Tim shouldn’t be here.
He couldn’t make himself leave.
Tim should’ve told Sasha.
She wouldn’t be out of work for hours yet.
At the very least, Tim should’ve called ahead.
Jon had no idea who was standing on the other side of the door. It was apparent in the way his eyes widened. In the way his breath hitched in his chest like a skipping cassette, in how his fingers tightened on the scuffed up brass knob. In the tentative way he caught his lower lip between his teeth before his tongue darted out between them in preparation to speak.
“Tim.” Surprised, glancing to either side of him before staring at his eyebrow. Close enough. “No Sasha tonight?” Gentle inquiry as he stepped aside to let him in.
“Jon?” Martin was somewhere else in their little flat. “Who was that at the door, love?”
“Tim stopped by for a visit, habibi.”
Tim could hear Martin’s unspoken question. This wasn’t what they’d agreed on when they first found out they were all alive, that they’d made it through everything after all and realized that Tim brought his old grudges along with him. It didn’t matter that he didn’t want to feel that way, not when he so clearly still did. It didn’t matter that the lingering worry and doubt and fear in Jon’s eyes made him sick to his stomach because he’d put it there.
“I’ll put the kettle on.” As he settled on the lumpy couch, Tim heard Jon click on the hob and then begin rummaging around in the cupboards.
“Hayati, where’s that jar of orange blossom…?” Tim smiled privately at the domesticity. He doubted any of them expected to have that. He certainly hadn’t. There was no answer in return but Jon’s phone pinged with a notification and a muffled burst of laughter followed. He came out shortly with a tray. “Martin’s putting our Emma down. He threatened bodily harm if I interrupted them now.” While he spoke, Jon busied himself setting out cream and sugar, pouring the tea, nervously rearranging biscuits already arranged on a chipped china plate painted delicately with roses. He recognized it as part of a set belonging to Jon’s late grandmother. When Tim went to reach for the cup offered up by a shaky hand, Jon flinched, spilling the hot liquid over his skin with a sharp hiss.
“Hey--!” Tim’s hands shot out, reacting too quickly, and this time Jon lost the entire cup over the both of them with an aborted yelp. “Damnit, Jon, stop!”
“S’sorry.” Jon mopped up the liquid, posture small and tight and stiff. “Please don’t um, uh reach for me like that.”
“Like what?” Annoyed, scrubbing a hand over the stain spreading across his shirt, Tim tried to stay calm. After all they’d gone through, none of them had escaped unscathed.
“So er, f’fast.”
“I don’t. It makes me--please don’t, Tim.” The tea towel was gripped in both hands, held close, even as he faced him. “It should be. I should be able to just a’ask.”
“I was trying to help.” This was ridiculous.
“And I appreciate it but--” had he ever?
“It really doesn’t seem like you do.” Tim needed Sasha here with her level head and grounding touch.
“I’m trying to ask you to--” He didn’t mean to interrupt. Really. But how were they supposed to move forward in this if Jon was so visibly afraid? He didn’t need to be afraid. He could trust him. He just refused to at every turn!
“I don’t see why you have to make this such a big deal everytime!” Tim shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t be doing this. He definitely shouldn’t be yelling at Jon for something he had no control over, for asking him to just be.
Just be gentle with him for once.
The ire and anger in him rose, a clawing riptide, one he recognized from before the Unknowing. Cloying in its familiarity and power over him and he moved through it like he was stuck in honey, desperate for an escape, to not drown in it even as it closed over his head and his mouth flooded with salt and erupted in vitriol.
“I don’t see why you can’t get over it!”
“Tim!!” Martin’s roar broke him out of those rank jaws and snapped him back into reality. “Back. Off. Now.”
Martin stood in the doorway, a sleepy, clingy baby in his arms looking seconds from bursting into tears while her father looked seconds away from throwing him bodily out of the flat. Emma began to wail. Martin refused to look away from Tim.
Who was standing over Jon, towering above his trembling body curled small and pressed into the cushions, tear-stained face shielded by arms drawn with a roadmap of scars Tim both knew and didn’t, that matched and told stories he’d yet to hear. His own chest was heaving like a bellows, hot, heavy, and he unclenched fists so tight his fingers ached, stepping back, stepping away. Only then did Martin stride forward, placing himself as a bulwark between the pair of them, taking up the whole of Jon’s vision and whispering sweet things, reassuring things.
"Hayati, I need you to hold Emma for a moment. Can you do that for me?" Mechanically, Jon accepted their daughter into his hold, angling away from Tim--and didn’t that sting? And didn’t he deserve it. Martin waited to be sure he had her, pressing a soft kiss against his cheek even as Jon paid him no mind, lost in bouncing their daughter a little to soothe them both. Firmly, Martin grabbed Tim by the arm and tugged him into a tidy kitchen.
“The hell is wrong with you?” Voice kept to a sharp whisper, Martin kept looking past him into the sitting room; keeping a close eye on Jon no doubt who was beginning to babble at Emma, words pitched high and sweet, if a bit quivery. “Yelling like that, we don’t yell in this home. You know that. You know that and you came here anyway and maligned my husband and you don’t know the half of what he’s been through, so don’t come here with your guilt and anger and take it out on my family.” This was a Martin that Tim had never met, almost unrecognizable from those first few weeks they’d all spent together in the Archives. When everything was new. Before any of this happened. Before everything changed.
“I’m. I, I’m sorry, Martin. I’ll go. I’ll.” Tears, stinging, bright, prickled at the corners of his lids. “You’re right. I’m out of line. I don’t know--why did I come here? I’m sorry. I’m, I’m really sorry.”
“I’m not the one who needs to hear that.”
“I know. I. I should go.” He should never come back.
“This is why we came up with these steps together, all of us.” Martin handed him a handkerchief and Tim realized belatedly that his face was wet. “We heal on our own time, and it’s going to take time. But you have to respect Jon’s boundaries. He deserves to keep himself safe. He deserves friends who want to protect him, even from themselves.”
“Yeah.” His next breath got stuck, caught in the too-small cage of his ribs. Jon must’ve felt this way. When he shouted. Stood over him like that. “I wasn’t. Wasn’t. I’m not ready. I thought I could be.”
“Rushing this is going to hurt Jon and I’m sorry, Tim. I’m not going to let you do that.”
It went unsaid and yet somehow hung heavy between them.
“I’ll tell Sash. I’ll. Come clean and she’ll chew me out and I won’t do this again, Martin. I promise.” Having them back was the greatest gift he’d ever been given. Why did he want to sabotage it? Question for therapy next week. Probably a good one.
“No, you won’t.”
I won’t allow it.
“T’Tim?” Tentative, behind him at a measured distance. Jon, cuddling a sleeping Emma close. “Are you alright?”
“No.” Tim laughed, choked on the sob rising in his throat. “But I’m working on it.” Jon offered him an understanding smile.
“We are too.”
“Yeah.” Tim swiped at damp lashes. “I’m sorry, Jon. I’m going to be better. I want to be better.”
“Okay.” Simple as that. Despite all their wretched history. Sash’s ringtone began to play and Tim found it hard to be angry at Martin. He didn’t want to go home on his own.