Martin opens the door to his flat.
Martin closes the door to his flat.
Worms. Thousands upon thousands of worms. Martin's heart constricts in his chest. He’s certain he’s forgotten how to breathe as he furiously shoves curtains, towels, furniture, anything in front of every possible entrance. He grabs his corkscrew from his kitchen drawer and holds it to his chest like a breastplate. She’s back . How could she possibly be back? Martin had moved flats since the incident he had all those months ago. He’d moved flats specifically to get away from worms!
It’s with this thought that makes Martin realize that this is not his current flat. He blinks. The tears in his eyes give him a blurrier view than normal, but Martin is, in fact, standing in his old flat from back when he was trapped. It’s a nightmare, of course it is. Everything is exactly the same as it was that first night. Everything except that this time, however, he’s not alone.
There’s a figure standing in the corner. It… it’s a man. It’s the man. This is the man from the boxed baked goods aisle in the grocery store who had approached him. He asked about the woman apparently named Jane Prentiss . Martin had been baffled by how easily he spilled his guts out to this odd stranger. Now Martin is more baffled by the baggy My Chemical Romance t-shirt he's wearing, paired with tasteful plaid pajama bottoms.
“...Hello.” Martin tries.
The figure winces sympathetically, but he doesn’t answer. There’s a knock at the door, and Martin can’t help his full-body flinch he gives in response. Even knowing that it’s a dream doesn’t stop the all-consuming terror that fills him at the thought of that woman.
“Are you… alright? She didn’t get you, did she?”
The figure doesn’t even make a face this time to reply. His eyes look sad. And tired. Very tired.
“Would you… like a cup of tea?” Martin releases one of his hands from the death grip he has on the corkscrew to point a thumb behind him.
Now the figure looks confused. He starts to open his mouth as if to reply, but closes again with an audible click.
Martin decides to make the tea anyway, trying very hard to ignore the worms squirming on the glass on the kitchen windows. He needs the distraction.
“It makes sense that you’re here, I suppose. I just saw you the other day while thinking about it.” Martin muses aloud to himself as he stares at the kettle. He watches it the whole time it takes for the water to boil, which is a significant amount of time when he stops to think about it. Part of him hopes that if he waits long enough to turn around, his dream will have Jane find a way in, scaring him enough to wake up and be done with it. He continues to watch the kettle.
“Black tea alright? Don’t suppose I’ll be sleeping while I’m sleeping.” Martin jokes, letting out a nervous chuckle.
He turns around now, trying to gauge the man’s reaction. He just looks mildly confused, really. Martin goes back to the tea, staring at the kettle silently for longer than is proper when company is actually at the house. Martin almost expects his mother to appear and scold him for bad manners. He allows himself a small huff of laughter slip from his lips with that thought. Now that would be a nightmare.
Martin finally finishes making the tea and turns around with both mugs in his hand.
The man is still there.
“It’s funny,” Martin says to block out the sounds of worms more than anything else, “the loneliness was one of the hardest parts. It’s not much of a nightmare if I have company, now is it?”
“I… suppose not, no.” The man says timidly.
“Oh! I didn’t think you’d talk. Sorry! Not that you shouldn’t talk I just mean, well… it’s been a few minutes? I guess?”
“I don’t, usually. Talk, I mean. I… I try not to.” He’s wringing his hands now. It’s odd, his voice is a lot less confident than it was in the grocery store. It has less power in it, he supposes.
Martin offers a mug to him. He takes it.
After a few minutes of awkwardly drinking their tea in silence, the man blurts out, “Why aren’t you asking me to help you? Or… or save you?”
Martin furrows his brows, before looking between the man and the door where Jane is still knocking politely. Even with the worms making holes in her body, Martin is pretty sure the man is smaller than she is. Not that bulk would make a difference with her. Martin is living proof of that.
“I don’t exactly know how you could help. No offense to you, of course.” Martin says tentatively.
“I don’t either. It’s just… that’s what most people want. For me to stop it.”
“Can you? Stop it, I mean.”
The man shakes his head rapidly, “I never can. I’ve tried, in the beginning at least, but it never works. I just gave up, I suppose.”
Martin nods. “Right.”
They go back to their tea in silence.
A few minutes later Martin jerks awake as a car alarm across the street goes off. He clutches his now racing heart. What a peculiar dream that was. If it wasn’t for the different flat, he wouldn’t have been able to tell that he was asleep at all by how tangible it felt. He frantically rubs a phantom worm off of his arm, and has to check his entire flat for worms before ultimately deciding to just stay up the rest of the night.
Somewhere across London, Jonathan Sims brings a hand to his mouth, the taste of earl grey still clinging to his lips.
Martin is running late for his shift at the library. Or at least, he thought he was until he opened the door that morning. “Oh! No, thank you!” Martin says in a high voice before slamming the door shut on Jane Prentiss. He looks around his flat. Ah. So it’s another dream, then. Martin shoves his sweater under the door. Even with the knowledge that it’s a dream, the terror is still just as heightened as it was all those months ago. He blindly goes through the motions of worm-proofing his flat even as he notices the man watching him fumble with his towels.
Once he finally has the corkscrew digging into his palm does he release a deep breath and turns to the pajama-clad man. “Right. Tea, then?”
The man allows a small smile to spread across his tired face. “Sure, Martin.”
“Do you have a name, then, Mr. Head Archivist of the Magma Institute?” Before giving him time to answer, Martin calls over his shoulder. “Black still good?”
The man laughs at that. “Jon. And it's the Magnus Institute. Also, yes, black is fine, thank you. I’ll take some milk, too, if that’s alright.”
When they’ve made their tea, (Jon had stared at the amount of sugar that Martin takes in his tea with clear judgment, but doesn’t comment,) they take a seat on the couch. After a few moments of silence save for the sounds of tea being drunk and worms squirming, Jon decides that he can’t quite take it anymore.
“It’s never been like this for me. The nightmares, I mean.” He blurts out.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I’ve never had anyone offer me tea while trying to stay alive, I suppose.” He says, gesturing to the cup.
“There’s not much else to do, though, isn’t there? Besides, it’s only polite.” Martin feels a tickle on his neck that’s probably a hair but he smacks it furiously anyway. “Shit . Do I have one on me?”
Jon stands up and pokes his fingers under the collar of his sweater to check. Martin flinches at the touch, his senses on hyper-alert. “I don’t believe so… besides, if you had never had one on you the first time you shouldn’t have one now. I don’t think it changes much, in the dreams.”
Martin lets out a sigh of relief but jumps again when the knocking starts up again. Even with Jon's words, the fear is just as poignant as it was when he experienced it the first time. “Well,” Martin says awkwardly, clapping his hands together to hide the fact that he’s trembling. “I hope you like canned peaches, Jon, because you’re going to have to get used to them.”
It’s a bit weird, really, to try and sleep while already asleep. But the exhaustion is still just as prevalent as it was before, so Martin is shaking and re-shaking his sheets. He’s checked the window three times already, and he knows he’s going to be doing this even more before he finally dozes for about 20 minutes before shooting up in a panic.
It’s long past dark now, Martin’s battery-powered alarm clock on his bedside shows that it’s about four AM. The clock provides the only source of light other than a small torch he has on his keychain, so Martin is a bit more jumpy than usual at spotting particularly threatening wrinkles in the bedspread. He opts, in the end, sleep without any type of blankets or sheets at all. He’d rather have a better chance at seeing them coming than being caught unaware. It’s this type of hyper-awareness that makes him flinch when he sees what appears to be multiple reflections in the corner of his eye.
It’s Jon. Of course it’s Jon, he’s been here the whole time. But for a moment Martin could swear that there were more eyes watching him than just two.
“If you’d like, you can take the bed. Or, you could join me if you like, although I get how that could be awkward. Sorry, I… sorry.” Martin trails off awkwardly. What’s the etiquette for a dream manifestation’s sleeping arrangement?
“Oh! That’s… that’s kind of you, but it’s quite alright. I don’t believe I sleep when I’m like this.”
“Oh. Okay. Well, I’ll just,” he nods his head in the direction of the bed.
“Right, yes. I’ll… I’ll be here, I suppose.”
God, this is weird. It’s weird, right? Is this what his nightmares have come to? Weird social dilemmas paired with a bug lady? Martin makes a mental note to watch more horror movies to hopefully save him from this hell of social awkwardness.
When he turns off his penlight and tries to sleep through the sounds of knocking and squirming outside, he sees something new. Are those… eyes? Martin immediately shines his penlight on the spot in his heightened paranoia.
Jon squints against the light, his hand covering his face where his eyes are, where his two eyes are. “I promise you, I’m not a worm.” He says, his tone mildly annoyed.
Martin squeaks and lowers the penlight. “Sorry! Sorry. Just checking… something.”
“It’s fine. I’m not exactly the one being bombarded by worms.”
“I mean, you kind of are?”
Jon just shrugs, “I’m mostly just an unwilling overseer.”
“Right. Right, sorry. I’ll— I’ll try to sleep now.” Martin turns off the penlight again and gives a great full-body flinch when the knocking starts up again, making him squeeze his eyes shut. When he opens them he sees it again.
There are eyes. They’re not even cartoon-like. They’re real, proper eyeballs bugged out in the general shape of where Jon is sitting. Martin tries to control his breathing and shuts his eyes against more than just the worms.
By the time he wakes up, he’s back in his new flat in his real bed. Jon and the eyes are gone, having never been there at all.
Martin accidentally makes two cups of tea without realizing that morning. He dumps the second cup, he’s never cared for milk. As the creamy tea swirls down his drain Martin is certain that he’s being watched, but when he turns around, he's met with an empty room. He blames paranoia, as surely his weird dreams couldn’t leak into reality.
The next night, both Jon and Jane are there again. Martin supposed he would enjoy the dreams if the fear he felt from those days being trapped weren’t still present. The nightmares leave him more exhausted as if he hadn’t slept at all by the time he wakes up.
Another thing that stays is the boredom. It’s less with Jon being there, but the fact remains that they’re stuck in a moderately empty flat for hours on end with not much to do. They play cards for a few hours, and Martin is sure that Jon is cheating. How else would he play as if he knows exactly what’s in Martin's hand?
“Okay, what about this one.” He says, holding up the card so that Jon can only see the back.
“Ace of hearts.” He states confidently.
Martin hides the deck under the table and pretends the shuffle them before holding the same card up again. “This one?”
“It’s the same card.”
“How are you even doing that?”
Jon covers his smile with his hand as he chuckles into the sleeve of his Oxford sweater. His eyes are crinkling adorably as he laughs at Martin's bafflement. Martin blushes.
“Glasses!” He says suddenly, standing and pointing at Jon.
“What?” Jon says.
“You’re looking at the reflection on my glasses!”
Jon just laughs harder.
It’s on the fourth day of his odd nightmares with Jon that Martin finds himself standing in front of the institute rather than the library where he works. It’s a grim building, all weathered bricks and dirty windows. The damp afternoon does nothing to make it appear less morose. Martin stands with his hand ready to open the doors for a good thirty seconds before someone opens it for him on their way out. Martin quickly turns heal and starts his swift walk back home. It’s stupid. What’s he going to say? “I keep seeing you in my dreams and want to get to know you? Thanks for keeping me company in the dark even though you were never really there? Why do I feel like I see you when I don’t?” It’s not like Jon, the archivist, or whatever his real name is, is responsible for whatever weird thing that’s going on in his head.
It’s just… he looked so tired and sad in the grocery store. And the joy on his face as he laughed was… it was breathtaking.
Is that so bad? To want to see him laugh for real?
God, what was he thinking? A weird, strangely attractive man had approached him, and Martin's dumb gay brain just spilled his guts out to him for no good reason. There’s no need to bother him any further about it, Martin just needs to get over it and move on.
It’s the canned peaches in his cupboard that makes him realize he’s dreaming, this time. He opens the curtains. Yup. There's the worms. Which means 3...2...1…
Knock knock knock.
Yup. Right, then.
Martin wordlessly grabs a second mug out of his cupboard.
Today (or night, or… whatever) they’re browsing through the small smattering of books that Martin keeps on his ratty bookshelf he got second hand. Well, Jon is. Martin is enjoying watching Jon’s face as it either lights up at a book ( Howl's Moving Castle ) or twists into one of disgust ( The Complete Poetical Works of John Keats ). Surprisingly, it’s Keats that he actually pulls out.
“Keats, really?” Jon grumbles as he idly flips through the pages.
“I happen to like Keats,” Martin protests lightly.
“It’s just so pretentious. Reading it is like I’m in a school play. Here, I’ll show you.”
Martin can’t help the loud burst of laughter falling from his lips as Jon dramatically starts to read a poem in an exaggerated voice. Encouraged, Jon lowers his already deep voice, clutching his pink pajama shirt as if the emotions of the words are overtaking him. Near the end of the poem, (which has gotten harder to hear through Martin's laughter) he even stands on the table, giving wide gestures with his gangly arms.
They’re both laughing now, deaf to the sounds of the knock knock knock of the door.
It’s raining this morning, so Martin standing at the doors of the Institute is even more ridiculous than last time. It’s embarrassing, falling for a man that you’ve only properly met once.
Martin knows that the Jon he created in his head isn’t real. He knows that the man’s name probably isn’t even Jon. But… Martin can’t stop thinking of the way his hair falls on his face, the way his hands curl around a cup of tea, how his stern voice stutters and softens when he’s nervous.
It’s not the same man, but perhaps he could get to know the man he really is. If something never comes from it, then at least Martin will know. At least he’ll be able to get over it and feel less like a middle schooler with an imaginary friend.
By the time he slowly opens the creaky doors he’s soaked through, and he reckons he looks more like a drowned rat than a man going to give a statement. Not that he has much of a statement… just… it’s a way to see him, right? And the eyes… he feels like the eyes have to be real enough.
Martin reads the directory on how to get to the archives to avoid thinking about the many holes in his half baked plan.
The basement level that the archives are located in is in significantly worse condition than the upper levels. The lights create a dim, yellow glow and emit a low buzzing sound that’s grating to the ear. There’s only a small handful of people at the desks, and there are large stacks of files and loose papers on every available surface.
“Er, excuse me?” Martin says, “I’m here to see the archivist?”
A familiar looking woman in the back turns to face him. “Are you here to make a statement?” She calls. The voice is when he connects where he’s seen her before.
“Aren’t you Melanie King? From Ghost Hunt UK?” Martin says, awestruck.
She lets out a nervous chuckle and ignores the question, “Let me just… take you to him. You can fill out all of the paperwork after with… uh…” she scans the room desperately before spotting another woman reading in the corner. “Basira! Yes. Basira will help you okay bye!” With that, Martin is quickly and roughly shoved through a door.
Jon— er, the archivist— looks up at him, clearly startled. He looks different than he does in the nightmares, but not by much. He’s no longer wearing pajamas and his hair doesn’t look quite so much like a bird's nest, but the rest of him is the same. His neck is elongated by the black turtle neck he’s wearing and his hair actually frames his face quite well when it’s brushed. He’s…damn it. He’s handsome.
“Hello! I, uh, I’ve… we met at the supermarket and—“ and damn it Martin is blushing .
“Martin,” Jon states, still looking struck.
“Oh! Yes. Well.” Martin tries to come up with the next sentence but his brain is doing everything in its power to spite him. “I know you guys deal with spooky—” Jon winces “—things and er, happenstances? And, well, since I met you I might have seen… a few things… and I was just wondering if that’s… normal? I suppose?” Martin now forces his mouth to stay closed, trying desperately to ignore how high his voice had gotten near the end.
Jon opens and closes his mouth for a few moments before placing his hands on the desk and pushing himself up. “I’m going to make us some tea.” He announces, then not so subtly flees the room.
“Right,” Martin whispers to the empty room. He awkwardly fiddles with his thumbs for a few minutes before his eyes fall on the degree that’s framed on the wall. It’s from Oxford. Huh. Martin stands up to get a closer look. Jonathan Sims. It’s the same name, the same university. How did—?
Jon bursts into the room, his elbow audibly smacking into the doorframe as he tries to carry tea and open the door at the same time.
“Oh! Let me help you with that!” Martin says, jumping at the sound.
“Thank you, that’s quite alright. I’m just… nevermind me. You say you’ve come to make a statement?” He says, handing Martin a cup and placing another in front of him at the desk. They sit, and Martin nods rapidly.
“Yes I, uh. I’ve seen a few… eyes?”
“Yeah and— um… sorry, I’m just gonna—“ Martin picks up his tea to wet his mouth. He sips it, then stares at it in surprise. It’s sweet. It’s very sweet. It’s sweeter than what any rational human would like in tea, but at the exact sweetness that Martin loves. “Jon,” he says timidly, “how did you know how I like my tea?”
Jon's eyes widen. “Oh! I uh, I just made it how I like mine.”
Martin stares at the tea that clearly has milk in it pointedly. Jon's eyes follow his gaze.
“That. Yes, um. Well—” Jon starts several sentences but seems unable to finish any one of them.
“Jon,” Martin interrupts, “I understand this might be an odd question, but I need you to humor me for a moment.”
Jon nods, his face looks paler than usual.
“Do you own an MCR t-shirt?”
Jon lets out a surprised huff of laughter. “Yes. From high school. I like to sleep in it.”
“And do you enjoy the poetry works of John Keats?” Martin asks slowly.
Jon has a soft smile on his face now as he answers. “I hate it, but it’s… started to grow on me in the past few days. It’s still garbage , though.”
Martin takes a deep breath through his nose to try and clear his head. “So… was that all real, then?”
Jon gives a single, tiny nod.
“How do you—? Why do you even visit me?” Martin blurts, not quite able to understand.
“I don’t exactly… control it. It just happens when I take a statement from somebody and—“
Jon is still talking, trying desperately to explain but Martin is no longer listening. He’s not the only one Jon visits. For some reason, Martin has fooled himself into feeling… special. But he’s not.
He feels like an idiot. Who wants to hole up in a house surrounded by worms?
“—and I know it was a huge breach of privacy—“ Jon goes on.
“So this… dream walking ,” Martin interrupts, “that’s normal for you?”
Jon nods. Martin stares for a bit before continuing.
“I noticed a lot of eyes —“
“That’s— that’s normal too.”
“—and the knowing things…?”
“So, what— you research supernatural because you are supernatural?”
“Er, more like the other way around I suppose…”
“What does that even mean?” Martin sputters, standing now.
“I became … this… because of what I do.”
Their fast-paced conversation halts and Martin notices how scared Jon looks. As if Martin is the one who’s terrifying. Martin suddenly catches himself. He’s not a short man, Martin has always been aware of how he towers over people, and he’s always certain to cross the street first when he catches a woman walking alone to be sure not to scare her. Usually, he softens himself by hunching his shoulders, talking quietly, and staying clear away from people’s personal bubbles.
He’s not doing that now, and Martin is sure that he looks properly frightening right now. And by the looks of those scars that Martin had seen across Jon’s skin, he has had reason to be looking as scared as he does.
Martin overcorrects, stumbling a bit as he backs into his chair and away from the desk that separates them.
“God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t— I didn’t mean to get in your face like that.”
Jon blinks owlishly. “You’re apologizing to me?”
“But I’m the monster here.”
Martin startles at that. “Who ever said that?”
“I did!” Jon is the one standing, now. His breath is labored from the force he put behind those words.
Martin softens even more. “Jon…”
“No, don’t give me that look! You want to know why I approached you in that store? Because I was hungry. I was hungry and I was weak and in that moment I cared more about my temporary comfort than the suffering I knew you would go through if I asked you about your experience. I. Knew. ...and I asked you anyway.”
“...how many people have you..?”
“Without their consent? Without them coming to me ? You’re the first.”
“Right,” Martin whispers, thinking aloud. “Well, then. I consent.”
“I consent. To giving my story. To the nightmares.”
“... why?” Jon asks, genuine bafflement clear on his face.
“I… enjoy the company.”
“You—“ Jon stops, not able to finish.
“Well. If I’m no longer the first, then you haven’t taken anything from anyone without their consent, then, have you?”
“No, I… I suppose not. But you’re not… frightened?”
Martin laughs humorlessly. “Of Jane? Most certainly. Of you? No offense, Jon, but you have pajama bottoms with little penguins on them. It’s kind of hard to be scared of a man who wears fleece penguin pajamas.”
Jon lets out a surprised laugh of his own. “Then I.... I have one more question for you, Martin Blackwood.”
“What is it?”
“Would you like to go out to dinner with me tonight? Without worms, this time.”
Martin smiles. “I’d love to.”