“C'mon, dude, at least answer me.”
Dean had been knocking on Castiel's door for a full minute now. There was no way he hadn't heard him; the shower wasn't running, and Dean could hear him rustling around.
“Are you pissed at me or something?” Dean asked.
“Yes,” came the grouchy answer.
Dean's brow furrowed as he tried to recall any possible instance when he could have offended his friend. Giving up, he called in exasperation, “Why?”
Castiel's voice was muffled. “Because you woke me up.”
Rolling his eyes, Dean pushed the door open. Castiel was lying under the duvet, face buried in the pillow. He looked very comfortable.
Dean took no mercy. “Up and at 'em, sunshine, it's half eight already. Breakfast'll be over soon.”
“It's winter,” Castiel said through his pillow.
Dean nodded once. “Yes. Indeed it is. Now get up.”
“It's darker in winter. And cold.”
“Would you rather dark and cold or dark, cold and hungry?”
Castiel paused. “Hunger is not so bad,” he reasoned, rolling to face the wall.
Having had about enough, Dean marched over and flung the duvet back. Castiel, clad only in underwear, curled immediately into a tight ball against the cold air, face furious and hands grabbing at the blanket now out of his reach.
“Get up,” Dean told him, “Or I swear to God I will drag you out of bed and into the shower myself. And I won't even let it warm up first.”
Castiel regarded him darkly. “I am haphephobic,” he said righteously.
Dean raised an eyebrow. “Didn't seem to be troubling you yesterday.”
“It relents when it's you.”
“Well then, there's nothing to stop me tearing off your clothes and shoving you naked under a freezing shower, is there?” Dean said cheerily. “Not that we have time for a shower,” he amended. “We only have fifteen minutes for breakfast as it is.”
Castiel sighed, finally unfurling and sitting up on the mattress. He took the scrubs Dean handed to him and looked at him pointedly.
“Are you going to leave?” he asked.
“You're putting clothes on, why would I leave?”
“You don't expect me to wear the same underwear two days in a row, do you?”
Dean saw reason and left, though he only hovered outside the door for thirty seconds before he banged on the door and demanded to know what the hell Castiel was doing that was taking him so long. He opened the door to find the other man back in bed, head buried under his pillow.
“Fuck this,” he groused, marching out again and slamming the door. He'd just have to eat without him.
“Here's trouble,” Meg announced sardonically as Dean plonked his plate loudly down next to Lisa's.
Lisa looked uncomfortable. “Uh, Dean...? I'm sorry, but would you mind sitting somewhere else?”
He stared at her in disbelief. “Sorry?”
“It's just...” Lisa licked her lips and glanced over the table at Meg. “Meg, would you mind going to talk to Benny for a bit or something?”
“Hell yeah I would, I wanna watch this!”
“Geez, fine...” Meg got up and sauntered over the room.
Dean was still staring at Lisa. “Are you seriously breaking up with me like we're in highschool? We aren't even in a relationship!” It twinged a bit to say it, but it was true, and he'd been so stupid to get even slightly attached. This was just karma proving a point.
“I'm not breaking off our...arrangement,” Lisa said slightly awkwardly. “I'm just saying that maybe we shouldn't keep on...publicising it so much.”
Dean suddenly thought of Castiel. His friend had been right – he and Lisa had been too public about their relationship. Apparently Dean was the only one stupid enough not to care.
“I'm just saying: maybe you should sit with Charlie and the rest from now on. You don't hang around with them as much anymore, don't you miss them?”
“I see Charlie everyday in Group.”
“Yeah, with Naomi breathing down your neck. Real nice atmosphere for chat there.” Seeing Dean's expression, Lisa stopped her teasing and let her face soften a bit. “Dean, I'm sorry, really. But I did tell you not to get attached. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I'm worried about my own safety now. You're just getting into too much trouble for me to risk an in-your-face advertisement of 'hey, this guy means something to me, eat your hearts out'.”
Dean scowled at the table. “I'm not attached,” he mumbled.
Lisa rolled her eyes heavenwards. “Oh come on, it's not a weakness! You're not used to this atmosphere yet, you don't get the dog-eat-dog principal. Meg's pretty much the biggest risk I can take here. And she keeps her head down. You don't.”
“You expect me to just take their shit?” Dean said stiffly.
Lisa sighed. “I don't expect you to do anything at all. I just don't want to get too mixed up in it.”
Dean pursed his lips. “I get it. No biggie.” He got up to leave.
“Hey, wait!” She pulled him back down. “I'm not saying we can't talk at all,” she said more quietly. “Or...do other stuff. I'm just saying we have to be subtle. Okay?”
“Okay.” It wasn't. Dean was kicking himself for feeling anything for Lisa in the first place. Meg had been talking shit, saying he was the one to stab people in the heart. Speaking of Meg, Dean would bet his bacon she had a hand in this somewhere.
Dean was distracted from his bitter musings when a figure suddenly appeared next to their table.
“Ms Braeden?” Raziel, the doctor hired to replace Alfie after he “resigned due to personal matters”, was standing at their table. “I have someone to introduce to you.” He stepped aside, revealing the person previously hidden behind him.
“This is Kevin Tran.”
A shallow inhalation.
“He is new to Balt's and has been assigned to our group.”
A slight gagging noise, too quiet to hear.
“I know you will help him settle in to the best of your ability.”
“He will be staying in Room 127. I would appreciate if you could show him where that is.”
“Thank you, Ms Braeden. Until three o'clock.”
Heart pumped as if to burst.
“Hey there, your name's Kevin then?” Lisa said, perfectly cheerful.
Dean gaped at her.
Kevin (and it really was him Christ it was him how could it be him) shuffled around a bit on his feet, looking nervous. “Uh, yeah,” he muttered, his facial muscles twitching slightly. “Nice to, uh, meet you.” He chewed on his lip and stared hard at the floor.
Lisa smiled at him in a friendly manner. “I'm Lisa. Why don't you sit down? Have you had breakfast already?”
Kevin nodded and perched on the seat Meg had vacated, eyes ever roaming.
“This is Dean,” said Lisa, gesturing to him and shooting him a pointed look when he desperately (and vainly) tried to communicate everything through facial expressions. “Don't worry about him, he's not usually this freaky.” Her eyes were more annoyed than worried. She thought he was screwing around. She really, genuinely had no idea.
Dean could only bite his tongue and try desperately not to scream. The puddle of blood that pooled in his mouth made him feel sick.
“Who's this?” Meg was back, obviously finished with her conversation with Benny. She looked at Kevin with curiosity in her eyes. Of shock, alarm or recognition there was not a trace.
“This is Kevin, he's a new addition to my group,” Lisa said, directing a comforting smile at Kevin as he shifted nervously when Meg sat down next to him. “This is Meg, Kevin, my best friend. She's not in our group, but her room's pretty close to yours.”
Meg was frowning at Dean. “What's got into you?” she asked suspiciously.
Dean's face was ashen and slick with cold sweat. He swallowed his mouthful of blood. “Not feeling well,” he said, lurching upright and staggering out of the room.
He threw up the minute he reached the bathroom, all over the tiled floor.
Staggering to the toilet, he retched again, the remainder of his supper the night before splashing into the bowl. He gasped a few seconds before vomiting a third time.
Over the pounding of his head, his thoughts were racing, swirling. He could focus on only one.
I've finally lost it.
Kevin was back.
(but it wasn't really Kevin. his eyes were wrong.)
No one remembered apart from himself. Was he remembering? Or was his mind playing tricks on him, because there was no possible way this could be happening. Maybe it was a dream, and he would wake up, covered in sweat and tangled in the sheets, but sane and able to trust himself.
He released a low moan, resting his forehead against the cool seat of the toilet and willing himself to wake up.
He heard his door open. “Dean? I heard you running. Is everything alright?”
The noise brought on another wave of nausea, and Dean retched violently once more, bile coming out now. He couldn't breathe, his ears were ringing, and his face was being splashed with drops of unspeakable liquid.
“Dean!” Castiel voice sounded panicky now, through the rushing in Dean's ears, and as he rested his head on the toilet again, he felt his friend's hand on his back, saw his frightened face in his swimming peripheral vision. “Dean, what's wrong?”
Dean couldn't speak at first, Castiel's genuine concern making a lump rise in his throat, but eventually he managed it.
“I've gone insane,” he said, his voice wavering.
“No you haven't, Dean,” Castiel insisted. “What happened?” he asked again.
Dean swallowed, balking as a piece of half-digested food slipped back down his throat. “I saw Kevin,” he gasped out.
Castiel froze, and Dean could see through his aching eyes that he was suddenly unsure how to proceed, because it was obvious now, wasn't it? Dean was crazy, in all senses of the word.
“Are you sure?” Castiel asked him carefully, smoothing a hand through Dean's sweaty hair. “Are you absolutely certain?”
“Of course I'm not!” Dean cried, embarrassing tears sliding down his cheeks. “I'm not sure at all! I've gone mad!”
Castiel was silent for a moment longer, still stroking Dean's hair, before he stood up decisively. “I'm going to fetch Crowley,” he announced.
Dean tried to grab at him, to stop
him from leaving, but Castiel was already out of the door and Dean
felt too nauseous to go after him.
Castiel strode out of Dean's room purposefully. He could help Dean this time, and he would do all in his power to do so.
Castiel felt mournful as he thought of his only friend. He didn't know what was plaguing the man; his illness just seemed to become more and more serious. When Kevin had said that he could not see a reason why Dean should be in a destination as final as Balt's, Castiel had agreed with him; apart from rare lapses, Dean seemed perfectly capable of rehabilitation. Or he had seemed, at least. Castiel chewed his lip. Hallucinations were serious, and he knew now that he had been foolish for not telling anyone about Dean's memory loss, or the seizure, or the uncontrollable outbursts of temper. They couldn't manage it alone, Castiel realised now, and he knew Crowley would help, if unwillingly.
What Castiel didn't understand was why Dean would hallucinate Kevin. Surely it would make much more sense if it was an important figure from his past.
Castiel sighed deeply. The problem with insanity was that it rarely made sense.
He was half-way to the infirmary when he remembered that Crowley enjoyed a late breakfast. He tutted, turned, and headed for the canteen instead.
When he pushed the doors open, he located Crowley immediately. He was passing tissues to Lisa, who was dripping blood from her nose again. It had formed a puddle on the tabletop before the tissue had got there, it appeared, and Castiel felt his stomach turn slightly.
Then he remembered why he was there and hurried up to Crowley.
“Dean needs help,” he muttered urgently as he reached the table. Crowley looked up at him in astonishment, as did Lisa.
“Oh, are you talking to me now?” Crowley asked sarcastically. “What an honour, it really is.”
“Stop fooling around,” Castiel growled. “Dean is –” his voice choked off as he glanced at the person who was sitting opposite Lisa, regarding the pool of blood in alarm. Kevin's eyes flicked up to meet Castiel's, and they were horrifyingly empty.
Crowley was looking at him in expectation and concealed worry. “Dean is what?” he prompted.
Still staring at Kevin, Castiel shook his head. “Nothing. I've made a mistake.”
He turned on his heel and raced out of the room.
Charlie stopped him as he sprinted through the rec room. “Hey, Castiel, where are you going? What's up?” She looked concerned and Castiel worried at his lip, deliberating over her trustworthiness.
Making a decision, he said (much to Charlie's surprise), “There's a new patient.” That was good: it gave nothing away but opened a huge number of doors through which information could come to him.
Charlie gave him all the information he need in a few words. “Oh yeah, I almost forgot! What did they say his name was? Kyle? Ken...?”
“Kevin?” Castiel suggested hesitantly.
Charlie nodded her head vigorously. “That was it,” she said, grinning. “Is that why you're in such a hurry?” she asked.
Castiel shook his head. “Dean is...ill,” he said. It wasn't wholly a lie.
Charlie's face became worried. “My God, is it bad? I'll go fetch Crowley!” She started off in the direction of the canteen.
Castiel stepped deftly in front of her. She thankfully stopped before she crashed into him. “No need,” he muttered. “I've already gone.”
Charlie's concern did not fade. “Then where is he?”
“He's coming. Lisa had a nosebleed.”
Charlie sighed. “Oh, not again. I'm amazed she has any blood left in her body.”
Castiel nodded impatiently, stepping around but halting suddenly as he was struck with realisation. “Charlie,” he said urgently. The girl turned to face him, surprised. He continued, voice lowered. “Do you remember your mobile telephone?” Good: vague.
Charlie blinked and shutters slammed down over her eyes. She suddenly looked suspicious. “How do you know about that?” she asked warily.
Castiel floundered. “Uh...Chuck told me,” he spluttered, stabbing in the dark.
He'd hit the mark. Charlie rolled her eyes. “That idiot, he never could resist showing off his new things. I should have never nicked that notebook for him as well.”
Castiel grabbed at the sentence. “You stole it?”
“Yup, at the same time I got the phone. The orderly had the notebook in his pocket as well, so I thought it was worth it. Don't tell anyone, though.” A dangerous look flashed in her eyes. “If I get sent into isolation, I'm taking you with me.”
Castiel nodded, not doubting her. He turned and hurried back to Dean's room.
“Dean!” he gasped as he raced into the bathroom, only just remembering to jump over the large puddle of vomit. “Dean! You're not crazy!”
Dean looked up at him with bloodshot eyes. “Okay. I'll admit, I'm curious. What's your reasoning this time?” His eyes were almost as dead as Kevin's, and this scared Castiel. It scared him a lot.
“Dean, you weren't hallucinating. I don't know how, but Kevin's here. And he's not all Kevin.” he swallowed thickly, desperately trying to keep calm. His fingers were trembling.
Dean looked slowly up at him, as if his eyes weighed a tonne each. “Are you lying to me?” he asked wearily.
Castiel looked him dead in the eye. “I will never lie to you,” he vowed.
Dean took a deep breath. “I don't understand,” he stated.
Running a hand through his hair as he sat back on his haunches, Castiel admitted, “Neither do I. I do not understand how they removed Kevin's memories and, from the looks of things, his sanity. I do not understand why Crowley, Lisa and Meg don't seem to recognise him. I don't understand why Charlie and Chuck don't remember, despite their presents. What I do understand is that this is a very, very bad situation.”
Dean blinked slowly. “Why?” he said, sounding mildly stupid.
“Because there is no reason why they would leave our memories intact,” Castiel told him, “apart from if it didn't matter.”
“Why wouldn't it matter?”
“If we weren't going to be around long enough to do anything about it.”
Castiel watched and stroked his
friend's back as Dean retched into the toilet once more.
Once Dean's sickness had passed, Castiel had helped him clean up his bathroom, ignoring Crowley's knocks on the door of Room 107 and his calls asking if everything was alright. They were alone, and they knew it. They knew it had to stay that way.
They agreed on business as usual. It seemed it was their only plan of action: don't let them know how much you know, and don't let them know how much it affects you. Dean was sick of it, and for the best, because it didn't seem as if the staff were willing to play along this time.
After lunch, Dean stepped into Naomi's office as usual and sat down in his chair in front of her desk. She smiled at him, as a snake would if it were capable.
“I think it's time we stopped waltzing circles around each other, don't you, Mr Winchester?”
A muscle twitched in Dean's jaw. “I think that's about right,” he said coolly.
“Do you know why we could not let Junior Doctor Tran go?” Naomi got straight to the point, smile still in place.
“Because he knew you murdered Alfie.” Dean's voice held no trace of doubt.
Naomi leaned back into her chair. “Oh, Samandriel was hardly our concern in that matter, let me assure you Mr Winchester,” Naomi said, smile growing wider. Her eyes never left his. “Our concern with Junior Doctor Tran was his involvement with you. None of my siblings are on any human records. Or, at least, not the ones that would be consulted in regard to the inspection of a psychiatric hospital.”
Dean took a deep breath. “Human records?”
“Records made by humans, Mr Winchester.”
Dean ignored the jibe. “You're not human, then?”
“None of us are. We Balts are something quite other.” Naomi looked proud of the fact.
Dean nodded. He wanted to be surprised, but he couldn't. “Why Kevin?” he asked. “He did nothing to you.”
“On the contrary. Junior Doctor Tran was breaking rules from the moment he stepped inside these walls. Disobedience in any form is not taken lightly by my people,” Naomi said.
“But does that really warrant wiping his memories?” Dean was fighting to keep his voice calm and, thankfully, winning.
Naomi smirked sadistically. “Oh, I wouldn't call it that. Burning his mind out is rather more accurate.”
Dean ground his teeth together. “Why did you do it?” he growled through them.
“We wanted to see what would happen. We wanted to see how you would react.” Naomi's eyes were bright and sharp, like pieces of slate polished to a cruel shine. “And, of course, he was a liability. Rumours of any kind are bad news, even ones that are officially discredited. Junior Doctor Tran had to be silenced.”
“And the others?”
Naomi knew what he was referring to. “The others were a necessity to avoid total pandemonium within the establishment. A caught rabbit is perfectly calm until it realises it's in a trap,” she reasoned calmly.
Flexing his fingers, Dean asked, “And me and Cas?”
“As I said: we wished to see how you reacted. Castiel has his own part to play in that. The support string to the puppet, if you will. While we do like to play, Mr Winchester, we have no wish to completely break you. At least, not until you become boring.”
Dean ignored the chill creeping through his bones. “Why me?” he asked quietly. “Why are you so interested in me?”
There was a relaxed (on Naomi's part) pause as she pondered the question. “I suppose one could say that you are an experiment, Mr Winchester,” she said finally.
“What kind of experiment?”
“An experiment on the human mind to see what it will do when all memories are erased.”
Dean inhaled slowly, feeling his heartbeat pick up. “So it was you.”
A smile. “Yes, Mr Winchester. It was us.”
“Do all the staff know?”
“All of my siblings.”
“Yes, Samandriel knew.”
Dean tried not to feel betrayed. “And so why are you telling me this now? Bored already?”
“On the contrary, we wish to continue the experiment. Unfortunately, it appears your mind is not capable of functioning through the veils we have placed over it. As demonstrated by the vomiting, seizures and erratic outbursts of temper,” Naomi clarified. “Nevertheless, the main aim of the experiment was successful.”
“How do you mean?”
“We wanted to see whether we could cure insanity simply by removing the source. And it seems to have worked. While not in completely full physical or mental health, we believe you would be pronounced passably sane by any medical practitioner.”
Dean swallowed a lump in his throat. “And what happens if you give me my memories back?” he asked hesitantly.
Naomi's eyes glinted predatorily. “That we will discover shortly, Mr Winchester.”
She stood. Dean's heart began to race, and he glanced involuntarily for a way out.
“There is no need to panic, Mr Winchester,” Naomi said calmly, stepping towards him. “This will only seem to hurt. Your physical body will be utterly unharmed.”
She touched his forehead, and Dean's world turned white with pain. The memories came flooding in.