Martin hears the frustrated huff from halfway down the hall on his way to gather his jacket and bag from his not-quite-an-office. Whether it’s because it was truly that loud or because his ear is trained to hear Jon’s dramatics, he’s unsure. Regardless, he figures he should at least pop his head into Jon’s office to make sure everything is okay before he takes the long commute home. Peering in through the open door, he is met with an amusing sight. Jon is sat at his desk, glaring at what looks to be a small compact mirror set up precariously against a stack of books. He’s, well, he looks to be… fiddling with his hair?
Whatever he’s trying to do, he’s concentrating deeply enough that he hasn’t even noticed Martin hovering in the doorway, no familiar accusation that the man is “blocking his light” spilling from his lips. But his tongue is stuck out, a quirk Martin is pretty sure Jon has no idea he does when he is focusing particularly hard on something. He can’t keep the laughter down, and Jon snaps his head up from the mirror, expression cycling rapidly from confusion to surprise to that much more familiar irritation. Martin reflexively covers his mouth with one hand. “I’m sorry, you just looked so-”
“Martin I can’t exactly hear you with a hand covering your face.”
“Ah, right.” He brings it back down to tug on the sleeve of his jumper. “Do-” He almost laughs again, digs his nails into his palm to keep his composure. “Do you need help with something?”
“No. I’ve got everything under control here.” And when Martin doesn’t immediately move to leave, “Get home safely.”
So he’s being dismissed. Brusque, for sure, but not rude. Jon is thinking of his safety, which is sweet of him. Martin isn’t stupid—he knows not to read too much into anything. He doesn’t project his fantasies onto Jon, not anymore. But polite pleasantries are something of a limited resource where Jon is concerned, so when he says something like this, Martin knows he means it.
Anyhow, if Jon’s insisting he’s fine then there’s nothing else to be done. Martin wishes Jon a good night and continues down the hall to retrieve his things. He’s just about finished wrapping his wool scarf tightly around his neck to brace the sharp December winds when he hears a shout. It’s his name, and its Jon’s voice. His stomach sinks in a brief moment of panic and he almost trips over his own feet in a rush to see what the matter is.
He needn’t have bothered, as he finds Jon sat at his desk in pretty much the same position as he left him in just minutes before.
“Ah, Martin. I think I could use your help after all.” He has the nerve to sound businesslike , as if he hadn’t called after Martin like there was both a knife at his throat and a gun pointed at his head.
“Oh, that so?”
Martin folds his arms and waits for more. Jon knows better than to scare him like this. He’s been told before. Martin isn’t mad but he’s not the pushover he was when he first began working at the Institute. He’s not mad, but he could be, and he wants Jon to know it.
“It’s, uh… my hair.”
“You need help... with your hair?” Martin makes a concerted effort not to blurt out that he doesn’t see anything wrong with his hair.
“Yes, my hair! It keeps getting in my way while I’m trying to work. I can’t focus. So I’ve been trying to tie it back in a braid but-”
“Wouldn’t a bun be easier?”
“They never stay!”
Martin thinks he knows why—Jon is always clawing absentmindedly at his head when he’s reading, especially if it’s a statement. It's not uncommon to see him emerge from his office at the end of a long day with his hair sticking up in all sorts of odd ways.
“So you need something archivist-proof, is that it?”
There’s an awkward silence before Martin ultimately gives in, knowing Jon would be apt to sit there all night glowering at his desk before coming out and saying what it is he wants.
“Would you like me to braid your hair for you?”
“You can braid hair?”
Jon’s attempts to hide behind prickly exterior just further compel Martin to open up to him, even if it means getting pricked by a thorn or a needle or whatever other stupid metaphorical object makes him sound less like a fool in love. Certain others might call this overeager. Desperate. Pathetic, even. Martin prefers leading by example .
“I used to braid my mum’s hair sometimes. She liked to sleep in a braid so her hair would have a nice bit of wave to it when she wakes up the next morning. When she had a flare-up she couldn’t really do it on her own, so... I helped.”
“I… promise I’ll be gentle?” He’s already slipping out of his jacket and removing his scarf by the time Jon mutters his reply.
“Do you have a comb?”
Jon’s hair looks much too thick to even attempt using just fingers to untangle it. Fortunately Jon does have one stashed away in a small black bag underneath his desk that Martin is pretty certain is an overnight bag. He bites his lip. He doesn’t want to think about Jon hunched over at his desk working late into the night, all alone and neglecting sleep. Instead he takes the comb from Jon’s hand and gets straight to work.
One hand square on Jon’s bony shoulder he begins to run the comb through the thick, gentle wave of his hair. Martin finds himself timing his strokes with the old metronome in the far corner of the office that Jon keeps on when he’s not recording. Martin usually finds the sound rather gets on his nerves. But as he finishes up with the comb and begins to use both hands to separate sections of hair, he appreciates having something to listen to besides the thumping of his heart in his chest. Jon’s hair is at least as thick as he suspected it was, if not more so. It’s surprisingly soft, and certainly smells freshly washed. Martin thinks he gets hints of something earthy, perhaps cedarwood. He huffs a laugh to quell his nerves.
“You have a lot of hair. Surprised it hasn’t started falling out with how much you overwork yourself.”
“It’s already turning grey, if you haven’t noticed. You want me bald too?”
Martin laughs again, much to Jon’s chagrin. The scowl on his sunken face doesn’t have the intended effect on Martin. He thinks it makes Jon look… younger. There’s no real anger behind it. Is he embarrassed? Shy? Despite the airs Jon puts on, he’s really got a lot of the same insecurities as anyone; Martin’s sure of it. And while Martin’s particular brand of nerves stems from getting to touch Jon in a way he’s been longing to do for ages, quiet intimacy like this doesn’t come easy for most, even without such feelings underlying it. Such is the idle tapping of Jon’s fingers on the arm of his chair.
But that’s a matter for a poem, and now Martin is distracted from the task at hand. If Jon noticed Martin absentmindedly holding the same section of hair in his hand, making no motion to actually do anything with it, he doesn’t vocalize it. Martin takes a deep breath to refocus and gets back to work. The sections separated out, he slowly begins weaving them in and out and around the way he’d learned from YouTube tutorials a few years back. He can’t do anything fancy, but Jon wouldn’t want fancy. Jon wants a simple, no-nonsense braid and that is well within Martin’s skill-set.
Since Jon’s hair is so thick, it takes him longer to get it looking right than when he would do his mum’s much thinner hair. He can only guess at the amount of time passing, since by now it’s after dark and there are no visible clocks in his line of sight. Funny how the minutes don’t feel so agonizing when the focus of his attention isn’t leaning away as much as physically possible and counting down the seconds until he leaves her alone.
If Martin were to write about this scene—which to be quite honest is not off the table—he’d probably describe time as feeling slowed or even stilled. Not frozen, as that could convey neither the warmth of the dim yellow office lights nor the warmth that builds steadily in Martin’s chest as he does this small service. The metronome ticks and the old building creaks against the draft outside and Jon’s chair groans in protest as he squirms a bit.
“Georgie used to braid my hair for me.”
Martin doesn’t realize his grip is tightening on the sections of hair until Jon bites out a complaint. “Martin, you’re pulling !” Jon jerks his head which only worsens the pulling, causing him to cry out. “Ow! Martin!”
“Sorry, Jon! Sorry! Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Just please be careful.”
Martin thinks Jon is being a bit over-dramatic but... well, he hasn’t a clue how hard he was pulling, so who knows. He sighs quietly and gets back to it, absolutely kicking himself for getting so worked up with jealousy over a simple name drop. Now look who’s being over-dramatic. As he moves slowly down the length of Jon’s hair he thinks it’s more than just the fact that Jon has been with other people. It’s that those people have shared subtle, domestic rituals with him—something that seems so far out of reach for someone like Martin.
Maybe that’s a bit daft considering he’s standing here in the weak light of Jon’s desk lamp doing exactly what he was jealous of Georgie for mere moments before. And the fact that Jon himself brought it up, well… it makes Martin think Jon might be craving something more than just a neat, proper hairdo. Maybe he’s longing for these rituals too. Martin can certainly understand missing this. He’s already slowing down as he gets towards the end of the braid to drag this out longer than strictly necessary. And Jon certainly isn’t rushing him along. He’s never exactly been shy about expressing impatience, so that must mean he’s enjoying this too, right? Martin tilts Jon’s head down slightly as he reaches the tail end of his hair.
“Do you have-“
“Top desk drawer on the left.”
Martin procures the hair tie and carefully secures it in a way that will keep it firmly in place but won’t be too painful to remove later on. He takes a moment to admire his work, a thumb rubbing gently up and down the length of the braid. It looks relatively symmetrical and secure enough that Jon probably (hopefully) won’t be able to destroy it with an absentminded tug or two. He swallows dryly. Truth be told Jon looks a bit beautiful like this, something more there than the usual endearingly tragic look of a man who survives almost entirely on caffeine, statements and power naps. A neat braid nested in grizzled hair—it’s almost dignified. It suits him. Martin really wants to tell Jon how lovely the streaks of silvery gray look mixed in with the remaining strands of true black, how the pattern of the braid makes it look like some sort of otherworldly vortex he wouldn’t mind getting sucked into. But that’s trite, even for him, so he doesn’t offer up any opinion as he tries to hold the little mirror up in a way that allows Jon to see his handiwork.
“Does it feel okay?”
Jon nods and absentmindedly brings a hand to his ear, pushing back a few stray strands behind it. Without thinking Martin moves to take the strays in his own fingers, brushing Jon’s fingers in the process.
“If you have bobby pins I could take care of these little guys for you as well.”
Jon feels around his pockets, managing to find five of them. Martin smiles.
“You know, with my talent and your surplus of supplies we could rightly start a salon in your office.”
Jon snorts a laugh, a rare sound that makes Martin’s heart skip something fierce and his stomach flip foolishly.
“I suppose you’re right. And that would make me your first satisfied customer.”
“You’re hardly my first.”
Martin smirks at Jon’s utterly scandalized expression as he gently toys with the loose strands to decide what position they should lay in before being secured with the pins. His foolish heart flutters again when Jon leans back into his touch. He allows himself the small joy of cupping Jon’s cheek and jaw in one hand as he uses the other to begin placing the pins. He can feel the rough stubble, and the slight difference in texture of the circular scars dotting his face. Despite them, his skin feels soft. He swaps so he’s cupping the other side of Jon’s face while he puts the remaining pins in place. Jon’s eyes are closed, and Martin takes one precious, risky moment to admire his face in more detail.
The unnervingly pronounced jawline. The prominent nose, equally unnerving. Noticeably chapped lips. Dark eyelashes and thick, dark eyebrows to match them. The creases of his forehead—lines not as pronounced as they usually are but certainly not subtle. Martin wants to kiss that forehead, gently and with intent. More than once. Maybe his cheek too. His nose, perhaps. No, that’s… no. He scolds himself. Don’t get greedy. He lets out a slow, soft exhale. Jon still hasn’t moved or even opened his eyes, apparently in some sort of zen state.
Martin decides to settle for cupping Jon’s head in both hands and rubbing soft, soothing circles into his temples with his thumbs. He half expects Jon to pull away at this point—because the task at hand is clearly complete and Martin clearly has no reason to be cradling Jon’s head in his hands like a precious artifact—but he doesn’t. Jon doesn’t move and he doesn’t make a sound. Well, that’s not strictly true. He doesn’t speak . But he sighs in a way that’s… well, there’s no way he realizes he did that or else he would have shot up in embarrassment and spit out something like “That’s enough , Martin.” Martin almost wishes Jon had done just that, because good god he's only human and that sound hits him right in the gut. He really wants to be selfish right now but the guilt wins out.
“Jon, is this… okay?”
He doesn’t know what he expected to hear but it certainly isn’t the soft, almost boyish “yes” he gets in return. It almost sounds like he’s close to tears, and it’s at this point he lolls his head back so that its being fully supported by Martin’s hands rather than his own neck. Martin bites his lip almost hard enough to draw blood and focuses intensely on continuing to rub those gentle circles into each side of Jon’s head. It’s all he can do not to burst into tears himself. Martin keeps this up for far longer than either of them could rationally justify if someone were to ask, only pulling away when he can no longer ignore the ache in his arms from the weight of him.
“Alright I’ll, uh, let you get back to it.”
He steps back swiftly as if Jon were a wild animal, unpredictable and threatening. And he is—he’s an awful danger to Martin’s constitution, every heavy atmospheric shift between them a direct attack on his heart and mind.
Looking dazed, Jon blinks and sits up in his chair, cracking his neck with a painful sounding pop.
“How do you feel?”
“Right, good then.”
Jon clears his throat and picks his glasses up from their resting place on the desk. He doesn’t put them on, just fiddles with the arms.
“Martin, um… thank you.”
Martin almost loses himself entirely when he forces a smile and Jon smiles back .
“Don’t mention it.”