Warning: contains violence and brief descriptions of extreme pain
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By the time he saw light again, Oscar’s tears had stopped once more. The human opened his hand and let Oscar roll harshly onto a new surface, where he lay exhausted for an extra second. The metal was cool to the touch.
“Just a mark for this one,” the gruff human announced. That led Oscar to notice the other human in the room.
“Got it,” they said. It was a much meeker human, but they were no less terrifying. Oscar could only see their back so far as they fiddled with something opposite where he lay. He brushed at his eyes with the heel of his hand. Even curiosity was a foreign emotion now. All he knew was fear and resignation.
The room was fairly small, by human standards. Oscar sat on a metal workbench that took up most of one wall. The man who’d carried him in leaned against the frame of an archway leading out one way, a bored look on his face. Another archway led out directly across the room, a trek of several minutes for Oscar but barely two strides for a human.
He didn’t have his climbing hook or his bag, not since Noriko took it away. Oscar didn’t even entertain the notion of trying to climb down. He had nowhere to go.
There was a lamp illuminating where he sat, but Oscar frowned at the human who had his back turned, working away at something on another workbench. There was a faint orange glow over there.
When they turned, they held a long metal rod in one gloved hand. Oscar’s eyes widened and he tried to scoot backwards on the table as the other human’s eyes fell on him. It only took them a few steps to saunter over, smirking down at him.
“Lord, he’s a little one. He’ll barely fit,” they mused. The human’s free hand left their side and descended towards Oscar’s cowering form, and he squeaked in terror. The hand might have blocked the sight of the tool they held in their other hand, but it couldn’t erase the memory of the heat haze coming off of it.
“N-no, please!” Oscar begged, but a finger and thumb pinched around him. He pushed at them, but they turned him over as if he hadn’t moved at all. He squirmed and kicked the best he could, but he was no match.
The human had done this before. Their hand settled over him, their heavy thumb pressing his legs down into the cold metal table. Other fingertips pinned his upper arms down, and his elbows didn’t have a good angle to try and push them away. Oscar’s face was pressed into the table and he could only see the human out of the corner of his eye. A fingertip shoved the hem of his shirt up and the cold air chilled his back like a hundred little needles.
There was a movement of glowing red in the corner of his eye. Warmth replaced the cold.
And then agonizing heat and pain replaced everything. Oscar screamed.
His voice was thready and broken, and he swore his skin sizzled as that hot metal made contact. His mind, in a panic, could only focus on the pain and the contact of the metal on his skin. It didn’t even last a second, and yet he felt like several minutes went by before there was nothing touching him but the table beneath him.
“What the hell?” the gruff human said. Oscar didn’t even flinch. He lay there, suddenly more exhausted than he’d ever been in his life, with his head pounding and his back stinging in the open air.
“I … The rod cooled off,” the smaller human stammered. Their voice was muffled by the throb of pain in Oscar’s head and on his back. “Must … must not have heated it up enough.”
“Well, now his mark’ll be uneven unless you’re more careful,“ the gruff human warned. “We can just hope Carson don’t notice. Just take care of it.”
“Right,” the other human said.
Oscar could hear more metal clattering behind him. He wanted to push himself up and at least try to crawl to safety. Instead, his muscles did nothing but quiver after all the strain. He blinked a few tears away and they fell onto the table. Even hearing those footsteps cross back toward him couldn’t convince his body to run.
The hand returned, pinning him down like before. Oscar finally struggled, but he was even weaker than before. This time, when the radiant heat reached him, it was like it clawed right into the first burn before the red-hot metal actually touched him. His scream pitched upwards. It was too much.
Another eternity with that hot metal against his skin went by. Then, just as the human removed it and cool air swarmed over it, Oscar lost consciousness again.