There is something to be said about healing.
Jon has never been any good at it, of course. He was never a very active child, but he can distinctly remember tripping and spraining his ankle years ago when he was too attached to a book to pay much attention to his surroundings. He had walked on the wound for three straight weeks afterwards, had poked and prodded at the dull purple bruising of it, had carefully remained neutral with hope each day that it would heal on its own and he wouldn’t have to tell his grandmother.
When he finally did and she dragged him to the doctor’s, he had ended up asking the man so many questions about what he was doing that Jon thinks he would have kicked them out if he could.
There is something to be said about healing, and how a wound isn’t interesting until it festers, how Jon has never cared to pay attention to small scrapes and bruises until he’s already rotting and trying to figure out where exactly everything went so wrong.
Tim didn’t come back quite right.
Jon still isn’t sure who tried to put him back together, but he still can’t bring himself to ask, the question constantly lingering at the tip of his tongue. But this is one answer his God won’t force him to wrench out of someone.
Tim didn’t come back quite right, his elbows turned to ball-joints, his fingers no longer quite as clever or quite as graceful due to their rigidity, the waxy plastic of his body melting and reforming when he’s not paying enough attention to it. It’s like the Stranger tried to consume him and then spit him right back out, Tim’s taste too bitter, too sure of himself, just for the fire and the destruction to claim him moments later.
Jon supposes it wouldn’t be the first time Tim tried to flirt with two beings at once and ended up in trouble because of it.
Still- still. Tim is alive, even if he is not human. That has to be a good thing, Jon thinks. A victory. Or at least… it has to be okay. Something they can all live with.
His office is directly across from his assistants, and Jon does his best not to watch them through the window on his door. Does his best not to track Tim coming and going as he pleases, the Eye’s grasp on him now loose, ephemeral. Jon is pretty sure he only shows up to collect a paycheck and wait for Elias to return so he can burn the bastard to ash. He tries not to watch the way Melanie stomps through the room, constantly resisting the urge to crumple each statement she picks up in her hands. He carefully looks away from Basira’s calm, self-assured steps, emptier than before without someone by her side. He does not imagine Daisy returning in crumpled clothes from a hunt, safe and alive and steady. His gaze does not linger on the few times Martin does flick into the office, his body faded at the edges where it used to be warm and familiar.
He does not watch the way Tim moves, each step like a half-aborted dance, like a performer doing their best to forget their roots. He moves in beats of threes, Jon notices, like a waltz, occasionally breaking out of it in jarring, angry movements. If Jon closes his eyes and sees in other ways, he can almost imagine Tim in coattails, jauntily dancing across a burning stage with a wide grin on his face, the screams and shrieks from the audience calling for both an encore and a collapse.
But if Jon closes his eyes, he can also imagine the soft rise and fall of Tim’s chest as he lets out a soft laugh, can imagine the proud look on his face when he manages to tell a joke stupid enough to make Jon groan, can imagine the warmth of his hand on his shoulder with no worry that he’ll end up burned from the endeavor.
So Jon tries not to close his eyes, and he tries not to look.
But there is something to be said about healing, and the insistence of it, the natural decay of the universe constantly combated by its need to stitch itself back together again and again and again.
“Tea, boss?” Jon is not startled by the sound of Tim gliding into his office, but he still jumps at the sound of his tone, light and jovial with only a tinge of anger.
The mug is set down carefully onto his desk, the tea steaming up towards Jon and condensing on the glasses he no longer needs. Half of the liquid has already evaporated just from Tim’s touch, Jon notices, but it seems to have cooled enough that it won’t burn him upon touch. Carefully, slowly, Jon looks up at his assistant and takes a sip from the drink, lets it linger and scorch just the tip of his tongue.
“Did Martin drop this off for you?” he asks, voice as neutral as he can make it. He isn’t sure what he wants, if he would prefer to know that Martin is still thinking of him or that Tim could be extending some kind of… peace offering.
But Tim just moves forward, feet tapping out one-two-three until he interrupts it by slumping into the chair in front of Jon’s desk, purposefully turning his body heavy and forceful. Jon knows it’s an anger that isn’t directed towards him, at least, this disruptive dance merely the way Tim moves now.
“Nope,” he slowly says, popping the “p” at the end of the word in a deliberately carefree motion. He drapes his arm over the side of his chair, and Jon watches wax drip down onto his carpet as the other man’s fingers shift and clack. The smile Tim gives him is a little too sharp at the corner, as if he’s tried his best to mold it to look natural but couldn’t quite manage it. Jon has to stop himself from finding the gesture endearing.
Tim watches the surprise on Jon’s face for just a moment, a count of eight, before he says, “Martin is still- y’know, working for the man.” Tim gives a vague wave up towards Elias’ old office. “I think he’s technically higher up than you now, working for the boss directly. Too bad he can’t fire all of us.” Jon huffs out a small laugh, and then a groan when he realizes Tim emphasized the word “fire” on purpose.
“Are the bad puns a part of the Desolation’s fear strategy, or do you just enjoy torturing me?” he drawls, trying to keep his voice light, skipping over the acknowledgment of grief in both their voices at Martin’s constant absence.
“Ah, think you know the answer is yes to both those things, boss,” Tim says with another not-quite-right smile, and Jon’s face softens.
He clears his throat, forcing his eyes that are desperate to see to glance away. “So,” he starts, “Why the tea then?”
Without thinking, his voice ends up laced with compulsion, and the knowledge of it passes through the room between them like a harp plucked wrong, Tim’s face shifting into a neutral expression as the back of Jon’s tongue tingles.
But- but. The Stranger has always been good at opposing the Eye, and as much as Tim hates its claim on him, there’s a reason he hasn’t turned away from it entirely.
“Why not?” Tim asks, head tilting to the side, Jon’s question bypassed with another question. Tim always has been clever, better with words than Jon could ever hope to be. A moment passes, and the compulsion dies. Tim continues. “Figured I didn’t want to do any actual work, and I’m pretty sure this is how Martin used to stall for tasks that he didn’t know how to do. If it worked for him, why not me?”
Jon laughs a little bit at the thought of that. “You know very well that Martin just liked to mother everyone in the office.”
And Tim doesn’t miss a beat before saying, “Pretty sure it wasn’t quite mothering when it was with you.”
There is an acknowledgement of emptiness at that, at the loss that the two of them have experienced with Martin floors away, no longer present to round out of the edges of their banter. Jon shivers a little, despite the body heat radiating off of Tim. He swallows, and the words are out of his mouth as soon as the knowledge passes into his head. “Then it most certainly wasn’t mothering with you, either.”
Tim looks away, and Jon is caught in a memory that isn’t his for a moment, Martin’s face too close, a soft blush on his cheeks, hair slightly ruffled-
He coughs and tries to blink away the memory as Tim leans forward, elbows sinking into his knees as he rests his head on his hands. “No need for jealousy, Archivist,” he says, eyes sly, “Pretty sure-”
But Jon cuts him off before he can continue. “It’s not jealousy,” he says softly.
And he doesn’t elaborate, because for all the knowledge pushing at the back of his head, he still doesn’t know what it is. Doesn’t know anything about the body and what it can be used for other than destruction, other than violence and accusation. Doesn’t want to think about those who have loved him and those who haven’t, doesn’t want to think about his body, too sharp and too hungry, shaped in a way that was not meant to be held. Tim… Tim has always been so much better at all that than him, has always known what to say and how to say it and how to show it. Even like this, he’s still charming, and the look Jon gives him now is crooked; unsure.
But Tim’s expression isn’t exactly confident either as he runs a hand through hair that is a bit too stiff, permanently gelled into place. Slowly, bluntly, like a dance in shoes that aren’t quite right, he says “I loved you once, you know.”
Jon’s mouth opens and closes wordlessly, eyes blinking in surprise as his office lights seem to turn into spotlights.
“No,” Tim says with a shake of his head, “Let me just- let me finish. I keep looking at you sitting here at this stupid, faraway desk of yours, and I know you’re not looking at me and I’m all wrong and I’m not even- I’m not good anymore. They could have tried to make me a little less ugly when they brought me back.” The smile Tim gives at that is unconvincing, the joke falling flat. “I can’t touch people without burning them, y’know, and that- that sucks . I’m angry all the time and I can’t stop lighting shit on fire and I still, I still don’t fucking forgive you. Even after everything, you still left me and we especially can’t help each other now, not when we’re both wrong. But…”
Tim’s voice trails off, and Jon lets out a slow exhale as he realizes he’s been holding his breath.
“But I loved you once. Really, I’ve always fallen for people too quickly, so this probably doesn’t even mean much. I figured a confession might be worth something to you, though.” Tim lets out a frustrated groan, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands and moving them slightly out of place. “God, this was a stupid idea. Thought this would be more cathartic, or something, but I just want to light your desk on fire-”
“Please don’t!” Jon interjects, “Last time you did that, it took Peter a week to order a replacement, which really was quite the inconvenience.” Tim lets out a harsh, almost manic laugh, and Jon can’t help the smile that blooms on his own face.
The room eventually falls silent, and after a beat, Jon stands from his desk.
He never has been any good at this, has never been able to put his feelings into words, has never been able to heal without reopening the wound.
But he’s not healing alone this time around, and maybe they can figure this out together.
“Tim,” he says softly, taking the other man’s hand in his own and ignoring his sharp, scared inhale, ignoring the scalding heat from his skin. It’s not like Jon hasn’t been burned before, and this is far softer than it could be. An unintentional hurt that he refuses to blame Tim for. “I miss you, you know. I’ve missed you for a long time now. And I only look away when I know you can see me staring. My gaze is… unsettling, I know, and-”
Tim stands before him, body bending unnaturally, but Jon barely notices that fact as he’s dragged into a hug. Tim is far too warm, and Jon knows for a moment what it’s been like for him, starved of touch, too scared to hurt these past few weeks. Jon knows what that’s like, and he finds himself holding on far too tightly to Tim in return. He can feel the indent his hands make on the other man’s back, can feel his body molding to fit his own, and for a moment they both allow themselves to forget where one of them ends and the other begins.
“I don’t forgive you, Jonathan Sims,” Tim mutters, the spotlights shifting around them, one of his feet anxiously tapping out a rhythm that Jon carefully doesn’t listen too closely to, “But I want to. Is that... going to be enough?”
“Yes,” Jon breathes out, not feeling the need to ask a question in return, his head both satisfied and buzzing with the knowledge, “Yes. I think it will be.”
Carefully, with hands that are too-wrong and too-scarred, they begin to stitch themselves back together.