“It’s a little burnt,” Martin said, looking down at the skewered fish and talking without expecting a response. “Sorry about that. I never did the whole fishing trip thing as a boy.”
Normal-looking, though. No extra limbs or teeth or eyes, flaky white flesh that didn’t bleed human red when he cut it open with his penknife. He had caught it in a good brook with clear water that ran close to tonight’s campsite, and the only thing that kept him from wanting to just stay where they were forever was needing to believe that there was somewhere in the world the Powers hadn’t touched, and knowing he would only be able to believe it if he left the place behind.
Even Jon had started to relax, unfurling from his hunched almost-silence to lean back against a boulder like any weary hiker might after along day’s travel. At the sound of Martin’s voice, he blinked, shook himself, appeared to pull back from whatever distant thing he was seeing and looked at Martin instead. As he did, Martin could feel the force of the Beholding’s gaze as it turned in the sky to look with him. It’s funny, really, how you can get used to anything. Martin ignored the eye in the sky, focused instead on holding out his offering of lightly charred fish-on-a-stick without letting on his hand was shaking.
Not, of course, that he expected it to do much good. Thin though Jon was – and he was less thin, somehow, than he had been – he very seldom ate anything these days at all.
I’m not hungry, he’d said, the last time Martin asked about that, and then he’d laughed until the bitterness was spilling over. Martin hadn’t asked again, but he still offered, when there was food to share. Usually, Jon declined, and sometimes he simply stared without answering, his vision fixed somewhere else.
This time, though, he smiled a cracked smile and took the skewer like he didn’t know what to do with it, the eye in his palm blinking shut as his fingers closed around it. Martin had gotten used to those, too. He had started to think of them as beautiful, in an unsettling sort of way, and Jon had a way of shivering when he ran his thumb over the closed lids, and breathing out in a quiet sigh, that almost let them both forget the apocalypse for a while.
“Better burnt then raw,” Jon said. “Thank you, Martin.”
And he probably still wasn’t hungry, glutted as he was on all the world’s fear, but he tore pieces of fish free with his fingers and ate them carefully, one by one, and just for a moment, it seemed that the shadows delineating his face weren’t so sharp, and that the gleam of his eyes might be only reflected light. Illusion, or delusion. What Jon had become wasn’t some spell an ordinary human meal could break.
But when he smiled again, almost naturally – that was real.