Martin pulls down his shirt, but Jon has already seen the long, narrow scars that stripe his skin. “My god, what happened to your back?”
“I let Peter give me those,” Martin replies, matter-of-factly. “I guess you could say it was his idea of job training.” His eyes widen as he realizes what he’s said, and why.
“I am so sorry.” Jon holds up his hands. “You don’t need to tell me the rest. Whatever happened between the two of you, it’s none of my business.” That doesn’t stop the next questions from forming in his mind: were they trying to satisfy a greater Power, or their own desires? Did Martin want the beatings, or had he been coerced or manipulated into accepting them? How much does that matter, now that the man who administered them is dead?
“Said the avatar of knowledge,” Martin responds, a sardonic smile in his voice.
“I wasn’t trying to compel you.” That sounds too much like an excuse, so Jon adds, “I’m usually better at reining it in.”
“You also haven’t read a statement since we left London,” Martin points out.
“Haven’t I?” Jon thinks back. Perhaps the adrenaline has distracted him, or, alternately (and this is a far less pleasant thought), Lukas’ life story has been sustaining him in the chaos of their escape. Now that the external dangers are less immediate, and they’re ensconced in a seemingly peaceful corner of the Scottish highlands, he can acknowledge the stirrings of restlessness that usually signal his hunger. “You may be right about that.”
Martin sits down beside him on the bed. “I could… tell you the rest, if you want to listen.”
“Are you sure?”
“I had a lot of time to think on our way out here, and I… sort of expected that you’d find out eventually, one way or another.” This time, the smile twitches Martin’s lips. “This is as good a time as any, yeah?”
“We both know that there are much worse ways of getting what I need,” Jon agrees. “Are you ready?” As he takes a deep breath, the tape recorder on the windowsill starts to run. “Statement of Martin Blackwood, regarding his… job training… from Peter Lukas. Taken directly from subject–”
“Willingly given by subject,” Martin interrupts.
Warmed by those words, Jon continues, “Twenty-ninth of September, 2018. Statement begins.” He folds his fingers around Martin’s. “Tell me what happened.”
“I knew Peter was part of the Lonely, of course,” Martin says. “And even before he told me that we had to stop the end of the world together, I guess I figured that he’d try to convert me. After the Unknowing, there wasn’t a whole lot holding me back.
“As for other kinds of seduction… that was probably the last thing on either of our minds, at first. If you asked, I might say that I found him attractive, but I was pretty well focused on helping him run the Institute, and he seemed more interested in whatever game he was playing. Besides, I wasn’t sure if his lot bothered with sex unless they had to procreate. But I was wrong, and he explained that on the first night he brought me home. Said I had to learn to be alone with certain sensations.”
“‘Had to’?” Jon echoes. “You didn’t…”
“I know what you’re going to ask,” Martin says quickly. “And I… thought I wanted it, at the time. That’s the best answer I can give.”
“All right,” Jon says, even though it isn’t.
“Sometimes, he disappeared after we… finished. Sometimes, almost as soon as we started. He wasn’t always rough with me, but I didn’t mind it when he was.” Martin stares at their joined hands. “I really said that bit out loud, didn’t I?”
“We both knew where this was going,” Jon reminds him. He forces himself to ask, “Would you like to stop?” Martin shakes his head. “Did he… did you… succeed in what you were trying to do?”
“Yeah.” Martin meets Jon’s eyes again. “Yeah, we did. It wasn’t long after you woke up. He didn’t even bother taking us back to my flat or his, just wrapped up his office in fog, told me to take off my shirt, and brought out the whip. He could probably tell that I’d never used anything like it before. ‘I’m not forcing you into anything, my boy,’ he said when he saw my face. ‘You can walk out that door and down those stairs. There aren’t too many people left in the building, and I don’t think any of them care enough to ask where you’ve been.’”
Jon realizes that his thumb has been moving back and forth across Martin’s hand, but isn’t sure if Martin notices.
“I was committed to playing along with him by that point. Or else I wanted to test myself, because if I could move my mind away from that, I could move it away from anything. Or maybe I was just curious, a little excited to find out what would happen.” Martin shakes his head. “Whatever the reason, I turned around and put my hands on his desk. I could hear him chuckle. I hadn’t exactly heard much laughter inside the Institute recently.
“I won’t say the first lash was the worst pain I’d ever felt, but it was different to getting hurt in a fight with some monster. I bit my lip and tasted blood. He asked… well, the same thing you just did. Whether I wanted to stop. I said no, and after a while, I lost track of how many times he hit me. I practically forgot where I was. I just waited for the next strike, and the next one after that, and felt almost relieved when they came. Satisfied, you know? I even let go of all my grief and worry about you, after I’d started to feel like they’d always be part of me.
“Peter didn’t speak again that night. Not when he finally stopped, not when he cleaned off my back and put some sort of disinfectant on it, not when he disappeared. I was alone with the pain and the fog, and when I breathed it in, I started to feel better. Or, at least, I didn’t feel as much pain. Or anything else, really.
“The next thing I remember, it was morning, and Peter was opening up the door to the office. He’d brought me a change of clothes, a toothbrush, a shaving kit. Told me to clean myself up because we had a lot of work to do that day. Like he saw me collapsed on the floor all the time, like the night before had never happened. A secret can be its own kind of loneliness, yeah?” At those words, Jon can’t help but think about the paranoia that isolated him from his assistants, and all of the drops and trickles and waves of truth that he’s absorbed since then. “Even if you share it with someone you see every day, but don’t talk about it, or maybe especially then,” Martin is saying. “But from the way Peter looked at me that morning, I could tell he was amused. And proud.” He pauses for breath, and Jon squeezes his hand. “Oh. Is that enough for now?”
“More than enough,” Jon assures him. “Statement ends.” As the tape recorder clicks off, he already feels more settled in his own mind and body. “Thank you, Martin. Do you feel all right?”
“I think so.” Martin squeezes back. “The embarrassment might catch up with me later, but if I need to go outside and walk it off, I promise I’ll leave a note.” Jon finds himself nodding. He suspects that he himself will feel any number of things once he’s, well, digested all of that information. “And now I know that I can talk about the Lonely, about how good it felt to lose myself, without falling back into it.”
“I will never let that happen,” Jon says firmly, taking Martin’s face in his hands. “I promise.”