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sun in an empty room

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The eye opens.

Jon laughs, and laughs, and laughs, and then, just as suddenly as he’d started, like flipping a switch, he goes quiet.

Martin falls to his knees next to him, papers he’d dropped on top of tearing underneath his knees when they slide apart. He cups Jon’s face in his hand, one hand brushing his hair out of his eyes almost compulsively, and begs and pleads and bargains and cries and eventually screams until he’s hoarse.

Jon stays quiet.

“I love you,” Martin whispers into his hair. “I love you. I love you. I love you.” Until his voice breaks. Until he can’t speak through his tears anymore. Until he can’t speak anymore.

Guess declarations of love don’t work as well in the real world as they’d worked in the Lonely.

Martin spends the nights with his back against the door with his corkscrew in his hand. It wouldn’t do anything, he’s sure, but at least it’s something. It's a good weight. He has good memories with it. Good track record when it comes to killing things that want to kill him.

He doesn’t sleep long enough at a time to have nightmares. Jon –

Jon lies on his back, head in Martin’s lap. His eyes are open but he’s not looking at anything.

“I got you,” Martin whispers, hand moving in Jon’s hair erratically, a vague attempt at a comforting gesture, “I got you.”

Like it matters. Like it means anything.

Thursday. Maybe Friday. Martin’s boarded up the windows and the doors. Outside the sky flickers and shifts from black to green to black again. Whenever he catches a glimpse of light he nails another sheet or tablecloth or curtain to the gap and prays whatever is outside didn’t see him do it.

Jon, sitting on the floor with his back against the living room wall, has empty eyes. Martin doesn’t look at them. He thinks they might’ve changed colors. He doesn’t want to make sure.

Jon’s beautiful, deep brown eyes. Brown brown beautiful brown. Brown. Brown. Brown. He writes it down.

(It’d only taken them a few days to get used to sharing a bed. The house only has one bed and Jon’d refused to let Martin sleep on the couch and Martin’d refused to let Jon sleep on the couch, and it’s –

Martin lying on his side and Jon lying on his side and neither of them trying to make eye contact, Jon staring at Martin’s jaw and Martin’s gaze flickering between the rise of Jon’s chest and the curl of his fingers around his own wrist. Jon Knowing and Martin pretending he doesn’t, and Jon pretending he doesn’t, and Jon had sighed, then, long and wavering and Martin had shuffled forward, just a little bit, just until their fingertips touched. Nothing more. Just that little contact.

“I love you, you know,” Jon had said, and his voice had been quiet and raw and so, so earnest and Martin hadn’t known what to do with it. What to do about it. How to take the sound and keep it with him forever. The tape recorder of his heart. These reels embedded in muscle til his body folded itself around them. Bloodstained and bare.

“Yeah,” Martin had said around the lump in his throat. “Yeah.”

In the space behind his eyes he’d heard the familiar click of a tape recorder. Important, it’d said. This is important.)

(Despite everything he still can’t shake these tape recorder metaphors.)

Jon cracks his wrist and it sounds like a tape recorder pause button. Jon clicks his tongue and it sounds like a tape recorder play button. Jon yawns and it sounds like static. Jon –

Jon lies in the bed – their bed – with the blankets drawn to his chin. He’s shaking.

Martin had thought it was because he was cold. He’s starting to think there might be a different reason. He shuffles closer, closer, until his chest is to Jon’s chest (warm. Solid. Human, still). Jon makes a clicking noise, then, just tongue to the roof of his mouth, and Martin presses in closer.

Jon’s arm moves, fast and unsteady, fingers coming to grasp the front of Martin’s shirt, fabric pulling and bunching and wrinkling in the grasp of his bony fingers. Martin jumps. It’s been so long since –

“Jon?” he says, quiet. “You okay?”

Jon doesn’t say anything, and he doesn’t move any more than that. It takes Martin a few minutes to relax again, and a few more to realize that Jon’s stopped shaking.

Familiar. Safe. At least some semblance of love in this wretched excuse for a world. The power of love, he thinks bitterly. Some power it is.

(He’d come out of the Lonely with despair and distraught loneliness still stuck to his teeth and he’d needed someone to lick it out of his mouth. He’d been shaking with it.

Jon had kissed him unsure and sweet and gentle, like he’d half-expected for Martin to pull away. Martin had wanted to climb inside his skin and kiss him until both their lips bled.)

He wonders what Jon thinks about.

Those wide eyes. Tortured poet soul eyes. Martin’s the poet. Does that make Jon his muse? He’s not writing much these days. The howls coming from the village might be real or they might be in his head. Who knows what’s real and what’s in his head anymore.

Jon who sees everything. Sometimes he laughs, and then he cries, and Martin’s hands shake.

Michael, when he’d known him, had sounded like a headache when he’d laughed. Jon’s laughter sounds like the cogs of the recorder whirring to a slow stop.

(His eyes have changed color. He wishes he didn’t know.)

Does Jon, even knowing everything, know what’s real and what’s in his head? Does he, like Martin, hold his breath when the howling picks up? When the wind becomes a rush of malicious static? Does he count out the shadows on the walls to make sure there’s the right amount?

And before – and still, even if it doesn’t really count, Martin reckons – he’d never been much of a laugher. Or a smiler. At the cabin Martin had kissed his face forehead to chin and when he’d re-emerged to admire his work Jon’d been smiling wide.

“You have dimples,” he’d said, a mixture of surprise and delight.

“Yes,” Jon’d said, level and matter of fact. “I do.”

And Martin hadn’t known why – except for maybe because it’d so achingly reminded him of Jon’s humanity, of all the sweet, gentle human parts within him – but it’d made him tear up with affection, like a knife slicing him open clavicle to stomach from the inside in preparation to make room for Jon to step in. He’d wanted him so badly. He’d been prepared to take him and keep him inside of his chest cavity, make himself a human shield in the most literal of senses. Anyone wanting to hurt him would have to go through him first.

Jon. Dimpled, sweet Jon. Jon kissing him back, not nervous but careful. Diligent. Martin smiling against his mouth and Jon making questioning noises every time. He’d always needed to know. Martin doesn’t think he even noticed doing it.

At least, Martin thinks, at least he’s not dead. He’s still here. His eyes are open and his chest rises and falls and he sometimes opens his mouth and even if what comes out is a gargled stream of tape recording clips mixed together into an unintelligible mess of sounds and cut-off words it’s still close enough to speech. You learn to appreciate the small things. You always do. Humans are weird like that, he guesses. Or maybe it’s just him. Hard to tell.

He’s good at taking care of people, he is, even if his mum would disagree. He’s had his whole life to practice. Jon doesn’t tell him he’s doing a shite job or threaten him or tell him he’s more of a burden than a help (and he won’t think about this, because if he dwells on it for too long Jon will pick up on it, and he will become distressed, and the static that comes out of his mouth when he’s distressed gives Martin a headache almost immediately) and Martin’s strong enough that he can pick him up and move him around easily enough.

He feels bad doing it, sometimes, just because it feels like he’s manipulating him. But he knows sitting still for too long is bad for your skin and your muscles and your what have you, and besides he has to carry him around to an extent anyway. He’s not going to leave him alone in bed all day. He couldn’t do that to him.

(And if he leaves him in a room alone for longer than a few minutes at a time, if he doesn’t talk to him the whole time, the static whine picks up until it’s loud enough to echo around the house and reach into Martin’s lungs through his mouth.)

So –

Jon sits on the floor with his eyes open. Martin sits on the floor across from him and watches him.

They don’t need to eat anymore. For a few days Jon had accepted the food Martin would offer him, as long as it was soft and Martin was willing to hand feed it to him (and he’d never thought hand feeding oranges to his lover would be so upsetting –) but it’s been so long, and now neither of them wants food, and neither of them will try, and Jon for sure Knows if they need to eat, even in this state, he’s sure of it.

Martin assumes so, anyway. He offers, still, but they’re starting to run out of food, now, and Martin’s scared to waste the last of it in case eventually whatever’s got a grip of their little world lets them feel hunger again. The not knowing is the worst part. It’s bad, sure, what they have, but not knowing if it will get worse is worse. They have this small claustrophobic quiet cabin with the wind wailing outside, and even if it’s not safe it’s better than whatever it was that happened to everyone else.

But they sit on the floor and Martin looks at Jon and Jon looks at nothing and Martin talks to him and Jon doesn’t answer. It’s familiar, in a way. Martin’d gotten used to this, ages ago now, sitting by Jon’s bedside, talking and talking and talking.

It’s different now. It’s not so different. It’s hard to compare things, anymore, and the static is getting unbearable.

It’s been weeks.

Sometimes Jon will stand up, now, or if Martin picks him up and sets him down he will, instead of sliding down onto the floor, just stand where he sets him down until Martin moves him again. Maybe it’s a good sign. Maybe not. For now Martin just accepts it as a thing that’s happening in the active.

And he will – sometimes, at least – move his arms, and it’s awkward and sluggish and half-hearted but he tries, and his hands go and Martin’s eyes follow them. Everything Jon does is important. He’s becoming an archive dedicated to just Jon. He can almost feel the static in his eye sockets. In his mouth. The hollows of the empty spaces within his body.

And –

Jon knows BSL. Martin knows some as well, but he’s not as fluent, just the basics, some numbers and the alphabet and some basic phrases ( – online, and he’d taken a course, and then here, early days, Jon’d taken his hands carefully into his own, helped them bend in the shapes and gestures of signs, eyes on his face with a little concentrated frown threatening to tug his eyebrows down to make sure he’d been making the right faces to go with them –) and Martin remembers finding it so charming, then, but then he’d always had a weak spot for guys who spoke several languages. His first boyfriend had read in French to him, sometimes. And Jon –

His hands seem weak. His fingers are struggling to keep their shape, but for a second there’s a look of intense, burning determination and sober presence in his eyes, and he bends his body in the shape of a sharp, purposeful I love you.

It hurts. It hurts so bad he might as well have punched Martin squarely in the chest.

Martin crosses the floor and takes his hands into his. Jon lets him, easy, limbs moving at the joints smooth like a doll. Lips to knuckles, and then lips to wrists. His skin is so cold. He’s pretty sure it always has been, but he kisses them again, just to make sure, and his skin is soft and giving and lovely, still. Good enough.

And some nights Martin wakes up to Jon sitting up, looking out towards where the boarded up window is, the low whir of a tape recorder coming out through his closed lips like a purr.

The Eye calling out to its Archivist and the Archivist responding in kind, held down just barely by Martin’s hand on Jon’s wrist, the dark of the wood blinking out its existence.

Maybe the worst part is that he doesn’t know who, or what, is inside of him now.

It’s Jon. It’s got to be Jon, right? It can’t be anything else. It’s Jon.

(He starts sketching him every day, anyway. Notebook pages full of Jon. Sitting or standing or looking at things or looking at Martin. His hands and fingers and the curves and angles of his hips and his jaw and hands and knuckles. If it was something else wearing Martin’s memories of Jon it’d be too late to document, now. Martin ignores it.)

Jon walks up to him and buries his face in Martin’s neck. Martin’s arms close around him on an instinct. It’s a Sunday. Hallelujah, hallelujah, Martin thinks. He could make a shrine out of the halo around Jon’s head. Unwilling demigod of the wasteland, canonized.

Oh how heavy the crown. Jon with his ears bleeding, the drip drip drip of blood down his earlobes and jaw and neck and all the way down to his shoulder where the drops find their final resting place on the fabric of his shirt. Jon with his static mouth. Jon biting down on his tongue. Martin starts having nightmares again, and he wakes up to Jon by his side, staring at him with tears flowing down his cheeks. They might as well be blood as well. They might be. It’s dark enough that it’s hard to be sure of anything.

The house creaks and shakes and Martin nestles in as close to Jon as his body will go. Click goes the tape recorder of his heart. Click goes tongue to the roof of Jon’s mouth.

At least now Jon looks at him and sees something. Most days Martin thinks Jon knows who Martin is. Most days Martin thinks Jon is still Jon.

The first eye blinks open in the space between Jon’s chin and clavicle.

Martin makes a surprised sound, and Jon responds with an alarmed click of his own, wet and soft, a human sound (but like mimicking a –) that makes the eye move with the motion of it.

“Jon,” Martin says. “Your –”

He has to pause to think. His eye. His neck. His scarred throat blinking open in the middle like an open wound. “Your neck,” he settles on.

Jon brings a careful hand to his neck, cups the palm over the eye lightly. Martin wonders if the eye closed automatically, reflexively, or if it’s unblinkingly open underneath. Which one would be worse? A human instinctive muscle memory? A patient, hunting dog wait for knowledge? An outright monstrous addition to Jon’s soft body, or a perversion of what being human is? Human, a little to the left?

“What’s that?” Martin asks. Panic isn’t quite settling in. “What’s going on?”

Jon frowns. His palm moves closer to his throat until his fingers close around his neck as much as they can, and Martin hopes the eye finally decided to close, then, before the contact.

A gargled sound comes out of Jon’s mouth, then. Not his own voice, but an overlapping mixture of recordings, an alarmed noise that gets cut off as abruptly as it’d started. Jon pulls his hand back like he’s been burned. The eye blinks open. Guess Martin gets his answer, there.

Maybe it should’ve been more dramatic.

“I love you,” Martin says. They’re close enough that when Martin blinks, his eyelashes brush against Jon’s forehead.

“I love you.”

It’s Jon’s voice. Not recording gargled. Not clicking. Nothing strange to it. Almost like he’d never stopped talking at all.

Martin squeezes his hand in his. He squeezes back, and when Martin pulls back slightly to look at his face he’s smiling, dimples and all.

That night Martin straddles Jon’s hips, perched on his knees to not sit on Jon, careful to keep the points of contact to the minimum, and Jon trembles underneath him like he’s been hurt, and Martin slowly, slowly, slowly touches his fingertips to his face, long light lines from forehead to chin, again and again and again, left to right and when he’s painstakingly covered every centimeter he starts again, right to left this time.

Jon puts his hands on Martin’s hips and pulls him down. His belly is soft and tender and giving under Martin and he knows it must be uncomfortable, hurt, even, and the thought of hurting Jon is unbearable, even this little, and that’s what makes him cry, finally, and when he starts crying Jon does as well.

He leans his head down until their foreheads touch. Jon puts a hand in Martin’s hair. Martin doesn’t know what he’s doing with his own hands and he doesn’t care.

Jon no longer wonders out loud about whether or not he’s human anymore.

Martin knows with an aching certainty that it’s because he knows he isn’t.

“Are we safe?” Martin asks.

“Define safe,” Jon says with that mournful tone in his voice.

Martin pauses to think. “I don’t know how to. Just. Safe.”

“Sorry,” Jon says. “Yeah. Yeah. Um. I think we’re okay.”

It’s enough, he guesses, the same way holding Jon’s head in his lap, grasping his corkscrew in his white-knuckled grip had been enough.

And Jon is Jon is Jon is Jon is Jon –

Lit from behind by the terrible shine of whatever is happening outside (and Martin tries not to hear the screams or the howls or the empty bitter silence, and Jon pretends he’s not listening like a dog with its head tilted, ears up and whiskers trembling). Sitting on the bed with his head in his hands, eyes on his shoulders and neck blinking and opening independently from each other. Sitting on the little kitchen stool patient and quiet while Martin buzzes his hair off, strand by beautiful strand, shiny black curls falling on the floor and Jon’s bare chest and shoulders. Martin wants to pick them all up. He wants to waste nothing. Everything feels scarce. Everything feels like it might just disappear if he lets go of it.

And Jon is –

In his arms. Martin with his arms across his chest and Jon coming to him, hands on his shoulders, first, and then wiggling himself into his arms, between his crossed arms and chest, and it’s –

All these beautiful moments. Jon listens as the night moves. He keeps watch. He focuses and unfocuses his eyes at will, pupils widening and contracting, and bares his teeth and blinks shut his throat eye to growl when sounds get too close for his liking. It comes out as crackly static. Martin sits in bed and tries to stay awake and blinks his heavy eyes and loves him so.

The eyes come in one by one, and then they come in clusters.

Arms and shoulders and back of his neck. Jon stares at them, emotionless, and they stare back. The irises are an unnatural green. The pupils are vertical, like a cat’s.

They dilate and follow Martin when he walks around. The weight of the stare feels like bugs crawling on his skin.

Click goes Jon. At least the tape recorders don’t make much sound anymore. He’d taken every single one he could find and thrown them out in a trash bag. Sometimes he still finds them anyway.

 

He says it hurts. Martin presses down on the parts of his body he points out – says here, and here, and here – with his fingers or lips and he’s not sure if Jon asks him to do it because it feels better when he touches him or because he wants it to hurt more.

Another eye opens. His arm right below his elbow, this time, the tender skin on the inside of it, and Jon looks at it with his regular eyes and all of his other eyes, as well, every iris and pupil aimed at it. Martin watches him as well. The new eye makes eye contact with him. Martin looks away.

This horrible, all consuming burning. This beautiful lace-rimmed cloth of darkness pulled over his eyes. This monster-shaped love looming in the doorway. Martin invites it in and makes space beside him in the bed and it shrinks and shrinks until it’s the shape of Jon’s tall, lanky body again, until the spooly lengths of its legs fold themselves to fit under the blankets.

“I love you,” it says. The eyes on its shoulders close and open and close again with a disgusting wet sound.

“I love you,” Martin says back.

It becomes Jon, then. Dimples and scars and brown eyes and all.

“I love you,” Jon says. The voice hasn’t changed, because Jon is Jon is Jon is Jon is Jon.

“I love you,” Martin says, and fights down the tears. Jon is Jon is Jon. Is Jon is Jon.

His fingers never stop touching Martin like he’s important and precious and worthy. Sweet boy, Martin’s heart sings, sweet lovely important boy. His Jon.

“We could leave, still,” Martin says.

“I’m too scared,” says Jon.

“Jon,” Martin says quietly.

“Soon,” he says. “Soon. Promise.”

“Okay,” Martin says.

(“It’s quiet, here,” Jon says.

It is. It’s so quiet. The wind scrapes the rooftops with its dull teeth but the wails and howls have quieted and inside it’s just the two of them. Martin thinks about Jon’s wrist bones, for no reason in particular. He wonders if eyes will blink open there, too. If they go all the way to the bone. If inside of Jon’s body eyes are opening and blinking and watching.)

The stretch of apocalyptic wasteland. Martin thinks about the cows and the sheep and the people who’d lived there. He’s all cried out. There’s nothing left in him to mourn them all anymore.

Jon comes to stand behind him. Martin doesn’t turn around to face him, but he knows that he’s got all his extra eyes closed. He’d learned to do that a bit ago, control them at will. He’s doing it again. Guess Martin’s got some Beholding in him as well. Or maybe it’s just because he can’t feel the oppressive static of the dozens of eyes on his skin.

“Hey,” Jon says, quiet and sweet.

Martin turns around to face him. Jon’s hands find his shoulders, his neck, his cheeks, easy and soft. “Hey,” he says. Jon brushes a piece of hair off his face and tucks it behind his ear. Jon’s own hair is starting to grow again, awkward length where the curls don’t quite know what to do. They’re going to have to buzz it again.

“We’re okay,” Jon says.

“Yeah,” Martin says. “We’re okay.”

Jon presses a kiss to Martin’s cheek. At his full height he’s just barely shorter than Martin, but there’s something about him, still, even like this, that makes Martin want to fold him up and tuck him under his arm. Keep him safe. Take him and his countless eyes and keep him inside of himself until this is all over. He’s taken care of him before. He will take care of him again.

“The sun’s setting,” Jon says into Martin’s skin. “It’s beautiful.”

“We can’t see it,” Martin says.

Jon smiles, sadly. One of the eyes on his shoulder blinks open for a second. “No,” he says. “No, we can’t.”

“Sunset sounds nice,” Martin offers. “Been a while since I saw one.”

Jon sighs, a heavy thing. “Yeah.”

Martin leans in closer. In another time, or perhaps another life, right now they would be bathed in golden light, warm and happy and content. The thought feels almost violent. This forbidden light. This forbidden comfort. There are no tears threatening to fall from his eyes. That, too, feels like violence.

Jon’s eyes all open in unison in a slow blink, like a dog raising its head. There’s a click of a tape recorder turning off. Martin doesn’t remember it turning on.

Guess all this is important to the Eye – Jon’s hands in his hair. Jon’s lips on his cheek. Martin’s arms around Jon’s back, and Jon closing his eyes so that he doesn’t give Martin a headache. Martin, on the floor with Jon’s head in his lap, eyes vacant and unblinking, the wind a howling animal on the other side of the door. Important. Important. Important. Blink of eye of eye of eye of eye of –

Important. All of this is important.

Martin thinks so too.