anactoria: (dean chosen)
[personal profile] anactoria

The thing about being stuck in this place was, it was pretty much designed to be impossible to snoop around in. The inmates—sorry, patients,, not that Dean could always tell the difference—going anywhere without a pair of watchful eyes was not supposed to happen. And Dean appreciated that; he really did. The day the Mark finally took hold for good, he was gonna need that 24/7 surveillance.

It was just that it made finding out what the monster was… also pretty much impossible.

On a normal job, Dean would’ve gotten a look at the body—but he couldn’t exactly disappear and show back up with a fake CDC ID, and sneaking out of the dayroom unobserved was hard enough. No way he was getting into the morgue. Chatting to the cops, also out. Demetriou hadn’t accused him of anything since he’d woken up strapped to that gurney, but when he’d tried asking her what had happened to Driscoll in their last session (his best winning smile, and c’mon, Doc, I found the guy, I need closure), she’d just smiled and asked him how it had made him feel.

(He’d been about to lie, the old reflex kicking in, just like rolling out the way of a punch when you get knocked to the ground. Then he’d remembered that there wasn’t any point anymore, so he’d just shrugged and said, “Not much. Kinda wanted to hit something.” Demetriou had written something down on her clipboard and kept smiling.)

So, Dean did what he could. He asked around. He listened.

It wasn’t like he’d been here long enough to get to know Driscoll, but a couple of the other guys had. Apparently he’d ended up in here because of something involving a kid. Never shared any other details, but it sounded like he’d felt guilty as hell over it. Part of Dean didn’t wanna know any more than that.

(Another, smaller part of him taunted, Why don’t you want to know? Afraid you might not feel as disgusted as you should at the thought of small bones and blood spattered across the floor?)

Driscoll had kept to himself, mostly. Decent card-player, liked to watch game shows, not a big reader. Claimed to have once met Michael Jackson’s chimp, only nobody was sure whether that was a symptom, or a shaggy dog story, or maybe even true.

But aside from that, nothing to indicate why some currently-unidentified supernatural nasty might’ve wanted to eviscerate him and dump him in a cupboard. No enemies to speak of—though Dean guessed if anybody had found out what had happened with the kid, that might’ve driven them to off him. (A twinge of approval from the Mark, hot and good like the first cup of joe of the morning.) A monster playing Batman. Or Rorschach, anyway. Well, Dean guessed he’d heard weirder.

“Dude.” TJ plopped down into the chair opposite him, and Dean gave him an absentminded nod. He’d pretty much given up on trying to make the kid go away; he just nodded and smiled and hoped that TJ got bored sooner rather than later. Sometimes he didn’t even bother trying to bore the kid into giving up. After all, he’d been here longer than Dean. If anything out of the ordinary was going on here, he might notice it before Dean did.

Right now, though, TJ seemed distracted, tapping his fingers on the tabletop, glancing from Dean to the TV to the face of the guard nearest the door, then back again.

Dean heaved a sigh. He really wasn’t supposed to be making friends here.

Still.

“You ok?” he asked.

“Huh?” TJ blinked rapidly and wet his lips, glancing around like he was looking for something for a moment before he turned back to Dean and grinned. “Yeah, man. Yeah, I’m good. Hey, did you see that old lady on the TV making deep-fried pie? Freaking donut burgers, man.” He shook his head. “White people.” Then he paused. “No offense.”

“Uh… none taken?” Dean peered at him.

Change the subject, plaster on a smile and talk about something dumb. Yeah, Dean knew that avoidance strategy. He was still in rehab for it. Something was on the kid’s mind.

Plus the distracted way TJ looked around, like he was expecting to be attacked by something that wasn’t there—it kinda reminded him of how Sam had been after he got his soul back, when he kept thinking Lucifer was following him around. Of course, as far as he knew TJ had never roomed with Satan, but this sure as hell wasn’t normal. Not for him, anyway.

Dean leaned forward, lowering his voice to keep the orderlies from overhearing. “Dude, are you sure? You’re kinda acting like you just sat on a wasps’ nest here.”

TJ blinked again, but this time, his eyes finally focused in on Dean’s face. “I’m good,” he said, and nodded to himself, as though confirming something. “I’m good.”

“Sure you are.” Dean used the same voice he did when he knew Sam was sitting on something, not really expecting it to work, because when did it ever? But TJ cast a wary glance at the nearest orderly, then leaned in toward him.

“You hear that?” he said.

Dean frowned. “Hear what?”

“That guy. Talking right up in my ear.” TJ squinted. “Kinda sounds like he’s from Brooklyn, but man, I don’t even know anybody from New York.” He looked so damn affronted about it that it took Dean a second to put two and two together.

“Nope,” he said, at last. “I don’t hear him. So…”

TJ scrubbed a hand down his face, looking defeated. “So those new meds they got me on ain’t working.”

New meds. Come to think of it, TJ hadn’t been yawning all the time, the last couple days—and he’d said something about the sleepiness being a side-effect. It made as much sense as anything. Dean wondered for a moment about the stuff they’d gotten him on when he showed up here. It didn’t seem to have had much effect, so far, but then Dean was the only person in here with a goddamned (literally) primordial curse instead of a mental illness.

Well, there was him and whoever had sucked the life out of Driscoll. Whatever was up with them might not be Mark of Cain-bad, but it was sure as hell supernatural.

TJ, though—TJ was just a kid in a bad way.

“That what landed you in this place?” Dean asked him. “Hearing voices?”

TJ nodded, but his expression was kinda dubious. “Yeah, I guess,” he said. “I—” He broke off.

Dean groaned internally. TJ didn’t look pissed, so Dean figured he’d managed to keep his frustration off of his face—but then, TJ seemed like the kind of guy who would’ve shrugged and said something about karma if you slugged him in the face and ran off with his credit card. “You what?” Dean asked him, as gently as he could manage.

“I see things.” TJ looked down. “Or, I saw something, anyway, this one time. That was when—” He paused, raising his hand like he wasn’t aware he was doing it, pausing with his fingertips an inch from his left eye. Something curled uncomfortably in Dean’s stomach.

“What happened, man?” he asked. “I ain’t gonna—well. I might still think you’re crazy. But that doesn’t mean I won’t believe you.”

TJ blinked in surprise, looking up at Dean. He didn’t say anything for a couple seconds, but then the look on his face turned into something determined. “I got a sister,” he said. “Jayna. She’s five years older’n me, and she married this guy, Shaun. I didn’t like him. Always thought he was smarter than the rest of us. But he never would’ve hurt her.” He paused, and Dean bit back another question and just nodded. “Only then, one day, she called me and she was freaking out. Said she’d shut herself up in the bathroom, and Shaun was acting all weird. So I ran over there, and—” Another pause. “It was creepy. First of all, Jayna swore she saw it too, before I showed up there. But then later she changed her mind. Said she was just freaked out because of how he was acting.” TJ looked mystified, expression unfocused. “But it was his eyes, man. They looked—”

“Black?” Dean suggested. “Or red?”

TJ’s eyes widened in shock, and he nodded. “Black,” he said, so quiet it was just a breath. A moment later, he picked up the story again: “I grabbed the nearest thing—Shaun used to keep a length of rebar by the door, just in case somebody broke in. I hit him with it. I just wanted to get him away from the bathroom door, to make sure he wouldn’t hurt my sister. But he fell down, and it was like this black smoke came pouring out of him. Jayna looked out the bathroom door, and I coulda sworn she saw it too. I coulda sworn she did.”

Dean’s heart sank.

Civilians did that all the time. Told themselves that they couldn’t trust their own eyes, because what they’d seen was crazy, and if they believed it, that might make them crazy, too. Rational explanations were a hell of a lot easier than dealing with the supernatural shitshow that was Dean’s another freaking Tuesday. You couldn’t exactly blame TJ’s sister for changing her story. She probably didn’t believe she’d really seen it herself. Only, it meant that TJ wasn’t in this place because he heard things that weren’t real. He was here because he’d been unlucky enough to run into a demon, and there hadn’t been a hunter around to take care of it for him.

TJ had gone quiet, eyes on the floor. He thinks you don’t believe him, either, Dean’s brain supplied. So what are you gonna tell him? ‘It’s your lucky day, dude, monsters really are out there waiting to eat you for lunch’?

He sighed, and reached across to pat the TJ’s shoulder. That got him a sharp look from the nearest guard, but the guy relaxed once he noticed Dean wasn’t about to throw a punch.

“It ain’t your fault,” he said. “What made you do what you did—it wasn’t you.” It was about all he could come up with, short of spilling the beans or outright lying.

It still felt like a lie, and the Mark throbbed on his arm. Still telling yourself that? it whispered, somewhere in the back of his skull. Still pretending I’m not a part of you?

Dean told it to shut up. This wasn’t about the Mark, wasn’t about him.

He turned back to TJ. “You ever see anything like that again?” he asked. “Like, in here, maybe?”

TJ blinked, then shook his head. “Nah. Just that one time.” He scowled. “Only if they don’t fix my meds…”

“Dude, you’ll be fine,” Dean said. TJ didn’t really look reassured, but then Dean hadn’t really expected him to. “Or, I mean—you seen anything else weird?”

TJ looked up at him again. “This is about Driscoll, right? You’re trying to figure out who killed him.”

Dean shrugged. He couldn’t exactly deny it. “Can’t blame a guy for being curious,” he pointed out. “Hell, they almost pinned it on me.”

“Sure, sure.” TJ nodded. “But, you know weird doesn’t always mean crazy, right?”

“I get it.” And crazy doesn’t always mean weird, because when you know something’s gone wrong inside of you, you work like a dog to keep it down. You plaster on a smile and crack a joke and pour a drink, and you method-act normal until you can’t remember what it felt like not to fake. “But, you know what I mean, right? I mean, not… symptoms. I mean people acting different than themselves. Or, I dunno, anyone who looks kinda strange. Locks himself in his room when there’s a full moon. Anything, man.”

TJ paused a second. Then his eyes darted across the room.

“Huh,” he said. “Think I already told you about Petey. Ain’t come out of his room in a week, an’ he only ever shows his face after dark. That the kind of weird you’re looking for?”

Even across the room, it was obvious there was something fucked up about the guy. Maybe it was the sickly pallor, or the bloodshot eyes that stared a little too hollowly ahead of him. Or maybe it was the freaking Dracula (seriously?) tattooed on the guy’s right forearm. Dean hadn’t noticed that one last time TJ pointed him out.

Dean held in a sigh—just—and tried to imagine what the hell any vampire worth its fangs would be doing advertising itself like that. Then again, there had been that freaky-ass fanboy shapeshifter who thought he was Bela Lugosi, back after Dean got out of Hell. Maybe the grass is always greener on the other side, even for monsters.

So maybe this guy wasn’t a vamp. Maybe he was something else. It was the only lead Dean had, and hell, it was a start.

He watched Petey circle the dayroom until he found an empty seat, and then kept watching him, laying his palm over the hot pulse of the Mark.

 

----

 




Problem was, the guy almost never coming out of his room when it was daylight outside made him kind of hard to snoop on. Dean ended up taking a seat near the dayroom door every day, keeping one eye on the corridor for when Petey emerged from his room to take a piss. Back to the wall, eyes out for the monster. So maybe he wasn’t a hunter anymore, but it was gonna take more than announcing, ‘I’m retired’ to switch off the instincts.

And, sure enough, Petey emerged around two in the afternoon, looking around like he was trying to broadcast, ‘Hey, I’m the sketchiest asshole that ever sketched’ before he made his run for the men’s room.

Dean glanced around, checking the positions of the guards. One of them distracted by whatever was on the TV, the other eyeing a dude whose name Dean didn’t know, only he’d been huddled in the corner looking increasingly twitchy since mid-morning.

Awesome. Dean ducked out of the dayroom and down the corridor.

Inside Petey’s room, the curtains were drawn. There wasn’t much around the place in the way of personal possessions—just some notepaper piled up on the nightstand, plus a photograph of Petey, presumably before he did whatever got him shoved in here, gothed up to the eyebrows with some Morticia-looking chick next to him. They were smiling, standing outdoors in broad daylight, no sunglasses. Didn’t exactly look dangerous. Anyway, experience had taught Dean that people who dressed like they were ready for a hard night sacrificing babies at the altar of Satan were usually the first to run like hell from a real demon. He set down the picture and squinted at the sheets of paper on the nightstand, covered all over with cramped, blocky handwriting. In crayon, so apparently the powers that be had decided against letting Petey have anything pointy. Not that that meant a whole lot in this place, but Dean chalked up a mark in the ‘suspect’ column anyway.

In the gloom, it was kind of hard to read Peter’s handwriting. Dean frowned and held one of the sheets up to his face.

It mostly read, I’m sorry.

“Dean.”

Demetriou’s voice made him start, made a jolt of adrenaline run down his spine, and the Mark throb in concert with it. He was sure he’d closed the door when he let himself in here. But she was standing there, head on one side, looking at him with this mixture of reprove and amusement. Like she’d caught a puppy with its nose in the cookie jar, only it was too cute to be really mad at.

Dean bristled under the look and turned to face her, his hands balled into fists. “Yeah?”

“Now, I could tell you you’re not supposed to be in here, but I’m pretty sure you know that already.”

Dean gritted his teeth and nodded. Demetriou stepped aside.

“So why don’t you come into my office, and we can have a little chat?” She said it like she was extending an invitation, which was a bucket of laughs, but Dean plastered on a grin.

“Sure, Doc. Is there gonna be tea and cake?”

She laughed. “How did you know about my secret stash?” Her eyes were steely, though, and she waited for Dean to leave the room before closing the door firmly behind him.

They were halfway into the office when a ringtone cut through the air. Demetriou paused and felt around in the pocket of her white coat, waving a hand toward the inside of the room at the same time.

“Have a seat,” she told Dean, finally retrieving her cellphone. “I have to take this. I’ll be with you in a moment.”

Dean shrugged, and figured hey, he wouldn’t deserve to call himself a hunter if he didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. He pushed the office door shut behind him and went for the filing cabinet.

One of the drawers was half-open, and he peered inside, his heart speeding up and the hot pulse of the Mark intensifying when he saw what was inside. The tabs along the top had the names of patients on them. Casefiles.

Involuntarily, his eyes flicked to the ‘S’s. There were a couple Smiths in there, and one of the files had to be his. (Why had he picked that name, the one from Zachariah’s screwed-up Pleasantville office world? Because it wasn’t him, and some part of his dumb brain was still stuck pretending that this wasn’t him?) His hand hovered over the files for a half a second, before he told himself to grow the fuck up and shut the impulse down. Dean didn’t need a medical opinion to tell him he was screwed.

Instead, he pulled out the file with Petey’s name.

There were photographs inside. Bloody ones, more like something off the crime board on a procedural cop show than a neat, pastel-painted shrink’s office.

Petey had some serious shit to be sorry for. But Dean looked at the photographs with their dark slicks of blood, and inside his head, the Mark whispered, Aren’t you jealous?

“Screw you,” he muttered to it, which probably made him sound like a grade-A nutbag, but then that was why he was here, right?

The people Petey had killed were both chicks, skinnier than him and gothed up to the eyeballs. (Neither of them was the girl from the picture in his room, though, and some part of Dean felt weirdly, stupidly relieved at that.) They wouldn’t have stood a chance fighting back, the way a big dude like Driscoll might’ve. Kinda weird, because Sammy had made him watch enough true crime documentaries that Dean knew killers—the human kind, anyway—had a type, an MO. They didn’t just decide to change things up without a reason.

Maybe he was overthinking this crap. The Mark didn’t care, after all. The blood, the kill, the crack of bone under his hands. Those were the important part. The body they happened to was mostly an afterthought. Dean had had to admit that in the end, after I only kill monsters stopped being true and I only kill people who have it coming started to sound less and less convincing.

He started at the sound of footsteps in the corridor, stuffed the photographs back in the file and the file back in the drawer and sat his ass back in the chair as fast as he could. The door opened and Demetriou breezed in, slipping her cellphone back into the pocket of her lab coat. She smelled nice, Dean noticed as she passed him and slid into her chair. Kinda fruity.

Dean snorted. Sniffing people—that was something Cas would do, not him. Maybe he really was losing it in here.

(He forced himself not to picture Cas, the night he left. How damn human he’d looked, dozing in one of the library chairs. How selfishly grateful Dean had been that he wasn’t awake to try and stop him walking out the door.)

Demetriou shot him a look. “Something funny, Dean?”

Reflexively, he grinned back at her before he said, “No, it really ain’t.”

“But it’s bothering you, isn’t it?” She tilted her head, and dark shiny curls tumbled forward over her shoulder. “What happened to Driscoll?”

Dean shrugged. “Some dude gets whacked and I get the blame for it? No offense, but what did they teach you in shrink school? Pretty sure not being bothered about it would make me crazier.”

Demetriou nodded. “But most people wouldn’t obsess, either. Why were you snooping around Petey’s room? Because you suspect him?”

“Pretty sure wanting to know who the killer I’m locked in with ain’t so crazy either.”

“You’re locked in with more than one killer, Dean.” Demetriou leaned forward across her desk, her fixed on his, her expression all you-can-talk-to-me sympathy. “I think you want Peter to be responsible so you can stop worrying about whether the staff were right to suspect you. You want him to be the violent one, so you don’t have to be.”

This time, Dean did laugh, even if he felt more like choking. “Trust me, Doc, I know that ship’s sailed.”

“Do you?” Demetriou held his gaze for a moment, but before Dean could scrape up a what the fuck is that supposed to mean?, she pursed her lips and said, “Let’s talk about something else for a moment.”

“Sure thing.” Dean lifted an eyebrow. “What do you wanna talk about? Brangelina? How are the Nicks doing? Got any opinions on Obamacare?”

Demetriou sighed and pushed her hair out of her face. “Actually, I’d rather talk about deflection.”

“Well, Doc, I don’t think you got anything to worry about in the mirror department.” Dean gave her a wink, then thought maybe it had come off a little more exaggerated than he was aiming for.

She just nodded, though. “Yes, that’s exactly what I want to talk about.” She paused, looking at him thoughtfully over her steepled fingertips. Her nails were painted, dark red polish the color of plums. “You were admitted here voluntarily, Dean. If I remember correctly, you said that you needed help.”

Dean shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Had he said that? The actual admission process was kind of a blur, if he was honest, details lost in the wash of relief that had come with getting there before Sammy and Cas could catch up with him. He shrugged at the doc, the smile stiffening like plaster on his face. “Whatever you say.”

“And yet you’ve made no effort to engage during our sessions,” Demetriou pointed out. “Some of the men in here will never return to normal lives. Some of them would have nowhere to go if they could. But you, Dean—you have a family. They keep calling us.”

“They do, huh.” The words came out without Dean’s permission, and he looked down, wishing he could swallow them back. His throat felt dry.

She nodded. “They’re concerned for you. They want you to go home, or at least to see them. But you don’t seem interested. It’s as though you want to avoid the world.”

“Well, like I said, Doc, no offense. But maybe you don’t got me figured out as well as you thought. Because if you had a goddamn clue about me, you wouldn’t want me anywhere near the rest of the world, either. Hell, you’d probably throw in bonus handcuffs and a padded cell.”

“So perhaps you’ve given up. You don’t think you can save yourself.”

Dean shrugged. “What can I say? I’m a realist.”

Demetriou smiled a little, but her eyes were only half on Dean, like she was puzzling something out in her head. Which wasn’t how shrinks were supposed to act, Dean was pretty sure, but then what the hell did he know?

“So, you’re here because you think you’re dangerous, but you won’t help me deal with your issues.” She glanced down at the file on the desk—which, Dean realized, was his own. He hadn’t noticed that before, too focused on rooting through the file drawers.

“Well hey, don’t let me tell you how to do your job.”

“I don’t plan on it.” Demetriou smiled at him. “Do you want to know what I think?”

“I’m sure you’re gonna tell me.”

“You mean to say you’re not even a little curious?” She leaned toward him over the casefile, an amused quirk to her mouth.

Dean spread his hands. “Okay, fine. Shrink me.”

“Maybe you feel like the problem isn’t really yours at all. You don’t think talking to me will help, because helping you won’t help.” She paused. “You don’t think the problem is you at all.”

“Oh, believe me, I know I got problems.”

“That isn’t quite the same thing, though, is it?” Demetriou held his gaze. “And then there’s the fact you didn’t seek help until now, even with your history of violence. I think something happened. Something you’re blaming for your actions.” For a second, she brushed the crook of her arm with the tips of her fingers—just where the Mark sat, on Dean.

Maybe he’d been worrying at it again. He’d found himself touching it without thinking often enough, lately, that he’d kind of given up on trying not to. She must have noticed.

Not like she could’ve known what it was, though, right? Dean had never even heard a monster mention it before Cain.

She was wrong, anyway. That was one of the few upsides to being in the nuthouse. Once in a while, when he felt like being honest with himself, Dean could stop pretending every asshole impulse he had was the Mark. He didn’t have to nod and say, Yeah, it’s getting worse when he lashed out, when he knew it had been there inside of him all along. The Mark just loosened the faucet a little. It stripped away the things that made Dean hold himself back. The guilt; the knowing how crappy he’d feel in the morning; the impulse to take care of things that were smaller and softer than he was. All the stuff that made saving people as important as hunting things. Without that stuff, this was what was left of him. Blood and anger and saying whatever shitty thing popped into his head just to watch somebody wince.

Dean knew it. Sam and Cas were stubborn assholes and they kept telling him, telling themselves, that it wasn’t true, that he was good somewhere deep down. Here, he didn’t have to worry about disappointing them anymore.

“Hate to interrupt your Sherlock moment,” he told the doctor, “but we already know what happened. I killed five dudes. And yeah, they were assholes, but I didn’t kill ‘em because they were assholes. That was just the excuse. Maybe I woulda done it anyway.” He held out his hands. “I’m owning it.”

“Are you?”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Ain’t you supposed to tell me that? Or is this some Buddhist nothing is real crap?”

The doctor smiled. “Not really my style.” She glanced at her watch. “But I’m afraid we’ll have to finish there for now.” She scribbled something down in his file. “I’m going to make some recommendations—and I’ll see you again tomorrow, Dean.”

Maybe he was imagining it, but it sounded kind of like a threat.

 

----

 




The line for meds shuffled along slowly. A loud dude with a cloud of graying hair, whose name Dean hadn’t learned yet, was arguing with the nurse.

“I’m telling you,” he insisted. “This is the wrong stuff.”

The nurse rolled his eyes. “Yeah, Greely, I’m sure you know better than the doctors.” He held out the little paper cup, and eventually Greely took it, grumbling half-audibly to himself and swallowing back the contents.

TJ had already gotten his dose, and he was sitting in the dayroom, just visible if Dean looked back over his shoulder, drumming his fingers antsily on the tabletop. Sometimes he glanced back over his shoulder, like he was reassuring himself there was nobody there.

Yeah, he definitely wasn’t doing so good.

Dean didn’t get much time to think about it, though, because then he was at the front of the line, being handed his own paper cup with a couple pills inside.

He’d been taking the meds. He’d figured, where was the harm? Maybe—probably—they wouldn’t do anything to stop the Mark eating away at his defenses, whispering in his ears. But if they slowed him down enough that he couldn’t act on its instructions—or the impulses it dug up from inside his head, whatever—then Dean figured that was a win.

These pills were different than usual, though. Dean squinted down at them. He’d gone through the bathroom cabinets of enough dead people’s houses to know his meds, and these were Prozac capsules, green and white. They didn’t look anything like the little round white tabs Dean had been taking up until now—Sero-something, he thought. He frowned and held the cup up to the nurse.

“What the hell are these?”

The nurse frowned over the top of his clipboard. “They’re your medication. You need to take them.”

Dean shook his head. “These ain’t mine. Check again.”

The nurse gave him a look that could’ve stripped paint, but he checked his clipboard. “It’s right here,” he said, looking back at Dean with the tiniest hint of a smirk. “Doctor’s orders.” A pathetic little dude taking satisfaction in whatever little scrap of power he could find to lord over the poor assholes stuck in this place. Kinda reminded him of Metatron.

The Mark throbbed, and Dean bit the inside of his lip to distract himself from the mental image of smashing the guy’s nose in through his face, slamming him to the ground and punching him again and again until his face was a splintery mess of blood and bone.

Instead, he plastered on a grin and echoed, “Doctor’s orders, huh?” He raised the cup, swirling it like it was a glass of Crowley’s fancy-ass Scotch. The pills rattled.

The nurse crossed his arms. “If you’re not going to take your medication—”

“Relax.” Dean lifted the cup in a mock-toast. “Down the hatch.”

The pills burned as he dry-swallowed them, and the nurse tutted as an orderly passed Dean his regulation paper cup of water. Screwing with assholes wasn’t exactly gonna slake the Mark the way a full-on fight with a nest of supernatural nasties would—but still, it was kinda satisfying.

He walked away from the nurses’ station—not too fast; that tended to freak them out in the way that got you strapped to a gurney and Dean didn’t wanna think too hard about what might happen if they tried that on him—and slumped down into the seat beside TJ.

TJ turned to look at him, a quick, nervy little jerk of his head that made Dean think of a puppet on a string. He hadn’t moved like that when Dean first got here, Dean was sure. He’d been talkative, but kinda sleepy, always complaining about how the old meds made him want to doze off in the middle of the afternoon like somebody’s grandpa. Maybe it was because the new meds weren’t fixing what was wrong with him. Or maybe it was something else.

“They change your meds up, too?” TJ asked.

Dean was about to reply, but before he could get the words out, TJ had reached across and slapped a hand over his mouth.

“Wait,” he hissed. “Keep your voice down.”

Dean fought back the instinctive spike of adrenaline; made himself listen to the sensible voice in his head that said, TJ’s a good kid, you don’t wanna hurt him, and not the one that said, But wouldn’t it be easy to grab his wrist and twist his arm back, to snap it like a twig and watch him scream? He nodded, and TJ carefully removed his hand. His eyes were fixed on something over Dean’s shoulder, and a second later, the click of high-heeled footsteps passed them. Dean glanced behind him, and managed to avoid catching Demetriou’s eye as she passed.

“Yeah,” he said, low-voiced, once the Doc had vanished in the direction of her office. “These capsule things.”

“Me too.”

“That Greely dude said his meds were wrong, too.” Dean frowned. “You think they’re putting everybody on the same stuff?”

TJ nodded. “And,” he said, “they’re lying about what it is.”

Dean raised an eyebrow. “How do you figure?” He hadn’t thought of that. After all, it wasn’t like the guys in here could sit down and say, Doc, I don’t think this is working for me, can we try another course of meds? or just refuse to take the stuff. Why would anyone bother lying to them?

“It looks like a Prozac cap, right?” TJ whispered, leaning in toward him. Dean nodded, and felt kinda weirded-out that for once, he wasn’t the only person in the room who could identify psych meds by looking at them.

“But I’ve been on that stuff before,” TJ went on. “A few years back, before they figured out what was wrong with me.” He glanced down. “I didn’t tell anybody about the voices, at first. My parents would’ve freaked. So they gave me Prozac. Didn’t help, but it didn’t feel nothing like this.” He frowned. “I think they’ve been screwing around with the meds. Making it look like something normal, but it ain’t.” He glanced around the room again, waiting for the nearest orderly to look away before he mouthed, “You think they’re experimenting on us? I mean, who’s gonna miss us if it goes wrong, right?” He looked cautiously at Dean’s face, like he was waiting on Dean’s reaction to tell him if he sounded nuts or not.

It sounded like exactly the kind of crazy conspiracy theory you’d expect to hear in this place. Like something off those paranormal websites Sam spent way too much time on, scouring for the 1% of not-bullshit.

Except that TJ had a point there, that last part. Some big government conspiracy? Probably not. But monsters using humans as their lab rats wasn’t exactly new. Dean grimaced, remembering Pestilence; the Leviathan; even that creepy Doc Benton, who’d barely been human by the end.

And if you want to screw with human brains? Yeah, you picked somewhere like this. Somewhere everybody had already had a Mad, Bad and Dangerous label slapped on them, so when they started ripping each other to shreds nobody would bat an eye.

TJ was right on that. As for the rest of it… well, Dean was gonna find out if he could.

He met TJ’s eyes. “I dunno, man,” he said, honestly. “Just—don’t say anything to anybody else, okay? Can’t be too careful.” Which, okay, probably wasn’t the best thing to say to a schizophrenic who was off his meds, but if the monster figured out TJ suspected something before Dean figured out who the monster was—well, yeah. Dean didn’t even wanna think about that.

He kept a low profile, the rest of the day. Head down, eyes front. But he got his first clue before he got the chance to do any sneaking around.

The meds definitely weren’t right.

It started like a cold itch beneath his skin: an amped-up, shivery feeling that made him struggle to sit still. Plus a touch of nausea—not enough that he actually thought he was about to puke, but enough to be uncomfortable. He barely touched his dinner, and that was enough to get him a weird look from one of the orderlies.

“Something wrong?” the guy asked, in a tone that implied, There better not be, so shut up and eat your slop. The Mark gave a gentle twinge, and Dean thought, what the hell. If somebody here was gonna stand out as a troublemaker and end up on the monster’s shitlist, better that it was him.

He looked the orderly in the eye. “Yeah, actually.”

The guy raised an unimpressed eyebrow.

“They got me on these new meds this morning,” Dean told him. “I think something’s screwy.”

The eyebrow again. These guys probably got told not to say, No shit, everyone’s screwy in here, but aggressive eyebrow-raising? Couldn’t really have a policy against that, Dean guessed.

The Mark throbbed on his arm, and the urge to lash out rose inside of him like wind through a tunnel, howling that he couldn’t let the asshole get away with this, he needed to break something, to get blood on his hands. It made him feel sicker, but at least it hadn’t gotten to the stage where he couldn’t control it yet. He forced himself not to listen.

“Can you at least check it out?” he said, hating the wheedling note in his voice. “Ask the nurse to take another look?”

The orderly snorted, but said, “Fine. I’ll get somebody to check.” He didn’t move from his position, though.

Told you, whispered the Mark. Dean told it to shut up. (Not out loud; that wasn’t gonna do him any favors. If he got himself stuck in a padded cell or some shit, he was never gonna figure out what was going on here.) He put his head down and went back to pushing shapeless chunks of some unidentifiable meatstuff around his plate.

If Dean had his way, if he was still allowed near knives or hotplates, he’d march the whole useless kitchen staff out the back door and take over. Hell, they wouldn’t even have to pay him. Getting to eat a meal that actually tasted of something would be enough.

For a moment, he pictured himself back in the kitchen in the bunker—the countertops clean and shiny, the easy rhythm of cooking, the kind-of-amazed way Sam still looked at him when he pulled out the stops and made something awesome. The ache of missing it hit him in the gut, hard enough it made his hand shake and he dropped his fork.

The orderly shot him a look that could’ve soured milk. He picked it back up and shoved a piece of possibly-potato into his mouth. It tasted like nothing.

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