Martin has changed.
It happened in bits and pieces, in moments where he slipped from Jon's sight, but here in the still, absolute darkness of the safehouse, at rest for the first time in what feels like years, it comes to Jon all at once. They spent the drive out of London alternating between silence and laughter that threatened to turn into tears. They drove through the night. But in all of it, there was never time to stop and look. Not really.
“I see you,” Martin had said, facing him, and Jon's heart had done a funny thing, relief and hope and the stark horror of what has he done to you? all at once.
He cups a hand to the side of Martin's cool cheek, his thumb stroking along the cheekbone. His face is sharper now. The circles under his eyes darker. There is something hungry and animal in his face now, the rounded, soft parts of him that were all freckles and gentle smiles faded away into faint, barely-there spots and a ghostly pallor. His hair has turned the color of the rolling fog that surrounded him.
Martin stirs faintly, his brow furrowing, and Jon's breath catches. “Jon?” he asks, the word clumsy with sleep. He presses his face against Jon's hand, a faint smile at the corners of his mouth.
“It's alright, Martin, go back to sleep,” Jon says, unable to hide the relief at the sound of Martin's voice. Anything to remind himself that this ghostly creature of fog is still here. Still present with him.
Martin yawns and nods, and the brief glimpse of his teeth makes Jon's heart lurch just like the first time.
He's not just pale, and when did Jon miss that, in the midst of everything? He tries to not let it eat at him that he failed to see something this monumental, but it itches at his bones. Martin's hair went white in the Lonely, but he was already fading paler when Jon asked to run away with him. When did his teeth change?
No, not teeth. Fangs. He might as well be honest about it.
“Only going out at night, hunting alone, it keeps you isolated,” Peter Lukas told him, before. “My family insists upon the change for most of us when we come of age.” He smiled, a dead-eyed cheery thing, at the word most, and Jon had tried very hard not to think about the fate of those not turned.
When had Martin become part of that?
“Jon,” Martin mumbles, not opening his eyes. “I can hear you brooding. Go to sleep.”
Jon sighs and settles back against the pillows, still looking over at Martin from the corner of his eye. “You'll stay here?” he whispers into the still darkness of the room, hating how his voice wavers with the words, and Martin opens his eyes. They're a pale gray-blue now, with the slightest hint of red, and they flash in the dark. Tapetum lucidum, Jon catalogs automatically, even as it makes his chest hurt to see the ruin of the warm hazel they used to be.
“I'm not going anywhere,” Martin says, smiling faintly at him, and reaches out to entwine his fingers with Jon's, squeezing them tight. “I promise.”
His hands are cold, but he's there. That's what matters.
Jon lets himself sleep.
The safehouse is an old, weathered beast of a thing, cracked red brick and crawling ivy and a mess of waist-high weeds in the small yard. The remnants of a wood and wire fence bend and bow their way around the length of the place, and a small tree at the side of the house has begun to sink roots into the muddy cracks in the roof. It sits atop a small hill, surrounded by spindly trees before the countryside opens up into vast, rolling grazing land. Off in the distance, the cloudy mountains have begun to go white with snow, threatening winter to come.
It's beautiful, in its mess. Martin takes to it immediately. The sun is hidden behind a deep, dark blanket of clouds in the morning, and so when Jon steps out into the yard to survey the place properly in daylight, he follows. Runs an appreciative hand down the rough side of the thing and then wades through the weeds to step back and get a good look.
“It's a good house,” he decides. “Rustic.”
“You can say 'falling apart',” Jon says, fond. “I don't think Daisy's been here in years.”
“Nothing we can't fix,” Martin says, waving a dismissive hand. “Are we... We're safe here, right?” He doesn't look afraid, just—tired. Pale enough to be nearly glowing against the dark sky.
“Safe as anywhere,” Jon says, walking along the side to look for any other cracks in the structure. “We might as well settle in.”
They'll need to deal with the weeds before winter comes or they'll have a soggy mess to pull up by springtime. The roof will need to be patched. The fence might be a dead loss – it's hard to tell with the weeds crowding it out as much as they are – but nothing that would be coming for them would be deterred by a fence anyway. The cracks in the house itself aren't deep. Damaged, but mendable.
Jon looks over to Martin. He's holding stock-still, staring at something near the edge of the fence, and Jon's eyes follow his gaze, waiting for—he's not sure what. A glimpse of Daisy? The hunters? Elias, marching up towards them through the fields?
The rabbit at the edge of the fence looks directly at Jon and its nose twitches. It's a big, fluffy thing, its winter coat coming in, and Martin makes a quiet, delighted noise and tries to take a step forward to get a better look before it jolts and dives further into the weeds.
There's a soft look of wonder on his face, and Jon can't help but smile at the sight of it. Then, abruptly, he turns away from Jon and winces, so quick Jon would have missed it if he wasn't so focused on Martin's face.
“Are you okay to be out here?” Jon asks, and Martin takes a harsh breath before shoving through the weeds and into the house, the door slamming behind him.
Fog begins to roll down from the mountains, softly blanketing the world around them, and Jon nods to himself and pushes the door open to follow Martin.
Martin is huddled against the wall just past the doorway, arms wrapped around his knees, and there is a faint blurriness to his edges. A soft, fading fog where the solidity of his form should be. Jon sighs and sinks to his knees beside Martin, wrapping his arms around him.
“Stay here with me,” he says into Martin's hair. He's so cold.
“It hurts out there,” Martin says, a strange echo to his voice. “I just wanted to, to step out for a moment. Look at the house. See the real world again, but it hurts.”
“I know,” Jon says softly. “I know.”
“No,” Martin says, flat. “You don't.” He lifts his head to meet Jon's eyes, and there is a dullness in his own that makes Jon's heart clench. Jon holds him tighter, willing him to stay. It feels like such a fragile thing, Martin's presence here, a ghost half-ready to pass on.
“No, I don't,” Jon admits after a moment. “But whatever you need, I. I'm here for. Let's just—focus on the inside today, alright?”
Martin nods mutely.
“I love you,” Jon says. He realizes, abruptly, that this is the first time he's ever said it.
Martin doesn't respond, but he takes Jon's hand in his own and squeezes, and the edges of him fill out a bit more. Jon does and doesn't know what it's like. Something about the dullness in Martin's eyes makes him remember the months leading up to the Unknowing, the points where everything around him became too much and he went numb and the only thing he could think, over and over, was it's all falling apart. This specific pain he doesn't know. His own becoming was a painful thing, but the worst of it happened during the coma.
Looking at Martin, at the drawn, hungry look on his face, he does not get the sense that Martin got the luxury of being unaware of his own transformation.
“Yeah,” Martin says, visibly pulling himself together. “Right, then! Inside. Can you get the bags out of the boot?”
Jon nods and pushes himself to his feet with a groan. Martin isn't fine, he's not stupid, but it seems like the bravado is more for Martin than for him, and that's something they can work with.
“Jon, have you seen the dustpan?” Martin calls from the bedroom, and when he doesn't get an immediate answer he steps out, hair pushed back out of his face with a cheap headband he'd found abandoned in the bathroom, sleeves rolled up, a towel over one shoulder and a broom in hand. He's looked better, the past few days. Keeping himself busy seems to be helping. Jon tries not to cling too much, but the proximity doesn't seem to be hurting, either. He's still as pale as ever, but there's more life to his eyes.
Watching the muscles in his arms move as he busies himself cleaning is distracting in a way that Jon is not used to dealing with. Jon blinks, startled out of his own thoughts. He's still holding the rag he'd been using to scrub out a suspiciously red stain on the wall in the front room, but it's going dry.
“Jon. Are you, um. Are you just watching me clean?” Martin asks after a moment, and Jon flushes.
“I might be,” he hedges, and he gets a real smile for that.
“You're supposed to be helping,” Martin scolds, setting the broom aside and coming up to him, and it feels as natural as anything to thread his fingers through Martin's hair on the pretext of “think I saw a cobweb,” which makes Martin yelp and stick his own fingers into his hair, only to have Jon entwine them, trapping their joined hands behind Martin's head--a move that was much smoother and involved less flailing in Jon's head, but Martin gets the idea and leans down to kiss him anyway, just a quick, affectionate peck on the lips.
Martin's lips are soft and as cold as the rest of him, and Jon leans up for another taste, openmouthed and wet, and he's nearly lost to it when there's a sudden nip of pain and his eyes fly open wide. Martin draws back, a hand over his mouth, and Jon's tongue darts out reflexively to lick the blood now welling from his own lip.
“Sorry,” Martin yelps, eyes wide and fixed on Jon's mouth. “I'm so sorry, Jon, I didn't – I didn't mean to.”
“It's alright,” Jon says, grabbing Martin's arm before he can flee back to the bedroom. “Martin. Look at me.”
He keeps his voice soft but lets the compulsion wind around his words, and Martin slowly lifts his head, unable to do anything else. There are a hundred different things Jon thinks about telling Martin, a hundred different reassurances he could offer.
“You're still you, no matter what he did to you,” he settles on finally, leaning in to kiss Martin again. “And I'm not afraid of you.”
“Well, yeah, you're the scarier one,” Martin says, his laugh going shaky. He rubs at his eyes. “Sorry. Sorry, that was an awful thing to say. It's just—it's all a lot, right now?”
“Yeah,” Jon says, and he knows his smile is tired. “That part I understand.”
They just breathe for a moment, keeping each other close, and then Martin leans down, almost shy, catching Jon's mouth again. Jon wraps his arms around Martin's neck and holds on, letting himself be pressed against the wall as the kiss deepens. There's a faint taste of blood in Martin's mouth. It makes him shudder, whining into the kiss as he arches forward for more contact, and this time when Martin pulls away he's panting.
“You know what's funny?” Martin asks, and Jon looks up at him, dazed. “I don't, uh. I don't think I really need to breathe anymore? It just seems weird to give up the habit.” He laughs, but his eyes are tearing up a little again.
“You get used to it,” Jon says, bringing one of Martin's hands to his chest and holding his breath until the reflexive need for air passes.
“Oh, good,” Martin says, and then it's like the drive up to Scotland, the both of them laughing because it's either do that or cry, curled in on each other and shaking. They end up in a heap on the floor, amid the lingering dust and the scattering of cleaning rags.
“Not much in the way of tea here, is there,” Jon says into the silence, and Martin hmms against his skin. He doesn't bother bringing up the lack of food. Martin doesn't need the reminder that neither of them need to eat. Tea, at least, they can still do, and he knows it will make Martin feel better to be able to make it when he's feeling poorly. “I can head down into the village tomorrow. Check in with Basira.”
“Will you be okay there? Around people, I mean.”
“I'll be fine,” Jon says, stroking through his hair. He's hungry, but not starving. Peter Lukas was a meal that will last him a while. He'll just have to be—careful, not look too hard into anyone's eyes, hope that in such a tiny village there will be no one marked.
Jon slips out at first light. It's not a long walk to the village, a bit under two kilometers, mainly down an old winding dirt road with fields rolling out in every direction around him. The grazing land is mostly scrub this time of year but the sun is bright, the sky a brilliant, clear cerulean blue, and he takes in a deep breath. For the first time in a long time, he doesn't feel the weight of Elias's gaze on him, and it's a weight lifted he barely even remembered he was carrying.
Off in the distance, he can see a handful of great, lumbering brown shapes, and as he gets closer he can see the cows, their placid, shaggy faces. They barely acknowledge him, looking up for a moment from their grazing before returning to eating.
“That's fair,” Jon tells them. “Didn't mean to interrupt your breakfast.”
One of them looks back up abruptly at that, and Jon flushes and hurries past, because there is every possibility that the universal translator aspect of being the Archivist could mean he can speak Highland Cow and he has not had the caffeine necessary to unpack that thought. He resolves to tell Martin later. The cows are exactly the sort of thing Martin would want to know about.
There's a phonebox at the edge of town, so he checks in with Basira first. What he gets is about what he expected – the Institute is crawling with police. No one has any idea what happened, and just about every Section 31 is in the building. She hasn't seen Daisy or the other hunters, or the not-Sasha for that matter, but thinks Helen might have picked off Trevor Herbert, because her corridors smell faintly of old cigarette smoke when she opens the door now.
She can send statements up, but not for a few weeks, and he sighs and resigns himself to the hunger as he thanks her and hangs up.
The village itself is a small, quaint thing, one long row of white stone houses on either side of the street, with a church in the distance and a ways up the hill, set back among the trees, a towering stone structure that might have been a castle once. The trees that nestle in among the rows of houses are brilliant reds and yellows, starting to go bare in patches. In one of the yards in the distance, there is a dog barking. The whole place is just – cozy. That's the word he'll use for Martin later, he thinks. Cozy. He gets curious looks as he walks into town, past an old man smoking on his front step, a handful of children playing along the side of the road. No matter what they do, he and Martin are going to be the village curiosities if they stay.
It's not hard to find the village shop; it's the only one with more than one or two people outside it, tucked in between two houses with gray and tan stones speckling the white structure and a lovingly tended row of multicolored flowers in pots out front.
The floor creaks as he enters, a jangling bell announcing his arrival, and the handful of people sitting at old wooden tables in the cafe turn to look at him. The cafe is tucked to one side, the groceries and other odds and ends to the other, and the air smells of fresh pastries and tea. Behind both is a little back room, and his curiosity gets the better of him, worming his way through the cramped room and the curious gazes to get a look at it.
The back room is full of books, floor to ceiling, shelves crammed up against each other. He would have to go sideways to get to some of them, and the overwhelming smell of old books and ink makes his chest ache. It's not about missing the Institute, exactly, but rather mourning what it used to be to him, before everything went sour, and he finds himself swallowing hard against the lump in his throat.
“They're not for sale, dearie,” says a warm, creaky voice behind him, and he turns to look at the old woman standing in the doorway, dressed in a cardigan that reminds him, a bit, of Gertrude. She has a spindly old cat cradled in her arms, a skinny, tortoiseshell thing. “In case you were wondering. It's a library. Of a sort, anyway. They're all mine, but I don't mind sharing.”
“I...” Jon swallows again. “I suppose I live here now. Could I check some out?”
“You suppose?” She raises her eyebrows and smiles. “What, you're not sure?”
“I live in the little cottage up the hill.”
She blinks, and the cat takes a moment to stretch, claws digging into her blouse. “I didn't think anyone lived there.”
“A friend of mine gave it to, ah. My partner and I. We're fixing it up.”
“Well, in that case--” She gives him an appraising once-over. “You can take as much as you can carry, but I want them back in two weeks, or I'll be coming to find you. Do you need groceries? Tea? Something to fix that old place up? Looked to me like the roof was ready to go, can't imagine it's going to be much good in the winter.”
“Ah, I.” Jon blinks. “If you have anything for that. Yes. And I have a list.” He holds out the list Martin put together, cheerily listing tea and milk and sugar and a dozen odds and ends for repairing the house, complete with a little heart at the bottom. Before Jon knows quite what's happening, he's in the backseat of someone's car, a basket full of supplies and a stack of books beside him, holding a piping-hot cup of tea in each hand. He feels a bit like a whirlwind just hit him.
Martin doesn't come outside – it's too sunny to do it this morning – but he pokes his head out the door to watch as Jon shuffles towards the house, arms laden, still awkwardly thanking the man from the cafe that gave him a ride back. He grins.
“Thank you for bringing him back!” he calls, and the man – Oliver, Jon knows, though he didn't actually give his name – nods and gives a wave before climbing back into his car.
“Well,” Martin says, as Jon finally finishes getting everything in the door. “Making friends, then?”
Jon hands him his cup of tea before settling down heavily on the floor. “I think Gertrude would have liked the woman who runs the shop in town.”
Martin settles down on the floor beside him and takes a long sip of his tea. “Tell me about her? And the village – what's the village like?”
“First,” Jon says, leaning his head on Martin's shoulder, “you should hear about the cows.”
Martin's eyes light up.
When the sun starts to go down, Martin has found in the past few days that he can go outside a little, if he bundles up with a hoodie and an umbrella and gloves, and while Jon is sure it doesn't help their burgeoning reputation as the village eccentrics, he looks so incandescently happy that Jon wouldn't deny him for a second. He deserves to have this little piece of joy.
They walk along the road to the village just far enough to see the cows as the sunlight fades away, bathing the world in crimson, and Martin coos at every cow he meets, reaching out to them to try and pet their noses. He's named all the ones he's seen so far. Jon doesn't have the heart to tell him that he's named one of them twice, but Gladys Ann is a very good cow and she can earn a little double-booking if she likes. Jon slips his hand into Martin's and squeezes, and Martin leans in to kiss him, with only the setting sun and two of Martin's very favorite cows as witnesses.
Jon isn't at the point where he's stopped being afraid that this will all be taken from him. That he'll wake up one day and Martin will be gone, dispersed into fog, and he'll be back in his bed in his flat in London, with Elias watching over his every move. It would be starting to get easier, with these routines they're settling into, except -
Martin hasn't fed yet. Hasn't brought it up, even. Jon doesn't know how long Martin's sort of vampire can go without feeding, but he knows it isn't forever.
“Let's go home,” Jon says softly into Martin's ear as the last of daylight fades away. Tonight, they'll talk about it.
He puts the kettle on to boil as Martin strips out of his layers, hanging up the umbrella on the makeshift coat rack they put together out of a thin bit of firewood. Martin comes up behind him, then, wrapping his arms around Jon's waist from behind, and as he leans back into it Jon bares his neck. Martin's grip tightens fractionally and he takes a quick breath, and Jon doesn't have the right words to explain how often he's thought about this, how much he wants Martin to just give in and take and drink from him.
“Why haven't you fed yet?” he murmurs, and Martin tenses further, makes to pull back, but Jon wraps his hands around Martin's, keeping them interlocked at his waist. “Aren't you hungry?”
“Of course I am,” Martin says, tortured. “Jon, don't.”
“It's okay. You can.”
“It's not okay.”
“Martin.” Jon closes his eyes, letting the static rise in the air between them. “Tell me why you haven't bitten me.”
He can hear the sharp intake of breath. “That's not fair,” Martin manages to choke out before the rest of the words start spilling out, one after the other.
“I want to bite you all the time,” Martin says. “I look at you and sometimes all I can hear is the blood. It would be so easy. You're so light, I could just—just pick you up, you know? But if I let myself bite you I--” He breaks off, laughs nervously. “I become the monster I'm afraid of. I know I have to feed eventually, I'm not stupid, but if I give in I don't really know if I'm going to be able to stop. What if I hurt you? I can't do this alone, Jon. I can't be out here all on my own, just a monster looking for someone to pick off for his next meal. I'd rather starve.”
“You can't hurt me,” Jon says.
“And this is why I didn't tell you, you think you're invincible, so of course you would--” Martin cuts himself off as Jon takes a knife out of the kitchen block and draws a long, deep line down the center of his own palm. “What are you doing?”
Jon holds it out in front of both of them, and before their eyes the wound knits closed before more than a shallow gout of blood is able to trickle down onto Jon's wrist. Martin swears and whirls the two of them around, backing up until Jon's pinned against the wall by the bulk of him, and all Jon can do is reach out to hold onto Martin's shirt as Martin leans in, nosing along the length of his neck.
“Never do that again,” he hisses, and when he looks Jon in the eyes again Jon can see that his fangs have lengthened, sharpened to needle points. A little helpless noise escapes Jon's throat.
“Please,” he says, fingers tightening in Martin's shirt, and Martin makes a tortured sound and leans in, and from one breath to the next his fangs are sinking in to the curve of Jon's neck, agonizingly slow. For one bright, blinding moment it just hurts and Jon fights the urge within himself to struggle away. Martin needs this.
The pain goes to his head, makes the whole world white out for a second, and just like that Martin starts to suck at the wound and the pain turns into something else entirely, a shocking, bone-deep pleasure that makes Jon moan outright and clutch at Martin harder, trying to get more, trying to feel more of the way he can feel Martin's fangs pulling out of his broken flesh just a little only to sink in again, coaxing more blood onto his tongue. Martin is making soft, contented noises, hand cupped around the other side of Jon's neck to hold him in place as he sucks, tongue dipping into the rapidly-closing wounds left behind as he draws back to bite into new, unmarked skin. It feels so good Jon can't help but move, hands slipping from Martin's shoulders to his waist to try and pull Martin against him, and Martin chuckles and gets the hint, pressing a leg in between Jon's to give him something to grind against.
“Jon?” Martin asks, voice buzzing against the spit-slick skin. “Are you okay?”
“More,” Jon begs without even meaning to, words slipping out, and he can feel Martin's answering grin as he bites again. Sucks, drawing Jon's blood out in two long, smooth swallows, licks across the wounds, and all Jon can do is hold on and grind against him harder, feeling the heat and pleasure spiraling up his spine, so close to what he needs, and when Martin slides a hand into his hair and tugs as he sinks his teeth in deep a final time, the little spark of pain that accompanies it is enough to push Jon over the edge, whimpering helplessly as the whole world goes blank for one dizzying, bright moment.
“God,” Martin breathes, licking the last of the wounds closed and pulling back. “Jon.”
It takes a moment for Jon to remember how to open his eyes, how to speak, but when he does he sees Martin, looking down at him with absolute reverence, mouth stained crimson and a flush on his cheeks. He's hard against Jon's thigh, and Jon kisses him, wet and openmouthed, licking the taste of his own blood from Martin's mouth as Martin shudders against him.
“What do you want?” he asks. His head is still spinning from the blood loss, but he can already feel the last of his flesh knitting back together, the rush of new blood being produced to fill the absence left behind by Martin's teeth, and he knows that he could keep feeding Martin over and over tonight and not put himself at any real risk. It's an intoxicating thought.
“Anything, Jon, anything you want,” Martin chokes out, and Jon drops to his knees and starts fumbling with the button of Martin's trousers. There's something hot and visceral in the thought of getting his mouth on Martin in return, and he barely hesitates before yanking Martin's trousers and boxers down to his knees and diving in, hand wrapped around the base and other hand braced on Martin's thigh as he sinks down in one motion.
He's not done this since the early days of college experimentation, but it's satisfying, the thick weight on his tongue, the way Martin's voice cracks on Jon's name as he licks across the head. He bobs his head faster, spit gathering at the corners of his mouth making obscene slick noises every time he pushes his head down, and Martin's fingers slide into his hair, not pushing, but keeping him steady where he is. He can feel Martin's thigh shaking under his hand, and he pulls off until just the head of Martin's cock rests heavy on his tongue as Martin comes, filling his mouth and shifting a little deeper as he twitches through the aftershocks.
“Haah,” Martin manages, folding to the floor beside Jon once Jon pulls off him. “You're so – wow.”
“I'm so wow?” Jon teases, and Martin swats at him.
“I didn't know you were interested in all of this,” Martin admits after a moment.
Jon shrugs. “It's complicated? A lot of the time that's true, sometimes it's not. But, ah. Being bitten feels very good, if you weren't aware.”
Martin flushes. Jon realizes it's the first time in a long time he's seen it; Martin has the spare blood to blush, now.
“Good,” Martin says, twisting his hands in his lap. “I'm glad it wasn't awful. Are you feeling okay now? Not too dizzy? I'll make us a cup of tea--”
“Martin.” Jon can't help but smile. “I'm fine.”
Martin insists on the cup of tea anyway. It's made perfectly, like always.
“Jon,” Martin asks, one day several weeks later, “when are the statements from Basira getting here? You're getting... twitchy.”
Jon looks up from his book, startled out of his thoughts, and it's only then that he realizes he's been furiously tapping his foot as he reads. The hunger curling low in his gut is so familiar he barely acknowledges it, most days, but he has been getting snappish. Headaches out of nowhere. He'll be in the middle of pulling the last of the weeds out of the yard and all of a sudden he'll be hit with a rush of dizziness. He curses under his breath. He's had these signs before, and he knows perfectly well what they mean.
“They're at the post office,” he says, and then blinks at himself. “Right. They're at the post office. Good.”
Martin sets a cup of tea down in front of him.
“I don't think you should go,” he says carefully, sitting down beside Jon on the couch. “Not without eating first. Didn't your grandmother ever tell you not to go to the shops when you're hungry?”
She didn't; that was the sort of practical advice she expected Jon to take as a given without being told, but then, Jon doubts very much Martin's mother ever told him such a thing either. He raises an eyebrow at Martin, but can acknowledge that he's right. There's a man in town who gets books from the library at the same time as him sometimes who lost a brother to the Spiral when they were children, and every day Jon sees him the questions feel closer to the tip of his tongue.
“We are rather sparse on spare statements for me to eat in the meantime,” Jon points out. It's easier as of late, in some ways, to acknowledge that that's what he eats now. Having a partner who regularly consumes your blood has a way of clarifying things.
“There's one you haven't taken,” Martin says, taking Jon's hand, and Jon goes very still.
“You feed me every other day. I can't give you this once?”
“It's not the same. You know that.”
“I'm still part of the archives, you know,” Martin says, taking a sip of Jon's forgotten tea. “That should protect me from the worst of it. And even if you do show up in my dreams... Jon, I have nightmares about it all the time. Having you in them isn't going to make them worse.”
“I still don't think--”
Martin closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and the tape recorder on the rickety end table beside the couch clicks on. His eyes glow ever so faintly when he opens them.
“Statement of Martin Blackwood, regarding becoming a vampire. Original statement given October 30, 2019.”
He pauses and Jon fills in the rest, the words dragged out of him.
“I first started working with Peter because I wanted to die,” Martin begins, and Jon's heart aches. “I thought I had lost everything. First you and then my mother, and we were under attack all the time at work. You know, I'd thought the others were my friends, before? But those six months you were gone, it all fell apart. We all fought all the time, and I didn't have a reason to keep going. So when Peter started trying to isolate me, I went along. And once you were back, it became about keeping you safe. Keeping his eyes off you.
I didn't realize until it was too late that he wasn't human. And not just in the regular avatar sense, if that makes sense? He didn't let people get close, you know. It wasn't until you woke up that he started feeding on me, and by then I was ready to do anything to make sure he didn't target you instead. I could lie and say it didn't feel good when he did it, like it does for you, but it did. But it just isolated me further to need it like I did.
I didn't heal like you do. I was tired all the time. Never had any energy to go out with the others. It was hard to get my thoughts to focus. I think that was part of the game. Keeping me strong enough to do my job, but weak enough that there wasn't much fight left in me. But it was a hard balance to strike, and the more I stopped taking care of myself, the more I was on the wrong end of that balance. I think it did start to kill me, in the end. But he was happy with how I was doing. He kept talking about how well I was progressing and finally, he told me about his family.
When you get to a certain age, you get told the truth. About the Powers, about the Lonely, and then someone from the previous generation turns you. Usually not your parents. I guess it's lonelier to be killed and turned by your great aunt once removed. You definitely don't know her as well, anyway. Peter said it was his uncle that had done it for him.
And then he took me to his house and said it was a gift he was going to give me. I didn't have much fight in me, and I'd been drained to the point of passing out pretty often in the past couple of weeks, so when the world started going dark I expected it. And then he cut his wrist open with his teeth and shoved it to my mouth and told me to drink. I almost just let myself fade, but I guess part of me was still afraid to let go like that, so I drank. And then it started to hurt.
I know I say it hurts to go outside in the daylight, and it does. It's like all of your skin is sunburned at once, that awful, inescapable stinging heat. This was worse. This was inside, and I could feel it in every part of me. Have you ever thought about how many veins you have in your body? Now imagine feeling every single one of them burning at once. I think I screamed. I know after a while my body just gave out under the stress and I blacked out. When I woke up, I wasn't very with it. Someone's neck was against my mouth and I drank without even meaning to. I drank and drank, way longer than I've ever done with you. I don't know who it was. Someone Peter found. I don't know what happened to them. And then the pain started again and the world went dark again.
I stayed like that for three days. Drinking when the blood was against my mouth and then just – back to oblivion. I don't know who I hurt, or how badly. Eventually I started being able to move, to think, and Peter clapped me on the shoulder and congratulated me for surviving the change. Apparently not everyone does.
And then he brought me back to the Institute. Two days later, he said we were ready to deal with the Extinction. That I was perfect now. You know the rest.
“Martin,” Jon manages, reaching out to pull him into a hug.
“It does feel good to finally tell you,” Martin admits, his whole body sagging into Jon's. “I don't think about it every day like I used to, but it was a lot to deal with at first. It's weird, but I don't think he actually meant any harm by it? I think to him that was just how the world worked.”
“And Elias told me I was perfect, too,” Jon says, stroking through Martin's hair. “That doesn't absolve either of them.”
“Perfect for what?” Martin frowns.
Jon hesitates. “I don't know. For whatever plans he never got the chance to bring about, I suppose. Anyway. Thank you. That was... difficult to hear, but thank you.”
Even with the meal, Jon nearly starts in on the first statement on the walk back to the cottage. There's a thick sheaf of them in a manila envelope and a small box of tapes, and he knows he'll have to pace himself or risk Martin offering himself up again, but one of them in particular sings to him so sweetly his fingers are halfway to undoing the clasp on the envelope before he blinks back into awareness.
Martin is waiting for him when he returns, cup of tea in hand, and he takes the envelope out of Jon's hands.
“I just want to take a look,” he says, batting away Jon's reaching hands. “Maybe some of these are ones that I've already read.”
“I'm sure that wouldn't make a difference,” Jon wheedles, and then stops, because Martin has pulled one statement part of the way out and is staring at it with a strange, frozen expression on his face.
“Jon,” he says, low and very purposefully calm. “Close your eyes and stay where you are.”
“What?” Jon asks, but he obeys. In the stillness behind his eyes, he can hear the fire that gently crackles away in the fireplace suddenly intensify, and the statement that was calling to him so clearly abruptly ceases to be. He sucks in a deep breath, a weight he didn't realize suddenly lifted, and it's only then that he trusts himself to open his eyes. Martin is staring into the flames with an expression Jon doesn't have a clue how to read.
“Martin?” he asks. “What was that?”
Martin sits down on the floor in front of the fire, back to him. “The statement. It had cobwebs between all of the pages,” he says carefully. “So I pulled it out a little ways to read it. Two lines down, do you know what it said?”
Jon sits down beside him, letting the fire chase away the chill that sunk into his bones during his walk. “What?” he asks. He's almost afraid to know.
“Hello, Jon,” Martin quotes, still staring into the fire.
They're both silent for a long moment.
“Elias, I expect,” Jon says softly.
“What do you think would have happened if you'd read it?” Martin asks.
“I don't know,” Jon says. “But I don't think it would be anything good.”
That night, he dreams of a ruined world, an endless wasteland pockmarked by the touch of the other powers, and in the distance, a great tower stretching up towards the sky, all dark stone and marble, a nightmare cross between the Institute and a building far more ancient. It calls to him. It sees him. It wants him for its own.
He wakes with a scream, and the unbearable weight of being watched takes a long time to fade.
“Jon?” Martin asks, already curling tighter around him.
“Just a dream,” Jon says, burying his face in Martin's chest, and the voice that comes out of him is not quite his own when he says, “or a look into another world, maybe.”
“... What does that mean?”
“It means we need to be very, very careful about screening anything that comes from the Institute from now on.”
“Are you sure we can't just pop down to London and kill Elias instead?” Martin sounds both like he's joking and like he's absolutely not joking, a little smile to his voice, and Jon sighs.
“I... don't think that would be a very good idea. We're safe enough here. We'll just have to be careful.”
“Right,” Martin says. He kisses the top of Jon's head. “We should get some sleep. Big plans tomorrow.”
“We've got two whole changes of clothes to wash in the sink and a roof to finish patching,” Martin says. “Elias's spooky designs will have to wait.”
“Right,” Jon says. He closes his eyes and burrows in further against Martin, head pillowed against the soft parts of his chest. “You're right. Big plans.”
He doesn't remember the rest of his dreams that night.
Jon wakes late in the afternoon, the sun already beginning to dip below the horizon, and he shivers, wrapping an old, faded quilt of Martin's around his shoulders as he pads to the kitchen. It's starting to get cold quicker these days. Martin is stoking the fire in the woodstove, humming a tune Jon doesn't recognize as he prods at the logs with a poker, and on top of the woodstove the kettle has just begun to whistle. There are two mugs set out on the kitchen table.
“Morning,” Jon says, settling into one of the chairs. Martin looks up and smiles at him, and Jon ducks his head to hide just how wide his answering smile is. It's still a little embarrassing, in some ways, the things just looking at Martin makes him feel.
“Morning,” Martin says. “Or, afternoon, I guess? Here, tea should be hot.” He gets up and leans down to kiss Jon as he retrieves the mugs from the table, just a quick, affectionate peck. “Do you think it's going to be too cold to hang the clothes out to dry tonight?” He gestures to the mass of suds and black fabric soaking in the sink.
“We can thaw them later,” Jon says, smiling as he watches Martin busy himself with adding milk and sugar to the two cups. “But we'll need to figure out how we're drying them this winter. In front of the fireplace, maybe?”
“If something sets on fire, are you going to Know? Not exactly a fire alarm in here!” Martin laughs a little. “I'd rather not end up burning the cottage down because I wanted dry jeans, you know?”
He hands Jon back his mug and Jon takes a quick sip, a little too hot but as perfect as ever, and he lets himself relax. Today he'll finish up patching the roof, and once the sun goes down Martin will chop more wood for the fire, and then they'll settle in in front of the fireplace, safe and warm, and Jon will read the two of them a book he brought back with him when he went to go pick up the statements.
“I think we'll be okay,” Jon says softly, and then he unbuttons the top two buttons of his shirt and lets the blanket pool around his waist. “Come have a bite to eat before you get back to the laundry.”
“Right,” Martin says. He moves close, bracing himself on the table as he leans down and kisses the curve of Jon's neck. His eyes are half-lidded already, and he lets his teeth gently graze the skin, a tease of a bite that makes Jon shudder, before sinking his fangs in. Jon grips the table hard with both hands and whines as the sharp pain of it turns to that overwhelming, unearthly pleasure, barely able to stop himself begging for more as Martin takes two deep, lingering swallows and pulls back, licking his lips. This is just a quick top-up. There will be time for more later.
“You alright?” Martin asks, and Jon nods, eyes closed. He just wants to sit with the feeling for a moment.
It's not long before they lose sun entirely, and Jon is halfway through nailing in the last replacement shingles when he realizes that the world around them has gone dark. Out here in the countryside, normally they can see every star in the sky, bright and clear as crystal, stretching out into vast eternity, but tonight the sky is covered by a gentle blanket of clouds instead. Martin is below him, the rhythmic thud of the axe as he splits wood, but other than that the world is perfectly silent. No birds, no distant sounds of animals. It's a peaceful silence, somehow. A safe one.
“Jon,” Martin calls from below, and Jon nearly tumbles off the roof in his haste to look over the side. “Jon, look up! It's snowing!” His round face is bright and he's smiling so wide it makes Jon's chest ache. He holds out both hands and tips his head up towards the sky, sticking his tongue out to try and catch the flakes, and Jon makes quick work of clambering down off the roof to join him.
The snow drifts down in gentle, fat flakes, slowly starting to settle on the world around them. One lands on Martin's nose, and Martin laughs, a strange but delighted thing, when he realizes that his skin is cold enough that it doesn't melt immediately, and all Jon can do is pull him in to a kiss, try to share in this little moment of joy with him. Martin's mouth is cool, but warmer than the air, and Jon wraps gloved hands around him and holds him close.
“I love you,” Martin says, between kisses. “I realized the other day that I don't say it back very much.”
“I know you mean it anyway,” Jon says. “Don't worry about that.”
“I know.” Martin beams, holding a bare hand out to catch another snowflake and watching the way it settles into his palm and stays. “You know, I never thought I could like being cold, and yet...”
They watch the world together for a long, quiet moment, snow beginning to build up on the crooked fence posts, turning the gray-green remnants of the fields a soft white, frosting the tips of the trees. Behind them, the cottage is warm and bright, casting gentle light onto the sparkling white of fresh fallen snow, and Jon squeezes Martin's hand.
“Let's go in,” he says, and kisses Martin again.
“Don't forget your tools this time,” Martin teases, squeezing Jon's hand once before letting go to start gathering up the firewood. “You're lucky you can Know where you've left nails. I still think it's cheating.”
“It is rather cheating, isn't it,” Jon says, although it is cheating he certainly intends to keep doing.
Inside, the fire crackles on, gently warming the little house, and Jon's barely got his hammer and the box of nails set down before Martin is on him again, pinning him up against the kitchen counter and leaning in close. His face is flushed a healthy pink with Jon's blood, and there's more intent to it when he kisses Jon this time, letting it linger, just the faint promise of his fangs scraping against Jon's lip.
“Is this alright?” he breathes against Jon's mouth, and Jon nods frantically. He wants Martin to bite him, and Martin just – wants, and tonight, tucked away safe and warm as the world outside is blanketed in quiet, getting his hands on Martin's skin is all he can think about.
Martin carries him to the bedroom, barely a grunt of exertion before he's scooped up, and he yelps and clings to Martin's neck. Martin is bigger than him, but in moments like this he feels it more keenly than ever. Martin is gentle when he lets Jon down onto the sheets, and from there it's a clumsy, mad dash to unbutton shirts and shuck socks and trousers, Jon's elbow colliding with Martin's side and Martin laughing against the bare skin of Jon's collarbone as Jon swears at his one remaining stubborn sock. He never does get undressed the whole way. Martin leans over him and dips his head down to kiss his neck and he goes limp with the promise of it.
“Do you want me to?” Martin asks, and Jon whines and nods. He shouldn't like it as much as he does, being bitten. Giving this to Martin. But some days, it's all he can think about.
“Jon,” Martin says, his voice so tender even as he drags just the tips of his fangs along Jon's skin, “tell me?”
Fine. Fine. Jon huffs and winds his fingers into Martin's hair, keeping his head where it is. “Please,” he says, and he's barely gotten the word out before Martin's fangs sink in. The initial press in, the sweet, lingering pain of it, drives him out of his head entirely, and even before the pleasure of it drowns him he's moaning, arching up to get more of it, to drive Martin's fangs in deeper. He can feel the suction as Martin takes his blood in long, satisfied swallows, the soft noises of contentment he makes.
“You taste so good,” Martin says, his voice shaky, and Jon's fingers tighten in his hair, trying to draw him back. All he can think is more. “God, look at you.”
“Please,” Jon says again, shifting his hips. Martin slips a hand down between them, and Jon hadn't even noticed how wet he was, lost in it all, but when Martin slides two fingers into him they go slick and easy. He nods, beyond speech again, keeps nodding when Martin teases at him with a third finger and then presses it in alongside the first two, a tighter fit, but the little edge of pain sweetens it, makes him suck in a sharp breath. Martin is hard against his thigh, hips rocking as his fingers work, and all Jon can think of is having him closer. He reaches down and wraps a hand around Martin's cock, watches as Martin's eyes flutter closed and his mouth hangs open, and he wants Martin's fangs back in him, wants Martin's cock in him, wants to feel him everywhere.
“Can I?” Martin asks, and Jon breathes out a yes that doesn't even come out as a whole word, just a desperate, approving huff of air, and just like that Martin is lining himself up and pressing in, the long, sweet stretch of him almost too much, riding the edge of pleasure and pain. Jon tugs at Martin's hair again and Martin's teeth sink into his neck, slow, making him feel every movement, and the fullness of it all, Martin inside him in two ways, makes him cry out. Martin starts to suck again, smaller pulls, his hips working as he draws out little mouthfuls of blood, and Jon digs his nails into Martin's back and moves with him, urging him on, to take more, to fill him up deeper, every movement of his hips and of his fangs driving the thoughts from his head.
He shudders apart between one bite and the next, legs like a vice wrapped around Martin's hips to hold him deep as he comes, clenching around him, shaking all over, and Martin makes a helpless, wild noise and presses forward all the way to the root, biting down hard as he comes deep inside Jon. He sucks gently as he comes down, barely taking in blood, just the comfort of having his mouth on Jon, and Jon sighs and holds him close.
“Okay?” Martin asks, and Jon can't help but laugh.
“Yes, Martin,” he says, stroking Martin's hair. Martin is still inside him, and he wishes he could stay like this. Just a little longer. Martin feels so good in him. “Very okay.”
Outside their bedroom window, the snow continues to drift down, blanketing the world in white, but in here, he's safe and warm and known. He has Martin. A roof over his head, a bed big enough to sleep in, and a little pocket of peace.
For the first time in his life, Jon feels almost lucky.
“I think I might go down to the village,” Martin says, some time later. They're bundled up with blankets and quilts but still naked, skin to skin, the world around them dark save for the faint light from the fireplace in the front room. “Tomorrow, I mean.”
Jon hmms against his skin. “Are you sure it's safe?” he asks, pressing a kiss to Martin's bare collarbone.
“I can bundle up without anyone thinking it's weird now that it's, you know, proper winter.” Martin points out. “And as long as it's still snowing tomorrow I think it'll be okay.”
“And the people?”
Martin huffs out a little laugh. “Got to remember how to be around people again eventually.”
They lapse into silence again, and it's a long moment before Jon has the words in the right order to say them. “Martin,” he begins, careful.
“I'm proud of you.”
“Wanting to go to the village. Be around, ah. Humans. It's a big step.”
“I get where you're coming from but I cannot stress enough how bloody weird it is for you to call them humans like that,” Martin says, half-suppressing a giggle. He's quiet for a moment, and then adds, “but, thanks. I am trying.”
“I know you are.” Jon strokes a soothing hand down Martin's bare side, and the coolness of his skin is almost comforting. “Just be careful, alright?”
“I will. I promise.”
When Jon wakes, the bed beside him is empty. The sky outside is a dark, ominous grey, and the snow falls heavier than the previous night, carpeting the world in white. He sighs and pushes himself out of bed, leaving the blankets behind. The kitchen is quiet and still, and the fire in the fireplace is burning down to coals. There's no sign of Martin in the house, and it makes Jon's heart pound so quickly he nearly goes sick with it until he sees the note on the kitchen table.
Going down to the village! I remembered your list of books, don't worry. I'll see you in a few hours. Don't worry yourself too much!
PS – this means you're on laundry duty. Get scrubbing! :)
Jon smiles down at the note for a long moment and then goes to throw another log on the fire, settling in to the morning routine. Get the woodstove started from the fireplace, get the kettle heated, set some aside for tea and some aside for getting the laundry water warm, get a hairtie and tie on an apron, find the last of the soap and the scrubbing brush, heat up more water for the rinsewater, wring out, hang up. He goes through the motions mechanically, humming under his breath as he works, and it's only the blast of cold air that makes him register that Martin's come back.
“No welcome home?” Martin teases, taking the bags and baskets off his arms, the little sliver of skin high on his cheekbones that's showing a vibrant cherry-red. He unwinds his scarf and yelps as Jon pulls him in, batting at his damp, soapy hands, but soon enough gives in and leans in to the kiss properly.
There's a strange noise from one of the baskets Martin's brought back, and he breaks off the kiss to look down at it nervously.
“... Martin,” Jon says, raising an eyebrow.
“I can explain!” Martin says, and he removes the fleecy blanket covering the basket to reveal something small and furry and squirming. “I—don't be mad, Jon, I found her in the snow and she looked so cold, I couldn't just leave her.” He picks up the tiny, bedraggled black fluff and cradles her in his arms, and she looks up at Jon with big, sad blue eyes. She's barely more than a handful in Martin's hands.
“A kitten?” Jon asks, tentatively reaching out to scratch her behind its ears, smiling as she pushes itself against his hand. “Martin, how old is she? If she still needs a bottle, I don't know if we're going to be able to get food for her.” His heart aches already, looking at this weak, abandoned thing cradled so gently in Martin's arms.
“I found her on the way in to the village and David—he used to be a vet before he retired, I guess?--had a look at her. He thinks she's about nine weeks old, but probably the runt of her litter. And, you know.” Martin sighs, looking down at her. “She's a black cat. People think they're bad luck and leave them behind.”
“You don't look like bad luck to me,” Jon coos at her, and she yawns and stretches in Martin's arms, claws digging in to his shirt. “Come on, let's get her warmed up. And we should check her for fleas.”
She isn't a fan of being wrapped in a towel and it takes the both of them to keep her in place as Jon dries her off, but once she's no longer waterlogged she seems happier, purring and rubbing against both of their legs before finding a warm spot in front of the fire to curl up in, and before long her paws are twitching with dreams.
“You know,” Martin says, looking over at her, a tinge of melancholy in his voice. “I always wanted a pet. But with everything with my mother, moving around as much as we did, never being home...” He sighs. “Should we name her?”
“I was thinking Nepenthe,” Jon says, taking Martin's hand and squeezing it.
“It's from the Odyssey. A medicine to 'chase away all sorrow.'” Jon looks at the peaceful sleeping form in front of the fire, the way her ears twitch as her chest rises and falls, and a soft smile curls at his lips.
“I like that,” Martin says, smiling at him. “Penny for short?”
Jon sighs, fond and indulgent. “If you must. Let's get the rest of the things unpacked.”
Later, they will curl up together on the couch under a pile of blankets, warmed by the fire, and watch the snow still gently falling outside. Nepenthe will burrow in with them, and they'll laugh and yelp and try to reposition so her claws aren't digging into sensitive skin. Jon will read a book to the both of them, or Martin will work on learning to knit with the materials he got from one of the women in the village. Jon will play the tape he found of his birthday, all those years ago in the Archive, and he and Martin will sit quietly, holding each other, and think about the people they left behind and be all the more glad they still have each other.
And for the first time in a long time, they'll be at peace.