"Oh. Um... Thank you for the tea, Martin."
"No problem," the smile was clear in Martin's voice, as he pulled a chair for himself to sit. "What are you up to?"
"I– just," papers flutter against the microphone of the recorder. "You know. Going through... Statements."
"Ah, snack time," he hums, amused. "Of course. Do you want me to–"
"No! No. Um. Please, stay," Jon pauses, clears his throat. "... If you want to, that is–"
He's cut off by Martin's laughter. "Of course I want to, Jon, you..." he says, audibly grinning, audibly biting back on some more chuckles. "What's this statement about, then?"
"Oh, uhm," Jon fumbles with papers once more. "This... Statement of Llewellyn Morris, regarding a strange painting that came to his possession in..." His voice trails off. When it returns, it's quieter than before, lacking the confidence reading statements usually brought out on him: "Actually, I was meaning to just... Talk to you."
"Yes, I..." He clears his throat once more. "How... Are you–?" Static suddenly crackles faintly behind his voice, and as if noticing this, he hesitates. "Ah, no, no, I-I'm so sorry, I– don't answer that– I didn't mean to–"
Martin, however, laughs once more. "God, Jon, it's okay–"
"I just don't know how to turn the damn thing off–"
"Stop, stop!" His voice still resonates a smile. "It's okay, Jon, it's not like you just asked me to tell you about my last mental breakdown," Jon quiets, then. "... That was a joke. And, for the record, I'm... Not bad," he pauses. "I think... This is the best I've felt in months. In... Years."
"... Oh. That's... Why?"
"No... Immediate threat of doom?" His snicker is a bit more nervous this time. "Or, well, at least we're pretty far away from any immediate threat of doom. At least I feel like we are? I... It's a bit easier to pretend, I guess, out here," he sighs, lightly. "Won't pretend I hadn't daydreamed about this sort of thing before, too. Living out in a cottage in the middle of nowhere with nearly no worries, and..."
He slowly comes to a stop. Jon tuts. The static returns. "And? "
"And you," the words tumble out of Martin's mouth instantly, right at the same time as Jon gasps. "Ah."
"I am so, so–"
"It's okay, Jon. I–" a breathy chuckle escapes his mouth. "You can't help it, and... It's not really much of a secret, is it? I don't think it's ever really been."
They both quieten, then. Jon says something too softly to be fully understood, perhaps into his tea mug.
When they speak again, their voices overlap. Martin tries a meek "How are you?" while Jon attempts to begin again with a "Actually, I was just meaning to…" , but they both stop simultaneously.
"I'm sorry, go on," Martin says, an awkward smile in his voice, while Jon sputters again.
"No, no, you go, please."
"No, what were you meaning to do?"
The silence that sets between them does nothing but confirm that they are insufferable.
"I was…" Jon starts, slowly, as if trying to carefully pick his words. "I was meaning to, um… j-just… Maybe we should discuss what…" it doesn't work. A frustrated groan leaves his mouth. "Fuck, I'm… I'm awful at this."
"Oh, I…" It's like something occurs to Martin. "Oh, Jon, I'm so sorry."
"If– If you… If you don't, um… reciprocate, that's completely fine, I understand, just–"
"Oh, Martin, that's not what I–"
"– Just tell me and, if it, if it makes you uncomfortable, or–"
"Martin, stop," He does. "That's not what I mean at all."
"Oh," Martin breathes. "Right. Yes. I'm sorry."
"Don't– don't apologise! I–" Jon groans, the words catching in his throat. "Martin, I... I-I... Good Lord..." He takes a deep breath, and a full moment to recompose himself. "Ask me… what I think about you."
"... What?" Jon doesn't repeat himself. When it hits Martin, he sputters another nervous chuckle. "Jon, you do know I can't compel people, right?"
"Yes, but I– just do it, please?"
There's a stillness as Martin shifts in his seat, before he speaks again. "... Right. Um," he clears his throat, and as if trying to mimic Jon's voice, he continues. However, static doesn't appear behind his words. "Jon, what do you think about me?"
There's a beat, once more.
"I think... You're–"
"That's quite enough of that."
Martin startles out of his trance as the voice of Jon, unfiltered by the warm crackling of the speakers of the tinny tape recorder and completely lacking any of the softness he had just been hearing, rings in his ears.
He looks up then and finds him, finger on the "stop" button of the device, eyes piercing holes through Martin's skull. Though his skin is dark, his face has a distinctive redness to it Martin had never noticed before. After a second, he concludes that it probably has something to do with the way he looks like he's trying to hold back a scream.
Oh, god. He doesn't think he's ever seen Jon this furious before. Not even when he accidentally spilled tea on him and the handful of files he was holding, or, God forbid, that one time he brought that poor lost dog into the archives.
"Martin, if this is your idea of a joke –"
"No! Nonononono," Martin scrambles forward, feeling blood rush towards his ears. "Jon, I swear to God, I've never– I didn't know–"
"You didn't know."
"I didn't I– I swear! I-I found that tape after–" his eyes jump around the room as he frantically tries to figure out a good way to explain. "After I– yesterday there was this guy, a-and he bumped into me and– and he dropped that tape, and I don't have anything that plays tape at home, so it's n-not like I could've checked, otherwise I would've–"
The words he had in his throat all seem to fade at the pure venom in Jon's voice, and even though he is scared shitless of potentially losing his job right there and then, he looks at him and can't help but think it's kind of funny, how cartoonishly angry he looks. Like if he could spew smoke from his ears and whistle like a teapot, he would. Thankfully, he manages to suppress his nervous laughter.
"I'm sorry," he says, and flinches when Jon gives him another look . "I am sorry, I... I swear, I swear this isn't some sort of joke. I really, really didn't know that that tape was going to be... T-that, and... If I did I wouldn't..." He shakes his head as he feels his words start to get away from him into another meaningless tangent. "I– okay, I... I can explain, but it's– you definitely won't believe me."
What he doesn't expect, then, is for Jon to actually settle down slightly. His expression is still furrowed into a deep, dissatisfied frown, but when he speaks up again, his voice is the sort of bitter Martin's more used to. Resigned annoyance. His natural state around him.
The unprofessionalism of speaking to an employee in such a manner has probably settled on him. And for a delirious moment, Martin's actually somewhat thankful for the institute's decorum.
"I certainly have no idea how you'd be able to get someone to mimic my voice so... Accurately," he murmurs, raising a hand to rub his temples. "But I do not doubt you could go through lengths to find an impersonator to read out this fanfiction of yours–"
"I didn't–" Martin chokes on his own words as he processes Jon's statement. "Fanfiction?!" Sure, sure, he had a bit of a thing for academic types like Jon, and yeah, perhaps he had daydreamed a little about what it'd be like to ask him on a date, and maybe his stomach had done a few pathetic flips at how gently the man in the tape who sounded like Jon spoke to the man that sounded like him, but... "Jon, I would never– "
"What other explanation is there, Martin?" Jon huffs, unfazed by how comically offended he is. "How else could you explain the– the context of this? Clearly you just wanted to get some sort of rise out of me — which you certainly did, congratulations — so you decided to trick me into–"
"You think I'd put this much effort just to spite you?"
"How else would you explain it?"
"I– I got it from your bloody doppelgänger!"
Suddenly, silence falls in the room.
The room’s mostly empty walls echo Martin's words right back at him, and he feels heat crawl up his neck at his dumb choice of words. That is not at all helped by the way Jon starts laughing.
"Excuse me?" Martin desperately wants to crawl under his chair and hide. His brain uselessly hands him the idea of running out of the room and buying a train ticket to Scotland to avoid ever speaking to or seeing Jon ever again. "My doppelgänger? "
"I told you you wouldn't believe me," he grumbles. "But it's true. I... I was going home yesterday, and I just... Ran into this guy, and he was... Jon, he was you," Jon slowly stops laughing, and his expression returns to one of annoyance and disbelief, as it settles upon him that no, Martin isn't joking. "I– I mean, not, not you you, but– he looked a lot like you. A lot. I... He did have some... Nasty looking scars... But he spoke like you and... He dropped this tape."
"... Dropped it." Jon echoes, unconvinced.
"Yes, he– when he ran away, it..." Martin makes a haphazard motion with his hand, which Jon follows with his eyes. He suddenly notices that the look in his face is slowly shifting to one of pity, and part of him wants to pull at his hair and scream.
He's so incompetent, Martin can almost hear Jon think, he can't even go through with a stupid prank.
"Take my statement."
The words leap out of his mouth before he can even fully think them through, with more confidence than he thought he could muster at that instant.
Jon raises an eyebrow. "Pardon?"
"It's– look, I know you think I'm lying, making this up, but I swear, I promise you I'm not. And i-it's– I believe it is supernatural in a way, so I'd like to make a statement about it!" He tries to put some finality into his tone, but his voice betrays him by cracking a little, and he cringes.
Jon, however, doesn't seem to waver in his expression.
But to Martin's surprise, he rolls his eyes, and turns his laptop back towards himself, tapping away at the touchpad before turning the USB microphone towards Martin.
"Fine," he says, defeated. And when Martin just stares at the device in front of him, Jon pokes at him, condescendingly.
"Whenever you're ready."
The recording did not work on his laptop.
Martin thinks he'd rambled for about a minute or two before Jon stopped him, saying something about the audio not looking right. They played it back and both heard a jumbled mess of sound, absolutely incomprehensible, with only a few scattered words actually audible.
He'd tried some troubleshooting, but like with all problem statements, it was no use. Jon didn't look all that surprised, though. And Martin could almost imagine what he was thinking. When is Martin Blackwood not a problem?
Jon had finally replaced the tape in the recorder for a blank one, but when Martin had reached to grab the one with the odd domestic audio of them both, Jon moved it away from him. "If you are in fact making a statement about this, it should be considered as evidence," he grumbled, and Martin couldn't help but feel his heart sink a little. He had already started trying to think of ways to grab ahold of the recorder so he could hear what that other Jon thought of him– not like he actually cared all that much, of course, but...
"Okay. One more time," the Jon in front of him, unbearably stiff and formal as always, clicks on the recorder. "Statement of Martin Blackwood, archival assistant at the Magnus Institute, regarding... A strange encounter."
"With a man who looked a lot like you," Martin adds, halfheartedly.
Jon rolls his eyes, but continues. "Statement recorded direct, October 17th 2015, blah, blah, blah. Go."
He pushes the tape recorder towards him, and Martin stares at it, suddenly unsure of where to start. He glances up at Jon, whose face portrays nothing more than stern annoyance and offers absolutely no help or reassurance, and bites his lip. "Should I... Go from the beginning, or...?"
"Right," he fumbles with the bottom of his jacket. "Right."
He tries to pick out his words more carefully, in an attempt to try and sound as convincing as possible to appeal to Jon's annoying skepticism, but as soon as he opens his mouth, the words seem to all slip out, without regard to any of his plans.
"Well, it was yesterday, so you probably remember most of what happened. You, um, sent me out to get an interview with a Mr. Aaron Lurdes, he had that statement about... a weird dog? I think? Something like that. And, um, he lived all the way across town, and when I got there the address that we had on record turned out to be wrong, so I spent about an hour just..." He chuckles, nervously. "Going from door to door, asking for him. Ended up having to run around a lot, which definitely wasn't great, I didn't exactly wear the right type of shoes to run around in–"
"Does this have anything to do with this encounter of yours, at all." Jon's toneless voice cuts through him like a knife.
"S... Sorry. Yeah. Um. The encounter," he pauses, focusing his stare on the recorder in an attempt to keep himself grounded. "The encounter."
I was going home for the day. My feet hurt like hell, and all I could think about was just getting inside and flopping facedown into bed, or my couch, or the ground even. I was kind of delirious, honestly. It had been a very long day. Which I guess is the excuse I'm going to give you for why I didn't... See him, at first. God, he would've stood out to anybody. But... Not to me, apparently. Heh. Not when I was just so busy thinking about how nice it'd be to just stop walking and lie down for a bit.
He definitely saw me, though. All of a sudden I just get this feeling... You know, when you're being stared at, and you get kind of... Tingly? It kind of felt like that, just... Ten times more intense. Like I had a crowd worth of eyes on me. I try to keep walking a little bit longer - I am so close to my flat at this point that I just conclude that I can ignore it and rush inside into safety - but it– it gets unbearable. And I suddenly also get the feeling that I'm being followed. Which, great, right?
Now, I'm sort of convinced that I'm being stalked by some sort of mugger or, murderer, or– or monster, worst case scenario. I start thinking that, if I actually go into my flat, this guy's just going to know where I live, which I'm pretty sure would make things a lot worse. But it's not like I have anywhere else to go, and, again, my feet were killing me. So I'm really just running out of options, there.
I finally decide to look behind my shoulder, gathering enough courage to look at this... This guy. And I find that he's... A lot smaller than I thought he'd be. And if he's some sort of criminal, he definitely doesn't look the part. He's all... Frazzled, and his posture is not of someone who's trying to be intimidating. I do like, start reaching for my pepper spray, because I'm not stupid, and I know appearances are deceiving, and maybe this is how this guy gets his victims to get their guard down, but then he...
He says my name. He calls for me in this soft, kind tone, like it... He said it like it had some sort of meaning. Like I... Hah. Like I somehow mattered more than anything else. That sounds silly, but it... It's how it made me feel at the time. I don't think I've ever heard anybody say my name like that before.
I know, I know I should've done something and not just let him rush towards me. But the way he'd spoken, the way he just knew my name, it caught me so off guard I kind of froze in place. I would've definitely reacted in any other circumstances, for the record. But when he came up to me, I just... Kind of let him hug me.
"He hugged you?"
Martin blinks, as if snapping out of a trance, being suddenly reminded of the fact that Jon was there with him. He'd just been so quiet, he'd nearly completely forgotten...
But now, when he looks at him, Martin is surprised to see that his posture is entirely changed, that he looks like he's almost interested now.
"Y... Yeah," Martin nods, slowly. "He just threw his arms around my neck and pulled me in for a hug. It was weird, like... I don't know. Kind of felt like it wasn't the first time he'd done that, even though I know for sure I'd never– nobody ever hugged me like that before, certainly not this guy."
Jon nods, seemingly satisfied with the clarification. "Sorry," he mumbles. "Carry on."
Martin clears his throat.
I'm still kind of frozen in shock, you know. Out of all the things I'd expected to happen, him hugging me definitely wasn't... On the top of the list. But just as I'm about to say something, he starts speaking, just going... "Thank god, thank god it's you," with such relief it just... I kind of felt bad? Like I'd be ruining his day if I pushed him away. So I let him babble to me for a little bit while I try to just process this whole situation.
Most of what he said sounded like nonsense. I caught something about webs, I think, but I don't think I have the context necessary to actually get any of it, unfortunately.
At some point I did gather the courage to, y'know, say something. I just… pat him on the back and tell him that maybe I'm not who he thinks I am? I– I mean, he did call me by name. But at that moment I thought... it could just be a coincidence. I'm not– I'm not the only person named 'Martin' in London, I... I think. Almost sure.
That's what finally gets him to stop and take a step back, though. He's still sort of holding me by the shoulders, but I can finally see his face and...
And, God, Jon. He looked exactly like you.
Well– maybe not exactly. He had way longer hair and was a lot… had a lot more grey hair, and he had these... These weird little round scars, all over his face and neck. He also looked like he hadn't slept in two weeks, but the– the facial complexion. Your– y'know, the... He had your face. Same... Same eyes, nose, e-everything. Just... Undeniably, you.
And he just looks at me, directly at me, with this sad little confused expression. When he opens his mouth to speak again, to tell me that 'it's him' , I finally realise that he has your exact voice, too. And it's like he can see the realisation dawning upon me because he just smiles at me.
Obviously, I start asking questions. My brain's on fire at that point, so I'm just stuttering ‘why's and ‘how’s and ‘what’s over and over. I had seen you just a few hours before and I was sure your face wasn't scarred and your hair wasn't long enough to be put up, and also pretty sure that you would never be smiling at me unless something really, really weird had happened.
He didn't really answer, though. Just told me that he "had come looking for me" . I finally managed to get through a sentence at that point, though, and the first thing out of my mouth is "What happened to you?"
He seemed to think I was asking about something else at first, though, because he starts going on about a house, and, and a door, or something? But I raised a shaky hand up and just... Poked one of the scars on his face. And when he realised that that's what I was talking about, he just gave me the weirdest look. Like I was somehow the crazy one there.
I don't know why, but that's when I noticed his hand.
The scar on it was so much worse than any of the ones on his face, just... So much worse. It was a really ugly sight, actually. I couldn't even see actual skin, it was just all scar tissue all the way up to his wrist. It was like he dipped his hand in– in lava . And I– I start freaking out, obviously. I'm basically shouting at him at this point, just going "what happened" and "who did this to you", over and over, and he seems about as confused and freaked out as me until he just... He just isn't.
Suddenly, he steps back and starts looking around all over the place, like he's... Like he's trying to spot a hidden camera, or something. I'm still sputtering questions like an idiot at this point, but when he turns back to me he ignores all of it and just… Asks me what day it is.
There's suddenly just so much fear in his voice, when he asks that. And I... I really want to ask him a question back, I want to know why this is relevant at all, why he wants to know this. But it's like the words all got replaced the moment they reached my tongue, because instead of any of that, I just... Tell him the exact date. It's the 16th of October, 2015.
This seems to absolutely terrify him, somehow. And he starts backing away from me. I... I really want answers, though, so I start trying to calm him down, like, let's go inside, I can make you some tea and you can explain what's going on? But he doesn't listen. When he looks at me again, he stares me right in the eyes and just says: "Forget this ever happened."
And then he starts running.
I– Obviously I start trying to follow, but I suddenly remember how my feet were trying to kill me, so I don't exactly go very far. When I finally catch my breath, he's gone. Nowhere in sight.
I don't know how I noticed the tape. It was... I felt like my eyes were led to it, because it definitely wasn't clear that it was there, especially in the dark. But I picked it up anyway.
"And I... Uh... Went home," Martin mumbles. "And then I came here this morning, and asked to borrow the recorder, and..."
"Yes," Jon says, finally. "Yes, I know the rest of the story. Statement ends," he clears his throat, though makes no effort to stop the recording. Only glares at Martin from behind his desk. "So?"
"You expect me to really believe this. That– that I have some sort of scarred doppelgänger out there, right now, running around London, randomly groping people and throwing tapes around as freebies?"
Martin's heart drops. Given Jon's patience, his lack of interruption throughout his whole statement, the way he just willingly listened, he really thought, for a good minute, that maybe...
"Yes?" Martin says, with perhaps a bit more bite than he expected. "Yes, I think it's fair you do, because it's true?"
"Why would I make up something like this? To embarrass myself in front of you?" Martin sputters, frowning. "You really think I'd come in here, wielding a tape with an embarrassingly cheesy recording of people who sound like us, force you to listen to it, and then bullshit a story about you having a scary twin? For what, Jon? What do I have to gain from this?"
Jon clears his throat, uncomfortably, but his posture doesn't change. "Right, so maybe some of this did happen," Martin perks up at this slightly with hope. "But that doesn't mean that this man was me, or anybody related to me," Oh. Martin lets out a groan, which goes seemingly unnoticed as Jon continues, unfazed, with his skeptic schtick. "Maybe it was just some drunk, or... Very confused person, who thought you were someone else. It was night, was it not? Maybe you just thought he looked like me. And it's not like I have all that of an unique voice, either. And 'Jon' and 'Martin' are rather common names–"
"How do you explain the bloody tape he dropped, then?
Jon's eye twitches slightly at the mention of it. "I'm sure there's a rational explanation for that, too."
"Oh, come on!"
"Martin, we must be reasonable–"
"Be reasonable– you're the one that's not being reasonable here!" He doesn't know when exactly he had stood up, but he surely is on his feet now, gesticulating wildly at Jon. "I don't understand why you're like this, w-why you push this cynic thing so hard! Can't you just at least try to believe, for once? Just try? "
With a deep breath, Jon straightens himself in his seat.
"I'm sorry I'm not as gullible as you are."
Martin stares at him for what feels like a very long time. Even under his glare, Jon doesn't shift.
"Thank you for taking my statement."
He tries not to slam the door too hard on his way out. He fails.
Martin has half a dozen plastic bags filled with his groceries for the week equally divided between both of his hands, and his feet dragging on the ground as he walks.
Between the time he entered the store and left, the sun had already gone down, and the streets had gotten very dark. He supposes maybe he spent a tad bit too long deciding between kinds of canned peaches, or maybe it was the five minutes he spent just staring blankly into the boxes at the cereal aisle; who can truly know? The cashier had been very patient with him however, even smiling kindly at him as she asked him if he’d take cash or card for the third time in a row.
His mood must still be pretty obvious, because Tim and Sasha had also similarly tried to cheer him up. He'd received casual invitations to drinks after work (Tim, with a wink and a nudge, you can vent however much you want to us, I’ll buy! ), had them bringing him tea (it was a tad bit too bitter, not like he’d ever admitted to anybody the amount of sugar he liked to put in it, anyway), and been left a crooked, but cute little paper crane on his desk after he came back from lunch (it was Sasha, most definitely. He’d recalled teaching her how to do it once).
None of it really worked , per se, but he did appreciate the kind gestures. Even if he couldn’t exactly muster the energy to fully pretend to be thankful at the moment, he made a mental note to give back to them when he was feeling more himself later.
Currently he was just very much looking forward to getting home to his flat, grabbing one of his nice, fluffy pillows, and screaming very loudly into it until his voice gave out— like a proper adult does.
But, for the second time in two consecutive days, he's stopped in his tracks.
This time by something he actually manages to see first; a person. A person about Jon–height, with the same frail frame as him, standing near his apartment complex.
Martin feels slight déjà vu. He also feels another headache coming in.
If this is the same man, he can't help but think, still stopped in place; then maybe I can gather more proof to show Jon, so he has to believe me.
Which is how Martin finds himself with his phone in hand and three plastic bags on the length of his arm, sneaking up to a complete stranger in the middle of the night. His steps are careful and quiet, experienced from a life lived wishing not to be noticed and not to bother anybody around him, and the mystery man, this other-Jon, is none the wiser to his presence.
That is, well, until one of the bags on Martin’s arm shifts, making a small ruffled sound which causes the man in question to jump and shriek out a mildly loud yelp, and Martin’s phone to propel from his hands.
“Martin!” he exclaims after a beat, and when Martin (after a very impressive mid-air catch) glances at his face and sees no scars, he blinks hard. “What the hell are you doing?!”
“Jon?!” of course, it was just his– the Jon he knew. He should’ve realised earlier, from the different hairs and outfits, but also… “I could ask you the same th– W-why are you here? ”
At this, Jon stiffens.
"I was… I was simply…" Martin raises an eyebrow at him, and he turns his head away. "I was investigating the claims you made earlier."
"You, doing follow up? Since wh–" Martin's eyes snap open wide as he processes his statement. Jon fiercely refuses to make eye contact. "You– you believe me, then?"
"I never said that," Jon mutters, bitterly, but unconvincingly. "I was just… around the area. And my curiosity got the better of me."
Jon doesn't look at him, pretending to instead be very interested in the end of the street ahead. Martin, however, stares, remembering very suddenly all of the reasons why he was angry with him.
A few more things are added to that list by the time he finishes sighing.
“Any doppelgänger sightings, then?” Martin asks, because he can’t think of anything else to say that isn’t immensely accusatory and won’t stir up another argument that he doesn’t have the patience for.
“Not as far as I can tell,” Jon mumbles, digging his hands deep into his pockets. “I haven’t been here for all that long, however. And… I haven’t really been able to think of any reason why he’d come back, after that confrontation with you yesterday.”
Martin’s eyebrows raise. Even though Jon isn’t looking, he cringes.
“... Alleged confrontation,” he corrects himself. Martin rolls his eyes.
“You should go home, Jon."
"I could say the same thing to you, Martin,” Jon huffs, clearly unable to come up with a better comeback. “You’re almost there already, aren’t you? No need for you to stand out here watching me.”
“Well,” Martin sighs. “Don’t you think you could use some backup?”
“Are you– do you think I’ll have to fight him?”
Martin shrugs. “Kill your double instincts could kick in.”
Jon finally looks at him, eyebrow raised, and Martin manages to keep his face straight for approximately a full second before he breaks into a smile. It takes a bit for Jon to understand, and loosen up enough to huff a chuckle. “Oh, right. Yes,” he mumbles. “Yes, of course.”
Another awkward silence settles between the both of them. Martin shifts his weight between his feet, trying to think of anything else to say that won't just immediately set Jon off, and sighs as he settles on something.
Motioning meekly towards some steps nearby, he tries: "Why don't we sit?" And when Jon responds with a dismissive exhale: "Could be helpful, reserving some energy in case he does show up and we need to run, don't you think…?"
It takes a minute. But he does eventually mutter a frustrated ‘fine’ under his breath and begins to move over to take a seat, though maintaining an annoyed expression in his face the entire time.
Martin considers it somewhat of a win regardless.
The wait is far more unpleasant than Martin could’ve ever expected.
While Jon seems like the kind that’d appreciate a good silence, to not have to fill every single moment with conversation, the one that settles between them when Martin isn’t desperately trying to spark a discussion feels a lot heavier than it should. It makes Martin consider standing up and retreating back to his flat many times, but Jon doesn’t seem at all eager to leave, yet, and he cannot imagine leaving him alone there.
Even though he is, in fact, still a bit pissed off at their interaction from earlier.
“So…” Martin tries, meekly, for what seems like the twelfth time that evening, and Jon doesn’t even turn to look at him as he speaks. “Why are you looking here, exactly? If you can’t come up with any reason why he’d come back.”
Jon hums, acknowledging the question. “Last… Sighted location,” he mumbles, and waves his head in dismissal. “Only lead we have.”
“Right,” he says, feeling the dead end of yet another conversation. “Right.”
Martin resorts back to twiddling his thumbs, trying to pretend not to be bothered by the quietness between the both of them.
Resourcefully, his stupid gay brain provides him yet again with the lovely thought that this is the closest they’ve ever been to each other. They are sitting side-by-side on the steps leading up to a store that had already been closed for the day, and while there are a good few inches of distance between them, their legs keep coming dangerously close to brushing against each other.
He’s supposed to be angry at him, he knows he is. Just half an hour before he was looking forward to ranting to his plants about him and how unreasonable he was, and yet.
Jon’s too focused staring ahead, too busy trying to commit every single person that walked by to memory to even notice Martin’s hesitant yearning.
He deeply considers moving his legs just slightly towards him, causing their knees to 'accidentally' bump, just to see what'll happen. When he seems close to making a decision, however, Jon suddenly stiffens in place. Martin feels his heart begin to race, then– could he know? Could he tell he was planning something?- but before he can fully panic, Jon raises his voice and speaks.
“Er– Excuse me?”
Martin glances up to try and catch a glimpse of who he’s speaking to, and spots a man clearly attempting to hide his face behind the upturned collars of his shirt. He very starkly ignores Jon’s inquiry and continues walking away at a very brisk pace, as if he hadn’t even been spoken to.
This doesn’t discourage Jon, who stands up and tries to mimic the stranger’s long-legged strides. “Excuse me, sir–” he says, as politely as he can, as he reaches for the man’s shoulder.
But the moment his fingers brush against the fabric of his shirt, the man begins to run.
It takes the both of them by surprise, but Jon's reflexes seem better, as he nearly immediately begins to sprint after him, a shout for the man to stop already halfway out his mouth. Martin takes a few more seconds to get up to his feet, so when he takes off running himself, they both have had quite a bit of a head start.
And for the second time in two days, he’s chasing somebody.
Not exactly something that was in this academic job's description, if he recalled. If it was, he probably wouldn't have taken it. Or he'd at least have decided to wear more comfortable shoes.
(His feet hurt, again.)
Jon and the stranger both take a sharp turn and disappear from Martin’s line of sight. He curses under his breath and tries running faster, attempting to ignore the way his heart thrums inside his chest like it’s about to break out of his ribcage.
His shoes screech on the pavement as he digs his heels on the ground to stop, to begin to take the turn. He fully expects an empty alleyway, for Jon and the stranger to be fully gone from sight, but he thankfully spots them almost immediately.
Martin braces himself for what could possibly be another long chase, but he stops sooner than expected.
The alleyway is a dead end.
When he finally joins Jon’s side, he notices that the stranger has taken to banging his hands against the brick wall, seemingly in frustration. If they're speaking, he can barely make any of it out through the drumming of his heartbeat in his ears and his heaving breaths.
Neither of them seem to mind him much.
"Who the hell are you?" Jon's demand, a poor attempt to try and make himself sound authoritative, is the first thing that Martin manages to process.
This does get a reaction, albeit likely not the one he was looking for. Instead of turning to face them, to confront them directly and perhaps answer their questions, the other man begins to chuckle.
This doesn't help in any way other than make Jon angry, and unnerve Martin just a little.
"Stop laughing," his lip snarls as he spits out the words. "Answer me!"
It's much to Martin's shock that he actually somewhat complies.
"I'm sorry, it's just…" he can't help but also be surprised at the voice that comes out of his mouth. Again, it's so much like... "You can't even compel yet."
Jon could probably stare a hole into the back of the man’s head with how intense his glare is. “Excuse me?”
When he finally turns, Martin can feel Jon physically freeze up next to him.
The same man Martin had faced the previous day blinks blearily at the both of them. His breath catches his throat as this heavily scarred, deeply tired Jonathan Sims meets his gaze once more, and Martin pretends not to feel anything when he notices his expression soften.
"... Forget I said that."
Jon, the Jon standing next to him, whose hair is still neatly trimmed short and whose skin isn't yet littered with odd round scars, is definitely a bit shaken in his confidence as he attempts to gather enough composure to speak again. "I-I'm not– I'm not forgetting anything." Martin can't help but feel a slight bit of satisfaction, experiencing his skepticism waver firsthand. "Tell me– who are you?"
"I'm…" the doppelgänger seems to be looking through them, and he assumes he might be trying to find a way out of this situation, but he merely ends up sighing. "I'm afraid I can't tell you that."
“You can, and you will. Now. ” Jon hisses.
“I don’t– I don’t know what kind of repercussions telling you could have!” The other-Jon says. “It’s– This is unprecedented, I don’t… I’ve never heard of anything like this, before–”
“Is it not… Sort of obvious, though?”
Martin does not expect how much more stressful it is, to suddenly be under the scrutiny of not only one, but two Jonathan Sims’es. When both of them turn to look at him, somewhat surprised at the fact that he’d spoken up at all, he can’t help but flinch a little.
“I-I, I mean, j-just–” the only thought that occurs to him in that moment is that he should lie down on the ground and wait there until he’s dead. He shakes his head in an attempt to recompose himself. “J-Just look at the both of you– Does it really need saying? R-Really?”
Nobody speaks for what feels like an eternity.
While other-Jon opens his mouth first, the first voice Martin hears comes from right next to him: “Martin, don’t be thick. What, do you think I’m just going to believe that he’s my long lost twin, or– or, a clone , or god forbid–"
“Good lord,” the other-Jon exhales, cutting him off. “How does anyone put up with you?”
“What did you just–”
“Okay!” Martin steps between the both of them, impeding Jon from stepping forwards and trying to wrangle with this strange man. “Okay, l-let’s settle down a little! I– You,” he glances behind his shoulder at the other-Jon, who tilts his head slightly at him. “Just… How about you just tell us what the hell your deal is, and then we can all go our own ways?”
“We are not just letting him go– ” Martin, without thinking, shushes Jon. And while he seems about to implode (again), he does in fact quiet down, much to Martin’s surprise.
When he turns back to the other-Jon, there is a shadow of a smile on his lips.
“R-Right,” Martin mumbles, unhelpfully flustered by being under his gaze once again. “So what is your deal?”
“I…” The other-Jon shuffles his weight between his feet, awkwardly, while he ponders on a way to answer the question. “Like you said, it is rather obvious. I'm… I'm him, from the future," he breathes out a small laugh. "That does sound ridiculous when I say it out loud…"
While it does take Martin a second to register that, Jon is already baring his teeth: "Give me proof."
"How can I truly know for sure you aren't just– a random lookalike?"
Martin can't help but stare in disbelief at Jon, even though his glare goes completely unnoticed.
"God," the other-Jon exhales, sharply. "Listen to yourself. Literally. Is this really the time to pretend to be a skeptic?"
While Martin expects Jon to immediately bark out another argument, another demand, he actually quietens. And though he's still fuming in the good few seconds it takes for him to think things through, when he opens his mouth again, the word that slithers through his teeth is a still-frustrated, but resigned "Fine."
The silence that settles between them lasts about an instant before Martin realises he can't hold back his questions for any longer:
"What… happened to you?" He asks, finally giving him a good glance over. He's covered in dirt, his clothes all somewhat tattered, and– he can't help but linger on his right hand, the horrific burns that cover his palm; and his throat, where he now notices a scar slitting his neck.
"A lot." The other-Jon says, simply.
"I– yes, I figured that much," a nervous laugh makes its way out of his mouth as he speaks, as if the ridiculousness of the situation's finally caught up to him. "But what specifically…?"
"I– I can't–" he makes a small noise of frustration. "I'd really… really love to warn the both of you, but I still don't know the repercussions it could have for me. "
"Like?" Jon grunts, still frowning.
"It could make it impossible for me to go back, and I…" he takes a glance behind his shoulder, at the brick wall blocking his path, before sighing. "I need to go back."
"R-Really?" In his surprise, Martin's voice is a slight bit more high pitched than he'd like. "Surely you're– you're safer, here."
"... Yes," he says, reservedly. "But… I have other people to worry about."
For a moment, Martin wonders if Jon has any family, for the way he spoke it somewhat felt like that was the implication. He certainly can't think of anyone else he'd be so determined to care for. But before he can get too far with this train of thought, he suddenly feels heat creeping up his neck once more, as he notices that he's being stared at again.
It doesn't help that it's suddenly silent once more.
What's with them and being quiet all the time?
"A-Ah, um," he tries, nervously trying to figure out something else to say, a way out of this. "W-Why don't we go up to my flat to talk? I– I could make us some tea…?"
He wants to slap himself for even opening his mouth again. But this seems to at least amuse the other-Jon, who sadly smiles at him once more.
"Oh, Martin… that sounds lovely, but I– I can't."
And that is when he remembers his Jon is there.
"You are useless," he hisses. And even though he pushes Martin aside, he feels like this time the assertion is more aimed towards his rugged reflection, who visibly stiffens. "You aren't going to tell us anything? Really? Then what the hell is your purpose?"
The other-Jon's stance instantly changes, and he snarls. "I came here on accident, not to warn you about–"
"Yet here you are!" Jon cuts him off. "And you very clearly have the opportunity to change things, so you– I– we, don't end up where you are again, but you're too much of a coward to–"
"You know what? Fine."
(Martin feels another headache coming in, listening to the same voice coming out of two different mouths.)
"Fine," the other-Jon says, again. "You want advice? Get out of the institute."
Somehow, this doesn't seem to be what Jon's expecting, because he rather… balks at it. "... What?"
"Run," he continues, with no regard to his confusion. "Run as far as you fucking can and don't look back. You– you've moved to the archives rather recently, yes?" He glances at Martin, as if actually wanting an answer, but moves on before he can even nod. "Maybe it hasn't… gotten ahold of you all as much yet. Maybe there's still a chance for you to quit. If so, take it. ALL of you."
"And you ," this time, he actually takes a step towards Jon, getting him to instinctively take one backwards. "Stop being such a dick."
This catches Martin off guard, as well. "E– Excuse me?" Jon says, somewhat pathetically.
"You heard me," he growls. " Everyone is scared, that's not an excuse to be such an arsehole, especially…" his rough tone suddenly falters, as he hesitates, but rather quickly makes his choice and continues: "Especially to Martin."
The both of them are rather taken aback by this.
However, he doesn't seem to mind the confusion, keeping his stern stare on Jon. "Be nicer to him."
Martin has a lot of thoughts about this, all of which are incredibly loud and mostly incomprehensible, which makes it hard to just understand the current situation. Doesn't help that Jon's seemingly attempting to start another argument, doesn't help that his future counterpart seems like he's very quickly losing his patience once more.
It's all so overwhelming, he nearly doesn't notice that all of a sudden, the alleyway is no longer a dead end.
It happens between blinks. One moment, the wall they'd had the other-Jon cornered against was fully brick, and the next, there was a bright yellow door in its centre that very much couldn't have been there before. It was impossible to miss, definitely not something any of them could've just ignored this entire time–
He can barely get the words out of his mouth, but he tries anyway: "A-Ah, uh… Jon?"
Both men's heads snap towards him, though the tone in which they go " What, Martin?" differs wildly.
Instead of trying to speak again and just stuttering another incomprehensible sentence out, Martin simply raises a shaky hand and points towards the door.
All he knows is that the instant the other-Jon's eyes find it, he starts beaming.
While his Jon's distracted with trying to figure out how the door got there, his supposed future self slips out of his range and sprints towards it, knowing exactly what it is as he grips the knob and pulls it open without any hesitation, revealing an impossible interior of what seems to be endless corridors and–
He's already halfway through when Martin manages to open his mouth to protest. He turns and meets his eyes again for the last time, and opens into a sad smile. "Nice seeing you," he says, with a weak wave.
And then the door slams shut behind him.
It’s the noise of the door that snaps Jon out of his trance, getting him to rush over, trying to follow his double out. But by the time he gets there, he runs straight into brick.
Martin simply watches as Jon bangs on the wall, taking the time to instead try and catch his own breath. When he feels as if Jon's managed to work through most of his frustrations (and right before he begins the motion to kick the wall, which would definitely break his foot), he walks over and places a hand on his shoulder, trying to catch his attention.
"Would you–" Jon turns his head to face him, and he looks lost. It's so unexpected, it makes the words catch in Martin's throat. But he clears it, and carries on. "... like to come upstairs?"
Martin had, of course, fantasised about some situations in which Jon would be in his flat. But like most daydreams about courting your grumpy boss that didn't seem to like you very much, they were impossible scenarios. Things that were never going to happen in his lifetime.
So that's why, when he opens the door to his home and lets Jon in, he freezes at the frame watching him stand awkwardly in the middle of his living room.
"I…" Jon motions tiredly towards his couch, and even though Martin's already nodding, he still feels the need to try and finish his sentence. "Could I…?"
"Y– Of course, m-make yourself at home," and to stop himself from staring, his mind starts running on a panicked autopilot as he feels his legs begin to take him away. "I-I'll… uh… tea."
He doesn't wait for an answer, and immediately ducks into his kitchen.
The task unfortunately doesn't distract him enough from his thoughts. As he puts the water to boil and tries to select a tea blend Jon is least likely to spit out, his head is a complete mess. Between trying to understand what he meant when he said that they had to quit their day jobs, to the absolutely bewildering idea that one of his pieces of in-hindsight advice was to be nicer to him, and the mere concept of time travel being seemingly possible and just… whatever the hell that door was, Martin wanted nothing but to turn his brain off for a while.
Not like he could do that, though. With Jon in his flat and all. Oh, god. Jon was in his flat. He was sitting in his living room, and Martin was making him tea, and how long had it been since he'd last vacuumed anyway? He knew he should've vacuumed over the weekend, he should've known something like this was going to happen.
(He should've just bought that tape recorder he saw on ebay. Could've listened to that bloody tape in peace, he at least could've just been haunted by that audio by himself and not subjected Jon to it, avoiding this entire encounter that was definitely going to fuck with him for the rest of his life–)
Martin only stops with his mental pacing when he realises he's finished preparing both their drinks.
When he returns to the living room, he finds that Jon has not moved a single inch in the several minutes he'd been away. When he hands him the mug he accepts it wordlessly, stare vacant, and takes a sip evidently without thinking, because he immediately sputters it back out.
"... It's hot." Martin says, too late. Jon quietly sets the mug down.
They sit, then. And though Martin's neighbours were always quite noisy, tonight of all nights they've all apparently simultaneously decided to go away, not blast shit music for hours, and reschedule their daily arguing sessions, because the stillness in the air is absolutely suffocating.
To hell with Jon and his endless bouts of thinking, Martin decides, clearing his throat. They need to talk.
"So… about that…?"
Jon lets go of a breath he was holding, turning his glance to the floor. He doesn't make any effort to speak, however, because of course he doesn't.
"Do you–" there's a million things he wants to say, things he wants to discuss, that he needs to get out of his head. How d'you suppose you get those scars? What was the deal with that door? When do you think you'll start being less of an arsehole? But he guesses maybe he should start with something more… simple. "Are you going to quit? Like he said?"
Jon hesitates. "I… I don't know," he fiddles with his fingers, and Martin notices he's been biting at them, chunks of skin missing near his nails, a little blood here and there. He almost gets up to grab bandages, but stops himself as he hears him carry on. "I should. I really should. I don't want to end up like… he did. But I… I want to know now. What happens," as Martin's nodding, making sympathetic noises, Jon finally turns his eyes towards him. "... You?"
It catches him off guard, is what it does. "Me?" He says, his voice cracking a little. Jon doesn't reiterate, doesn't move, and the thought that instinctively flashes across Martin's eyes is that he's probably trying very hard not to make a mean comment. If that's him actually taking his future self's advice to heart, or if it's just him being too emotionally exhausted to be fully himself, he doesn't know. And perhaps has no time to think about it, because it's been quite a few seconds since either of them last said anything. "Ah, uh, I… no. I mean, yeah, I-I'm kind of curious, too…? But I… I think I'll stick around for a little bit longer."
I'm not leaving if you aren't, is what hangs in the air, unsaid. I won't let you become him on your own.
"… Kind of need the money, too…" he adds, with a tiny chuckle, but Jon remains as humourless as ever, merely blinking at him in return. "… Right. Okay."
He tries focusing on his tea, tapping his fingers against his mug, watching the steam rise and fog the lenses of his glasses.
A siren blares for a few moments before disappearing down the street. Martin thinks about how he'll even explain any of this to Tim and Sasha. He's considering bringing it up to Jon, weighing the pros and cons of speaking up again in his mind, when he hears rustling from his direction.
Looking up from his tea, he finds Jon smoothly pulling a tape recorder from his coat pockets. He spins it in his hands, and looks like he's trying to put words together.
A little push won't hurt. "What's that?" He tries, softly, but Jon startles regardless.
"Oh, um," he glances back at the device. "It's… It's nothing," his tone falters, unconvincingly. It's such a pathetic lie Martin doesn't even have to call him out on it, as he carries on without him even speaking. "Urg. Fine, it's that… that tape. I brought it."
The hairs on the back of Martin's neck stand up in alarm, but Jon doesn't notice. He lightly taps his fingers against the plastic of the casing.
"Maybe we should finish listening to it."
Martin hesitates. "A-are you sure?" It's not like Martin hadn't spent a good amount of time wondering what the hell that Jonathan Sims in the tape thought of him, but he also very much remembers how awkward it was to listen to it with Jon in the room. And now that they both know that it's real? " Like, really sure you–"
"Yes," Jon sounds exhausted. "Yes, Martin. But only if you're okay with it."
He swallows dry.
"Um. Yeah. I'm alright."
Jon places the recorder on the coffee table, and after the longest second of Martin's life, hits play.
It resumes from exactly where it had stopped.
He closes his eyes.
They can't quit. The scars they'd seen on his skin slowly begin to appear on Jon's. The questions they had all start being answered.
There's no stopping fate, they guess.
But if there's any prophecy Martin can look forward to fulfilling, it is getting to say 'I love you' back.