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Rough Night

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Mark faced off against his attackers: two guards with plasma arcs, and one of the clone-boys he was trying to rescue, who'd decided he was probably lying and too scary to follow anyway. He found himself edging back, shifting… despising himself as he started using the clone as a shield, knowing the guards wouldn't fire at Mark if they had a chance of hitting the clone.

The clone, ignorant of combat save from vid-games, leapt in front of the two guards (in the games, you never get shot from behind by your own team) and launched himself at Mark, untrained fists flailing wildly.

"Liar! Monster! You're not really here to rescue us; you're going to sell us into slavery where we'll be tortured and r-raped, and turned into a killer like you! You're going to sell us all to be slaves on Komarr! I'd rather be dead than turn into you," he said, sneering as he raked his eyes down Mark's stunted form.

Mark flushed red and reached out for the boy, pleading, but when the boy stepped back, Mark stumbled, and that was all the guards needed. They surged around the boy and grabbed him by the shoulders, lifting him up and hauling him out of the room as Mark kicked furiously into the air.

They brought him into another room, a medical treatment room with rack upon rack of gleaming silver instruments, and a folding gurney with restraints dangling from all corners. Mark struggled uselessly. They were much larger and stronger than he, and they strapped him down no matter how hard he flailed at them.

When it was done, he looked up at his captors. They had bruises on their faces and arms, and Mark exulted at the sight—until he realized that he could see their arms. Their jackets and outer shirts were gone, and they were starting to remove their boots and pants.

One of them leered at him. "I'm gonna give you ten bruises for every one of mine," he said, "only I'm gonna put them in places nobody can see." He paused in his undressing to place a hand over Mark's crotch and squeeze, slowly at first, and then harder.

Mark was appalled to feel himself hardening to the touch. It's not you, he begged silently; it's just that I'm touch-starved. Grunt pushed himself forward. My turn, now? Mark pushed him back. You're not here yet! Go away!

"Likes that, does he?" said the other, and Mark realized he was flushed and moaning, growing hard under the man's touch just like he did when... He cut that thought off. He tried shaking his head, but that just made the hand on him move, and soon he wasn't sure if he was thrashing to get away or get more.

The hand on his crotch started to stroke him through his clothes, and Mark couldn't stop himself from pressing up against it. He sobbed as Grunt chased the hand, leaving Mark to look wildly around the room… and saw the clone-boy, peeking in through the door with wide eyes, one hand down his pants and a faint smile on his lips. Mark recognized the smile—and realized the clone was a much younger version of Baron Ryoval. The baron-boy met his eyes, and his smile shifted into a leer. Mark squeezed his eyes shut.

No. No. I didn't rescue the Baron; I killed him. That's not him. It's some other boy that looks like him.

"Hey, I know how to make this really fun," said the other guy, and Mark's eyes shot open. The guy reached into one of the cabinets and pulled out a shock stick.

In blind terror and rage, Mark surged against the restraints, and... they snapped. Killer flung the open end of one dangling from his right arm around the neck of the guard standing over him, and pulled it taut, watching the man's face redden and then darken and then go slack, his hand first thrashing wildly at Mark's crotch (and Mark is not admitting to anyone, not even himself, how much he enjoyed that) and then tensing (...nor that) until finally it, too, went slack, and Mark could take his attention off his own body long enough to look around.

Killer stood from the gurney and flipped over the table of instruments closest to him as the other guard backed away a few steps… then turned and ran.

The young Baron in the doorway (No! Someone else! Mark wailed silently, but he couldn't convince himself) was still watching, still had one hand down his pants. He stepped fully into the doorway and tugged his pants until they slipped down to his knees, revealing an oversized, engorged cock. Enhanced, Mark realized. Not the traits the originator had been born with, but something added for his next life. It was still growing as it hardened, almost as long as his forearm, until the boy went to his knees and wrapped both hand around his cock to support its massive length, stroking gently up and down. Grunt smiled and started to move toward him… Mark forced himself to stop, to pull his eyes away.

That left him staring at tables and shelves full of medical equipment, sterile and ominous. Some of the equipment didn't seem right for a hospital. There were several kinds of cuffs, and some chains, and were those whips? Yes, there was a rack of whips. And one of decidedly non-medical knives and daggers. He realized that this wasn't actually a surgical theatre; it was someone's playroom.

With a roar, he charged over to the nearest shelf, intent on destruction. The Baron's laugh echoed in his ears as he knocked the items to the floor, started to stomp on them with his boots—no, his boots must've gone missing at some point; the sharp edges cut into his bare feet. Howl started to take over, but Mark grabbed a hammer from one of the tables—he had no idea if it had any real medical purposes—and set about smashing the rest of the inventory.

***

Vorkosigan House was quiet, except for the murmur of guards' discussion, followed by Pym being selected to carry the news.

Aral was awakened by a fierce, rapid knocking at his bedroom door. Someday, he thought sleepily, I will convince them that they should either just come in, or pause after knocking.

"Enter," he said muzzily, and started to sit up as Pym opened the door.

"My Lord, it's Lord Mark," Pym said, and then hesitated. Establishing who was easy; what was more complicated.. "He's… sleepwalking."

Aral frowned. Sleepwalking? Why would that require waking us…

*CRASH*

Cordelia startled awake at the sound.

Aral said to Pym, "I take it that was from Mark's room?"

Pym nodded.

"I'd better go see what's going on," Aral said as he stood and reached for a house robe.

"I'll join you," Cordelia added.

"M'lady," Pym began nervously, "it may not be safe…"

Cordelia didn't stop putting on her robe and looking for her slippers. "Nonsense. If you thought it wasn't safe, you'd have a swarm of armed men in here. You mean it's not proper for me to see whatever's going on." She finished tying her belt and stood up.

Pym looked back to Aral, caught in the dilemma of honesty warring with duty. Aral gave a little shrug. "If it's safe enough for me to face, it has to be safe enough for her. She's younger and quicker than I am."

Pym nodded unhappily and followed them to Mark's room, then stepped in front of Aral to unlock the door. Aral frowned; Mark had had quite enough of being caged.

"I understand, milord, but this is… special circumstances, I believe. If I judged in error, I will face discipline for it later."

He opened the door slowly, staying between Aral and the room; Aral had to look around him to see…

The room was a shambles. The closet door had been ripped from its hinges, the clothing ripped from hangers, which were piled in a broken heap of wire and splinters that spilled under the bed. The dresser had been dismantled, the drawers thrown haphazardly around, the clothing scattered everywhere. The bedside lamp was shattered, the chair tipped over and its padding slashed open, and a half-naked Mark was walking around among shards of glass, ignoring how his feet were bleeding, as he held a letter-opener by the blade and used its handle to smash the broken pieces of the comconsole into ever-tinier fragments.

Aral started in, and Pym interceded. "Milord, I don't think it's dangerous for you to be here, but I can't let you walk into that room unarmed." Pym gave him a look that said, first, he wasn't going to let his liege lord be attacked by a man either possessed or in the throes of a nightmare, and second, he wasn't going to let his liege lord take up arms against the one he'd claimed as son, either.

Mark's hand was bleeding; he was holding the letter opener hard enough that it had cut him. He was mumbling and grunting (no more kill them all again never going back die baron die); but the words weren't clear enough for anyone else to make out. While they stood watching, he turned from the desk to face a spot near the door and wave the letter opener threateningly at someone who wasn't there.

Cordelia stepped up to the door, and Pym shifted to block her entrance, too. He looked back and forth between the two of them, obviously trying to figure out which had the greatest risk of dashing into the room before he could stop them. Cordelia shook her head; that wasn't what she was planning to try.

She turned herself to be directly facing Mark, and to have a good view of him (bleeding, bruised, his face twisted in rage and fear), stood to her full height, and took a deep breath.

"Mark PIERRE Vorkosigan, stop that at once!"

Mark paused—Aral thought thank God—and then Mark's brow furrowed, and then he blinked and looked over at her, confusion flickering across his face until it was replaced by horror as he saw the rest of the room.

The letter opener dropped from his hands, and he immediately hissed and began to crumple in pain. Aral and Pym both moved to catch him before he fell, moving him to the bed before he could damage his feet more by walking on them longer. Once he was settled—curling up on himself in pain, face wracked by guilt—Aral said, "Pym, get a medical kit," and Pym nodded and left. Vorkosigan House was better equipped for emergency injuries than most Vor homes; it wouldn't take him long to bring what they needed.

Cordelia picked her way over to the bed, and sat down near the bottom edge, on the same side as Aral, who would welcome her closeness. Mark, she was sure, would appreciate not being flanked.

"Sorry; so sorry; I should leave; not safe to have me here; so so sorry," he was mumbling, holding his hand tight to keep the bleeding to a minimum.

Cordelia sighed, and reached for his feet. "May I?"

Mark nodded. "Anything. I owe you. This…" he glanced around the room. "This was not my intention; I was, I thought I was in…" he gulped, and trailed off.

"You thought you were somewhere else, in danger," she said gently, as she took one of his feet in hand, and started pulling out shards of glass with her fingernails. He hissed, but didn't pull away.

She looked over at his hand, still clenched and bleeding. "Aral?" she asked. "Can you reach one of the handkerchiefs?" She nodded toward the dresser drawer near his feet; he reached for one and brought it to Mark, gently prying his hand open and wrapping the cloth around the cut on his palm, then folding his hand back down over the cloth.

"Pym will be back soon," Aral said. "I… gather you're not fond of doctors, but I'd be grateful if you'd let that be tended."

Mark nodded vigorously, interrupted by a flinch when Cordelia found a tiny shard she couldn't quite see. He couldn't meet Aral's eyes. "Not fond of pain, either. Aaah, this hurts a lot more than I'd expect. When I was… when they… I've had worse. A lot worse." Howl mumbled in agreement. This was barely a snack. But it was a sharp and tasty snack, Howl let him know, and more were welcome.

Mark tried not to shudder, and realized he'd failed when Cordelia's gentle fingers brushed another chip of glass in his foot.

Aral nodded in agreement. "You took wounds while unconscious; you weren't prepared for the pain. It seems worse because of that."

Howl immediately tried to think of ways to harm himself while unconscious. Mark said, "Shut up!" and then realized where he was. "No, I didn't mean…" he started to say to Aral, and then closed his mouth.

Aral, for his part, only looked puzzled. He wasn't sure who Mark was addressing, but it was obviously not him.

Cordelia spoke up. "We don't expect you to be immediately coherent. That must've been some… nightmare." Mark didn't bother to suppress the shudder this time. "If you'd like to talk about it, either of us is available," she continued. "If not, then we'll see your wounds treated and find another room for you for tonight."

"But… I've ruined it… broken so much…"

"They're only things, boy," Aral said. "Their value is in how people use them."

Mark started to curl up again. "Nobody'll ever use that chair again," he said.

"Nonsense," Cordelia said for the second time that night. "Why, I can think of three guardsmen's children who will be delighted to have such an excellent throne in their playhouse. And they won't even feel guilty if they scuff the seat, because you started it for them."

Mark looked at her in bafflement, then wonder. Not only was she not mad, she was fixing things for him. He had no idea how he had earned this… or what dreadful cost it would have later. Aral chuckled before he could follow that thought much farther.

"Yes, she had that effect on me, at first. Still does, at times."

While Mark was trying to absorb that, Pym arrived with a tray of small towels, bowls, a pitcher of steaming water, and a collection of bandages, ointments and tweezers. Cordelia reached for the tweezers and one of the towels, and went back to pulling glass from Mark's foot, now that she had better tools. For a while, the room was silent, save for the quiet plink-plink of glass into one of the bowls. After each removal, Cordelia used a damp towel to clean the area, and then spread a bit of medicated ointment over the wound before moving to the next.

So strange, she thought, how familiar this is, and how different. I've spent nearly half my life tending to wounded Vorkosigan men, and they keep finding new ways to get themselves hurt.

"Ma'am?" said Mark.

"Hm?" she said, at first not looking up—but then realized how hard it was for him to speak directly to any of them, and gave him her undivided attention. "What is it?"

"You… woke me up. With… with my name." He stopped.

"Yes?"

"How did you know it would work? I mean… I don't know if it's… If I am really…" Lord Mark Vorkosigan, he didn't manage to say out loud.

Aral cocked his head to hear her answer; he'd also like to know. He'd had plenty of experience waking soldiers from nightmares, and that wasn't a method he'd ever seen used before.

"Ah. That." She looked at the two men, who were unnervingly attentive. "It's something Alys and I talked about. A couple of years ago, she found Ivan unconscious in the back seat of his lightflyer, and used his name like that to wake him up from a dead sleep. She swears it'll work on males of any age past toddlerhood."

Not any male, Mark thought. The clones I rescued… they have no middle names, no family names. But… apparently I do, now.

Aral's laugh interrupted Mark's thoughts. "No wonder I've never seen it suggested in the Service!"

Cordelia smiled in return. "Yes, well, I expect it would be rather detrimental to keeping proper order among the ranks. Can't have someone waking up from a nightmare saying 'sorry, Ma; can I have a cup of cocoa to help me get back to sleep'."

"Does that mean you're volunteering to make cocoa?" Aral asked.

Mark perked up at that. He had no right to ask—no right to any of this—but warm chocolate sounded like wonderful way to drive off the last images of scalpels and hemostats floating through the edges of his mind.

It was Cordelia's turn to laugh. "I'm sure something can be arranged," she said.