, Martin. O-or anything else like that. I do- I know that I, ah, bow down to Elias’ whims and plans for world domination more than I probably should, but I… a fair amount of it is that he’s my boss, yes, but there’s also, it’s…” Jon swallows, a myriad of expressions flicking across his face too fast for Martin to follow. He frowns, a dimple appearing between his eyebrows that Martin longs to smooth away, and chews absently on his lip, his thumb brushing over the back of Martin’s hand as he thinks.

“It’s what?” Martin asks quietly. “What is it, Jon?”

“I need to- I need- I need to be doing something,” Jon blurts out suddenly. He looks up, raising his head to stare just over Martin’s left shoulder, not quite meeting his gaze. “I need to- my job is what I’m good at, right? I’m good at- at archiving, a-and researching, and preparing, and organising, and all of that. It’s what I’m good at. I have these skills, and these abilities, and I might as well use them to do something of worth because-” He cuts himself off, taking a breath.

“Because what?” Martin prompts gently.

There’s a long, long pause. The breeze twists around them, sighing against Martin’s throat and making him shiver, but he doesn’t look away from Jon. He can’t look away from Jon. Jon opens and closes his mouth a few times, his face twisting as he tries to figure out what he wants to say, and it’s right when Martin is about to speak up, and tell him that he doesn’t need to answer, that Jon finally speaks.

“Because, I- I- I need to be doing something, you see? I need to be doing something of value,” Jon says desperately. “That’s all it is, Martin. I need to be doing something of value, something of worth, because if I- if I don’t, then what am I contributing? What am I adding to the world? It’s- I feel- I don’t feel good when I have to cut our dates short to go back to the theatre, of course I don’t, because I love spending time with you, but I-” Jon raises a hand, scrubbing it roughly over his face. When he speaks again, his words are so muffled they’re practically inaudible. “I need to be doing something productive. I just... I need to. And my job lets me do that.”

In Martin’s chest, he thinks he feels his heart shatter a little.

“Oh,” he says quietly. “Oh, Jon…” He wants to reach out, wants to take Jon’s hand from his face and lower it so that he can see him again, but he doesn’t. He just squeezes the hand that he’s already holding, rubbing his thumb over the ridges and valley on Jon’s knuckles as though trying to press comfort into his skin. He supposes he is, a little bit. He hopes that Jon finds it comforting. “Jon, you… are you alright?”

Jon nods. “Yes,” he says, dropping his hand. “I’m- sorry about that, I’m just a bit tired from work. But I’m fine, Martin, really.”

“Are you- are you sure?”

Yes,” Jon replies emphatically. “It’s- this is just how I think. It’s fine. It’s really not anything to be concerned about, although I do appreciate the worry.” He looks up at Martin, giving a smile that would be convincing if Martin didn’t know Jon as well as he does. “It’s fine,” he says again. “I’m fine. I’m- I’m accustomed to thinking like this. It’s really nothing to worry about. And if- if Elias can provide me with plenty of things to do then that’s- that’s good. We’re all used to Elias being like this. He just- he tends to lean on me a bit more because he has a bit more sway over what I do, I think, and he’s a bit of- I’m pretty sure that he likes to consider himself a ‘controlling mastermind,’ but it’s not like he can program the lighting desk exactly how he wants it or create set piece because Melanie isn’t doing it right. He has a little more sway over what I do, and so he- he- he relies on me a bit more. Asks a bit more of me. But it’s- it’s fine. It’s fine. Really,” he adds, at Martin’s unconvinced expression. “I like working, Martin. I’d rather be busy and drowning in work than bored.”

Martin pulls a face. “I understand that, Jon, but there’s… you… you need to look after yourself as well, you know?”

“I know, I do, and I- I do look after myself. Despite my frequent trips to A&E, I do try to look after myself. I promise.”

“There’s more ways to look after yourself than just physically.”

“…I know,” Jon says, after a barely noticeable pause. His tone isn’t entirely convincing but Martin doesn’t push the point any further. He doesn’t want to ruin their date any more than he already has. Jon exhales in a long, slow breath. “Anyway,” he says, “could we- maybe let’s stop talking about my boss while we’re on a- on our date, shall we? You remembered the bread for the ducks when we were leaving, right?”

Martin doesn’t frown. He can see the painfully obvious change in topic for what it is, but he doesn’t question it. Jon’s right. They are on a date, and they did originally come here to feed the ducks. He doesn’t want Jon to be upset, or uncomfortable, or anything like that. He just wants Jon to be happy. He always wants Jon to be happy.

And so he sighs to himself, and steps in to press a kiss to Jon’s cheek, and swings the tote bag he’s been carrying so that it nudges against Jon’s side.

“Jon,” he says, “so you know, I did not bring bread for the ducks, because bread is bad for them. However, I did bring them corn, and seeds, and some vegetable scraps, because ducks need healthy, nutritional food too, you know.”

Jon blinks. “I… actually, I didn’t know that,” he says. “Is that- is- Martin?”

“Yeah?”

“What else do you know about ducks?”

Martin shrugs. “Just bits and pieces. It’s all stuff that I’ve picked up from documentaries, mostly.”

“Will you tell me about them?”

“About ducks?”

“Yes. It’s- you’re- I like it,” Jon says lamely, his entire face flushing.

Martin can hardly say no to that.

He smiles. “Alright,” he says warmly, and kisses Jon’s cheek again. “I’ll tell you all about ducks.”

Chapter Text

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] I’m sorry I couldn’t pick you up from the tube, Martin.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood] Elias needed me to stay back and work on something and I didn’t realise how late it had got.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] That’s alright!
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Your flat is 3/2, right?

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] Yes, that’s it.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood] Alright, I’ll be there in a minute or so!
[Text from: Martin Blackwood] I’ll see you soon, Jon ^-^

[Text to: Martin Blackwood] See you soon, Martin x

Jon sighs, leaning back against the hallway wall. He feels bad about not being there to meet Martin at the tube stop and walk him back to his flat, small and insignificant as he knows the action is. He wanted to lead Martin along the streets to his home, wanted to make sure he didn’t get lost, wanted to make him feel welcome and wanted and he wanted to be a good- a good- a good whatever he is to Martin, but he couldn’t. He’s never been good at saying no to Elias, and this evening had just been another example of that. He supposes he’s lucky that Martin understands and leans closer to ‘worried’ than ‘annoyed,’ no matter how much Jon assures him that there’s nothing to be worried about.

Jon’s snapped out of his thoughts by the sharp, harsh sound of the door buzzer echoing through the hallway. He crosses to it, not even bothering to check who’s at the door before pressing the button to let them into the building.

“Is that Martin?” Georgie calls from the kitchen. Jon shrugs, well aware that she can’t see him.

“Probably,” he replies.

“Did you- did you not check who it was?”

“Who else would it be?”

“One of your other countless friends?”

Jon snorts. “They all went home from the theatre hours ago,” he says. “I was the one to lock up. I doubt any of them would rather spend an evening here than relaxing at home, or going out, or doing whatever it is that Daisy does in her free time.”

“Hmm, fair point. It could be Melanie, though,” Georgie adds, leaving the kitchen and joining Jon in leaning against the wall.

Jon considers this. “It could be, but if that were the case then you would have told me in advance or you’d have been legging it towards the buzzer before I even got close enough to look at it. You’re not exactly subtle when it comes to Melanie visiting, you know.”

Georgie sticks her tongue out at him. “Yeah, well, you’re not subtle about Martin. You go red anytime anyone mentions him.”

“I- I do not-”

“You’re literally turning red right now, Jon.”

“I- you-”

There’s a knock at the door.

“I do not go red,” Jon hisses, already moving towards the front door as fast as he can without looking too over-eager. Georgie laughs quietly, the sound familiar and just as comforting as it is familiar, and then Jon stops thinking about Georgie entirely, because he’s opened the door, and Martin is standing on the other side of it.

Martin smiles. “Hey, Jon,” he says.

“Hey,” Jon says breathlessly. He glances at Martin’s shoulder, spotting the strap of a backpack. “You’ve got, um-”

“I’ve got all my stuff,” Martin confirms. “Got my- got my toothbrush, and my pyjamas, and- yup. All of it.”

“Good. That’s- that’s good. Was, um, was placement okay today?”

“Placement was fine,” Martin replies, and Jon nods again. He can’t look away from Martin’s mouth.

“Right,” he says absently. “That’s good.”

Martin smiles wider. “You going to let me in?”

“Mm,” Jon hums, and then he gives into his impulses, steps in, stretches up, and kisses Martin. Or maybe Martin kisses him. He can’t tell. He doesn’t particularly care.

“Hi there,” Martin murmurs. His voice is quiet, soft and low, and it settles around Jon like an embrace, holding him close as Martin kisses him again. Jon can feel himself smiling against Martin’s lips, one of his hands coming to rest on the small of Martin’s back. It’s a light touch, absent and casual, but Jon knows that Martin can feel it. He hopes that Martin likes it in its simplicity just as much as he does.

“Hey,” Jon replies. He kisses Martin again, quick and light, and then leans back just far enough to see Martin’s smile. Beneath the freckles that lie scattered across his cheeks, Jon thinks he can see Martin blushing, just a little bit. It’s sweet. He wants to kiss the blush too.

But he doesn’t. He’s all too aware of the weight of Georgie’s gaze on his back, and so with a small sigh he steps back, taking Martin’s hand and half-turning to gesture to her.

“This is- Martin, this is Georgie,” he says. “My- my flatmate.”

“And best friend,” Georgie adds, smiling.

“Yes. And best friend. Georgie, this is my- this is Martin.”

Martin raises a hand. “Hi.”

“Hey,” Georgie replies easily. “It’s good to finally meet you, Martin!”

“It’s good to meet you too! I’ve, um, I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Yeah?” Georgie asks, smiling wider. “Probably all terrible, knowing Jon.”

Jon snorts. “As if you’d let me get away with that,” he replies dryly. “No, rest assured that I’ve done nothing but sing your praises to Martin.”

“Good. You better. And before you ask, he’s sung your praises to me,” Georgie adds to Martin, making Martin smile and blush a shade of pink which, in Jon’s unbiased opinion, looks absolutely lovely on him. “Well, he’s stammered them, really, but I still got the idea of what he was trying to say.”

“O-oh, that’s, um, that’s good,” Martin replies, his fingers tightening around Jon’s hand just for a moment.

“Anyway, you’re staying over tonight, right?” Georgie asks, starting to lead them through to the living room. She flops down at one end of the sofa, watching with a soft smile as Jon and Martin sit down too.

Martin nods. “Yeah, I am. I’ve got all my- I’ve got my pyjamas and everything. Oh! Oh, and I- I brought knitting stuff, too!” Martin adds, reaching into his bag to pull out a handful of yarn.

“Are you teaching Jon to knit?” Georgie asks, watching as Martin leans over to place the yarn and needles down on the coffee table before sitting back against the sofa. “Wow. Best of luck with that, really.”

“He asked me to,” Martin replies, with a small, soft smile. “It’s… I thought that it could be a nice way to spend the evening, maybe.”

“Georgie knits too!” Jon blurts out abruptly, desperate to find anything for Martin and Georgie to bond over. He knows that it’s not entirely necessary to have his best friend approve of his- of his- of Martin, but he wants them to get along. He really, truly, desperately wants them to get along, because he likes Martin, and he likes Georgie, and he wants Georgie to like Martin because she is, in his experience, a significantly better judge of character than he is. Jon turns slightly, looking over at Georgie with an expression that he can only hope doesn’t look as manic as it feels. “That’s- that’s right, isn’t it? You knit. You made that- that tea cosy for Melanie just a few weeks ago.”

Immediately, with no hesitation, Georgie flops back against the sofa, rolls her eyes, and lets out the loudest groan that Jon’s ever heard from her.

“Jon,” she says, lifting a hand and pressing it to her temple. “Listen, I- I appreciate you trying and all, I know you don’t know anything about any of this, but come on.”

Jon blinks. He can hear amusement in Georgie’s voice, lying beneath the not-entirely-fake annoyance. “I- what?”

“I crochet, Jon. It’s not- crochet and knitting are not the same thing.”

Jon blinks again. Some small, distant part of his brain starts getting a little worried that he might just be impersonating an owl. “…Oh,” he says. “They- really?”

Yes. For starters, knitting is wizardry and I don’t understand it, while crochet is lovely and straightforward and isn’t literal magic.”

Martin snorts. “It is not,” he objects. “Wizardry, I mean. It just- it just takes a bit of practise, that’s all. Crochet’s fiddlier, if anything. You’ve only got one hook.”

“Knitting needles are so slippery, though!” Georgie objects, lowering her hand and looking at Martin. “They’re- the yarn just falls off them! And if you mess up you can lose a whole row of stitches. I know. I’ve seen it happen. Crochet is just… it’s nice, and knitting is evil, and that’s all there is to say on the matter.”

“Um,” Jon says weakly. Immediately both Georgie and Martin turn to look at him, the combined weight of their gaze enough to make him shrink down slightly against the sofa cushions. He leans more into Martin’s side, unconsciously pressing against him. “I, um…”

“Yes, Jon?” Georgie asks, with a look in her eye that Jon knows all too well.

Jon swallows. “I- I thought…”

“You thought what, exactly?”

“…I thought that knitting and crochet were the same thing.”

From beside him, Jon hears Martin make a bewildered spluttering sound. “You- what?” he asks. “Really?”

Jon shrugs uncomfortably. “I- maybe? They’re- they are very similar.”

“They are not.”

“They are! They both have- they both have needles, and yarn, and they both make things!” Jon retorts.

Georgie looks over at Martin, shooting him a grin. “God,” she says, her voice full of fond exasperation. “He’s useless, isn’t he?”

“Oh, he is, he really is,” Martin agrees instantly. He glances over at Jon, for a moment looking concerned that he may have hurt Jon’s feelings, but Jon just shrugs and smiles and shakes his head a little. He’s accustomed to ceaseless ribbing from Georgie, and Melanie, and Basira, and Tim and Daisy and Sasha and Gerry and just about everyone that he knows. And if judging him for his limited understanding of the difference between what are, in his defence, two very similar fibercrafts is how Martin and Georgie bond, well… he’s not going to stop them.

Jon shifts a little, nestling further into Martin’s side. Martin looks back at Georgie, smiling properly now, and moves his arm to drape it around Jon’s shoulders in a wonderfully heavy line of warmth.

“I mean,” Martin continues, giving no indication that he’s even realised what he’s done as Jon starts quietly turning red beneath his arm, “I mean, yarn weights, right, that’s- I’d understand him not understanding that, that’s fine, even I still don’t know what on Earth ‘worsted’ weight yarn is, let alone ‘light worsted-‘”

“I think worsted is aran.”

“-Ooh, is it? Thanks, Georgie.”

Georgie grins. “You’re welcome.”

“Right, but, as I was saying: yarn weights are fine not to know, as are- as are things like needle sizes, and yarn tension, and all of that, but, I mean…” Martin sighs, glancing at Jon before looking back towards Georgie, his eyes sparkling. “Not being able to tell apart knitting and crochet? Really? Even after living with you for… well, I don’t actually know, but I’m going to assume it’s been a while.”

“It’s been a few years, yeah,” Georgie says easily. She looks at Jon, her eyes full of delighted mischief, and Jon instantly squirms a little. Oh. Oh, God. Just from looking at her, he knows exactly what she’s going to say. It’s something that he feels he should have mentioned to Martin by now, but he’d never found the right time to bring it up, and now Georgie is going to say it, and she’s going to say it while judging him for not recognising knitting, and it’s going to be terrible and awful and Jon is so, so glad that it’s happening.

He’s so glad that it’s happening, horrible and mortifying as it is, because it means that Martin and Georgie are getting along. Because it means that they’re bonding. Because it means that Georgie likes Martin, and thinks that he’s good, and will hopefully be amenable to him visiting the flat some more in the future. Jon would like that. He would really, really like that. He’s already feeling a sort of soft, delighted warmth curling through him just from the sight of Martin in his space, in his home, talking to his best friend, and the warmth only grows when Jon remembers that Martin isn’t going to be leaving tonight. That he’s going to be staying tonight. That, at some point, when he goes to bed, Martin will go with him. He knows that it’s going to be practically identical to the few nights he’s now stayed at Martin’s flat, where they inevitably end up cuddled together like a couple of touch-starved cats, but it still feels important to him. It still feels important to him because Martin is here. Because Martin wants to be here.

Because Martin wants to be in Jon’s life.

Which means, as well, that he wants to meet Jon’s best friend and flatmate. Jon isn’t regretting inviting Martin over, because of course he isn’t, but he is beginning to regret that he hadn’t discussed it in more depth with Georgie first, because Georgie is wonderful, and loves him, and can be an absolutely bastard.

Just like she’s being now.

“Although…” Georgie says slowly, deliberately dragging out Jon’s torture, “Martin? Has Jon ever told you about how me and him met?”

“Um, I think so?” Martin replies. “It was - no, Jon, don’t tell me, I know this – it was… student theatre, right? At- at uni?”

Georgie looks delighted. “Yeah!” she exclaims. “Yeah, it was! He used to swan about onstage looking all brooding and dramatic, but I managed to convince him that theatre tech is actually much cooler, and generally much more interesting.”

“Based on what I’ve heard Jon say it certainly sounds more exciting. And, um, chaotic.”

“Oh, it definitely is,” Georgie replies. “It’s great. But I’m not here to tell you about why tech is obviously better than acting.” She glances at Jon, meeting his eyes, and for just a second her expression shifts a bit into one that Jon recognises and understands. Is it alright for me to mention it?

Jon doesn’t even hesitate. He smiles, giving the tiniest of nods. Yes. Go ahead.

Immediately, Georgie grins. Fantastic. You brought this on yourself.

“Oh?” Martin asks. “You- is this going to be about something that Jon did back at uni?”

“Sort of,” Georgie replies. “It’s more about something that he may have left out when telling you about tech, though.”

“Yeah? What is it?”

Slowly, dramatically, Georgie leans forwards. She glances at Jon again, getting another small nod of permission (though for the life of him Jon can’t say why he’s doing it), and somehow manages to smile wider. “Right, I don’t mean to blow your socks off, but Jon and I… we used to date,” she says delightedly.

Instantly, Martin gasps. He turns his head, looking at Jon with an expression halfway between shock and amusement. “Jon.”

“We were together for a few years, actually,” Georgie continues.

“No.”

“Yes.”

“And you- you-”

“Nope,” Georgie says. Jon can’t look away from Martin’s face, but he knows that Georgie’s smiling, wide and bright and utterly joyous at his complete and utter mortification.

For a few more seconds, Martin gapes at him.

And then, eventually, he speaks.

“You still don’t know the difference between knitting and crochet?” Martin asks.

At the other end of the sofa, Georgie cackles.

---

The evening passes. Georgie, much to Martin’s apparent disappointment, doesn’t actually stay with them for very long, leaving after a while to go to some work celebration or another. Much to Jon’s silent relief Martin does seem genuinely a little upset at her absence, both of them agreeing that they need to meet up and chat and discuss their respective fibercrafts again at some point, but, unsurprisingly, he also doesn’t object. The flat feels smaller when she leaves, closer and altogether more intimate, but it’s nice. It’s very nice. It’s nice to be able to sit with Martin in his own flat, to be able to talk with him and kiss him and cuddle him and be content in the knowledge that Martin won’t be leaving until tomorrow. They manage to do some knitting together, too, Jon swearing over the needles and Martin fails to hide his amusement at Jon’s frustration. It’s nice, though. It takes an embarrassingly long period of time for Jon to make any real progress at all, but when they finally decide to pack it in he puts aside a few rows of wonky but passable knitting with the agreement of another future knitting lesson. And as for how much of that knitting lesson plan has to do with just how devastatingly competent Martin’s hands looked as he effortlessly knitted an entire row of stitches one after the other without a single mistake… well, Jon would argue that he’s only human.

After that, Jon’s not entirely sure of how the rest of the evening progresses, but at some point he ends up once again cuddled up against Martin, leaning back against his chest as Martin’s legs bracket his on the sofa, the conversation having once again turned to the theatre.

“What did Elias keep you back to do, by the way?” Martin asks, his chin nestled comfortably against Jon’s shoulder. “I’m assuming it wasn’t something particularly fun.”

Jon shrugs. “It- honestly, for Elias, it wasn’t too bad. He just needed me to remeasure the stage space, re-organise some scripts and resources that he’d taken out of the archives, reshare the audition call, and find Michael.”

“…Find Michael?”

“Mm. He’s-”

“One of the actors, you’ve mentioned. Why was he still in the theatre?”

Jon shrugs again. “No idea. I did find him, though. He was wandering in the old corridors in the sub-basement. He didn’t seem lost though so I just told him that I was shutting up the building and he’d have to leave.”

“…Jon?”

“Mm?”

“Your theatre is weird,” Martin says flatly, though his face gives away his amusement when Jon glances over at him. “Really, I mean it! I don’t know much about theatre – well, I don’t actually know anything about theatre – but yours is really, really weird. I’m still not convinced that your theatre isn’t a money laundering front. I think Melanie might have the right idea of it.”

“Well, yes, maybe it is,” Jon replies. “But sadly I live in London, which means that I have to pay an extortionate amount of rent on a regular basis, and if paying that means that I have to learn to look past a few strange aspects of my day job which may or may not be a money laundering front… well, I think I can handle that.”

“I don’t think it’s sad,” Martin says absently, and Jon blinks. He twists a little, looking up at Martin with a frown, but Martin’s face gives nothing away.

“You… you don’t think what’s sad?” Jon asks eventually, and Martin shrugs. 

“Oh, you know,” he replies. “You living in London.” He looks down, meeting Jon’s eye, and grins. It’s a cheeky grin, light and teasing, but Jon can see something curling at the edges of it, marring Martin’s expression with something akin to concern. “I mean, it’s- it’s not really sad at all, if you really think about it.”

Jon raises an eyebrow. “Really?” he asks. “Why isn’t it sad? This place is terrible. There’s endless limescale in the water - you complain about it all the time - and the pollution is awful, and the tube is always crowded and boiling hot in summer.”

“Well, maybe so,” Martin admits, and that strange, nervous edge to his smile starts to become a bit more present with every spoken work. “But if you didn’t live in London, you wouldn’t have met me. Which I think is a good thing. Um.”

Oh.

Oh, Martin.

“Ah. Ah, yes, I suppose you’re right.” Jon stretches slightly, leaning up so as to be closer to Martin. He can feel himself starting to smile now, soft and warm and atrociously smitten, but he doesn’t care. He can’t care. Not when Martin’s own smile is just as soft, and just as warm, and just as smitten. There’s no more nervousness to it, now. There’s no more uncertainty. There’s just playfulness and delight and joy, and Jon adores him. “I mean,” he continues, “if I hadn’t met you, who knows what sort of state I’d be in now.”

“Exactly!” Martin replies. “You’d still have worms in your arm.”

“...I’m fairly certain another A&E nurse could have pulled them out of me-”

“No, nope, that’s impossible. Trust me. No one would want to go near a weird man with worms in his arm. You’re just lucky that I was feeling particularly nice that day.”

“Martin-”

“‘Worm-arm Jon,’ that’s what they’d all be calling you if you hadn’t met me. Mark my words. You’d be a- a horror story they tell to fresh-faced nurses on the ward to scare them out of approaching weird greying guys who dress like depressed professors from the 70s with sad-Duracell-bunny energy.”

Jon snorts. “Martin,” he says again, and the word is fond this time, tasting like sunlight and warmth on his tongue.

Martin smiles at him. “Yes, Worm-arm Jon?”

“...You’re ridiculous.”

“My future nursing degree and I beg to differ, Worm-arm Jon.”

“Stop calling me-”

“I’m sorry, I can’t stop calling you Worm-arm Jon. It’s your name. It’s official. It’s what I’ve got you down as in my phone and everything.”

Jon raises an eyebrow but Martin only smiles wider, and something in his face, in his words, in his Martin-ness and his everything makes Jon’s tongue trip over what should be a simple sentence. “I- I doubt that you’ve- I doubt that, Martin.”

Martin grins right back at him. “I’ll prove it to you.”

“Please, be my guest.”

Immediately, Martin reaches into his pocket. There’s a few moments of fumbling as Jon resolutely does not move away to make it easier for him to withdraw his phone, and then there’s a further few moments of more deliberate fumbling as Martin’s thumbs fly rapidly across the keyboard.

Jon smiles to himself. “Are you-”

“I’m definitely not changing your contact details, if that’s what you were going to ask,” Martin says.

“Oh, good. I didn’t think you were, you know. I just- I wanted to be sure.”

Martin gives a little snort of laughter. It’s an adorable snort. It makes something warm twist in Jon’s belly, making his smile soften even further. “Well, rest assured that I am definitely not doing that,” Martin continues, before turning his phone around to show Jon. “See? This is exactly what your contact details have looked like since the moment you gave me your number. I’ve never changed them. Not even once.”

Jon reaches up, taking Martin’s phone and angling it to better see the screen. “Oh, really?” he asks. “I’ve always been saved in your phone as ‘Worm-arm Jon, heart-’” Jon pauses. There’s something else after his name. Something that he hadn’t expected to see there. “Heart emoji,” he finishes quietly. He doesn’t look at Martin. He can’t look at Martin. He doesn’t know if Martin added the emoji to his name for a joke, or if it’s been there for a while, but either way seeing the little heart next to his name in Martin’s phone makes his own heart do something funny in his chest.

“Um,” Martin says quietly. He reaches out, his fingers wrapping gently around Jon’s hand, but Jon doesn’t let go of his phone, still looking at the screen. “That’s- that’s actually been there for a while,” Martin adds. “Well, it, um, actually, it used to be an actual heart emoji, a- a red one, but then I- then I changed to the little, um, emoticon. The ‘less than three’ one, you know?” He swallows. “I- I like its lo-fi charm,” he continues weakly. “I think it’s sweet.”

“Its low-fi charm,” Jon echoes. He can’t look away from the little ‘<3.’

“It’s, um, it’s just- sorry, I sort of- honestly, I kind of forgot it was there when I was changing your name, I can- I can get rid of it, though, if you’d like, it’s-”

“I like it,” Jon says quietly. He taps the screen as it grows dim, not wanting to lose the sight of the two characters sitting together side by side. “I- I like it. Um. It’s- yeah. It’s very… I like it. It’s very you.”

“…Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Jon taps the screen again. “’Low-fi charm.’ It’s- mm.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” Martin asks quietly. “It’s just... you’re all tense.”

Jon frowns. “What?”

“You’re all tense,” Martin repeats. He lifts a hand, pressing one finger lightly against Jon’s shoulders. “Here. You’re really tense.”

“Oh. Oh, right, no, that’s- that’s normal. That’s just- my shoulders are just like that, Martin. Don’t worry about it. It’s not- I rather like what you have me saved as in your phone. It’s, um… I like it. It’s better than what I have you saved as in my phone, at least.”

“Oh?” Martin asks, but his hand doesn’t leave Jon’s shoulder, starting to gently massage the tight, knotted muscles. “What do you have me saved as.”

“’Martin Blackwood.’”

Martin snorts. “Creative.”

“It’s- ah- it’s accurate,” Jon replies, his words interrupted by a soft gasp as Martin does something that rather abruptly makes his shoulder feel… better. He’s not sure how, or what exactly Martin did, but his shoulder feels looser, somehow, like it’s suddenly gained more space to move in.

“Was that alright?” Martin asks quickly. “I was just- sorry, I just realised that I could maybe help you out a little bit and it is kind of my job to help people, and you- I- I know that you, um, that you kind of like being… well, being touched, I suppose, you know what I mean, so I, I-”

“It was alright,” Jon interrupts quickly, feeling himself starting to colour. “I, ah… I like your hands.”

Martin squeaks. At least, Jon thinks that Martin squeaks. It’s a quick sound and a quiet one but it’s hard to miss any sound that Martin makes with how close they’re pressed together. Jon hopes that he squeaked. It sounded cute.

“You- yeah?” Martin manages to ask eventually.

Jon hums. He passes Martin back his phone and leans back a bit, trailing his fingers along the knuckles of Martin’s hand. “Yeah,” he repeats. “They’re, um- you’re- they’re very nice. I- I like them. A lot.”

“Oh. O-oh, that’s- that’s good, then, because I was going to- I was going to suggest something that might help you relax, actually. Uh. Involving my hands.”

Jon looks up at that, frowning. He knows that they’ve already discussed his asexuality, and he was sure that Martin had understood it, but thankfully what little worry had room to grow is immediately crushed by the face that Martin is pulling.

“Sorry,” Martin says. “That sounded- that sounded really weird, and not at all like what I meant, I promise, I’m not going to… y’know…” He trailed off, waving a hand in the general direction of Jon’s hips. “This was- it’s a completely different idea, I promise. It just does also involve my hands. Um.”

Inside his chest, Jon feels his heart grow warm. He takes Martin’s hand, squeezing gently, and when Martin finally catches his eye he smiles, tilting his head to kiss him on the jaw.

“Thank you,” he says quietly, before settling back into place. “What’s your idea?”

“My, um… I had a flatmate in first year called Jared who used to be a physical therapist, actually,” Martin says. He lifts one hand, rubbing at the back of his head as he shrugs, his expression turning bashful as he looks away. “He, ah… we didn’t really get on, you know, he was a bit- a bit- I guess ‘laddish?’ But he was transitioning from physical therapy to nursing for some reason, and one evening everyone in the flat got a bit pissed and he somehow ended up teaching us all how to give massages, sort of. It was a really weird evening, honestly, but I, um- yeah. I know how to do… that. So if you- if you want - you don’t have to accept, that’s fine - but if you- if you’d like, I could, um, I could try? To give you a massage? It might… I don’t know, it might help a bit. At the very least it should feel kind of nice if I’m doing it right.”

“I’d like that,” Jon says, very nearly interrupting Martin’s words in his enthusiasm. “I’d- yes, I’d- I’d like that a lot, Martin. I don’t- I haven’t had a massage before, actually, but I- yes. Please.”

Martin smiles. Jon loves all of Martin’s smiles but he especially loves this one; it’s small and soft and quietly happy, and it makes Jon feel warm down to his bones to see. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. What do you need me to do?”

“Oh, just, um, just… just lie down, really. That’s about it.”

Cautiously, carefully, Jon lies down on the sofa. He’s not entirely sure of what he’s meant to be doing, isn’t entirely sure of how he’s meant to be lying, but Martin helps shift him around and soon enough he’s settled in what is, for him, a mostly comfortable position. He can still feel his hips aching a little but that’s normal for him, and it’s easy enough to push the slight discomfort to the back of his mind, and focus instead on how the sofa dips when Martin rests one knee against it.

“Comfortable?” Martin asks, and Jon shrugs a little.

“Comfortable enough,” he replies.

Martin tuts quietly. “Hmm. Well. You are on the sofa, so I suppose that’ll have to do. Now, if you, um, if you- you just… lie there I suppose. Try to relax?”

“I am relaxed.”

“Try to relax more?”

Despite himself, Jon laughs a little. “I’ll try my best,” he promises, his words warm. He lifts his head from where he’s resting it on his crossed arms, looking up at Martin with a smile. “I don’t make any promises, though.”

Martin huffs out a breath of laughter. “Hah, well… I suppose I can work with that. Not like I have much choice.”

“Mm, no, you don’t.”

“Yeah, alright, Mr Smarmy And Smart. Shut up and let me try to sort out whatever you’ve done to your shoulders.”

Jon shuts up. He drops his head back onto his arms, laughing just a little, and exhales when Martin’s hands suddenly come to rest on his back. Martin’s hands are warm through the thin layer of his t-shirt, big and solid and firm as they cautiously press against muscles grown knotted and taut. Jon gasps softly, feeling Martin’s fingers starting to dig into a knot in his shoulder, and twists a little in place. He doesn’t know if he’s trying to push towards or pull away from Martin’s touch.

Almost immediately, though, the touch vanishes, and Jon realises which he was trying to do.

“Sorry,” Martin murmurs. “That was- that didn’t hurt did it? I’m- sorry, I’ve not really had a chance to practise this before, I can stop-”

“Don’t,” Jon says quickly. He lifts his head, peering at Martin from over the crook of his elbow. “That- it hurt a little, yes, but it was- it was a good hurt, Martin. It- honestly, I don’t think I ever realised just how, um, tight my shoulders were.”

“They’re terrifyingly tight, Jon,” Martin replies instantly. “They’re- they’re like rock. And not in a good way. Having rock-hard shoulders because you’re, you know, mega buff or something like that… that’s fine. This, though-” He pokes gently at Jon’s shoulder again. “This is just… Jared would have something to say about this, believe you me.”

“Oh, I believe you.”

“And you’re sure that you’re okay with me doing this?” Martin asks quietly. “You- you’re sure?”

Jon nods. He can feel Martin’s hands resting gently against his shoulders and upper back and he wants them, in a way that he didn’t quite think that he would. He likes Martin touching him – he knows that much already – but he likes- he likes the tactility of this more than anything else. He likes Martin’s closeness, likes his warmth, and he wants to feel Martin’s hands pressing into his muscles, sinking warmth into them as he soothes away the myriads of aches and twinges that Jon’s been carrying with him for who knows how long. He wants that.

He wants Martin.

God, he wants Martin.

“Yeah,” Jon replies. He turns his head a little, looking up at Martin, and smiles at him. “I’m sure.”

Martin exhales. “Well… alright. Let me know if anything hurts. Bad-hurts, that is. Um. You know what I mean.”

“I do. And I will.”

“Okay. Um. Good.” Martin inhales, exhales, and then presses his hands into Jon’s muscles.

And, almost immediately, Jon feels himself starting to melt.

With every touch and press and caress of Martin’s hands, Jon grows more and more relaxed. He groans softly a few times, the noise mostly muffled by his arms or by the sofa cushions beneath him. He doesn’t know if Martin hears him. He doesn’t care. He’s not really thinking anymore. All that’s in his mind is softness and quiet and the constant warmth of Martin’s hands against his skin, soothing away tension and working out the knots that his muscles have tied themselves in. It’s so, so easy to focus on the path that Martin’s hands take as they press against him, is so easy to sink further into the cushions and just trust Martin.

It’s always been easy to trust Martin.

Slowly, as the minutes pass, Jon grows lax. He settles down further into the sofa cushions, sighing out in contentment when Martin works his thumbs into a particularly tight snarl high up on Jon’s back. Martin works his way down Jon’s body gradually, occasionally murmuring quiet requests for movement that Jon does his best to comply with, rolling a little one way or the other so that Martin can more easily reach parts of his body. It’s gentle, careful, quiet and calm and intimate in a way that Martin hadn’t expected. It’s not intimate in the way that he’s still accustomed to thinking about, not with how they’re both fully dressed, but the way Jon gasps and sighs and settles beneath his touch, utterly content and utterly trusting, makes Martin feel warm beneath his skin. He feels close to Jon, even when the only contact between them are his hands on Jon’s skin.

He feels wanted.

Eventually, the impromptu massage comes to an end. Martin doesn’t really know what to do when he runs out of tension that he trusts himself to soothe away, and so he finds himself gently running his hands up and down the lengths of Jon’s back, feeling out the ridges and bumps of his spine beneath his fingertips. The warmth of Jon’s skin seeps through the thin cotton of his shirt, reaching up for Martin’s hands. It’s nice. He runs his hands across Jon’s shoulders, following the curve of his shoulder blades, and then traces them both down Jon’s back, thumbs brushing over the jut and curve of Jon’s hips. Jon sighs beneath Martin’s touch, sounding nothing short of blissed out, and Martin can’t stop himself from smiling. He’s used to healing people, to helping people, to making them feel better, but it’s still nice to know that Jon is this relaxed and this comfortable because of him. It’s still nice to know that he helped.

“Jon?” he asks quietly. Jon shifts a little, making a small grumbling sound. “Jon, I- I think I’m done. Um. With the- with the massage.”

Jon grumbles again, it sounds a little more like a word this time, and after a few minutes more of soft, absent touching, Jon shifts just enough to prop his head up on top of his arm and peer over at Martin. “Mr’tn,” he says. “Come here?”

There is no way in any universe that Martin could ever dream of saying no.

He lifts his hands from Jon’s back, taking the hand that Jon extends for him. Jon twists their fingers together, his grasp gentle yet certain, and tugs gently, sitting up just enough to make space for Martin to sit down before instantly flopping forwards again, resting his head in Martin’s lap without a moment’s pause. Martin doesn’t flinch, because it’s not exactly startling, but it’s still a surprise. He’s well aware by now of just how affectionate and tactile Jon is, but he still wasn’t quiet expecting this.

Before he can speak up to mention it, though, Jon speaks again.

“Martin,” he mumbles quietly. “Is this alright?”

“Yeah,” Martin replies immediately. He squeezes Jon’s hand a little, feeling him squeeze back. “Y-yeah, this is- this is fine.”

“Mm, good. You comfortable?”

“Yeah. Are you?”

“Mm.” Jon somehow snuggles in closer, pressing his face to Martin’s stomach with a small sigh of contentment. “You’re very…”

Martin smiles. “Very yes?”

“Mm, yes. Very yes.”

“I’m glad to hear it, Jon.” He squeezes Jon’s hand again, thumb running gently over his skin. Beneath his thumb, he can feel the burn scars that lie twisted across Jon’s palm. “…Jon?”

Jon stirs a little. “Nrhm.”

Martin smiles. “Jon,” he says again.

This time, Jon stirs a little more. He lifts his head slightly, peeking one eye open at Martin. “What?” he asks, his voice soft and rough, and never in a thousand years would Martin have been able to stop himself from leaning down and pressing a kiss to Jon’s forehead. He feels more than he hears Jon humming beneath his lips and so he kisses him again, and then again after that, pressing the last kiss of the triplet to Jon’s lips and feeling Jon sigh softly against his mouth.

“Do you want to go to bed?” he asks gently. “It’s getting kind of late and you seem pretty tired.”

“Mm, not yet,” Jon replies. He tilts his head, kissing Martin again. “I’m- I’m very comfy, Martin.”

“I can see that,” Martin replies, his smile audible. “You seem pretty happy using me as a pillow.”

“Well you make a very good pillow.”

“Apparently so.”

“Mm.” Jon kisses Martin one more time before settling down again, one arm winding around Martin’s waist. His hand slips beneath the hem of Martin’s jumper, his palm pressing lightly to Martin’s back as he exhales a small sigh of absolute, complete contentment. As Martin watches, his eyes flutter shut. He’s pretty certain that Jon barely even had them open to begin with. He doesn’t mind, though. As much as he likes Jon’s eyes, as much as he’s tried and failed to put them down in lines of poetry and prose, he likes seeing Jon comfortable and relaxed just as much. They’d watched some Bake Off earlier to take a break from the knitting lesson but the TV isn’t on anymore, meaning that the only light that falls across Jon’s face is the soft, gentle glow of the living room light. Most of Jon’s face is hidden from Martin’s view, Jon having turned his head to press his face against Martin’s stomach, but Martin can still see the edge of Jon’s mouth, curled up in a little half-smile as he dozes. He can see Jon’s fingers intertwined with his own, can see the little silver worm scars shining like stars, can see where Jon’s shirt has been rucked up a bit but where he hasn’t bothered to pull it back down. Martin, unthinkingly, reaches for it, meaning to tug it back down into place. The flat isn’t cold but he doesn’t want Jon to be uncomfortable in any way, and he’s just about to quietly, carefully straighten Jon’s t-shirt when something catches his eye.

He can see a scar curving across Jon’s torso, small and sharp and not at all where he would have expected it to be. He’s seen Jon’s top surgery scars before and he knows where they should be, and this scar is definitely not there. It lies lower on Jon’s body, a line of faded silver slicing across the base of his ribcage like a memory of steel.

Martin swallows, his throat suddenly dry. Jon doesn’t react in his lap, not seeming to notice how Martin’s hands have fallen still against him, and so slowly, cautiously, Martin leans forwards. He doesn’t lean far. He doesn’t have to.

He just leans far enough to see what he thought he saw resting on the other side of Jon’s chest: a mirrored scar, clinging to Jon’s skin as it traces the shape of his ribs.

He shouldn’t ask. It’s not his place to ask. But he knows what surgical scars look like, and he knows what self-inflicted scars look like, and these fall firmly into the former camp. Whatever they were, they were medical in nature, and now that he’s seen them, he can’t stop thinking about them. He can’t stop thinking about what might have caused them, and what their purpose might have been, and he can’t stop thinking now about the sheer number of scars that he’s starting to realise that Jon has, lying scattered across his body like a map of sharp, uncomfortable memories.

He shouldn’t ask. It’s not his place to ask.

But he’s worried.

“Jon?” Martin asks quietly. Immediately Jon hums a little, shifting just slightly. “Is- can I ask you a question.”

“Of course,” Jon murmurs.

“It’s a, um, it’s a- it’s a personal question, though. It’s- you don’t have to answer it after you hear it, either, that’s- that’s fine, you can change your mind.”

“It’s alright, Martin. I trust you.”

Martin doesn’t let himself linger on how those last three words make his heart jump inside his chest. He can’t. He clears his throat, gently squeezing Jon’s hand. “Your, um, y-your scars. On your- on your chest. Where are they- what caused them? I’m just curious.”

“Those are my top surgery scars,” Jon replies immediately. His words are barely comprehensible, muffled by Martin’s jumper and by Jon’s own relaxation, but Martin hears them anyway. He hears them, and knows that that’s not the right answer.

Martin draws in a slow breath. “Jon,” he says again, “I wasn’t asking about those scars. I know what your top surgery scars look like, you know, and these…” He lets go of Jon’s hand with one of his own, ignoring Jon’s unhappy little noise as he traces a finger along the scar he saw. “This isn’t a top surgery scar. I- I mean, for starters, it’s way too low down, hah…” He swallows. “B-but you can- you don’t have to answer, you know. I was just- I was just, um, curious, a-and nosy, but you don’t- you don’t have to tell me. I’ll understand.”

“Oh, no, you can know,” Jon replies, his words halfway to yawning. He shifts a little, his fingers tightening around Martin’s hand, and looks up at him with a small, sleepy, entirely content smile. “I don’t mind,” he continues, “I trust you.”

“Oh,” Martin says quietly. “I- oh.” Somehow, hearing it again doesn’t make it any easier to process.

“Mm.” Jon hums again, settling back down in Martin’s lap. Unthinkingly, Martin moves the hand that isn’t holding Jon’s to his hair, starting to card his fingers through the silk-fine strands. Jon hums happily, his arm tightening a little around Martin’s waist as he replies. “They’re – you have very lovely hands, Martin, you know – they’re from- they from when I had to get some ribs removed.”

Martin freezes. “…What?”

“I had to- I had to get some ribs removed,” Jon repeats, his words interrupted with a yawn.

“…Dare I ask why?”

Jon shrugs. “Can’t remember. I don’t think they were very important, though.”

“They- you- all of your ribs are important, Jon!” Martin exclaims before he can stop himself. “They’re all- all your bones are necessary! You need all of them!”

“Evidently I don’t.”

Martin makes a sound that could rival a tea kettle. “You- I- Jon!”

“Look, it’s fine,” Jon replies, casually waving his hand without letting go of Martin’s. “It’s- it’s really nothing to get so worked up about, Martin.”

“Yes, well, forgive me for being concerned at my boyfriend’s medical history,” Martin snaps. He can hear the worry twisting along his words, tangling together with the confusion and the concern and the exasperation into one big, messy bundle of feelings. “I’m a nurse, Jon, or I’m going to be one day, and I- it’s my job to be worried, you know! I can be worried about you! I want to be worried about you, because I care about you, and it’s- you need your ribs! All of them. And I can’t think of any ‘safe’ or ‘nice’ reason why you’d have to get them removed, and it’s- I’m just worried,” he finishes all in a rush. Martin takes a breath, blinking. “I’m just worried,” he repeats quietly. “I want you to be okay.”

There’s a long, horribly silent pause. From beyond the windows of Jon’s flat Martin can hear the occasional sound of a car driving past, breaking the silence before once again allowing it to drown the little room. Jon doesn’t meet his eyes, his expression something that Martin can’t hope to make out. A few times he opens and closes his mouth, looking like he’s going to say something, but he doesn’t, and the longer the silence stretches without Jon’s voice to break it the tighter Martin can feel the anxiety twisting around his heart, squeezing and clinging and convincing him that he said something wrong, that he overstepped a line that he didn’t even know was there to begin with.

And then, just when Martin thinks that he can’t take the silence anymore, Jon speaks.

“…boyfriend,” Jon says slowly. He blinks, not quite looking at Martin. “You just, um… you just called me your boyfriend.”

Oh.

Oh, shit.

“Oh,” Martin replies. “I- oh. Right. I- I, um, I did- I did just do that, I suppose. Um.”

“Are we boyfriends?” Jon asks. He doesn’t sound annoyed, Martin realises distantly. He doesn’t sound upset. He sounds hopeful, more than anything, like he’s not entirely sure that he’s going to hear the answer that he wants to but is longing for it all the same.

Martin knows that feeling. He’s feeling it himself.

“Um… I’d like us to be,” he says quietly. Jon’s eyes widen a little but he doesn’t say anything, just inhaling sharply and quietly. “I’d, um, I’d- I don’t- I’d like for us to be boyfriends, Jon. Um, officially, th-that is. Not just, you know, um… whatever we are right now. Dating, I suppose. I’d- yeah. I’d like for us to be. But we don’t have to be if that’s- if it makes you uncomfortable, or you think that it’s too fast, or anything like that. We can just… yeah. But I’d… I’d like to be your boyfriend, Jon, if you’d like that. I’d like that a lot.”

Jon kisses him. It’s a quick kiss, landing only half on Martin’s mouth, but when Jon kisses him again Martin turns his head to catch it properly, one hand raising to press gently to the curve of Jon’s spine.

“Yes,” Jon mumbles. He kisses Martin again, exhaling in a soft breath of laughter, and then he leans back, absently brushing his hair out of his face. “I’d- yes, Martin, I’d really- I’d really like that. I’d really like that. I’d like to, um, to be- for us- I want us to be boyfriends.”

“Yeah?” Martin asks. He can’t stop himself from asking. He wants to believe Jon and he does believe Jon, but at the same time he can’t quite process what he just heard, can’t quite process that Jon heard his stumble, and caught it, and agrees with it.

He can’t quite believe that Jon likes him just as much as he likes Jon.

“You- um- you- y-yeah?” Martin asks again. He looks at Jon, feeling his brows drawing together, and he can’t keep the hope out of his voice. “Because I, um, I- if you- that’s- you don’t have to say that just because I want us to be boyfriends, Jon, y-you- you don’t- you-”

“I want us to be,” Jon interrupts. “I want this, Martin. Really. I-” He breaks off, giving a short, soft, delighted laugh. “I’d really like to be your boyfriend,” he says quietly. “I’d really like that.”

Martin understands now why Jon kissed him, and he understands because he does the exact same thing. He leans forwards, meeting Jon halfway, and kisses him over and over and over again, twisting one hand in Jon’s shirt as he smiles.

“Alright, then,” Martin murmurs. He can feel Jon smiling against his lips. He can’t stop himself from kissing him again. “We’re- yeah. Boyfriends.”

“Boyfriends,” Jon replies, and when he laughs, Martin can feel the warmth and delight and sheer, unfiltered joy of it in his heart.

Chapter Text

“Friday?” Jon asks. “Really?”

Melanie, sitting across from him at his desk in the theatre, merely shrugs. “Apparently so.”

“It’s barely been any time at all, though.”

“Yeah, trust me, I know, but… I mean, he’s just like that.”

“He is,” Jon agrees, sighing. “He is- he is just like that, I suppose.”

“And it won’t be bad.”

“Oh, no, I know, it never is, but… still. I am looking forward to it, it’s just…”

“It’s been two weeks,” Melanie finishes.

It’s been two weeks,” Jon repeats, more emphatically. “Tim has been away for two weeks. And he’s already coming back to visit.”

“Apparently so,” Melanie says delightedly, “and he’s bringing Sasha with him.”

That makes Jon pause. “Really?” he asks. “I didn’t know Sasha was living near him. He didn’t mention that in the group chat.”

“Neither did I. Neither did he, apparently. Apparently, he just bumped into her while out antiquing with Peter.”

Jon blinks. “…Pardon?”

“Antiquing. With Peter.”

“Oh, so I did hear you right the first time. Well… alright. I can’t say I expected for Tim to go antiquing of all people, but I’m glad that he’s making the most of… well, hanging out with Peter Lukas, I suppose.”

“Mm.” Melanie hums, leaning back in her chair. “Anyway, I figured I’d just update you on the groupchat situation. I know you never really check your phone. Well, unless it’s Martin, that is.” She grins suddenly, bright and wide and sharp enough to make Jon frown. “And speaking of Martin…”

“…What?” Jon asks cautiously.

Well, I just thought that I’d also mention that in the groupchat conversation that you clearly didn’t see, Tim also asked if you’d be willing to bring Martin along to his little party-celebration-thing.”

“Oh,” Jon says. “That’s- hm. Did he actually?”

“Yeah…” Melanie replies slowly, her forehead furrowing a little as she frowns. “I mean, why wouldn’t he?”

“He’s- you’ve- he’s only met Martin once.”

“Well, yeah, but that one meeting went pretty well. I’m pretty sure even you agree on that. And none of us have any issues with Martin coming along either, by the way, because I know what you’re like, and I know that you’ll worry about that if I don’t tell you. We’re all fine with Martin being there. We all want Martin to be there,” Melanie continues, and Jon can’t stop himself from smiling a little. He already knows that his friends all like Martin but he knows it in a distant, absent-minded sort of way, the same way he knows that mountains are big. Somehow, it’s a different thing altogether to hear the confirmation of that directly from one of the people that he’s closest to in the world. It’s nice. It makes him feel nice. It makes him smile, too, as Melanie continues to talk, laying out all the reasons why she and the rest of the theatre crew are already so fond of Martin.

“And,” she adds, “Martin is very clearly important to you! So… yeah. Of course we all want to hang out with him some more. Of course we’re all alright with it. And I’m going to guess from your slightly unnerving smile that you’re alright with it too, so… go on.” Melanie nods vaguely towards Jon. “Text him.”

“…You’re-”

Yes, really, I’m sure,” Melanie interrupts with a sigh. “We’re all sure. Check the groupchat if you don’t believe me.”

“No, no, I believe you, just- give me a second,” Jon says, before quickly digging his phone out of his pocket. Melanie sits back with a smile, crossing her arms over her chest as Jon quickly sends a series of texts.

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Martin.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Tim has decided that he’s apparently been away from us for long enough and is going to be coming back on Friday for a small party of sorts
[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Would you like to join me in going? It’ll be at Basira’s flat after work.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Also Sasha will be there. She’s very excited to meet you.

“Jon?” Melanie asks. “Just wondering… do you text Martin the same way you text the rest of us? Like an old man?”

“I don’t text like an old man, Melanie,” Jon mutters, not looking up from his phone.

“Um, yes, you do. I’ve seen your texts. They’re practically wearing those big chunky cardigans, some of them sound so old.”

“…You mean like the cardigans I wear?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” Melanie replies, utterly without mercy. “You actually look kind of like your texts, you know. In a weird sort of way.”

“…”

“Anyway, has Martin replied yet?” she continues, leaning forwards and peering over his shoulder. Jon automatically shifts, twisting himself away and cradling his phone against his chest.

“Not yet,” he replies. “He’s probably busy- oh.”

“’Oh?’ ‘Oh,’ what?”

“’Oh,’ he’s typing,” Jon replies, and then falls silent as his phone buzzes in his hand.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Oh, Jon, I’d love to, really, but I actually have placement on Saturday :(
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] It’s my four-day shift this week so I need to go to bed early on Friday
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] I’m sorry
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Can you tell them all that I say hi, though?

Jon bites his lip, staring down at his phone. It’s not- he’s not going to say that Martin rejecting the invitation was a surprise, because he knows full well by now what Martin’s schedule normally looks like, but it’s still unpleasant to hear. He hadn’t entirely realised just how quietly excited he’d got at the idea of going to another one of Tim’s parties with Martin, even if the party was almost certainly going to be loud and busy enough to give him a headache if he stayed there for too long. It would’ve been worth it, though. It would’ve been worth it to see Martin interacting with his friends, to see Martin hanging out with Tim, to introduce Martin to Sasha.

To introduce Martin as his boyfriend.

God, but that would’ve been nice.

Jon blinks, quickly tapping his phone screen awake. He can’t do anything about the situation, and he knows it, and he’s not going to judge Martin for being unable to make it, either. Martin, he knows, has far, far more important things to do.

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Ah, okay. That’s alright.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] I’m sorry

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] No, no, it’s alright, I understand, I do.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] I wish I could be there

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] I know.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Really, Martin, it’s fine.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] I’m sure Tim will have plenty of other parties, and placement and saving people’s lives is significantly more important than hanging out with a load of theatre people

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Hey, don’t be mean to theatre people!
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] My boyfriend happens to be a theatre person, I’ll have you know ^-^

Jon squeaks. He lifts his hand the moment he’s aware that he’s making the sound, muffling it as best he can, but it comes out anyway. Boyfriend. Martin had just- he’d- he’d called Jon his boyfriend. He’d just done that, right then and there, without any hesitation, and yes, Jon had just thought about referring to Martin as his boyfriend, but it’s an entirely different thing to read the word in Martin’s text, and remember how soft it had sounded in his voice, and to then realise that the word applies to him.

Christ. Even thinking about it is enough to make Jon smile. He feels a bit like a teenager, becoming so giggly and elated just from the knowledge that Martin can refer to him, is referring to him as his boyfriend, but he doesn’t care. He can’t care. He’s Martin’s boyfriend. They’ve discussed it, and they’ve agreed on it, and Jon may have spent a rather pathetic amount of time on Friday kissing Martin and mumbling the word to him over and over and over again, but he feels that he can hardly be judged for that. He’s Martin’s boyfriend. They’re not just dating anymore. They’re not something fuzzy and vague and undefined, the details of it made unclear and uncertain due to potential differing levels of interest. They both care for each other. They’re both fond of each other. They both want this to be a long-term thing.

They both think – they both hope – that it will be.

Boyfriend.

It’s a single word, and a daft sounding one at that, and it makes Jon smile so much that his face hurts.

“What are you grinning at?”

Jon yelps. It’s a dignified yelp, because he’s never made an undignified sound in his life, but it’s still a yelp. For a split second he thinks he might drop his phone as his hands suddenly forget how to be hands due to being startled by Melanie, but then the moment passes, leaving him with a red face and a heart that’s just about beginning to slow down.

Melanie, because of course she does, just grins at him. “Did Martin compliment you? Is that why you squeaked?”

“It’s- that’s- that is none of your business,” Jon replies, glaring at her. “And I didn’t squeak.”

“Yeah, you did.”

“I did not-”

“You did, it’s a fact, I heard it. Anyway, I know you want to text Martin back, so maybe do that before you actually combust, because funny as that would be, it would also suck not to have you around.”

Jon makes a perfectly dignified sound that definitely isn’t a splutter, ignores the knowing look Melanie gives him, and looks back down at his phone.

And then he smiles again, because he just reread Martin’s messages.

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Ah, yes, I suppose I am
[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] x

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] x
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Really, though, I am sorry that I can’t make it
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Will you let Tim and the others know that I say hi?

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Of course x

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Thank you, Jon x <3

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] <3

“God, you’re so- you’re so smitten,” Melanie says, but when Jon looks up and over at her he sees that she’s smiling, soft and genuine. “Look at you. Actually grinning and everything.”

“I-,” Jon stammers, “I- I-”

“Yeah, yeah, you smile all the time normally, I know, you’re a regular ray of sunshine,” Melanie finishes, rolling her eyes when Jon splutters uselessly. “Look, let me be nice to you, alright? I can be nice sometimes.”

Jon glowers, just a little, but accepts it. “You- I- fine.”

“Oh. Oh, wow, I didn’t think that would actually work, hah. Damn, Martin must really be having a good influence on you.”

“He’s, um… he’s very- he’s- he’s very good.”

“I know he is, Jon,” Melanie says fondly. “Question is, though, is he going to be at Basira’s?”

Jon sighs. “He…”

“What was that sigh?” Melanie asks immediately. “That didn’t sound like a good sigh. What did Martin say?”

“He can’t make it,” Jon replies.

Immediately, Melanie’s face falls. “Well,” she says, “shit.”

---

In a shocking departure from his usual habit of arriving everywhere at least fifteen minutes early, Jon ends up being the last person to show up to Tim’s impromptu party. By the time he arrives at Basira’s flat it’s clear that the evening is already in full swing; he can hear the muffled sound of laughter and conversation as he climbs the stairs to Basira’s floor, and when Basira opens the door to greet him the mixed sound of everyone’s voices sweeps over him in a comforting wall of blurred noise, like familiar static.

“Jon!” Basira exclaims, instantly stepping back to let him inside. “You actually made it! Daisy was sure that Elias was going to keep you at the theatre until midnight.”

“Mm, well, I can’t say that he didn’t try his best,” Jon replies wryly, dropping his bag and coats onto the pile that’s accumulated directly beneath the coat rack. “He’s still trying to discuss the bloody horse with me.”

“Hadn’t he gone home?”

“Apparently not. Apparently, he’d decided to lurk in the shadows just to annoy me with useless questions for several hours,” Jon says. He stretches a little, quickly tugging his shoes off before following Basira through to the living room. The volume of conversation increases as he steps through the door, but no one really pays him much heed.

Apart, that is, from one person.

“Jonny-boy!” Tim shouts the moment he lays eyes on Jon. He springs up from the sofa he’s sat on immediately, performing some complicated twisting motion to free himself from Sasha’s arm as he does so, and waves delightedly at Jon as he starts crossing the room towards him, stepping carefully around the various people sat across the floor. “You made it!”

“I, ah, yes, I- I did,” Jon replies. He takes one step into the living room and then is prevented from progressing any further by the tight hug that Tim sweeps him up in. For a moment, Jon thinks he feels his feet leave the floor.

“I have missed you,” Tim sighs, squeezing Jon tightly before pressing a kiss to the crown of his head. He steps back with another small, happy sigh, his hands warm on Jon’s shoulders as he beams at him. “It’s been far, far too long. How’s life been for you, ex-boss man? How’s Martin? Is he here? I know he said he couldn’t make it but I’m still holding out hope.”

“It’s been two weeks, Tim.”

Tim shrugs, his smile not fading in the slightest. “Well, yeah, maybe it has been two weeks-”

“It definitely has been.”

“-alright, whatever, shut up. I’m still allowed to miss you, you know. There’s not actually a law against it, much as I know you’d love for there to be.” Jon smiles, just a little. Tim sighs again, rolling his eyes, but then kisses Jon on the forehead again anyway. “Dick,” he mutters under his breath. “But yes, right, I know, it’s only been two weeks, but I’m back anyway, because it turned out that Sasha was also planning on paying a visit to you all, and I had a half-day today so I had time to get back down to London, and Basira was kind enough to volunteer her flat as a party location, and also I missed you all. I missed my friends, Jon! And now, before you try to weasel out of it, answer the rest of my questions. I know you’ve already memorised them all.”

“Life’s been… fine,” Jon says after a short, contemplative pause. “Uh. Busy, I suppose. We’ve got-”

“God, yeah, you’ve got that Leitner, haven’t you?” Tim interrupts, his face twisting apologetically. “Sorry for jumping ship and abandoning you all to deal with it.”

“No, no, it’s alright, I would have done the same honestly, given the chance, but I’m starting to feel like nothing short of- of cutting my eyes out or doing something similarly drastic will give me the chance to get out from under Elias’ thumb.”

“I mean… you could just quit,” Tim says. “I did. The place is spooky, yeah, but there’s not actually any weird, creepy, eldritch terror-gods or whatever keeping you trapped there. It’s just paperwork.”

“It is,” Jon admits, “but if I were to quit then I’d have to find another job. That pays well. In London.”

Tim pulls a face. “Yeah, fair point, that.” There’s a short pause and then his face brightens again, his mouth curving into a familiar smirk. “And speaking of things keeping you in London… Martin? I noticed he didn’t arrive with you.”

“He still can’t make it,” Jon replies shortly. He can hear the disappointment in his voice and knows that Tim can too. “Which was to be expected, I know, but… yeah.”

Tim gives his shoulder a sympathetic pat. “Yeah,” he echoes. “Would’ve been nice to see him again. Would’ve been nice to see you two being all lovey-dovey, too. I take it things are still going well? A little birdie-”

“Basira and Gerry.”

“-a little birdie told me that you two have been, ah, enjoying each other’s company. Spending a few nights together. Being, dare I say it, extra affectionate.”

Tim.

“I know, I know, you’re not doing anything, I do actually know what you’re like, Jon, but it’s still good! It’s still progress! It’s still you two growing closer together, becoming fonder, becoming, you know-”

“Oh, look, Sasha’s here!” Jon interrupts loudly, trying not to smile too manically at the approaching figure. “Hello, Sasha! How are you?”

“Fine, unlike some people,” she replies, the corner of her mouth quirking in a smile as she reaches them. “Jon, you look rather like you’re being interrogated.”

“I am,” Jon says, at the exact same moment that Tim says, “He’s not.”

Jon glares at him, but he knows that there’s no heat to it. “This man,” he says as accusingly as he can, “is waylaying me with prying, personal questions.”

“No, I am not!” Tim objects. “I’m just being a good friend! Being a caring friend!”

“You’re hogging Jon is what you’re doing,” Sasha says, laughing quietly. She reaches up, shoving at Tim’s shoulder. “Go on, piss off, would you? Go sit down, grab Jon a drink, and give me a chance to actually talk to him, yeah?”

“I’ve not seen Jon in weeks,” Tim replies, pouting.

“Yeah, and I’ve not seen him in months. I win.” She shoves his shoulder again. “Go on. Scram.”

“Ugh. Fine.” Tim rolls his eyes, still smiling, and then he hugs Jon quickly once more, presses another kiss to his forehead, and finally rejoins the others on the sofa.

In his absence, the whole world seems just a little bit quieter and calmer.

Jon clears his throat. “Well, that was, uh… thank you for saving me, Sasha.”

“Oh, no problem,” Sasha replies. “You looked in need of rescuing.”

“Hah, well… maybe just a little bit. It’s, uh, it’s good to see you again, by the way!”

“It’s good to see you too,” Sasha says warmly. She steps in, hugging him tightly, and Jon doesn’t even try to stop himself from hugging her back. It’s been far, far too long since he last saw Sasha. “You’re looking- well, you’re looking well enough, which I guess is kind of to be expected. Tim told me Elias has got you working on another Leitner.”

Jon groans, just about managing to turn the sound into a laugh. “He- yes, yes, he has.”

“Oof, I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright. It’s- honestly, it’s not been too bad so far, for a Leitner. None of the bulbs have blown, at least.”

Sasha’s face brightens “Oh, hey, that’s a good sign! Maybe this one isn’t cursed! You seen any spiders yet?”

“No more than the usual,” Jon replies, “though I doubt this one isn’t cursed. When have you ever known a Leitner to not be cursed?”

“Hey, don’t diss it, it could happen.”

“Huh, I doubt it.”

“Alright, fine, be all pessimistic, you weirdo. I’m trying to think positively here.” In a beat, Sasha’s face brightens. “Oh, and speaking of positivity; how’s Not Sasha getting along? Is she still creeping people out?”

“Oh, definitely,” Jon replies, making Sasha smile delightedly. “She’s still lurking in corners and hiding behind boxes in storage and generally giving me regular heart attacks, as I’m sure you’ll be glad to know.”

“I am delighted to know all of that,” Sasha says, grinning widely. “Is Tim still leaving her at your desk?”

“Well, he’s- not anymore, I mean, he sort of- I’d be very impressed if he managed to do that-”

“Right, right, yeah, sort of takes a while for him to get down to London now, I suppose.”

“-yes, right, exactly, but, um, before he left he was very keen on trying to jumpscare me with a corpse mannequin whenever I walked into my own office.”

Fantastic,” Sasha says. “Jon?”

“Mm?”

“Next time you see Not Sasha tell her that I’m proud of her, will you?”

Jon smiles. “I’ll, ah, I’ll be sure to do that,” he promises.

“Wonderful.” Sasha beams, leaning in and pressing a quick kiss to Jon’s cheek. “Now, anyway, you grab a drink, sit down, and try and unwind just a little bit, alright? Tim saved a space for you on the sofa,” she continues, grabbing Jon by the shoulder and gently pushing him towards the seat in question. “He knows what your hips are like and didn’t want you sitting on the floor.”

“O-oh,” Jon replies. He doesn’t know what else to say. “That’s- that was nice of him.”

“Yeah, well, don’t thank me! Go sit down, thank him, have a beer, unwind for once. I know what you’re like, Jon!”

Jon grabs a beer, sits down, and tries to unwind. He settles down on the sofa as best he can, wedging himself in between Daisy and Tim. It’s a tight fit, the sofa not really being designed for three people and an extra person sitting on the arm of it, but they make it work. Tim lifts an arm, dropping it casually around Jon’s shoulders as Daisy shuffles around a little to make some degree of room. It’s nice. It’s comfortable enough. It’s familiar, above all. It’s not a very busy party, for a Tim party, but Jon suspects that Basira had something to do with that. Apart from himself and the rest of what Jon tends to consider the ‘regular’ theatre crew (a group that includes Sasha, for all that she hasn’t worked at the theatre in over a year), there’s also Helen, Michael, Anabelle, Agnes, and a few other members of the regular cast that Jon’s less familiar with. They’re not a massive group when it all comes down to it, but London flats aren’t exactly known for their floorspace, and altogether it makes for what could perhaps best be described as a pleasantly crowded room. There’s conversation flowing back and forth, voices regularly being raised in laughter, and it doesn’t take Jon long to tune into the conversation that’s happening on the sofa around him.

“Oh, man, Peter’s great,” Tim’s saying emphatically, apparently picking up from some earlier conversation he’d been having with Daisy and the rest. “He’s- he’s really great, honestly, just- he’s an absolute legend. I’ve got no idea how on Earth he puts up with Elias but then again, people do weird things for love.”

“I thought he put up with him by spending as little time with him as possible,” Melanie comments. She’s sitting on the floor before the sofa, her back resting against Tim’s legs and her head nestled against Georgie’s shoulder. “I mean, Elias is pretty much always at the theatre and from what you’ve said Peter seems to spend a lot of time being anywhere but London.”

“Well, yeah, alright, that is- that is true. Fair point there, Mels.”

“Thank you.”

“But- aw, man, you should’ve seen him. He’s- listening to him chatting with Elias is like- it’s like seeing the sun rise. It’s like watching flowers bloom. It’s like- it’s like seeing Jon smile.”

“Piss off,” Jon says warmly. Tim laughs, warm and delighted, and Jon has to hide his smile behind his bottle as he lifts it to take a sip.

“God, I somehow forgot how crochety you are, you know,” Tim says, shifting his arm to ruffle Jon’s hair. Jon reaches up, swatting at him, and Tim laughs again. “Yup. Haven’t changed at all.”

“It’s been two weeks, Tim.”

“Stranger things have happened in two weeks.”

“Well, according to what Melanie’s told me, apparently so,” Jon says, making Tim raise a curious eyebrow. “According to Melanie, apparently you and Peter Lukas went antiquing. Apparently, you bumped into Sasha while browsing old furniture.”

Tim nods enthusiastically, quickly lowering his bottle. “Oh, yeah, that’s right! Old Petey’s got me hooked on the local ‘tiques scene. We were just hanging out one day, having a good old lads time hitting up the best spots in town, looking at some tables and- and cupboards, and other things, and then I turned a corner and bam, Sasha was there! Just… looking at this really, really cool table.”

Now it’s Jon’s turn to raise an eyebrow. He’s fairly certain that the most attention Tim has ever paid a table is while building an IKEA one. “A table?”

“It was a very cool table,” Tim says, just a touch defensively. He shifts a little, jostling Jon as he reaches awkwardly into his pocket. “Let me just- hang on, I took a picture of it… there, see?”

Jon leans in, squinting at Tim’s phone. The photo displayed on-screen is indeed of a table – it looks, to Jon’s expert eye, to be a mostly regular table, large and ornate and carved of a rich, dark wood grown faded and stained with time, with spiralling lines carved across the surface of it. Jon tries to follow the path of one of them, following the twists and turns that it takes across the wood, but the picture is too small for him to be able to make out the detail of it well enough. What he can see, though, is the square hole cut into the centre of the table, where all the lines seem to converge.

“See?” Tim says, startling Jon out of the slight trance he’d fallen into. Jon jumps a little, jerking his head up to look at Tim who grins back at him. “It was a really good table. All- all web-like, and fractal-ey, and just generally really, really cool. Peter nearly bought it for me, you know, but I didn’t have space in the new flat. It’s a shame, really.”

“Wait, wait, wait, hang on!” Melanie interrupts loudly. She stretches up slightly, twisting around to stare wide-eyed at Tim. “Say that again?”

“Say what again?” Tim asks.

“About the table. And Peter. And buying it.”

Tim shrugs. “There’s not much else to say. I thought it was a really cool table, but it was an antique so it wasn’t like I could afford it, but then Peter said not to worry about that and asked if I’d have space for it in the flat, and when I said that I didn’t he started muttering something about property value or something. Why?”

Like the sun breaking through clouds, a smile grows across Melanie’s face. “Tim?” she asks, in the mostly falsely innocent voice Jon has ever heard in his life.

Tim doesn’t bat an eyelid. “Yeah?”

“I’ve got a thought for you.”

“Shoot.”

“Have you considered,” Melanie says calmly and levelly, “the possibility that Peter Lukas might, might, be trying to become your sugar daddy?”

In a moment, Tim’s entire expression changes. Jon leans back a bit, trying to see Tim’s face as best he can, because he’s fairly certain that the look that’s now on it could only be described as ‘rapturous.’

“Oh my God,” Tim breathes. “Oh my- oh my God, Melanie, you’re- holy shit.”

Melanie nods. “I know.”

“He’s- that’s-”

“Sugar daddy. I’m telling you.”

“Melanie, you’ve changed my whole life.”

“I know.”

“I’m a different man.”

“I know.”

“I have an accidental sugar daddy.”

Melanie grins. “Damn right you do.”

“…Hang on, I thought you normally have to do something in exchange for a sugar daddy,” Georgie pipes up from the floor, her brow furrowed. “Like, well, you know…”

There’s a choking, spluttering sound from Tim, who’d just lifted his bottle to take another sip. Immediately Sasha leans down, clapping him on the back, and Jon is just about to ask if he’s alright when he feels the sharp, familiar elbow of Daisy hit him in the side.

“Jon?” she asks.

“Hmm?” Jon hums, just about managing to drag his gaze away from Tim, Melanie, and Georgie. “What is it?”

Daisy inclines her head towards the coffee table. “What colour do you want?”

“…What?”

“What colour do you want?” Daisy repeats. “For your nails?” She lifts a hand, turning it so that Jon can see the back of it, and it’s only then that Jon realises that her nails are painted a deep, dark shade of crimson. “Gerry brought some of his nail polish with him.”

“We all painted our nails earlier,” Basira continues after a beat, when it becomes clear that Daisy isn’t going to explain further. “Well. Gerry painted some of our nails, actually, and then Helen and Michael painted each other’s nails – which took ages, by the way, I’ve got no idea what they were doing – and then Tim decreed that since this is his party he gets to set the rules, which means that we’ve now all got our nails painted.”

“Exactly,” Daisy confirms with a nod. “So, Jon… pick your colour.”

“Oh! Oh, um… that one, I suppose?” Jon says, pointing at random.

“You’re just pointing at random,” Daisy says.

“No, I’m not.”

“Mm. You’re lying. But fine.” Daisy stretches forwards, scooping up the little bottle from the table. “Nice colour, though, for a random pick. It’ll look good on you.”

“…Really?”

“Yeah.” Daisy quickly opens the bottle, placing it to one side before holding out a hand. “Hand.” Jon dutifully gives Daisy his hand. Daisy tuts quietly as she takes it. “Your cuticles are disgusting,” she remarks, her voice completely devoid of inflection.

Jon frowns. “What?”

“Your cuticles,” Daisy repeats, “are disgusting. You’ve basically shredded them.”

“Oh. Have I?”

“Mm.”

“Is that- will that-”

“I can still paint your nails,” Daisy says. “Don’t worry about that. I know what I’m doing.”

“I’m sure you do,” Jon replies, settling back against the sofa and absently sipping his beer as he watches Daisy set to work. She approaches painting his nails the same way she seems to approach everything – with a determined, nearly single-minded focus that’s a tiny bit terrifying to see up close. It’s a tiny bit terrifying to Jon, even now, but it’s also weirdly comforting in the way that so many things about Daisy are.

He’s not entirely sure how much time passes as he watches Daisy paint his nails, his attention drifting from one conversation to another. He doesn’t really feel like talking too much, not after the business of the week he’d just had, but it’s nice to sit in familiar company, surrounded on all sides by familiar voices, and just relax.

It’s only when his phone buzzes sharply in his pocket that he actually starts paying attention to much of anything.

Jon fishes awkwardly for his pocket, feeling his phone buzzing again. It takes a few attempts, and a little bit of shuffling on behalf of Daisy and Tim, but eventually he manages to pull his phone free. By some miracle, he doesn’t even jostle Daisy too much as he’s doing it. That, or she just decided not to try to paint his nails while he was moving around. Jon’s not sure. He’s got more important things to focus on.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Hope you don’t mind me sending this, I just figured that you’d probably be at Basira’s by now and I wanted to say that I hope you have a good time!
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] (And if you’re not there and it had better be for some reason /other/ than still being at the theatre)
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] (I know what you’re like, Jon x)
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Anyway, tell them all I say hi, will you?
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] And also that I’m sorry I can’t be there and that I /especially/ say hi to Tim and Sasha, because I know Tim wanted to hang out some more and Sasha wanted to meet me

“It’s-” Jon starts.

“Martin,” Daisy finishes for him. “I know.”

“…How?”

“From your face,” she replies immediately, not even bothering to look up.

“Yes!” Basira crows. “You- yes, Jon, see? You have a Martin face. I told you.”

“Oh, he definitely has a Martin face,” Georgie agrees as Jon slowly starts to turn more and more scarlet. “Sometimes he makes it even when he’s not texting Martin or talking about him or anything like that.”

“He makes it all the time at work,” Melanie adds usefully. “I mean, I’ve got no idea how he gets mobile signal in the basement when I can’t ever, but it’s still… I don’t know, it is kind of sweet to see him smiling. It’s a nice change.”

“I-”

“Yes, you smile, we know, Jon,” Melanie says, rolling her eyes and grinning. “You know we talked about that literally earlier this week? You don’t have to keep reminding us.”

“You are definitely smiling more, though,” says Basira. “More than once a week at least, which is a definite improveme-”

Anyway,” Jon interrupts, before things progress any further and he actually has to leave the room from the sheer, overwhelming mortification of having feelings and then having those feelings be known about, “if we’re quite done discussing my facial expressions in minute detail, Martin wanted me to tell you all that he says hi. He also wanted to say that he’s sorry that he can’t be here, and that he-” Jon pauses, squinting down at his phone screen, “-that he especially says hi to Tim and Sasha. Those are his exact words”

From next to him on the sofa, there’s a dull thwump as Tim’s hand settles above his heart.

“Oh, bless him,” Tim says, his voice steeped in fondness. “Jon, your boy’s adorable. Man, that’s so sweet of him!”

“He is, ah, he is rather lovely,” Jon agrees quietly. His face is already scarlet, he figures. It’s not like it could possibly get any worse. “He’s, um, he’s very… yes.”

“Very what?” Georgie asks, and Jon shrugs.

“Just… yes. He’s- he’s nice. And he, ah, I-…” Jon swallows. He doesn’t know why he’s suddenly talking so much about Martin, and he doesn’t know if he’s actually enjoying it, but he’s suddenly finding it rather hard to stop the words from coming out. Maybe he should have eaten before accepting the beer that had been given to him. “I’m very- I… I wish he was here…”

It’s only Daisy’s hand holding tightly onto his own that stops Jon from covering his face at the chorus of ‘aww’s that immediately rises.

“Oh, God, Jon,” Tim says, his voice wavering the tiniest amount. “That’s- oh my God, that’s adorable, that’s so- you’re adorable, you’re too adorable, God I love how smitten and in love you are, this is fantastic.”

“I’m not- I’m not smitten-”

“You are, Jon! It’s brilliant, though – don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.”

“I am not smitten,” Jon lies, more emphatically. “I am- I’m- Martin is just- he’s a very- he’s a very nice person, and I’m very- I’m very fond of him, and it’s- I was- I am allowed to wish that my Martin- that my boyfriend was also at this party, you know.”

“We know, we’re just teasing, we all know that you love Martin very much,” Georgie says, rolling her eyes, but there’s no meanness or judgement to her words. She reaches up, patting Jon gently on the knee. “We all wish he was here too. We – no, don’t give me that look, Jon, I mean it – we’re all very fond of him too. We’re all very sad that he’s got important nursing stuff to be doing, and can’t be here to make you turn even more red and look even more adorable.”

Jon glares at her. “I am not adorable,” he says. It should be impossible for his blush to grow more, he feels, but it somehow does it all the same, lighting up his face until he feels almost like it’s burning. “I’m not adorable, and I never have been.”

“You were adorable at Tim’s leaving drinks,” Daisy remarks, not looking up from Jon’s hand as she continues to paint his nails in careful, precise strokes. “I think we can all attest to that.”

“Oh, yeah, absolutely,” Basira adds. “We have photographic evidence of it, too. Don’t forget that.”

“I wasn’t forgetting that, I was just- I-”

“Stop tugging,” Daisy interrupts, gently tapping the back of Jon’s hand. “I’m trying very hard to keep this nail polish even, you know.”

Jon makes a small grumbling sound under his breath, making Daisy tap his hand again.

“Hey, none of that,” she says. “No grumbling. Think about Martin. Think about- I don’t know. Nice things. Let me paint your damn nails.”

Jon grumbles again, but he takes care to grumble more quietly this time. From the way Daisy briefly raises her eyes to look at him he doesn’t think he was quite successful in avoiding her notice, but she doesn’t comment on it, returning all her attention to his nails as, around him, the conversation moves on, leaving Jon alone with his thoughts.

Or, more specifically, leaving him with one thought in particular.

Jon chews at his lip, staring down at the phone still in his hand. He doesn’t know if either Tim or Georgie noticed what they said, doesn’t know if they paid any heed to the particular word that they both used, but he did. He noticed.

He noticed them both saying that he loves Martin.

…Does he love Martin?

It’s a trickier question to answer than Jon thought it would be, as well as being one that, up until now, he’d never actually considered. He knows that he wants to love Martin. He really, really wants to love Martin, and he wants Martin to love him too, but he doesn’t know if he does, not yet. He knows that he likes Martin, is fond of Martin, that he loves Martin’s smile and his voice and his presence and his everything, but whether or not those feelings have fully moved from fondness and closeness to actual love is something that Jon doesn’t think he can answer right here and now. He wants to love Martin.

But he doesn’t know if he does.

And, he realises quietly as the party continues around him, he thinks he’s actually alright with that. He’s okay with not knowing if he loves Martin. He’s okay with not knowing if Martin loves him. For some reason that he can’t describe, he doesn’t feel… well, he doesn’t feel rushed. He’s never felt rushed with Martin. He’s never felt rushed into anything. There’s no urgency to their relationship, no tension, no timeline or checklist or anything at all that feels like it’s trying to hurry things along. There’s no end date to it. There’s nothing like that. Their relationship just… is. They both want it to be a long-lasting thing – something that, even now, makes Jon feel warm all over to remember – and they’re both already acting as if it is. Jon doesn’t have to love Martin right now. He doesn’t have to tell Martin that he loves him until he knows that he definitely does. And whenever that turns out to be, however long it takes, Jon trusts that Martin will still be with him. That Martin, too, will be willing to wait.

Jon looks down, turning his phone over and over in his hands. The glass of the screen is cool against his fingertips, cutting through the muggy heat of the crowded living room like an anchor tying him back to Martin. Jon knows it’s just an advantage of modern communication, knows that it doesn’t actually mean anything, but it’s still nice to feel like he could reach out and talk to Martin whenever he wants, even now. He knows, of course, that Martin is likely getting ready for bed by now, and that he really shouldn’t disturb him, but part of him wants to. Part of him wants to wake up his phone, and text Martin, and tell him that he cares for him. That he’s fond of him.

That he’s falling in love with him.

Because, Jon realises with a quiet sort of wonder, that’s exactly what it is. He doesn’t love Martin, not yet, but he will. He knows that. He knows it as surely as he knows anything, knows it as surely as he knows gravity, knows it as surely as he knows his own name. He doesn’t love Martin yet, not to the best of his knowledge, but he’s starting to. He’s definitely starting to. But how could he not? How, Jon thinks, could he possibly not fall in love with Martin, when Martin is so kind and so sweet and so funny and so caring and so Martin? When everything that Martin says makes Jon feel warm? When the touch of his hand makes Jon’s heart skip a beat? When the sound of his voice, or the brush of his lips, or the weight of his arms around Jon’s shoulders or even his presence over text is enough to brighten Jon’s day and make him smile so much that his face hurts from it? How could he not fall in love with Martin? How could anyone not fall in love with Martin?

Jon doesn’t know, but that’s alright. He doesn’t need to know how not to fall in love with Martin. Even if he did know, he can’t imagine possibly using the knowledge. He wants to love Martin. He already does, at least a little bit. He loves Martin’s voice, and his hands, and his kindness, and his fondness for pigeons and highland cows and the soft, sure, certain way that he talks about nursing. He loves so, so much of him.

But he doesn’t love Martin. Not yet.

Jon leans back further against the sofa cushions, taking another sip of his beer. No, he doesn’t love Martin yet. And he’s alright with that.

Because he knows that, at some point, he will.

Chapter Text

It’s later than Jon would have liked when he arrives at Martin’s flat the following week, climbing the now-familiar stairs of Martin’s building with rainwater dripping cold down his neck. It’s a wet, heavy, dismal sort of day, the sky laced with sheeting rain that had arrived about when everyone else at the theatre had started to head home and still gave no sign of letting up some three hours later. Jon can hear his shoes squeaking slightly as he reaches Martin’s floor, can feel the water pooling in his shoes after it entirely soaked through his socks on the walk from the tube station, but it’s easy enough to push his slight discomfort aside. Soon, very soon, he’ll be back in Martin’s flat. Very soon, he’ll be with Martin again.

Very soon, Martin might be able to help him fix the absolute mess he made of his practise knitting.

Jon knocks on the door, lifting a hand to brush his wet hair back from his face. He doesn’t hear any approaching footsteps but not even a second passes before the door opens to reveal Martin standing on the other side, his expression somewhere between delight and concern.

“Jon!” Martin says, but all the joy and delight that’s on his face falls away the moment he actually lays eyes on him.

Jon, for his part, merely smiles. “Hi, Martin.”

“Jesus Christ!” Martin exclaims. “What happened to you? Are you- are you alright? Do you- I-”

Jon frowns at him. “What?” he asks, cutting over Martin’s concerned stammering.

Martin, in answer, gestures at him. “You’re- blood!” he says succinctly. “Jon, you’re- you’re covered in blood? Are you alright? I’ve got- I’ve got bandages, and plasters, and- do you need to go to A&E?”

“Oh,” Jon says. “That. The blood.”

Yes, the blood!”

Jon tries not to smile, but it’s impossible not to. “It’s- it’s fake blood, Martin,” he replies, his voice coloured with amusement. “That’s all. It’s- Elias had me trying different versions of it to find which would be the best for the Flesh scenes of the play.”

There’s a pause.

“…Oh,” Martin says eventually, his shoulders loosening. “That’s- oh. Alright. And you- you couldn’t have led with that?”

Jon shrugs, stepping inside the flat when Martin makes space for him, hearing him shut the door behind him. “Honestly? I sort of forgot it was there, though I guess it does explain the weird looks I was getting on the tube.”

“You got the tube covered in fake blood?”

“Mm.”

“And soaking wet?”

“That too.”

For a moment, Martin just gapes at him. “…Jon?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re amazing, you know that, but sometimes you’re completely baffling.”

Jon shrugs again, trying not to shiver at the press of cold, wet fabric against his skin. “Good baffling, I hope. Oh, and I’m sorry I’m late by the way. I’m- work was-”

“Elias is a dick, yeah, I know,” Martin says, sighing quietly. “Just- next time could you let me know? Drop me a text or- or something? Just so that I don’t worry. Um.”

“Oh. Oh, I’m- I’m- I’m sorry, Martin, I didn’t mean to-”

“No, no, I know you didn’t, but- you know I’m going to worry about you. And I- I know that it’s almost certainly just Elias being, well, being Elias,” Martin says, giving a soft, wry chuckle, “but I- I want to know that you’re alright. That’s it. So… yeah.”

Jon swallows. He reaches out, taking Martin’s hand, and tangles their fingers together as he feels guilt start curdling in his stomach. “I’m sorry,” he says again. “I’ll- I’ll text you next time I’m running late.”

Martin smiles at him. “Thank you,” he says softly, ducking his head and kissing Jon quickly. “I mean don’t- don’t bother if it’s just a few minutes, obviously, that’s- I know what London’s like, and that’s just life, and I- God, I really hope this doesn’t seem controlling or anything, I just- I just get a little anxious when someone says they’re going to be somewhere at a certain time and then half an hour passes they’re still not there and they haven’t told me they’re running late, either.” Martin catches Jon’s eye, his brow furrowed by a concerned frown. “You know? You- yeah?”

Jon smiles back. He strokes his thumb over the back of Martin’s hand, feeling out the now-familiar bumps and valleys of his knuckles. “I know. I- I get it. I am sorry, Martin. I can- I’ll let you know if I’m running late.”

“Thank you,” Martin repeats, kissing Jon again before pulling back with a small noise of disgust. “Ugh. Sorry, that’s- I don’t know what’s in that fake blood, but it is vile.”

“I think it’s the edible one that’s by my mouth.”

“Edible? Really?”

Jon shrugs. “It can be disgusting and still edible. This was a recipe that Elias suggested to us, actually. It’s ah, syrup and red food colouring.”

Martin frowns. “That’s- do I want to know why it’s so gross?”

“We found the food colouring in props storage and it’s seven years out of date.”

“…Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“…Jon?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you want to go take a shower? I mean, you’re- you’re kind of completely soaked, on top of the whole…” Martin waves a hand at him vaguely. “Y’know. The blood situation.”

Jon blinks. “Oh,” he says. “Oh, I’d- I mean yes, of course, but I’ve not- I, ah, I packed my bag before work so I don’t really have any spare clothes-”

“You can borrow some of mine,” Martin says easily. “I can throw yours in the wash while you’re showering if you leave them outside the door, if you want. I don’t- I mean, I don’t know if they’ll actually be dry by the time you head off tomorrow,” he adds, scratching the back of his head, “but if they’re not you can just borrow my stuff. I don’t mind.”

“You- really?”

Yes, Jon, really. Come on, I’ve lent you a hoodie before, haven’t I?” There’s a pause. Martin’s eyes narrow, his gaze flicking quickly over Jon, and then a small smile tugs at the corner of his lips as Jon feels himself starting to turn red. “A hoodie that, I note, you seem to be wearing right now.”

Jon shifts from foot to foot. “It’s a- it’s a very comfortable hoodie,” he protests weakly, and Martin’s smile only grows wider. “It’s- look, Martin, it’s a- it’s- you lent me this hoodie with the intent of me wearing it, so it’s- it’s only to be expected that I actually do wear it from time to time.” Even to bed, on the few occasions now where work has kept Jon from seeing Martin at lunch or from going on dates with him, but Martin doesn’t need to know that. Martin doesn’t need to know that Jon wore his hoodie to work today because he didn’t want to have to wait until the evening to be around Martin again. He doesn’t need to know how Melanie had referred to him as an ‘adorable moth in his Martin-hoodie-cocoon’ earlier that day.

Martin doesn’t need to know any of that.

Thankfully, though, it seems that Martin doesn’t mind that Jon still hasn’t returned his hoodie, despite having been in possession of it now for several weeks. He just smiles, his eyes soft. “Well, you look good in it,” he says, and immediately Jon feels himself starting to smile back. “You, um- it looks- you look good in it, Jon. So if you- I’m- if you want to, um to keep hold of it, then that would be- I’d be fine with that, you know, I’d be- I mean, I’ll lend you another one for tonight, but tomorrow you can- you can keep hold of this one. Um.”

“…Martin?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you,” Jon says.

Martin shrugs a little, smiling at him. He looks for a moment as though he’s going to say more but doesn’t, instead leaning in to kiss him once more before drawing back with a shudder. “God, that- that food colouring really is off, isn’t it? Right, anyway, you- you wait there, and I’ll- I’ll be back in a bit with clothes for you, alright?”

Jon smiles, squeezing Martin’s hand absently, before letting go. “Alright.”

For a moment Martin looks like he’s going to kiss him again, but he doesn’t. He smiles at Jon, soft and warm, and then turns and disappears into his bedroom as Jon drops his bag by the door and starts tugging off his shoes. Martin returns a few minutes later, an armful of fabric held under one arm.

“Here,” Martin says, pressing the bundle of clothing into Jon’s waiting hands before grabbing him gently by the shoulders and spinning him around to point towards the bathroom door. “Go on. Clean up. I’m not cuddling you when you’re soggy and covered in blood. I see enough of it at work.”

“Fake blood,” Jon mutters. “It’s- it’s fake blood, Martin.”

“It’s still sticky and kind of gross, Jon.”

“It… yeah.”

Martin smiles, leaning forwards to kiss Jon quickly on the cheek. “Go on,” he says again, his voice warm. “Shower. Wash. Warm up. Get the blood – fake blood, yes, I know – get it out of your hair. Come join me in the living room when you’re done, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Jon says, and then, just because he can and because he wants to, he presses a quick, fleeting kiss to Martin’s lips, and disappears into the bathroom while Martin’s still complaining at the taste of incredibly old food colouring.

Martin’s bathroom is familiar to Jon by now, and it doesn’t take him long to dig out the spare towel that they’ve both started thinking of as his towel, shed his clothes, leave them outside the bathroom door, and climb into the shower. He makes quick work scrubbing the fake blood out of his hair, barely even hesitating before picking up Martin’s bottles of bodywash and shampoo, but he still pauses when he first opens one.

Martin’s shampoo. Martin’s bodywash. Martin’s clothes.

Stupid. It’s so- it’s so stupid, Jon thinks to himself. It’s so stupid how quietly excited he gets just from surrounding himself in Martin’s stuff, from wearing Martin’s hoodie or smelling like Martin’s bodywash. It’s absurd. It’s- it’s pathetic, really, but he can’t stop it. He just likes it. He likes feeling close to Martin, likes being close to Martin, likes having these little reminders that Martin actively, deliberately, willingly wants Jon in his life. That he is choosing to have Jon in his life, and that he is choosing to be Jon’s boyfriend, and that he is choosing to lend Jon his hoodie and his clothes and his toiletries.

By the time Jon steps out of the shower, he smells almost entirely of the scents he’s come to associate with Martin. The clothes that Martin had lent him are, predictably, all rather oversized on him, but Jon doesn’t care, quickly rolling up the ends of the pyjama pant legs so that he doesn’t trip over them. He feels he might look a bit like a shambling, animated laundry mound as he shuffles out of the bathroom and over to the living room, but he’s not bothered by it. After all, Martin literally just saw him covered in fake blood. And besides, he’s comfortable. He drops onto the sofa beside Martin without a word, instantly pressing up against his side as Martin’s arm moves to rest around his shoulders.

“Hello,” Martin says, his smile audible. “You all cleaned up now?”

“Ah, mostly, I think,” Jon replies. “I might still have some blood in my hair. I’m not soaked through anymore though, so that’s an improvement.”

“Oh, yeah, definitely. I wasn’t going to be cuddling with you when you were all soggy. You looked like a sad kitten.”

“H-hey!”

“An adorable sad kitten,” Martin hastens to add. “A very- you’re very cute, you know, even dripping wet, but I also didn’t want you soaking my sofa.”

“Hm,” Jon huffs, deigning not to comment on the ‘kitten’. “Well, I was- I wouldn’t say that it was exactly my fault, being soaked. Blame the weather.”

“I was going to blame the weather anyway, Jon.”

“Good. Because it’s awful today.”

Martin shifts a little, pulling a slight face. “I mean… well, yeah, I suppose it is, but it’s also… I don’t know, I think the rain’s kind of romantic, actually.”

“…What?”

Martin shrugs, colouring slightly. “I think the rain’s kind of romantic.”

“You- but- why?” Jon asks, feeling about as out of his depth as a duck in the ocean. “It’s- the rain is awful. I mean, yes, it can be refreshing at times, and I understand that we do need it to survive and all that, but it’s- it’s- it’s all damp. And cold. And it tends to slow down public transport, too.”

“Oh, I know,” Martin says quickly, “I’m not saying that it’s not awful to have to wait in the rain for a bus, but it’s also… I don’t know it’s just nice. It’s all… all clean, and fresh, and it sounds nice-”

“Not when you’re outside.”

“-it sounds nice when you’re inside, Jon, if you’d let me finish.”

Jon laughs, making Martin roll his eyes and kiss him.

“Awful,” he mutters. “You’re awful, Jon. Just the- just the worst boyfriend.”

“Oh?” Jon asks, trying to ignore how hard it is not to wiggle in place in delight at the sound of the word boyfriend on Martin’s lips. “Is that- is that so, Mr Blackwood?”

“…Well, maybe not the worst.”

Jon smiles. “I’ll take that,” he says, and kisses Martin, just because he can.

Against his lips, Martin hums softly. He kisses Jon back, one hand raising to rest against Jon’s cheek, but after only a minute or two he leans back, shaking his head a little.

“Right,” he says, his voice just a tiny bit hoarser, “right, that’s- I’m not- I’m not letting you distract me with kisses, I’m not. I was- I was making a point. About the rain. About it being romantic.”

“Mm?” Jon hums, leaning in and stealing one last kiss before Martin can react. “Were you now?”

“I- I was.”

Jon kisses him again, just to hear Martin’s small, surprised, delighted squeak. “Well, go on then.”

“I will, I just- Jon.”

Jon laughs against Martin’s lips, one hand half-curled in Martin’s hoodie. “What?”

“I am trying to talk.”

With a soft, quiet chuckle Jon leans back, resting once again against Martin’s side. “Sorry, sorry, I’ll- I’ll let you talk. Go ahead.”

Thank you,” Martin huffs, but Jon can see the smile on his face, can see the warm flush painted high up on his cheeks, highlighting his freckles. “I was just- I was just saying that the rain can be nice, actually. It’s- it’s important, and necessary, and all calming and nice, and- yes, I know, it is annoying when you’re caught outside in it, but it’s still nice! It can still be romantic! Just think of- of- of that one scene in Pride And Prejudice! With the confession! That’s romantic. And there’s Singing In The Rain. That’s sweet. It’s romantic. And I-” Martin cuts himself off, looking away.

Jon raises an eyebrow. “You what?”

“I- I- you know what, nevermind, it’s silly.”

“I can’t judge that until I know what it is, Martin.” Jon stretches up, pressing a quick kiss to Martin’s cheek. “I’d like to hear it,” he adds quietly. “I’d like- I’d like to know what you’re thinking.”

In the soft quiet of the flat, Martin’s quiet sigh is entirely audible. “Well… alright,” he says, and Jon can’t stop himself from smiling and quickly kissing Martin on the cheek again. “Look, maybe sometimes I think that having my own Singing In The Rain moment could be nice, alright? That’s- that’s all. It’s silly and cute, and- and old-timey and just sweet, and I think the rain is nice so I think I wouldn’t mind it too much if I got soaked. That’s all.”

“…Martin?”

“Yeah?”

Jon opens his mouth, meaning to say something understandable and coherent, but the words don’t come, instead stumbling out as, “Y-You’re- that’s- maybe you’re right.”

Martin raises an eyebrow. “Really? You were easy to convince.”

“W-well, you- not for me, I mean, I wouldn’t- I still dislike the rain, but I can- I understand why you might want to risk getting drenched. But delightful as Singing In The Rain may be, you’re not going to get me doing it anytime soon,” Jon adds, settling down further against Martin’s side.

“No?” Martin replies.

“Mm, no, absolutely not. Besides, I just got dry. I’m sure you and your, ah, nursing sensibilities would have something to say about me risking hypothermia by getting drenched again.”

The conflict that immediately plays out across Martin’s face makes Jon smile wider than he thinks he ever has before. He watches as Martin’s brows draw together, as he opens and closes his mouth but never actually says anything.

“Well… fine,” Martin says after a long silence, and Jon laughs at the frustrated look on his face, loud and delighted. “Maybe I- maybe we can’t have a proper Singing In The Rain moment, but we can still- we can- no, right, tell you what, get up.”

“What?”

“Get up,” Martin repeats, and he’s smiling now, amusement dancing in his eyes. He stands up from the sofa, ignoring Jon’s discontent grumblings, and takes both of Jon’s hands in his own, pulling slightly. “Come on, if you don’t want to do full Singing In The Rain then we can at least do Singing In The Living Room. Or Dancing In The Living Room. Or Swaying Slightly In The Living Room, because it’s not very big in here.”

Jon blinks. “You- what?”

Martin smiles, nervousness just starting to curl beneath it. “I’m trying to be romantic, Jon. And besides, you were a theatre kid, so you’re not getting out of this.”

Oh, Martin.

With a long-suffering sigh, Jon forces himself to his feet. “Fine,” he replies, trying his best not to smile and failing immediately. “I- fine, I suppose I’ll tolerate it. For you.”

Martin grins. He ducks his head, kissing Jon quickly, and then lets go of his hands and steps away to start fussing with his laptop, pulling something up on YouTube. “Good!” he says over his shoulder, and Jon can hear the quiet excitement in his voice now, can practically see it in how his face lights up. “Also, it’s- I’m not actually getting Singing In The Rain up, so you know. I hope that’s alright.”

Jon shrugs, still smiling. “Honestly, Martin, I’m not bothered what we dance to.” I just want you to be happy, and to keep smiling like this.

“Oh, good! How’re you with the 1920s?”

“Um… fine, I suppose.”

Martin nods, clicking on a video before stepping back towards Jon. “I found this on YouTube a while ago,” he says, reaching for Jon’s hands and meeting them halfway as the soft crackle of a gramophone starts to fill the air. “It’s a, um, it’s- well, you know how I like sort of retro, vintage-ey things?”

“I do,” Jon replies, quickly shaking back the sleeves of Martin’s hoodie so that he can more easily twine his fingers with Martin’s.

“Well, I don’t exactly have the space or the money for a record player in the flat, but I found this, um, this collection of 1920s pieces played on a gramophone. It’s not quite the same, but it’s- it’s nice. I like it.”

Jon so, so badly wants to speak in that moment. He so badly wants to speak up, wants to tell Martin how wonderful he is, wants to tell Martin how much he adores him, wants to tell Martin how much he loves Martin’s love of the old, of the vintage, of the soft and the romantic and the gentleness in simple things, but he doesn’t know how. He doesn’t have the words for it. He rarely feels like he has the words to tell Martin just what he feels, but he feels that especially strongly in this moment. He wants to tell Martin so, so much.

But he doesn’t know how, and so he can’t. Instead he just smiles, and Martin smiles back, and Jon feels his heart stumble.

“You ready?” Martin asks. In his voice, there is only softness.

“Yeah,” Jon breaths. “Yeah, I’m- I’m ready.”

Martin ducks his head, kissing Jon quickly, and the music builds steadily around them as they slowly start to move.

Jon drops his head, resting it against Martin’s shoulder as they continue to sway. Martin’s hand is warm around his own, his breath brushing gently over Jon’s hair and cheek, and Jon can hear him starting to sing quietly, murmuring the words to the song under his breath. Were he anywhere else, were he any further away than right here, held in Martin’s arms, Jon thinks that he would have missed it. He would have missed the gentle, quiet sound of Martin’s voice, rising and falling as softly as the rain beyond the windows as they sway and shift and turn in slow, comfortable circles in the confines of Martin’s living room. He can barely hear Martin’s voice over the music and crackle of the gramophone as it is, but he finds that he doesn’t mind. There’s no urgency here. There’s no rush. There’s no notes to read, and no information to research, and no props to locate or plays to hunt down the rights for or any of that. There’s no theatre. There’s no anything. There’s just the two of them, existing for this single moment in a small, drifting universe of their own, beyond the reach of the outside world. 

Jon tilts his head, pressing a kiss to Martin’s neck without even thinking about it. He hears Martin’s breath catch in his throat, hears how, just for a moment, he stumbles in his singing, and smiles to himself. 

“Surprised you,” he mumbles, and the laugh that Martin gives makes him feel warm down to his bones.

“Maybe you did,” Martin replies. Jon can hear the smile in his voice. He knows the smile in his voice. He knows Martin’s smile, and he knows Martin’s laugh, and he knows Martin, knows him almost as well as he knows himself. He shifts a little, somehow pressing himself closer to Martin’s front, and without a moment’s hesitation Martin moves his arms to hold Jon closer still, ducking his head to press a kiss to the crown of Jon’s head. Jon hums, stretching and twisting to press closer still, tucking his head under Martin’s chin with a quiet, content sigh.

“Mm, I definitely surprised you,” he murmurs, and Martin laughs once more.

“Did you now?” he asks.

“Mhmm.” Jon hums and kisses Martin’s neck again, his eyes shut. He can feel himself smiling, can feel the last shreds of tension flowing out of his bones the longer they continue to sway. They’re not even dancing, though Jon supposes they never were to begin with. There’s not really enough space in Martin’s pocket-sized living room for them to dance anyway. He doesn’t mind, though. He likes this. He likes the simplicity of it. He likes how he can feel Martin’s heart beating like this, likes how he can hear the rain falling in the city beyond the walls, likes how he can hear Martin’s soft, quiet singing, his voice rising and falling as the song progresses. It’s not one that Jon recognises, but it sounds nice. Martin sounds nice. Martin always sounds nice.

Around Jon’s body, Martin’s arms are certain and sure. They hold him close, pressing warmth through the fabric of Martin’s hoodie and chasing out the last lingering chill of the autumn rain. Jon shivers, just a little, but he’s not cold, not anymore. Everything is so quiet. It’s all so beautifully, wonderfully, perfectly quiet.

“Martin,” Jon sighs quietly, just to taste the shape of Martin’s name on his tongue.

“Jon,” Martin replies, his voice soft and fond and so, so wonderful that Jon thinks he could drown in it. He kisses Martin again, kisses his jaw, tilts his head up and catches Martin halfway in yet another kiss, light and sweet and perfect and theirs. He sighs against his lips, kisses him with all the words that he cannot say, and when he finally leans back from it he can see the soft, smitten look on Martin’s face, and he knows that his own face mirrors it.

Slowly, gradually, the song comes to a close. Another one starts up moments after it, marginally more upbeat, but they don’t change in their half-dance, swaying at just the same speed as before as Martin’s voice joins this song, too. It’s all so comfortable. Jon finds himself starting to doze off almost without noticing it, his head resting heavily against Martin’s shoulder as he starts to lean against Martin’s chest.

“Jon?” Martin asks quietly, some indeterminable period of time later.

Jon hums. “Mm?”

“Are you alright?”

“Mm,” Jon repeats, trying to nod. He forces himself to look up at Martin, turning his head to hide a small yawn against his shoulder. He doesn’t want to let go of Martin’s hands. “Sorry,” he says, stifling another slight yawn. “I’m just- I didn’t quite realise how tired I was, I think.”

“Oh. Oh! Do you want to go to bed?”

“No, no, I’m- I’m fine. It’s- Elias has been demanding a number of late nights now that he’s finally figured out when he wants the show to run.”

Martin tuts quietly. “Elias should let you rest for once.”

“It’s more my fault than his, really,” Jon says, chuckling quietly at the end of his sentence. “I mean, I am the one who says yes to all his requests!”

“…Jon?”

“Yeah?”

“You don’t- you know that you don’t have to say yes to all of them, right?” Martin asks. “You know that- you know that you’re allowed to go home from the theatre once in a while.”

“I- I do go home, Martin,” Jon replies, feeling confusion starting to gather. “I-”

“I know, I know, I meant more that- you don’t always have to be working,” Martin adds quickly, his eyes wide. He looks away, chewing briefly on his lip, and then looks back at Jon, his brows drawn together. “I… I still remember what you said at the park,” he says. “I still- about needing to work. It’s not- you know that you don’t need to be doing that, right? Not if it’s bad for you. You need to look out for yourself, sometimes.”

“I do look out for myself.”

“Do you, though?”

Jon frowns. “Yes?” he replies. “I- I- I sleep. I stay healthy enough. I eat three meals a day most of the time.”

Martin’s face twists. “Jon… There’s more than just physical health, you know.”

“I know. Tim’s always banging on about mental health.”

“And do you listen to him?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you listen to him?” Martin repeats, as though that makes anymore sense. He stops moving, his hands squeezing Jon’s gently. “Do you actually take on-board what he says? About looking after yourself.”

Jon swallows. He can feel the thoughts within his skull now, twisting and writhing like waiting brambles. He knows what his answer is. He knows that it’s not what Martin wants to hear.

He knows that it’s not what it should be.

“I…” he says, the word so quiet as to be inaudible. “I- I- Martin, I need- I need to…”

“You need to be working,” Martin finishes for him, and Jon nods. “Yeah. I- I know.”

“I need to- I have to- if I can do something productive, if I can be useful, then I- then I should be. It’s- that’s it. It’s not that bad.”

“It’s not good either, Jon.”

“I- I-” I know, Jon wants to say, and doesn’t. I know it’s not good. I know I need to stop it.

But I don’t know how.

“I can’t- I can’t help with this,” Martin says. His voice is soft, wound about with concern, but Jon can hear the quiet, unyielding certainty beneath it. “I can’t. I can’t tell you what to think, and I can’t be anymore than what I am. This isn’t- I can’t be that for you, Jon. I want to help, you know I do, and I’ll help as much as I can, but this- it’s- I can’t do that for you.”

“I know,” Jon says quickly. “I- I know, Martin, you’re not- I wasn’t expecting you to. It’s not something that, hah, it’s not even something that needs to be discussed, actually. It’s- it’s fine.”

“Is it?”

Yes.”

In the space of a second, Martin’s face crumples. “Jon,” he says quietly. “It’s- I’m not going to tell you what to think or feel, or- or any of that, but… I don’t know if it is. Fine, that is. You’re- you do a lot.”

Jon swallows. “I like to keep busy,” he says, but he can hear how weak and unconvincing his own voice is. “I like- I like to be useful.”

“I know, I know, I know you do, but there’s- there’s a difference between keeping busy and overworking yourself, you know?

“I’m not overworking myself-”

Jon,” Martin says, exasperated and worried all at once, and some part of Jon’s heart twists and shatters a little at the concern painted so clearly across Martin’s face. “You don’t- you seem to always be working late these days, ever since you got the Leitner. And I- I know that you like working, and that Elias is your boss and all that so you sort of have to do what he asks you to, but it’s- there’s-” He sighs, his eyes lowering as his hand tightens around Jon’s. “There’s also what you said in the park,” he adds quietly. “About- about needing to work so that you, um, so that you- so that you feel…”

“Worth something,” Jon finishes for him, his voice barely above a whisper. Martin’s hand squeezes his own again. He can’t look at Martin’s face.

“Yeah,” Martin says. “Worth something. I’m just…” He trails off, lapsing into silence as every shade of concern and worry plays out across his face; a symphony of upset that Jon longs to soothe away. “I’m…” Martin swallows. “I’m just- I’m worried, Jon. I’m worried about you. And I don’t- I’m not- I’m not going to tell you what to do, because that’s not my place, but I- I think that- I think you might find that talking to someone – someone who’s not me, or Georgie, or Melanie, or anyone else from work – I think it might, um… I think it might help.”

It takes no thought at all for Jon to know that Martin is right. The thoughts that swirl through his head in the wake of Martin’s words are familiar ones to him, for all that he hates that they are. They’re thoughts that he’s pushed away, that he’s pushed aside, that he’s pushed back time and time again, ignoring the small part of him that picked up on what Tim used to talk about so much and actually managed to internalise it. Already he can feel himself trying to carefully package away Martin’s words, too, to squish them down and file them away and ignore how they relate to him. To ignore how accurate they are.

It would be so, so easy not to do anything. He’s successfully done nothing about this for his entire life. But it’s harder to do nothing when he can see Martin before him, his brow furrowed and his eyes soft and his face filled with true, honest, genuine concern. There’s no ulterior motive at play. There’s no pity. There’s only worry, and Jon hates to see it.

For the first time, Jon lets himself know what he needs to do.

Jon swallows. “…Alright,” he says. The word is little more than breath. “I’ll- alright. Alright. I’ll- I’ll talk to someone.”

In a heartbeat, Martin’s eyes grow wide. “You- really?”

“Mm.” He can’t speak. He doesn’t think he has any words left to say.

“Oh, Jon, that’s- that’s great! That’s really great! I’ll- let me just-” Martin leans away, grabbing a few items up from the coffee table, but he doesn’t let go of Jon’s hand until he starts writing a number down on a scrap of paper, quickly scribbling across the back of a discarded receipt. “This is- okay, so, this is the NHS number for mental health stuff and- and counselling and therapy and all of that, alright? It’s- you can just ring it, and they’ll help you sort something out, and that’s- that’s it. There’s no pressure, you don’t have to discuss anything there and then, there’s just a- it’s an automated system, I think, until you actually need to sort out a time and date and place, but you don’t need to tell them anything at all, okay? You can use my bedroom to call them if you want.”

Jon nods again. “I- okay.”

“I’ll be here,” Martin says quietly. He reaches out, offering the scrap of paper to Jon, and Jon takes it with fingers that he didn’t even realise were trembling. “When you’re, um… when you’re done. But don’t- if you need to take some time on your own afterwards, that’s- that’s fine. Look after yourself, alright? I’ll just, um… I’ll be in the living room if you want to- if you want to- yeah.”

“Yeah,” Jon echoes quietly. He can hear the quiet sound of paper rustling and crinkling as his hand squeezes the little note tighter. “I’ll- yeah. Al-alright.”

Martin nods, then takes a quick, jerky step forward, and presses a kiss to Jon’s lips. “Go on,” he murmurs. “No rush, alright? Take however long you need.”

Jon doesn’t even have words to reply to that with. He just nods, pressing his forehead against Martin’s for a few long, silent seconds before forcing himself to step away. He doesn’t look at Martin as he leaves. He can’t look at Martin. He just walks directly into Martin’s bedroom, squeezing his phone so hard that his hand hurts from the press of metal and glass.

Behind him, the bedroom door shuts with a click.

---

Jon’s not entirely sure of how much time has passed when he finally leaves Martin’s bedroom. He knows how long the phone call took (about seven minutes, going by the clock on his phone), but he couldn’t say how long he spent sitting on Martin’s bed after the call ended, staring into space as he turned his phone over and over and over in his hands, thinking back over what Martin had said. He leaves the bedroom eventually, though. When he can’t put it off any longer, when he feels more like himself, he forces himself to rise and cross to the bedroom door. He doesn’t see Martin when he opens it but he can hear the quiet sound of the TV coming from the living room and so he walks over to the door, entering the room in near-silence. He doesn’t think he makes much noise but Martin looks up the moment he enters anyway, his eyes wide.

In the open doorway, Jon freezes.

“…Hey,” Martin says quietly, after a long, silent pause. “Are you- you alright?”

In answer, Jon raises his shoulders in a shrug. “I- I think so,” he says quietly. “I- I think- yeah.”

“And did you, um, did you manage to…”

Slowly, as though his bones might shatter at any moment, Jon nods.

And then, before Jon can even think to react, Martin rises from the sofa, walks over to him, and draws him into a close, tight, wonderful hug. Jon doesn’t resist, only lifting his hands to hold onto the hoodie that Martin’s wearing as though it’s a lifeline. It feels like it might be. Martin himself feels like an anchor in this moment, grounding Jon and pulling him back to reality with touch and words and kindness.

“I’m proud of you,” Martin whispers. “I’m proud of you, Jon. That was- you- I’m just proud of you.”

The words lodge somewhere in Jon’s chest, tangled up around his ribs like thread woven through a loom. He shuts his eyes, exhaling shakily as Martin holds him tighter, one hand running steadily up and down the length of his spine. I’m proud of you. It’s so little to hear, barely more than a handful of words. It’s so much to hear. It’s too much. Jon doesn’t know what to do with it.

Jon opens his mouth, feeling the words he wants to say lining up on his tongue, and then bites them back behind his teeth. He can’t- he can’t say what he reflexively wants to say. He can’t say it. Martin wouldn’t like it if he said it. He wouldn’t be mad, because- well, because he’s Martin, but Jon can already imagine the look that Martin would give him, all soft and sad and concerned and caring. He can’t handle that. Not right now. He doesn’t deserve this.

Jon swallows, and the words he so badly wants to say taste bitter on the back of his tongue: You shouldn’t be.

Martin shouldn’t be proud of him. Not for this. It’s not- it isn’t- it’s not like he did anything major, after all. It was just a phone call. That was it. He just sat in Martin’s room, and had a perfectly pleasant phone call, and set up an initial assessment appointment, and that was it. It wasn’t difficult. It wasn’t complicated. It was just a phone call. Martin shouldn’t be proud of him just for making a phone call.

But he is, and Jon knows that he isn’t lying about it. Martin doesn’t lie, and definitely not about things like this. If Martin says that he’s proud of Jon then he is. It’s as simple as that. He’s proud of Jon. Jon knows that Martin’s proud of him. He knows that Martin’s proud of him for listening, and for speaking, and for considering what Martin suggested, and he knows that Martin’s proud of him for looking at himself and understanding what Martin sees. For understanding and recognising where certain parts of himself that he’s never so much as glanced at before start to become concerning.

Martin’s proud of him for growing, in a way that Jon himself could never be.

“I’m proud of you,” Martin whispers again, and that’s all it takes for Jon to shatter.

God, Jon thinks. He squeezes his eyes shut tighter, turns his head to press his face against Martin’s shoulder and breathes in as deeply as he can. Martin still smells somewhat sterile and sharp, like hospitals and bitter cleanliness and not at all like himself, but the hoodie that he’s wearing is soft and familiar against Jon’s face. It’s comforting. Jon knows it. Jon knows him. God, Jon thinks again, and the word is lonely and lost inside his head. God, Martin, I think I love you.

It’s so, so easy to think the words. They don’t feel like a surprise, for all that Jon has never thought them before. They feel right, slotting into place within his thoughts the same way that Martin slotted into his life. It feels normal to think them, to notice them, to acknowledge them and process them and realise that he’s not lying to himself. He’s not lying. He loves Martin. He doesn’t know for how long he’s loved Martin, doesn’t know at what point between Tim’s party last week and now he made that unconscious step, but the timeline doesn’t matter. He doesn’t need to chase down the exact turning point in his feelings, because it isn’t important. What’s important is how he feels now.

I love you, Jon thinks again, and it’s just as easy to think as it was the first time. The words sound right in his head, sound true and certain and sure in that way that his relationship with Martin itself does. There’s no doubt to them. There’s no uncertainty. They’re just a fact, plain and simple. He loves Martin. He knows that he loves Martin.

Of all the unknowns in his life, his love for Martin isn’t one of them.

“Come on,” Martin murmurs quietly. He moves one hand from Jon’s back, rubbing it slowly up and down his arm instead. Jon shivers a little at the touch of it – even through the thick fabric of the hoodie, he can still feel the warmth of Martin’s palm. “Come on, let’s- let’s sit down, alright? We still have Bake Off to watch.”

Despite himself, Jon gives a little snort of laughter. “We do,” he agrees, his voice slightly hoarser than he’d expected. He clears his throat roughly, giving a short sniff, and quickly brushes the back of his hand over his eyes before looking up at Martin. “We do- we do still need to watch that. Georgie will, um… she’ll want to know if we managed to guess Star Baker.”

Martin smiles. It’s a soft smile, small and precious and warm as sunlight in spring, and Jon loves it so, so much. He loves Martin’s smiles. He loves Martin.

He loves Martin.

God, Jon thinks again. He uncurls one hand from Martin’s hoodie, reaching down blindly, and feels Martin’s fingers tangle with his own not even a second later, tethering them together. He squeezes, just once, and Martin squeezes back. It’s gentle. Everything about Martin is gentle. His voice is gentle, and his smiles are gentle, and he’s gentle, even when he’s firm. Jon knows. Jon’s seen it. Jon’s seen Martin in all his certainty and sureness, has seen the determination and the drive and has seen the boldness that lies beneath all that gentleness but no more negates it than mist negates the existence of snow. Martin’s gentle, even when he isn’t.

Jon’s love for Martin is gentle, too. He can feel it now, wrapped around and within his heart, lying alongside his veins and arteries and humming with every beat of his heart. It’s not a surprising thing, now that he’s noticed it. It’s not shocking. It’s just there, nestled comfortable and close, and Jon doesn’t know what to do with it except hold it, and bask in it, and marvel that it even had the chance to grow. That he’s been with Martin for long enough for it to grow. That Martin wants him to be here.

Because Martin does, and Jon knows that. Martin wants him there.

“Come on,” Martin says, and he squeezes Jon’s hand again. “Let’s go.”

Jon doesn’t object.

They make their way back through to the living room, Martin’s hand never once leaving Jon’s. When they reach the sofa, Martin moves to sit down in what’s become one of their go-to cuddling positions, where Jon settles back against his chest and Martin wraps an arm around his stomach, but Jon finds himself stopping Martin with the slightest of tugs on his hand. For some reason that he can’t entirely fathom, he doesn’t want to cuddle like that, not tonight. Not now.

“Jon?” Martin asks quietly. “Are you- is everything alright?”

“Would you, um… could we swap positions?” Jon asks, feeling the heat rising in his face. “Could I, ah, would you- could- I’d like to hold you. Um. If that’s- if that’s alright.”

He doesn’t know why it feels so hard to ask for this. They’ve cuddled like that before, with Jon curled around Martin’s back in bed like a closing quote mark, but it’s never been something they’ve discussed. It’s always just happened, both of them settling into a position that feels comfortable for them. Jon knows that Martin’s okay with it. He knows that Martin is just as affectionate and tactile as he himself is, even though he would never dream of admitting that fact about himself to anyone else. This is fine. This is entirely fine.

But the request still feels heavy and ungainly on his tongue. Jon swallows, trying not to pull a face. He doesn’t like this, this… asking. This requesting. It feels wrong, feels like a demand for all that he knows that it’s not. It’s just a question. He’s allowed to ask questions. The world won’t end just because he asked Martin one thing, one time.

It’s fine. It’s allowed. It’s alright.

And so he stands, and waits as a chorus of emotions flicker across Martin’s face.

“I’m- well, I mean, I’m a bit heavy,” Martin says uncertainly.

Jon smiles, just a little bit, as relief quietly floods through him. “Martin, you know I don’t have a problem with that. And, honestly… right now, I think I’d really, really like some weight and… well, and pressure, I suppose? It’s calming.”

“Yeah?” Martin asks, seeming to relax a little.

“Yeah,” Jon echoes. He shifts a little, one hand flexing uncertainly as he shrugs. “It’s- I don’t know, sort of grounding, I guess. It just- it feels nice. And you- I- I like cuddling you, you know that, so I was just- you don’t- I’m not really bothered, I like any cuddling with you-”

“I’m not going to say no to being the little spoon,” Martin interrupts, a smile starting to spread across his face. “I just- it’s a little different on the sofa when I might squash you.”

“I’m fine with that,” Jon replies immediately.

“Yeah, apparently so,” Martin says, but there’s no meanness to his words. “Just- just let me know if you’re uncomfortable, will you?”

“Of course.”

“Good. That’s- good.” Martin smiles a little more, gesturing towards the sofa. “Go on,” he says, “make yourself comfy.”

Jon does so.

It’s easy enough to settle down on the sofa in a position that works and barely a second later Martin joins him, settling back against Jon’s chest. The moment his weight settles against him Jon feels the tension that had been wound tight around his joints start to soothe and settle, eased away by the heavy, certain, comforting weight of Martin against his chest. Martin puts Bake Off on, adding a few quiet comments of his own about his predictions for Star Baker, but Jon’s only half listening. He wraps his arms around Martin’s stomach, holding him close, and ducks his head to press his face to the warmth of Martin’s neck, exhaling in a soft, content sigh.

When Martin speaks, Jon can hear him smile.

“You alright there?” he asks quietly.

“Mm,” Jon hums. “Just- just getting comfy.”

“I can move if you need me to-”

“No, no, you’re- you’re perfect, Martin.”

“Yeah?” Martin asks. He lifts a hand, pressing it over one of Jon’s where it lies against his stomach, fingers half-curled in the soft fabric of his hoodie. “Well, I’m- I’m glad to hear that.”

“Mm.” Jon turns his head, lips meeting Martin’s skin in a blind, unthinking kiss. “You’re- you are perfect, Martin. I should know.”

“I think you might be a bit biased, Jon-”

“No, no, I’m not. I’m not biased, Martin. You’re marvellous. It’s a- it’s a fact, that’s all. Can’t be argued with.”

Martin huffs out a short breath of fond, amused, flattered laughter. “You’re being very affectionate tonight, you know.”

Jon shrugs. “Well… maybe so,” he replies, briefly glad that Martin can’t see how red his face is. Maybe Martin can feel how red his face is. Maybe not. Either way, Jon isn’t going to stop speaking. He needs Martin to know how wonderful he is. He needs Martin to know how much he cares about him.

He needs Martin to know how much he loves him, even if he cannot say it as plainly as that yet.

“Maybe so,” he says again, and this time he kisses Martin on the jaw, his lips soft against Martin’s skin. “Maybe- maybe I am. Are you complaining?”

“Oh, no, definitely not, I’m not- you’re welcome to keep on being affectionate. It’s- it’s nice, it’s very nice, there’s no doubt about that. I’m definitely enjoying it.”

Jon hums again, pressing yet another kiss to Martin’s jaw. “Good.”

“Jon?”

“Mm?”

“You’re pretty marvellous too, you know.”

Jon huffs out a short breath of laughter. “Now who’s being biased?”

“Definitely not me,” Martin replies, his voice warm with amusement and teasing. “I’m being completely objective about this. It’s a fact that you’re marvellous, and you’re just going to have to accept that whether you like it or not.”

“…What if I don’t accept it?”

“Then I’ll keep telling you until you do.”

In Jon’s chest, all there is is love.

I love you, Jon thinks. I love you, I love you, I love you.

I love you, Martin.

Martin shifts a little against Jon’s front, his attention moving from the TV to Jon as he catches Jon’s eye. “What’re you smiling at?” he asks, his words quiet and comfortable and soft. “You better be smiling because you’ve accepted that you’re marvellous.”

Jon shakes his head. “It’s nothing,” he hears himself say. He leans down, his lips meeting Martin’s in a kiss. Martin’s hand is warm around his own, and his breath is warm against Jon’s lips, and his voice is warm and his heart is warm and everything about Martin is so, so warm, in a manner that moves past temperature entirely. “It’s- it’s nothing.”

“Yeah?” Martin asks, the word muffled by Jon’s lips. “Is that- mm- is that so?”

“Mhmm.”

Martin laughs a little, a soft exhale of breath against Jon’s mouth. One hand rises as he twists further, cupping the back of Jon’s head as he holds him close and kisses him again. “If you say so,” he murmurs.

“I do say so. I just did.”

“You’re so- you’re so pedantic.”

Jon grins. “You like it, though,” he says, and when Martin laughs again, he can feel it in his heart.

“I do,” Martin admits. He leans back a little, shaking his head with amusement, but barely a moment later he kisses Jon again, and then again after that, scattering kisses across Jon’s face as Jon laughs quietly. His lips are warm against Jon’s skin, his hand gentle against the curve of Jon’s skull, and Jon loves him so much that he doesn’t know what to do. He loves Martin. He loves Martin so, so goddamn much. He doesn’t know if Martin loves him back, and he doesn’t know when he’ll tell Martin how he feels, but he feels strangely unbothered by that lack of knowledge. There’s no rush in their relationship. There’s never been any rush, not with Martin. It’s enough for Jon to know that he loves Martin, and to know that Martin wants to be with him, and to know that his friends like Martin and that Martin likes his friends and that he can have this, that he can have Martin’s kindness and fondness and affection. He can have the kisses that Martin is still pressing to his skin, every touch of his lips soft and fleeting and wonderful. He can have Martin’s hand in his own, skin pressed against skin in unguarded, casual intimacy. He can have Martin in his arms, held close against him as they cuddle and relax in each other’s company. He can have Martin. He has Martin.

And Martin has him.

I love you, Jon thinks, and he doesn’t say it. Not yet.

After all, he reasons, he has all the time in the world.

Chapter Text

It’s no longer a new thing in Martin’s life, this process of waking up alongside Jon, but that doesn’t make it any less treasured.

Martin wakes slowly, gradually, stretching and shifting beneath the duvet and unconsciously pressing himself closer to the now-familiar form of Jon. It’s warm beneath the duvet, skin pressed to skin and limbs tangled together, and for a few drawn-out, half-dreamed moments, Martin can’t entirely tell where he ends and Jon begins, their forms flowing into one unbroken entity of Martin-and-Jon. It’s nice, in an abstract, drifting sort of way. It feels comfortable, feels natural, feels easy to twist and shift and draw Jon in closer, to duck his head and breathe in deep and press a sleep-blind kiss to Jon’s cheek. He likes being here. He likes it a lot.

Slowly, the mantle of sleep drops from Martin’s mind. He blinks a few times, lifting a hand to rub away the gunk clinging at the corners of his eyes, and then blinks again, watching as the weak, early winter sunlight pulls itself tight between his lashes, stretching between them like strands of spiderweb. It’s pretty. It’s not bright enough to fully illuminate the room, not with how his curtains are still drawn, but it’s just about enough to see by.

It’s enough to see Jon by.

Martin doesn’t have to look far to spot him. He can feel Jon curled up close against him, one of his own arms dropped absently around Jon’s shoulder with his fingers still half-tangled in his hair, as though he’d fallen asleep midway through playing with it. It’s not unlikely that that’s exactly what had happened. There’d been a lot of cuddling the previous night, moreso than normal (impossible as that might sound), and Martin had spent a fair amount of time simply playing with Jon’s hair, holding him close against his chest beneath the covers as Jon had matched his breathing to Martin’s, neither of them saying a word. It had been nice. It had been strange.

It had been concerning.

I need to be doing something, Jon had said. I need to be doing something of worth.

Martin would be lying if he said that he didn’t understand where those words were coming from. He’s no stranger to some of the more shadowy corners that brains seem to love to grow and embrace, lacing them tight with brambles that sink their thorns so close into your thoughts that you can barely move but to stab yourself. He’s experienced them himself, more times than he can count, and he’s seen them in countless others. He’s seen other people going about their lives, not even realising that the thorns are there at all until someone else quietly, worriedly, points it out to them. And he’s glad that he could be the one to point it out to Jon, he really, truly is, but he hates it too. He hates that the brambles were there to begin with. He hates that Jon so clearly doesn’t want to acknowledge that they’re there.

He hates how much stress the brambles put him under, and he hates that it is, technically, Jon’s fault.

Jon’s a good person. Martin knows that Jon’s a good person. He’s seen his kindness, has experienced it himself in the small, absent gestures of affection that Jon shows that mean so much to him. He knows that Jon cares, and that he wants to do good, and he knows that Jon is good. He knows that Jon doesn’t mean to hurt him by forgetting to text him when he’s running late. He knows that Jon doesn’t mean to worry him with how constantly, unendingly tired he seems to have become since the arrival of the Leitner.

Just for a moment, Martin lets himself laugh, just a little. Maybe Jon was right about Leitners. Maybe they are cursed. He supposes it would explain the constant late nights, and the endless stress, and the unceasing demands from Elias – who Martin is really beginning to hate, despite having never met the man – but at the same time… at the same time, he knows that’s not the case. The Leitner definitely hasn’t helped matters, but from what Jon’s said, it seems that he’s always bowed down to Elias’ demands like this. The only difference now is that there’s even more of them.

In the weak winter sunlight, the silver in Jon’s hair shines brighter than ever. Martin raises a hand, gently running his fingers over the now-familiar strands of grey. He likes them. He knows that he likes them. He thinks they make Jon look dignified in a ‘hot, work-in-progress silver fox’ sort of way, like he’s a character in a romance film that everyone swoons over while being completely oblivious to said swooning. They look good on Jon. Martin’s thought that since he first met him. He likes Jon’s grey hairs, and he likes Jon’s Remus Lupin vibes, and he likes Jon’s general state of constant mild dishevelment, which shouldn’t work and yet somehow does. He likes all of Jon.

He just doesn’t like that, now, he’s beginning to understand the cause behind all of that.

Beneath his arm, Jon stirs. He stretches slightly, giving a small, sleepy sigh, and then shifts again as he slowly drifts closer to wakefulness. Martin moves his hand slightly, his fingers sliding through Jon’s hair, and Jon sighs again, his eyelids fluttering open. Martin’s never been able to entirely pin down the exact colour of Jon’s eyes, no matter how many cheap notebooks he fills with lines of prose and poetry, and it’s even harder to do so in the soft half-dark, where the muted sunlight twists the colour of them into something unreal and unknowable. They’re beautiful, though. They’ve always been beautiful.

“Hey,” Jon says quietly. His voice is soft, rough with sleep, and it’s so content and familiar that Martin doesn’t know what to do. He just stares at Jon, hopeless and lovestruck, and feels Jon shifting close beneath the duvet. “Sorry, did I wake you?”

“What?” Martin asks. “Wha- sorry, no, no, you didn’t, I’ve- I’ve been awake for a while, actually. Just, um… just watching.”

“…Watching what?”

“Um. You?”

“Oh.” Jon shuts his eyes again, a small smile crossing his face. “Well, I hope I was entertaining.”

“You were, uh… thought-inspiring.”

“In a good way, I hope.”

Martin doesn’t know what to say in response to that. He doesn’t want to lie, because he hates lying to people he cares about beyond just small lies of omission, but he’s not sure that Jon would want to know the myriad of thoughts that went through his mind in those long, quiet minutes before he woke. He doesn’t know if Jon would want to know his concern, and his worry, and the low-level stress that’s starting to become familiar to him, nestled in along his bones like it’s carving out a space for itself in his marrow. He doesn’t want Jon to worry. The thought almost makes him laugh, but he holds it back. Christ. He doesn’t want Jon to worry that he’s worrying about Jon. It’s an awkward, awful ouroboros of concern, and Martin hates it. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He kind of wishes he could forget some of what happened last night, and go back to how they were before, when Jon was sweet and kind and wonderful without also being just a little bit concerning, but he knows that they can’t, and after a few more seconds of thought he knows that he doesn’t want to go back, not really. It’s good that Jon told him those things. It’s good that they had that talk, worrying as it had been.

Across the pillow from him, Jon’s eyes flutter shut. He lifts a hand, holding it in front of his mouth as he yawns widely, and Martin feels his heart squeeze. Christ. He doesn’t know why these small, tiny, unconscious actions affect him so much, but they do. They make the part of his brain that had brought up Pride and Prejudice (2005) the first time he’d seen Jon start to daydream about more mornings like these, about more days like these, about spending more than just a single day or so together, both of them squeezing the time out from their schedules so that they can spend at least one night in each other’s arms. He’d like that, Martin thinks. He’d really like that. He’d like to spend an entire weekend with Jon some time, or even just a few days in the middle of the week where they both stay at one of their flats, getting home from work to see each other. Maybe they will, one day. He hopes that they will. Maybe one day, once the Leitner’s been performed, and Jon has some more spare time, and has learned how to say no to Elias, they’ll be able to take a short holiday together, down to the coast or up to Scotland or just somewhere away from London, leaving all thoughts of theatre and hospitals behind them.

Maybe one day.

“S’ry,” Jon mumbles, stirring Martin from his thoughts and making him twitch. He yawns again, and something in the action, in the comfortable domesticity of it, makes Martin smile. “I’m- mm. Good morning. Did I say that already?”

“You hadn’t. You’re really not a morning person, are you?” Martin asks, trying and failing to keep the laugh out of his voice. The corner of Jon’s mouth raises in a small, wry smile as he looks up, meeting Martin’s eyes.

“Is it that obvious?”

Martin pulls a face, raising a hand and wiggling it. “Just a tiny bit, yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m a morning person, either-”

Pfft.”

“-I’m not, I’m just- I just know that I have to get up and do things so I, y’know, get up and do them.” Martin pauses. “And I try to sleep in blocks of an average sleep schedule. One of my fr- someone I knew at uni taught me that trick. It stops you from waking yourself up with your alarm in the middle of a sleep cycle so that you don’t wake up all groggy and grumpy.”

Jon raises an eyebrow. “And does it work?”

“Well… kind of?”

“Hm.”

“You should try it, you know. It might- it might help.”

“Mm.” Jon hums again, shutting his eyes and snuggling in closer. He reaches out one arm, draping it over Martin’s waist, and slips his hand beneath the hem of Martin’s t-shirt to press it warm against his back. It’s an absent touch, unconscious for all that it’s intentional, and it makes Martin feel warm with how easily Jon does it, with how easily Jon trusts him. There’s no hesitation to it, and there’s no hesitation when Jon tilts his head up, blinding searching for a kiss that Martin immediately grants. “Mm,” Jon hums. “Mm, well… maybe I’ll try it at some point.”

“Yeah?” Martin asks, before kissing him again.

“Mm, yeah.”

“It works for naps too, you know.”

“Does it?”

“Mhmm.” Martin kisses Jon once more, and then once more after that before finally forcing himself to lean back a bit. “Apparently you should try to nap in blocks of- of an hour and a half, I think. It’s meant to be the average length of a single sleep cycle.”

Jon wrinkles his nose. “Weird length for a nap, if you ask me.”

“Good thing I wasn’t asking you, then. Good thing I was asking science.”

“Science is wrong sometimes, you know.”

“Name one time.”

Jon grins at him. “Well,” he says, his voice laced with teasing and so, so fond that Martin feels his heart melting from it, “according to a certain nurse I know, humans don’t actually need all of their bones, although admittedly the aforementioned nurse did retract that statement when he found out that I was missing some.”

“Y-you- hey- you- you can’t- don’t use my own words against me!” Martin exclaims, and Jon laughs, bright and loud and joyous. He turns his head, hiding his grin against Martin’s shoulder, and it’s so easy for Martin to duck his head and kiss him and so he does, grumbling under his breath the whole time. “Terrible,” he mutters. “You’re- you’re terrible, Jon.”

“Mm, maybe so, but you haven’t got rid of me yet.”

“Not yet, no, but you’re on thin ice. You’re just lucky that I happen to like you.”

Jon laughs again, and the last shreds of lingering uncertainty finally lift from Martin’s mind. It’s worth it, he thinks. All the concern that Jon causes him, all the stress, all the worry… it’s all worth it. It’s all worth it to have this, to have this closeness and this softness and this fondness and this- and this everything. It’s worth it to have Jon. It’s unpleasant, yes, but Martin knows that every relationship has its rocky patches. That’s normal. That’s to be expected. If anything it would be weirder if their relationship didn’t have at least a few small, minor issues like this. And it is a minor issue. Or, rather, it isn’t a minor issue, because mental health never is, but it’s… they’re working on it. They’re working on it together, and that’s what matters. They’re both aware of the situation, now. They’ve discussed it. Martin has listened to Jon talk about it, and he’s shared his own thoughts, and now Jon is going to talk to someone who isn’t Martin about whatever it is that’s going on in his mind, and things are going to get better.

Things are going to get better.

Before Martin, Jon smiles slightly. “What are you thinking about?” he asks, his voice so soft and so fond that Martin can barely stand it.

Martin shakes his head. “Nothing,” he says. He shifts a little, propping himself up on one arm, and looks down at Jon beneath him, looks at the small smile on Jon’s lips and the silver streaks in his hair and the scars scattered across his face and at Jon, at the man that he cares so much about. He doesn’t know if he loves Jon, not yet, but he knows that his feelings are definitely going in that direction. He knows that he cares about him.

God, he cares about Jon so, so much.

When Martin leans down to kiss Jon, Jon meets him halfway.

“Nothing,” Martin repeats, and his words are muffled by Jon’s lips. “Just you.”

---

[Text to: Worm-arm Jon <3] Hey Jon, I’m outside the theatre!
[Text to: Worm-arm Jon <3] I brought you your lunch, just like we discussed ^-^
[Text to: Worm-arm Jon <3] …Jon?

Martin glances up from his phone, scanning over the building before him. He’s sure that he’s got the right address. There’s not many ‘Magnus Theatre’s in London, and this one is at the address that Jon texted him, and the doors and the façade and the area around it all look familiar from what Martin’s seen of it in some of the pictures that Jon’s texted him. It’s definitely the right place, and he’s sure that he’s there at the right time.

Or at least, he was sure.

Martin pulls his sleeve back, checking his watch, but the little clockface still shows the time as being a solid twenty minutes after they were meant to meet. He pulls his lower lip between his teeth, chewing on it, and is just about to try texting Jon again when one half of the front door of the theatre opens with a low creak, letting a familiar figure out in the light drizzle. Martin shifts awkwardly from foot to foot, unsure of whether to catch their attention, but is saved from his conundrum when the figure turns, locks eyes with him, and smiles.

“Oh, hey!” Basira says. “Martin! It’s good to see you!”

Martin smiles back. “Hey, Basira. It’s good to see you too.”

“You doing alright?” she asks. “I was just about to pop off to Tesco to grab lunch.”

“I was, um… I was dropping by to meet Jon, actually.”

“Ah, yeah, that figures. I was just asking because I don’t think I’ve seen you around the theatre… well, ever, actually.”

Martin shrugs, looking up at the borderline ominous façade of the building. “I’ve not really had much reason to visit before today, honestly. Normally Jon meets me. But he’s busy and all so I, um…” He pats the bag slung over his shoulder. “I’m actually- I’m actually here to bring him lunch! We were meant to get lunch together today but he had to cancel so I- I offered to bring him something instead. Like a- a half date, you know? Just so that, um, just so that we could at least see each other for a little bit.”

“…Martin?”

“Yeah?”

“That’s adorable.” Basira grins, only smiling wider at the sight of the blush that immediately rises in Martin’s cheeks. “I mean, really, that’s- that’s pretty damn cute.”

“I-” Martin stammers. “I- it’s- it’s-”

“It’s adorable,” Basira repeats, before tilting her head towards the theatre doors. “Come on in. I’ll show you to Jon’s office. I’ll go to Tesco later.”

Martin doesn’t hesitate to follow the change in conversation. “You- really?” he asks. “I thought- I don’t know, Jon said he was going to come out and meet me but he hasn’t replied to my texts. I just sort of assumed I wouldn’t be allowed in while you lot were working.”

“Well, I mean, normally that’s the case, yeah,” Basira says, opening the door and ushering Martin inside before he can protest, “but you’re our friend. Well. You’re my friend, at least, and Jon’s, and Melanie’s, and Daisy’s, and we all trust you not to cause havoc. It’s not like you can be worse than half the cast at any rate, and we’d all vouch for you, and if anyone else has a problem then they can take it up with Daisy.”

“And- and Elias?”

“Elias is probably being creepy and Machiavellian in his office; he probably won’t even know that you were here. Despite what he may want us to think he doesn’t actually have eyes everywhere.”

“Don’t you have, I don’t know, security cameras or something?”

Basira shrugs. “Not really,” she says, opening another door that Martin had barely even noticed and leading him from the relatively pleasant entrance foyer to the rather more dishevelled and used-looking backstage area. “We’ve got a couple but… well, look around. It’s an old building, this place.”

“Yeah, I know. Jon said, um… I think he said it used to be a church, or something like that.”

“Yeah!” Basira replies. For a moment, she looks almost impressed. “Yeah, that’s it. Used to belong to the People’s Church of the Divine Host before Elias bought it, whoever they were, and for whatever reason they weren’t particularly fond of lighting in general. Apparently, it was enough of a pain to get the basics wired in, as well as a few extra windows. Elias can definitely afford cameras and all that – or, more accurately, his husband can – but it’s just too much hassle, and I think he’s said some bullshit about wanting to preserve the ‘cultural history’ of the building, or something like that. Either way: no security cameras apart from the one in the room of requirement, the one outside Elias’ office, the one by the loading bay, and the one in the foyer.”

“…Didn’t we just go through-”

“Yeah,” Basira interrupts, completely unbothered. “It’s fine, though. I don’t think that one even works, to be honest. I’m pretty sure it’s just there to encourage people to behave, rather than it actually doing anything.” She stops by a door, tugging it open to reveal a gloomy flight of stairs leading down. “After you.”

Martin nods. “Basement,” he says, remembering what Jon’s told him previously about his ‘office.’ “Right. Got it.”

“Yup.”

The stairs creak loudly when Martin first steps on them. He freezes, his mind immediately full of thoughts of the age of the building and how much care and money Elias has put into preserving it, but nothing happens save for Basira nudging at his shin with one foot.

“Don’t worry about the sound,” she says, nudging him again until he takes another step. The next step doesn’t complain quite as much, but Martin still doesn’t like the sound that it makes. “Old building, like I said. It tends to grumble.”

“It’s grumbling a lot. And it’s not grumbling as much when you walk on it.”

“The trick’s to stand on the outside edge of the step, closer to the wall. Like this, see? The wood tends to be stronger there. It’s good for if you want to sneak up on Jon.”

Martin frowns, reaching the bottom of the staircase. “That- I mean, that seems a bit mean, honestly.”

“Yeah, well, it’s better than sneaking up on Melanie,” Basira replies, shrugging. She steps neatly past him, leading the way down the half-lit hallway.

“Dare I ask why?” Martin asks, following her.

“Melanie tends to be armed.”

“She- what?”

“The girl has a lot of knives, that’s all I’m saying. She’s normally got at least one on her person at any given time. The way she puts it, ‘you never know when you’ll need to stab something.’”

Martin stops, baffled, outside the door that Basira is resting her hand on. Basira grins at him.

“Don’t worry about it,” she says, and opens the door.

Jon’s office – and Melanie’s, according to the note on the door – looks simultaneously exactly and not at all how Martin expected it to. It’s a fairly small room, made to feel all the more cramped by the shelves of stuff that cover every single wall, but it’s surprisingly cosy, oddly pleasant and comforting with its slightly aged furniture. It’s immediately apparent which desk is Jon’s, and not just because it’s the desk that doesn’t have someone sitting before it. There’s a small, rather wonky square of dark red knitting sitting on it, tucked up against a battered looking pen holder.

There’s also, Martin realises after a few moments of smiling to himself like a smitten idiot, a rather terrifying looking blank-faced canvas dummy sitting propped up against one of the shelves in a corner. Neither Basira nor Melanie pay it any attention.

Right, Martin thinks to himself as Melanie spins around in her chair, grinning the moment she catches sight of them. That must be Not Sasha.

“Hey Martin!” Melanie says brightly, making Martin snap his attention back to her. “Hey Basira. You looking for Jon?”

“Yeah, do you know where he is?” Basira answers.

“Props storage, I think. That or the lighting box. He said something about needing to get something or go somewhere but honestly he was mostly mumbling and I wasn’t really paying attention.”

“Sounds like Jon,” Basira says dryly, making Melanie laugh. “Anyway, thanks. I’ll see if I can track him down, and if I can’t I’ll just get Daisy to do it. See you around, Melanie.”

“Hey, hey, you don’t get to leave just like that!” Melanie scoots her chair back, quickly reaching out with one foot to jam it in front of the door. She looks up at them, still grinning, and catches Martin’s eye. “Especially not you, Martin. I’ve not seen you in weeks and I missed you at Tim’s party. We’ve got some catching up to do.”

Martin pulls an apologetic face. “I- Melanie, I’d love to stay and chat, really, I would, but I- I need to find Jon. I, um… I brought him lunch.”

“Hm. Can’t you stick around after you’ve had lunch?”

“I- maybe? I don’t- I don’t know, I’ve got some stuff that I need to do…”

Melanie narrows her eyes at him. “One day,” she says, her voice only slightly genuinely menacing, “you will accept my friendship. Just be aware of that.”

“Um. Alright…?” Martin says slowly.

“Just so you’re aware.”

“I’m- I’m aware. I’m definitely aware.”

“I’ll get Jon to give us his number, don’t worry,” Basira says, clapping Martin on the shoulder. “Anyway, come on. Let’s go find your boyfriend.”

Basira leaves without another word, leaving Martin rapidly turning scarlet in the doorway. Melanie grins at him, her eyes alight with amusement, but doesn’t say anything beyond a quick ‘bye!’ when Martin turns and hurries after Basira, joining her outside another door a little distance down the hallway.

“Props storage is in there,” Basira says, gesturing at the door that Martin thinks is marked ‘Props Storage.’ He’s not entirely sure. The letters seem to be scratched into the wood of the door itself, like someone had tried to repaint the chipped and faded lettering but with a screwdriver instead of a paintbrush. “Have a poke around, try not to hurt yourself. It’s, um… it’s a bit of a weird place, if I’m honest with you, all kind of twisty-turny, so make sure you don’t get lost.”

“Um,” Martin replies, holding the bag tighter. “Should I- are you sure I should go in there alone?”

“Yeah, you’ll probably be fine.”

“And Elias won’t-”

“Elias doesn’t even know that you’re here. I mean, technically you shouldn’t go in on your own because of insurance and stuff, but- look, if Jon is in there, then you really just have to open the door and shout and he’ll come running.” Basira pulls a face. “Well, I imagine he would for you, at least. He doesn’t for us, but we’re not you, so I figure it’s worth a shot.” She steps back, clapping Martin on the shoulder before he can reply. “And while you’re doing that, I’m going to nip up to the lighting box and check there, because you really, definitely shouldn’t be in the lighting box if you’re not insured properly. There’s like… electricals and stuff. Dangerous electricals.”

“Ah,” Martin says. It doesn’t take much effort at all for him to remember the shape of the burn scar that lies wrapped around Jon’s hand, tendrils of it stretching up his wrist like grasping strands of fire. “I- yes, right, that’s- fair enough, I suppose.”

“Yeah. So: you look for Jon in here, I look for him upstairs, and whatever happens, I’ll meet you back here, alright?”

“Alright.”

Basira nods, seemingly content. “Great, see you in a bit,” she says, and then she turns, and disappears along the corridor and back up the stairs without another work, leaving Martin stood before the shut door of props storage.

In her absence, the basement of the Magnus Theatre suddenly seems very dark, and very quiet, and very, very lonely.

Martin shakes his head, forcing any thoughts of ghosts and ghouls from his mind. “Stop it,” he mutters to himself, his words sounding deadened by the dust that he can taste on the back of his throat. “Stop- stop it, Martin. It’s not- this is just a theatre. It’s just a bit dark, that’s all. It’s not- it’s not haunted, or anything, not unless shadows and spiders can haunt places.” He shakes his head again and reaches out, grabbing the door handle and twisting it open to let himself in before he can give himself a chance to hesitate. The door swings shut behind him, catching against the door jamb.

It’s dark in the storage room. The fluorescent bulbs that illuminate the rest of the basement are absent here, and what light seeps through the crack in the door doesn’t do much to light up the space beyond a few short inches. Martin can dimly make out shelves to either side of him, every one of them laden with an amassed collection of items which have all turned to formless smudges in the darkness; shadows against darker shadows. He reaches out, about to start patting around in search of a light switch, and then abruptly remembers the breadknife cut that Jon had come into A&E with one time, and where Jon said he’d obtained the injury. Martin draws his hand back. Instead, he fumbles at his pocket, digging out his phone and turning on the torch. The bright light it casts out immediately paints half the space in even deeper shadow, moving and flickering with every slight motion that Martin makes as though it’s partially alive. It is, if he’s honest with himself, incredibly bloody creepy, but he tries to keep his head. It’s fine. There’s nothing supernatural down here, he’s sure of it. It’s just an old, dark building with poor electrics.

Jon wouldn’t work somewhere that was actually dangerous, right?

Martin doesn’t give himself time to answer that question. He raises his phone higher, scanning around in search of a lightswitch, but the one that he finds only causes a few dim bulbs to crackle awake, briefly turning the dust motes that drift through the air around them into tiny particles of liquid gold. At the far end of the room another bulb lights up, glowing amber amongst the stacks. It lights up a few of the shelves around it, revealing their contents to be an eclectic mix that Martin feels would look more at home in some sort of paranormal archive than a theatre, and casts a warm, orange glow over a bed that Martin can see shoved roughly in one corner. It’s an old bed, clearly, splattered with so much paint and varnish of assorted colours that Martin can’t hope to make out its original colour, and lying atop the bed, fast asleep, is Jon.

The first thing that Martin notices, beyond the bright blue, paint-splattered tarpaulin that’s covering the bed, is that Jon’s dressed in his hoodie. The ends of the sleeves hang over his hands, his fingertips only just poking out from beneath them, and the hood is drawn up around his head, his hair pooling out from within it. He has one hand half-curled in the front of the hoodie as though he’s trying to hold onto it, the other resting beside his face, and he looks… peaceful. Tired. Exhausted, actually, now that Martin’s close enough to see him properly. The bags beneath his eyes haven’t lightened or lessened since he last saw Jon on Saturday evening, if anything only growing more pronounced in the few days that have followed. Martin wants to believe that it’s just the dim lighting of props storage that’s making Jon look so haggard, but he can’t. He knows that it isn’t.

Quietly, uncertainly, Martin clears his throat.

“Jon?” he says, stepping towards the bed. The light from his phone illuminates his path, revealing a floor that’s remarkably clear of any obstruction, and yet more shelves stacked in a manner that he can only call organised chaos. “Jon? Are you- are you asleep?”

Jon doesn’t answer. Martin steps closer still, making his way over until he’s standing beside the bed. Slowly he reaches out, taking hold of Jon’s shoulder and gently shaking. “Jon?” he says again. “Jon, it’s- it’s me.”

Beneath his hand, Jon makes a small, discontent noise, stirring slightly. The tarpaulin crinkles loudly beneath him, the sound of it crackling through the air like static, and as Jon shifts he seems to rouse, his eyes slowly fluttering open.

As Martin watches, he sees a small, delighted smile grow across Jon’s face the moment he lays eyes on him.

“Oh,” Jon says. His voice is soft, rough with sleep, and it warms and worries Martin all at once to hear his name on Jon’s lips. “Oh, you- M-Martin. You’re here.” He reaches up, rubbing one hand across his eyes, and yawns before pushing himself upright, swinging his legs over the side of the bed so that he’s sitting on it. When he looks at Martin again he looks marginally more awake, his eyes a little brighter and a little clearer, framed by a few strands of hair that have slipped loose of his ponytail. “What are you- what are you doing here?”

Martin hefts the bag. “I was bringing you lunch,” he answers, unsure of what else to say. “We- we planned it yesterday, remember?”

“Oh. Oh!” Jon says, recollection dawning across his face. “O-oh, yes, yes, I- I do.”

“Yeah. I, um, we- you said you were going to meet me outside. Um. When we planned it yesterday. I, um, I texted you when I arrived but you didn’t answer…”

Immediately, Jon groans. “Oh, God, Martin, I’m so sorry. I was- I didn’t mean to sleep for as long as I did, and my phone’s… somewhere, actually, I’m not entirely sure where, but it’s probably in the office. How did- how did you get in?”

“Basira let me in. She was going out to get lunch and I was still waiting, so… yeah.”

“I’ll have to thank her,” Jon mutters. He moves again, and as he does so the tarpaulin shifts, pulling back slightly to reveal one corner of the bed.

Even in the dim light of the storage room, Martin can see the small, writhing forms crawling across it.

“Jesus Christ, Jon!” Martin exclaims, the volume of his voice making Jon jump. “This is- it’s- is that?”

Jon frowns at him. “Is it what?”

“This is- it’s- you got worms in your arm from this bed!”

“Oh. Oh! Oh, right, that. Yes, this is that bed.”

“You- Jon!”

“It’s fine!” Jon says quickly. He reaches out, taking hold of Martin’s hand, and squeezes reassuringly. “It’s- it’s fine, it’s alright, I- look, I put a tarpaulin over it, see? I doubt- I doubt that little worms, even flesh-eating ones, could bite through that. It’s fine. I just- I needed somewhere to lie down for a moment, and I didn’t want to disturb Mike in the lighting box, and it’s nice and quiet and dark back here, and I already know it’s a good napping spot, I’ve stayed here overnight before, so I- look, it’s fine.”

“It is- this is not fine, they are wriggling-”

“And I’m alright, see?” Jon lifts one arm, quickly pulling back the sleeve of Martin’s hoodie to show him the skin beneath. “See? No bugs? I was being sensible about this. It’s alright.”

Martin forces himself to take a breath, drawing the air deep into his lungs. “I’m really not sure it is, Jon,” he manages to say.

“Why are you so concerned?” Jon asks. “It’s- this is fine, Martin. I’m fine. You know that.”

Martin sighs quietly. Now is not the time for anger, and he knows it. He squeezes Jon’s hand and ducks his head, pressing a kiss to Jon’s cheek “I just worry about you,” he says. In the darkness and closeness of the storage room, his voice seems to fill the small space between them until nothing else remains.  “I just- I care about you, Jon. A lot. I want you to be okay. I need you to be okay, because I- because you- I just do. And this…” Martin trails off, swallowing, and forces himself to continue. “This isn’t being okay. This isn’t good. You need to look out for yourself, okay? I really care about you, Jon, and this- it worries me.”

Before him, Martin sees Jon’s face crumple. “Martin,” he says quietly, but Martin doesn’t stop talking, cutting him off before he has a chance to say more. He knows what he needs to say. He knows what Jon needs to hear.

“It worries me,” he repeats, more emphatically. “You’re always tired, or working late, or both, and I- I know that your job is important to you, and I know that it’s hard to say no to Elias, and I know- well, I know what you’ve said about how you need to be doing something, but pushing yourself this much isn’t healthy.”

“It’s alright,” Jon says, very nearly cutting Martin off. “It’s- listen, Martin, it’s- I know it’s not great, napping at your job, but it’s- it’s fine. Elias doesn’t mind. I still get the work done. That’s what matters.”

“No,” Martin says flatly. “No, Jon, it isn’t.”

Jon frowns. “I mean… it sort of is? It is my job to get all this stuff done.”

“I know, Jon, I do, but it’s…” Martin sighs, lifting a hand and rubbing it over his face before dropping it again. Jon doesn’t meet his gaze, his eyes instantly flickering away, but Martin doesn’t judge him for that. He knows what Jon can be like about eye contact. “I get that your job is important, okay, I do, and I understand needing to pay rent, and- and all of that, but it’s- you should- you need to look after yourself.” He swallows. “You need to. Not just- not just so that you can do your job, either. You need to look after yourself for you. And for-” Martin cuts himself off, shutting his mouth with a click.

“For who?” Jon asks, and he sounds so utterly, genuinely confused, that Martin almost pities him.

“For the people who care about you, Jon,” he says gently, and Jon just frowns some more. “For the people- for the people who like you, and want you to be okay, and who worry about you when you’re so clearly not okay. For-” Say it. “-for people like me, Jon. Because I worry about you. It’s- it’s worrying, all of- all of this, and I need you to be okay, because you- because you matter to me. You matter to me a lot, Jon. I want you to be alright. I want you to be- to be happy, and content, and well-rested, and just… and just alright. I really care about you, Jon. I don’t want you to be hurt.”

There’s a long, awful pause. Martin can almost see the gears turning in Jon’s head, can almost see him puzzling through the apparently baffling fact that people willingly care about him. He doesn’t speak, not wanting to rush Jon, and after what could easily be a couple of minutes Jon quietly clears his throat. He doesn’t look at Martin.

“Okay,” Jon says quietly. “I- okay. Okay. I- I know. I know this isn’t good, Martin, I’m not- I know. I’m just- I’m- Elias needs me to keep working, just until the show is ready. That’s it.”

“He needs the others as well, though,” Martin reminds him. “It’s not just you, Jon. You’re not the only person who works here. Could you- I don’t know, could you ask any of the others to help you? Just so that you can get some rest?”

Jon shrugs. “Maybe?” he replies, his voice soft and uncertain. “I- I don’t actually know. I’ve never, um… I’ve never actually considered asking them.”

“I know I don’t know them as well as you, but I’m sure that at least some of them would be willing to help-”

“No, no, it’s not- they’d definitely help if I asked, they’re all, um, we’re all very good friends,” Jon interrupts quickly. He lifts a hand, running it distractedly through his hair, and then drops it to tug at some loose strands in the cuff of his cardigan, worrying them between index finger and thumb. “It’s- it’s more that… would you believe me if I told you that the thought of asking any of them for help never actually crossed my mind?”

I’d believe you, Martin thinks immediately, and doesn’t let the words cross his lips. He sighs instead, rubbing Jon’s hand with his thumb. “Maybe try it some day?” he suggests. “Maybe- maybe next time Basira’s going to Tesco you could ask her to grab you something if you haven’t eaten? I’m sure she won’t mind.”

“Are you- I wouldn’t want to be a bother-”

“Jon. If she doesn’t want to grab you a meal deal while she’s out then I’m pretty sure she’ll just say so, alright? She doesn’t strike me as the kind of person to beat around the bush too much.”

Jon smiles slightly. “I suppose you’re right about that.” He squeezes Martin’s hand, his thumb warm against Martin’s knuckles. He doesn’t meet Martin’s gaze. “Okay,” he says quietly. “I’ll- I’ll try. To- to do better. To ask for help.”

“Thank you,” Martin murmurs. He ducks his head, pressing a kiss to Jon’s cheek. Jon turns his head into it, seeking out Martin’s lips, and so Martin kisses him again, quick and light and fleeting, and feels Jon’s hand tighten around his own, feels the soft exhale of air against his lips, feels how Jon unconsciously shifts so as to be closer to him. He presses one more kiss to Jon’s lips and then leans back, leaving their joined hands to hang in the space between them like a lifeline. “I don’t like worrying about you, Jon.”

“I know,” Jon replies. “I’m- I’m sorry.”

For the first time since entering storage, Martin feels himself smile. “It’s alright,” he says quietly. “It’s okay. We’ll- we’ll be okay, yeah? Just… remember to eat sometimes, will you?”

Jon smiles back. It’s a small, uncertain thing, wavering on the edge of invisibility, but it’s a smile all the same. “W-well, it’s, ah, it’s sort of hard for me to forget to eat today!”

Martin actually laughs at that. “Hah, yes, I- I suppose it would be. I hope you like it, by the way. It’s just, um, it’s just some stuff I had lying around the flat, but it’s- it should be enough for lunch.”

“I’m sure it’ll be just fine, Martin.”

“Well, you haven’t complained about my cooking so far, so I certainly hope so. Oh, and make sure to sleep too, will you? At your flat,” Martin continues, seeing Jon open his mouth. “Not here. O-or my flat, even, if you want to.”

Jon’s smile widens slightly at that. “You know I’d never say no to staying at yours, Martin.”

“Oh, I know. Just make sure that work doesn’t stop you from saying no, either.” Martin pauses, frowning a little. “W-well, I- I mean, if you- obviously you don’t have to stay at mine whenever I ask you to, that’s- I’m not expecting that, or, um, or anything like that, I just- I just mean that I know that I live closer to here than you do, so if- if you’re working really late you can always text me and swing by, so long as I’m not on a night shift. Just so that you don’t have to sleep here.”

“Would that- would that be alright?”

“I wouldn’t be offering if it wasn’t. Just, you know… text me if you’re en route. Give me some degree of a heads-up so that I can make sure that place isn’t a complete tip when you show up.”

“… I might take you up on that offer,” Jon says after a pause.

“Good! That’s- that’s good. And um, by the way,” Martin adds awkwardly, “just while we’re talking about you, um, maybe staying over at mine… you have your, um… you have your- your counselling assessment soon, right?”

Jon swallows, nodding. “Y-yeah. Next Wednesday. It’s, ah, it’s at 7pm. I needed- I needed time to get there from the theatre.”

“Do you want me to, um… s-some places, you can bring someone with you, or it can be nice to have someone waiting for you outside o-or-”

Jon shakes his head, and Martin instantly falls silent. “I, um… thank you for the offer,” Jon replies quietly, “but… no. I don’t- I- I-…”

“It’s alright.” Martin squeezes Jon’s hand, trying to convey through touch what he cannot with words: that he understands where Jon’s coming from, that he understands the hesitation and the uncertainty and the discomfort that can cling so closely to the idea of being seen. “It’s alright,” he repeats, and watches as relief blooms across Jon’s face. “You don’t- I get it, Jon. Really.”

“It’s not- it’s not that I don’t want you to be there, it’s not that, it’s just-”

“I get it,” Martin repeats. “Seriously, Jon, I mean it. This sort of thing… it’s personal. Very personal. And it’s not always nice to be seen before it, and a lot of the time afterwards you don’t really want to talk to anyone, either. It’s… yeah. It’s personal. And it’s weird. And if you need to go through it alone, then that’s alright. Just- just know that if you want to talk about it – and you don’t have to – that… well, know that I’m here. Alright?”

Jon smiles. “Alright,” he echoes. “Thank you, Martin.”

“Of course. I mean, it’s what good boyfriends do, right?”

At that, Jon laughs. “I wouldn’t really know,” he says, “but… yes, I suppose so. And you are a very good boyfriend, Martin. Um. Just in case- just in case there was any doubt about that.”

“I do my best,” Martin replies quietly. “It’s- it’s what you deserve. Um. T-to have a good boyfriend, that is. And I can’t- I’m not going to look after you, and I can’t do all the work for you, but I am- I am going to support you. However you need me to.”

“I- I don’t-”

“Let me help you, Jon. Please.”

Jon shuts his eyes. He leans forwards with a sigh, pressing his forehead to Martin’s sternum. The hand that isn’t holding Martin’s raises, curling loosely in the fabric of Martin’s jacket, and Martin finds himself running his fingers through Jon’s hair without thinking about it, his fingertips tracing the shape of Jon’s skull before coming to rest at the back of his head, holding him close and gentle. “Alright,” Jon whispers, his words so soft as to be almost inaudible. “I- alright. Okay.”

Beneath Martin’s fingers, Jon’s hair is as soft as silk.

“It’ll be alright,” Martin murmurs, and he wishes that he could believe himself. “We’ll make it work.”

Chapter Text

The problem with learning how to say ‘no’ to Elias, is that Jon just isn’t very good at it.

Jon knows this from the moment that Martin leaves the theatre. He’d been thinking about it all the way through their lunch, the two of them having relocated to the aptly named room of requirement after Martin had insisted that they get away from the bug bed. Jon had still felt like he was over-reacting, especially given how he hadn’t found a single worm on his person after sleeping on the bed for at least an hour, but he’d acquiesced to his request, leading Martin through the maze of corridors until they’d found a room that was actor- and crew-free. Lunch had been pleasant enough, but Jon hadn’t been able to ignore the subtle undercurrent of discomfort underlying the whole situation. They’d chatted, and smiled, and Jon had managed to get a few laughs out of Martin too, but the whole time things had felt just a little bit… off.

The whole time, Jon hadn’t been able to shake the image of Martin’s face when he’d first spotted him on the bed from his mind.

He doesn’t want to worry Martin. He hates that he’s already worried Martin as it is. He loves Martin, and he hates that he’s worried him, and he hates that Martin is concerned about him at all, and even if he thinks that Martin’s overreacting a little bit he still hates that he is the person to make Martin look so upset, and so sad, and so quietly, distantly, silently disappointed. He hates that most of all.

And he understands where Martin’s coming from, too. He’s been vaguely aware that he doesn’t have the- the healthiest approach to his work, and he knows that he could be doing better, but he’s been pushing that thought aside for so long now that it's harder than he’d like to admit to actually look at it. He understands where Martin’s coming from. He does. If he were seeing his own actions in anyone else, he’d be concerned, too.

But he’s not seeing them in anyone else.

He’s seeing them in him, and, somehow, that makes it okay.

Jon knows that what he’s doing isn’t great, and that what he’s doing isn’t exactly particularly healthy, but it’s- it’s fine. It’s always been fine. As he so often likes to say: it hasn’t killed him yet. He has his job, and his friends, and he sleeps, and he eats healthily enough, and he has hobbies (despite what Georgie may say about Antiques Roadshow not counting as a hobby), and he’s starting to learn how to knit, and he’s- he’s fine. Sure, maybe most people don’t take naps at their jobs, and sure, maybe most people don’t stay overnight at their place of work a couple of times a month, but that’s- that’s just him. That’s just how he is. It’s fine. It’s always been fine.

Martin doesn’t think that it’s fine, though. Martin very pointedly doesn’t think that it’s fine, and he’s told Jon as much in no uncertain terms. He thinks that it’s bad that Jon spends so much time at the theatre, ignoring his own health in favour of satisfying the ceaseless urge to work, and Jon supposes that he’s right. He knows that he’s right. Martin’s right about that, and he’s right about Jon needing to talk to someone about it, and he’s just- he’s just right about everything, really. It hurts less to admit that after their lunch together, where Martin had been so visibly happy when Jon had mentioned that he was going to save some of his lunch to be post-counselling dinner for tomorrow. Jon likes making Martin happy. He wants to make Martin happy. And if that involves talking to someone, actually talking to someone about his… stuff… then he supposes that he can.

He’s going to do better. He’s going to do better for Martin.

When Martin finally leaves at the end of lunch, stepping out of the theatre with a lingering kiss pressed to Jon’s cheek, Jon returns to his desk feeling very nearly determined. He’s going to do better, or at the very least he’s going to try. He’s going to make Martin proud.

After all, how hard could it be to say ‘no?’

---

The week passes.

Jon doesn’t think about his upcoming counselling appointment as the date of it draws nearer, throwing himself into his work with even more force than before. He buries himself in it as much as he can, deliberately keeping the ticking clock that is his appointment forced far back to the back of his mind, but as it turns out, he hardly has to try to lose himself in the endless, ceaseless, reassuring paperwork that he’s so accustomed to. Elias, now having settled on a date to release the show, keeps cornering Jon, pulling him aside for meetings and discussions that always feel either too long or far, far too short. Jon does try to remember Martin’s words, very nearly managing to say ‘no’ to Elias on more than one occasion, but he doesn’t quite make it. He’s alright with that, though. If he just keeps his head down and works, he can ignore how rapidly the days are passing.

If he works over the weekend, he can ignore how close Wednesday is.

Ignoring something doesn’t make it go away, though, and far, far too quickly for Jon’s liking it’s Wednesday, and when he wakes, he wakes to a sensation like lead settled low in his stomach.

Wednesday starts just like any other day, with work already waiting on Jon’s desk by the time he arrives at the theatre, and the banal normality of it is simultaneously reassuring and terrifying. It continues like any other day, too, with conversations with his coworkers, and ‘brief chat’s with Elias, and regular texts exchanged with Martin (at least while Martin isn’t busy on shift), and what Jon considers to be a perfectly reasonable amount of tea consumed as the day progresses, even if his coworkers seem to have other ideas.

“Jon?” Melanie calls when Jon returns to the office with his sixth mug of tea that day, her voice sounding faintly concerned. “Are you doing alright over there? You look like you haven’t slept in a week.”

“I’m fine, Melanie,” Jon replies without thinking, dropping down in his chair and turning over another page of the script and glaring at the lines and lines of contradicting notes that Elias has left scrawled across it in his typical green ink. “Just- just catching up on work.”

Behind him, he hears Melanie snort. “Catching up on work like you’ve been doing for the last week, you mean?”

“…Something like that.”

“Hm. Jon?”

“Yes,” Jon asks, not looking up.

“Do you want a hand with that?”

At that, Jon does look up. He looks back over his shoulder at Melanie, frowning slightly. “…What?”

She nods towards the open scriptbook. “Do you want a hand with that? With cleaning up Elias’ notes? You’re just going to have to pass half of them on to me later anyway, so I might as well lend a hand.”

Jon shakes his head. “No, but thank you.”

“You sure? You look dead on your feet.”

“I’m sitting down.”

“Dead in your chair, then. You look like Not Sasha if she had more grey hairs and a severe caffeine addiction.”

“It is- it is not that bad, Melanie.”

“Says the man with five empty mugs on his desk.”

Jon glares at the five empty mugs on his desk. “…Fine. Maybe you have a point.”

“Told you.”

“But even then… no, thank you. I know you have your own work to be getting to.”

“So do you!”

“This is my own work, Melanie.”

“Elias gives you too much work,” Melanie mutters. “He should give you a break for once.”

Jon shrugs. “If I need to stay late, then I’ll stay late,” he says easily. “I don’t mind. I like working. It’s… rewarding.”

Melanie snorts. “I’m never going to understand you, you know.”

“I’m not expecting you to.”

“Yeah, well, don’t blame me when you end up falling asleep at your desk again.”

“That’s only happened once.”

“It’s happened at least three times. I should know. I’m normally the one who has to wake you up afterwards to make sure that you actually go home at some point.”

“…Oh.”

“It was the quadruple distilled coffee that only happened once, if that’s what you’re thinking about.”

Jon cracks a grin. “I think I could go for some of the quadruple distilled coffee right now,” he says, trying to inject some humour into his voice.

From the look on Melanie’s face, he didn’t inject nearly enough.

“Har har,” she says. “Didn’t that stuff send you to A&E?”

It didn’t. Basira did,” Jon corrects.

“Oh. Same difference, though.”

“I don’t think Basira counts as coffee.”

“I mean she’s dark and hot, so…”

Jon sighs and turns back to his work, making Melanie cackle loudly. Her voice is loud in the confined space but it’s a familiar sound, making it significantly less overwhelming. Jon flinches at it anyway, but it’s more out of habit than any actual discomfort.

“I’m not wrong,” Melanie says, still laughing to herself. “You know I’m not wrong.”

Jon pulls a slight face, even though he knows that Melanie can’t see it. “I mean… I’m not exactly the best judge of hotness.”

“Mm, I don’t know, I think you’re a better judge than you let yourself think. You’re good enough of a judge to know that Oliver’s handsome, at least.”

Everyone knows that Oliver’s handsome. Anyone with eyes in their skull can see that. It’s not exactly a glowing indication of my- of my ability to judge attractiveness that I know that Oliver’s handsome. That’s just a fact.”

“…Alright, fine, fair enough. But to get back on subject – I’m really not sure you need any more caffeine today, Jon. Or,” she adds quickly, seeing Jon starting to open his mouth, “any more work! Take a break for once in your life. Go home at a normal, human hour.”

“It’s really not that bad, Melanie. And anyway,” Jon adds, “I can’t actually stay particularly late tonight, even if I did want to-”

“Which you apparently always do.”

“-because I’ve got, um… I’ve got something going on tonight.”

Jon can’t see it, but he can practically hear the eyebrow that Melanie raises.

“Oh?” she asks. “Is that so?”

“Mhmm.”

“I don’t suppose this ‘something’ would happen to involve a particularly lovely nurse who brought you lunch yesterday?”

“Would it shock you to know that for once it actually doesn’t?”

“Yes,” Melanie replies flatly. “Yes, it would.”

“Oh. Well, whether you believe it or not, it doesn’t actually involve Martin. It’s um…” Private, Jon wants to say. Personal. Not something that I want Martin to see. “…It’s an individual thing,” he says eventually. “Just, um. Just me.”

“…Are you going grocery shopping or something like that?”

“…Sure.”

“Jon?”

“Mm?”

“You’re a shit liar.” Melanie leans back in her chair, making it squeak like an asthmatic mouse, and crosses her arms over her chest, her brow furrowing. “Look, Jon, just… just promise that you won’t stay too late tonight, alright?”

“Of course,” Jon says easily. “I promise.”

Melanie looks at him. It’s a careful look, a calculating look, taking in every part of Jon that she can see, from his slightly askew glasses to the myriad of loose threads in his cardigan sleeves, every one of them worried free by unconscious hands as he’s worked. Jon doesn’t know what she sees when she looks at him. He’s not sure he wants to know.

“Hm,” she says eventually, sounding unconvinced, and then they both lapse into silence.

---

It’s a few hours later that Melanie stands to head home, but despite her repeated insistence that he, too, needs to get some rest, Jon doesn’t leave with her. He’s had enough practise at brushing her off over the years that he barely thinks about it, mentioning his upcoming thing without looking up from his work. When Melanie does eventually leave it’s with a quiet sigh and a threat to drag him home by his collar if Georgie doesn’t text her to say when he’s finally left the theatre, but the threat doesn’t worry Jon. Georgie may not know exactly where he’s going, but she knows that he’s got something important going on that he’s not willing to talk about, and she knows him well enough not to push the point. She knows enough to not be worried by his late arrival home, and that’s enough for both of them. It works for both of them.

As far as Jon’s concerned, the less he has to talk about what he’s doing this evening, the better.

The less he has to think about what he’s doing this evening, the better.

Jon doesn’t look at the clock as the time continues to pass. He knows that he should, because he’s got counselling to go to, and he needs to know what time it is to make sure that he leaves with enough time to get there, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t want to. It’s not that he doesn’t want to go to counselling, of course, that’s definitely not it, but it’s- it’s…

Jon drops his head into his hands, running his fingers through his hair. They get caught on his hair tie, tangling around the elastic, and so he tugs it free, letting his hair hang loose around his face. It curtains off the office around him, leaving him with nothing more to see than the familiar desk before him, and it helps, somehow. It makes the world feel smaller, feel closer, feel private and quiet and his. He knows where he is in this office. He knows where things are on his desk. He knows who he is, and how he works, and he knows his normal, standard, everyday life, where nothing is strange and nothing is uncomfortable beyond the intermittent oddities of his job. He knows this.

He doesn’t know what counselling will entail, and it terrifies him. He likes knowing things. He likes knowing things an awful lot. There’s a certain sense of comfort that comes from encasing oneself in knowledge, wrapping it around yourself like wings until you barely have to think in order to speak what you know to be true. He likes being able to prepare himself, likes being able to decide exactly what people know about him, and he may not always be smooth and he may not always be certain but he is, at the very least, in control. People do not know more about him than he wants them to. The knowledge, the observing, the sense of beholding that draws him time and time again to the catwalks above the stage, letting him watch the play unfold from the shadows of the rafters, unseen and unknown… it’s perfect, and it’s his, and it only goes one way. It’s only ever gone one way.

But, tonight, it won’t.

Tonight, Jon will be the one beheld.

He’s going to go to counselling. He knows that. He’s going to. He’s going to go, and he’s going to talk, and he’s going to examine his own thoughts and he’s going to let himself be known and he’s- and he’s-

Jon draws in a shaky, trembling breath, gripping the edge of the table so hard that his knuckles turn white. He’s been deliberately not thinking about this since he first made the appointment, pushing the thoughts away in favour of focusing on anything else, but he has to think about it now, and the knowledge of what he’s going to do burns. He’s going to let someone in. He’s going to talk about himself. He’s going to talk about all the awful, ugly, unpleasant corners of himself, about his burning need to work and his desperation to feel worth something and his- and his everything, and it feels awful. It sits in his belly like lead, heavy and cold, and with every breath he takes he can feel it chasing along his veins, slipping through his skin until he feels that he cannot move for the weight of it.

The thought of someone working their way into his head, laying out his thoughts like spools of thread and peeling them apart one by one, pinning the entire state of his mind down like a butterfly on a corkboard… it terrifies him. He hates it. He hates it. It makes him feel shivery all over like there’s spiders crawling along his bones, makes his skin prickle and his hair stand on end and his heart beat faster in his chest, pulsing and pulsing and pulsing with that raw fear of being seen. Of being known.

Of willingly subjecting himself to that.

Jon knows that that’s the entire point of it. He understands that. He understands that, sometimes, you have to do things that make you uncomfortable in order to reach something better on the other side. He knows that the easiest path isn’t always the best one, and he knows that there is something in his brain that he should really probably discuss with someone, and he knows all this fucking bullshit but for once the knowing doesn’t make anything better. It doesn’t make anything easier. He knows, in that awful, aching, snarling way, that this will help him, and he knows that this will be a good thing, and he knows that all he has to do, all he has to fucking do, is get up, and get his coat, and leave the theatre and get the tube and just go to counselling, but he doesn’t want to. He really, truly doesn’t want to. It feels awful even to just think about, like he’s cracking open his own skull to pull out his thoughts like reels of magnetic tape, played and laid bare for all to see. They’re his thoughts. They always have been. They’re his thoughts, and it’s his brain, and if he isn’t even willing to accept the presence the tangled mess lodged somewhere among his neurons then how the fuck is he supposed to let someone else in?

How the fuck is he supposed to let someone help him get better?

Jon draws in another breath, forcing it down into his lungs. He holds it for a moment, feeling his heart thrumming in his chest, and then exhales it through his mouth, watching his hair flutter slightly. He draws in another breath, repeating the process, and then another, and another after that, calming a little more with each one. He doesn’t want to do this. He doesn’t want to do this, but he has to. But he needs to.

But, it would be so, so much easier to just not go to counselling at all.

It would be so, so much easier to just lie.

He has to, though. He said that he would. He told Martin that he would.

Jon glances down at the watch on his wrist. 5:57, the analogue face reads. His appointment is at seven. It’s not too far away from the theatre, either, all things considered. He doesn’t have to leave quite yet. He can stay for a little while longer. He can stay, and get a little bit more work done, and then he can go to counselling content in the knowledge that he did as much work as he could.

On the back of Jon’s throat, the air tastes like dust and electricity. He breathes in, breathes out, breathes in again, and feels himself settling as he looks at the work laid out before him, at the comfortable expanse of knowledge to be sorted and categorised and understood and processed. He knows what he’s doing here. He knows where he fits in. He knows how he is needed, knows that he is needed, knows that he’s producing worth for as long as he sits in this basement, and the safety of that knowledge cocoons him, bundling him up close and tight in a familiar chrysalis.

Yes. He can stay here for a while longer. Just a little while longer. Just to calm himself down.

It’ll be fine.

It’ll all be fine.

---

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Hey Jon, just checking that we’re still on for lunch today

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Yes, we are!
[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Sorry, I’m running a little bit late and didn’t have time to reply to your messages while at work.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] I just left the theatre. I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Ok, thanks for letting me know!
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] By the way it’s bloody nippy out so I’ve grabbed us a table
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] It’s the one in the corner :)

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Thank you, Martin <3

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] <3

Jon pockets his phone, walking down the street as quickly as he can without breaking into an actual run. It’s been far, far too long since he last saw Martin in person, work keeping them both away, and it’s harder than he’d like to admit to keep his pace closer to ‘brisk walk’ than ‘new 100m sprint world record.’ He manages, though, more or less, and barely a minute or so later he’s rounding the corner to the little café that’s become their go-to lunch spot, pushing open the door as the bell above it gives a cheerful tinkle. He spots Martin immediately at what he’s been starting to consider ‘their’ table; Martin’s already halfway out of his chair, a smile blooming across his face as Jon approaches, and then they’re close enough to touch and Jon finally, finally gets to hug his boyfriend.

Jon sinks into the hug, physically feeling himself relaxing the moment that Martin’s arms settle around him, holding him close and tight. It’s not a long hug, not with how they’re stood by a table inside the café, people bustling around them, but it’s a good hug. It’s a real hug. It’s a Martin hug, and that makes it so, so much more wonderful. Jon sighs quietly, curling his hands in the soft fabric of Martin’s jumper, and turns his face to press it to Martin’s neck, shutting his eyes and breathing in deeply. Somehow, he hadn’t realised quite how much he’d missed this until right this moment. He’s been aware that he’s been missing seeing Martin over the last week and a half or so, work and life and theatre keeping them apart, but he hadn’t fully processed it. He missed Martin. He really, really missed Martin.

“Hey,” he hears Martin murmur. One of Martin’s hands shifts, rubbing gently against his back, and Jon inhales again, a little shakier this time. He doesn’t know why he’s feeling like this. He doesn’t know what he’s feeling. He just knows that it’s been far, far too long since he last saw Martin, since he last held Martin, and that he doesn’t want the hug to end.

It has to, though. Jon knows that, as much as he hates the knowledge, and so after another second or so he forces himself to let go and lean back, though one hand still lingers on Martin’s wrist, fingers curled delicately around the cuff of his jumper. He smiles up at Martin, soft and smitten, and when Martin smiles back at him he finally, finally feels like he can breathe again.

“Hey,” Martin says again. “You doing alright, love?”

“Mm,” Jon hums. He can’t make himself look away from Martin, and after barely a second he stretches up, meeting Martin halfway in a quick kiss that warms him down to his toes all the same. “Doing much better now.”

“Yeah?”

“Mm. Are you- are you alright?”

Martin shrugs, his hand warm on Jon’s waist. “I’m- yeah, I’m alright. Things are getting a bit busy because we’re still getting assessments and coursework around placement and they’re all starting to be due at the same but… yeah, I’m alright. Just- just busy, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” Jon says, smiling slightly, and then he kisses Martin again. Martin kisses him back, huffing out a breath of amused laughter against Jon’s lips, and then nudges him away, steering him towards one of the chairs.

“Go on,” he says, “sit down. I’ve already got you a menu.”

“You’re a hero,” Jon says, taking his seat, and it’s only then that something in his mind clicks. “…Did you just call me ‘love?’”

Martin blushes, raising a hand to rub at the back of his head. “Ah… maybe?” he says, sounding sheepish enough to supply an entire yarn shop. “It, um, it just sort of- sorry, it just sort of slipped out, I didn’t-”

“Don’t apologise,” Jon says quickly, feeling himself turning just as red as Martin. He smiles at him across the table, fond and warm, and Martin smiles back almost immediately. “Don’t- you don’t need to apologise for that, Martin. It was, um… it was sweet.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. It was- I- honestly, Martin,” Jon continues, feeling himself turning redder by the second, “I- I rather liked it. I wouldn’t, ah, I wouldn’t complain if you, um, if you wanted to use it again. Just so you’re aware.”

“O-oh. I’ll, um, I’ll- I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Mm.” Jon hums, looking down at the table before him. He wouldn’t be surprised if there was steam rising off his face by now, the rainwater vaporised by the sheer heat of his blush.

“I- I ordered you some tea, by the way” Martin says when the silence has started to stretch on for just a moment too long, gesturing at the little teapot that’s sitting on the table, steam curling from its spout. “I, um, I hope that was alright. It should- it should still be warm, it arrived just a minute or so before you did, and it’s- I got you Earl Grey, because I know what you’re like, and I- yeah. You seemed like you needed some.”

Were it not for the table between them, Jon would have kissed him again right then and there.

“Martin,” he says, unable to keep the soft, love-struck fondness from his voice, “you are wonderful.”

Martin flushes. “I mean- I’m not,” he says. “Not really. I’m just- I know that you like tea, and you’ve been really busy recently, so… yeah. I was just doing what seemed right.”

Jon shakes his head a little, taking the teapot and pouring himself some. He’s lost track of how many cups of tea and coffee he’s had so far today but he can’t imagine that one more will hurt. And besides, it’s tea. It’s barely caffeinated to begin with.

When he looks up after pouring, mug in hand, it’s to see Martin watching him with a small, fond smile.

Jon blinks. “Oh, sorry,” he says quickly, “did you- did you want some?”

Martin shakes his head, his smile not fading. “Already got my own,” he replies, picking up the steaming mug sat before him that Jon had somehow entirely missed. “Thank you, though.”

“Well, you bought it. It is technically your tea.”

“I guess that’s true, but I did buy the tea for you,” Martin says, smiling a little more. “And I gifted it to you, which I think means that ownership of the tea has been transferred over, so…”

“…So it’s my tea?”

“So it’s your tea.”

“Well… alright. Next time we get lunch I’m paying for it, though. To make up for it.”

“You really don’t have to, you know.”

“I want to,” Jon says. “Also, to, um, to make up for cancelling at the last minute on Friday. And on Wednesday as well. It’s just-”

“It’s work,” Martin finishes for him, sighing quietly. “Yeah, I know.”

“…I’m sorry, Martin.”

“I know, I know, it’s- I’m not blaming you, you know, it’s just… it’s annoying. I haven’t seen your face in a while.”

“We’ve facetimed,” Jon offers weakly.

“I know, but it’s not- it’s not the same,” Martin says, with so much quiet indignation in his voice that Jon can’t help but smile. “It’s not the same as seeing you in person, Jon! I happen to rather like seeing you in person. It’s- it’s more real.”

“I’m still real when I’m on the other side of a screen,” Jon points out, smiling wider at the sound that Martin makes.

“I know, Jon, but it’s- it’s the- it’s the principle of the thing! It’s- it’s just that- I- well, look, maybe I- maybe I really miss cuddling with you, alright?” Martin says. He breathes in, his cheeks flushed, and when he speaks again his voice is quieter. Softer. “I miss- I miss cuddling with you.” He looks down, his fingers shifting over the surface of his mug, and Jon aches to reach out for him, to take his hand and hold it and apologise for cancelling last week’s visit because Elias needed him to work on something, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t know how to. It’s normally so simple to take Martin’s hand, when it’s resting by his side or on the table between them or over Jon’s shoulder, but it’s not there, now. It’s around his mug. Both of his hands are around his mug. Which is a perfectly reasonable place for hands to be, of course, but it still feels… weird. Jon wants to hold Martin’s hand, but he can’t. He wants to hold Martin, but he can’t.

“We can- we can still cuddle,” Jon says quietly. “You- we’ve not stopped cuddling, Martin, it’s just- I’ve been busy.”

“I know,” Martin sighs. “I- I know that, Jon. I’ve been busy too. It’s not really your fault. I’d just…” He trails off, sighing quietly, and looks up at Jon with a small, wavering smile. “Is it pathetic to say I’d like to watch Bake Off with you again some time soon? I’ve- I haven’t caught up because we were going to watch it together, and I… yeah. I miss having you around. I miss this,” he adds, gesturing at the little café around them. “You know. Getting lunch. Going on dates. All of… all of that.”

Despite himself, Jon smiles a little. “Martin,” he says fondly, “it’s only been a week and a half.”

“Yeah, okay, alright, I know,” Martin replies, and to Jon’s delight he smiles back, flushing a delightfully charming shade of pink. “I’m- it’s just- okay, fine, maybe I’m a little bit of a romantic, how about that? Maybe- maybe I’m a romantic, and- and I’ve watched too many romcoms, and I like going on dates and cuddling with you and watching baking shows together and cooking together and generally being, you know, boyfriends. Is that so bad?”

“It’s not!” Jon says quickly, unable to stop himself from smiling in kind. “It’s- it’s not, it really isn’t, I promise, it’s- it’s really sweet, Martin. I like- I like it a lot, actually. Um. Being- being your boyfriend.”

“Well… good. I would hope so.”

“You’re… you’re very…”

“I’m very yes?”

Jon sighs, feeling himself grow warm all over when Martin lets out a short, delighted laugh at the expression on his face. “One day… one day, we will move past ‘very yes.’”

“Hey, you’re the one who said it!”

“I know, I know, it just- it wasn’t exactly my finest moment, that. I was a bit, um… I was a bit distracted.”

“Oh?” Martin asks, his cheeks still pink but his smile as bright as ever. “Any particular reason for that, Mr Sims?”

Jon rolls his eyes. “Well, if you must know, I happened to be with a particularly handsome and charming nurse at the time.”

“Is that so?”

“It is, in fact. You might know him, actually. He’s, ah, about your height. Very handsome, very charming, very, very sweet. He looks a lot like you, too. Name’s Martin Blackwood?”

Martin smiles, lifting his mug as though trying to hide the blush on his cheeks. “He sounds like a catch.”

“Oh, he- he is. He really is. I’m very lucky to have him as my boyfriend.”

“I’m sure that whoever he’s dating must be a catch, too.”

Jon snorts into his mug. “Martin.”

“What?” Martin exclaims. His foot nudges Jon’s beneath the table, just enough strength behind it for it to be intentional, and Jon automatically nudges back. “I’m right. I should be allowed to say it.”

“You’re- I’m- you’re not- okay, yes, fine, you should be allowed to say whatever you want, but that doesn’t-”

“Don’t say it doesn’t mean I’m right.”

But it doesn’t mean you’re right,” Jon finishes as quickly as he can, trying not to smile at the exasperated look on Martin’s face and failing immediately. “I mean, come on, Martin, look at me.”

“I’m looking!” Martin replies, grinning back in turn. “I’m definitely looking. I see that you’re, um, that you're wearing your leather jacket again, for example.”

“Georgie’s leather jacket.”

“Right, yeah, sorry. Georgie’s leather jacket.” Martin’s gaze flickers over Jon’s body, lingering here and there for a handful of moments as, behind his raised mug, his cheeks turn just a couple of shades darker. “It’s a good look on you.”

Jon looks away, feeling abruptly bashful. “It’s- I- I wanted to, um, to dress up a bit for lunch today. Make up for the ones that I’ve missed.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“I know, I know, but I wanted to.” Jon glances back at Martin, a smirk tugging at one corner of his mouth. “I know how much you like this jacket, too, you know. You told me I look like a hot professor in it.”

There’s a quiet spluttering sound as Martin inhales some of his tea. “Christ,” he wheezes, coughing a couple of times. “I’d thought you’d forgotten that! It wasn’t exactly my finest moment.”

“Oh, I definitely hadn’t forgotten it.”

“Yeah, clearly not, you bastard.”

Jon beams. “It was a very good compliment, Martin. I liked it a lot.”

Martin rolls his eyes, muttering to himself as he sips rather more cautiously from his tea. “Yeah, well, I’m glad you did, because it’s true, but it’s- you can’t judge me for ‘hot professor’ when you’re the one who said ‘very yes.’”

“Look, if you get to lord the memory of ‘very yes’ over me forever, then I feel I should at least be allowed to remind you of the ‘hot professor’ incident.”

“You- that’s- alright, fine, I suppose that’s fair, Christ. Anyway,” Martin continues pointedly, “if you’re quite done making me choke to death on my own tea… would you mind if I derailed this completely?”

Jon shakes his head, still smiling. “Go ahead.”

“Thanks, Jon. I just- I just remembered something that happened on placement last week that I wanted to tell you about in person. It seemed your brand of ‘weird.’”

Jon raises an eyebrow. “Oh? What was it?”

“Well… the other day, a woman came into A&E with a spider living in her ear,” Martin says, struggling to hide a grin, and Jon nearly chokes on his food.

“She- what?” he splutters. “A- a spider? Was it alive?”

“Oh, yeah, it was still alive,” Martin replies, his face rapidly becoming more animated. He grins at Jon as Jon coughs again, his knee nudging against Jon’s beneath the table. “It had- sorry, are you okay with me talking about this right now? I know you’re fine with me talking about kind of gross stuff but we are eating, so I just-”

“No, no, please go ahead,” Jon says, nudging Martin’s knee back. “Please. This is- I love hearing your A&E stories, Martin.”

“You sure?”

“Definitely.”

“Well… alright then.” Martin sits back, drumming his fingers against the table top before continuing where he left off. “So, basically… this woman came into A&E saying that she was hearing things. Not voices, but… things. Like, weird, whispering, skittering-ey kinds of things. We all thought it was maybe tinnitus at first, because she didn’t have any record of mental illness, but she said it was only happening in one ear. And you do get people who only get tinnitus in one ear, like if they’re a DJ or something and they work with one ear covered, but she was a- well, I can’t say what she was, but she wasn’t that. Anyway,” Martin continues, his eyes bright as he starts to gesticulate alongside his words, “we take a look at her ear, and as we’re doing so she says that she can hear the skittering again, and we- we shine a light inside, right, and there’s an entire spider in there.”

“Christ,” Jon says faintly. He’s vaguely aware that he’s leaning forwards, caught up in Martin’s excitement and story, but he doesn’t care. He loves this. He loves listening to Martin, loves how animated Martin gets when he talks about his job and his profession. It’s enthralling. He adores it. “Was she- was she alright?”

“Oh, yeah, she was fine once we got it out,” Martin says reassuringly, “but it had- it had spun webs all through the inside of her ear! There were tiny little webs in her hair, too, and it- okay, this bit really is kind of gross, do you-”

“Martin, please tell me everything,” Jon says desperately. “Please. I need to know.”

It had laid eggs inside her ear,” Martin says quickly, and Jon feels his eyes widen. “It had- she said she couldn’t hear so well in that ear, and we thought at first that it was just because of the cobwebs, but we cleaned them all out and we managed to get the spider out, too, but there was still something in there, and so we had to go carefully poking around, because the ear is very delicate, and it was-“

“An egg sac,” Jon finishes for him.

Martin nods. “Exactly. It was this- it was a whole egg sac! I have no idea how the spider managed to fit in inside her ear! It was such a pain to get out, too, because like I said the ear is really delicate, and this whole time we were aware that that thing was going to be full of baby spiders that could hatch and start running around at any second, and that would be even worse for everyone involved, but somehow we managed to do it. It was almost like playing a real-life game of Operation, only with more spiders. Amazingly, she seemed kind of… I don’t know, almost chipper after it was all done and sorted. She asked if she could look at the egg sac but we’d already binned it. If that was me I would’ve- I don’t know, ended up with some sort of spider-based trauma, probably, but she seemed fine! We gave her all the numbers to talk to someone, but she was- yeah, she seemed weirdly okay with it all. It was bizarre.”

“It sounds it,” Jon remarks.

“Yeah! Oh, and speaking of talking to someone, how was your counselling session?” Martin asks, before immediately pulling a face. “I- sorry, that was- that was kind of brusque of me. You don’t- you don’t have to answer, I was just… it was yesterday evening, wasn’t it?”

Ah.

Jon swallows. “It… it was meant to be, yes,” he says, edging his words with a caution that Martin immediately picks up on.

“Oh?” Martin asks, his brows drawing together in a confused frown. “What do you mean by that? Did it- did you have to reschedule it?”

“Um… I- I- sort of?”

“Oh. Did they move your appointment? Because that happens sometimes. I probably should’ve warned you about that. Sometime the NHS has to shift things around, bump people up and down the list depending on, um, the severity of the matter, I guess, and they- I mean, normally they don’t cancel so close to the actual appointment date, but it’s not unheard of, I suppose-“

“I didn’t go,” Jon blurts out, cutting Martin’s rambling off short. “I didn’t, um, I didn’t- I didn’t go. To the appointment.”

Martin’s frown grows deeper. When he speaks, Jon can hear the feeble hope in his voice. “Because… because the NHS rescheduled it…?”

Unspeaking, Jon shakes his head.

Immediately, Martin’s face falls. He swallows, carefully setting his mug down, and in the silence that blooms around them, the click of porcelain against wood feels like the loudest sound in the universe. He doesn’t say anything, not making a single sound to break the silence that laps around their feet like static, and with every passing second Jon feels the words in him rise and rise further, pushing at his throat until they finally tumble free.

“I was- it was… look, I lost track of time when I was working,” Jon says, and the moment the words leave his mouth Martin shuts his eyes, lifting a hand to rub it against them. “I was- Elias had given me some extra files to sort through earlier that day, and he didn’t need them done for a few days but it was quick work, and I was- it was only about six, so I had plenty of time to get the tube over, I had the route all planned out, and so I- I got a little bit more work done and I… and I lost track of time. That’s all.”

Jon.”

“Look, it’s- it’s fine, though, it’s- it’s alright, it’s not that much of an issue, really.”

“Did you at least book another appointment?” Martin asks, with just enough hope in his voice to make Jon want to curl up inside. “Do you- you still have the number I gave you, right?”

“I- I do. It’s, um, it’s saved in my call history.”

“And did you…?”

“…”

When Martin speaks again, Jon can hear everything that he isn’t saying. “Jon…”

“I’m sorry,” Jon whispers. It’s a pathetic, weak apology and he knows it, but it’s all he has to offer. “I’m- I’m sorry, Martin, I- I am, I didn’t mean to- I didn’t mean to let you down, or- or anything like that, but it’s- I’m- look, how much could it really help? How much could- could sitting down, and talking, and just discussing things actually help with- with- well, with my… stuff? And it’s- it’s not bad, either. You know that. It’s- it’s fine. I’m fine.”

Jon.”

“I’m fine,” Jon says again, as if by some miracle repeating the phrase over and over again would make it true. “I’m- I’m fine, Martin, really.”

“Jon, we’ve spoken about this-”

“I know, I know we have, I- I know, Martin, really, but it’s…” Jon trails off, shrugging slightly. He doesn’t look at Martin. Instead, he stares down at his mug of tea, watching as the steam rises from it to form coils of silver in the weak sunlight. It’s pretty. It’s so, so much easier to look at than the disappointment on Martin’s face. “I’m fine,” he mutters again. “It’s not- it really isn’t that bad, Martin. I know- I know I may have made it sound bad when we- that time when I, um, when I- when I talked about it, but it’s- it’s fine. I’m used to it.”

Against the back of his hand, Jon feels the touch of something warm. He doesn’t look up but his gaze flickers over to where his hand is resting against the table top, coming to rest on Martin’s hand as his fingers curl around Jon’s own. The touch is so soft, so gentle, so cautious that it chokes Jon up, making his breath catch in his throat and his lungs squeeze at the tenderness behind it.

“Jon,” Martin says quietly. His eyes are wide, boring into Jon’s with an intensity that almost hurts, but Jon doesn’t look away. He wants to, wants to so badly that if he were with anyone other than Martin he thinks he would flee entirely, but he doesn’t. He trusts Martin.

He loves Martin.

“I’m not… I’m not going to repeat everything I said to you last time you stayed over,” Martin says, his voice soft and his words careful, “because I don’t think you need to hear it all over again, but just- remember it, alright? Remember to look after yourself, and remember that your worth isn’t determined by how much work you do, and remember that- remember that people care for you, okay? And that you need to care for yourself.”

“I- I’ll try to,” Jon says. He can barely hear his own voice but he knows that Martin does.

“Just look after yourself, alright?” Martin asks quietly. “Please? Not for me, or for anyone else, but for you. You need to- you need to look after yourself, because I can’t do that for you. You need to – God, I sound like one of my lecturers – you need to- it’s important to be willing to improve, you know? To- to want to get better. Even if,” he continues quickly, seeing Jon opening his mouth, “even if you don’t think there’s much to get better. It’s- there’s- there’s always space to improve, Jon. Hell, I have space to improve, a lot of it, but it’s- you can’t…” He trails off, sighing. “Christ,” he mutters, “this is- I sound ridiculous, I’m sorry.”

Jon shakes his head. “No,” he says quietly. “No, no, you- you don’t. You never sound ridiculous, Martin.”

“Yeah, well… you’re biased.”

“I’m your boyfriend,” Jon says, trying not to show the delighted thrill that runs through him when he says the word. It’s been weeks since they agreed on the word and it’s commonplace now for his coworkers or friends to refer to Martin as his boyfriend, but it still delights him every time they do. It still delights him every time he gets to refer to Martin as his boyfriend. It still delights him every time Martin calls him his boyfriend.

(If Jon’s entirely honest, it’s that last one that delights him most of all).

He clears his throat. “Anyway,” he continues, “I think I’m allowed to be a little bit biased.” He picks up his mug, taking a sip of his tea. “And besides, I’m pretty certain that we’ve already established that I’m biased towards you.”

“True,” Martin admits. “And that it’s a mutual bias-ing. Um. Biased-ness. Whatever the word for it is.”

“I think it might just be ‘a mutual bias.’”

“Really?”

“Mm.”

“Huh. Well… whatever the term for it is, we’re both biased towards each other, but even if that bias wasn’t there I’d still be telling you to look after yourself, Jon. It’s- what you’re doing, right now? It’s not good.” Martin catches Jon’s eye, his expression losing the soft, fond look it had had just a moment ago. “I mean it,” he says, and there’s steel beneath his words now, lacing through them like iron, “it’s really, really not good, and I know I’m not the only person who’s worried about you.”

“I’m-”

“Don’t say that you’re fine. Don’t. Please.”

Jon swallows, looking down at his mug. But I am, he wants to say, and doesn’t. He knows that Martin’s right. Try as he might to push the knowledge away, to wrap himself in familiar denial, he can’t ignore Martin’s words. He’s right. He knows that Martin is right. “I… okay.”

“Thank you.” Martin’s fingers flex around Jon’s hand, just once. “You know that I care about you, right? And you know that the others all care about you, too. Georgie, and Melanie, and Basira, and Daisy, and Tim, and Gerry, and Sasha, and- and everyone else? They all care about you. We all care about you, regardless of how much you work. You get that, right? It’s- we care about you because you’re you, not because you work yourself to exhaustion. We care about you, and we want to know that you’re okay.” Martin swallows. “I want to know that you’re okay. I want to know that you’re looking after yourself. I want to know that you’re- that you’re happy, and rested, and are taking the time to look after yourself emotionally and mentally as well as just physically. Can you- I-… Jon?”

“Yes?”

“Can you promise me one thing?”

“Of course.”

“Promise me that you’ll at least try to look after yourself,” Martin says softly. “Promise me that you’ll- that you’ll let yourself take some breaks, and that you’ll try and accept help when it’s offered, and that you’ll- that you’ll just try, alright? That’s it. Can you- can you promise me that?”

Jon draws in a breath, tasting tea on the back of his throat. “I…” he starts, and immediately has to cut himself off to swallow, blinking hard for a few moments. “I- alright. I’ll- I’ll try.”

“You promise?” Martin asks quietly.

Jon nods. “Yeah,” he says. “I promise.”

Chapter Text

“I was wondering,” Martin says a week or so after their lunch date, his face shining dimly up from the phone on Jon’s pillow as Jon putters around his room getting ready for bed, “if you’d maybe like to plan another date soon?”

Jon finishes yanking his pyjama top down over his head. “What?” he asks, quickly reaching up to tie his hair back before approaching the bed. “Sorry, Martin, I didn’t hear you.”

Martin laughs quietly. “It’s alright. I couldn’t even see you over there – I was just working on the assumption that you hadn’t abandoned me.”

Jon snorts. “As if I’d do that.” He drops down onto his bed, scooping up his phone as he settles back against the headboard. “I’ve missed too many of our- of our bedtime calls to leave you on this one, Martin.”

“Well, thank you. I appreciate it.”

“Mm, you’re welcome. Anyway, what was it you said?”

Martin laughs again. His face is a little pixelated on Jon’s screen, the low lighting of his own bedroom making his freckles blend together until it’s only Jon’s own knowledge of their location that allows him to picture them on Martin’s face, but he looks lovely all the same. He always looks lovely, at least to Jon, and Jon’s privately especially fond of soft, comfortable, bed-time Martin, when his hair is a little more chaotic from a day of work, and his voice is a little gentler, and everything about him just seems… warmer, somehow. Jon’s doubly fond of soft, comfortable, bed-time Martin when Martin is right next to him, pressed up against his side with his chin resting on Jon’s shoulder as Jon reads or fields texts from Elias or checks over his work notes again, but he hasn’t had the chance to experience that for a while, now. Maybe he’ll get to experience it soon. He hopes he can experience it soon.

“I asked if you wanted to maybe plan another date sometime soon,” Martin repeats, his voice stirring Jon from his half-doze. “Like a- a bigger date, you know? Not just lunch. Something like- something like dinner, or watching a film, or going to the zoo, or- or- I don’t know, whatever other nice date activities we can do! Just- yeah. Something nice. A treat.”

Jon smiles. “I’d like that,” he says quietly. “That sounds nice.” He pauses, drawing in a breath as he feels the next few words line up on his tongue. “I- I’ve missed doing things like that with you, Martin.”

“I’ve missed it too. I mean,” Martin adds, “we didn’t- I think a lot of our dates were more sort of hanging out at each other’s flat, but… yeah.”

“They were good dates!”

“Oh, I know, I’m not- I’m not saying that they weren’t, you know how much I like watching Antiques Roadshow and Bake Off with you-”

“And teaching me knitting.”

“-yes, right, and teaching you knitting, which you’re definitely getting better at, even if you don’t think you are, but- yeah, I don’t know. It’d be nice to have some extra-special.”

“It would,” Jon agrees. “It’d- I’d really like that.” He turns his head away for a moment, hiding his yawn against his shoulder, and when he looks back at his screen there’s an expression in Martin’s eyes that he can’t quite make out. “Sorry,” he continues. “I’m- I’m a bit knackered right now. Don’t think I’ll really be able to come up with much at the moment. I don’t suppose you’ve got any ideas?”

“Well,” Martin says slowly, his face clearing, “we could- oh! I know!”

“Mm?”

“We could, if you’d like, maybe try our hand at a dinner date?” Martin asks, his voice some odd blend of cautious and excited. “Not a- not going out somewhere, because to be honest money is a little tight for me right now, but a sort of- a- a staying-in dinner date. Where one of us cooks dinner, or we cook dinner together, and we have a nice dinner with dessert and wine instead of takeaway or whatever we’ve got in the fridge. Oh! I’ve actually- I’ve actually got this cookbook that I bought when I first went to uni that I’ve never really looked at after I got my go-to recipes from it. We could find something from there! We could- we could- we could light some candles, maybe? Just to make it a little more romantic, if you wanted.”

Jon smiles, settling back against his pillows. He loves this. He loves how excited Martin gets about sweet, romantic things like this. He loves how romantic Martin is. He loves Martin’s romantic tendencies, and he loves his fondness of ‘old-school charm,’ and he loves him. He loves spending time with him. He wants to spend more time with him, however possible.

“I’d really like that,” Jon says softly. “I’d- I’d like that a lot. I mean, I’ll be honest, Martin, I don’t think I could actually handle going to a restaurant right now. They can be- they can be a lot, sometime, and lovely as I’m sure getting a fancy dinner with you would be, I… I don’t… maybe not right now. After the show, when things aren’t as busy, I’d be delighted to, but- yeah. Not now.”

“Oh, no, yeah, that’s fine, I- I understand that,” Martin says quickly. “That’s why I, um, that’s- is it weird to say that I kind of assumed as much?”

Jon shakes his head. “No. It’s not weird. It’s, ah… it’s sweet, if anything.”

“You think?”

“Mm.”

“O-oh. That’s- that’s good! Well, um… yes. I sort of- I’ve sort of noticed how you kind of, um, you don’t seem quite at your best if the café’s particularly noisy or busy, and also I- I thought it would just be nicer to have dinner at home. It’d be… I don’t know, more intimate and private, I guess. It’d just be us. We could catch up with Bake Off afterwards.”

“Mm,” Jon hums again. He scoots down his bed slightly, fumbling his glasses off his face as he approaches a more horizontal position. “I like the sound of that. We’re- how many episodes behind are we, now?”

“…This season finished a while ago, Jon.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“It’s alright. We started watching it late anyway. Silver lining, though; we can watch as much as we like without running out of episodes!”

“Until the season ends.”

“Obviously until the season ends, Jon. That was implied.”

Jon smiles, turning his head into his pillow to hide a yawn as he does so. “I wanted to be sure.”

“…Jon?”

“Mm?”

“Go to sleep,” Martin says. His voice is soft in the dim half-light of Jon’s room, gentle and fond beneath the quiet crackle of static that the connection overlays his voice with. Jon reaches down, absently tugging the duvet up higher, and blinks sleepily at the screen. He can vaguely make out his own face in one corner of it, lit by both his bed-side light and the light of his screen, and he’s aware that the angle it shows him from is far from flattering but he really can’t bring himself to care. He’s tired. He’s been tired all week. He’s tired, and his eyes are heavy, and Martin isn’t next to him in bed, warm and soft and close and real, but he’s still there. Jon can still see him.

Beneath the covers, he flexes and curls one hand as though reaching for someone. He already can’t wait for their date. He’s probably going to see Martin again for lunch at some point soon, so long as Elias doesn’t inadvertently ruin their plans again, but Jon knows that this date they’ve just come up with is going to be so much better than just lunch. He’ll be able to hold Martin again. He’ll be able to spoon Martin again. He’ll be able to fall asleep in Martin’s arms, with Martin’s breath brushing warm against his skin and Martin’s body solid and familiar against his own.

“Go to sleep, Jon,” Martin repeats quietly, and his voice is so soft that Jon wants to drown in it. He hums quietly, snuggling down in his bed. “…Maybe turn your light out first, though.”

Jon cracks open one eye that he hadn’t even noticed he’d shut. Martin smiles back at him from the screen, his expression light and just a little bit teasing.

“Save the planet,” he adds. “Need to do your bit to save the polar bears and all that.” Jon shuts his eyes with a groan, forcing himself to roll over. He reaches out with one hand, flailing around for the switch, and manages to find it after a few seconds, plunging the room into deeper shadow. “There,” Martin says from the pillow beside him. “Your energy bill will thank me.”

Jon grumbles. It’s a very coherent grumble, at least in his head, but he’s not sure that Martin fully understands the detail of it given how he only laughs quietly in reply.

“Go to sleep,” he repeats.

When Jon grumbles again, he puts in just enough effort to make it coherent outside his head too. “I am going to sleep. You just keep talking at me.”

“Would you rather I stopped-

“No. I like- I like the sound of your voice, Martin.” Jon yawns. “You have- you have a very nice voice.”

“Y-yeah?”

“Mm. It’s- it’s one of my favourite voices.” Jon frowns to himself, correcting his statement. “It is my favourite voice.”

Martin’s quiet laugh, when it comes, is so familiar that Jon can see the blush on Martin’s face as clearly as if Martin were right before him. “Well, I’m- I’m really glad to hear that, Jon. You have a very nice voice, too.

Jon hums again, the sound muffled by his pillow. He’s not sure what he’s trying to say. He’s not sure if he’s trying to say anything at all, really. All the exhaustion that had been kept at bay by the lights is sweeping through him now, weighing heavy around his shoulders and pushing down on his eyelids. It would be so easy to fall asleep like this, warm and comfortable and listening to Martin’s voice. He wants to fall asleep like this. Maybe he can. “…Mr’tn?”

“Yeah?”

“Would you- would you keep talking to me? Just until I fall asleep?” It’s easier than Jon thought it would be to say those words. He doesn’t have concerns that Martin will judge him for it, not with how he’s definitely fallen asleep to the sound of Martin’s voice before, but asking for things, even as simple and as small as this, has always been… difficult. This isn’t, though. He’s tired, and he’s comfortable, and he’s been talking to Martin for the last hour or so, and he doesn’t want to stop hearing his voice. He doesn’t want to stop feeling close to him. He wants to pretend, if only for now, that Martin is just across the pillow from him, close enough to touch if only Jon could convince his limbs to move far enough. Martin won’t judge him for this. Jon knows that.

Jon cracks open one eye, and watches as a smile blooms across Martin’s face.

“Of course,” Martin says fondly. “Of course. I’ll keep talking.”

---

They agree on the time and date of their date the next day. They quickly decide on having it at Martin’s flat to save the hassle of seeing if Georgie will be around at Jon’s, and consequently having to politely ask her to leave, but Jon would have asked to have it at Martin’s anyway. He misses being with Martin away from other people, where he can be openly affectionate without the constant half-fear of people watching lying coiled at the back of his mind. He misses cuddling Martin, and resting his head in Martin’s lap, and feeling Martin’s fingers running through his hair, and he misses spooning Martin most of all. He misses the warmth and security and safety that he always feels upon setting foot in Martin’s flat, and when Martin had asked if he’d like to stay over afterwards, he couldn’t agree quick enough.

Jon can’t stop thinking about their upcoming date once it’s decided on, either. They decide to have it only a few days after their call, both of them realising that they can fit it into their calendars, and Jon finds his thoughts turning to it time and time again whenever he surfaces from the fugue of work that he regularly submerges himself. The thoughts are nice; they’re a pleasant respite from the ceaseless drive to work, to be worth something, that Jon’s so accustomed to feeling.

Martin’s texts are nice, too.

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Hey, just wanted to double check that you can still make it tonight for date night?
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] I know you said could yesterday but I just wanted to check that nothing had come up. You said things are getting busier at the theatre but look after yourself, alright?
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Give yourself time to relax and have some nice things

Jon doesn’t even hesitate before replying. The texts had arrived a while ago, his phone buzzing on his desk, but he’d only just noticed them now. Still, he’s sure that Martin won’t mind him replying a little bit late. Martin understands.

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] I can still make it!
[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] I’m very much looking forward to it.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Do I get to know what you’ll be cooking yet?

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Oh, good!
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] No, I told you that it was going to be a surprise!
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Just remember to bring some wine with you
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Red, ideally, because that’s what the recipe recommends, but I’m not picky

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] I’ll see what I can do. Will Waitrose’s finest be okay?

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Splashing out on Waitrose? Very fancy of you

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Well, you know how it is.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Nothing but the best for date night. I’ll pick it up on my way over.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] 7pm, right?

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Yes!

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Alright. I’ll see you then, Martin

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] See you then, Jon ^-^

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] <3

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] <3 <3 <3

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] This isn’t a competition, you know.
[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] :O Now who’s making it a competition?
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] /Martin/

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] :)

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] <3

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] <3
[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] Right, I need to get back to tidying. I’ll talk to you soon though, yeah?

[Text to: Martin Blackwood <3] Of course x

[Text from: Martin Blackwood <3] x

Jon smiles down at his phone, staring at the little ‘x’ until the screen switches itself off. It’s been far, far too long since he and Martin had a proper date, and he’s not going to let anything stop it from happening.

---

For the first time that Jon can remember in the last couple of weeks, he starts packing his stuff to leave work just over an hour after Melanie walks out of the door. He doesn’t have much to pack, just a thermos that he borrowed from Georgie at university and never gave back and a few things that he plans to look at on the tube home before he gets changed and heads over to Martin’s, and so the process takes barely any time at all. He nearly forgets his phone in his excitement, having to pivot on his heel to grab it off his desk when he’d been mere moments away from opening the door and leaving. He checks he still has his keys and wallet, checks he has everything else that he needs, and then he opens the door, bag on his shoulder, and nearly walks directly into Elias.

“Oh, Jon!” Elias says, delight coiling around his words. “Do be careful, would you?” He steps in, forcing Jon to take a step back, and leans comfortably back against the doorframe, the silver bar on his tie shining dully in the artificial lighting. “Glad I bumped into you, though. I was looking for you.” His gaze darts down, coming to rest on Jon’s bag. “…Were you headed somewhere?”

“I was- I was just about to go home, actually,” Jon replies, his voice guarded.

Elias hums, stepping in again. “Oh, well, of course you were.” Elias doesn’t sound annoyed, or even frustrated – he sounds understanding, cordial and polite as ever, and it makes Jon’s skin crawl. “You’ve had a long day, Jon. You’ve had a lot of long days, haven’t you?”

“I’ve had enough.”

“Hm. Well, listen. I’ve got something that needs to be done. It’s rather short notice, I’m afraid, but I know that you can handle it. It’s very much, ah, very much your area of expertise. I don’t suppose you’d be able to make a start on it now?”

Jon opens his mouth, ready to immediately accept whatever task it is, and then catches himself. He can’t do that. Martin’s told him not to do that. He knows that he needs to start saying no to Elias, and now’s the prime time to actually start putting that into practise. He was already leaving, and he has a prior commitment, and there’s no one else in the theatre (or at least, there shouldn’t be), and Elias can’t actually force him to do anything, no matter how much he may want to. Jon can say ‘no’ to this. He knows that. He should say no to this. He should turn down this work, and go home, and spend too much time nitpicking over the outfit that he and Georgie picked out a few days ago, and then he should go to Martin’s and have a lovely evening. He’s allowed to do that. He’s allowed to have a lovely evening with a lovely man that he cares about, that he loves. That’s okay. He doesn’t always need to be working. Martin told him that.

But… he needs to. He needs to. Elias needs him to do this; it’s that simple. Elias needs him to do this, and the mere thought of letting Elias down, of failing to complete this task, of not producing enough worth weighs down Jon’s mind like lead. He can’t. He needs to do this. He can’t let Elias down, not now, when the play is so close, and he can’t let himself down by not working enough, and he’s a fast worker, Elias knows that, so whatever it is that he needs Jon to do, it shouldn’t take too long. He can just skip going back home before going to Martin’s. He’s dressed respectably enough. He’s sure he can swing by a supermarket on his way over to pick up some wine. He shouldn’t be too late. Maybe half an hour, an hour at most. Martin will understand. And he’ll- he’ll set a timer, too, to remind him to stop working even if he isn’t done. That way, even if he does get absorbed in the work, he’ll still know to stop. It’ll be fine.

It’ll be fine.

Jon swallows. “I- yes,” he says. “I’ll- I can work on it, Elias. Of course.”

Elias leans in, grinning at Jon with a smile like an oil slick.

“Jon,” he says fondly, “I knew you wouldn’t let me down.”

---

[Text to: Worm-arm Jon <3] Hope you haven’t forgotten our date tonight! ^-^
[Text to: Worm-arm Jon <3] Let me know if you’re running late, would you?

Martin chews his lip, staring down at his phone as his thumb rises from the ‘send’ button. It had been hovering there for a good five minutes before he’d sent the first text, rising and falling intermittently as he’d warred with himself inside his head. He doesn’t want Jon to feel like he’s nagging him, especially with how it’s only half past seven, but at the same time… at the same time, Jon’s lateness is something that Martin’s almost come to expect now. He can’t remember the last time Jon was on time to one of their dates, let alone early. And sure, he’s rarely more than fifteen minutes late, normally leaving the theatre at about the same time that Martin arrives at their lunch spot, but it’s still unpleasant. It makes Martin feel itchy beneath his skin, twitchy and unsure and worried. He knows that he can’t always blame Jon for it, either, knows how important his job is to him and knows how he needs to feel like he’s doing something of worth, but that doesn’t make it feel any less unpleasant.

It doesn’t make him feel any less forgotten and pushed aside.

But that isn’t it. He knows that that isn’t it. He knows that Jon hasn’t forgotten him, because he only needs to see Jon lay eyes on him to watch delight and fondness bloom across his face, lifting the exhaustion from his features until Martin can almost ignore it entirely. Jon’s forgotten some of their dates before, or he’s forgotten to set alarms or reminders for himself about them, but he’s never forgotten Martin. It’s fine. It’s all fine.

Martin stands from the sofa, shoving his phone unceremoniously into his pocket. He’s not going to worry. He’s going to keep their dinner warm, and he’s going to find some knitting to work on to keep his hands busy, and then Jon will arrive and everything will be fine. It’s going to happen.

It has to happen.

---

[Text to: Worm-arm Jon <3] Hey, Jon, just wanted to check you were alright.
[Text to: Worm-arm Jon <3] I’ve been keeping dinner warm in the oven if you’re running late
[Text to: Worm-arm Jon <3] Just let me know if you’ll be much longer, will you?

Martin drums his thumbs against his phone screen immediately after sending the message, chewing absently on his lower lip. He doesn’t like this. It’s only 8pm, an hour after they agreed on having the date, and he knows that it’s perfectly reasonable to send a message like this but he still feels bad. He already sent one. He’s already sent Jon multiple reminders throughout the week, quietly checking in that he’ll be able to make it, and every single time he’d said yes. Every single time, he’d told Martin that he’d be able to make it. Every single time, he’d told Martin how excited he was for it.

And now he isn’t here.

“Come on,” Martin mutters quietly. He knows that asking the void won’t make anything better, and he knows that it won’t make Jon magically see his messages (or reply, if he has seen them, but Jon’s had read receipts turned off for as long as Martin’s known him), but he does it all the same. It makes him feel better, if only slightly. “Come on, Jon. Just- just reply. That’s it. Come on.”

In Martin’s hands, his phone is as still and as silent as ever.

---

At 9pm, Martin checks his phone again, just on the off-chance that Jon texted in the two seconds that he wasn’t watching his phone screen, or that he had somehow called while Martin (quietly, guiltily) ate his own dinner, and that Martin had missed it. He hasn’t missed anything, though. There’s no texts for him to catch up on, no voice mails for him to listen to, and there’s no missed calls, either. There’s nothing. There’s no indication that Jon’s seen his messages.

There’s no indication that Jon’s okay.

Logically, Martin knows that Jon is almost certainly completely fine. He’s experienced this delay in response before when he brought Jon lunch at the theatre, and frustrated as he’d been at Jon’s disregard of his own safety by choosing to sleep on a bug-infested bed, he had begrudgingly had to admit that Jon had been fine afterwards. He’d been marginally better-rested, too, which was also good. He hadn’t been hurt. He’d just been asleep. There’s a perfectly reasonable chance that Jon’s asleep now, too. There’s a perfectly reasonable chance that- that Jon forgot to charge his phone, or that he left it in his office while napping somewhere that hopefully isn’t the bug bed, or that the tube’s been delayed and he’s underground so he doesn’t have the signal to text Martin, or that- or that-

Or that something came up at work, and Jon chose to put it above this.

But- no. That can’t be it. That wouldn’t be it. Jon wouldn’t choose to prioritise work above this date, not when he’d been so excited for it ever since they agreed on it. He wouldn’t. He’s better than that. He knows now how anxious and stressed Martin gets when Jon’s running later than could reasonably be expected and doesn’t let him know. He knows what this does to Martin. He wouldn’t do it on purpose. And he shouldn’t have anything extra to do at work, either. He’d said yesterday that he could make it. He’d promised yesterday that he could make it.

He’d promised today that he could make it, too.

If only, Martin thinks, he had Melanie’s number. Hell, if only he had Georgie’s number! If he had Georgie’s number then this would be so, so much simpler – he’d just be able to text her to ask if Jon was at home or if he’d called her, and then he’d know, and he’d be able to stop fucking worrying. It wouldn’t feel great, knowing that his boyfriend had contacted his flatmate and not him, but it would be better. It would be acceptable. It would reassure Martin that Jon was alright if nothing else, and they could always talk about it later. It would be fine. It would be an easy solution.

It would be an easy solution if Martin had Georgie’s number, but he doesn’t. It would be an easy solution if Martin had anyone’s number, but he doesn’t. All he can do is sit, and wait, and hope that Jon replies soon, and hope that Jon’s alright. It’s a terrible, paltry, insufficient solution, but it’s all that Martin has.

And so, because he has nothing else, he does exactly that.

---

10pm comes and goes, and there’s still no sign from Jon.

---

At 11:07pm, Martin’s phone buzzes. It’s a sharp, harsh sound in the silence of the flat, the phone buzzing loudly against the table-top. Martin doesn’t scramble for it, because that would imply that he’d been staring at his phone waiting for Jon to contact him for the last several hours, which he definitely hasn’t been doing, but he snatches it up as quickly as he can, unlocking it and opening Jon’s message.

When he reads it, he feels something in his chest curl in on itself.

[Text from: Worm-arm Jon <3] Sorry, working late

That’s it. There’s no other text. There’s no follow up, no explanation, no real apology outside of the three short words, and it hurts. Martin knows that it’s not Jon’s intention, knows that Jon cares for him deeply, but that doesn’t lessen the sting of the single text, sent so long after they were supposed to have their date, when they’d both confirmed multiple times that they could make it. When they’d both been excited for it.

When Jon had promised that he would be there.

It’s the broken promise more than anything else that makes the knot in Martin’s chest turn sharp and ugly. It hurts, digging at his heart like it’s trying to burrow into the very muscle, and it’s unpleasant and painful and horribly, horribly familiar to him.

This is not the first time that Martin has felt like this. It’s not the first time he’s felt this awful, twisted, ugly mess of unpleasant feelings, frustration and disappointment and stress and worry and concern all blended together until he can’t tell where one emotion ends and another begins. It’s painful, uncomfortable and upsetting, and it’s all the more painful in its familiarity. He’s felt this before, had felt it in the storage room of the theatre and at their lunch spot the few times that Jon cancelled on short notice, but he’s never felt it to this degree. He’s always been able to push it aside before, reminding himself that he cares for Jon, and that Jon cares for him, and that Jon’s just going through a rough patch with work and that it’s Martin’s job as a good boyfriend to look out for him, and be patient with him, and help him get better.

He can’t push it aside anymore.

Martin picks up his phone. It’s cool against his palm, the screen dark and lifeless, and in the black glass he can see his own reflection, can see how his brows are knitted together and his face is pinched tight in upset. He takes a breath, forcing himself to unclench his jaw, and as he continues to stare at the screen he watches his face smooth slightly, though the lines of worry don’t entirely go away. He wonders how long they’ve been there. He wonders how long he’s been worrying about Jon, how long he’s been concerned about Jon, how long Jon’s actions have made him stressed and worried and anxious, in the all-too-familiar, chest-clawing way that he’s well acquainted with. How long has any of this been going on for? How long has he felt dismissed by Jon in favour of work, even when he knows that Jon doesn’t mean it? How long has he felt as though his worry and concern has been listened to, and accepted, and then quietly dismissed?

How long has he been made to feel lonely by Jon?

There’s an answer in his mind, painted bright in flickering neon letters, and Martin can’t ignore it anymore.

Too long, it reads. Too fucking long.

Jon stresses him. That’s a fact, now. It wasn’t a fact before, wasn’t a fact when they first started their relationship, wasn’t even a fact when Jon first kissed him, but it’s one now, and Martin doesn’t know when it crossed that line. Jon stresses him. Jon makes him anxious. Or, more accurately, Jon doesn’t, because Jon is wonderful and kind and sweet and Martin adores him so much that it hurts sometimes, but Jon’s actions make him anxious. Jon’s actions make Martin’s chest tighten, and his breathing come quicker, and he knows that sometimes he’s wished that Jon could’ve seen the look on his face when he replied to some of Jon’s texts, deliberately slowing his thoughts and pacing his words to make himself appear calm. To make himself appear unbothered. To make himself appear like someone who isn’t worried by his boyfriend’s chronic over-working, or his immediate acquiescence to anything and everything that his boss requests, or his frankly deeply upsetting tendency to put his job above literally everything else, including both his mental health and his relationship. Martin wants Jon to know. He wants Jon to understand.

He wants Jon to feel how he feels, and he hates himself for thinking that, because how he feels hurts. He doesn’t want Jon to hurt. He just wants Jon to see what it is that he’s doing. He wants Jon to see, because maybe, just maybe, if Jon sees how much this hurts, if he feels it instead of just hearing it in words... maybe then, in that universe, Jon would do something about it. Maybe, in that universe, Jon wouldn’t just listen but would actually act on it, actively wanting to improve himself not just for the sake of Martin and his friends but also for himself. Maybe, in that universe, Jon would be here, with Martin, after a wonderful shared dinner. Maybe, in that universe, Martin wouldn’t be hurting.

And what makes it all so, so much goddamn worse, Martin realises absently, is that, despite  everything, Jon is barely even aware that he’s doing it.

Except… that can’t be right. It can’t be right. They’ve spoken about it now, on more than one occasion, so Jon has to know what he’s doing. He’s got to be aware of it. Hell, Martin’s pretty sure that he’s admitted that what he’s doing isn’t great, even if he hadn’t entirely acknowledged the full scope of the situation. Jon knows. Jon knows damn-near everything, if the experience of watching Antiques Roadshow with him is anything to go by. He should know himself. He has to know himself. He has to know what he’s doing to himself, because it doesn’t make sense that he wouldn’t, and it especially doesn’t make sense after Martin has sat him down on more than one occasion and talked to him about it. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s a smart man, and they both know it, but he’s- he’s-

He’s not someone that Martin can fix.

The knowledge settles itself in Martin’s mind with all the certainty of granite. Jon is not someone that he can fix. Jon is not someone that he can care for, and tend to, and help and aid and comfort and adore and, ultimately, fix. He can’t do it. He can’t fix Jon, not without Jon’s help. And Christ, Martin’s well aware that he can’t fix everyone, is well aware that it’s not always a great mindset to have, but he can’t help it. He wants people to be okay. He wants people to be happy. He wants people to be healthy, and content, and is it really so bad that he wants his boyfriend to be okay, too? Is it really so bad that he wants Jon to be less tired? Is it really so bad that he worries about Jon, and Jon’s health, and that he wants to help however he possibly can?

Is it so bad that he’s willing to cut off pieces of himself for Jon’s sake?

He knows the answer to that last one. He knows that that’s where the line is drawn. He can’t sacrifice himself for the sake of someone else. No matter how much he cares. No matter how much he loves them.

No matter how much he loves Jon.

“Oh,” Martin says to himself quietly. “Oh, no.”

He can’t sacrifice for Jon. He can’t sacrifice himself for Jon even if he loves him, because, he realises with the same quiet, distant dread that stormclouds bring, he does love Jon.

He loves Jon.

Martin blinks, and the tears gathering along his lashes smear across his eyes to paint constellations in shattered light. He loves Jon. Of course he loves Jon. It’s so goddamn obvious now that he thinks about it, but somehow it was only in this moment that he actually realised it. Of course he loves Jon. He doesn’t know for how long he’s loved Jon, but he knows now that he does, that he has, that he will likely continue to do so when all is said and done, because you don’t just start loving someone and then stop with a snap of your fingers. He loves Jon, and he loves Jon’s hair, and he loves Jon’s voice, and Jon’s eyes, and his hands and his wit and his sharpness and his dry sense of humour and his charity-shop-professor aesthetic and he loves Jon. He really, really, truly loves Jon.

And, he realises with a bitter twist of humourless amusement, he’s only realised that he loves Jon because he’s realised just how much what he has to do is going to hurt.

Because he’s realised what he has to do.

He needs to break up with him.

It’s so fucking obvious, and it’s the worst thing that Martin’s ever realised in his life. He hates the thought the moment it arises, hates it with a passion so intense that he almost scares himself, but he can’t make it go away, and he can’t deny it. He needs to break up with Jon. The relief that comes with the realisation is almost tangible, curling around it like smoke, like fog, quiet and soft and empty and freeing. He wouldn’t be worried in the fog. He wouldn’t be stressed. He wouldn’t have Jon, and that thought actually makes Martin’s breath catch, but he wouldn’t feel like this anymore. He wouldn’t hurt.

Of all the unknowns in Martin’s life, what he needs to do about Jon isn’t one of them.

He can’t keep going on like this. He can’t keep feeling stressed, and worried, and anxious, and forgotten, and he can’t keep trying to fix someone who doesn’t want to be fixed! He understands anxiety – God knows he’s experienced enough of it in his life – and he understands how goddamn awful it can feel to subject yourself to therapy, and how hard it can be to get started, and how hard it can be to reach out to people, but while that is an explanation it still isn’t an excuse. It isn’t an excuse for making him feel how he’s been feeling for far, far too long now. And sure, Jon doesn’t exactly know that he’s been making Martin feel forgotten, but he knows all the rest of it. He knows the effect his actions have, and yet he keeps on performing them. He knows that he’s hurting Martin. He knows.

And Martin can’t handle it anymore. For the sake of himself, for the sake of his own mental health, he needs to break up with Jon.

In that moment, Martin wishes that he didn’t love Jon. He wishes so, so hard that he didn’t love Jon, because if he didn’t love Jon then this would be so much easier. If he didn’t love Jon, then he wouldn’t have to get hurt, and what an awful, selfish goddamn thought that is. It would still hurt to break up with Jon, because it would make Jon hurt, but it wouldn’t hurt as much. It wouldn’t hurt Martin as much. It would be a secondary hurt, a hurt born of empathy and apology, but it wouldn’t be so strongly his. He could ignore his own hurt. He could push it aside. He could forget it, and move on with his life, and Jon would hurt and be in pain and Martin doesn’t know if Jon loves him or not, but now he hopes that Jon doesn’t, because that would make this so, so much easier. He hopes that Jon doesn’t love him. He wishes that he didn’t love Jon.

But he does love Jon, and he can’t just make that stop.

Martin squeezes his eyes shut. “Fuck,” he breathes. He lifts a hand, pressing it over his face, and feels his tears touch warm against his skin, clinging close to his palm as though they’re trying to hold on. “Fuck, fuck, shit.”

In Martin’s hand, his phone buzzes three times in rapid succession. The screen lights up, shining stark white light against his skin, and then dims again as the seconds pass. Martin doesn’t look at it. He can’t bring himself to look at it. He shouldn’t look at it, because now that he knows what he has to do he knows that he needs to start distancing himself as soon as he possibly can. He shouldn’t look at Jon’s texts while he’s still feeling- still feeling like this. And he knows that they’re Jon’s texts, because it’s not like he has anyone else to text him.

He’ll need to fix that, he realises absently. If he’s going to do this, if he’s going to put himself first, if he’s going to look after himself and his mental health, if he’s going to accept that he can’t fix everyone no matter how much he wants to, no matter how much he loves them, then he’ll need to fix that facet of his life, too. He can’t fix everyone, but he can listen to his own damn advice for once and start fixing himself. Martin snorts. At least he’s aware he’s got room for growth, he thinks bitterly. At least he accepts it. At least he actually wants to change.

On the table, his phone buzzes again. It rings out four times in the deafening silence, each one sharp and harsh and jagged, and then it falls quiet, waiting for Martin to pick it up and see the messages it now holds. A significant part of Martin’s brain doesn’t want to look at them. He wants to ignore them, wants to feign sleep so that when he answers them in the morning he’s had the chance to gather his thoughts, to calm down and think and be rational about all of this. He shouldn’t look at them now. He shouldn’t.

With a quiet sniffle, Martin drops his hand from his eyes. He wipes it against his leg, brushing off the tears on his skin. The action’s so small, so quiet, but it sounds loud in the absolute, cloying silence of his flat. Everything sounds loud. He can hear his own breathing, can hear how his breaths hitch and catch in his chest as he desperately tries not to cry. There’s no one here to hide his tears from but he doesn’t want to be crying. Crying would mean this actually upsets him. Crying would mean admitting that this upsets him. Crying would mean accepting the situation, and understanding it, and acknowledging what he knows that he has to do. So he’s not going to cry. He’s going to read Jon’s messages and he’s not going to cry. He’s fine.

(He isn’t