They ran tests, tried experiments, tasted his fear, and recorded his howls until they had cataloged every pained noise they could drag from him. He didn’t give them all the noises he was capable of — not even when they dug knives into his flesh to see what pains they could carve from his skin, how long it took for the blue energy to race over his body and heal the tears and gouges and scrapes. They pulled and tugged and yanked every last morsel of stolen energy from him until his blood dripped to the floor after their ministrations, staining the white in his beard pink. They had taken his glasses, so he could see them coming as blurry shapes and only once the glint of their instruments was clear could he make out their faces. They took from him until he had nothing left to take.
That’s when they tried something new .
The filled him with electricity — buzzing, burning, sharp electric trails that stung worse than any of their knives, so close to the blue-tinted energy he needed but wrong — until he screamed himself hoarse, until he forgot what the equipment was for until he began screaming again. His jaw ached from clenching his teeth and his body ached from the anxious skitter of his muscles, and his head ached like a bad hangover, only worse, because it never seemed to go away.
He laid in his cage, when they didn’t have him strapped down or strung up or in any other way held motionless, muscles trembling on their own accord as he shivered in the thin garments they pretended were clothing. He flinched when they opened the door, snarled at them out of habit more than anger when they grabbed his arms.
They let go.
Martin growled, low in his throat, the rumble sending tremors of hurt through his raw larynx. He squinted under the bright fluorescent lights, taking in the dark shapes that huddled beside his cot. Not doctors — they wore dark leather that was dirtier than any surgeon’s apron, their hair long and unconfined by nets or silly little hats — and not agents — they wore no uniforms, and the only thing similar between the two individuals hovering beside him were the concerned looks on their pale faces.
“Martin?” said the girl, tiny beside the lanky boy to her right, both slightly out of focus and gleaming at the edges, like they were on a poorly lit stage. “Martin, it’s us. It’s us .”
Saying the words over and over again didn’t help their statement, but — “Vogel,” said Martin, because they knew his name, and he knew that boy. Remembered carrying him as a kid out of Blackwing’s labyrinth, wiping away his tears and promising they would never take him again.
Apparently he couldn’t keep his promises, if Vogel was here .
“Yeah, it’s Vogel,” said the boy, his eyes wide and his movements jerky, never quite holding still. Martin shut his eyes for a moment, all of it too much, and someone shook his shoulder, jerking him alert again with another snarl. The hand quickly retracted, and the girl looked — worried. Hurt.
He didn’t remember her name, or her face, but he knew with every aching part of his being that he never wanted to see her hurt again.
“We’re gonna get you out of here, Martin,” whispered the girl, as Vogel dragged him to his feet, all trembling six foot of him, and Martin staggered alongside them out of his cell and into the hallway.
Utter carnage marked the walls and floors, even the ceilings — spray paint and smashed lightbulbs and gouged sheetrock, dirty and dusty boot prints a jumbled trail to and fro. Martin stumbled and Vogel tightened his grip, the girl grasping his arm to keep him from falling, and Martin forced himself not to flinch at her touch.
It would help if he wasn’t walking blind — anything further than a few feet ahead of him was a blur, and he tripped over the abandoned bodies of black-coated soldiers and white-coated doctors until Vogel and the girl caught a clue and steered him around further obstacles. None of the turns they took were familiar — he spotted the electroshock equipment in one room, shattered on the chair they’d strapped him to, and he shuddered, but the doorway and the hallway leading up to it were foreign to him.
He knew something was wrong, really wrong, but he didn’t have the breath or the energy to complain about it. He stumbled again, falling hard enough on one knee to drag a belated gasp of pain from his beleaguered lungs, and strong arms were lifting him up, up, before he had a chance to struggle.
“I got you,” murmured a rough voice, a giant of a man cradling him in his arms, and Martin had the barest thought of — Cross — before everything went sort of yellow and fizzy and then it went black.
“—he’s been out for hours , he needs to wake up!”
“We can’t wake him up, we might hurt him worse!”
“They hurt him so bad , I want to tear their throats out—“
“We did , we did that, we’re not going back there—“
“Shut up ,” moaned Martin, and the van fell blessedly silent. Or he thought it was the van, until he opened his eyes and found cream coloured walls around him and a firm mattress beneath him, and a second later there were four anxious faces crowded around his bed. His Rowdies . All safe and accounted for — Cross and Vogel and Gripps and Amanda .
She’d been the girl with Vogel, the one he couldn’t remember.
How had he forgotten Amanda ?
“He’s awake!” crowed Vogel, and both Gripps and Cross smacked him lightly in time with Martin’s wince at the volume. “Sorry,” whispered Vogel in a lower tone, still loud but not overbearingly so, and Martin managed a smile. They were all kind of blurry, their edges blending into the glare of the light from the bright creamy walls, but they were there .
“How’re you feeling?” said Amanda, eyes impossibly dark in her pale, pale face. She was messing with something in her hands, turning the glinting object over and over, and with some squinting Marvin could make out what it was.
“My glasses ,” he said, sitting up a bit to reach for them, and had to halt his forward momentum with a groan, because everything hurt . Being a Rowdy the way he was — the way four of their number were — it was rare they experienced true physical pain like he was then. Usually the roiling energy in them was enough to stave it off, to cleanse it from their bodies, but he was… empty. There was no energy left for it to take, and he hurt.
The Rowdies were making various noises of concern, lowering their volume when he winced again, but it was Amanda who hesitantly held out his glasses, palm flat, and he took from her with shaking hands and carefully set them back on his nose. He blinking, grimacing as his eyes adjusted to the prescription lenses, and his Rowdies slipped into focus. The lenses were cleaner than they had been in years, strangely free of dirt and grime, but he could care less at the state of them when he had his Rowdies at his side again.
“Tell me what happened,” he said, catching Amanda’s hand before she could pull away. He reached for Vogel with his other hand, and Cross and Gripps rested their own hands on top of his, Amanda’s, and Vogel’s. All together, all touching — it didn’t ease his hurts like the energy did, but it eased the ache in his chest that had come from their separation.
“It was bad,” whispered Vogel, and Martin leveled a steady gaze at him squeezing his hand gently under Cross’s firm grasp.
“Tell me,” he said again, voice still gentle and low, partly in an effort to ease the concern banking against him from all sides and partly because it sort of hurt to use his voice at all.
So they told him.
Amanda had taken Vogel to Todd’s apartment, the same one that the Rowdy Three had smashed to smithereens not so long ago, after the call had disconnected and the screams of her brother had been cut off. Todd had answered the door, pale and shaking, but hadn’t elaborated, and Amanda hadn’t asked. She had merely blurted that the government had stolen away the rest of the Rowdy Boys, and that’s when Farah burst in the door, with word that Dirk Gently had been stolen away as well.
The four of them had sat down in Todd’s hastily cleaned living room — still a disaster, to be fair — and laid down a plan. They made for an odd group — Amanda, angry at the jerks who had stolen away her Rowdies and at the jerk who was her brother; Vogel, anxious and jittery and every other sentence from his mouth either concern for the Rowdies or increasingly reckless ideas on how to rescue them (and Dirk, as Farah had to keep reminding him); Farah, guns strapped at her waist and eyes worried in her severe face; and Todd, still pale but seemingly pulling himself together, trying to catch Amanda’s eye and wilting every time she refused to meet his gaze.
Lying to her for years wasn’t going to be forgotten or forgiven in just a look. But she had bigger worries than how she was going to deal with her lying, cheating brother — she needed to rescue her Rowdies.
They had taken her in when she had nothing, had stood up for her when they knew nothing about her, and they had never once lied to her or left her behind to further their own desires. She was a Rowdy, even if she wasn’t an energy-sucking psychic vampire, and she owed it to them to rescue them without a second thought. She didn’t care whose ass she had to kick or whose car she had to jack — she was going to get her boys back .
Even if it meant working with jerkface Todd.
So they had made their plan and tracked down Blackwing — by some miracle of the universe, involving a scary woman named Bart and her quivering but steadfast sidekick Ken — and Amanda had never felt more scared than she had swinging her spiked bat at man after black-suited man, blood spraying the pale coats of the doctors as they, too, fell under the onslaught that was Amanda’s fury, Vogel and Farah and Todd at her heels, with Bart and Ken disappearing into a different part of the complex under other orders from the universe.
Amanda thought her heart would crack when she found a familiar pair of horn-rimmed glasses, the dirty lenses smeared with something dark and ominous, resting atop a battered leather vest which she tugged over her own jacket, cradling the glasses in her hands as she wiped ineffectively at the dried blood with the hem of her shirt. Vogel had taken one look at the frames and sucked in a sharp, angry breath, his eyes narrowing, and the two lunged from the room to renew their search, losing Farah and Todd in their haste.
Amanda thought her heart would break when Vogel kicked down a door only to find a pale, snarling Martin unable to fully rise from the scant cot, bereft of his ever-present glasses and cigarette and covered in bruises and cuts and blood.
She thought her heart would shatter when he looked at her with sky blue eyes and there wasn’t a hint of recognition in his gaze; the way he glanced at Vogel for too long before something clicked and he recalled the boy’s name.
Her heart was surely destroyed forever when he stumbled as Vogel hauled him to his bare feet, when his legs couldn’t seem to bear his own weight, when Amanda had to take his trembling arm and try not to cry when he flinched imperceptibly at her touch.
Strong, terrible Martin, their fearless leader — it felt wrong to have him be so helpless before them.
They found Cross next — a relief, because Martin had finally collapsed and Amanda knew there was little chance she and Vogel would have been able to carry him safely through the facility — and the four of them found Gripps, who had taken one look at Martin’s motionless form and howled his rage, echoed by every waking Rowdy as they tore through the facility, leaving a trail of blood and destruction in their wake. Amanda saw Farah bundling Dirk and Todd into a dark car and waved once before dismissing the thought of them, leading the Rowdies to where their beloved van was stowed near a loading dock. Someone had reinflated the rather flat tires, and had been kind enough to leave the keys on the dash — Amanda gunned the throttle the instant the Rowdies had crammed into the back of the van and peeled out of the lot, driving away from the smoke and horror and screams that echoed behind them even after they were out of earshot.
Martin was deathly still, breathing shallowly in the cradle of Cross’s arms, long legs sprawled on the floor as Gripps and Vogel crouched beside them, doing their best to keep their leader steady despite the rocking of the van. They whined low in their throats like concerned dogs, and their anxiety made Amanda’s knuckles tighten on the wheel as she drove.
It was only once they were at Farah’s blessedly clean apartment that Amanda had allowed herself to breathe — once they had carried Martin inside and laid him gently in the guest bedroom, cleaned the blood and dirt from his face with damp washcloths and sat in worried silence, long after Farah and Todd and Dirk made their way home, as dirty and exhausted as the Rowdies were. Amanda had closed the door in Todd’s face when he had come by, accepting only a quick thanks and concern from Dirk and Farah before shooing them away, preferring to hold vigil with her Rowdies over the sleeping form of their friend.
They’d stayed there all night, nodding off intermittently only to shake themselves awake, looking wildly to the others in case there was some new development and sinking lower in their chairs — liberated from the kitchen against Farah’s wishes and eventual resignation — when there was no change.
Martin slept, until he woke, under the smattering of voices speaking with true Rowdy quickness over him, blinking up at the ceiling with confusion until they moved into his line of sight as one.
Amanda’s heart hurt until he looked at her, met her eyes with clear blue ones, saw the little smile tug at his mouth and knew that he knew her.
Whatever had happened to him in the Blackwing facilities, he was going to be alright.
Oh, God, she hoped he was going to be alright.
Martin moved slowly through the kitchen, leaning on tables and chairs and until he could lean heavily against the countertop, finagling a cup of coffee from the maker on the counter and sip it from the chipped cat-faced mug he had found in the drying rack by the sink — stretching up to reach the cupboard had hurt and he had stopped that motion almost as soon as he had attempted it. The coffee helped, a little — he still ached, and he felt disturbingly empty , but he was a little more awake.
“Hey,” said Farah, and Martin startled, nearly dropping the mug — for a moment it felt weird in his hands, as if it wasn’t quite real, but he managed not to drop it. He peered at her first through his glasses — she was on the other side of the room — and then over them, blinking at the adjustment. “Feeling better?”
Martin grunted and sipped his coffee. She was standing awkwardly by the doorway, watching him almost warily, and it took his a long moment — too long — to remember that this was probably the most sedate she had seen any of the Rowdies. Ever. “Morning,” he muttered, his best attempt at being polite, and it was worth it just to see her eyebrows creep toward her hairline. He edged away from the counter enough to drop into one of the kitchen chairs with a groan, knowing the wooden seat would make his bones ache within moments, but he was suddenly too tired to want to stay standing for another second.
Farah bustled around the kitchen for a bit, moving behind his back for short moments that made him tense and reappearing just as quickly, eyes firmly averted as she gathered her own cup of coffee and set about preparing breakfast, and Martin managed to put her puttering form out of his mind long enough to sip in coffee in relative peace. He had left the other Rowdies sprawled in various snoring piles in the guest room — Amanda had been stretched out across his legs, mouth open as she breathed, sound asleep, and it had taken some creative wriggling to ease her off enough to escape without waking her. The other three were laid out on the floor, in rather uncomfortable-looking positions, but all of them were snoring contentedly and Martin didn’t have to heart to wake them — he knew they had stayed awake long after he had fallen into a restless sleep, had felt their hands on his own whenever he stirred from an unpleasant dream/memory.
His head still ached, and he had the uncomfortable feeling he was forgetting something important, but he could taste Farah’s distress over his coffee and he could feel Amanda’s terror an instant before she burst out of the guest room and pounded down the hall with three Rowdies on her heels, all of them wild-eyed and brandishing baseball bats — none of which he had recalled seeing in the room itself — and the lot of them looked surprised and then relieved to see him seated at the table with his cup of steaming coffee.
“Morning,” he said again, a little louder than he had to Farah, and they lowered their bats as Farah sighed loudly, obviously none too pleased with the weapons being waved about in her kitchen. There was no sign of the detective or Amanda’s brother — whose names had slipped Martin’s mind just then, and it bothered him, just a little — and he was somewhat alright with their absence.
Martin wanted a shower .
He wanted to scrub himself inside and out until every last speck of dust and blood and sweat that had been beaten out of him could swirl down the drain and leave him clean of the horrors of the Blackwing facility.
So he did. Under the press of the water, though, hands furiously working soap through his hair, he lost track of time.
Test Subject PI001.
Project Incubus. He was the first one they found.
Lucky us. I always wanted to see how they tick —
Martin nicked his skin with the razor while trimming his beard and immediately dropped it in the sink, wiping away the blood quickly and breathing hard through his nose, willing the rising panic in his chest to go away. He grabbed the toothbrush instead — it might have been anyone’s, but at that moment he didn’t give a rat’s ass — and scrubbed his teeth until they were a few shades whiter and his gums hurt from the rough bristles. He spat in the sink and tasted metallic blood, saw the red on the brush and swirling down the sink with his spit and the water from the tap, and he felt a little better. His blood, his choice to bleed.
Now his mouth hurt, too, along with his jaw and the rest of his body, but at least it was one hurt he had had control over.
And his teeth were fucking shiny .
He opened the bathroom door to release a cloud of steam, the towel wrapped firmly around his hips — the white, thin garments had been just slightly — read as: ruthlessly — shredded and dumped in the trash can by the toilet. His Rowdies — all four of them — were seated on the floor just outside the door, looking up at him shamelessly with a hand of poker in progress. They were betting with pennies, candy, piles of lint — Cross seemed to be winning.
“Here,” said Gripps, and held out a folded stack of dark clothes — his clothes. Martin took them, reveling in the feel of soft, worn leather, grinning when he felt the ragged edges of torn jeans beneath. He peered over his foggy glasses at his Rowdies and managed a real smile.
“Thanks,” he said, and retreated back into the bathroom to get dressed, because they were in someone else’s house and that someone was in the house, goddammit.
Once he was properly outfitted — he found most of his rings inside a vest pocket, and mourned the loss of the missing ones — he felt better, but he also felt restless . The hot water from the shower had eased the ache in his muscles somewhat, but his head ached and he was the sort of tired he hadn’t been since… well. Before.
He growled at the Rowdies when he stepped over the half-finished poker game — Cross was definitely winning — and reached for the first baseball bat he found leaning against the wall. The Rowdies abandoned their game and tailed him, a comforting, warm presence at his back, in his head, in his soul — exactly where they should be. He could feel Farah in the kitchen, and Todd and Dirk sitting on the back stoop.
He could feel them.
Martin stopped, resting a hand against the wall to steady himself, and the Rowdies skidded to a halt just behind him, their concern palpable. He could feel them, could feel where they were in relation to him. He could feel the pedestrian outside — old man seventy-four no family — walking his dog, could taste the fear in the old man that his heart would give out one of these days, just enough latent fear that Martin could smell it, tantalizingly close.
He’d never felt them like this before.
“Martin?” said Amanda softly, the Rowdies strangely quiet at his back, and Martin pushed off from the wall and kept walking. The house suddenly felt claustrophobic — or was it him who was feeling that? — and he wanted to get out .
He felt better after he’d eaten the fears of half a dozen people — his head still ached, but the dull throbbing that had settled in his ribs and limbs had faded. Touching was still a shock — he had jerked away on instinct the first time Cross had brushed against his arm after the escape — more of a rescue, if he was being honest — and the Rowdies had been hesitant to touch him since, keeping a respectful distance whenever they drew close. No more casual claps on the back, no grasps of hands, no impromptu hugs.
Every touch brought back the memories of pain fear sharp bad and he shuddered just to think of it.
The other two who had suffered at Blackwing were doing better than he was — neither Cross nor Gripps seemed to worry about casual touches, although their nighttime slumbers were a little more disturbed. All of them woke screaming from nightmares now, and only Amanda’s could be stolen away in flashes of blue and dreams.
The first time after the rescue that he had eaten her fears, he had seen them — seen how the bat in her hands had turned to a burning fry pan, the heat melting the skin from her bones — and he had pulled back as soon as they were finished, watching her warily. She was so strong — had struggled with her nightmares and the effects of her disease for far longer than any human being should need to suffer — and now he knew what she saw, could see the fires building around her even before they began.
He forced himself to take her hand the next time he saw the waters rising, ready to drown her, and she looked up at him with surprise when he drew tendrils of blue through their connection. The skin to skin contact made her emotions raw , and he had to let go after only a few moments, but he tried harder not to flinch when the Rowdies got too close. Vogel forgot, once, and smacked his shoulder while racing by, howling like a lunatic, and Martin had chased him with true rage for a long moment before he could laugh about it, stumbling to a halt in the dust and laughing, mouth wide, like he hadn’t in a long time.
He still slept in the driver’s seat, though, cranking the back down low and shoving it back as far from the wheel as it would go, resting his boots on the dash — he kicked the horn once, in his sleep, and woke everyone up, and after that he was careful about where he put his feet — and he listened to the snoring Rowdies behind him and tasted the air for any remnants of Amanda’s fear.
“— Try it again, see if he reacts differently.”
“Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Trying something over and over?”
“Only if you expect the same results. It’s better to be thorough, anyway. Shock him again. Up the voltage for shits and giggles, why not.”
Martin screamed —
He woke up with a gasp, feeling like he was drowning, and kicked the door open to spill out onto the ground, landing heavily on his feet and pressing a hand against the side of the van, breathing hard. The cadence of snoring from within didn’t change, and he breathed in deeply and out, slower, trying to calm his racing heart. His hands shook—
And suddenly there were warm hands holding his own, slender fingers curling between his trembling ones, and he felt a smile against his shoulder as Amanda shifted.
“Go back to sleep,” she murmured, close to his ear, and he closed his eyes to the sound of his drummer’s heartbeat. “‘Love you.”
He breathed in, deeply, tasted her sleepy contentment. “Love you, too,” he said. He still hurt, in a way it would take a while to heal, but Amanda’s hand was warming his, and Cross was snoring loudly on his left, Gripps’ legs draped over Vogel’s arm, and Vogel’s boots pressing against the leather of Martin’s. All of them, together again.
And that was enough.