When Martin looks back, this is what he remembers:
“You’ve never seen an episode of Doctor Who?”
Jon puts his finger in the page, giving Martin his attention. “I don’t watch much television.”
“I’m shocked. Not even once?”
“I have a vague cultural notion about it. He regenerates, and he's… bigger on the inside?”
Martin stretches out on the sofa next to him with a grin, tip to toe. “Okay, what else?”
“He seduces young women.” Jon wraps a hand at Martin’s ankle. “And takes them to see the universe, with no regard for the laws of space and time.”
“Not only women, not recently. And he makes the laws of time and space, I don’t think he needs to worry about them.”
“Don’t blink. Don’t even blink, don’t close your eyes…?”
“Ooh, that’s a good one! I like the one about Madam de Pompadour, where he falls in love with her through a fireplace that the robots installed in… er, history.”
Jon stares a second, then closes his book properly, setting it on the table. “Alright,” he says. “Explain that one to me.”
Jon develops a habit Martin wouldn’t have expected: he slides a hand into Martin’s shirt and settles his palm over his heart. Boom boom. Boom boom. Martin assumes he likes to feel it beat faster under his touch, but it could be anything—protection or grounding. Sometimes Jon sets his head there instead, as though listening to it beat. Proof of life. Boom boom.
Sometimes Martin seeks out Jon's heartbeat instead. Always steady as a drum.
Martin’s only alerted to the squirrel in the cabin when Jon leaps onto a chair. “Ah!”
“Ah!” Jon points with his spatula. “Ah!”
It’s a cute little thing: round, considerably overfed, scampering wildly for cover. Martin follows it with interest. “It’s alright,” he says. “He’s just fattening up, got a bit turned around. Nothing to be worried about.”
“If you’re such great friends,” Jon says, “will you please escort it from the house and bid it not to return?”
“You don’t want him as a pet?”
“Don’t even joke.” Martin flashes him a grin. “Anything that skitters is forbidden. Rats, mice—disease vectors, the lot of them.”
“That’s not actually true. Rats are pretty clean—”
“If you want your dinner you’ll get it out of here, Martin.” Maybe hearing how he sounds, he adds a terse, “Please. Oh I do hate it, oh,” when the squirrel reappears, and Martin grabs the broom with a laugh, letting Jon give him nonsense instructions until the poor creature’s gone.
When Martin’s shut the door behind it, he turns off the hob and lifts Jon bodily off the chair. “Stop it,” Jon says as Martin puts him down, but Martin kisses him then, in love with his contradictions. “Martin, the rabies.”
“Squirrels have rabies, they’re carriers of rabies. The Black Death—”
“The Black Death! They teach you that at Oxford?”
Jon swats him away with the spatula. “Go shower. I’ll burn your clothes, if you—”
Forbidding Jon from burning anything, Martin does take a shower just to appease him. When he walks out he finds his dinner under a lid and Jon curled up on the bed holding his knees, looking dolefully at Martin when he walks in.
Martin gently refuses every apology he gives, pulling Jon’s legs long one at a time. “I don’t mind,” he says, crawling up Jon’s body, and kisses him until his body turns loose.
Martin does not mention the spiders carrying pine needles and leaves around the cabin, or the fact that they walk in a line. He’s sure Jon must have noticed, and besides that, it seems harmless enough. They’re not doing anything wrong, they’re just acting kind of weird. No reason to freak Jon out more than he already is.
Jon makes dinner each night with varying flourish; sometimes he even makes dessert. Martin’s never felt so spoiled in all his life. He does his share—while Jon’s cooking he sets up the fire, refills the generator if that’s what they need. He ferrets out an axe and cuts down some young trees, hoping he’ll be strong enough for bigger ones before the temperature drops.
He doesn’t know how long they’ll stay. He’d only expected they’d be here a few days, but already it’s been close to a week. If it gets much colder, they’ll need a constant fire. They might have to resort to buying firewood nearby.
When not wrapped up in Martin, pretending to sleep, or taking long walks, Jon reads at a pace unmatched by mortal man. He buys more and more paperbacks at the supermarket, blazing through them, sometimes two a day.
Tonight, while Martin’s washing up, Jon makes derisive sounds, frowning at the cover. “Who on Earth are you writing for?”
“I don’t think you’re the target audience for cowboy romances,” Martin suggests.
“I didn’t know it was romance in the shop.”
“You thought it was just a book about cowboys?”
“Western used to be a genre.”
“A horrible one.” But then Martin intuits the truth. “You knew it was a romance all along, didn't you?”
Jon smiles, his eyes fixed on his book. “There’s no Waterstones in town. I’ll have to make do.”
Jon eventually saves himself from the drudgery of paperbacks in finding a cribbage board at the chemist. “Ooh, yes!” Martin gushes, taking the board in hand. “I used to play with my granddad, it’s been ages.”
“My grandmother taught me,” Jon says, sounding pleased. “She preferred Bridge. Could get quite vicious about it. Came home one night in a cold rage telling me she was hosting her own cards now on account of The Wretched Beatrice, then used some words I never heard from her before or since. I tried to pick up Bridge to balance the table, but I was rubbish. Cribbage, I could understand.” Jon looks up, self-conscious in the way he sometimes got when he was talking about himself, not sure how it’s been received. “Were you, er, close with your grandfather?”
“Yes,” Martin says, though he could tell from Jon’s tone he already knew it. “He was always… Well, I think he saw how it was. Always used to tell me I could do anything no matter who told me otherwise, blah blah. Think I was a bit young to learn the game. He passed when I was seven and I never counted right. But he was always nice about it, helped me figure out the points. Might’ve let me win, come to think of it. Don’t suppose I’ll ever know for sure.”
Jon gives him an intense look, but Martin pretends not to see it; picks up a pack of cards and moves for the cash.
He’s always liked cribbage, but he especially likes playing it with Jon. Quiet nights of playful barbs and subdued groans, sat there for hours in the low evening light. Jon always looks beautiful by the glow of the fire; strangely at peace when he’s shuffling cards. Preoccupied in a good way for once. Martin could watch him deal for years.
They don’t play every night. Sometimes they arrange themselves on the ratty sofa and talk for hours. Jon usually still holds his book; Martin’s decided to take it as a matter of comfort. Jon pays it no mind when Martin talks, only holds the page with his finger.
Martin comes to know Jon’s hands better each day. Jon lets him handle them—lets him furl and unfurl those spindly fingers, Martin pressing their palms together in awe. Killing Martin’s imagined cinematics, Jon doesn’t play piano, though he admits to taking a year of lessons in youth—“I never had the patience for scales.” Martin still likes to imagine it, though, Jon hunched over on the bench, hands spreading an octave with effortless ease.
Maybe Jon holds the page because he knows it drives Martin crazy, seeing him fondle a book. Martin doesn’t bother asking. He wouldn’t want him to stop.
“That’s it,” Jon whispers over Martin’s moans, “there you are, Martin, that’s right sweetheart, come for me now, feel me—that’s it now,” Martin’s hips pistoning off the bed; Jon’s smile, feather-light against his skin. “There you are,” he murmurs, coaxing him through. “There you are.”
“What was the best day of your life?”
Jon frowns as though startled. Martin knows why; the Beholding’s always mining for the opposite thing. Martin wonders if Jon’s going to throw up a wall, if he’s going to say that such secrets shouldn’t be shared, but Jon surprises him—tells him, rubbing a thumb over his hand:
He and Georgie went north for a wedding. The wedding wasn’t what was good, the wedding was as expected: stodgy dress, unmemorable faces, eighty-six names Jon would soon forget. It was for a friend of Georgie’s from school, or a cousin perhaps; it doesn’t matter. The wedding wasn’t the thing. The thing was that they stayed in Liverpool to visit. Georgie’s parents and sisters still lived there, and the wedding had mostly been an excuse.
Jon hated visiting. He liked Georgie’s sisters well enough and found it entertaining when they all got together, but he wasn’t really part of it, always on the sidelines. He put in the requisite number of hours and did not mask his relief when it came time to leave Georgie to her ‘Sisters Day’.
This was his best day: Jon set an early alarm for the train, then walked the length of Liverpool alone. He treated himself to an expensive coffee, which he sipped by the Atlantic. It was mid-May; the weather was unusually clear. Only a light coat was needed in the morning, and Jon was able to shed it just before noon. He walked the seaside in his shirtsleeves, ordered chips for lunch. Feeling generous, fed some persistent gulls.
After lunch, Jon embarked on a bookshop tour. He liked these mostly for the ambiance—“This was pre-Institute, remember; I haven’t been in a proper curio shop since learning Leitners were extant.” He liked to browse for hours, buying just a few hardbacks from authors he’d heard of but never read. He bought for prose—imagery that captured his attention, turns of phrase he’d have never thought of himself. With his spoils, he ate a late afternoon meal at a nearby cafe—eggs benedict and toast, another coffee or two—and read fifty pages of his new purchase by the light of the setting sun.
Another book shop en route; a brief lounge in a park. He retreated into a museum when he got too cold. He liked history; learned a lot about longshoremen that day. Got lost on purpose in a borough that looked nice and wended his way to the train to return.
He found Georgie already in bed when he got in, not a bit drunk and amenable to being read to. He found his favourite passage from what he’d just bought and, pleased with her delight, soon after fell asleep.
Martin waits for the rest, but Jon’s silence says it all. “That’s your best day? Book shops and chips, by yourself?”
“And museums. I explored a new city, learned some new things, saw the ocean from a new place. Why?” He slides his hand against Martin’s ribs, feels the beat of his heart. “What’s your favourite day?”
Martin’s no better: his answer’s equally mundane. Two years back, the Archives staff had gone out for their holiday curry. Jon had deigned to be there mentally as well as physically for once. Sasha was telling one of her extravagant stories—she always knew how to draw people into her world. For a brief stint in college, she’d led another life doing pantomime, and once during Edinburgh Fringe she and the rest of the cast imbibed an unwise amount of an unspecified substance and woke up in a field at five in the morning surrounded by bagpipers, having lost her shoes.
Everyone started laughing at the same time, like a scene from a movie; like four friends out to eat. Tim had laughed twice as loud as everyone else, but he always did, and even Jon had graced them with a genuine laugh, one thumb rested against his chin.
Terrible things were already in motion then. The four of them had sat at the dinner table being pulled underwater by kelp around their legs. But for one night, it hadn’t mattered; for one night it had felt like they liked each other, like they were friends, even family. Like it might be okay, like they’d been normal once. The holidays were ahead and they’d been made friendly from wine—all united in joy.
But Martin says none of this. “I don’t know,” he offers, giving Jon a sly grin. “What’s wrong with today?”
Where are you, Jon whispers into the night.
In the corner of Martin’s eye, stood in the kitchen, Jon is eight feet tall, craning to see. His neck’s bent against the ceiling, he’s too big for this place, made of smoke and perception; intangible things.
When Martin looks right at him, he has to let his gaze fall. Jon’s not eight feet tall; he’s just looking outside. There’s a stillness to him reminiscent of a fox, of a being that hunts.
“Are you alright?” Martin asks.
Jon turns at his voice, an eyebrow cocked. There’s nothing strange about him—it’s just Jon, always Jon. “Lost in thought for a second,” he says with a thin smile. “Don’t know what I was thinking of.” Trying hard as Martin to sound cavalier. “Anything in particular you want to eat?”
“You don’t have to."
“I know I don’t have to.” Jon’s voice and breath warm on Martin’s back. “I asked you what you want because I want to know—”
“I know, but—”
“—and I want to know because I want to do it.”
Martin presses his blushing face to the pillow. “Blghgblrh.”
Jon smiles. “Aha.”
“No. No aha.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Hm. Well, how about you do me a favour”—Jon kisses between his shoulderblades, sends a shiver down his spine—“and lie there and do nothing at all. Just do absolutely nothing until I tell you to move.”
“Why?” Martin asks, flush with suspicion. “What are you going to d—”
Then Martin stops asking questions and does as he’s told.
Jon possesses an abiding patience. Martin’s always known he was focused, but he didn’t know about this—Jon is scientific in his methods, dedicated in his trials. Given a reaction he likes, he recreates the conditions, working Martin through his tremors until they give way to bliss.
Martin doesn’t have words for feelings like these. What is it for someone to bring you pleasure with no thought of themselves? Not to be thinking of other people or the outside world, only you, only this—it is insular and cosmic, nothing and the world.
There’s a sense of eternity to what Jon does—a tirelessness, devotion in spades, but there’s also a sense that time’s ceased to pass. Either that or it passes too fast—days and months and eons gone by with Jon’s mouth on his skin. Outside there could be an apocalypse, an expanding sun and a planet on fire, life died and reborn and decaying again and neither one of them would have noticed from within the protective embrace of these walls.
Sometimes it worries Martin to think in these terms. He’s spent so long surrendering—isn’t that what this is? Abandon of a different kind, still remnants of patterns he’s trying to forget. But it’s not oblivion he wants. He wants Jon here, Jon’s always here—grounding him, taking him into and out of his body again. Martin’s never alone in moments like these. That’s just the thing. He’s never alone.
Maybe Martin’s rewriting his instincts to disappear. He doesn’t want to fade away—can’t fade away, under Jon’s giving hands.
Where are you, Jon whispers into the night.
“Not even crepes?”
“When would I make crepes?” Martin shouts back at him, winning him a warm laugh. “If I want crepes, I’ll go out and buy them. Otherwise I’ll just make a bit of toast and put some marmalade on it, won’t I? Come on, Jon, don’t make that face, there’s plenty of things you can’t do. Don’t make me bring up the squirrel again.”
One night Jon sits bolt upright in bed and listens, motionless, to the wind.
“It’s not Elias,” Martin says. It’s a branch at the wall. It’s the same branch that’s been tapping at the wall all night. The storm's been horrid, the chimney humming with wind. That Jon had fallen asleep at all in the midst of it had seemed like a miracle, until its gusty tides had lulled Martin off too.
Jon doesn’t reply. He stares at the wall, head cocked, eyes trying to bore through. His glasses are on the table, still in their case. Jon hasn’t needed them for a while.
“It’s not Elias,” Martin says again, hand at Jon’s thigh. When Jon doesn’t budge, he adds, “He’s never exactly been subtle.”
Jon releases a breath. Martin threads the hair of Jon’s legs between his fingers until he lies back down. “Don’t know what I was thinking,” he mutters, letting Martin take him into his arms.
But even Martin knows that. The longer they stay, the wilder Jon's stare.
The weather turns torrid fast. December’s settling in. It’s a small miracle it still hasn’t snowed.
“Why in God’s name would I willingly eat something called a ‘tater tot’?”
Martin groans, hand over his mouth. “Oh, no. Oh, no, no. No one’s that posh.”
“I’m not posh at all, I grew up on my grandmother’s pension.”
“They serve you only the finest potatoes at Oxford?”
“They didn’t serve—”
“Only the fanciest imported potatoes?”
“Imported from where, Ireland?”
“Sit down, Mr. Fancy Potato Britches.” Martin gets up and grabs for his coat. “I’m making dinner for once.”
“Where are you going?”
“To the shops.”
“Not for tater tots.”
“Of course for tater tots. Shame there’s no microwave or I’d pick up hot pockets, too.”
“I’ve had a hot pocket.”
“It was fine. We haven’t got an oven.”
“What we lack in ovens we’ll make up for in can-do spirit.”
Jon scoffs dubiously. “It’s getting dark.”
“I’ll take the car. Don’t look at me like that, I can go out if I want. Go read one of your more boring paperbacks if you’re going to be worried, see if it puts you to sleep. I know you didn’t even try last night, Jon, it’s getting really very concerning. You’re going to have to close your eyes eventually.”
Every time Jon says it, it lands like a blow—out of nowhere, “I love you,” plunging Martin into ice. “I love you,” he says, unfurling him—it’s hard to be loved, Martin has learned. He’s a sucker for it, but Jon still has to excavate him out from under its weight all the time. “I love you,” against his belly, the scars on his arms, the tears on his cheeks—“I love you, Martin. I love you. I do.”
One night, Martin wakes to find himself completely alone.
Terror strangles him. He grips the blanket, heart in his throat. It’s a stupid reaction; stupider still that he sits there choking out Jon’s name instead of looking for him.
There is no answer. Martin’s thoughts race. He can’t have gone far. Martin might be able to reach him in the Beholding, he might be strong enough for that. He doesn’t even need to be of the Beholding, does he, he can just go, he can—that’s what Jon did for him. Martin can do the same, if only he can find the door—if that’s where he’s gone—
Is that where he’s gone? This place is for them. They’ve made it for them, they’re supposed to be here, together. Elias can’t have taken him. Martin would have heard something, he’d have felt something, surely he’d have noticed if Jon up and left—
The cabin door opens in a flurry of wind. Martin turns toward the sound with a gasp. “J-Jon?”
A haggard pause. Jon rushes in, fingers hanging on the doorframe, his gaze staggering around the room to look for the threat. His eyes find Martin, panicked and wide. “What’s wrong, what’s the matter?”
The smell of cigarettes trails into the room. “Nothing,” Martin says—then, deeply mortified, he bursts into tears. “Nothing, I—I'm sorry, I didn’t know where you were, I thought—”
“I’m sorry, I just woke up and I—I don’t know what I thought, except, maybe Elias—I thought I didn’t notice—”
Jon’s already peeled out of his jacket, halfway crawling across the bed. He grabs Martin’s legs when he tries to curl up, pulling his hands gently away from his face. “I’m sorry,” Jon says. Martin didn’t realize he associated the smell of cigarettes with home until now. “I only didn’t want to wake you. I haven’t slept, I was going to read... I’m sorry, Martin. I won’t leave you, it’s alright.”
“I’m stupid, it’s—”
“You’re not. I’ll read right here, if you can tolerate the light.”
When it turns out he can, Jon stops even pretending to sleep. He spends his nights with a stack of books, shaking Martin awake when he slips out for to smoke. It’s a bit disruptive, but an improvement in ways. It’s not like Martin’s much fond of the dark these days.
Jon doesn’t tell him when his statements run out, but Martin can tell. More and more he opts out of their walks. In the cold light of day, Martin finds it much easier to trust Jon will be there when he gets back, so he goes alone.
Solitude's something he hadn’t known he needed until he's alone on the gravel road.
He doesn’t miss the Lonely. It’s different than that, like there’s an ache in his chest going invisible seems to fix.
It’s very quiet where no one else is. A few minutes of peace keep him going awhile.
Jon does join him on walks some days, though it costs him a bit. It’s not exactly that Martin slows down; Jon’s always walked with such long-legged purpose that it’s often been hard for Martin to keep up. It’s just not hard anymore. It’s funny to think they fall into step with each other the longer they’re here.
Some days, they don’t leave bed until afternoon.
“You know,” Martin says during one of their walks, “I used to want to be a cow.”
Jon looks at him with surprise. They’ve been stalled here for fifteen minutes, leaned against a fence. Jon says he likes to watch the animals roam. Martin thinks he just needs a rest.
“A cow?” asks Jon. “Why?”
“You get up in the morning, you graze a while, you get some sun, you go to bed. What a life.”
“A slaughter-bound one.”
“Not necessarily. These ones aren’t, they’re too pretty for that.”
“You don’t think they’ll slaughter a pretty cow?”
“I just find it unseemly.”
Jon’s breath curls in the air. “Then you wanted to be a beautiful cow.”
“Better than going to school, I’ll tell you that much.”
Jon smiles in that by-now-familiar way, the sun on his face.
Time passes them by.
“They are slaughter cows,” Martin realizes. “Aren’t they?”
“I think so, I’m afraid. Not many likely to keep cows for aesthetics.”
This annoys Martin more than it should. “You know—just once, just one measly time, I’d like to think something good might be allowed to exist. I’d like to think it might be left alone, just because it's good. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
When Jon finally speaks, his voice sounds small, as though condensed by the cold. “Yes, Martin. I should like to think so too.”
Where the hell are you, Jon whispers into the night.
“I just don’t think most people get to feel like this,” Martin says, Jon’s ear over his heart. “I don’t think most people know what this is.”
Jon doesn’t answer right away. Sometimes, when he thinks hard enough, the whole room seems to hum.
“I’ve never guessed well on what others feel,” he says at last.
“But…” Jon sighs, gripping gently at Martin’s hip. “I don’t know, Martin. I think we’re not much like other people.”
Where are you, Jon whispers, you yellow-bellied coward?
The being reading beside him is almost a man—tall and radiating energy, his limbs rolled out and stretched too thin.
Martin sits bolt upright, eyes narrow in the light. Jon—always Jon, his elegant finger stuck in the page—looks at him with concern, eyes returning to brown. “Martin?” he asks.
The monster settles within. It means him no harm, Martin sees that much.
“Nothing,” Martin says. “It's nothing. Bad dream.”
He lies back down with his head in Jon’s lap, and Jon returns to his book, fingers deep in Martin’s hair. As Martin sinks into the clutches of his protection, he finds it easy to drift off.
It can’t be so bad, what lives in Jon, if it feels so much like home.
“You never played nibs?”
“No," says Jon, baffled. "What in God’s name is nibs?”
“Your grandmother, Mrs. ‘The Wretched Beatrice doesn't know how to play Bridge,' never taught you nibs?”
“I won’t know if she taught me if you won’t tell me what it is.”
“You either know it or you don’t.”
“This conversation is growing increasingly ominous, Martin.”
“Well, it’s too late now.”
“What logic is that? Just tell me what it is.”
Jon scowls. “This will haunt me.”
Martin grins at him. “I know!”
Jon points for nibs a couple days later without Martin telling him what it is. But Martin’s really only surprised it took him that long.
“It’s not Elias.”
Jon naps during the day sometimes, as long as Martin stays awake, but it never quite takes. Jon’s gotten Martin into these paperbacks now, and Martin doesn’t even stop reading as he strokes Jon’s hair. “This book is horrible, by the way.”
“Which one is it?” Jon rasps.
“Oh, God. I liked his mum.”
“Yeah, she’s the only good character.”
Jon lies silent a while, breath reedy and thin. “What the hell is he waiting for?”
He doesn’t mean Tripp Slade. “I don’t know,” Martin says.
Though he does, they both do—Jon ran out of statements six days ago. He dropped dinner in its entirety the other day, his wrist failing under the weight of the pan. His unsteady hands tried to put it right, but he couldn’t keep his balance crouched on the floor.
He doesn’t talk quite as freely, silence prevailing his mood. Martin doesn’t mind, exactly. They’ve got enough of a handle on each other by now.
“I’m sorry I keep ruining dinner."
“I don’t mind,” Martin says, fingertips brushing at his brow.
“Something simpler, perhaps. A lighter pan.”
“Please don’t worry about it, Jon. I don’t mind.”
Come and get me, Elias, you spineless, impotent—
“I should have taken more statements.”
Martin looks up. Jon doesn’t like to talk about this—tends to ignore the conversation when Martin tries. But they’ve been here more than two weeks now. Neither one of them expected to still be here.
“I can call Basira,” Martin says. “Have her send some up.”
Jon’s quiet so long Martin thinks he's fallen asleep. “No,” he mutters eventually, then adds quieter still—“Not yet.”
But he only holds out another couple of days.
“It’s all a bit odd, to be honest,” Martin tells him one night. “I don’t go in for much romance usually, it’s all a bit recycled and—well—predominantly heterosexual. Tripp Slade case in point. But it’s not that the Doctor and Rose were together, either, because they weren’t. Not explicitly. They were too different, you see. The Doctor’s got this great cosmic purpose that’s not really… He’s thousands of years old, right, and she’s like twenty. And the Doctor, being this timeless being, I think he sometimes gets confused about what’s love and what’s friendship? Like sometimes he thinks having a friend is like being in love, because sometimes—when you’re very lonely, when you’re properly lonely—it sort of feels that way. Like every kindness is a message, you know?”
“But Rose, see, she—well, she feels everything, doesn’t she? Her emotions are at eleven, and she knows what they are. That’s part of what he loves about her, the Doctor. He can’t understand those feelings in himself anymore because he’s so old and weary, except through Rose. And she sort of stuck by him through this big transformation, and…” Martin sighs. “Well, I don’t know.”
“I think you do.”
Martin smiles faintly. “I s’pose there’s just something about this one that got me, even before… when Rose winds up in another dimension, and the Doctor can’t bring her back.”
Martin feels Jon’s attention sharpen. “Mm.”
“And it’s all in the service of love in the first place, why they—why they had to split up, why they wound up in different dimensions at the end. And they just lean against this dimensional wall next to each other for a second, feeling each other, knowing they can never find each other again. And Rose can’t stop sobbing, and then I can’t stop sobbing, because, you know, I’ve felt like that. And—well—David Tennant’s not really my type”—Jon twitches minutely—“but I think he plays this quite well, the great vast loneliness of it all. The, the resignation of it, the acceptance of how it always goes, because this is how it always goes: he loves someone and loses them. He gets one good thing and then it—it gets sealed away from him, or replaced, or…” Martin doesn’t know the tear’s escaped until Jon catches it with his fingertip. “And Rose was an interruption in all that vast loneliness he felt, and now he’s stuck with it again, with this great feeling of loss, because the person he loved and who let him feel love is gone for good. And it’s like—” Martin swallows thickly. “It’s like he’s been through a million times before. He’s immortal, he’s loved so much and so many times and—and lost it every time, like this and in other ways. He didn’t even know Rose that long, not really, but it wasn’t one thing, it’s just a drop in the pond but there’s been so many drops that they made the pond, and—she reminded him what love is like. And now she’s gone and he has to live with that, and everything else, forever.”
Jon processes this with quiet consideration. “Am I the Doctor or Rose in this scenario?” he asks.
Martin chokes out a laugh. “I don’t know.” He wipes his face clean with his own shirt. “I don’t know what I’m saying. Got a bit away from me.”
Jon’s hand settles against Martin’s heart. Boom boom. Boom boom. “Well, the next time you get lost in another dimension, Martin, I certainly won’t be leaving you there.”
“Yeah. Come and get me.”
They bask in this a moment.
“I suppose,” Jon says, “that would make me better than the Doctor—”
“Don’t make it weird.”
“He violates the laws of space and time. I just think—”
“—immortality is a condition befitting a stringent code of conduct, and the fact he doesn’t follow one—”
Martin draws the blankets over his face. “You do better, then.”
Jon re-emerges. “I already said I would.”
“Good. Settled, then.”
What are you waiting for?
Jon gets it in his head he hasn’t said it enough, whispers I love you at an ankle, I love you at his heel. Martin lets him say it however much he wants, until the words stop sounding right—I love you, a whisper, a thrill never wearing thin.
“You—Jon,” Martin says on a grin, tugging at him when he mouths along Martin’s leg. “You don’t have to—”
“I’m not done with you.”
I’m not done with you.
These are the things Martin never forgets.