They each had one, a sharp reminder of the darkest time in their lives.
But no matter how twisted their physical scars were, they were nothing but shadows compared to the scars that had been burned into their minds and souls. No matter how far they were from the scene of their personal hell, that time would always follow them, haunting them like a malevolent specter.
The nights were the worst.
The darkness would close around them, erasing all the distance the day's activities had bought them, and the memories would come crashing back. More than one Seablite member had drenched a pillow with silent tears in those early days, or else woken up screaming.
But slowly, they had been able to move on, start to reestablish themselves apart from the memories.
All but Pretty.
Everyone else was eventually able to sleep at night, but for Pretty, it continued. The flashbacks, the nightmares, the horrible memories of being held against his will, being forced to perform hard labor, having no right to resist the experimenter's scalpel…
Pretty awoke, drenched in cold sweat, heart racing, one hand raised to ward off what he knew he was powerless to resist.
It took a moment for the darkness and the faint murmur of equipment to remind him where he was.
Not back in Seablite.
He sank back against the pillow.
He should go back to sleep, he knew it. But his eyes wouldn't close, wouldn't risk taking him back there.
So instead, he swung his legs over the edge of the bunk and slipped silently down the ladder, not disturbing the sleeping forms around him.
He would envy them, if he let himself. But his fate was one he would wish on no one but his worst enemy. Let them sleep.
He was the reason they could sleep.
It had taken them all some time, some trial and error, before they had mastered their abilities, and he was no different. He had the ability to put people into a highly suggestible state, but it had taken him a while to work out the best way of phrasing his suggestions to their subconscious.
And it had taken him even longer to realize what his ability meant to the other members of the Seablite Gang.
He had hypnotized each one, had told them that they were safe, they would never have to return to that living hell, and that they would have no more nightmares.
They had believed his suggestions. Now they could sleep at night, and even joke about that time.
But not Pretty.
No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't hypnotize himself. He was completely immune to his own infrasonic waves.
So he dealt with it his own way, building a wall of ice between himself and the world.
What choice did he have? Even those who had gone through that time with him couldn't understand anymore. He was even more alone than any of them.
Still, he didn't regret doing it.
He hadn't done it out of a misplaced sense of charity, nor even so much out of a better-placed sense of loyalty, as out of a deep and abiding desire not to let Doc win.
Pretty shook his head, trying to clear the image of Doc's intensely focused face from his mind. He slipped down the hall, and took the ladder down to the galley.
He turned out one of the chairs and settled into it, staring into the vast expanse of the ocean. It was almost entirely dark, but the occasional flashes of bioluminescence were worth seeing if you weren't really there to see things.
No, here was the best place either to think or to avoid thought.
Tonight, though, the state of thoughtlessness he craved proved impossible to reach. Memories kept worming their way up past his careful shield and into conscious thought.
Unbidden, his hand rose to the side of his head, and Pretty traced the scar that wrapped itself around his ear and travelled down the side of his neck.
That always got to him.
During the day, he could stay icy, keep carefully removed from that part of himself…except for this. Every time he passed a reflective surface, it was there to mock him, to forcefully remind him you are nothing, worth nothing to anyone except as a rat in a cage, no choice, no control, NOTHING—
Pretty violently brushed his long hair over the mark.
As long as Doc's voice rang in Pretty's head, he was winning.
Doc would not win.
The others were lucky in another way. They had easy ways to hide their own marks of captivity. Most were hidden easily under normal clothing, and Shade's he could disguise at will with his Dark Gift.
Pretty's, though, was on the side of his face.
At first he had had no way of hiding it. But when he felt his hair brushing the tips of his ears, he had suddenly seen his answer, and had stopped cutting it.
In public, he always wore his hair loose.
No matter how inconvenient it got.
There was no way he would let complete strangers gawk at this reminder of the horror in his past. He'd had his fill of that before his hair grew out. The questioning looks in their eyes had been more than enough to force the memories to surface, even when they'd had enough self preservation not to ask directly.
Even now, alone in the dark, the motion had the power to separate him, to act as a shield between him and his past.
Pretty stared out the window, watching as a school of bioluminescent fish swirled past.
Shade's rough voice was unexpected, but Pretty betrayed no surprise.
"When can I?"
Shade's only response was a sound that might have been a humorless chuckle.
Perhaps it was unfair to say that no one understood.
Shade wasn't quite like the others either. He was the oldest, and held himself responsible for the welfare of the gang. He had accepted Pretty's offer of hypnosis, but had chosen to maintain more of his memories, more of his cold anger, than the others had. Not that the others truly forgot what happened…but the memories were different for them, faded and distant.
Both men stared into the vast expanse of seawater in silence, watching as it changed from jet black to midnight blue, and gradually lightened to ultramarine—the lightest it ever got at this depth.
Finally, Shade stirred.
"Time to rouse the lazy ones. You'd best get ready to get going."
Pretty rose and faced him with the ghost of a grim smile.
"Took long enough."
As Shade turned to head back up the ladder, Pretty reached back and started to braid his hair.
In public, he always wore it loose.
But when was just the gang…
They already know.
When it's just them, he can tie his hair back.