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The Rule of Insanity

By Elucubrations

Romance / Thriller

Chapter 1

Dean Winchester was not insane. Or in any case, he didn't feel as if he was.

And yet here you are, he thought to himself, stepping through the tall, wrought-iron gates of Balt's Psychiatric Hospital. He forgot to take his one last look at the outside world before they slammed shut behind him.

Dean's guard tugged at his elbow, urging him forward. Dean followed, lest his already throbbing wrists chafed even more against the handcuffs.

They better take these bloody things off when we get inside, he thought waspishly.

Walking up the drive towards the large building, Dean looked around curiously. It wasn't how he'd imagined a mental hospital would look. It was a nice old place in the countryside, possibly some old manor house that a lord or whatnot had left to the state. The gardens were well-kept, and it looked almost picturesque in the bright mid-morning sunshine – though Dean still got a little nagging feeling that the garden wasn't used by anyone for anything other than show.

As Dean and his tiny entourage approached the front entrance, he noticed there were people waiting for them on the small porch.

You, Dean, he reminded himself, they're waiting for you.

There was a tall, imposing man with the darkest skin (and most upright posture) Dean had ever seen. They weren't close enough for his face to be seen as of yet, but Dean could extrapolate an expression of haughty professionalism from his pristinely pressed two-piece suit.

Next to him stood a woman of average height. Her hair was a nondescript brown and pulled back into a tight bun. She, too, had the painfully strict posture of one with a hot poker up their nether regions. Dean could already predict that she, the black guy and himself were almost certainly not going to get along.

As soon as Dean's eyes slid over to the figure beside the woman, he breathed a mental sigh of relief.

Thank God. There's at least one human in this place.

The third was slouching gloriously, hands in the pockets of his white coat, though he hurriedly pulled them out when the woman turned to talk to him. He was short, possibly a bit too short, but Dean was too grateful for his being relatively normal to care much. He wouldn't need to take part in much neck-crick inducing conversation here, anyway.

"Welcome," the tall man stated as they finally reached the building. Dean was amazed: he never would have guessed that one person's voice could be so deep.

The tall man was addressing his guard – of course, Dean thought as he rolled his eyes – as he went on:

"I am Raphael Balt, overseer of Balt's Psychiatric Hospital." His eyes finally wandered over to Dean. "I take it you are Mr Winchester."

"No, actually, the name's Bruce Wayne," Dean quipped, flashing his trademark cheeky grin.

No one so much as smiled except for the shorty, who quickly transformed his snigger into a cough, looking sidelong at the woman standing next to him.

"Amusing," said Raphael Balt, looking like he'd found Dean's joke anything but. He turned to his colleagues. "These are Dr. Naomi Balt and Junior Doctor Kevin Tran. They will be the ones primarily responsible for you during your stay."

Dean appreciated that he didn't say 'life', even though they amounted to the same thing.

"Dr. Balt is the senior doctor in this establishment. You may approach her with any queries or worries you may have." Raphael's speech sounded mechanical, rehearsed – but that could have just been his charming personality. "Mr Tran will be your Group leader for your time here. You will get to know them both very well, I am sure."

Dean was not so certain, if he had any say in it, but decided it would be best to keep his trap shut. Who knew what torture instruments they had in the basement, after all?

"I'll leave him with you, then," said Dean's guard, reaching into his pockets for the keys to Dean's cuffs. Even while Dean rejoiced at being freed from the damned contraptions, he felt the inexplicable sense of dread that every child on their first day of school knows well. Suddenly, he didn't really want the guard to leave.

Stop being ridiculous, he chastised himself. You never even said a word to him.

"Yes," Raphael said. "Thank you for your time."

The guard nodded, before turning and walking back to the van.

Dean looked up at Raphael (whose height was only emphasised by the fact that he was standing two steps up from Dean) and felt slightly nervous. He certainly looked like one of those evil slave drivers who used his patients for boxing practice.

But then Dean looked at Kevin Tran and felt better. If that midget had survived long enough to become a junior doctor and could still laugh at a bad joke, Dean would be fine.

Raphael opened the large front entrance and motioned for Dean to follow him inside. He did so, followed by the doctor lady whose name he'd already forgotten (apart from 'Balt') and Kevin Tran.

"I am afraid I will have to leave you here," Raphael said monotonously. "I am very busy."

Dean just nodded and attempted a smile, trying to will down his heart rate.

There's no reason to be so friggin' nervous, Winchester, he told himself. You haven't seen any thumbscrews yet.

Raphael inclined his head coolly and opened a door on the left side of the reception area, disappearing from sight as it shut.

Dean turned to look at the woman, who still looked as stern and stiff as ever.

"I will conduct a tour to show you around the hospital," she said, a wooden smile gracing her lips, "and then Kevin will show you to your room in the ward."

"Okay," Dean said, not really caring. He'd get to know the place by himself in time.

Naomi (as her name badge reminded Dean) led him through endless corridors, pointing out rooms and offices, while Dean blanked it all out, listening to the syncopated rhythm Naomi's, his and Kevin's shoes made on the wooden floor.

clackscuffclacktapscufftapclack

"...this is the recreation room, where..."

scufftapclacktapscuffclacktapscufftapclack

"...and through here we have the..."

tapclackscufftapscuffclacktapscufftapclackscuffclacktapscuff –

"...and now I shall hand you over to Mr Tran. Good morning." Naomi bobbed her head in a strange, formal way and clacked off.

"So..." Dean said slowly as her footsteps faded into the echoes of the corridor. "This is...cool, I guess?"

Kevin smiled, and it was the first real smile Dean had seen all day. "Yeah, sure. Don't worry, once you get used to the food, you'll be fine," he reassured him.

Dean widened his eyes in genuine alarm. "The food's bad?"

"Not really." Kevin shrugged. "I dunno. It's just different. Tastes a bit...odd, you know? Like plane food. But you get used to it after a week or so. Come on, I'd better show you to your room before a warden appears and thinks you're threatening me or whatever."

Dean's smile froze on his face, and Kevin's expression morphed into one of mild horror. "Crap!" he groaned. "I'm sorry, I keep forgetting myself. It's so bad, you have no idea. I did work experience in a...uh, normal hospital before, and I haven't quite mastered the little things yet. I keep on making stupid jokes."

Dean shook his head, though his smile had disappeared. "No worries, man. But you should be careful. With people crazier than me, it could be one stupid joke between life and a shiv through the neck."

Kevin scoffed, starting to walk along another corridor. "Don't I know it. That's why they've put me in charge of the less volatile patients. A screw-up's not so serious then, at least not physically. But it's never a good thing to bring up...those kind of incidents around here."

Dean nodded. "Right." Inside, he was wondering (seeing as he was grouped among the 'less volatile' ones) what the hell the volatile patients had done.

"Okay!" Kevin chirped, grin back in place. "This is your room. 107. They're a bit cramped, and they get locked automatically after ten, so make sure you're in it by then, else you'll be spending a night in the rec room. And let me tell you, that couch does not look comfy."

Dean smirked obligingly at his joke. The kid was really a decent guy, and his young age reminded him of –

Nope.

Not going there.

"I guess I'll introduce you to your neighbours now," Kevin said cheerfully. Dean suppressed a groan. "Patients are put in groups according to their volatility, and each is supervised by a suitably qualified member of staff, though you're not separated from other groups or anything. My group's four now; we'll introduce you to them all in the meeting today. But right now, your room's in between Andy and Castiel's. I think they're in the rec room..." Kevin strolled off to find them. Dean followed.

They turned left and stepped into a large room with sofas, tables, exercise machines and a crappy-looking television. There weren't many people in the room: twenty, possibly twenty-five.

"There aren't as many patients as I was expecting," Dean mentioned to Kevin, mildly surprised.

"Some people are still in their rooms or finishing breakfast, but yeah, we're a pretty small hospital. It's better that way – we get more money that we can spend on facilities rather than food and water bills, you know?"

Dean made a noise of affirmation and looked around for anyone foaming at the mouth or muttering manically to himself. The closest he found to the latter was a skinny, pale man with a large nose and a larger smile, who was happily chatting to a sock puppet.

All in all, it really wasn't everything the movies cracked it up to be, Dean thought.

"Ah, there he is. Hey, Andy!" Kevin called.

A man with brown hair and a scruffy stubble turned. He grinned when he saw Kevin, but when his eyes turned to Dean they took on a curious note, with the tiniest hint of mischief behind it all. The man sauntered over, catching the leg of an angry-looking guy on the way. Dean would have shat himself at the glare the guy shot Andy, but the cheerful man just grimaced apologetically and said, "Sorry, dude. I swear, some days I don't think these feet are even mine."

The grumpy man just grunted and turned his eyes back to the grainy screen of the television.

"Hey, Kev!" Andy said upon reaching them. He gestured to Dean. "This guy the fresh meat?" He had a strange glint in his eye, though Dean couldn't exactly place it as malevolent.

Kevin laughed, and Dean tried not to clench his fists. Two seconds, and this Andy bloke was already getting up his nose.

"This is your new neighbour, Dean," Kevin said, still chuckling slightly. "Dean, this is Andy. He's in 106. Hey Andy, you happen to know where Castiel is?"

"Castiel?" Andy scratched his head. "Geez...last time I saw him he was still in the canteen. Maybe you should check there."

"Yeah, we'll do that, thanks." Kevin grinned at Andy in farewell and strolled out of the rec room.

"See ya 'round, Dean!" Andy called after them. Dean forcibly stopped himself from cussing in reply.

"Well, he's a...character," Dean understated, still feeling the tendrils of irritation that a minute conversation with the man had sown into him.

"Yeah, everybody likes Andy," Kevin said. "He's the socialite of the ward."

"He in your group?" Dean asked.

"Nah, Camael's got him. For some reason, the doctors classed him as more dangerous than you lot. I can't really say anything about it, though, I'm not allowed to see his file. Also data protection, but yeah."

Dean nodded, silently relieved. Any habitual contact with the guy probably would send him stark raving; it was bad enough that they were neighbours. Though Kevin did seem to like the guy, so he might not have been all that bad. Maybe he was like the food, and just took some getting used to.

Yeah, right.

Dean only hoped this Castiel would be more bearable.

The walk to the canteen wasn't very long, and just before they pushed through the swinging doors, Kevin stopped, carefully extending an arm before Dean and taking care not to touch him. Dean looked at him curiously. "Yeah?" he prompted.

Kevin grinned sheepishly. "I should probably warn you beforehand..." he began slowly.

Oh Christ, Dean thought with dread. Whether or not the doctors' diagnoses had been correct, Dean would certainly be curly as a fruit loop with two nutters as neighbours. He mentally scoffed at himself. What had he expected his ward-mates to be? He was in an asylum.

"Castiel...doesn't talk much. Or at all, really. The most I've ever been able to get out of him is a nod, and I see him every day. So don't take it personally if it strikes you as a bit rude. Actually, while you're here, it'd be best to take nothing personally," Kevin amended.

"Okay," Dean said simply, relieved that the most note-worthy aspect of Castiel was mutism. He couldn't be unbearable if Kevin only thought it necessary to warn Dean not to expect nauseating amounts of inane conversation.

Kevin pushed the doors open and they walked through. The canteen was fairly empty, though there were some small chatting groups dotted around at various tables and a couple of solitaries, either finishing their food or staring at nothing in particular.

Kevin led him to one of the loners, a dark-haired man with five o'clock shadow. His scrubs were a bit big, hanging off his shoulders slightly, and his face somehow told Dean that Castiel had been in this place for a very long time.

"Hello, Castiel. This is Dean; he's moving into 107."

Castiel looked up and glanced at Kevin before his eyes slid over to Dean, who had to blink a few times to stop his mouth falling open.

Castiel had the bluest eyes Dean could recall seeing, in real life or on television; he reckoned he could safely bet they were the bluest eyes in existence. They weren't particularly light or particularly dark, but they were clear and piercing. Dean felt as if his soul was being evaluated through his own green irises.

Castiel looked back to Kevin, and the momentary spell was broken.

"Dean, this is Castiel," Kevin added unnecessarily.

"Nice to meet you," Dean said weakly, holding out a hand before remembering how physical contact was generally viewed in these places and retracting it awkwardly.

Castiel did not give any indication that his greeting had been heard, and merely turned to gaze at him again with those alarmingly vivid eyes.

"Um, yeah," said Kevin, breaking the silence. "So, Castiel, if you just look out for Dean, make sure he's settling in alright...show him where places are if he gets lost...yeah, that'd be great. I'll see you at today's group meeting, okay?"

Castiel nodded, and Kevin and Dean were dismissed.

"I feel like the new kid at elementary school," Dean commented as they walked back, theorising that now he was a mental patient he may as well say exactly what he liked, "with the teacher making friends for me."

Kevin didn't look offended, which Dean appreciated. "It is a bit patronising for some, but other patients really benefit. It helps them integrate better and feel comfortable faster."

"So you do this with all the patients?" Dean asked. "Even the angry ones?"

"Oh, no. The violent patients are kept in relative isolation until their supervisor and Naomi agree that they're ready to be introduced to the other inmates."

Dean made a non-committal noise and followed Kevin down a corridor he hadn't really registered before. "This is this way to the laundry room," Kevin said. "We need to get you your scrubs."

Dean nodded, silently lamenting the inevitable loss of his own clothes. How long would it be before he could wear jeans again?

Kevin opened a cupboard in the laundry room and riffled through stacks of shirts and trousers.

"What size are you?" he called to Dean.

Dean told him, and eventually Kevin found him two items that fit. "You can get changed in your room," he told him. "I really should've got you to do that first, to avoid the other patients seeing you as so much of an outsider...but to be honest, it's unlikely to make much of a difference."

Dean silently agreed, thinking of how out of place he already felt among all the crazies. He could only hope it would get better.

He found his way back to his room without problem, Kevin excusing himself with the reason that he needed to fill in a few forms now he'd 'settled' Dean. Dean just nodded and went on his way, avoiding eye contact with as many people that he passed as possible.

Finding the door to 107, Dean turned the handle and stepped inside. It was fairly small, but had a passable amount of room. There was a severe lack of furniture and decoration, but Dean had expected that. There was a bed in the far corner with simple white covers, a bedside table with a special lamp (the bulb was completely enclosed within the plastic shade – to prevent people from breaking and making a weapon out of it, he supposed) and a small wooden chair. Directly opposite the bed was a small set of shelves, securely nailed to the wall, which Dean assumed was for books. There was an empty wardrobe, which at a closer look revealed itself to also be bolted to the floor, which was completely bare of any carpet or rug. A small door next to the shelves led to a bathroom, Dean guessed.

Looking at the room, Dean's hands started to shake as he realised he was in a glorified prison where people were paid not to piss him off and not to touch him. He was never going to get out. From now on, his nights were going to be spent staring at the empty ceiling, trying to forget the familiar, horrible images racing through his mind. His days would be monotonous, all the same, and he would be alone. For the rest of his life.

Dean felt tears spring into his eyes, and he rubbed at them with his trembling hands, frustrated. He was not going to break down, damn it. Not now, not ever. He would keep his head high and be on his sanest behaviour until he was pronounced able to go into the public and released.

That was what he would do.

Unable to hold them back any longer, Dean allowed the tears to slide down his cheeks and drip onto the bare, wooden floor. He went over to the bed and sat down, holding his head in his hands.

It wasn't fair.

One time.

Just once.

Wasn't his own conscience punishment enough? Wasn't the knowledge of the disappointment and resentment he would feel towards Dean enough?

Why him?

A knock on the door made Dean jump, and he hurriedly wiped the tears off his face. "Yeah?" he called, voice sounding normal.

The door opened to reveal Andy.

Oh, for fuck's sake.

"Hey, man," Andy called cheerfully. "Kevin stopped me on the way to his office and asked me to tell you we have group meetings at three every day. Your group meets in Room 79. And then lunch is at one, dinner at six. Alright?"

Dean nodded silently, clenching his fists behind his back.

Andy didn't seem to notice anything was wrong. "Hey, d'you wanna go to the rec room? It's more fun there, and I can introduce you to everyone else!" He looked too excited at the prospect.

Dean shook his head. "No thanks, dude. I still need to change, and I'm pretty tired."

"Oh yeah, nearly forgot about that." Andy grimaced sympathetically. "Enjoy wearing normal clothes while you can, man, you have no idea how sick you get of these pyjama things."

"Yeah, I can imagine," Dean said drily.

"Well, just remember to take your own clothes down to Naomi when you've finished. She'll put them somewhere in case you ever get released..." Andy suddenly burst into a fit of giggles.

Dean stared at him, alarmed.

"Sorry, I shouldn't be laughing," Andy said between chuckles. "It's just – why bother, you know? Like we're ever gonna get out of this place." He shook his head amiably, wheezing slightly, and shut the door.

Dean stared at the closed door for a few moments before tutting and beginning to strip off his clothes.

Creep.

He was thankful to find that the pyjamas were not scratchy, as he'd been expecting, but the prospect of spending the rest of his life in them nevertheless filled him with dread. Shrugging it off, he grabbed his own clothes and set off down the hall to find Naomi.

After ten minutes, he realised that the hospital was a lot bigger than he'd remembered, and that he really should have paid more attention while Naomi had been showing him around, never mind that her voice set him on edge. He couldn't even find the way to the staff offices.

He rounded a corner that he was certain he'd seen at least twice already and nearly walked straight into Castiel.

"Dude, watch where you're fucking going!" he snapped before his brain gave his mouth permission.

Castiel blinked, and stepped back nervously, before walking past Dean as quickly as he could.

Without thinking, Dean reached out to catch his hand and was promptly shoved away, hard enough for him to stumble into the wall.

"Hey, no, wait!" he called, slightly desperate. Making bad impressions was not what he had been wanting to do today.

Castiel stopped, thankfully, and looked warily back at Dean.

"I'm sorry, man, it just slipped out. I'm not actually mad at you, I just...can't always control my mouth." Dean looked hard at the floor, feeling very uncomfortable.

He was met with silence, as he had been expecting, but when he looked up, he found that Castiel's eyes were slightly more gentle, more understanding.

"We okay, then?" Dean asked.

Castiel nodded once.

Dean breathed a sigh of relief. "Great. That's great." As Castiel started to walk away, though, Dean called him back again. "Hold up! Castiel! I kinda need your help with something."

Castiel looked at him curiously.

"I'm supposed to give these," Dean held up his clothes, "to Naomi, but I have no idea where she is. Could you maybe help me?"

Castiel nodded again, though slower this time, apprehension evident on his face.

"Thanks, man," Dean told him gratefully. "Sorry if you don't like her," Castiel's expression prompted him to add.

Castiel looked at him in confusion, as if to say what would make you think that?

"You look reluctant to go see her," Dean explained. "If you like, you can just show me her door, and I can handle it from there."

Castiel shook his head, his face brightening as he evidently had an idea, and motioned for Dean to follow him. They made their way down a set of corridors and crossed through the main hall that Dean had first seen upon entering the place.

"So the left side of this place is for staff, and the right for patients?" he asked his guide. Castiel nodded.

The door leading to the left wing was shut, but this did not seem to surprise Castiel. He pressed a button on the intercom next to the door three times, one long, two short.

"Coming," the crackly speakers said.

A moment later, the door was opened by a middle-aged woman with a stern, but kind-looking face. "Hey there, Castiel. What brings you here?"

Castiel motioned to Dean, who took it as his signal to speak. "Uh, I'm supposed to give these clothes to Naomi," he said hesitantly, holding out the bundle of fabric.

The woman nodded her head in understanding. "Right, okay. You'd be the newbie, then. Dean, isn't it?"

Dean nodded. "Yes ma'am."

"Nice to meet you, I'm Ellen. I guess I'm a sort-of door keeper for the staff, but I do other things too. You'll see me serving in the canteen most days. Now, how's about you give those to me, honey? Naomi's busy a lot of the time, and y'all patients aren't really supposed to enter the left wing without an appointment anyway."

Dean handed her the things. "But what if there's an emergency and we really need to see someone?" he asked.

Ellen levelled a look at him. "Then you make an appointment, lovey, or try and stop them in the corridors when you see 'em. Don't try bending the rules around here, or your free movement rights'll be revoked and you'll only be able to go to your room, the rec room and dining room."

Dean blinked. "Duly noted."

"Good. I'll see you two boys at lunch, then. Take care, Castiel, Dean." She shut the door.

"...wow," was all Dean could think to say afterwards, prompting a curious look from Castiel. "She's...surprising. Nice, but strict. Also scary. But I think I like her."

Castiel nodded, and Dean could have sworn there was just a hint of a smile playing about his mouth.

"Thanks for showing me here," Dean added, "I appreciate it, especially since I was so much of a dick to you."

Castiel shrugged and walked back towards the patient wing, beckoning to Dean. As they strolled towards the rec room (or at least, that's where Dean assumed they were going), Dean said, if only to break the silence, "Andy said we have a group meeting or something at three."

The other man wrinkled his nose, and Dean stopped for a second, surprised that he could make such an expression of comical distaste.

Castiel, realising he was walking alone, turned around, and the expression on his face was such a perfect mix of curious and slightly bemused that Dean started laughing. Five seconds later though, and he'd got a hold on himself, now just smiling at the blue-eyed man who looked completely lost.

"Sorry," Dean said, "you just don't look like the sort of person who'd make a face like that."

Castiel looked sheepish.

"Do you not like the group sessions, then?" Dean asked.

Castiel shook his head, but his expression conveyed something different.

"So you don't? Or you do?"

Castiel gave him a frustrated look.

"Ah, geez, okay! Do you hate the group sessions?" Dean asked clearly.

Shake.

"Oh, right. Why the face, then?"

Castiel put on an all-suffering expression.

"For God's sake! Can't you just write it down?!" Dean asked, equal parts exasperated and amused.

Castiel glared at him suddenly, all joking disappeared from his body language. Dean was startled. He couldn't think how what he'd said could have offended the man.

"Hey, I'm sorry. But why are you mad? I wasn't making fun of you for not being able to talk," Dean reassured him.

If anything, Castiel's expression grew darker, and Dean hastily ran all his comments through in his mind, combing through them to see which part of his words had made Castiel angry. Then he realised.

"Oh, I see! It's not that you can't talk, it's that you choose not to. And if you've chosen not to talk, then writing stuff down kinda defeats the entire point."

Castiel looked surprised.

"Didn't think I'd get it, huh? Well, despite appearances, I'm actually pretty intelligent. And I've had a lot of practice reading people since..." Dean trailed off, throat tightening and muscles stiffening as he forgot to stop himself from remembering.

I should have seen I should have noticed I should have helped I should have done something anything what have I done why couldn't I see it's all my fault all of it I let it happen I did it I did it I did it

Suddenly, Castiel was before him, not touching him, but securing Dean's attention anyhow. His eyes dragged Dean's away from his own clenched fists, which in turn relaxed. Staring into the ridiculously blue eyes of Castiel, Dean breathed more easily.

There was no sympathy in Castiel's gaze, merely patience and a tinge of worry. Even though there was no contact between them, Dean felt as if hands were holding his own, as if a downy, all-encompassing cocoon were protecting him from the detrimental thoughts.

"...thank you," Dean croaked, not even completely sure why he was thanking the other man.

Castiel stared at him a second longer, and then smiled, so softly that Dean would never have noticed it if he hadn't been staring transfixed at his face. When Castiel smiled, it made him look younger, happier. Dean smiled with him, and it was his first smile in a long time that hadn't been actively placed there. He was getting lost in Castiel's eyes, and it wasn't in the soppy, romantic sense. It was slightly scary, if anything, how the piercing blue grew and grew and swallowed up the rest of his sight until, before he knew it, he was counting the individual flecks of light in his irises.

Castiel broke the eye contact, and suddenly Dean was wrenched out of his little world of sapphires. It felt not unlike being doused with a bucket of ice cubes.

Castiel turned and made his way down the corridor, evidently expecting Dean to follow him, which he did. They walked to the rec room in a slightly awkward silence, though Dean suspected he was the one who felt the discomfort most acutely.

Upon entering the room, they were immediately met with Andy yelling, "Dean! There you are, man, we've been looking for you!" Dean had no idea who 'we' included, but he had a suspicion it was just Andy. "C'mon, I wanna introduce you to the guys. 'Scuse us, Cassie." He winked at Castiel, who did not react at all.

"Cassie?!" Dean had time to yelp before he was tugged away and shoved in the face of the guy with the sock puppet.

"Garth! Here's the newbie we saw earlier. Dean. He's in Kev's group."

The skinny man's already large smile widened. "Nice to meet you, Dean! Yeah, nice to meet you!" he mouthed badly, working the mouth of the puppet open and closed.

"Uh...hi," Dean said, unsure of what exactly to do.

"I'm Mr Fizzles," said 'Mr Fizzles', "I'm sure we'll get along just great. Must say, Dean, you're a real looker."

Dean's choked a little, and Andy sniggered irritatingly.

"Mr Fizzles! That's not polite, you can't hit on people with literally the third sentence you say!" Garth scolded his puppet, smacking it playfully on the nose. "Anyway, I'm sure he doesn't date puppets. You're gonna have to wait until another ventriloquist comes along."

"Aw. Cockblocker."

Dean just gaped until Andy pulled him away to introduce him to the next person.

"This is Benny," he said, pointing to a solid-looking man with stubble. "Benny, this is Dean, the new guy."

Dean didn't appreciate Andy's constant emphasis on his newness.

"Hey Dean, good to meet you," Benny drawled in a husky Southern accent.

"You too," Dean returned, glad to see that this one at least seemed more normal.

"Right, next!" Andy chirped.

Dean sighed all-sufferingly, and Benny chuckled in sympathy. "Yeah, he did this to me too, man, no worries."

"Andy, will you stop pulling the poor guy around by his arm? It's gonna fall off soon!" a red-headed girl shouted across the room.

"Shut it, Charlie! You're just jealous because you didn't get charge of him from Kev!" Andy yelled back.

"Since when did you get charge of me?" Dean asked, two pushes away from being seriously pissed off.

"See?" The girl marched over. "You're gonna make him angry, like you do with everyone."

"I never make anyone angry!" Andy gasped, shocked and horrified.

"Sure," the girl said patronisingly, a jokey spark in her eye. "I'm Charlie, in case you're deaf," she addressed Dean, holding out her hand. "I'm in Kevin's group too."

Dean took her outstretched hand, thankful that she wasn't overly-concerned about whether he might have issues with skin contact. "Dean, but I'm pretty sure you knew that already," he chuckled, eyeing her up. She was pretty hot, if a bit dorky-looking.

"In case you're wondering, I'm a lesbian," Charlie told him pointedly.

Dean huffed. "Seriously? Just my luck."

Charlie laughed. "Yeah, it gets pretty desperate around here. I swear, there are so few chicks in this place, and all of them say they're not interested. Like hell," she scoffed. "Who could resist this?"

Dean shook his head. He liked her, though now he thought about it, definitely more in a sister way.

Trying to replace him already? a traitorous little bitch of a voice whispered in his head. He shut it up with a mental punch.

"C'mon, Charlie, it's getting awkward now," Andy grumbled. "No one wants to hear about your lack of lays. Every other straight guy's in the same boat, remember?"

"Screw you, Misery Balls," she replied cheerfully.

"Yeah, yeah...come on, Dean, I still need to show you –"

"Just leave him alone, Andy, for God's sake! Did you feel like talking your first day?" Charlie demanded.

Andy shut up for the first time.

"There we go. You'll get a chance to meet everyone in your own time, Dean," she said warmly, then lowered her voice. "One word of warning, though. I wouldn't try to get too well-acquainted with Gordon over there." She motioned with her chin to the far corner of the room where the guy that Andy had tripped over earlier was sitting. "He's not very sociable, and you're more likely to get acquainted with his fist, if you know what I mean."

"Right, thanks," Dean said.

"No problemo!" she sang. "Hey, are you any good at crosswords? Because I've been stuck on this one for ages. I tell you, if it was on a laptop, I'd be able to do it in minutes, it just lets my brain juices flow, see? But now, with actual paper..."

Dean spent the next few hours until lunch chatting to Charlie and Garth (and Mr Fizzles), who had joined them in trying to solve the puzzle.

It was only when he stood up to walk to the canteen with the others that he realised he had no idea where Castiel had gone.


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