II. Comfort in Madness
Lovers Eternal, Haunted by an Irrepressible Rage...
It was in the early hours of the dawn that the claws of peril took a swipe at the vagabond Valentina.
She had parked the Humvee by a dilapidated, ruined home for the night. Pistol within reach and still in her jeans and tank top, the white wolf sat peacefully asleep behind the wheel. Though her faithful beast protected her from weather and the fire of weaponry, the Humvee’s tinted windows made him a uniquely appetizing sight for scavengers of the Wasteland.
They were weather-beaten, dirty hounds. Always on the lookout for every measly bit of scrap they could get their mitts on. Be it for money or materials, it was one of the many ways to make a living on the desert plains. Most had the good sense to check for owners, and to leave them be should any show themselves.
Others, like a particularly motley lot on this warm early morn, couldn’t have cared any less, with no interest in anyone’s well-being beyond their own pockets. They had laid eyes on the juiciest pile of pennies they had in ages: the Humvee.
Most of the band traveled on foot, barring one lone biker. All set about the preliminary work of procuring their haul. Some merely eyed what hardware would catch the most coin at a dealer, while others tried in vain to nab the bits and bobs of choice. Val and Eric had fortified the hulking beast tremendously so. With the strength of the exterior, one would be forgiven for believing the body to have been baptized in an alchemical cocktail of tungsten and titanium.
The Humvee rebuffed every attempt to pull at his bull bar and pry off his doors. He kept his master safe, best the immobile behemoth could, but when the guns were drawn, his chances against the horde waned. With barrels aimed and hammers cocked back, it was at this precise moment that a peculiar pair came into play.
A long slender automobile came screaming across the horizon. She was an Adventurer, a cream-colored four-eyed DeSoto with a smiling bumper. She was brought to a grinding halt by the red wolf behind the wheel, the passenger patting the driver’s back.
Inside the car were a pair of red wolves. The man, sitting passenger side, was thin but fit, with an unbuttoned red Aloha shirt, long leather cuffs, beige shorts, and a pair of dark brown gladiator sandals, laced up all along his calves. He slipped his rectangular glasses to the edge of his snout and reached into the glove box. He produced a sawed-off shotgun and proceeded to pack the bullets in as he turned to the gal behind the wheel.
The driver dressed the part of the voluptuous Bohemian from head to toe, her long red skirt reaching halfway down her calves, both brown sandals resting on the car’s long brake, and her top completely cropped, from jacket to shirt. Her hands were decorated with an assortment of rings, her wrists bracelets, with a pair of anklets and a toe ring on her right foot to complete the ensemble of exotic jewelry. In and among it all was a wedding band on her left hand; the exact same one on the exact same hand that the man wore.
“Eric said she was palling around in a Hummer, right Baby,” asked the man, his voice smooth as silk.
“You think that’s the one Marcus,” she questioned in a soft Latin timbre.
“He’s the spitting image Sabina,” Marcus replied, “And it looks like the gal’s got herself some pretty rotten company.”
“You up to it,” Sabina inquired, “You’re still weak from the las—”
“Baby,” he cut off, “I don’t matter. You know what those bastards will do to her. If they don’t knock her off first, they’ll run right through her.”
Sabina nodded in solemn acknowledgement.
“Lemme catch one for ya,” she grinned.
“We’ll call it target practice Baby,” he reciprocated.
The pair gave each other a passionate kiss before manning their positions, Marcus readying his gun and Sabina throwing the car into gear with the push of a button. She dropped the hammer, claws digging into the suede and leather of her sandals. The car spat out the desert sand, roaring towards the scavengers. Her slender eyes locked onto the guy working the back end of the Humvee.
Before he knew what was up, he himself was.
The body rolled onto the hood and Marcus gave it to him, both barrels. Sabina tapped the brakes to drop him off before thundering right over the body. Marcus laid waste to the rest of the crew, shot after shot felling every one of the iron-starved bandits.
Safe for one.
That one got the squeeze courtesy of the Adventurer’s bumper and Sabina’s lead foot. The buckshot Bon Voyage from Marcus was just the blood-soaked cherry on top.
With half a dozen of the vagrants down for the count, Sabina brought the car to a halt. Both cocked their ears to listen for any signs of life. It didn’t take long for the faint rev of a motorcycle engine to catch their attention. The two looked at each other and nodded. The DeSoto tore away after the two-wheeled survivor.
As they thundered after him, Valentina had begun to come to her senses, awaking from her slumber to find the massacre that lay before her. All the more terrifying is what stood in front of her…the only other remaining scavenger. A tall gray with a macabre gaze. His left eye was black as night, his right held within it a piercing red device. She froze for a moment in pure fright.
As the wanderer stood trapped in her fear, Marcus and Sabina’s pursuit was coming to its head. The Adventurer nipped at the bike’s wheels playfully, bearing down on the hog with every turn of the wheel. Sabina shot a quick glance to Marcus, giving him a nod. He reciprocated. She looked towards the bike with a devilish grin.
She punched in fourth gear, a makeshift button tacked onto the end of the shifting panel before burying the throttle into the floor. The last words she had for the vagrant came from a phrase inscribed on her right anklet.
With a burst of energy, she had knocked the scavenger off the bike, sending both man and machine tumbling over before them.
Sabina slammed on the brakes to give Marcus enough room to finish them off. He gave one parting shot to the biker’s back and the other to the bike’s tank. The explosion was immense, and it wasn’t long before the pungent odor of gas, oil, flesh, and fur came careening out of the smoke. Content, the two gave each other another loving kiss before Sabina whipped the car around and headed back towards the Humvee, just in time to have front row seats to the final execution.
Valentina at broken free from fear’s icy grip and threw the massive vehicle into reverse. She got a good look at the android before braking hard. The mechanized menace raised his gun, and that was all it took for Val’s instincts to go into overdrive.
The gear was shifted, the accelerator dropped, and within seconds, the last of the scavengers was decimated, pulverized into the rubble of the abandoned building. She backed off to get a good look at the damage. It wasn’t as bad as blood, but it was still an uncomfortable sight. All the more disconcerting when a match came from seemingly out of nowhere, and the remains ignited.
“They’ll piece ‘emselves together if you don’t Ma’am, the rat bastards,” came the call from Marcus.
Valentina, cautiously, brought the Humvee towards the full-sized hardtop, gingerly rolling down her window.
“They caught you while you were catching your 40 winks,” he continued, “The scavengers that is. Lucky for us, we were in the neighborhood. Name’s Marcus Ma’am, and this is my lady, Sabina. You’re Valentina, right? Eric put the good word out to give you a hand whenever you need one.”
Valentina was perplexed at first, but one glance into the rearview mirror was all it took to show her that she was damn well surrounded, all while off her guard. She smiled softly at the couple.
“Thank you,” she piped up.
“Think nothing of it really,” Sabina grinned, “We were on our morning drive, stretching our girl’s wheels. Haven’t had breakfast yet, care to join us?”
Valentina could only chuckle at the nonchalance of it all. It was as good an offer as any at that point, she figured it would be nice to get a better idea of who her strange saviors were. With a shift and a kick, the caravan set off down the desert trail, towards a small single-story abode, and a much more pleasant morning.
Sabina was something of an enigma to Valentina.
Everything about her screamed seductress, and yet Sabina proved a most welcoming homemaker. She cooked like a world-class chef, had the table set to perfection, and had pivoted from a piss-and-vinegar fueled fighter in the desert to a loving housewife by the time food was ready.
After the refreshingly good meal, she walked over to Marcus, who greeted her with a kiss and proceeded to, of all things, take off her skirt. The airy red garment dropped to the floor, revealing a pair of cutoff jeans underneath.
She nipped at his snout in kind.
“Make me something real special Formosa” Sabina said.
“Your wish,” he teased, kissing all along her arm, “My command.”
With that, the red wolf moseyed on over to the desk in their living room, the space sitting adjacent to the kitchen and dining area. He sat down and threw open a drawer, one filled with neatly compiled beads, gems, strings, and other assorted details. Valentina could only smirk at the tableau.
Here he was, a gentlemanly sort, dressed like a Spartan vacationing in Maui, sat at a desk messing about with beads and leather strands.
Sabina could sense their guest’s lingering gaze.
“He’s a true artisan,” she grinned, rubbing Val’s shoulder, “Leave him to his craft.”
Val obliged and the two strolled outside.
Sabina walked with an assured swagger, the kind of confidence of a gal who presented out of pure habit. She slipped on her husband’s shades before taking a seat behind their Adventurer’s wheel. Valentina stood outside the car.
“What are we doing here,” she inquired, perplexed.
“Just figured you could do with some time to talk,” Sabina replied, “I know I could.”
As she got in, Sabina turned the engine over, basking in its hum and the bright glow of the desert sun.
“Bear with me,” she warned, “He taught me how to drive, but I guess I’m still learning every time I get behind the wheel.”
“Can’t be too bad if you saved my sorry ass,” teased Val.
“Hey, duty called,” she replied in kind, slowly turning her affection towards the car, “Besides, anything to give Mamacita’s little hot rod a workout is fine by me.”
Sabina kissed the wheel and laid a patch, roaring away from the house. The sheer momentum locked Val back into the seat, much to the amusement of the chuckling driver. Sabina rolled her window down, letting her long, lush brunette locks dance about in the wind as her jacket billowed, filling the driver with the coolest breeze.
Once Val had recovered, she gathered her words.
“How on Earth did you two come to be,” she asked.
“Oh, little ol’ me with big ol’ him,” she scoffed, feigning incredulity, “Simple: you been to a solar joint before?”
“Yeah, plenty of times,” Val replied.
“Well, I had a room at Doc’s,” she continued, “Kick a few coins my way, nab me a drink, and I’m yours for the evening. Guy, gal, don’t matter to me. I’d love ya ‘til the night’s end.”
Val nodded, a knowing smile working its way across her face.
“He just happened to be there. But there was something about the way he, the way he carried himself, I guess. He dressed about the same as you see him now. But he talked to me like a friend, like we had known each other all our lives. We had a nip of Doc’s gin, and when it came time, he just knocked me out.”
Sabina kicked the throttle to the floor, arms tensed up. The momentum locked both her and Val back into their seats. She let off, giggling like a schoolgirl.
“But he wasn’t like everyone. He was kind, he was sweet. He cared. Honest to God, he cared. Every time we hugged, it’s like all he wanted was me to be there. To be with him. Well, he whisked me away, we got hitched as formally as we could, and I came to live with him at his house. He taught me the ins-and-outs of driving as I never had to learn. Doc put me up good, got me a nice room, offered me meals, so I just stayed in the building, grooming myself, writing a little. Just small things. He got me out there, showed me what there was to be shown, and we just enjoyed our company and his friends’ company too.”
“Sounds nice,” Val piped up, coming out of the speed-fueled stupor.
“It was, up until a point,” Sabina solemnly intoned.
“Don’t tell me he got abusi—”
“—Don’t even finish,” she cutoff, “We wouldn’t touch a hair on one another’s head if it wasn’t in the most loving way. No…he was snatched away in the night.”
Valentina sat still as a statue, her heart sinking into her gut.
“He likes to drive for a bit after we go at it,” Sabina continued, “I usually go with him, but I was just so tired that night I couldn’t. He got up and drove off. Then I woke up the next morning; wasn’t there. I called up all our friends; he wasn’t at anyone’s home. He was gone for two days and two nights. On the second evening, screeching tires woke me up; hers. I ran out, barely dressed, and there they were. Her sides and grill were stained this horrible red, and when I opened the door, I found him bare as the desert floor. Only these monstrous lacerations. I could still hear and see him breathing so I went to the only man I knew that could help.
“I got in, propped him up against the seat, and booked it for Eric’s. I wrapped my arm around him to make sure I could still feel him there. Feel him breathing, feel his beautiful beating heart, his frame holding. Dios mio, I was scared. Eric said it was mostly just exhaustion, the bloodletting wasn’t bad, but I stayed with him day and night, and I could tell he had just…changed. Then, some news out of the City that a bloodbath had happened at a blood-and-oil match, and I put two and two together. He’s never been the same.
“He’s a good man, an honest man, a loving man, but he started to act…odd. Sometimes like a child, sometimes tough-as-nails, and if anyone mentions laying a hand on me or him, he gets terribly protective. The only thing that soothes him is his beadwork. He figures he’s got a little of the Old World tribes in him and we’ve been scavenging around for any texts about the region in the real old days. He studies religiously and tries to make the most authentic jewelry possible. That choker of his was his first. He’s been working on mine for ages. I myself have taken up Latin as a hobby.”
Valentina stewed in the revelations. Her heart went out to both the woman before her and the man she cared so dearly for. Something in particular irked her about the whole affair, and she decided to press the matter.
“What’s this blood and oil stuff,” the white wolf quizzed carefully.
“They actually use a Latin name for it,” Sabina answered, “Sanguis et Oleum. Fancy, right? Basically, they send these automated cars out to fight these big beefy fellas. All the trimmings and trappings of an ancient festive Roman affair are brought out.”
“Yes, but you mentioned you tied it to him?”
“I did,” she replied curtly, “Marcus would never speak to me about what happened. Eric said that there could have been other things, but I’m no fool. I say he was nabbed for some twisted idea of entertainment. Throw him and the Lady in the ring, just to see…just to see what the hell they’d do. They don’t care enough about us out here, might as well be playthings to them. Only thing they didn’t count on was him getting out. We never found anything modified on her here, but I swear something went down. I just know it.”
“He’s not alone,” Val said in a low tone.
Sabina’s eyes widened as she brought the Adventurer to a stop. When her eyes met Valentina’s, she grew warm in her demeanor.
“My child,” she said, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t—”
“—It’s fine,” Val interjected, “No harm meant. I’m just glad to know it wasn’t all some cruel fever dream.”
A silence hung over the ride and the women within. Having stewed long enough, Sabina perked up.
“But hey,” she said, “Can’t let it get to us too bad, right?”
Valentina sighed and put on as brave face as she had.
“I suppose,” she answered.
Sabina nodded, shifted gears, and sent the slender car bucketing along just as before. She couldn’t stand to see her guest so down and out and put on the best show her limited skill set behind the wheel could handle. It looked like it was working fine.
It was about an hour or so later that the girls were back to the house, where the man himself stood. Arms crossed, a pair of circular shades on his snout, his red tropical apparel traded for blue, and one laced-up leg kicked up against the threshold of the door. Marcus playfully shook his head as Sabina brought the car to an abrupt halt, killing the engine and letting that elementary giggle of hers rear its head once more. He sauntered over to the Adventurer as she rolled down the window.
“Making the Lady live up to her model I take it,” he teased.
“Just gotta show her off,” she replied with a cherubic innocence.
“You can keep my shades for the day, but get the skirt back on,” he continued, “Want to show our friend The Spot.”
“Do I have to this time,” she begged, “It feels so nice letting my legs hang out.”
Marcus cocked his head in confusion before sighing. He leaned into her ear and whispered ever so sweetly. Her eyes widened and a big beaming smile shot across her face.
“Oh Baby, of course I will,” she exclaimed, wrapping her arms around him. The red wolf leapt out of the car and bolted for the house. Marcus chuckled as he slid into the driver’s seat.
“What’d you tell her,” Val asked.
“I told her I finished it,” he winked.
No sooner did he reply when his Latin lover stepped out the front door, crimson dress reattached, and with the most beautiful necklace Val had ever seen. A four-lined choker, fashioned with an intricate array of red, black, orange, and yellow seed beads and ivory hair pipe, and a glorious set of concho medallions of turquoise embedded in their center, strung along the bottom line. The first thing she did the moment she got up to the car was drop onto his lap, wrap her long lush hair around his neck, and she gave him a tender kiss on the lips. She pulled away and looked into those baby blue eyes of his.
“No puedo dejar de amarte,” she intoned with that ravishing voice of hers.
“Todo mi amor eres tú,” he soothed in kind, “Get in.”
She did so gladly.
Once everyone was settled, Val riding shotgun as the wolven lovebirds snuggled up to one another, Marcus turned the engine back over and gently revved the car up.
“Hang on,” he said wryly as he punched in first gear and gingerly accelerated. The Adventurer rolled off and away with all the grace of a merry little stroll down the boulevard.
Sabina sat in utter incredulity.
“What’s this about,” she asked.
“I dunno, just felt like taking it easy this morning” came the reply. Marcus shot a wink Val’s way. The guest could only grin.
Confusion clouded his wife’s head. After a while, Marcus started whistling a coy little tune while fumbling about with the radio. And in that moment, incomprehension gave way to impatience.
“We’re gonna be on the road all day at this rate,” she complained before planting her left foot down on his right, dropping the accelerator to the floor. Marcus outright began to guffaw. Val couldn’t help but chuckle when he did.
“Third time she fell for that one,” he chuckled before turning to Sabina, “Now let off Lupe.”
Marcus effortlessly popped his wife’s leg off of his with a flick, tapped the brake, slammed on the Adventurer's fourth gear, and plunged the throttle back into the floor. The cream-colored sedan tore away at a tremendous rate, knocking both Val and Sabina back into the seat, but leaving Marcus standing still as a statue, both hands on the wheel. The Lady played favorites it seemed.
At first, Sabina looked ready to erupt at any second, but one side-eye from her lover, with his blue irises and gentle grin, was all it took to lift her spirits. She softened and merely cuddled right back up to him, joining in on the laughter.
“I’m 0 for 3 with you, is that it,” she snickered, wrapping her arms around him, “Don’t forget, I wouldn’t be a real speed demon without ya.”
“With the way you run her,” he teased, “How could I? Ah hell, look at me now. Got my claws going and everything. You know we don’t do that in public.”
The moment he nipped at Sabina’s nose, Valentina had just about had it. She was all but sure she’d die in this hot rod of pure laughter.
The ride to The Spot was as smooth as a rough riding couple like this could manage. Marcus found his station and a wash of slick grooves, thick guitar tones, and infectious synthesized chords bathed the car as the sonic confections shot out of the radio. It all felt right. The world was alright in this pocket of bliss barreling along at 100 miles an hour.
That ever-smiling DeSoto ground to halt, sliding into a parking space along the vacant backside of this joint. The party stepped outside and walked up to the door just a few feet off to the side.
“We allowed in this way,” Val inquired cautiously.
“Of course,” exclaimed Marcus, “I got it in good with Doc. Loves the pair of us, don’he Hun?”
“With all the old bastard’s got left in that heart of his,” Sabina replied. The name Doc naturally set off all the right bells for Valentina.
“This the one and only,” she asked Sabina.
“You bet your bottom dollar.”
The trio walked in and were pummeled by the rich, smoky smell of the joint. It was not an unpleasant scent, but the fumes were certainly potent, conjured from years of cigars, cigarettes, and the odd joint or twenty. When they made their way through the quiet backrooms and into The Spot proper, the rustic fragrance grew all the more potent. They strolled past tables, every other one sitting a couple of patrons. Some families, some singles, some young lovers too. Arcade cabinets sporadically lined the walls, a couple of kids trying their hands at everything from fighting to flying to racing.
In the main area, a vacant stage stood idle, awaiting its talent as a jukebox sufficed for the time being. She was a real bubbler, spinning rock-n-roll for the guys and gals sat at the tables.
Then came the bar itself. Every gin, tonic, wine, beer, and beverage fit for any and all inebriate purposes imaginable, lined up against a towering oak wall. The place was jumping midday. The kitchen off to the side, nestled away from view as it was, was certainly busy too.
An old dark gray was wiping down the countertop. He was half-past wizened, his fur groomed yet scruffy by nature. But his denim bedecked appearance helped him rock whatever time threw his way. The faded yellow street racing T-shirt beneath his jacket showed he was a true old-timer through and through. When he looked up from his arduous scrubbing, the old man did as most men his age did and got that gorgeous gleam in his eye. The gleam of youth and vitality brought on by the sight of an old friend.
“Well say can you see,” he exclaimed with his deep booming drawl.
“Not quite by the dawn’s early light,” Marcus replied, winking at Sabina, “How you doing Doc?”
“Oh y’know. Yours truly is hanging out there, in there, but not up there yet. Or down there if it comes to that.”
Doc’s sense of humor was on the up-and-up and very much appreciated by the troop. He greeted each woman with a tender kiss on the hand. Sabina batted her lil’ ol’ eyes at her old friend while Valentina calmly nodded.
“What’ll it be for y’all on this fine high noon,” he asked.
“You know my usual,” Sabina seductively intoned.
“You’ll have to settle for the synth stuff this time,” Doc warned, “That rock-hard vodka of yours ain’t easy to come by these days.”
“Suits me,” Sabina nodded, “Val?”
Valentina pondered it for a moment. She hadn’t had a good drink in weeks.
“Think you can fix me a Jack and Coke,” she asked.
“No need to think m’dear,” Doc reassured, “Consider it done.”
“And a glass of milk with a nip of your best rum,” Marcus ordered.
Val turned to Sabina in total bemusement.
“Well, he is driving after all” was her reply.
That checked out about as well as it could for her.
Their time at Doc’s was a good one. They talked cars, music, and plainer things. They all had fond things to say of Eric, as well as many of their old friends. Marcus, for all his quirks, was about the sweetest man Val had laid eyes on and seeing him with Sabina made him all the more beautiful. All the more comical when the martini started to hit, and Sabina’s top began to slip. Her husband simply covered her back up and thumbed at her cheek.
Marcus dropped the cash on the counter and gave a casual salute to Doc before walking away. Doc returned the gesture, and the party began to make their way to the car. Valentina was following their lead when she noticed something didn’t feel quite right, like something had slipped out of her pockets. She gave a tap on Sabina’s shoulders.
“Going back to the booth to double check something,” Val said, “I’ll be out soon.”
“All good,” came the reply, “Take your time, we won’t leave without you.”
Valentina made her way back through The Spot.
Outside, the couple took their seats within the Adventurer. Marcus dug his big hand into the depths of his pockets, finally producing the key. He slipped it into the ignition, and with a quiet roar, the car had started. He was just about to put her into gear when it happened.
A long barrel glided into through the space left by the rolled-down driver-side window. Its business end pointed squarely at Marcus. Another came through the passenger side, sitting but a few measly inches from Sabina’s head.
“Cash…now,” came the curt demand.
Marcus wasn’t one to play with highwaymen, but he could also feel his blood boil at the sight of his beloved sitting so close to the edge.
“Take the piece off the girl,” Marcus stated coldly, gently inching his foot towards the edge of the long brake.
“All fours where I can see ‘em.”
Marcus seethed as he planted both feet on the brake’s center and raised his hands above his head. He looked over to Sabina and gave a subtle nod of his head. She followed suit. Just as it seemed they were in for a frisking
The accomplice on the passenger side of the car got one right in the eye. The laser having cut clear through, wound smoldering and codifying in milliseconds. The tan wolf dropped dead in that instant. Marcus’s man snapped towards the source of the shot; the back door, where a trembling, enraged Valentina stood, pistol firmly in hand, covered by it.
The pressure had reached its boiling point within Marcus, and before the robber could even ready his aim, Marcus threw is hands up and out of the window. Claws leapt from his fingertips, and all eight of his sharp pins plunged deep into the neck of the robber. The gray gasped in shock and horror as his payday dug deeper still, drawing blood that died both men’s fur a deadly red.
“Marcus, stop,” cried Sabina in vain, but he was too embedded in the trance to snap out. It wasn’t over until he said it was. And with the corpse of the highwayman still hooked on his claws, he had yet to complete his subconscious task.
Marcus threw the body onto the ground and slammed down hard on the gas. The car lunged forward and whipped around. The robbers’ heads were perfectly placed for what came next.
The enraged red wolf stomped down once more, the car rocketing at top speed. They went like melons under his hammer’s weight. He backed onto the accomplice’s body, burning out something fierce on it, sending short shots of misted blood splattering onto the hot desert ground.
Valentina had seen this before. She had done it before. And it was haunting her then as now. She couldn’t turn away. The same forces that possessed her in her own violent state seemed to grip Marcus tenfold. She just wanted to pull him out, away from the brink she found herself gazing deep within more and more with the passing days. And the only person who wanted to pull him back more, was Sabina.
The cream-colored car rolled off the corpse and came to a stop, mere feet from the backdoor. Sabina, weeping at the state her lover was in, held him tight.
She was just in time to catch him. His bloody hands lost their grip on the steering wheel, the sharp claws that protruded from his hands and feet shot back within him, and as the red wolf fell into his dear woman’s arms, he descended deeper into a black void…
“He’s comin’ round now.”
The red wolf’s eyes flickered as Doc adjusted the cold compress that sat upon his head. Marcus was laid up on a bed in one of the motel rooms that were a part of The Spot’s operation. His sandals and shades had been removed. In fact, the only thing left on him were his shorts for decency’s sake.
A basin sat on the nightstand, filled with the water muddied from the cleaning of his hands. Valentina sat next to Doc, both observing intently his condition. Sabina was lying on the bed, cozied up and resting alongside him. Her snout beneath his, her bejeweled hand softly rubbing his chest.
The flickering gave way to his eyelids raising themselves. He broke through the bleariness and malaise that clouded his head.
“What happened,” he asked quietly.
“You dispatched some ne’er-do-wells,” Doc ribbed, “Sabina squared things away with Hell Patrol. They were on their tails for quite some time anyhow. You did ‘em a solid.”
Marcus’s expression was blank, acknowledging the facts of the matter with a simple nod. In the middle of the gesture, he felt his lower jaw rub up against Sabina’s snout.
“Lost my head again, didn’t I Baby?”
“A little Formosa,” she soothed, “You gotta watch your top.”
Marcus chuckled as he took her lover’s hand and held it within his.
“Howdy Stranger,” Val chimed in.
“Gone from stranger to friend to madman all in a day, huh?”
“Only stranger to friend,” she reassured, “I’ve got something I want to talk with you about.”
“Sabina told me a little about why you act the way you do when threatened, at least how she sees it. I feel the same way too. I felt the same way when I took care of the guy on the passenger side. Rockets right through you, the rage that is.”
Marcus drew breath, ready to protest, but all he could muster was a sigh and a defeated “yeah.”
“I’ve been there. The holding cell, the arena, I’ve been to it all. I tore through it just as you had.”
Marcus’s eyes widened.
“I can’t stand to see what it has done to you…and I can’t stand what it’s doing to me. And you know what I say?”
Marcus, shuddering, proffered a feeble “what?”
“We fight ‘em. We find it and we destroy it. I don’t care what stands in our way. Come hell, high water, or Lord knows what else, we will crush it. You think you’re up to it?”
Sabina’s eyes widened.
“Don’t you know what kind of hell that’ll bring to him,” she furiously fired back, “Can’t you see the anguish he already goes through?”
Marcus hushed her, caressing her face as he did, drying every tear he could.
“Easy Babe,” he soothed.
In a valiant show of resolve, he rose off of the mattress, holding Sabina tight to his chest. He stared deeply into Valentina’s eyes, his rich blues descending within her passionate jades. What followed was a rapid-fire interrogation, with Marcus putting the lamp on Val.
“You don’t know where it is?”
“You don’t know where to start?”
“Do you remember the bars of the doors?”
“Thick, black, forged of whatever iron they have.”
“Do you remember the crowds?”
“Loud. Ear-splittingly loud.”
“Do you remember them?”
“With those black eyes, how could I forget?”
Marcus extended his right arm towards her. She clasped his forearm, and he hers, both survivors gazing deep into their eyes once more.
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