They'd locked him in a room that was small, dark and cold. It smelled of maple syrup and blood, and other things Jughead didn't want to think about. It smelled like people had died here, then been bottled up and sold to pour on pancakes. He wondered if his remains would be Grade 'A' or Grade 'B'.
It was a weird, unfunny joke, but that was okay 'cause he felt like he was losing his mind.
They'd taken his hat. That was the thing that terrified him more than the room or the smell. It terrified him almost as much as how he thought maybe his dad was dead. They'd taken his hat. He'd had it most of his life. He kind of figured he'd wear it in his coffin. But they'd taken it, along with his boots. It meant he was gonna die here; he knew it the way he knew his own name. There was no proof, but he didn't need any. His hat was gone so he was going to die.
Jughead had stopped crying a while ago, around the same time he'd stopped screaming about his dad, trying to get someone to tell him if FP was okay. They hadn't let him go and they hadn't told him anything. And one guy had come in and slapped him across the face and told him to shut the fuck up! The pain and being hit were so startling that he did.
He'd done his best not to start bawling again after that. His mom was always telling him to be brave and that boys shouldn't cry. Always told him to be brave, he meant, 'cause she was gone now and she hadn't wanted him anyway. He remembered his dad snapping at her to leave the kid the fuck alone. He's hurt, let him cry. But Jughead still thought of his mom and felt ashamed.
Jughead had wedged himself into a far corner with his knees drawn up and his arms around them. It was really, really cold. His fingers and toes were freezing, and he could see his breath misting in the feeble light. The rest of him was still all right, mostly. He was hungry and thirsty, though. Then again he was hungry all the time.
He'd been just about home from school when he was taken. The last time he saw his dad, FP was on his knees in the snow with a gun to his head. Jughead followed the men's instructions and walked with them to the car, nice and calm so nobody would suspect anything. One of them had a gun to his head, too.
They shot his dad anyway. Jughead heard it when he was about to get in: A phut noise, like the silencers on television. Someone slapped a patch on his cheek before he could start screaming, and then he didn't know what else happened 'cause he just woke up here.
He was still feeling kind of out of it, like this was happening to someone else and he was just watching. He knew that was called 'Dissociation' but he wasn't doing it on purpose; it was more like he couldn't get his brain and body to match up. Maybe the men who took him used that drug especially because it messed people up like that. It'd be a lot harder to run if he felt like he was controlling his body from outside, like an avatar in a video game.
It also made him really sleepy. It sucked to be sleepy and scared at the same time.
He was so scared.
Nobody had told him what they wanted with him, even. Or, nothing that made any sense. There was one guy with dark hair and eyes like Jughead's dad. He had to be the leader 'cause he kept ordering the other ones around. He'd introduced himself, even, like they were going to be friends. His name was Grant Ward.
Grant Ward had been the one who shot Jughead's father.
When Jughead refused to tell him his name, Grant laughed and said he already knew it. Only he kept calling Jughead 'Forsythe', or 'Fort' for a nickname, even though 'Jughead' was the only name anyone ever used. Jughead had never liked Forsythe as a name much, but hearing the guy say it made him want to puke.
And it was like Grant kept forgetting that he was the whole reason Jughead was even there. Like, when Jughead woke up in the cold, dark room and started yelling and kicking at the door, Grant had come in and hugged him, then petted his head and told him it was going to be okay. But when Jughead tried to get free, Grant had grabbed a fistful of his hair and yanked on it 'til Jughead yowled from the pain.
Grant didn't even say anything. He just glared and pulled until Jughead apologized. Then he let go and went right back to the petting and crooning like nothing had happened.
When Jughead had found the courage to ask what they were going to do to him, Grant said, I'm going to get my family back. He'd looked so happy, too. Like he hadn't just kidnapped a fourteen year-old and maybe killed his father to do it.
Before he left, Grant smiled warmly and said he'd be back soon, and he'd promised that everything would be all right. And then he'd shut and locked the door, leaving Jughead in the dark.
He was crazy. Grant looked terrifyingly like FP and he was totally crazy. And he was talking like Jughead was his long-lost son. But if Jughead didn't do exactly what he wanted, Grant hurt him. And he'd taken Jughead's hat, just like he'd taken away his name and maybe taken his father. And maybe Grant was going to kill Jughead, too.
Jughead didn't want to die. He just wanted to go home. He was hungry and scared and he was really, really worried about his dad and he missed his friends.
(God, Archie was a redhead, but his eyes were dark brown too. What if Grant kidnapped him?)
At least Betty was safe, unless Grant's choosing Jughead had nothing to do with coloring. What if it was just random? Or, no. It wasn't random, because Grant knew Jughead's name. Jughead wasn't just snatched, he'd been chosen.
I'm going to get my family back. What family? And what had happened to them?
The cold, sickly-sweet darkness offered no answers.
He'd actually fallen asleep when the screaming started.
Jughead snapped awake with a shout, disoriented and terrified, then he remembered where he was and why, and what Grant had told him.
There was somebody else here, and he was screaming.
"Oh, God. Oh my God." Jughead squished his cold, aching body further into the corner and slammed his hands over his ears. He banged his elbow pretty badly. He'd always had sensitive hearing, and the poor man's wails felt like they were clawing at the inside of Jughead's skull. His heart hammered in big, steam-train chugs against his ribcage; it hurt like when he ran too much and ended up puking.
The screaming didn't stop, and didn't stop, and didn't—
Until it suddenly did. Jughead was sure they'd died.
He started crying again, then, just super quiet so nobody would know. He didn't want to get slapped. He didn't want what had happened to that poor man to happen to him.
He thought of Grant's glare and how much just pulling a bunch of Jughead's hair had hurt. He didn't know what you had to do to someone to get them to scream like that. He didn't know what kind of things would kill someone but take a long, long time.
He was so, so scared.
When the door opened Jughead screamed again. He was sure they were coming to get him 'cause it was his turn now and he was going to die just like the first man did. But that didn't happen. Instead two of the men who'd kidnapped him came into the room, dragging a third between them.
"Careful. He's had a hard time," Grant said from behind them. All Jughead could see was Grant's silhouette, 'cause of all the light outside the room. It made his eyes hurt. Grant sounded like he'd had nothing to do with why the man had been screaming. He sounded like he'd rescued him. Didn't He know what he'd done?
They put the man down gently, laying him on his back and being careful of his head and everything. He had his eyes open, and they were the same color brown as Grant or FP. The other prisoner's hair was dark brown too, like they were all really brothers. Jughead didn't know why that terrified him so much.
The man gasped for breath and he kept jerking, like he was still flinching from the pain. He smelled like sweat and his hair was damp with it. He was wearing cargo pants, but his feet and torso were bare. He was probably cold. He had big, red patches on his body and face, the kind Jughead knew meant there would be bruises later. Some were already getting dark. He'd seen it on his dad often enough, when he'd come home late from the White Worm, smelling like alcohol and blood.
The guys who put him on the floor got up and walked out again. They didn't even leave a blanket.
"Take care of your brother, Forsythe," Grant said. He gave him another warm smile, then shut the door and locked it. After all the light, the room was nearly pitch black again. There was nothing but a thin glow surrounding the door.
It was too dark to see the other man now, and that scared Jughead too. It was irrational and Jughead hated being irrational, but he couldn't help it. He kept thinking, what if the man attacked him in the dark? Or what if he died now and Jughead was in the dark with a corpse?
Stop being a baby. If you don't want him to die, help him! The voice in his head sounded like Betty; she was always the bravest one.
He didn't know what to do, though. He didn't have anything but his clothes. He'd give the man his jacket, but it wouldn't fit. Maybe he could lay it over him.
Jughead crept forward, moving slowly in case he had to jump up to defend himself. "Hi," he said. His voice sounded hoarse and weird from no water and all the yelling and screaming. "I…I'm gonna take my jacket off and put it over you to keep you warm, okay?"
He heard shuffling, then a hand slapping the floor a few times. "Help," the man said. His voice was way worse than Jughead's. He slapped the floor a few more times. "Wh-where…."
Jughead's eyes were slowly adjusting, so he was pretty sure which darker shadow was the guy's hand, groping around for him. He wrapped both his hands around it, gripping it solidly but not too tight. "I'm right here. My name's Jughead. That crazy guy brought me here too, but we're gonna be okay. All right? I was going to give you my jacket so you can get warm."
He was going to take his jacket off, but before he could do that the man heaved himself up enough to grab Jughead and pull him into his arms.
Jughead yelped in surprise and more fear, but the man didn't do anything bad. He just…hung on to him. He gripped the back of Jughead's jacket tight in his fists. He was shaking like crazy, so bad Jughead was practically vibrating along with him. Then the man started crying like a little kid.
For a second Jughead was too shocked to do anything. He'd never seen a grown man cry before, not even his dad when his mom left. Then he caught a clue and hugged the prisoner back, going, "Shh, shh. It's alright. You're gonna be okay," and all that kind of stuff his dad used to say when Jughead was upset.
"It hurts," the man said. "It hurts. I can't…I can't see."
"It's okay, the room's just dark," Jughead said.
The man shook his head. "No. I'm blind."
"Really, it's just that there's no light in here. You'll be okay," Jughead tried again, but the man just shook his head again. It didn't matter what Jughead said, he wouldn't believe him, so Jughead gave up trying to convince him. He just kept repeating the you'll-be-okay stuff and rubbing the cold, clammy skin of the man's back. He hoped his eyes adjusted soon so he wouldn't be so freaked out about it.
After so long that Jughead's legs were going numb, the man snuffled, then gulped a few times. His grip relaxed a little bit, though he was still shaking. "Who…?"
"My name's Jughead," Jughead said, so the man wouldn't have to talk too much.
"J-Jug…?" He sniffed a couple more times. "Rain."
"Jughead," Jughead corrected him. "That's what everyone calls me. I had really big ears as a baby, but everybody kept using it, for some reason." He realized he was talking to fill the silence, when the only other noise was the prisoner's ragged breathing. "What's your name?"
The prisoner went still under his hands. "I…I don't…. Matt. Matthew. Matthew Michael Murdock." He exhaled heavily, like he was relieved. "My name is Matt. I'm Matthew." He pulled back, but only enough to grip Jughead by the shoulders. He wasn't quite looking at his eyes, but there was no way to miss the panic in his expression. "Matthew Michael Murdock. Remember it, please. Don't let me forget."
"I won't," Jughead replied automatically, stunned. Forget? How the hell could Matt forget his own name? What did they do to him? "I won't let you forget," he repeated. "Y-you're gonna be okay," he said, voice shaking. He was trying not to cry again.
"Yeah." Matt nodded heavily. He clumsily patted Jughead's shoulder. "Thanks, Foggy."
"My name's Jughead," Jughead said.
"Okay." Matt more-or less got himself back to the floor without collapsing. He was still shivering. "Don't feel so good. Take notes for me, okay?"
"Yeah, sure," Jughead rasped. He remembered he'd been going to give Matt his jacket. He took it off and laid it over him. Jughead wasn't a short teen, but on Matthew the jacket seemed pathetically small. "You'll feel better once you've had some sleep."
"You're cold," Matt said, even though Jughead hadn't trembled or anything. He lifted one arm like it took all his strength. "Come here."
Jughead only hesitated a second before he lay down and scooched up with his back against Matt's chest. He was instantly warmer, and it helped to have some comfort. He figured it was helping them both.
"Rain," Matt murmured again. His breath puffed against the back of Jughead's neck.
Fog and rain? Jughead couldn't understand it. He was horribly afraid that Grant would do that to him, too: make him forget his name and say words that didn't mean anything. "My name's Jughead."
"No. Your scent. You smell like rain."
"Oh," Jughead said faintly. That didn't make any sense either, but at least the word meant something. That was good, right? "Matt?"
"Mmm?" He sounded mostly asleep.
Jughead should have just let him alone, but he needed to know: "Where are we? And…and what are they doing?"
Matt went still again. Jughead could feel the anxiety in the way he breathed. "I don't know. I-I don't know why we're here. I don't know where we are. Sm-smells sweet. But….I don't know. I don't know what's happening."
"It's okay," Jughead said quickly, before Matt panicked. "It's okay. You were…uh, you sounded like they were doing something pretty bad. It's probably good, if you don't remember it. And, I'm sure it'll come back to you after you've had some sleep anyway."
"They're ripping me apart," Matt said.
"You're gonna be okay," Jughead said, and did his best not to cry.
Matt woke up when the jacket slid off his back. There was…he was holding onto another person. A boy. He smelled like a boy. Adolescent. And he was in Matt's arms because…because….
The boy had been crying. Right. Matt remembered smelling it: sweat and stress and the unmistakable salt of tears. That was why Matt was holding him. Because he'd been crying. And it was cold, and….
What was Matt doing here? What were either of them doing here?
There'd been…a man, petting his head after…after they'd done something. Matt couldn't remember what, but he knew he'd been screaming. His throat still hurt. His whole body did, like he'd been beaten up really badly.
The man had petted him, and his heart was beating fast….he'd been excited. Excited and happy. And he'd said something. What…?
Hey, Matt. I bet you're feeling really confused right now. That's okay. Everything's going to be clear really soon, I promise. My name is Grant Ward, and I'm your brother. Some bad men took you away from me a long time ago, but I'm fixing that now. We're going to be together from now on, okay? You, me, Brock, Forsythe, Illya and James. We'll be a family, the way we were always meant to be. But this has to happen first, okay? I know it hurts. I'm so sorry about that. I wish I could stop it, but I can't. It's necessary. It'll be over soon, and then you'll understand.
Matt didn't understand anything except one name: Illya (large; imposing; dangerous; gentle; body like a furnace; smelled like iron). That meant something. Matt knew him. But James…who was James? And who was Brock or Forsythe?
Wait. Wait. Matt knew this. He knew…Take care of your brother, Forsythe. Matt had heard that. And he wasn't Forsythe. Grant hadn't been talking to him. So Forsythe was the adolescent.
But, they weren't brothers. Matt didn't have a brother. He was sure of it. He was…almost sure of it. Almost?
They were ripping him apart. That was what Matt had told the boy…not Forsythe. He'd breathed like he didn't like it. Rain? Was his real name Rain? No. It was Jughead. His breath was steadier with Jughead. No protest from his heart.
It was a terrible nickname, the kind unthinking parents gave their children that stuck and never let go. Foggy's nickname was like that. He'd said it was because there was…a cousin? That was it. A cousin sharing the same grandfather's name (what was the name?). So everyone used Foggy until it was more his name than his name.
Where was Foggy?
Matt's chest tightened in fear and his eyes shot open, but he couldn't see. He hadn't used his eyes since…since something…something bad happened when he was nine. Matt couldn't remember it.
He could barely remember anything. His thoughts would start and then end nowhere, fraying like…like rags, damn it! His mind was full of holes now and he kept falling through. Tearing apart.
Where had he started, just now? What had he…. His fire was out again. Yes. But, but that wasn't it. He'd been thinking about….
Foggy wasn't here. Foggy hadn't spoken to Matt in weeks. He was safe. Matt had been sleeping, holding a boy named Rain. No, Jughead. A boy named Jughead who smelled like rain. Rain and how Matt smelled too, though not as much. More than the other one, though. Grant Ward. Matt couldn't forget his name even though he wanted to.
He couldn't forget his smell, either: Wet ashes, with just a whiff of copper, and ozone like a very far off storm. It drifted around this place they were in, almost as thick and stomach-churning as the…as the sweetness and rot. The sweet thing that he knew he'd tasted but couldn't remember.
Matt (his name was Matt. Matthew Michael Murdock. He'd told it to the boy, so he could remind Matt if he forgot it. If he lost his name he lost everything) had to find them a way out before Grant Ward tore so many pieces out of him that he had nothing left. He had no idea how long he'd been here already. He couldn't remember what they'd done to him, only that he'd woken up screaming and shaking, with Grant Ward petting his head and crooning that it would be all right.
Matt had the awful feeling that Grant Ward had said the same words to him before. Yes. That was true. He'd smelled paper, heard it crinkling in Grant Ward's hand.
The same words. Grant Ward wanted to make sure Matt remembered them.
How many times had Matt heard them?
Grant Ward was tearing Matt apart, and then he'd put him back together the way he wanted. Matt wouldn't be Matt anymore. He'd be Grant's brother, he wouldn't know he'd been anyone else.
Someone else had done that. Tried to do that. Stick. Yes, Stick (thin; angry; smelled like old libraries and blood). Stick had wanted to remake Matt too. Into his soldier. But Matt wasn't a soldier. He was….
He was a devil? Yes. That wasn't wrong; he remembered that. But, devils weren't good. And he was good, wasn't he? He didn't want to be one of Stick's soldiers because he didn't want to kill people. So, he was good?
He didn't know. But…he wasn't like Stick. He hadn't been remade. He was still Matt. Matthew Michael Murdock. Not a soldier. Nobody's soldier.
But Grant Ward was ripping him apart and Matt was falling through the tears. And if Matt couldn't get him and Rain out he would be remade. All the little pieces of him put back together but completely different. Like a patch…patches…patchwork. Something made from patches.
A quilt. A patchwork quilt.
Matt couldn't remember what that was.