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You know lots of words.

You don't use them. That's not what they're for. They sit and fizz under your tongue like sugar pills, a crackling burst of flavour like popping candy. You're not so good, are you, with getting the words out. All those words you know and you dredge up seaweed and detritus and plastic from your sea-beds when it's time to speak. The words you want to use stuck between your molars, flattened like stuck toffee behind your slightly bucked teeth. You used to have a stutter, when you were younger, and the poorly-set bone fragments of that linger.

You collect them though. Words. It's easier. You press the petals of them into the back of your notebooks, line the corners of your nest with them. You like to admire them, the carefully noted lines and lines of obscurities.

Some of them are about Jon.

On earlier pages, you wrote saw-toothed, caustic, mettlesome. Evolving to revenant, indomitable, hallowed.

Your word for Jon at the moment, your most recent, ink-damp addition is lucent.

[lucent (adj), you wrote, meaning: giving off light, glowing, or being clear, translucent]

Since you came to the cottage, Jon's shown you everything. Like he's sworn off anything but an intense, avowed honesty, like if he's not offering you his everything, he's somehow failing you. He shows you all the places he is glass and trusts you to look through.

He sits by the window wearing the biggest jumper you own, and the light patters through him and he has his eyes closed like he's sleeping or praying or giving grace and you think of him as shining.

All of your words, and still you're so prone to lying.


 

You should be used to this.

You are kissing. Jon caught you mid-lecture on the appropriate footwear for the ground this home is founded on, and smiled and there suddenly wasn't any words for you to use at all. Jon has his fingers tangled in your hair, and you have a palm splayed steady at the dip of his back.

He plants a hand on your hip. There is an ossified mass in your chest that's gathering bigger, and it's nerves, it's always nerves with you, the stutter in your soul that never played out.

“You want to...?” he asks, and he glances up at you with a dappling light across his face that follows the streak of his giddy smile, and he looks antic, elfish. The hand on your hip gives a suggestive, implying squeeze.

You wait for him to add more, but he doesn't, so you lean back down like the submitting bough of a willow branch, distract him with another bruising collision of a kiss and hope it will drive all thoughts from his head.

Finally, you separate. He kisses like he used to talk, like he wants the last word in an argument, so every kiss is chased by a follow-up, a softer imprint like the closing of a wax seal.

His hands work on the top button of your shirt.

“Would you like to....?” he asks again, short-winded, his breath a little more gone from him than you. He even tries to wink. It's goofy, purposefully, looks silly on him, and all this feels too heavy.

This is not the first time you have done this, but it's never been right before. It'll be better. It's with Jon, you want this with him, you can do this with him and it'll be everything you've always suspected it could be for everyone but you.

You surge against his lips again so he can't see your nerves, you stupid, unfounded, calcifying anxieties, the barriers you keep putting up yourself because you are so terrified of being happy.

“Maybe... not tonight?” you mumble into your shared air. If he pushed, if he asked again, you would. He dragged you from the shoreline, out of the fog, this is the least you can give him. You'd lie on your back, or you'd cover him with your shape, and you'd try so hard to make him happy so he wouldn't notice you not sharing the same. “'m a bit tired.”

Tricky, is what you are. Perjurious. Prevaricating. Two-faced.

You're not tired. The lie makes your tongue swell, like allergies, hay-fever, rigor mortis. Something damningly biological.

These days, Jon is artless, candid, forthright. Everything is a solemn rite, a service he's engaging in that he thought he was unsanctified for.

You are the most proficient dealer in dishonesties you know. It's a growth, down to the bones.

“Alright,” Jon says lightly, like he's not disappointed, like you haven't been substandard, below par, vexing. “Do you want to continue this for a while? Or, you know, we've still not done that jigsaw.”

His easy joy is so bright it shames you. You wish the Lonely had eaten that emotion out of you.

“That jigsaw's not going to solve itself,” you say, and Jon smirks, and moves away but keeps your hand locked in his, and for a while you allow yourself the easy deception of being uncomplicatedly happy.


 

You are a solecism.

It's a useful word. It's all the words you've ever misspoken, all the poorly expressed sentiments, the wrong things you should have said or felt or been, but didn't or weren't. It's the stammer you've got ingrained in the warp and weft of you.

You are in bed, and you are kissing again. You like kissing. The pressure and huff of air. You like holding Jon's head in your hand, stroking the stubbled skin down his chin, the abrasive landscape that travels down. Scar-shiny crags and rises, his personal geography. You like looking at the evidence of his survival. If you scrape your blunt nails against his scalp, he'll take a ragged in-breath; when you press a little harder, nip with teeth against the skin of his lips, he'll sigh and hum. And you like these things too.

You've been kissing for a while now. You've been worrying whether it is acceptable to carry on like this. If you should be doing something more. If you have to.

You are on your side, and Jon has slipped his hand over your hip. Moving it up to the bunching skin circling your stomach. You breathe out shaky, because his hands are algid, nippy – 'God, Jon, you're freezing,' you complain, and he smirks, gives another goofy eyebrow raise, 'are you going to let me warm up then?'. He moves them again and he must take the noise you make as encouragement, as desired – stop it, you've done this before, it's not so bad, it's Jon now, it'll be alright this time – and traces them further up to skate over the more delicate skin below your collarbone, over your chest.

You know he's looking at you. He rarely blinks these days. He watches because he wants to see you happy, wants to know he's making you happy, cataloguing the things that bring you joy like the words you scribe at the back of your notebook.

You've never told him that you've never caught the art of this act, that you know what he wants, and that it makes your stomach fizz like you've swallowed all the words you can never say, how it's not like the books make it sound, not like all the poetry you wish you could understand. You never feel buzzing, live-wire, heady, champagne-drunk on an overwhelming, delirious passion. You feel anxious, deep-down heartsick, overthinking and second-guessing what you're meant to be doing.

But there are some parts of it that are nice, you guess. And Jon loves you, you Saw that, you see that. And if it's the admission price for all the other things, the hand-holding and kissing and the waking up with him coiled around you like a warm and sweaty bracket, then it doesn't matter, does it, not really. You've borne worse in this world for less.

“Do you want to...?” He says, and brushes his palm over your chest again. You nod, make an encouraging sound, and you don't flinch. You make to pull him closer, so his weight pushes the air out from you, and his knee has moved between your legs, and you don't flinch, and your body shores up its well-hammered armour, and he kisses you again, deeper, wetter, and your eyes clench shut even as you hum an appreciative noise, because you know that this is easier in the dark.

The weight lifts suddenly, pushing back and away.

“Martin?”

“Hm?” you ask, opening your eyes again, unsure as to why you've stopped. Jon is staring down at you, face frowning, and whatever he sees, it has him sit back on his hunches. Hair askew, eyes dark, unblinking. He fumbles around for the beside light.

You sit up slightly. You feel cold again. Frigid. Hyperborean.

“I-is everything ok?” you prompt. Jon's frown deepens like a fissure, and you wish he'd stop looking at you like he wants to solve you.

“Something's.... I Know something's not right,” he says, distractedly, looking down at his scar-seared palms. Then he looks back at you.

“Is everything alright with you?” he asks back.

“Yeah! W-why wouldn't it be?”

“Are you... do you want to do this?”

The heart in you cadaverous. You lean closer because he's too far away, because you don't want to be alone, because you don't like the creeping distress that casts itself across like shadow over his face. He leans back, keeping a distant point of orbit. Perigee. He's close, but not in your atmosphere, he's close but he won't touch you and you can hear your own voice getting pitchy.

“Course I do!”

“Do you want me to take it slower?”

“No...”

“Do you want me to stop?”

“No, it's not – ”

“It's... you don't seem happy, Martin. There – there's something wrong, I can, I know it...”

“Maybe I don't like you using your bloody mind-reading powers when we're in bed together, Jon,” you snap.

Jon winces.

“I can't exactly switch it off,” he says, obviously hurt.

His eyes roaming over you, peripatetic, taking in all the parts of you you are desperate for him not to look too closely at.

Jon is breviloquent. He doesn't amble along to what he's going to say, he's direct and terse and brief as he needs to be.

“Is this – is this ok?” he asks again.

You realise you're breathing a bit harder. Force yourself to relax, showcase an almost easy smile. Because this is what you're excellent at. Evading. Equivocating. There's not an honest answer you couldn't twist into incomprehension, there's not a simple option you can't complicate because you worry and overthink and fuck it up for everyone else.

“Just nerves, I guess,” you hear yourself say. “We can... let's keep going, I'm sure I can build myself up to it.”

You reach out a hand to his, and he yanks it away. And that, that hurts. Like tearing scab-tissue, like splitting skin.

“Build yourself...” he repeats with a tinge of something horrified. “Martin, you don't have to make yourself do anything, why are you – ?”

“I'm not making myself.” You've started breathing wobbly now, desperate. Why did you have to mess up this performance with him, when he's right here and he wants you, and you can't get through dress rehearsals, never mind opening night because you can't remember your lines, where your feet should stand, what words you need to trot out of your mouth. “I – I'll, I'll manage, ok, it'll be fine, c-can we just forget this and carry on?”

Still he won't stop looking at you, won't get any closer, and you feel like crumbling.

Jon's voice has dropped soft.

“I'm not just going to forget it. Martin, you're not comfortable, you're not happy, how can I ignore that?”

“It doesn't matter,” you say, “it's nothing, it's stupid, it doesn't matter.”

“It matters to me.”

Adamantine. Headstrong.

Jon pauses in the shallow waters of the awkward silence. He reaches out, and takes your hand. Laces your fingers together, and the ossuary in your chest loosens.

“I don't trust... I don't want to ask you questions,” he finally says. “In case I... well. You know. But I'd like to understand. I want you to feel that you can tell me anything, even if you think it's not what I want to hear.”

You are suddenly so very tired of pretending with him. His brightness keeps finding the cracks in you you've poorly papered up, and it fills you with something that could be bravery if it didn't leave you feeling so hollow.

“I don't know if I can,” you reply. You sound burnt out, structurally compromised in the yellowing halo of light. You sound ashen, like you've been set on fire.

He clenches the hand he's holding, and waits. He'd keep waiting, you realise. Even if you never said the words out loud, he'd be patient.

“I can't,” you try again – Christ, it's Sisyphean, Herculean, “I can't – it's not, it's not you, although I-I'm sure everyone says that, right, but it's not. I thought, finally with the right person, I could... but it's – I can't. I can't be what you want me to be. I don't – I don't think I want the same things.”

“You mean a relationship?” Jon asks, eiderdown soft. He shrinks in on himself at the idea, but holds his head high, doesn't lose your gaze.

“N – no,” you say quickly, needing him to understand. “No. I-I want that. I want you. I love you.”

“Then what...?” he prompts.

You feel the gravel of the words under your tongue.

“I don't... I don't like it. The – when we – I don't want it, and I know that's not what you want to hear, and I'm sorry, and it's me, I can't just get out of my head and make this work, and I know it must be disappointing....”

“You don't want to have sex?”

You cringe in on yourself as he lays it out. He's always been better at jigsaws than you.

“If you – we can! - it's not, it's not such a big deal, right! Just give me a few minutes, I can work through it – ”

Martin,” he grumbles out, and he's shuffled closer, captured your other flailing hand. “I don't need to have sex with you. And if it's not something you're comfortable with, then I don't want to have sex with you.”

“It's not about – about being comfortable, it's about making each other happy.”

“I am happy! You make me happy! I don't need sex. And it's hardly making you happy, is it?”

“That's not the point.”

“It is! Of course it is.” He deflates. Reaches up. Wipes your cheek and his fingers come away damp. “Explain it to me. Please.”

You spit the words out like sunflower seeds.

“I've never... I don't, I mean, I-I have, this isn't, y-you know, the first time, but it's not something I-I like, necessarily, a-and I'm not, I don't think I'm made like that. And I know, it's – it's not what you want to hear...”

“Martin.”

He stops you and you clamp your mouth against the onslaught.

Fractography is the study of cracks, or flaws in a material or structure. It works through observing broken, collapsed, irreparable things and figuring out what final weight snapped its back. It works through observing things unweathered by life, predicting where stresses and pressures might eventually start to form. You are worried Jon will look at you like something due to shatter.

“Martin, I think we need to talk. I think we should have talked before.”

Your voice, miserable, dull with expectation: “If you're breaking up with me....”

“No – no, oh god, Martin, of course not.”

He shuffles closer, lies back down next to you, pats the pillow to indicate that you should join him.

You slide down. He clasps your hands against his breast, and he's so close he's blurry, the air between you warm and dense, your bodies making a cocoon.

“Shall I go first? If that's ok?”

You nod.

“Alright,” he says, and for a second, you just listen to him breathing. “So, I'm asexual. I don't experience sexual attraction to people. Romantic attraction, yes, definitely. I've been in relationships with em, mostly women, a couple of men, and generally they didn't have, shall we say a physical element. But I've been in love. A few times. I'm in love with you, in case – in case you didn't know.”

He says it so matter-of-factly. You can see some of that light shining from the insides of him, incandescent when the words leave his lips.

“And I'd be lying if I said I didn't think you were attractive, aesthetically speaking. But I don't – it's hard to explain, but I don't want to have sex with you, you know, want want. I don't have that urge. But I have been in a few relationships, where I've had sex. Not often, and I don't mind the experience personally, though I can take it or leave it. I like to be involved if my partner enjoys it, and that's – that's what I thought we were doing here. You didn't seem like you were going to make the first move, and I wanted to make you happy, because I thought it was something that you'd like to do together. Like doing jigsaws, or-or listening to the radio. I should have – I should have checked. I should have explained first.”

“The word,” you say, dry-mouthed.

“Pardon?”

“The word. What's the … the word you said?”

“Asexual.”

You mouth it to taste the sound. Wonder if you'll write it at the back of your notebook, next to deflagrate and ideoneous.

“That's... that's a new one to me,” you say slowly.

Jon's eyes go lower, go sad. He strokes the dampness from your face again.

“B-but I like kissing,” you say quietly. Because if this word means no intimacy, then you couldn't bear it, the way Jon held himself apart from you before. “I – I like hugs, and holding hands, a-and you know, relationshipy stuff like that. S-so I can't be... can I... those things are all part of it right, so I can't.... And my body, it has – ”

Here, you redden, the stalks of your words knotting.

“– it has r-reactions, i-i-in the mornings, and sometimes if I'm a bit stressed or I can't sleep, I want to, y-you know, sort myself, and that's....”

“These things don't disqualify you,” Jon says earnestly. “It's not something someone will give you a test on. It's personal. It's a personal thing. It's no less valid than anything else. But I want nothing from you that you don't want to freely give. Not because you think I need it, or you think it's the only thing I want from you.”

“Oh,” you say, and for a moment, you have no words left.

Jon waits.

“I don't want to have sex with you,” you manage finally. Small-worded, slipshod voiced.

Jon nods.

“Alright. That's alright.”

“I – ” You try again, and he makes an encouraging expression, and your sentence staggers forward. “I don't, I won't ever want to.”

“That's alright,” he replies.

“Yeah?” you croak, feeling your eyes go blurry with damp.

“Yeah,” Jon says.

You let him hold you for a long time after that. His fingers stroke your back, scrunch and scratch soothing motions in your hair.

“Asexual,” you repeat the word after a long while quiet.

“Hm,” Jon says. “There are some websites, I could show you. When you're... if you're ready.”

“I'd like that,” you say, and you mean it. You make no effort to move.

“There's even a flag,” Jon continues.

“Yeah?”

“Hm. It's pretty cool. Greys and white and purple. I think I've got some socks with the colours somewhere. One of my exs got me a bi-flag set, and an asexual set. ”

You give a wet laugh, imagining Jon's garish footwear.

“What a striking look,” you tease, and Jon elbows you and responds that it's incredibly dashing, thank you very much.

You linger in this liminal doze for a long time. For once, you feel like nothing is expected of you at all.

"You want to get up?” Jon says, yawning wide, cat-like. “Have another go at that jigsaw?”

“ Let's stay here a little longer?” you murmur. Your t-shirt is starting to stick to your skin. Jon's petting has made your hair go haywire, bed-headed. You don't quite want to let this go just yet.

“Alright,” he agrees, and it's as easy as that.