The problem with the end of the world is that it affords entirely too much time to think.
Which isn’t fair, really. Jon can blame a lot of things on the Eye--a lot of fucking things--but thinking has always been his problem, except for when his problem was lack of thought. Or maybe, just maybe, the real problem all along was that he only thought of himself.
He sighs, pressing the pads of his fingers against his nose, where the skin is worn thin by the nose pads of his glasses. Yeah. Far too much time to think.
Martin notices, which is another problem in a small, cabin-shaped world of problems. There’s nowhere to hide here, nowhere to retreat when the cracks in his already crumbled foundation start shifting again. Which shouldn’t mean anything--what’s going to happen? he’ll scare him off? it’s not like there’s anywhere for Martin to go--but Jon still finds himself turning away, his face angled like he can look away from his own thoughts. Like it’s something he can ignore.
So yeah, Martin notices.
“Are you--” Martin bites the last word off before he can finish the sentence. Human instinct dictates that, in polite company, you must choose from any number of questions that are simply not relevant anymore. Are you okay? How are you doing? Crap weather we’re having, isn’t it? They’ve silently agreed to drop the pretense, but old habits die hard.
He hears Martin shift his weight, bite the tip of his tongue thoughtfully, and try again. “What are you thinking?”
Jon huffs softly, not quite a laugh. What isn’t he thinking is a better question, but for once he doesn’t want to be pedantic. The Eye is obnoxiously inconsistent. Sometimes it feels like his skull might crack open to make more room for all that’s stuffed inside of it, pressing up against his eyes and aching in the bridge of his nose like a sinus headache. Other times he feels anemic, his head light and his blood thin and he has to bite his tongue to keep from asking Martin a Question, just to see if his statement would make him feel a little more human again. Or less.
But despite the ever-shifting, ever-twisting snarl of knowledge in the back of his mind, there’s always a piece of it, a piece of it that still mostly sounds like him, at the forefront. That, of course, is what Martin means.
He considers being pedantic after all, to dodge the question, but the guilt is heavier than his embarrassment. They’ve come a little too far to go back to secrets now.
“There was something Peter said, in the Lonely,” Jon says, still carefully averting his eyes. “Do you remember?” Could he hear? Probably not, so much about the Lonely was like walking around with cotton in his ears and fur in his mouth, but the least Peter could have done was spare him having to say it now. Miserable old bastard.
“No,” Martin says, and there’s a shuffle as he steps closer. “There’s, ah--I don’t remember much from then.” He’s nervous now too. Jon would guess that he’s regretting asking, but this isn’t the same Martin as before. He doesn’t think this Martin regrets anymore. He acts. It’s a strange thing to get used to. “What did he...what did he say?”
“He said--” God, he could repeat it word for word if he wanted. The knowledge sits in the back of his throat, acidic like bile. Everyone shys away from the Knowing, but the worst is the Remembering, every moment scratched onto his brain too deep to wear away. If he closes his eyes, he could be there again. Jon sighs and looks up, before he can lose his nerve entirely. “How much do we really know each other, Martin?”
Martin blinks owlishly. “That’s what Peter said?” His mouth twists into a funny little smile, his nose wrinkling. “I mean, we’ve worked with each other for years, Jon--”
“And how many of those years did I spend berating you?” Maybe not entirely underserved, a part of him still maintains, but he could have been a little nicer about it. “And how many after that did we spend running for our lives, or in a coma, or wrapped up in so many secrets and bullshit--”
“Jon,” Martin says, in that firm, steady way that makes Jon’s mouth close with a click. “What are you really thinking?”
Sometimes Martin really does have a maddening ability to cut to the heart of it.
“You love me, I know you do. But maybe if you really knew me, you wouldn’t.” Once again, there’s probably a nicer way he could have said that, but in the way of every injured animal, he can’t help but bite. He rakes a hand through his hair, stringy and overlong and graying before its time. “And I’m not saying that for some kind of--stupid affirmation of my ego. I mean it. How much of what you love is really me?”
Martin’s smile has died, falling into something difficult to read, but resolved. He takes a deep breath. “Alright then,” he says. “Let’s get to know one another then.”
Jon frowns, watching as Martin just...sits cross legged on the floor. He leans over, patting the floor across from him invitingly.
“Why not? We’ve got nothing but time,” he says. “Come on. Just like preschool.”
He can hardly say no, after all his melodrama, though sitting on the ground like a five year old at Sunday School hardly feels like the appropriate denouement. He unfolds himself from his seat at the cabin’s singular little table and carefully settles on the floor across from him, close enough that their knees could touch if he shifted, but not quite.
“Ask me something about myself,” Martin says, “and then I’ll ask you. Easy, right?”
Hardly. Jon grimances. “I can’t really...ask.” He taps his forehead by way of explanation. “Not without--you know.” It seems to rather defeat the point to yank the answers out of him with eldritch fear magic.
“Oh! Right! Um.” Martin’s eyes dart around, looking for answers. “Alright, don’t ask, just...frame it as a statement. ‘Something I’d like to know about you is…’” He raises his eyebrows, prompting.
Jon hesitates, one hand picking nervously at the burn scars across the other. “I would like to know your…” Shit, shit, shit. “Favorite color.”
Martin frowns. “You don’t know my favorite color?”
Jesus, he barely knows his own favorite color at this point. How is he fucking this up already? “Blue?” He guesses.
A pretty safe guess, all things considered, but Martin looks satisfied. “What’s your favorite color?”
Oh, he already knows. Of course he already knows, because he’s Martin, he’s considerate, he pays attention to things. Jon didn’t expect to visit a new crop of inadequacies when this began, but here they are. “This is stupid,” he says, starting to get up.
Martin slams a hand onto his knee, pushing it back down. “Tell me your favorite color, Jonathan,” he says, his eyes narrowed into a withering stare.
Jon sighs and settles back down. “Green,” he says after a moment. “Soft green. Like...moss. Mossy green, I guess. It’s nice.”
Martin smiles. “You’ve got a jumper that color, don’t you?”
“Yes, it’s--ah, no. That one got destroyed in the...you know, I don’t even remember anymore.” He huffs a laugh and Martin does too and for a moment they sit in their shared reality, where so much weird shit happens you don’t even remember if it was worms or a homicidal vampire hunter who destroyed your favorite jumper.
He clears his throat. “I would like to know if you like animals. If you ever had any pets or anything.”
Martin rubs the back of his neck, sheepish. “No, never had much time for pets, really,” he says. “I like dogs though! As a concept.”
Jon smiles faintly. “Georgie has a cat. The Admiral. I kept thinking I might get one myself once this was all over. Call it the Corporal or something.” Assuming Georgie would ever talk to him again, assuming that any of it would ever be over. He made a lot of assumptions back then that are wholly irrelevant now.
“A cat. I’d like that.” Martin smiles, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “It’d be like having two of you running around.”
“I’m not like a cat,” Jon scoffs.
“Let’s see: aloof, a little grumpy, too curious for his own good.” Martin ticks them off on his fingers. “I suppose it might shed a little more but you’re not too far behind these days.”
It’s just a joke, it’s nothing he wouldn’t say about himself, but his heart still sinks and his smile grows too heavy to maintain. “Why do--” Shit. No. Jon closes his eyes and exhales through his nose. “I want to know why you love me.”
Martin sighs. “Well, that didn’t take long.”
He opens his eyes. “Martin.”
“Jon,” he says, meeting his stare headlong. The corners of his mouth pinch stubbornly. “I want to know why you don’t think you can be loved.”
Okay, unfair. “I asked you first,” Jon counters, no longer afraid of being petulant.
“It was my turn for a question,” Martin says, smug like he knows he’s already won.
He didn’t seem to have a problem with two questions in a row before, but Martin is making up his own rules now, and Jon is fairly sure they’re all designed to work against him.
“Why don’t you think you can be loved?” Martin asks again, softer this time. There’s something sad about his eyes, about the way they turn down at the corners and how he looks up through his lashes. Like it breaks his heart to have to ask. Guilt, old and familiar, stabs at Jon like a knife.
“I…” His mouth is dry. His eyes are sticky. He wants to rub at them, to press his fingertips against his eyelids until all he can see are colors streaked across the dark, but he can’t look away. “I’ve always known I couldn’t be loved,” he says, and it’s so simple it feels stupid saying it out loud, like it shouldn’t need to be said. It’s so obvious, such a universal truth. How can Martin not see it? “Both my parents died. Not that that was their fault, but it doesn't change the fact. My grandmother loved me, I suppose, but only in a way that was perfunctory. I was hardly a lovable child, even I can see that.” He keeps his eyes trained on the ceiling, twisting his hands together as he speaks, every word as matter-of-fact as the last. “And then I grew up and I figured--well, love only really mattered for children. Developmentally and all that. I’d already come out fine--or mostly fine, at least, I like to think--so I didn’t really need it. Which was probably my way of justifying the fact that I knew I’d never have it anyway. Unlovable children rarely turn into lovable adults.”
He puffs out his cheeks and raises his eyebrows like it’s a joke, his eyes flickering to Martin and away again too quickly to really see him. “I mean, there was Georgie for a bit but that was...well, we're both better off apart than together." He shrugs. “There was no point in worrying about it. I was never going to have the white picket fence and everything. It just wasn’t…”
He trails off, his hands in his lap. They’re still now, their palms turned up so that he can see every strange new callous, every little scar where the worms pushed through skin.
“Jon.” Martin’s fingers brush his knee.
“When I woke up, “Jon says again, suddenly, as if remembering to breathe, “when I really started to realize what I was becoming, I thought...well, this makes sense.” He looks up and he can feel himself trembling, can feel some brittle thing inside of his chest threatening to shake apart and release God only knows. “This makes sense. Why I was always so different, why I was always so difficult.” He snaps his fingers in a vicious, frantic gesture. “I thought...well, at least there’s a reason that it was always so easy for everyone else. At least it wasn’t just…me.” He hesitates for too long, his breath trapped in his lungs. He forces it out in a sigh. ‘“Maybe it was though.”
The silence stretches after that--too long. It takes Jon a moment to realize, and another to muster up the courage to look up.
His heart skips a beat. “Martin, don’t--” Of course he’s crying. Even new, steely Martin is still Martin. Once Jon would have chided him for it, but now he reaches out, his hands hanging between them uselessly, unsure what to do. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have--” Jesus, why did he say all that? It wasn’t a statement, for pity’s sake.
Martin shakes his head, pushing at his tears with the heel of his hand. “No, no. I asked,” he says, his voice thick. “It’s just...there’s a lot I would do differently now. If I could.”
Jon feels his shoulders sag, already stiff and boney under his oversized jumper. “Yeah,” he says softly. “Me too.”
Martin takes a deep breath, puffing out his cheeks as if to dispel the buildup of emotion. “I understand, Jon. I do. There...there’s a reason the Lonely was so...appealing.” He clears his throat and pushes back the stray curls that threaten to fall in his eyes--his hair is getting long, now that Jon’s really looking--but doesn’t look away. “But...I do love you. You know that, don’t you? Capital k, lowercase k--any which way. You know that?”
Jon hesitates. “I do,” he says slowly. “I just...don’t know why.”
Because there’s always a why. His job, his life now, is built around the why. If he knows the why, the rest might just fall into place.
“Because--” Martin shakes his head thoughtfully, his mouth twisted. “Alright, how about this.” He leans forward and their knees are touching now, pressed against one another so tightly that Jon begins to feel self-conscious about how boney his kneecaps are. Martin pulls his hands out of his lap and holds them both together in his. His palms are warm. “What’s something that you love? Not a person. Just anything.”
Jon squints. “Um…”
Martin rolls his eyes. He adjusts his grip. “Say that you’ve had a long day at the office, you’ve just found out that your boss is a centuries-old megalomaniac hellbent on triggering the apocalypse and ruling from a throne of bones or whatever. You’re on the way home and you’ve decided to indulge yourself. What do you do?”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” Jon scoffs, but the argument is weak even to his ears. “I...I get a pumpkin spice latte.”
“Really?” Marin grins. “I didn’t take you for the type, Jon.” He laughs, leaning forward. “You’re embarrassed! Why are you embarrassed?”
“Because I’m not the type!” He says, exasperated. “I’m supposed to like...black coffee the consistency of rocket fuel or something. It’s what people expect.”
Martin laughs again. “I assure you, no one ever fell for that,” he says. “So why do you like pumpkin spice lattes?” His smile puts a twist on the words that makes Jon’s heart flutter.
“Because they’re delicious,” he says. He frowns, trying to puzzle through the metaphor ahead of time. “Are you calling me delicious?” He’s not sure how he feels about that.
“Less specific, Jon. Why do you like getting them?”
“Because they make me happy,” he says. “Because after a long day with my evil boss and the end of the world I just want something nice that makes me happy, that’s uncomplicated, because God knows there’s not much of that around these days--oh.”
“Oh.” Martin scrunches up his nose, clearly making fun of him now, but a way that makes the thing in Jon’s chest flutter faster. Martin squeezes his hands gently, mindful of the scars. “I love you because you make me happy, Jon. Because I’m happy to be around you, even when the rest of the world has gone to complete and utter shit. And maybe I don’t know what your college GPA was or when you lost your first tooth, but I do know you. I know you’re a good person. I know that you want to do the right thing. And I know that you love me too.”
It’s like having the air knocked out of him, but he’s not left breathless. “I do,” Jon says, only to flinch. Sounds a bit too much like a wedding vow, doesn’t it? “I do love you.”
In a thousand ways, in ways that he’s only just barely beginning to articulate. It’s a certainty inside of him like bedrock, resolute even as the rest of the world shifts and rocks around them.
“I know,” Martin says again, with that scrunched-nose smile again. “Though my favorite color is yellow, just for the record.”