It starts with an aching.
A deep, clawing sense of emptiness that threatens to hollow him out. It used to be challenged by an even more painful ache but as he runs his thumb against the back of Martin's hand, he considers that this is the last ache he has—an ache content to be the one to kill him.
He was daft to think he had left it behind just as they had left London. After dealing with Peter, he had thought that his hunger had been sated enough but of course not. He had denied himself so long that Peter's statement had just reminded him of how sweet it tasted to rip fear out from someone’s teeth. Still, he sighs when he feels the ache beginning at his fingertips then chokes down the disgust towards himself. Barely a day ago, he had just killed a man and the only thing he can bring himself to feel sorry about is that his death hadn't fed him enough.
Jon closes his eyes for just a moment. It's nice.
The woman two seats in front of them has a statement.
Jon opens his eyes and swallows the ink pooling in his mouth.
He startles a bit at Martin's words. They hadn't talked much the entire journey, defaulting to holding each other's hands just to relieve some of the latent fear that the other might disappear lest they let go. Martin looks up at him through his glasses, bleary concern shining through—there's more color in his eyes than yesterday, closer to his normal warm brown rather than the foggy grey that the Lonely had thrust onto him. He looks so lovely, Jon forgets his hunger for a moment.
"I'm fine." he lies, "Just tired, I think. It's been a bit of a whirlwind these past few days, yeah?"
Martin rolls his eyes, "Tell me about it." he murmurs, "Any more news from Basira? Or are we still just working with 'get the hell out of London, go to a sketchy murder-house'."
Jon snorts at Martin's terrible impression of Basira's voice, "I doubt it's a 'murder-house' but no, no she hasn't sent me anymore information." he shrugs, "I assume she'll let us know once London's safe again. Er, safe enough for us."
"Right." Martin lays his head on his shoulder, glancing up like he's waiting for Jon to chastise him. Jon gently moves the stark white streak of hair away from his eyes, Martin brightens, "No monsters in Scotland."
He turns to look at the rolling landscape and the setting sun. Jon blinks, focus drifting, "Y-Yes." the woman catches him staring, she smells so much of mold and rot and he can practically see the outline of her statement like a blazing constellation. They both look away, "No monsters in Scotland."
It isn't a murder-house, surprisingly.
Daisy's safehouse was much more reminiscent of the Daisy that had sacrificed herself rather than the Daisy that has pressed a dull pocketknife into his throat—gentle in a way that was uniquely her. Sure, there was a worrying number of hidden weapons scattered throughout the small cottage but there were also embroidered pillows and curtains decorated with drawings of her namesake.
"There." Jon says, the static dies down and his vision goes back into focus. He kneels under the chimney and pulls away the switchblade taped against the brick, tossing it into the box where they decided to keep all the other weapons.
"Christ." Martin stares at the box of firearms and blades and holds it at arms length, "Did she really need all these? Wouldn't think the village has that much crime or, um, prey...maybe she was just going after the cows, hah, I...Jon?"
Martin's hand falling on his shoulder brings himself back to his body, Jon tenses. Weird. He'd never just...gone away like that.
Good Lord, his head hurts.
He stammers, "So-Sorry, I, um, I...sorry, what were you saying?"
He sets the box down, moving closer to Jon, "Are you okay? You looked a million miles away."
"Tired." he answers, squinting against the headache building against his eyes, "I'm sorry."
"It's okay. It's been a long day." he gingerly cups Jon's face, his skin is still so much colder than it used to be, "Bed?"
The last thing he wants to do is sleep. Sleeping means dreaming about his victims, eternally trapped in the worst moment of their lives. And he hates how the thought of even experiencing their fear secondhand excites him. He nods, laying his hand over Martin's with a tired smile, "Bed."
Neither of them bother getting fully undressed, simply kicking off their shoes and peeling off their rain-slicked jackets before they collapse onto the dusty mattress. Martin slips off his glasses and set them on the bedside table, flicking the light off as he went.
For a moment the two of them just stare at each other, the ever present fear that if one of them so much as flinches the other will dissolve into fog.
Jon carefully extends his hands into the no man's land between them. Sure, they'd been holding hands all day but this felt different—it wasn't just to make sure neither was left behind, it was simply because he wanted his touch. Martin slowly laces his fingers with his, until they're perfectly intertwined.
He ran his thumb over Martin's knuckles, "You're freezing." he mutters, taking stock of the freckles and the imperfections of his skin.
"Don't apologize." I love you, I love you, I love you. "It's not your fault."
Martin sighs, "Kinda is though, yeah? Went and got myself thrown into the Lonely. Made you pull me out."
He furrows his brow, "Y-You didn't make me, I—that wasn't you. Never was." Martin shrugs, Jon tightens his grip, "We got out, we're t-together. I see you."
He smiles, it's absolutely perfect, "Yeah. We did, we are."
I love you so desperately.
"Goodnight." Jon says instead.
He dreams. The headache doesn't get better.
The light is too bright when he opens his eyes, filling the small room completely in a way he isn't used to after so long spent sleeping in the darkness of the archives. A small part of him panics before the events of the days beforehand reintroduce themselves—the Lonely, Eli—Jonah Magnus, the hunters, Daisy, Peter Lukas, Not-Sasha, Martin, Martin, Martin— right. He sighs, shutting his eyes tight in some attempt to quell the roaring behind his eyes, the dark isn't any better.
God , he's starving.
No. No, no, he isn't, he, he just—
Martin. Focus on Martin. Focus on his anchor.
The two of them have gotten closer throughout the night, now practically on top of each other. Good that Jon's woken up first, then, he didn't want to imagine how Martin would've reacted to their position. Slowly, he extricates himself and pads over to the bare bones kitchen. Dust floats lazily in the sunbeams before it settles onto the rusted stove that looks like it hasn't gotten much use in the past few years or so. Maybe he could— there's tea in the cabinet.
The information is forced into his head and Jon nearly retches at the way his headache amplifies ten-fold. Stumbling, he unceremoniously gets to the similarly dust-covered sink to spit out the acrid ink that chokes him, it splatters across the porcelain. Just as frantically, he turns on the tap and watches until the dirty water washes away the damned ink down the sink.
Martin is not going to know. He cannot know.
Shakily, he sits on the cool tiled floor in silence. Silence is good, silence is safe. It takes some time but he manages to calm down enough to stand again and begin what he had set out to do.
As Beholding had so readily told him, the tea is in the cabinet, it's Earl Grey. Relief floods him, he knows Martin likes Earl Grey. He makes the tea with almost robotic precision, timing out every aspect of the job down to the second until a mug of steaming Earl Grey tea is held in his hands and he's on his way back to the bedroom.
Martin hasn't shifted since he left, still completely dead to the world. Jon smiles at the sight and leaves the mug on the bedside table before gently rocking Martin.
"W'as'that?" Martin slurs, "J'n?"
"Good morning to you as well."
Martin sits up, squinting at the mug on the table, "Is that tea?"
"Yes! I, um, I made it. For you. Fig-Figured you'd like some."
His eyes go wide like Jon's just said something incredulous, "Really? O-Oh, you didn't need to do that."
"I wanted to." he insists, "Really."
Martin slips on his glasses and grabs the mug, "Thank you, Jon." he takes a sip, surprise lighting up his face, "It's good!"
Jon snorts, "You sound surprised."
"No, no, it's just, I didn't know you knew how I took my tea."
"Oh, I, um, I sort of figured it out through trial and error. I had to, to make my own tea when you weren't around but they never quite tasted the same?" he nervously rocks on his heels, "Nearly drove Daisy insane, I think. I kept theorizing how you used to do it."
Martin looks dumbstruck and for a moment Jon fears he's said something terribly wrong, "I-I didn't realize you missed it."
"Of course I missed it! I missed you!" he cringed, he hadn't meant for him to sound so desperate. In an attempt to hide his dark red face, he turns his face away and hopes his hair hides everything else, "Uh, yes, well, gl-glad you enjoyed the tea and, um—"
"I missed you too." Martin says, Jon nearly snaps his neck with how quickly he turns to look at him, "Quite a bit actually."
He blinks, tucking a lock of wavy hair behind his ear, "Well, um, thank you. Very much. For that."
He was thankful that Daisy wasn't with him—for how much he moped and moaned about Martin, she'd probably bury a bowie knife in his chest if she knew his response to the man admitting that he missed him quite a bit was 'thanks'.
Martin snickers, "Yeah, you're welcome, Jon. My pleasure." he sets the mug back down, "How did the kitchen look?"
"Figured." he stretches, Jon schools his expression into nonchalance, "Christ, don't know if I'm ready for a trip to the grocery store yet, in all honesty. Too many...too many people, I think."
"Tha-That's okay, perfectly fine, in fact. I can just...I can handle it myself."
He squints and furrows his brow, "Can you? You sure you've recovered enough—I'd assume dealing with Peter took a lot of your power."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I dunno, are you...hungry?"
"No." he says, hopefully not too quickly. He smiles, “I'm fine."
"Good, good." Martin pats the empty spot beside him in bed, Jon sits and quickly wraps his hand around Martin's, categorizing every little texture, "Still. I think we should have Basira send up some statements at least, I-I don't want you starving."
Jon hates the way his brain lights up at the thought of new statements, like a dog salivating at the ring of a bell, "That's ideal."
"And for today I think we can stay in and order some takeaway, yeah?"
He smiles, he can do this for him, "Yeah."
Basira calls before he does. He's proud of that.
"Jon." she says, as blunt as ever.
"Basira!" Martin looks when he says her name, he holds up a finger, "H-Hello, sorry I meant to call yesterday but we got busy. We've made it the safehouse at least."
A loud clattering sounds over the phone line, it makes his headache flare in annoyance; Basira grunts, "Good."
"How's the Institute? How are" he feels the buzzing rise on his tongue and bites it back, "you. How are you?"
She sighs, "Institute's still crawling with sectioned officers, they're calling it a terrorist attack. As for me? I'm alive, still...still looking for Daisy. She went after one of the Hunters and I lost track of her."
Jon's chest tightens with grief, "I'm so sorry, Basira."
"Yeah." she stops walking, based off the way her footsteps quiet, "How's Martin?"
"M-Martin's good! We—he's right here." Martin perks up again and Jon offers the phone to him,
"H-Hi, Basira." he says, then shoves the phone back into Jon's hands.
Basira hems, "He sounds well."
"He is, he's, um, he's perfect."
Martin smiles bashfully and rolls his eyes.
"And you, Romeo? How are you doing?"
He knows what he needs to ask but he doesn't want Martin to hear him, "I..." he starts then looks to Martin, mouthing 'one moment'. Quickly, he gets to the other side of the cabin and curls around the phone, "Could you send up some statements?"
There's a pause, "You hungry, then?"
"Basira—! I, God, yes. Yes, I am."
"Does Martin know?"
"What are you—"
"You walked away from him, just for this. Does he know?"
He groans, "No."
"Because, I—I just, he...he's been surrounded by monsters for years now a-and he has that statement about what I did to that woman, how I-I took her statement. He knows that I'm capable of that but he still went along with Lukas because he thought he could save my humanity and—Christ, Basira, I love him and I don't want to make it so glaringly obvious that I'm some kind of monster." his hands are shaking slightly by the time he finishes his spiel, the markings on his hands staring out, "Basira?"
"Give me three weeks. The archives are pretty locked down but I figure I can steal a few and send some up through the post."
Jon nods, "Thank you."
"Yeah, don't go eating anybody's brains while I'm gone."
He chuckles breathily, "Tha-That's not what I do. Good luck, Basira."
The call ends and Jon breathes out shakily.
Three weeks, he can do three weeks.
The headache gets worse, he doesn't turn on the lights in the cabin in the hour or so he has before Martin wakes up. He makes their tea in the dark and reads the pulpy romance novels Daisy has in low light. It reminds him strangely of how he used to sneak around as a child, too afraid to wake his grandmother in the early morning even more so after Mr. Spider. He shakes his head to rid himself of the memory but only succeeds in making himself dizzy.
The floor creaks— Martin's awake.
Again, he swallows back the ink. It's always so much more sour than he expects.
He stands as quick as he's able to and turns on all the lights, the pain behind his eyes growing with each buzzing bulb. Martin walks in just as he's sitting back down with whatever book he'd been trying to read for the past hour and a half.
"Morning." he greets, sitting beside him.
Jon sets the book down, "Good morning. Sleep well?"
"Hm. Okay, I guess." he shrugs, "Typical nightmares and all."
"Not your fault." he takes Jon's hand again, he's warmer than before, "What were you reading?"
He picks up the novel again, disdainfully showing Martin the cover, "Nothing of value."
Martin takes it into his hands, "Hah, you know...I would've never expected Daisy to have this sort of stuff. Thought all of her stuff would be like 'How to Hide a Body 101'."
She would have this sort of stuff. Daisy was gentle in surprising ways, fiercely protective, too. Jon had never had siblings but he always figured that how he felt with Daisy—protected and cared for—was damn close to what an older sister would've been like.
And now she was gone.
Martin's hand came up to his cheek, Jon instinctively leaning into the touch. He glances up to see Martin's brow furrowed slightly, "What's wrong?"
He breathes, "Nothing, it's just—Daisy. Her and I were, we were friends towards the end. I think."
"Didn't she..." for a second his hazy hazel eyes flick to the jagged mound of scar tissue across Jon's throat, "wasn't she the one who dragged you into that forest?"
Jon nods, it rattles his vision a bit, "I know it seems...unlikely but a-after the Buried and without the Hunt we...we were there for each other, I suppose. Nobody else wanted to deal with the two monsters so..."
Martin stiffens just minutely, "I don't like you talking about yourself like that, Jon. L-Like you're some thing. " he begins to run his thumb across Jon's pitted skin, "I'm sorry I wasn't there, it can't have been easy b-but I'm back and I'm not leaving."
"T-Thank you, I" love you , "really appreciate that. More than I can say."
He pulls his hand away and Jon immediately mourns its absence, he moves it up a bit and lands on his forehead, "You're warm. Are you feeling alright?"
"Bit of a headache."
"Hm." Martin squints, his latent caretaker instinct coming back in full swing. Jon can't help but smile at more of his Martin returning with each moment, "Maybe we should head down to the shops—pick up some paracetamol for you."
He frowns, his slender fingers wrap around Martin's wrist and pulls his hand away, "I don't want you to be uncomfortable. I'm fine, Martin. Truly." Martin exhales slowly through his nose, it's...endearing that he is so worked up over him, "Now, drink your tea before it gets any colder."
He gets dizzy. It happens, just as most things do in his life, right when he begins to believe things were getting better. The headaches were manageable and Martin had stopped sending him concerned looks whenever he thought Jon wasn't looking, he was simply enjoying the first bit of peace he's had in years. It was good, they were good.
Then he catches his reflection in the bathroom and has to brace himself against the sink so he doesn't crumple
He knows, he knows what he looks like. He's looked this way ever since the coma, ever since he gave away his humanity in exchange for life—the eye-shaped markings mirrored on the front and backs of his hands, the stained green irises and the—
" Polycoria—a condition characterized by one or more pupillary openings of the iris. It affects only .897064930299999—" Jon slaps a hand over his mouth, stopping the words traitorously spilling out of it, it hurts . He grits his teeth and waits for the buzzing in his head to quiet enough for him to think . His hand comes away slick with ink when he finally pulls it away, his lips stained near black. "Shit." he should care. He should care more but he feels so light so...so unbound...so…
He's hungry. It hurts.
Yes, he knows that.
Yes. He knows that.
But Martin can't know.
Only two more weeks.
They walk to the store on a foggy morning. The air is damp and they're holding hands, just like regular, real people do. It's a ways from the cabin but neither felt entirely up to driving given that Jon was frankly terrible at it and Martin doesn't have it in him to focus on the road—so they walk.
Jon's always walked fast but reigns himself back so he's in perfect sync with Martin who is looking around at the hazy late autumn scenery with so much fascination that Jon wishes he could bottle it. He wonders what they look like to passersby—they made an odd pairing even before being targeted by eldritch entities, Martin was much taller than him and Jon tended to favor clothes he practically drowned in. Now, they both shared white and grey in their hair and a fair share of scars. Martin sometimes flickered at the edges and sometimes Jon was too solid, too visible. They make an interesting duo.
"You think people assume we're criminals?" Jon asks suddenly, distracting Martin from a particularly nice bird. He quirks an eyebrow up, "Because, you know we've just kind of shown up in their village and how we look."
Martin hems, "I mean...aren't we?"
"You haven't done anything wrong."
"Neither have you."
Jon tilts his head to the side, "Martin, I did," he glances around before continuing, "I did kill a man. You remember that, correct?"
He shrugs with a smile, a perfect smile, "Self defense." he wiggles his fingers exaggeratedly, "Got 'im with your laser eyes." Jon sputters then laughs, leaning on Martin's side, Martin beams wider, "You snort when you laugh!"
Jon gapes trying to reel back his laughter, "No, I do not!"
"Yes, you do, I just heard it."
"I don't, I don't!"
"You just did it again!" Martin brushes a lock of stark white hair away from his bright eyes, "Why have I never noticed that!"
He shrugs, "Didn't laugh much in the archives, I guess?"
"No, no, I've heard you laugh before."
"That was only with you."
Neither say anything for a moment. Jon stares down at his shoes. Martin keeps looking at him.
Jon doesn't want to look up, doesn't want to see the 'I really loved you' clear on his face; there's a woman speeding past them, focus on her, focus on—
The post office opens an hour later on Sundays. Finley wants to be first in line, she's meant to mail off this damned package for a week. It's the last of his belongings, folded neatly and said goodbye to; he'd asked for them, it had been the first time he'd spoken to her since the breakup. A simple text, just an address and a request. No 'dear', no 'babe', no 'honey'—she's a stranger now. All of the things in her home used to be theirs, now everything is hers and his, split so devastatingly in half. With the package gone, that decaying half of the house is finally put to rest, finally—
He's slammed back in his own body viciously, slumped into a torso and his head buzzing with harsh static. Finley gazes over at the scene for just a moment ( I hope they're alright, she thinks). The Archiv—no, Jon—Jon looks up dazed; sad eyes, pretty eyes, worried eyes, familiar eyes, the anchor, Martin.
"Wh...what happened?" he asks, flexing his fingers to remind himself that he has a body.
Martin's eyes soften considerably, he pushes the hair that's fallen from Jon's messy bun away from his pallid face, "I d-don't know, I was talking and you just, you just went down. Are you okay?"
"Bit dizzy." he admits, then immediately regrets it after seeing the panic rise in Martin's face, "I'm fine, Martin."
"I'm not stupid, Jon." he shoots back, Jon stiffens at the coldness in his voice, "You've nearly collapsed seven times now—yes, I've counted. Don't think I haven't noticed. What's going on with you?"
"Martin. It's nothing, i-it's been a hard few days and I think it's ca-catching up to me—that's all."
"Hm." Martin places his hand on Jon's forehead, "You're still warm, you've most likely got a fever, we'll...we'll get some supplies from the store. Do you think you're well enough to go to the store still?"
Jon nods eagerly, he's not going to ruin their first taste of normalcy just because he can't control himself, "Yes, yes, I think its passed now. Let's go." Martin doesn't look convinced, "Please." he adds.
He sighs through his nose, "Fine, okay, but please tell me if you start feeling faint again."
The store is mostly empty this early in the morning, just like they'd planned. A tired teenager greets them, Jon waves back meekly while Martin speeds up with his head down. Their list consists mostly of the bare necessities needed in the kitchen—flour, salt, some other types of tea—along with ingredients for whenever they find it in them to cook actual dinner.
The two of them had talked about food at length while making the list, about what sorts of meals they'd made as similarly neglected kids. Martin had told him about the time he'd nearly taken a finger off while trying to make sujebi while Jon recounted the memory of his grandmother teaching him how to make aloo gobi, laughing as Martin failed to pronounce it correctly over and over again. It was...domestic; domestic in a way he hadn’t felt since he lived with Georgie. The two of them making a shopping list for their shared space; the implication that they were going to stay long enough that they'd one day run out of flour, that they were going to awkwardly bump into each other while cooking and later take turns washing dishes in companionable silence.
Jon shakes his head, no use letting his feelings for Martin cloud over his reality. They were in hiding, they were buying things because they didn't know for how long, nothing more, nothing less.
"You alright?" Jon asks, noticing how quiet Martin's gotten.
He startles a bit, "Y-Yeah, I'm sorry."
"It's, it's just, I—sorry, this is just a lot." he averts his eyes from the only other man in the aisle who stares back at them with thinly veiled curiosity, "I know, I know, I said I wanted to do this but, I don't know, maybe it's too...maybe it's still too early."
"Hey, hey," as gently as he can manage, he grabs Martin's face between his hands and makes eye contact, "I see you, okay? I'll always see you."
Martin smiles and breathes out a half-laugh, the fogginess clearing from his eyes, "I see you too." he takes a few more moments, the two of them awkwardly standing in the middle of the cereal aisle, “Okay, whew, okay, okay. I’m good now. Thank you.”
“Always.” Jon slowly retracts his hands as if waiting for Martin to call him back, “Have we got everything we need here?”
He pulls out the scrap of paper written all over with Martin’s careful lettering and Jon’s frantic scribbles, “Hm. Not really. Think we do need a trolley after all.” he gestures to the full basket in his hand, “I’m gonna run and get one.”
“Want me to come with?”
“No, no, I-I should be fine. Meet you back here.”
“Oh. Um, okay.”
Martin turns and leaves the aisle briskly, Jon’s shoulders droop. He trusts him to come back, he does, he just doesn’t like letting Martin out of his sight. Yes, it’s possessive but after all they’ve been through, he thinks he’s earned that.
“You and your boyfriend are really very sweet.”
Jon turns and looks at the man who spoke, a flash of panic goes across his face once Jon makes eye contact, “I’m sorry?”
“I just―sorry for intruding but you calming your boyfriend down, it’s sweet. Not everybody has that, you know.”
Did they look like a couple? Was Jon doing things that made people see them as a couple? Oh Christ, that’s probably why he had insisted on going alone to get the trolley, Jon made him uncomfortable. Fucking hell.
“We’re not, we, we―” he stammers over his words, “I’m not, he, he isn’t…” wait . “...he...he…” he pauses. He can feel it now. The fear overflowing from this man ( Samuel Hidgens) , how could he have missed it? It tastes like smoke and loss and pain and so, so sweet.
Samuel blanches, “Mate? Are you okay? You’ve got a...”
Jon smiles, he is okay. He wipes away the ink dribbling down his chin, he is perfect. “Fine.”
“Right…” Samuel takes two steps back, the Archivist takes two steps forward, “right, I-I, um, nice talking but―”
“It’s okay, Samuel.”
The compulsion rips through his teeth, Samuel goes stock still. “Wha-what’s...what’ve you done? What are you?”
“You’re going to tell me a story, Samuel.”
“I do-don’t―I don’t want to.”
The Archivist stares, “ Tell me w―”
“Right, then.” Martin’s voice comes, “Here we are!”
Jon blinks forcefully and Samuel falls to his knees with a shivering gasp of relief. Shit, shit, shit. He’d almost― fuck. He wipes his sleeves across his mouth and forces Samuel to his feet, he’s muttering prayers and begging him to stop.
“Run.” Jon says under his breath, forcing as much compulsion as he can into the syllable. He turns on his heels as Samuel takes off, catching Martin’s confused stare.
“...What’s all that about?” he wonders as Samuel turns a corner, “Why’s he running?”
Jon shrugs, hoping that his shaking isn’t too obvious. Good Lord, his head’s spinning, “He...he mistook me for somebody else? We started talking and he just ran when he saw you coming around.”
“Hm.” Martin squints and for one terrifying moment Jon believes he’s been caught, “Probably trying to rope you into some scheme, I once saw a whole series on BBC Three about these people who used to go around getting strangers roped into bank robberies.”
Jon finally breathes again, “I-I doubt he wanted me in his bank robberies. I’m not what most people think of when they think ‘bank robber’.”
He laughs, they two of them start walking again, “Don’t sell yourself short! You could probably be plenty intimidating!”
“Ha,” there’s a spot of ink on the floor, Jon smudges it with his shoe as they pass, “maybe so.”
He wakes up. Probably for the third time today.
This time he comes to on the living room floor, the frigid wood pressed close to his flushed cheeks. His vision swims around him―where...where is he? London, right? No, no, they left London. They’re in Not-London. No, that’s too much of the Stranger. They are in a place that is not London.
And ‘they’ is...they is...it’s him and―and…
Martin. It’s Martin. He loves Martin. He wants to rip Martin open and know him inside and out, devour him like a pulpy orange. He loves Martin.
He is supposed to make Martin tea. That’s why he got out of bed. Their bed in their place that is not London.
Where are his archives? He misses them. He’s always felt better in his archives, surrounded by so much information known to him and his God.
He wants a cigarette.
Jon pushes himself off the floor and shakily comes to his feet. His body’s always felt so small, smaller still since the coma. He can deal with that.
The kitchen is dark and quiet, the kitchen too bright and screaming. Jon goes through with his eyes closed but that begins to feel like suffocating so he opens them and deals with the screaming. There’s dishes in the sink―does somebody live here in this place that is not London? He blinks, they live here. They have for nearly two weeks now. There are dishes in the sink because Martin made dinner last night, Jon had watched him from the table, unable to stand for long before he stumbled. It had been delicious, Jon hadn’t been able to taste any of it.
There’s tea in the cupboard, like always. Jon reaches for it but pauses before he reaches any―what kind of tea does Martin like? There’s so many and it...they’re all so...loud. Should he know this? Does he know this?
Martin likes cows. He knows that. They found a pasture full of them and Martin had stars in his eyes and Jon loves him. Jon had told him everything he knew about cows on their way back to the cabin, holding his hand so tightly because Martin was his anchor and he was so close to drifting off to sea.
Cows are red-green colorblind.
Martin had said, “They wouldn’t be able to see your eye color then.”
Jon had replied, “Were my eyes always green?”
Martin had looked confused by this question. No, they had been brown up until a few years ago. Right, Jon should’ve known that. Jon should…
Tea. He was making tea.
He picks a box at random and begins the process. It’s easy, just heat the water then pour over the teabag and make sure it doesn’t oversteep. Add sugar and milk. Or honey? Maybe...maybe jam? Or syrup? Or―
Jon wakes up for the fourth time. This time he comes to on the kitchen floor, the kitschy tile pressed against his cheek.
“Oh, Jon, thank God!” a voice comes, Jon waits for the colors to make sense again. “C-Can you hear me? Are you alright?”
He isn’t sure about either of those questions but he nods anyways. It’s Martin, he doesn’t want Martin to worry.
His head hurts. When he reaches up, Martin stills his hand, “You hit your head coming down. I heard from the bedroom. It’s pretty much healed already but there was this...black stuff.”
Martin looks pretty when he talks.
“Do you think you can sit up for me?”
He stares at Martin for a few more seconds before trying to complete the action, he ends up half-slumped against the cabinets. The kitchen is brighter now, Martin raises his hands and Jon flinches. Martin’s face falls. Idiot .
“I’m not, I’d never hurt you, Jon. Never.” he keeps his hands held in Jon’s vision, “I’m just checking your temperature.”
It’s okay, it’s fine. His hands lay on Jon’s forehead, they’re blazing hot and freezing cool. Martin only looks more worried, “Christ, you’re burning up. Have you taken your paracetamol?”
He had, it had just come back up not long after. No shortcuts when it came to feeding his patron.
“It’s fine, love.” oh, love! He was love now! “Let’s get you to bed.”
Martin’s arm wraps around his midsection and gets him gingerly to his feet. Jon lays his head against Martin’s shoulders, counting every heartbeat he felt through his skin. Their bed’s back in view and Martin ever so gently deposits Jon onto it, “There we are.”
The bed’s soft, much softer than the kitchen tile or the living room wood floors. Martin places the blanket over him, how kind. He’s speaking but Jon just can’t seem to focus on a single word. He’s so pretty when he talks, he’s gorgeous when he’s afraid.
Martin leaves, Jon watches him. He comes back with two mugs of tea and a book, the words empty of any sustenance but Martin reads to him for quite a long time. He asks questions, based off the quirks of his brow but Jon doesn’t answer. It’s not in his nature to be the one asked things.
They’re the only people in this place that is not London and it’s beautiful.
There’s a body in the Archivist’s bed.
It’s warm and soft and pressed against them like it belongs there. Maybe it does.
The body is a person, not all bodies are, but this one is a person. A person with a round face with feathery black-and-white hair splayed around him who reeks of the Lonely. Saltwater and fog. His hand is also tangled with the Archivist’s. Strange.
The Archivist pulls their hand away, bringing it up to their face. The brand of the Eye on their palms stare back, it’s upset with them. It doesn’t want to hurt its Archivist, especially one that has so thoroughly Become but they’ve been holding out for far too long. Coasting on hope and the promise of substance in the future. Any longer and they’ll be too far gone, any longer and they’ll be sucking the marrow from whatever they can find.
Why aren’t they in their archives? Why are they in some cabin that creaks with a body-that-is-a-person that has decided it belongs at their side?
Oh, their head aches. They move to get out of the bed but are stopped by a gentle, warm hand, “J―,” the body says a name but it just. It doesn’t make sense in their ears, it’s all noise. “what are you doing up so early? Go back to bed, love.”
“Where am I?”
The compulsion comes naturally and viciously. The person opens his eyes, the glint of the Archivist’s green is reflected in his wide-eyed confusion,
“Scotland.” he says, gasping. His eyes narrowed, “D-Don’t do that.”
“What am I doing here?”
”B— sent us up here—“ he shakes his head forcefully, “Stop!”
They try to come up with faces to the names but only get static, “W-Who?”
The confusion becomes anxiety, “Oh, oh, no.” he tries to go for the Archivist’s hands but the thought of touch makes them itch.
“Don’t touch me!” they hiss, static marring each syllable.
He pulls his hands back, the anxiety becomes terror, “J―…do, do you know who I am?”
They don’t, they shake their head. He looks sad, very sad. Fuzzy at the edges. Scared, too. But the fear isn’t…right.
“J―, c-come on, it’s me. It, it’s M―! You, you know me! You have to!”
The Archivist doesn’t like this. They’d never done well with feelings, this man is full of tears and is staring at them like they’re the cure. It makes...it makes them sad, too. Properly sad, not the hollow echos of a statement giver’s emotions―these are their feelings, they’re sad for this body-that-is-a-person.
“I’m sorry.” they say, “I don’t, I don’t understand. My head it’s...it’s all...do you know me?”
“Yes!” he cries, “Yes! I-I know you and you know me! You saved me a-and told me that it was going to be okay and brought me here and―goddammit, I love you and you are not leaving me like this.”
The Archivist bristles, those words mean something, just not to them. “I’m...I’m sorry.” for a second the person’s body goes fully translucent, the Archivist puzzles over how much that makes them panic, “Wait, wait, no! Please,” he reaches into the fog and holds on, “I-I’m not sure who, who you are but you matter to me. You matter more than anything to me but I ju-just don’t know why. Please stay.”
He comes back, not fully solid but they can see more of him, “J―…” he whispers tearfully, “what can I do to help you. Please, I-I’ll do anything.”
It’s a simple answer, “Stay with me.”
“I’m staying, I’m...” he pauses, “do you know who you are, at least?”
“The Archivist.” they answer, the man laughs without any humor behind it.
“Figured.” he sighs, “Okay, Archivist, I’m going to tell you about yourself.”
They brighten, “A statement?”
“No, no, not a statement. This isn’t a statement. This is just me talking to you as somebody who really, really loves you a stupid amount.” he smiles slightly, they think it suits him better than a frown, “So, Archivist, you were born in Bournemouth, um, but you never really liked swimming, always thought it’d ‘never be your thing’ whatever that means. You turn thirty-one next month but you used to tell everybody you were in your forties, ha, S― she was the only one who knew the truth for a while. I thought T― was going to pass out when he found out you were the youngest of all of us. I, I know you probably don’t remember T― or S― but they, they really cared about you, about us even if it wasn’t that obvious.
”Speaking o-of us, we...we met on your first day as Head Archivist. I had accidentally let a dog into the archives, yes, yes, I know, you already yelled at me for that.” he says at the mortified expression on their face, “We didn’t really get along for a long time but I guess you sort of warmed up to me once everything started falling apart. Then y-you died and I had to carry on without you. Then you came back and I realized all those feelings I thought had died with you were very much still there. Because you’re amazing , you know? You’re funnier than people realize and you get so excited when you talk about something you love and y-you’re protective of the people you love. I thought I had lost that. But being here, it just, I, I know I can’t go back to not having you in my life, J―. You remember dumb, small things a-and you steal my sweaters all the time and you snort when you laugh an-and I know you’re hiding something because you think it’s protecting me but it’s not .” he takes the Archivist’s face in his hands, “I love you and I see you. Please tell me what’s going on.”
“I’m starving.” the Archivist answers, surprising themself in how quickly they did, “I’m starving and it’s killing me. And I-I don’t know why but I was afraid to tell you.”
The person (Martin. His name is Martin.) nods, “Thank you, love.” he kisses their forehead, “Now,” he brings their body against his chest, “I don’t think I ever told you this. So, here goes: Statement of Martin Blackwood regarding Jared Hopworth’s attack on the Institute, statement given directly from subject.” the Archivist tangles their hands back with Martin’s, it belongs there, “Statement begins.”
Jonathan Sims wakes up in Martin Blackwood’s arms. He feels very loose and heady, needing to blink a few times until Martin’s teary face comes into focus.
“H-Hi?” he stammers.
“You are a ridiculous, stupid man. You know that right? An absolute idiot.”
Jon looks around as if he’s trying to find the answer somewhere else, “Y...Yes?”
“You were dying!” he exclaims, letting go of Jon so he can cross his arms, “You were dying and you didn’t remember me! Why didn’t you tell me it’d gotten that bad!?”
“Why didn’t I…” the memories come rushing back, Jon pales, “oh, oh, Martin, I’m so sorry.”
“Jonathan Sims, answer the question.”
Jon bites his lip, Martin’s gaze is like cold iron, “I didn’t want you thinking I was some, some monster. ” he says quietly, “The hunger it eats at me every moment I don’t satisfy it, Martin. I didn’t think you deserved to have to worry about that so soon after the Lonely.”
He scoffs, “Yeah, thanks! Because watching you slowly deteriorate over two weeks was way better.”
“I-I didn’t think it’d get that bad but, maybe, I don’t know, maybe that plus me being so far away from the archives made everything worse.” he shrinks into himself, “Once it started getting bad I just felt like I had to hide it more. I wanted to be human for you.”
Martin softens, unfurling his arms, “Jon.” he says, “I love you because you’re you.”
Jon’s eyes go wide, skin blushing a dark red, “You―you, what?”
“I said it last night, keep up.” he jokes, tucking a loose strand of Jon’s hair behind his ear, “I love you. No matter which you that is. Pretentious Head Archivist to full on eldritch, okay?”
He opens his mouth but no sound comes out, he tries twice more before just spitting out, “Can I kiss you?”
Martin went red, “Y-Y-Yeah!”
The two of them reach for the other, teeth awkwardly clicking before they settle into a proper kiss. Jon knows he’s all over Martin but can’t help it, he’s wanted this since the Unknowing and he isn’t about to be coy about it now. Martin’s hand settles on the small of his back and he pulls him closer, Jon practically on his lap by the end of it. They break apart only because air is still a necessity, still Jon takes his hand and kisses each knuckle.
“I love you. Too. By the way.” Jon says.
“Got that.” Martin laughs. He looks at Jon, Jon looks at Martin, “Are we seeing each other?”
Jon smiles, “Always.”