anactoria: (torn)
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That feeling stuck with Dean the rest of the day. Nauseous and kinda disconnected, like either his brain was going a little too fast or the world was, and the throb of the Mark wouldn’t let up. He found his head turning at snippets of argument overheard across the dayroom, at the sound of a door opening or the scrape of a chair on the floor. He even snapped at TJ when the kid didn’t take his one-syllable answers as a hint and kept on talking, making him duck his head and retreat across the room with this wounded look in his eyes that kinda reminded him of Sam.

(He’d been fourteen, old enough to start noticing girls, and Sallie Wharton with the shiny lipgloss and the spaghetti-strap tops that hardly covered anything had hung around after school to talk to him, curling a strand of her dark hair around her finger. Dean had been good at the don’t-care act even then, but his palms had been sweating. When Sammy had run up, clutching some science project about fish or something, waving it under his nose, Dean’s nerves had gotten to him and he’d snapped something about how nobody wanted to look at that stupid kid stuff. Sam had slunk off to the school bus with that same wounded look in his eyes, and Sallie had laughed, and Dean had decided that maybe he didn’t like her so much after all.)

Yeah, that look. It made guilt spike in his chest, and for a moment he didn’t know whether to shut it down or hang onto it, because at least he knew it was a feeling of his own. The meds, the Mark—he didn’t know how to separate those things from himself half the time, but he knew there was something there to untangle. Guilt, though—yeah, that was home, that was stone number one.

So he let himself feel it and he didn’t say shit, because he wasn’t here to make friends and he wasn’t here to think about Sam. Sam, who was probably still back at the bunker trying to find some spell in the library, trying to think of the words that would get Dean to break out of this place and go home.

Yeah. That was why Dean wasn’t supposed to think about him.

Not that keeping quiet got him anywhere. Petey was still acting weird, but he didn’t do anything suspicious—or at least, not anything that was suspicious in the supernatural kind of way. Neither did any of the orderlies, or the nurses. Dean still felt antsy and uncomfortable in his skin, and when the nurse doled out some sleeping pills for him that night, he swallowed them without complaint.

 

----

 




A scream jolted Dean out of the heavy fog of drugged-up sleep. He sat up hard, heart racing, the familiar throb of the Mark on his arm sharpened to a painful sting. For a couple seconds, he didn’t know where he was. The dark made it too easy to imagine he was back in his own room, with Sammy just down the corridor and Cas sitting up in one of the spare rooms, squinting in bafflement at some late-night TV show.

Then the noise reminded him.

Footsteps in the corridor, hushed conversation, slamming doors—and then the yells of the other guys, locked up in their own rooms, demanding to know what the hell was going on.

Dean ran to the door, pressed his face to the little window, and kept quiet. There were a bunch of orderlies in the corridor, plus a flash of white coat and dark hair, and the tone of the chatter out there was definitely this is an emergency.

Fucking A.

There was movement. More orderlies. A stretcher. And then the unmistakable shape of a body covered by a sheet being carried up the corridor.

A hand slipped out from under the sheet with the movement of the stretcher. It belonged to a white dude, and Dean let out a selfish sigh of relief. Not TJ.

Because yeah, he would’ve felt like crap if the kid had gotten jumped by whatever monster Petey turned out to be, and he would’ve felt worse if the last thing Dean had said to him had been, Shut up with the conspiracy crap.

So maybe he’d ended up making a friend here, after all.

 

----

 




Dean didn’t get back to sleep, and by the sound of it, neither did anybody else on the ward. By morning he was yawning, gritty-eyed and wired, like he’d drunk half a pot of Sam’s nuclear coffee. Man, he missed that coffee.

He shuffled out to breakfast rubbing his eyes, and when TJ caught his eye and waved him over he gave a half-hearted smile for a peace offering.

TJ returned it briefly, but then the smile dropped from his face. “You hear what happened?” he asked. “Petey’s dead.”

Dean sat up in his chair. “That was Petey? In the corridor last night?”

His mind raced. He’d been so damn sure that Petey was the monster. The violence, the weird behavior—even ending up in this place. If you were some kind of supernatural freak and you grew up not knowing it, maybe you’d end up thinking you were nuts. Maybe you’d tell the cops that when they came to take you in.

But Petey was dead. Dean groaned and looked down at his breakfast.

He pushed his oatmeal around his bowl without eating it (seriously, after coffee, pancakes with bacon were next on the list of ‘things Dean Winchester would kill for’), and then it was medication time. The pills didn’t help any. They were the same fake Prozac as yesterday, handed out by the same grouchy nurse, and they made his head buzz, the throb of the Mark relentless on his skin. Every noise made him want to swing around and throw a punch.

Dean tried to keep a handle on his irritation. He tried not to point it at TJ, anyway. He still felt tight-wound and jumpy, and sure that anybody who looked would’ve been able to read the tension in his face. Lucky enough, anybody who might’ve noticed him acting weirder than usual was distracted by the Petey situation. First Driscoll, now him. Guys were muttering about serial killers, and TJ wasn’t the only one eyeing the staff with distrust.

After lunch, sitting in the dayroom, Dean watched a nurse come out of Demetriou’s office, clipboard clutched to her chest. She cast a quick look in Dean’s direction. Looked away again as soon as he caught her eye, but there was no missing the worried furrow of her brow.

Come to think of it, Dean thought he’d seen her earlier, talking to Grouchy Nurse. Hell, maybe he’d actually been as good as his word and asked her to look into Dean’s meds? Now that’d be a miracle.

The nurse didn’t come talk to him, though. She looked back once at Demetriou’s office door, then scribbled something down on her clipboard and headed back to the nurses’ station.

Dean turned away from the door, and had to duck to avoid getting smacked in the face.

TJ had been twitchy all day, getting distracted in the middle of sentences and looking over Dean’s shoulder at shit that wasn’t there. He’d stopped Dean to ask about voices that weren’t really speaking a couple times—and okay, so it had to be a good thing that he knew to ask, but it was a pretty damn worrying thing that he was hearing them at all. And that the doc didn’t seem to be doing a thing about it.

Now, TJ stood in the middle of the dayroom, arms raised like he was dancing, or praising the sun, or munching on magic mushrooms at Burning Man. He spun on the spot, eyes darting everywhere, not settling. Heads were starting to turn as the other guys in the dayroom figured out there was entertainment going on.

“Okay,” TJ said to nobody, and let out a delighted laugh. It was boyish and unguarded, polar opposite to the tight-wound, nervy way he’d been acting since they got him on the fake Prozac. “Okay, sure, I’ll dance with you. You’re pretty.”

He reached out, like he was caressing some invisible person’s face, and that pinged Dean as weird. From what TJ had told him, he heard voices a lot, but the only time he’d ever seen things was when his brother-in-law got possessed. Which hadn’t been a hallucination, even if TJ didn’t know that.

Maybe it wasn’t TJ’s brain that was doing this to him. Maybe it was whatever was in the fake meds.

Dean knew that the Mark wasn’t gonna get better by itself. That was why he was here. But the buzzing in his head, the angry energy itching under his skin, the way it had all ramped up the last couple days—maybe that wasn’t just him. Maybe it wasn’t even the Mark. Maybe he had a chance at—

Nah. It was dumb to think that way. Dangerous, too. If he was gonna worry about somebody, he could worry about TJ. At least the kid still had a chance at being saved.

“I’ll run with you,” TJ said to his invisible friend, eyes shining. “I’ll fight with you.” And without warning, he lurched at something invisible in midair, hands held out like claws.

His foot caught on a chair. He stumbled and landed on his knees with a thump. There was a ripple of laughter around the dayroom, and that finally got the attention of the guard nearest the door.

Dean was closer, though, and he reacted without thinking. He was at TJ’s side in a second, gripping his shoulder. “TJ,” he said. “TJ, dude, snap out of it.” He waved his hand in front of TJ’s face for emphasis, and the kid blinked a couple times and finally looked Dean in the eyes.

“Huh,” he said. Then, “Why am I on the floor?”

“Because you decided to take up invisible boxing and tripped over a chair. Little tip for you, okay—next time you wanna take an interpretive dance class? Don’t.”

TJ blinked again. “Not really clearing things up here.”

Dean frowned down at him. “You seriously don’t remember what just happened?”

“Looks that way.” TJ frowned. “It’s the drugs. It’s what they’re giving us. They did this to me.”

That was more like it. Well, okay, not exactly, but at least the kid sounded like himself again.

A hand gripped Dean’s shoulder. He started, and a flash of rage burst through him and made him snarl and pull away, fist pulled back, ready to fight.

The guard standing over him lifted an eyebrow. “You wanna step away from the patient?”

Dean swallowed hard; swallowed down the sarcastic retort and the urge to forget where he was and throw the punch anyway. He stepped away.

The Mark whispered, Coward. He tried not to hear, and he waited for the surge of anger to fade.

But it stayed with him. It stayed with him all day, and he found himself nursing it inside of his chest after he’d been locked into his room with no news on how TJ was doing, after he’d climbed under the covers and tries to sleep. It was like it had somehow gotten into his bloodstream and travelled all around his body, so that there wasn’t a single part of him that wasn’t fizzing with it. It even cut through the Ambien haze that usually carried him off to unconsciousness, and his sleep was patchy, intercut with dreams that were vivid and HD-sharp.

He was in a forest somewhere. His first thought was Purgatory; but this place was all dark, living greens, a sliver of pale gold moon creeping up above the treetops. The miles of forest he’d trekked through with Benny and Cas had been muddy and gray, sickly twilight whatever time of day it was. Here, it was night, and he was running.

There were other people somewhere up ahead of him, and they were running, too. Pale figures, naked in the moonlight and streaked with blood. Dean looked down, and his own hands were bloody up to the wrists, fingernails caked with gore. He looked like he’d just lopped the head off of a vampire and then gone dumpster diving down its gullet.

He didn’t feel grossed out, though. He didn’t remember killing anything, or how he’d gotten the job, or who the victims had been. He didn’t even care that he didn’t remember; not really. There was just that buzzing in his veins, something howling for joy inside his skull. The Mark didn’t even hurt anymore. It burned on his arm, and it felt good. He was hyped up, every sense on alert, but without a target. He’d chase anywhere, hunt anything.

It was awesome.

One of the figures up ahead stopped and turned back to him. It was a chick, long curly hair falling in tangles over her shoulders. She stooped to pick something up from the ground and held it out to Dean.

A cup. Or a goblet, he guessed, like something you’d find on a witch’s altar. The dark liquid inside slopped out over the rim and down the naked chick’s hands as she tipped it in his direction.

“Drink,” she told him, smiling widely. “Don’t you wanna have any fun?”

“Rather have a beer,” he grumbled, on autopilot, but naked-chick just winked and pressed the cup into his hands. Then she was off again, running ahead of him into the woods.

And hell, it had been long enough since Dean had had a drink, and he was alive and expansive, possibility setting off fireworks inside his head. He raised the cup of wine to his lips and chugged it down. It dribbled over his chin, ran down his chest and got all mixed up with the blood on his hands and the mud on his feet—and yeah, he was definitely out of his head, because he didn’t even give a crap that he was covered in blood and filth. The fact that he would’ve cared, once, felt small and distant.

He tossed away the cup and caught up with the rest of the group. Naked-chick turned back to look at him, grinning.

“You see?” she said, and then she clasped his arm, her hand over the Mark. “It feels good to let go.”

Yeah. Yeah, it did.

There was a holler up ahead of him, and then the group went quiet. Dean nudged naked-chick with his elbow. “What’s going on?”

“They’ve found somebody.” There was something familiar about her voice, he thought, only he couldn’t place it. Her eyes were alight, and she pointed to a figure ahead of them in the trees. “Prey.”

Dean squinted, taking a moment to see where she was pointing in the dark.

Yeah, there was somebody there—a dude weaving down a narrow track, some kind of a ceramic jug dangling from one hand. He lifted it to his mouth as he staggered along, tipping the last couple drops into his mouth and then tossing it aside when it came up empty.

“What do you mean?” Dean asked the chick. “What are we gonna do?”

For a second, she clasped one of his bloody hands in her own. “You know,” she told him, and it sounded like a promise. The Mark throbbed with joy.

A whoop came up from the group ahead of them, and then they were running again—right at the drunk dude.

Drunk dude blinked a couple times, looked around—and before he had time to move, or even figure out what was going on, by the look of it, the frontrunners were on him.

They didn’t even throw punches, just overwhelmed the guy and bore him down to the forest floor by sheer force. Dean was at the back of the group, but he saw limbs flying, bared teeth, hands curled into claws. Blood and gouts of flesh flying.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, a small voice told him, You need to stop this. Wrong kind of hunting. The wine was making his head spin, like he’d just downed half a bottle of bourbon, and he thought he might be about to hurl.

Shut up, said the Mark, and he swallowed it back.

A figure in the heaving mass around the drunk dude—though Dean guessed he should start calling him the dead dude—turned and grinned at him. It was the chick he’d just spoken to. She lifted her hand and beckoned him over, shifting to one side to make space around the body. Her teeth were slicked with blood.

Make it stop. The voice sounded like his own—only small, and broken, and weak. Like he used to be, before the Mark.

He went where she beckoned.

 

----

 



Dean woke up retching. He was twisted up in the sheets and he flopped out of bed like a fish, shooting out a hand to save himself just in time to avoid faceplanting on the floor.

His head pounded. He was sweaty and cotton-mouthed with the worst hangover he’d had in months.

Only he hadn’t had a drink in weeks. Hell, even his dreams remembered that.

There was a voice still echoing in his ears, and when he blinked, he could see the chick with the bloody teeth waving at him over the dead guy’s body.

She’d definitely looked familiar, but Dean couldn’t figure it out. Now that he wasn’t in the dream anymore, the memory blurred. His head still buzzed and the Mark still throbbed, and he knew that he was missing something obvious, but the harder he tried to hold onto it, the faster it slipped away.

 

----

 



He forced himself through breakfast. He held it together, swallowed his meds and fell in line and clenched his fists against the buzzing in his veins and ignored the little asshole whispers of the Mark so hard he could feel a vein in his temple throbbing. Eating his oatmeal felt like swallowing cotton wool, and holding it together without TJ to distract him was twice as hard as it had been before.

But he did it, and then he begged permission to head back to his room for a book so he could read (or okay, more likely, stare at the print without absorbing any of it) for an hour before group. He did his damn best not to grind his teeth as the guard looked him over, and he must have managed it, because eventually the guard nodded and said, “Five minutes.”

He was just planning to take a peek through the window of TJ’s room and then go get his book. Check out what was going on in there. That was all.

Before he got there, though, the door to TJ’s room swung open, and Dean ducked back into his own on instinct. He pressed himself against the door and peered out the window at an angle, so he wouldn’t be immediately visible to somebody walking down the corridor unless they were looking for him.

There was a flash of white coat as TJ’s door closed, and then Demetriou passed by him, her eyes on the chart she was holding in her hands.

She was smiling widely.

Something clenched up tight in Dean’s stomach. He caught a glimpse of the file, then, over her shoulder as she passed the door, and he blinked in surprise.

It didn’t look like a casefile. Dean had seen the ones in her office, and plenty of others in his time, but this didn’t have cramped, untidy doctor’s handwriting, or notes on medication or behavior, or admission reports, or anything else that he might’ve expected. He couldn’t read the doc’s handwriting, but that wasn’t because it was messy. It was all Greek symbols and sprawling vinelike designs, and a weird sketchy drawing of a chick with a sheet falling of her shoulders and showing her boobs. Her hands were curved into claws, and coated with blood.

Dean knew, then.

The knowing smile, the hair tumbling over her shoulders, the crazy forest. The chick from his dream.

It was her. Demetriou. Without the lab coat and the clipboard, with her hair all wild and her face smeared with bloody grime.

He tried to catch his breath.

Maybe it had just been a dream. Maybe his brain had imagined the Doc because she was the only woman he spoke to on the regular, these days. Maybe it didn’t mean anything.

Yeah, except that in Dean’s experience, dreams that didn’t mean anything were about as common as monsters that didn’t want to eat you for dinner. The Mark had been giving him nightmares for months, but that dream had been different.

Demetriou had something to do with it. She could’ve signed off on the fake drugs, too. Plus, she’d been giving Dean the creeps since the first time he spoke to her. He’d just put it down to the fact she was a shrink—but no. She was a hell of a lot worse than that.

And she’d just been alone in a room with TJ.

Dean caught his breath, and let himself out into the corridor. He looked left, right, left again, then opened the door to TJ’s room and slipped inside.

TJ was breathing. No blood, no shredded flesh, and Dean let out a breath of relief and sat down in the chair beside the bed.

There was no reaction from TJ. His eyes were half-closed, unfocused, like he was dozing. They must have gotten him pretty tranked up. Dean sat at his bedside a few minutes anyway, because those were a few minutes he could spend not thinking about the Mark or the way the new drugs itched under his skin.

He closed his eyes. Then opened them again at the sound of the door opening.

It wasn’t Demetriou. It was one of the nurses—the one he’d seen coming out of Demetriou’s office yesterday, now that he thought of it. She kind of stuck her head through the door and looked around for a moment before she walked in, an orderly trailing beside her, and Dean pretty much expected to be kicked out, only she didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to him, just frowned at her clipboard.

TJ stirred in his bed, then winced as he moved the leg he’d tripped on yesterday. He blinked a couple times.

“Hey, buddy,” Dean said. “How you feeling?”

TJ turned to face him, his eyes wide and distressed. “No,” he said. “No, I don’t wanna play. Leave him alone!” He twisted suddenly on the bed, like he was trying to get away from something. Dean reached out an arm to steady him, then remembered that that kind of stuff tended to get you hauled away and drugged up yourself in this place, and stopped with his hand hovering awkwardly in midair.

The nurse paused, lips pursed, then turned to the orderly who was with her. “This isn’t normal for him,” she said. “He was doing better until recently. Keep an eye on him. I’m gonna get him another dose of the sedative.”

“Doc just said not to.”

Dean frowned to himself, doing his best not to catch either of their eyes. Demetriou had said not to sedate TJ? But hell, if she was some monster that ate people, wouldn’t it be easier for her if he was docile and out of it? The Leviathan had spent months figuring out how to keep people drugged up for easy pickings.

But then what did the fake Prozac have to do with any of it? What was she even trying to do here?

“I know,” said the nurse. “I happen to think she’s made a bad call.”

The orderly shrugged. “Your funeral.” He turned to Dean, then, finally seeming to notice he was there. “Okay, visiting hour’s over.”

Dean sighed and got to his feet. Before the orderly could herd him out the door, TJ caught at his wrist.

“Dean.” First time the kid had recognized him since he walked in. Maybe he was finally breaking through it—the effect of wrong drugs, or the lack of the right drugs, whatever it was. His voice was urgent. “Dean.”

“Yeah?” Dean turned back to him, and suddenly, he had to try hard not to think about the last time he’d been stuck in a place like this.

Sam drugged out on a hospital bed, saying I love you because drugged out was the only time he could bear to say it. Ellen and Jo a few weeks dead. The Apocalypse still running at them down the tracks. He’d been angry and useless and hopeless and losing his shit, talking to a woman who didn’t even exist, and Sam had booped his freaking nose and some part of him, under all the deadening weight of the end of the world, had ached with it.

Sure; but that had been then. Five-years-ago Dean might have been useless and hopeless, but he hadn’t been the goddamn monster. Sam hadn’t been kidding himself when he said, You’re my brother, and I love you. Dean forced the memory away.

“You gotta remember what I told you,” TJ told him. His voice was urgent, and he gripped Dean’s wrist hard. “You gotta say no. You gotta stop them.”

“Okay, man,” Dean told him, as the nurse waved him out the way. “I’ll stop them. You just gotta tell me who they are.”

“It’s her,” said TJ. “The shrink. She’s—”

“Okay, that’s enough.” The orderly slapped a hand down on Dean’s shoulder, and before TJ could finish his sentence, Dean was being shoved out the room. The orderly shut the door in his face.

Break it down, whispered the Mark, or the part of Dean that it fed on. You could do it. I’d give you the strength. Break it down and smash his face, then the nurse, then—

He slapped a hand over it, as if it couldn’t get to him when he couldn’t see the angry red of it on his skin. He breathed in. Breathed out. Tried to sort through what TJ had said to him.

You gotta stop them. Not, You gotta stop her. Were there more of them—like the whole crowd of people Dean had seen in his dream?

He didn’t know. All he knew was, he was gonna have to stop them. People were dying in here, and TJ might be next, and he couldn’t wait for suspicious medication nurse to figure out something was screwy here and call the authorities. But with Petey dead and TJ on lockdown and nobody else to tell him who the monster was, where was he supposed to start?

 

----

 



He sat in the dayroom, holding a magazine open on the table in front of him. Maybe that would keep anyone from trying to talk to him right now. With the new meds still buzzing through his system, Dean needed all the concentration he could get.

Plus, he couldn’t exactly guarantee he wouldn’t snap and break somebody’s nose if they got in his face right now.

You gotta remember what I told you. TJ had figured out something was screwy with the meds before Dean did. Maybe that was what he meant. Dean just couldn’t figure out how it fit into everything else here.

That nurse had come out of Demetriou’s office yesterday. Maybe she’d asked about the meds, but Dean’s hadn’t gotten changed back. And Demetriou had said not to give TJ any more sedatives, even though he’d come close to injuring himself yesterday.

Carefully, Dean got to his feet and wandered out of the dayroom and down the corridor. He did his best impression of dazed and out-of-it, shuffling his feet, timing his pace so he landed outside Demetriou’s office door just as the orderly doing his rounds disappeared around the bend in the corridor.

He glanced up and down the corridor, then tapped at the door.

No answer. And—thank fuck—it was unlocked. Dean checked the corridor one more time and slipped inside.

The cabinet was locked this time, not that she was likely to be keeping her freaky-ass plans where any nurse might come looking for them. Dean tried the desk drawer instead.

It opened, and for a second he thought, Score. Then he looked inside. Nothing but notepaper and pens, and a bag of freaking cashew nuts. Dean sighed.

Demetriou’s purse wasn’t on the desk, or under it, or hung up behind the door. She must have gone to lunch and forgotten to lock the office. Didn’t look like he was gonna find anything useful in here. He sighed and turned toward the doo, and that was when the casefile open on the desk caught his eye.

Petey’s file. Dean picked it up and rifled through the pages.

There wasn’t any of the weird Greek stuff he’d seen Demetriou looking at yesterday, but then some hunter would’ve already ganked her if she was dumb enough to leave that stuff lying around in plain sight. There was a prescription in there, though. Petey’s meds had been changed too, just last week. Fluoxetine—which was Prozac, if Dean’s bathroom-cabinet-raiding memories served him right, and he was pretty sure they did. But Dean would’ve bet a hundred bucks it was really the same stuff she’d given to him, and TJ.

And there was something else behind it in the file. Petey’s autopsy report.

Cause of death was pretty obvious: Petey had been shredded, just like Driscoll. But there was something else, too.

His brain was… abnormal, the report said. Not the normal kind of abnormal, though. (Honestly, could you even find that stuff just by poking around inside somebody’s skull? Sounded kinda doubtful.) But Petey’s brain had been… sucked dry, almost. Whatever had killed him had clawed at his skull.

Like—well, like that mental hospital case he and Sam had worked years ago. That nurse who’d turned out to be a wraith, feeding the patients on her toxin and then feeding off of them in return.

Only, the wraith had been precise. The holes drilled in her victim’s heads had been small; just enough so she could feed. This was savage, more like a werewolf attack than a careful predator hiding her tracks.

Then again, if the Doc was the monster, she’d been careful enough getting the job here, picking out victims who’d already been tossed on the trash heap so that nobody would notice. The two halves didn’t fit.

It didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Maybe Sam’s nerd skills or Cas’s long memory could’ve helped him figure out what it was—but no. Dean wasn’t gonna put them in the line of fire. Not from whatever mystery monster was running around in here, and not from him.

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June 2017

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