Spencer told Ryan he slept for six days after the doctors did it. Ryan didn’t remember. He remembered waking up.
Ryan woke up thinking Spencer was talking. It didn’t make as much sense as usual, and Ryan tried to say, “Spence? Spence, are you okay?”
His throat was dry and just the attempt to talk sent an almost unbearable pain arching through his skull. Ryan brought a hand to his head, whimpering, and felt the scars. He didn’t remember starting to scream, but he remembered trying to stop, trying and trying, and then being stopped, by the guards and their trusty sticks.
The second time he woke up, he realized two things: first, Spencer wasn’t the only voice he could hear, and second, he was still alone in his cell, just like he had been before the-- Before whatever this was. He didn’t touch his head again. He didn’t trust himself not to scream.
Spencer wasn’t the only voice, but he was the voice that Ryan was most familiar with, and the voice that was loudest in his sheer panic regarding Ryan. Ryan wanted to say, “I’m here, I’m okay,” but he wasn’t sure either was true, and he was too scared to risk trying to talk again.
He closed his eyes and tried to listen to Mikey. Mikey was scared, too, but he was distracting himself with thoughts of Pyro, from X-Men. Mikey was cold. Ryan thought he might be too, but for the moment, the pain and disorientation of sharing his head was distracting from that particular problem. Mikey had a whole story going, like a motion picture, sort of, and Ryan had the vague sense that it was wrong to watch, but he couldn’t make himself pull away.
They let Ryan out of his cell the third time he woke up. He made it all of three steps before the noise of everyone in the complex, scared and alone and in pain, rolled over him like a wave. Then he went to his knees, vomited, and promptly passed out.
Evidently, that hadn’t been exactly what the “doctors” were going for. At least, Ryan had to presume that, since they gave him a paralyzing agent and cut into him again, asking questions in between his screams.
At first he’d thought, surely, surely they would get that he couldn’t form words, could barely think through the agony. Only, when he kept not answering, one of the leaned down and said, “You don’t really want us to make it worse, do you?”
The question echoed, the man’s voice and mind asking it all at once and Ryan begged like he hadn’t since the beginning, since he hadn’t known better. The man said, “Answer the question.”
Ryan couldn’t remember the question, couldn’t remember any of the questions. He tried telling them this. It got worse.
It hurt to concentrate, but not concentrating was out of the question. Not concentrating meant taking everyone else’s thoughts on, and Ryan had already learned that lesson. So he concentrated.
It took a lot of effort. Too much effort to concentrate and eat, for example, or concentrate and talk. The first time Spencer put a hand on Ryan’s shoulder, Ryan whimpered and Spencer snatched the hand back. Ryan wanted to apologize, but that took too much energy away from the task at hand.
Spencer’s touch came creeping back, and with it, something that felt a little soothing. Mostly, Spencer was an overlay of terror, but underneath, there was warmth, a bond that sounded like a hum of Spenceryan. Ryan concentrated on that, and the hurt leeched away, just a bit, enough to breathe.
There wasn’t enough concentration in the world to shut Mikey out when they took him.
The first time Ryan was a little glad, just a little, that he could hear when Mikey woke up, scared and not alone in his own head. Ryan wasn’t sure if he could do it, knew it was going to hurt like hell, but he thought, “Mikey,” in the direction he supposed Mikey to be.
Even with the hubbub of other voices, voices Ryan was working hard to quiet, he heard Mikey’s sharp silence in response. Then, after a long moment, a hesitant, “Ryan?” followed by pain so bad Ryan doubled up. It wasn’t his own pain.
Ryan sent the message, “It gets easier.”
Mikey didn’t send anything back, but the fear quieted, just a bit. Ryan stayed with him.
Ryan screamed when they took Spencer, screamed and screamed and then begged when they came to shut him up. One of the guards just dug his fingers into the soft, healing parts of Ryan’s head. Ryan called to Spencer right before he passed out, but Spencer couldn’t hear—not yet.
Ryan and Spencer stayed with Mikey, tried to take the worst of it, when they took Gerard. Ryan was sick from the pain, from biting into his arm so as not to scream, from Mikey’s terror. He couldn’t think, couldn’t focus, but he stayed with Mikey, stayed all the way through.
Mikey thought in terms of songs a lot. It had taken Ryan a while to figure it out, figure out why he had songs stuck in his head that he didn’t know, until he realized it wasn’t his head. He said, one day at the dinner table, “You have good taste in music.”
Mikey blinked several times and then smiled. It was awkward, like he couldn’t remember how, but Ryan knew it was real—the tempo of Mikey’s song picked up.
Sometimes, Ryan would think of a song that Mikey hadn’t heard. Mikey called it “file sharing.” They tried to learn to focus on songs during the worst of the experiments, all of them. Nobody wanted the others in on that.
It worked, at least a little, until Ryan started forgetting songs. He didn’t even notice at first, just thought that he couldn’t concentrate. They’d broken something in his leg, put something in there, maybe fixed the leg, Ryan couldn’t tell, it hurt too much to care. He couldn’t think of a song, but he figured that it was all just a little too much.
Until he woke up in his cell, sharp agony radiating from the leg and he couldn’t think of a song, not one. He was starting to panic, breaths coming shorter, when all three of the others burst past the shields he’d started learning to erect. They were still weak, but he was pretty sure it made it better for the others. Mikey was learning, too. The others would. Ryan wasn’t sure which was worse—being there with them, or not.
Then there were three songs, overlapping, clashing and Ryan would have laughed if he thought it wouldn’t jostle his leg. Instead, he hummed along.
By the time Ryan couldn’t even remember the tune to the alphabet, or Happy Birthday, Spencer had started thinking only in beats, and Gerard in snippets of lyrics that he couldn’t figure out context to. Mikey could still recall certain stanzas, but that was about it. The four of them tried to keep those safe, collectively.
Ryan tried his hardest to hold on to those notes, but they would keep disappearing, and with them, Ryan’s ability to feel anything outside the thrum of pain that was constant, even when it wasn’t wholly his. He stored up the moments when he could do something outside of breathing for when the others needed something, when the need was strong enough to keep him alive inside himself.
In the middle of one of the worst sessions, Ryan started to just let go, let the pain win, let it finish this, Mikey broke past whatever defenses Ryan had left and promised, “You die and I will find your dead ass and remember the tune to the neverending song and sing it to you for the rest of fucking eternity.”
Ryan kind of liked the idea of Mikey being with him forever after, but he took the point, and did his best to stay in the here.
It had been a while since Ryan had had problems with his shields, but he woke to confusion and disgust so intense that it caused him to whimper, and dig his fingers into his own skull. He didn’t know these voices, he didn’t know them at all, why were they here?
An immaculately dressed man in what had to be something Ryan would have known before all this, Armani or Boss or something, said, “Get these people the fuck out of here and to a hospital. Now.”
Other people, also well-dressed and professional looking scurried around, and Ryan tried to get their franticness out of his head, tried to find Spencer and Mikey and Gerard, but everything was too loud. He might have screamed at them to stop it, maybe, but they didn’t, and after a while it was too much, too much and he rolled on the ground, right onto the shoulder they’d recently been working on, and that got it to stop, along with everything else.
Ryan had no idea where he was when he woke up. He had no idea where Spencer or Mikey or Gerard were, either—he couldn’t hear them. He couldn’t hear anything, actually, outside of the beep of several machines that didn’t seem to be hurting him, and his own thoughts. He blinked at the machines and wondered what they were doing, if not hurting him. He didn’t hurt at all, actually, which was almost as scary as it was relieving.
A small guy, maybe Ryan’s age, or a little bit older, walked in the room, and Ryan could hear him, just fine. He said, “I’m Brendon. Uh, Dr. Urie, but I’m not really used to that, so.”
Ryan swallowed. Talking to doctors was not advisable, even if this one felt harmless, inside his mind. He seemed to want to help. Ryan wanted to ask about the others, but he didn’t know what would or would not get them into trouble.
The doctor said, “We found all their notes. It’s going to take a while to sort out what the hell they were doing, make it better for you guys, but for the moment, we’ve got you all in separate rooms that are running sort of the biomagnetic version of white noise so you can get some peace and quiet.”
That explained a lot. Ryan still wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth, but he could try and hope. The doctor hesitated. “When Ga-- Mr. Saporta, when he took over the company, he didn’t know. He didn’t know at all. It was supposed to just be biotech engineering. Not this.”
Ryan had no idea what that meant, but he wasn’t going to ask, no more than he was going to ask for water. Instead, he closed his eyes a little, and waited until the doctor left to give into sleep.
Ryan was in a bigger room, and he could hear the others when he woke up. Which made sense, because they were in the room with him, he saw, when he opened his eyes. Mikey caught that Ryan was awake and grinned at the thought, “Gee asked.”
Of course he had. Gee was too stupidly brave for anyone’s own good. Ryan smiled back. Whatever they were keeping him on, it was hard to even feel his face, but he had the sense that was a good thing. “Where are we?”
“Research hospital, I think. There are doctors, and Saporta Inc., was sort of a big deal back home, since it got started by some kid from around where I lived. Biomedical technologies, or something.” Mikey’s thoughts came slowly, with stutters and stops, but Ryan was glad. He wasn’t sure he could process that much information if it came all in a rush.
After a long, long time, he got up the nerve to ask, “Safe?”
They both blinked when they realized Ryan had spoken aloud. He hadn’t, not in months, maybe not a year. It was hard to know how much time had passed. Spencer woke at the sound and yawned, looking over to check first on Ryan, then on Gerard. Satisfied, he closed his eyes again.
Mikey whispered. “I… I think so.”