Cooro hadn't meant to get them in so much trouble. He never meant to, but time and time again it seemed he misjudged how kind people were, misunderstood exactly how good they could be at acting when they wanted to be. And in his defense, this man had been very good, never pushing too hard, just a couple simple, friendly suggestions, "why not stay in town a few more days?" "Why not let me help you carry things from the market?"
The fact that Cooro had failed to put two and two together and realize the looming threat wasn't unusual, no. The fact that Husky had managed to get captured with him, however, was a bit more alarming. Cooro could see him lying in the small, square tank only a few feet away from where he himself was tied to an examination table. He was so close, yet hopelessly far away, helpless with his limbs splayed and tethered at the ankles and wrists with harsh leather belts. An experimental yank on them told him what he already knew; they were too thick, strong and sturdy and already cutting into his skin, he'd never break free of them alone.
Any hope of Senri and Nana finding and rescuing them before something worse could happen was dashed when the door across the room opened, letting in a rush of cold air that sent shivers up Cooro's spine. A man stepped through, tall and thin in the way scholars always were. His face was obscured under a medical mask, and his eyes were cold and blue, devoid of any compassion Cooro had been hoping against hope might be there. He wasn't the fat, cheery gentleman who had lured him in, though, and that at least was some consolation; it meant that he hadn't been duped entirely, really, that the man had at least enough good in him not to do the harming even if he was payed by the one who would.
The strange man strolled unhurriedly foreword, walking straight past the tank where Husky still lay motionless to the side of Cooro's table. He reached underneath it, making all of Cooro's hair stand on end until he straightened again, nothing more threatening than a pair of soft cloth gloves in his hands. Slowly, Cooro opened his dry mouth, eyes wide and frightened when he spoke, "W-what are you going to do with us?" The stutter had been anything but intentional, but he figured sounding as frightened as he did wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Despite the empty, cynical eyes staring down at him, he still hoped he might be able to beg his way out of it. Or at least, he thought, delay this man until his friends could save him.
Resting his hands on the edge of the table and leaning foreword, the stranger was suddenly looming directly over Cooro, his medical mask only inches from Cooro's face when he responded. "I won't be doing anything to Husky if you cooperate," he stated plainly, the unspoken threat not going without notice.
"What a-about me?" Cooro asked in a soft, plaintive voice. The stutter was only getting more prominent, his throat tight with fear when the man leaned even closer, expressionless eyes giving nothing away.
"I'm a bit more curious about you," he said, his low tone only easy to hear because he was so near Cooro's ear. "I'd like to see how you work, just a bit," one of his hands slipped off the edge of the table, reaching behind him for something Cooro couldn't see. "Don't worry, I won't cause any more damage than necessary," somehow, the reassurance rang empty in Cooro's ears.
All at once the man leaned back, his formerly obscured hand holding something glittering and long, delicate enough that Cooro didn't immediately register it as a threat. Then his eyes focused, telling him that was a syringe, a long, cruel needle leading to a deceptively fragile glass tube. He tensed, every muscle in his body suddenly straining against his restraints. Memories of Fly's facility, of having his +anima removed flickered through his mind, the last time he saw a syringe standing out in his mind. He remembered with sickening vividness the feeling of the needle sinking into the skin of his arm, the soft spot at the inside of the joint that never got injured, remembered the feeling of thick fluid being pushed into his blood and dulling his senses, making him numb and tired and vulnerable.
His stomach turned and he found himself retching, the strength of his reaction surprising not only himself but also the scientist. Seeing that needle was worse than any nightmare he'd had about Fly, he realized, worse than simply remembering. This time it was right there, coming towards him, about to sink into him and he couldn't fight back, couldn't escape- the sour taste of bile and the bread he'd eaten earlier, half digested and disgusting, filled his mouth as his back arched, his body still recoiling from the stranger holding something much more frightening than a weapon.
Cooro's throat burned as he coughed and spat, the scientist's hands frozen over him as though unsure how to proceed for the moment. When his retching receded Cooro found his whole frame shaking, his still slender body quaking at the thought of what was coming, but no, the scientist had put the syringe back from wherever he'd gotten it. Instead he was once again taking something from underneath where Cooro now breathed a little too harshly through his nose, hardly daring to believe his good luck. Was he not going to have a shot after all?
His relief was short-lived, however, when the door opened to reveal another strange man, dressed the same as the first. They even had the same dead-fish gaze, to the point were they were only distinguishable by their skin tones. This one was much darker than the other, as though he had some Sailand merchant in him, but somehow it didn't make him any less frightening. He walked with a clipped, businesslike pace to where the first man stood, leaning close to him and talking. Cooro was just dazed enough to wonder why they were both so intent on getting in others' personal space, the thought garnering a little hiccuped laugh from him that sounded closer to a sob than a genuine sound of joy.
He only caught the last part of their hushed conversation, something about "will work faster with his stomach empty anyway," before the newcomer turned to him and spoke at a normal volume. "Cooro," he began, sounding more like a chastising adult than someone whose eyes told Cooro he could kill without a second thought. "You understand that we don't want trouble any more than you do, don't you?" Cooro nodded, his chest too tight for him to trust his voice. "Well, we're going to give you something to calm your stomach, alright?" A more enthusiastic nod this time. "Then, we'll need to take some blood."
Cooro hesitated, opening his sticky mouth finally, "no sh-shot?" His voice wavered, stringy spit dripping down his chin to his stained neckline.
The man's mask moved, as though he was smiling. The expression didn't reach his eyes, however; they remained mechanical and detached while he tried to be reassuring. "Oh no, no shots." The first man was walking around the table now, Cooro noticed, moving to the other side. In his hand he held a sharp object, like a knife with a metal handle and a very small blade. Cooro felt his breathing pick up again, chest rising and falling with increased urgency as the knife-thing came closer to his stomach. "And don't worry," the second scientist said, perhaps a bit belatedly, "we'll reimburse you for your clothes."
The blade came down, slicing through Cooro's already ruined shirt and carefully avoiding his skin as it slid up, until there was a long slit up the middle of his clothes. The man with the knife put it down beneath the table again, where Cooro realized there must be some kind of second level full of equipment. While he busied himself with removing Cooro's useless shirt the Sailand scientist pulled on a pair of his own gloves, matching the first perfectly. He then retrieved the dreaded syringe, handing it off to the other man over Cooro.
When the needle changed hands over him Cooro had a sickening mental image of the thing slipping between their hands, falling and plunging into his stomach. Now that he was looking at it more closely, however, he realized that it was empty; the man had been truthful when he'd said that there wouldn't be any shots. That didn't make it any easier when the two reached for one of his arms after placing a tablet on his tongue and telling him to swallow, the darker one holding the joint completely still while the pale one pressed the needle into him with inexorable force, the slight pinching pain magnified by Cooro's own fears. Then there was a suction, like they were trying to turn his arm inside out from that one small point, and it was over. They removed their hands, letting Cooro jerk away.
From the corner of his eye Cooro spotted the syringe, now full of dark red blood, slipping under the table once more. Though shivers were still slipping up and down his spine he managed to take deep breaths, calming enough that by the time the small knife reappeared he wasn't close to panicking anymore. Once again a pair of gloves held his arm to the cold, harsh table, keeping him still while the other brought the sharp edge of metal to his skin and bore it down.
Cooro cried out at the sudden burst of pain, the rest of his body spasming as the burning radiated down his arm. The scientist continued with calculated precision, scraping off one, two, three strips of skin from the soft underside of his arm. Cooro was crying freely, his cheeks sore with how tense his jaw was, teeth gritted against the screams and whimpers rising in his throat. It hurt so bad, all the worse for how deliberate and slow it was, how no one would be coming to bandage him and give him food and tell him he was a good boy for enduring it.
The bits of flesh were placed on trays and put away beside the syringe, leaving Cooro with sobs wracking his chest and making him feel like he couldn't breathe. A harsh hand on his chin forced his face up, unsympathetic eyes staring into his own red, bruised ones. "Now now, Cooro," the man said sternly, "you must be a strong boy about this. You wouldn't want us to have to use Husky too, would you?" Cooro's eyes flicked down to where Husky still lay unmoving in the water, only his scales letting Cooro know that he wasn't dead.
Meekly, knowing there was no other choice, Cooro nodded, biting his lip and swallowing the miserable sounds he wanted to make. He could do it, no matter what they asked, he could do it for Husky. Besides, if he held out long enough perhaps Nana and Senri would pull through, get all four of them out like always and away from this horrible place.
His resolve was like everything else he did; absolute and immediate. So even when they brought out a glass full of milky liquid he didn't flinch, simply opened his mouth obediently to swallow the medicine. It tasted even worse than the vomit from earlier, the flavor lingering in the back of his throat like rotting food. That wasn't the worst, though, not even close. What was worse was it ached in his stomach, a thousand times sharper a pain than any stomach ache he'd had. It made his muscles roil, every inch of him begging the pain to stop, please, stop.
Cooro was vaguely aware that he must be screaming, his mouth open and lungs empty, too little air in the room suddenly. He was sure it was because he was screaming, begging for them to stop, but he couldn't hear, could hardly think at all with the way he was hurting, his limbs still cruelly chained down, preventing him from curling around himself protectively. The cold air on his skin was torture in and of itself now, reminding him of the lack of clothing protecting him, as flimsy as that armor would have been.
And then the pain got impossibly, irrevocably worse, bursting in twin points from his shoulder blades like two axes buried there when his wings sprouted out, wrenched into unnatural angles from the way he was strapped down. The feathers growing on his arms didn't cover the long flay marks either, and somehow that disturbed him even worse, made the screaming all the louder even if he still couldn't be sure he was screaming at all.
After a while his desperation subsided a bit, died down to the point where he could hear that yes, he had been screaming, and now his voice was hoarse when he tried to beg a break, just a break, not complete mercy because that would endanger Husky but just a short break, please; when he finally calmed enough to notice his surroundings, he realized that there was another syringe coming towards him, this one as empty as the first. He swallowed harshly at the identical looks on the scientists' faces as they stared down at him from either side of the table, ugly mirrors of one another.
"You're doing very well Cooro," the tone would have sounded condescending anywhere else. "Just a few more tests, and you'll be free to go."
Cooro didn't pray to the God the sisters had taught him about often, but at that moment he was praying for Senri and Nana to hurry.