”This is the one?”
“What other asshole was running around dressed like that?”
“...careful! … ribs broken, don’t want to puncture a lung…”
“...really gonna let ‘em go?”
“... …one of those tweaked out freaks bit me–”
“... said he could make me look normal…”
“... … don’t look him in the eye…”
“... This is who you brought me?”
Consciousness did not come slamming back to Grim, nor even clawing back with a fighting spirit that would’ve at least been halfway respectable. No, instead consciousness came in a slow, molasses drip that oozed into Grim’s body bit by bit, carrying with it the dirt of fragmented words, jostling movements, and a deep stabbing pain along his chest that adrenaline had suppressed before.
Something had definitely fractured. Grim was no stranger to this but it didn’t make anything easier. Each breath laboured against the pain, rattling as though a lung were knocked loose in his chest.
The weight of the heavy metal mask at least gave the hero the reassurance to open his eyes, taking in the bright lights set into the off-white ceiling tiles above and the black camera mounted to the wall. The former wasn’t ideal for his powers, but there was always a dark corner tucked away somewhere
. Hell, since they hadn’t removed his mask they were swarming all over his face anyway-
Except the shadows weren’t responding to his need.
Grim could feel them attempting to, mind you - moving across the skin of his face beneath the mask, trying to rise up but unable to so much as wiggle in response. It was disconcerting for someone who’s powers were active with their first breath, which almost seemed to have a mind of their own. Strapped down like Grim himself was.
Finding no other option, and the room suspiciously quiet, he raised his head to look around. There were curtains to either side of the bed he was on, open at the foot - and beyond he could see another identical bed. For all the world it looked like a hospital, actually, except much
quieter. Though to be honest, Grim barely noticed the room beyond the foot of his bed anyway, considering there was someone there.
A skeletal figure sat almost limp on a stool, dark skin stretched over bone as though shrunk wrapped with sunken eyesockets and gaunt cheeks. They were short, though considering what was obvious starvation and malnutrition it was hard to put an age down - or even a gender. They didn’t even have much hair, only an inch or two off the scalp - must’ve been buzzed semi-recently. The biggest defining feature on them however were the unblinking purple eyes focused on Grim, a faint glow coming from them even under the oppressive lights above.
That, and the glint of a metal bangle on their ankle, bare feet pulled up on the edge of the stool even as their arms hung to either side. As though positioned, with even the too-large pant leg of the hospital pants they were wearing tugged back on clear display.
For a moment Grim stayed stock still, examining this person with the keen eye of someone who was regularly in life-threatening situations. They didn’t seem to even react to the scrutiny, nor the hero’s movements. Even when he experimentally tugged on a wrist to test the leather bindings, no reaction. Just a dead eyed purple stare.
Was there even anyone home?
“Hey,” The damaged mask’s voice modulator crackled for a moment before settling back to the deep voice of the hero, an underlying hint of static clinging to the words. “I’m Grim. What’s your name?” Despite patiently waiting, there was no response. Not even a flicker of eye movement in acknowledgement to the new sound in the quiet room. Not even a blink. So much for that.
Thankfully, the continued disinterest persisted for the next twenty minutes as Grim attempted to get a better hold of where he was. His costume was mostly still on, only the thick outer jacket removed - and hopefully still nearby, that thing was expensive. Wiggling in the constraints did very little other than give his wrists some mild irritation from the edges digging in as well as more pain from his aching torso, and his powers still weren’t working.
The sound of the door opening made Grim still, before going limp.
Sharp footsteps made their way over with purpose, not even hesitating as they came closer to the bed Grim lay on.
“Ah, none of that now, none of that - surely you’ve already seen the camera, no need to insult both of our intelligence.” The voice was jovial and warm, encouraging. The familiar figure that had appeared at the end of the bed even took a moment to ruffle the hair of the person on the stool in an almost affectionate gesture before moving up beside Grim. They were a large, portly man with clean pressed clothes and even a fucking sweater vest beneath their doctor’s coat - which had a strange, lumpy dusting of brown on one shoulder. A bristly walrus of a grey moustache and a balding head that still clung to life on either side. Even the eyes were kind, which was the second most insulting thing.
“Come on, a sweater vest? I think it’s overkill, doc.” The man laughed at Grim’s words, patting his rotund stomach encased in the offending article of clothing.
“Now now, don’t be like that! I’ll have you know I’m the most fashionable senior-discount holder in this entire complex.”
“What? You? A senior? Pssh, you don’t look a day over thirty.”
“Ohoh, I was told you were a flatterer. I do apologize for not being here when you woke up, I’m afraid I had to have a discussion with some of the … newer members of the team.” The apparent doctor’s smile didn’t waver, gentle and kind as he moved about. The dark sleeve of Grim’s shirt was tugged up, folded neatly to his upper arm before a cord was tied around just beneath it.
A complex, huh? Not a hospital.
“Ah, no harm done - healthcare waiting times, am I right? I’m sure you’re a busy man, Doctor…?”
Though of course, Grim knew that already, since he had met them shortly before during Zoey’s tour of Northwestern Memorial. Just how many players were there?
“So, Doc, what’s my chart looking like? Am I gonna make it?”
“Hmm, that depends on how treatment goes I’m afraid. Not everyone reacts well to it. Normally for a high profile figure like yourself we’d have something a bit more … tailored, but I’m afraid we’re suffering from a bit of mistaken identity here.” Absently, the doctor reached up and brushed away the brown that was resting on his shoulder - which turned out to be handsome, tawny down feathers that drifted to the floor. Grim’s eyes followed them before turning to Doctor Edwards, who had begun feeling the inside of the tied down man’s elbow.
“Ouch. That stings, it really does. I’ve got to work on my branding if I’m being mistaken for other people.”
“Hah, have no worries - I recognized that emblem the moment you came in. My coworkers should have as well, though to be fair - how many masked heroes are running around in pure black?” The Doctor chuckled, double checking the spot he had picked before turning back to the open side table. He pulled out a wipe and cleaned the area - very thoughtful, really - before pulling out a needle for an IV line.
That wasn’t good.
“Psh, I’ve had the all in black market cornered in Chicago for years. I’m going to have to send a cease and desist. But enough about wannabes, who’s your assistant here, Doc?” Grim nodded towards the person at the end of his bed, even though his eyes never moved from where the needle pierced skin.
“Ah, I’d say Sarah is more of a … volunteer, here. Used to be a patient, now she helps out to return the care she’s gotten over the years. She has a very calming
“I’ll say.” Grim nodded to her again. “You’re doing a great job Sarah, keep up the good work!”
Doctor Edwards was getting the IV itself ready now, leaving briefly only to return with one of the rolling hangars for the drip line. There was already a bag on it as well - mostly clear, though with a hint of a green tint. Oh, green was never good when it was going in your blood stream.
“So what’s this, Doc? Painkillers, I hope?”
“Something like that.” The end of the drip line was connected to the needle in Grim’s arm, and soon the mystery fluid was on its way. Though he braced himself, there was no sudden burning sensation or anything like that - so at least it wasn’t an acid solution to eat him away from the inside.
“Alright, now with that out of the way, let’s get you a bit more comfortable, shall we Grim?” Doctor Edwards reached for the mask.
Nevermind, give him the acid in the blood stream instead. He’ll take that over this.
“Aw, come on Doc - this a clear violation of my confidentiality! A HIPAA violation like this could really come back to bite you in the ass.” Grim cringed away from the hand, but between the bindings on all his limbs and the burning pain in his chest it wasn’t much use.
So instead Grim jerked his face forward to slam the sharp ridges of the mask into Doctor Edward’s palm.
“You little fucker-” The doctor cursed as he drew his hand back, blood staining the man’s palms. Grim’s struggles renewed, despite knowing it was quite useless. He had already tried. His powers were muted, he was tied down-
A hand clasped his throat, before another grabbed the mask and tugged. It jerked Grim’s head back since it wasn’t just a simple mask, and there was a struggle for a few minutes - him being as difficult as possible, the doctor trying to twist the mask off.
"I knew we should've just done this while you were out. Drama queens, the lot of them."
Eventually, Grim lost the battle when the doctor cheated by retreating and grabbing a needle full of liquid, which was apparently quite fast acting as drowsiness was setting in very quickly. He still tried to jerk his head away, but it was weaker and within a few moments the mechanisms were mostly found - the last one in place scraped against Zoey’s chin as the mask was yanked off.
“... Well! If this isn’t a surprise!” Zoey’s head lulled to the side, red strands falling in her eyes that she halfheartedly blew away.
“I hope you know I’m not signing your cheque this week.”
Oh, and there was the burning sensation in her blood. Life was great.