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What They've Taken

Chapter Text

Wind gently blew through the open window in that small, white room. The soft, comforting glow of the evening moon shined through the curtains which gracefully danced for him, slow and rhythmic with its swaying. His eyes remained transfixed on its movements as his thumbs twiddled amongst themselves in time with the swishing of the lower left corner of the curtain. As it swished back and forth, back and forth, his thumbs would twiddle just the same.

Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

Crystalline blue eyes stared vacantly at the window which was built into his wall just high enough to make it difficult to see its sill. The night was clear passed the curtains – inviting with its embracing winds and caressing whispers of the rustling trees on the outside. The moon almost seemed to murmur to him with its light, giggling sweet nothings in hopes of luring him into the outside world to join it in its delicacy.

He wanted to reach out to it. His bare toes curled on the cold, linoleum floor, eager to rise to his feet and dash through those woods and away from this place. Far, far away. However, between himself and the outside, between himself and that beauty calling to him, were rusty bars firmly set in place on his window.

His one means of escape. His one means of seeing into the real world. Even that was perverted into a sign of his fictitious delusion.

The bars taunted him with their rusty exterior, the peeling of that dark black paint on its rigid surface showing signs of neglect. How long had it been since the staff cared for the cells within this haunting place? Were the good doctors of Mount Massive Asylum just too good to care for the ancient bones of the building’s structure? To make this place which many would call home at least somewhat livable and comforting? He supposed they probably thought as much, considering the way most of them treated their patients.

Not that he cared much for that. He wasn’t an activist or anything. No, he was simply a victim as well. Perhaps he wasn’t a victim of a torturous mental illness like many of the inhabitants of Mount Massive, but he was a victim just the same.

Let it be known, however, that Eddie Gluskin is not mentally unstable.

In fact, there is nothing wrong with him at all – unless you’d like to count his fucked up family and past, but that’s a different story all on its own.

In reality, he wasn’t supposed to be here. Eddie didn’t belong in this haunted place. It was just another dark hole in his life, however, that happened to swallow him whole before he could say anything about it. Fate, so it would seem, did not favor him very well. He’d wager to say it hated him, actually. How could he not? From his horrific childhood riddled with abuse from his father and uncle to the rest of his life spent trying to recover from it so he could build a proper life for himself all the way to this shit hole he’s sitting in now.

He had no idea how things escalated to this point. It had all happened so fast and it felt as though it had happened several years ago as it is.

An altercation with his father gone wrong. He couldn’t believe he had ever thought trying to make amends with the man was ever a good idea. Those pamphlets that tell you to try shit like that were obviously out of their minds and had no idea what it was like to be in shoes like his own. Still, he had given it a shot. He gave it a shot in hopes of healing, and all it resulted in was a new nightmare he was forced to embark upon yet again.

Things were said and done that day which are now merely a blur to the blue-eyed man. All he could clearly remember was his father insulting him, telling him that he would be ‘just like his old man at the end of the day’ and…things got out of hand. All Eddie knew was that, as soon as those words left the man’s lips, he had been filled with a rage he had never felt before. A rage so strong, so concentrated and pure, that it sent him into an attack on the older man.

One thing led to another, and sometime during the altercation, the police were called. They had stumbled upon him nearly beating his old abuser half to death right there on his living room floor. The sick bastard…he took advantage and swore that Eddie was a danger to society. That he had always had manic episodes and he needed to be contained.

Never you mind that the sick fuck molested him when he was a child!

He got away with that, hands clean – but Eddie?

He got sent to Mount Massive Asylum thanks to his father’s allegations of his mental instability and the fact that he was simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Staring out the barred window of his cell, Eddie regretted everything he had done that day all those months ago. It felt like decades in this dying place to him, as though he had been sitting upon that same rigid cot in that same barren white room for an eternity already gone.

He had just wanted a normal life. That’s all he wanted.

He just wanted to get passed his childhood traumas and lift that weight off of his shoulders.

Instead, he was sentenced to a fate he swore was worse than death.

Nobody in the damn place ever listened to him. Not that he truly expected them to, but…was it really so hard to tell that he was perfectly fine? He didn’t need to be in an asylum. He needed to get the hell out of there and find himself a shrink who could properly help him work through the demons in his head, but now? Now all he gets are these big, thick pills that are supposed to drug and dope him up three times a day every day and a hospital full of doctors that all looked down on him, sympathizing for him in the most condescending of ways.

Yet, despite how the man had gotten to this place, Eddie is actually quite gentle.

He is beyond himself desperate to leave this place, a hatred having seeded itself deep within his belly for the people inside it and the ones who got him stuck here to begin with, but he was raised by his mother to be good. To be kind. To be polite. His mother…Lord bless her soul and allow her a peaceful rest. What he wouldn’t give for one of her embraces…

Truthfully, he was really just a lost soul. A lost, scarred soul who couldn’t find his way back to the path he was supposed to take. He just…he really just wanted that normal life. He wanted a family. He wanted a wife, children, that white picket fence with a dog in the yard and barbeques by the pool during the summer time. He wanted to be happy, but…it didn’t seem like that was a possibility for him anymore.

His vacant blue eyes dulled as the thought numbly passed through his mind for the trillionth time since he first stepped foot in the asylum. He could hear the distant footsteps of his orderly approaching his cell, the sound of his athletic white sneakers squeaking on the linoleum floor causing a most uncomfortable itch to reach his ear. He didn’t, however, reach up to scratch. He simply ignored it, ignored the sound of the orderly, and continued to watch the dancing of the curtain with the twiddling of his thumbs playing along.

Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

“Gluskin,” The orderly’s gruff voice silenced his sneakers and their insistent itch, but still Eddie didn’t look over at him. It merely upset him further deep down whenever he looked at one of these people who presumably had his fate in their hands. If only they’d listen to him, then maybe he would get that chance at a normal life – but they didn’t. They always played him off as ‘another crazy’.

“Get over here, yeah? It’s time for dinner and your last pill for the night.” The orderly grunted through the bars which separated the two of them as he slid the gray tray in his hands through a small sliver of space specially crafted into the bars. Over on Eddie’s side, the tray landed on a conveniently small built-in counter which connected to the bars right beneath the sliver. On the tray laid a small water bottle placed on its side to fit through the hole, a paper cup containing the ungodly large pill, a plastic fork and a paper plate filled with stale mashed potatoes and reheated frozen chicken. The usual, so it would seem.

The blue-eyed man remained on his spot upon his cot for a few moments longer without moving a muscle. The few seconds of silence he received after the orderly had grunted his words at him were heavenly. It allowed him a place of quiet disassociation in his mind, but the relief didn’t last long.

It was quickly shattered with the rattling of the bars of his cell like it was every night, the intrusive sound forcefully prying him out of his empty visions. “Oi! I’m gettin’ real tired of your shit, ya know that, Gluskin?! It’s the same every night with you!” The orderly groaned out at him in his impatience, rattling the bars of the cell once again for emphasis. “For once, just once, can ya stop being so damn stubborn and take your pill when you’re supposed to instead of acting like a dead dog there on that damn bed?!”

Slowly, Eddie eventually turned his head to look at the gruff orderly on the other side of the bars that separated them, the twiddling of his thumbs coming to a stop to allow for the curtain to dance on its own. His vibrant blue eyes met with the brown ones of the man on the other side, one of the many with all the power in their hands over him. Vibrant as they were, even his pristine blue eyes looked dead in this place, so perhaps looking like a dead dog wasn’t such a stretch after all.

Dully, his eyes darted down to the tray that was now on his side of the cell. He hadn’t noticed, but thanks to the orderly’s shaking, the water bottle that came with it had fallen to the ground and rolled over to his feet. He ignored it, however, as he stood to approach the tray.

He had always taken his pills dry.

“’Bout damn time.” The man on the other side grumbled as Eddie stood before him to pluck the green and blue capsule in the small cup. Without looking at him, he downed the pill passed his lips, knowing that he would be watched until he proved he had swallowed his medicine. “Fucking crazies. Ya lot are all the same. Causing more trouble than ya should.” The orderly grumbled as he peered into the patient’s now open maw, checking to see that the pill was gone – and indeed it was.

“I’m not crazy.”

Eddie had finally spoken up for the first time that day, and his coarse voice startled the man on the other side just the slightest bit. He hadn’t been expecting a response, but the shock didn’t last long. When those captivating, dull blue eyes of his met the gaze of the orderly, his expression was quickly taken by a deep scowl, a scoff escaping him in the process. “Yeah, sure, whatever. That’s what they all say.” With that, he turned his back to the man in the cell and walked back down the hall, the squeaking of his sneakers echoing distantly until they eventually disappeared altogether.

In the cell, Eddie couldn’t be bothered by his orderly’s behavior and attitude towards him. It annoyed him, of course, deep down inside, but tonight, he just wanted to be left in peace. So, like he did three times a day every day, he plucked the capsule out from beneath his tongue and flushed it down the toilet after a few minutes of waiting.

He didn’t need pills.

He was perfectly fine without them.

Once the pill was gone, he sat himself back down on his cot and faced the dancing curtain once again. A small smile graced his lips at the sight of it. “I’m not crazy…” He murmured just as his thumbs began to twiddle in the peaceful refuge of his disassociation once more.

Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

Chapter Text

There is a haunting call about Mount Massive Asylum that just seems to pull people in as soon as they pull up that old brick path towards its rustic gates.

The ancient bones and soul within the establishment demand all attention upon its being in the midst of that dense forest, the natural world seemingly bending beneath its will as the trees sway around it, caressing it with their dying greens. No animals could be seen around the place. No squirrels, no foxes, no rabbits – just crows. A countless number of crows lined the top of the gates and found a gentle place to settle upon Massive’s skeletal heights for what felt like all hours of the day.

The sky above the asylum always felt grayed out – almost as if the skies themselves had cast this olden place to a different space, a different time. Even in the most sun shinny days, the sight had a feeling to its existence which caused one to wonder if perhaps they were really there at all. As if time managed to somehow stop within the forest by the mountains.

Secluded and far away from any neighboring towns, Mount Massive has made itself the main attraction within the thick foliage it had been built upon. Its peaking towers could be seen from the path several miles away, towering above everything, cementing its presence into the minds of all who came close to its world.

_______ had thought it was a strange place right from the start. A place that not many people liked to talk about back in town, from the looks of things. Getting to the asylum on her first day, admittedly, was a challenge. The poor dear couldn’t handle much suspense all at once, but as she had driven up to the building on that first day of hers, it became apparent that suspense is one of the many things Mount Massive Asylum thrives off of.

Still, as strange, olden and rustic as the place came off, it had offered a golden opportunity for the girl.

A golden opportunity she couldn’t afford to let slip through her fingers.

After she had graduated from university, _______ was in desperate need of a job. With a massive debt hanging over her shoulders from her years in school and such little time to pay it all back, despite her earned credentials, she had decided to apply for as many jobs as she could within her field of study. To her dismay, most hospitals denied her. Either they were already overstaffed as it was, or they simply weren’t looking for someone to fill the position she was looking for. She felt hopeless – that is, until Mount Massive Asylum had reached its hand out to her as a saving grace.

A position as an orderly was promised to her with the inclusion of housing and possibilities of promotion if she stuck around long enough. The only catch was that she would have to cut contact with family and friends for the time she decided to work in the asylum.

A strange request, she will admit, but it wasn’t something she was against complying to considering her situation. She didn’t have much family as it was and her friends understood and cared for her enough to not make a big deal of it.

So, with the position in place for her calling her with its sultry tunes and delicious promises of a brighter future, _______ had packed her bags and made her way to Mount Massive Asylum to meet her saving grace in the flesh.

That was over a week ago and she still can’t believe most of the things she’s seen in the place already.

The crawling, uncomfortable sensation of neglect clearly oozed off of the walls of the building from the inside out. Paint was chipping everywhere from the weathering years which they had been exposed to, the rooms the patients were kept in showed very little signs of care aside from the changing of the bed sheets, the few amenities offered within the building were dated as was most of the furniture and the list goes on. That’s not to mention the state of the plant life and space in the courtyard out back! It was just barely passable – as if the asylum had been built several centuries in the past and was never restored at all before being put to use again.

To say the asylum is an ancient beast laying in slumber truly is just an understatement. It was something that caused _______ some concern when she first stepped foot into the hospital, but what really made the hairs on the back of the girl’s neck stand on end was the way the other staff members treated the patients they were supposed to care for.

Neglect is the only word she could think of when she was being shown the ropes by her supervisor, Matthew. It was evident that he hadn’t had the slightest bit of concern for the patients under their care and the things he was meant to do were just a burden to him in general when he had to care for them. Why the man had decided to become an orderly despite how frustrated it made him was beyond her comprehension, but as soon as she saw the state of things in Mount Massive, she felt a fire spark in her belly.

Though the asylum is strange and vague in its past and existence as a whole, she felt a need to protect and care for its inhabitants on the inside. All she has ever wanted to do with her life is help people, and what better place to start than right here where she swore the patients begged for her to do so with their distant stares, the groans of the buildings primordial walls beckoning her forth?

She was determined.

Nothing was going to stop her from showing the building and its inhabitants the love and care they so rightfully deserved.

It was a monumental task to take on, no doubt about it, but she was convinced she could do it. A week after she had made the decision to stay and she was still walking through the halls of Mount Massive behind Matthew in her pure white orderly’s uniform, several clipboards in one arm and a small smile on her face. It wasn’t the cheeriest of places to be in, but she always believed the power of a simple smile truly could brighten up anyone’s day.

Matthew, however, was an exception.

“Aight,” The gruff male grunted as the two entered a break-room specifically made for the orderlies of the male ward. “I’ve shown ya the ropes for a solid week now – do ya think ya got the hang o’ things ‘round here?” His speech was lazier than normal today, his expression constantly having been exasperated throughout his time spent training her. _______ couldn’t figure out why, but she had a hunch it had to do something with the fact that he clearly didn’t like his job in the slightest bit.

“I think so, yes,” She replied, looking up at the gruff orderly, her smile faltering a bit awkwardly due to his sour expression. “These patients in these clipboards are mine to look after until further notice on a day-to-day basis. Each clipboard has their specific medical and dietary needs. I have to…document their progress with the medicine? Is that right?”

“Yeah. That’s right.” Matthew grunted out dully, his gaze shifting to a corner in the ceiling as he scratched at his inner ear nonchalantly.

“Alright, got it! Then it’s just sort of maintenance, right? Taking care of bed sheets, bringing them their dinners, checking up on them, bringing change of clothes and all…”

“Mhmm…”

“Can I take them outside to spend some time in the sun every now and again?”

“I don’t see why you’d bother,” Matthew sighed out, rolling his eyes back down to glance at the new female orderly. She was pretty. A beautiful young girl with a future ahead of her. He couldn’t really imagine what kind of future she saw in a place like this, but he didn’t really give much of a fuck. He was here for a paycheck and that was it. “But some of ‘em crazies got a note on their clipboards ‘bout stuff like that. You can read that for yourself.”

_______ really didn’t like this guy. She didn’t like Matthew in the slightest bit. It was easy to see that he didn’t give a damn about any of the patients in the asylum. It clearly showed not just in the way he spoke about this with her, but also in the way he had been training her throughout the week. The way he scared and intimidated the patients into doing what he wanted…It made her sick to her stomach. In a perfect world with no consequences, she would have shamelessly smashed her clipboards into the guy’s face on behalf of the patients he tortured. However, the world she lives in is clearly not at all perfect in any way, shape or form. So, instead, she kept up that small smile on her face despite how sick the man in front of her constantly made her feel.

Especially whenever he addressed the patients as ‘the crazies’.

“Fair enough,” She finally replied, her smile stretching over her lips a little more tightly than she would have liked to admit. “Just one last question…I’m assigned to the male ward – why? I would have assumed I’d be sent to the female ward, but…”

“Don’t worry ‘bout that,” He waved her curiosity off dismissively. “It ain’t anythin’ special. We’re just short staffed at the moment, so we don’t much care for which ward which genders work in. Besides, ya won’t be the only one in the male ward. I’ll still be assigned there too but on the lower levels. You’re in charge of the upper levels. We got a similar team over in ‘em women’s ward.”

Finally, a response without so much disinterest. Not that he sounded all too invested in answering her question, either, but still.

“Okay, I suppose that’s as good a reason as any for the setup.” Strange how a place like this could ever be understaffed… “Does this mean I can finally do my first round on my own tonight?”

Matthew grunted an affirmative in reply with a nod of his head, bobbing up and down curtly on that thick neck of his. “Yeah. If I remember right, most of ‘em boys in your clipboards got their last meds comin’ up for the night. I think you can handle that on your own.”

God, she hated the way he spoke. It was as if he couldn’t choose between being a lazy twat or not on a constant basis. Still, the girl kept smiling, resilient against the detest she felt for him in her gut. “Alright, then I’m off. Thanks again for showing me around this week, Matthew. I appreciate your help and patience a lot. Have a great night, okay?” She waved politely as she swiftly turned on her heels to leave the room while the large man had seated himself by the break-room's table.

“Yeah, whatever, doll.”

Ugh. She really hated that guy.

 

~ ¤ ¤ ¤ ~

 

It was late in the evening. _______ had an armful of patients to see by the time Matthew had given her the okay to start, and by then it was already passed seven o’clock. Surprisingly, she didn’t feel tired during this night shift so far despite having been on her feet since the early morning. If anything, she had been excited to finally get to work on her own. A little nervous, sure, but that was normal. The excitement outweighed the nerves because she knew that she’d be doing some good for these people she was made to look after.

It didn’t take long for her to realize, however, that the patients she had been assigned to were completely different people than the ones she had seen while under Matthew’s tutelage. Just as he had told her, all of these patients were on the upper levels of the asylum while all of his were on the lower levels.

She also knew the place was meant to be an asylum for the criminally insane. She was aware. It was a fact that always made her heart race a bit whenever she heard the thrashing against the bars from some of the patients or perhaps the shouts that some of them would let out to try to catch her attention. She’d be lying if she said it wasn’t the least bit unsettling, but again, she wasn’t there to judge. She didn’t want to know of their pasts. She just knew that she had to tread carefully, read through the descriptions on their clipboards that warned of any behaviors she should be aware of and follow the guidelines as they have been placed. 

In general, she felt like a large majority of the people she was seeing tonight were intimidated or frightened into corners of their small cells, their gazes distant, muttering things beneath their breath at times and shouting incoherent phrases others. It was something she was becoming accustomed to over her week in the asylum, and it was just something that made her want to help them that much more. In her mind, this didn’t have to be the end for them, and that’s the way she chose to treat them.

As people. Nothing more, nothing less.

Stopping at the end of the hall she had been walking down after she had taken care of a patient just a few cells back and gathered dinner for the next, _______ took a look at the clipboards in her arms to see that she had reached her final patient for the evening. Taking a glance at her wristwatch, she saw it was already passed ten o’clock. Seems like a fairly late time to give a patient dinner, but she supposed it had something to do with the medication he had to take at this hour as well.

“Alright, looks like I managed to keep these clipboards in good track…” She muttered as she began to walk once again, taking a left turn at the end of the hall. She raised her gaze to catch the signs on the walls to help her locate her final patient’s cell while she tried her best to keep her clipboards tucked under her right arm and the tray of dinner in both of her hands.

She wasn’t very far from where he was waiting. Just a stretch of hallway separated the two of them and he was none the wiser of her infantile presence within the asylum. After all, she had only been there for a week and this was her very first night on his floor. All he could make out was the sound of her shoes squeaking on the linoleum floor, but this time, to his surprise, the sound did not itch.

Eddie’s brow furrowed at this, his back pressed to the wall his cot was pushed against and eyes set on his curtain. It wasn’t dancing for him tonight. The wind wasn’t blowing outside, but the moon was shining bright. He could see through the old curtain’s material that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky this evening. At least, that’s how it looked like through his small sliver of sight into the real world on the outside. 

He never really liked change. Most people don’t. It’s human nature to combat change, really. It is an instability to the concrete, and Eddie wasn’t in the mood of changing his reality at the time being. He was certain things weren’t going to change for the better, so he’d rather leave things as they are; just his solitary time in his cell with his curtain, his daydreams, his banter with that gruff orderly of his, his stale meals and the pills he flushed down the toilet three times a day to keep himself from getting drugged up.

Even the simple dosages of the drugs are a threat to the reality he’s trying to piece together for himself. It wasn’t the most ideal reality, of course not, but it was his own. He’d rather spend quiet days by himself dreaming of what life could have been than venturing to find out what kind of changes the people of the asylum planned on putting him through. He had managed to fly under the radar so far when it came to his pills and meds, but if things started to stir, who knows what would happen? Would his sanity leave him completely then? Maybe it’ll make him more befitting to the environment he has been cast into.

Needless to say, he much prefers the daydreams and disassociation.

Eventually, the familiar yet unfamiliar squeaking of shoes came to a stop. A shadow smaller than the one he was accustomed to carved its shape onto the light the moon cast into his cell on the floor. This shadow was curvy – plump and soft-looking. The hair was longer than he remembered as well, wavy. Its hips were wide, its legs thick but smooth – long. It was a shape he hadn’t seen in a very long time and a shape he had convinced himself he would never see again.

Yet, when he finally turned his gaze to see the real deal, he was very clearly proven wrong.

Eddie’s eyes widened at the sight of the female orderly on the other side of his cell’s rusted, decaying bars. Her face was round and full, cheeks rosy with warm eyes filled to the brim with what he was almost convinced was pure kindness. He wasn’t totally convinced, however. Luscious, soft, gorgeous locks of hair cascaded down her shoulders like waterfalls, and his immediate instinct and want in his head was to run his fingers through it, to feel the sensation of those gentle curls against his rough, calloused palms.

He didn’t know the woman on the other side, but the attraction to her was practically instantaneous – yet, that didn’t mean anything. It had been a very long time since Eddie had seen a woman, let alone been with or held one. Of course he would be attracted to the absolute gem standing in the confusing mix of bright fluorescent light from the asylum and the shining moon’s gentle visions.

It was as though the seed his disassociation had planted grew into something real, and the fruit it bore was her.

Still, he quickly drowned any hopeful ideas that brightened up in his mind at the sight of her, ignoring the heavy thumping of his masculine heart. Eddie had always had trouble with women in his life. Either he had been played, cheated on, taken advantage of due to his kindness – one way or another, things ended badly and the dreams he had of ever starting a family with someone he could trust diminished overtime. Granted, the true killer to that dream had been the shit show that got him into the asylum in the first place, but one could imagine his apprehension as well as his need when presented with such a sight that _______ was granting him now.

“Hello, Mr. Gluskin? Is that you?”

Her voice, soft and warm as the silkiest honey, caused for an incredibly pleasant shiver to race down his spine, starting at the base of his neck all the way down to his lower back. He knew it was time to take his medicine and have his meal for the evening, and at this time he would have had his banter with Matthew – but Matthew isn’t here right now. Was there truly a need at all to be conniving with her tonight on their first meeting? He didn’t think so.

“Ah, yes, darling. That’s me. Who might you be?” The blue-eyed man stood to his feet now, entranced by the smaller female enough to approach her by the bars of his cell. He expected her to step back when he came up to her, but she didn’t budge an inch. Instead, she had simply turned those big, round, doe eyes of hers up to meet his own and offered him a delectable smile on those plump lips of hers.

“Great! I managed to get the right cell this time…I’m _______, your new orderly, and I’m going to be taking care of you from now on. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Gluskin.”

A new orderly? Her? What the hell were the people in this place thinking? Putting a sweet girl like her to work in the rowdiness of the male ward like this…He could only imagine what sorts of things she might have had to deal with so far with the other patients who also haven’t seen a woman in a considerable amount of time. It wasn’t an idea he liked, but at least she seemed alright so far.

“Oh, I see…Matthew has given up on me, it seems. Possibly for the best. I could swear he was getting tired of me, and quite frankly, the feeling was mutual.” He offered the girl a charming smile in return now, his eyes lidded just the slightest bit. “And please, do just call me Eddie. There’s no need for such formalities.”

_______ was surprised by this, to say the least. She hadn’t met a patient in Mount Massive who has been able to hold up such fluent, polite conversation yet…It sounds bad, she knew that, but it was the truth! Most of what she got was either shouting, muttering or conversations with her that didn’t really make a lot of sense. A lot of the people in this place are gravely ill, so it was something she expected, but this guy? He was different, really different. He didn’t come off as somebody who belonged in a place like this, but then again, this is an asylum for the criminally insane. She can’t make a judgement from first encounters, but so far, he’s already her favorite.

“Heh, alright then, Eddie,” She eventually replied with the softest of giggles, her smile widening just a tad. “I hope I can be just as fun with you as Matthew was. Well, hopefully a little more. He isn’t the happiest bean in the pod, is he?”

Eddie’s smile grew a bit wider at this as well. It had been a while since he had been able to smile like this, and boy, did it feel good. “Not at all. I’d say he’s passed his expiration date in the pod. Such a sour man. I’m sure you’ll be much different, darling, oh yes I am.” He caught sight of what he swore was a light blush on the girl’s cheeks – or perhaps it was an illusion of his disassociation again. His daydreams coming to life, so to speak.

“Hopefully, yes. Ah…Sorry to have to break the difference, though. It’s time for your medication and dinner – but I made you something special to make up for it! I noticed the dinner for you guys isn’t exactly the best, so…I tried to put something together to make your night a little better. Hopefully you’ll like it.”

Dinner and pills…He had been so caught up in the young woman by his cell that he had completely neglected to notice the tray of food in her hands. It was, indeed, different to what he got every night from Matthew. It wasn’t anything elaborate, but the mashed potatoes actually looked to be made by hand this time and the frozen chicken had been replaced by a small slab of what looked to be a simple meatloaf. As a small dessert he presumed, she had added a few peach slices in a separate cup beside the paper plate.

Blinking in surprise as he stared down at the gray tray adorned with such colorful, lively choices being slid into his cell, Eddie found himself at a total loss. He couldn’t remember the last time someone actually cooked a nice meal for him…He knew it wasn’t personal from her to him, but it was the fact that she went out of her way to do that for a lot like that which she found in Mount Massive that caught him so off guard.

“Before dinner, though, I do need to make sure you take your pill, so…do you think you could take it for me, Eddie? Please?”

His eyes widened up at her simple request, his smile having fallen to a look of shock when he had first taken a glance at the tray she prepared for him. She was even being polite to him about the medication he was supposed to take…Before she showed up, he would always be harassed or ‘intimidated’ into taking it. With her, though? She just asked him to take it in a nice, sweet way…Is this real? Is this seriously happening? He had no idea, but he’d be damned if he would deny her the request.

Nodding his head just a bit, Eddie blinked his eyes a few times again to dismiss the shock from his expression before he plucked the pill from the paper cup on his tray. He stared at the pill for a second before downing it passed his lips. He turned his gaze back to her after that, but as beautiful and sweet as she was already, he sure as hell didn’t trust her to be on his side or anything. So of course, he didn’t actually swallow it. Just like always, he hid the pill under his tongue and masked it with a smile this time. He’d be lying, though, if he said he didn’t consider swallowing it just to appease the beauty on the other side.

_______ smiled back at him, obviously pleased that he had cooperated with her so nicely. She didn’t know a whole lot about this Eddie Gluskin character, but she really liked his charming, nice attitude. She felt like he would probably be her favorite part of her shifts from now on already. “Thank you for taking your pill, Eddie. I’ll just…leave you to your dinner now, okay? I hope you enjoy it! I’ll see you again in the morning, yes? Have a nice night.” With that, the girl waved an innocent goodbye to the man and began to walk back down the hall away from his cell.

Eddie found himself gripping on to his room’s decaying bars and trying his best to look back at her as she left him there, his eyes following her for as far as they could see. She didn’t even ask him to open his mouth and show her he had taken the pill…Was she really that kind or was she just naïve? She looked to be very young, probably half his age, but still…her presence is one he gladly welcomes to the dreariness of his world in the asylum.

With the smile still on his lips, he plucked the pill out from beneath his tongue and flushed it down the toilet, deciding not to wait this time to do so. He had a dinner he had to get to now, after all! Mashed potatoes with meatloaf for dinner and peach slices for dessert.

Peaches…

She was just like a peach herself.

His sweet, plump peach – ripe from the tree his illusions created, succulent and tempting as sin.

His sweetest, sweetest sin.

Chapter Text

There she was again. Tending to the dying plants in the asylum’s courtyard out back.

Eddie could never quite figure out why she insisted on trying to spruce the decaying space up so diligently. It appeared to be a fruitless task in his eyes, but he enjoyed watching her work from his cell nonetheless. Another sunny afternoon in Mount Massive Asylum spent inside for him, but for her? It was just another opportunity to make the deathly hospital look more flowery – literally. It wasn’t much, but from the looks of it, _______ was trying to pull some weeds out of the ground today to let some of those small, budding flowers breathe in their space.

A month since he had first met her has come and gone like a flash to the blue-eyed man and he’s found himself feeling more optimistic about things than he had been in the past. That goes beyond saying, though. It’s hard to be positive with a brute like Matthew watching over him. With a sweet peach like _______, though? It was as if he and the very walls of the asylum were breathing in new life just because of her presence.

Perhaps he was exaggerating in his head about this, but Eddie has always been a romantic at heart. Either way one wanted to look at things, he was just happy to have her around and to have that sliver of glass in his room which allowed him to peer into the outside world despite the bars set between them, the world she enjoyed to bask in so much.

Though it didn’t allow him as much sight as he would have preferred, he wasn’t one to complain. The fact that he could watch her from his window during the afternoon nowadays at all was enough to fill his day with sweet, joyous images in his head, a small smile consistently gracing his lips. He spent most hours of his dull day standing by that window of his, arms crossed and blue eyes trailing behind the new orderly as she tended to the land.

His darling peach had been so good to him during her stay so far. He got to see her at least three times a day every day and she always had some kind of brightness to add to his day with each of her visits. He always tried to enthrall her in conversation just to have her linger by his cell a while longer, a way to get to know the woman behind the uniform. To his surprise, she had always been more than happy to stick around to talk to him. Three times a day every day. Sometimes longer than she really should based on her schedule, but she did anyway. It was something that got his heart to race in his chest whenever she was close to his cell.

Always so close.

So trusting.

He could have easily reached out to touch her, to feel her warm skin beneath his fingertips – but he never indulged in the fantasy. At least not yet, for he is a gentleman – or he tried to be, anyway. He couldn’t help being a charmer or a flirt to some degree when he had been graced with such a beautiful nurse, but he always knew to keep it within good enough boundaries that kept her coming back to him.

It appeared as though he was making a fairly decent impression on her. He at least wasn’t making her uncomfortable or anything, judging by the fact that she sticks around for their chats and still brings him those homemade meals every day. It was always something simple, seeing as she had to cook for all of her patients to be equal, but it was the best tasting food he had ever had within the confines of the asylum.

On the first morning he had woken up to her breakfast, she had brought him another cup of fruits to accompany his meal, but that time, it had been a small assortment of berries. While he enjoyed them regardless, he had politely asked her to continue to bring him peaches instead from then on. Just like the sweetie she is, she happily complied to his request and he’s been served peaches along his meals every day since then.

Peaches are his favorite fruits now. They reminded him of her and it was something that made him feel happy on the inside, better than any pill could.

Naturally, he wanted more of them, addicted to their delectable sweetness, unable to get enough.

They helped him keep her with him while she was away after giving him his meals. His favorite parts of the day now are obviously whenever she comes to visit him to take care of her daily chores with the patients. If you ask him, the time they’re able to spend together truly isn’t enough, but again, he isn’t one to complain. Instead, he managed to make do with his peaches and the window in his cell which allowed him to watch her during her time in the courtyard.

Watching her waltz so peacefully through the dying lands of the asylum’s yard today caused the small smile on his lips to widen just the slightest bit. She was trying to have life thrive in a dead place, a place where nothing has truly grown to its full fruition in Lord knows how long. Eddie was convinced those budding flowers she had been tending to by the cracked benches would be dead in another week’s time, but he hoped she would somehow prove him wrong. Her persistence surely is refreshing.

How long had it been since he had taken a walk through the outdoors? He couldn’t quite remember. He had been locked up in the asylum for a few years by the time _______ had found herself within its gravity, and within that time frame, he believed he had only gone outside about four times? Maybe? Three or four, give or take.

He was dying to get some sunlight on his pale skin again, to feel the warmth radiate upon his being. He has been for a while, but with _______’s new presence, the need for some alone time with the great outdoors grew stronger within him.

His smile widened a little further still at the thought as he brought one of his last peach slices he had saved from breakfast up to his lips to nibble on.

Maybe she would be his ticket to that freedom? He would never use her trust in him against her (not that he felt she trusted him too much, but she at least trusted him enough to be around him for a decent amount of time) to escape the asylum, but maybe she could take him with her on one of her trips to the courtyard?

The mental image of the two of them tending to a garden came to his mind at the possibility. Cutting and pulling weeds together by their roots to plant gorgeous Jonquil flowers in their place. Where the two of them would find Jonquils in a place like Mount Massive was beyond him, but the thought was nice. He would love to see it come to life one day, but he would settle with spending time with her outside.

Nibbling on his final peach slice and keeping his blue eyes trained on the orderly as she carried on with her time in the yard, he began to think of a way to make it happen.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

_______ loved sunny days. She had always felt her absolute best when the sun was out and she was able to sit in its warmth amongst the nature around her. It made her feel undeniably happy and at peace to be outside in the sun, and she had always reckoned most people felt the same way she did about it. If that’s truly the case, one could only imagine how sad the young girl felt when she saw the state the asylum’s courtyard had been in on her first day.

It looked as though nobody had stepped foot into the courtyard for a very long time – not patient nor staff member. The land was abandoned, left to rot away with the growing weeds suffocating whatever life tried to blossom from the dirt below. A couple of benches could be seen here and there as well, her favorite being the one placed beneath one of the many trees within the asylum’s fenced land, but most of them were cracked or weathering from the years in the elements without proper care. A few statues were also set in place within the yard, but they too were being overthrown by the growing weeds and other invasive plants which reigned dominant in the land.

In her eyes, it was such a waste.

She truly felt that the courtyard could be a wonderful place for the patients to roam through whenever they felt they needed some air outside of that stuffy, groaning building.

She had run the idea of fixing the place up by Matthew on her first day, but the gruff orderly had been unimpressed by her thoughts on the matter. After getting to know him and spending more time in Mount Massive with him and the others, she couldn’t say she was surprised anymore. Matthew didn’t seem to like many things about this place or find anything positive about the work he was doing. It bugged her, but she tried not to let it get to her too much.

Anyway, it’s not as if he was stopping her from doing what she wanted with the courtyard. Neither was anybody else, for that matter. Their superiors all mainly worked on the lower levels of the asylum where she wasn’t allowed to venture to, so she hardly ever saw anyone aside from her coworkers and the common staff members which roamed the unrestricted ground levels. Nobody peeped a word against what she wanted to do, so whenever _______ found herself with spare time between her shifts with the patients, she ventured to the courtyard to try to fix things up in hopes of making it a hotspot in the future.

It was a lot of work and it would probably be difficult to truly renovate the place without being able to order any flowers or materials to repair the benches, but that was fine. She just decided to take it as a long-term project of hers during her stay in the asylum. Perhaps she could find materials throughout the asylum itself which she could use to renovate the benches, and she could always try to bring in wild flowers into the yard in place of store bought ones.

The vision wasn’t perfect, but it was something that made her happy. She hoped it would make the patients happy as well. Granted, it would be a while before it would be the vision in her head, but still! It would all come together in due time.

In the meanwhile, she was just glad to have a project of her own to tend to while she wasn’t working on her shifts in the hospital. It was nice to have something to focus on while she was waiting for her next rounds with the patients. Speaking of which, it seemed to be time to head inside now and prepare for the next rounds when she caught sight of the time on her wristwatch.

Straightening up on her knees after she had pulled out her final patch of weeds for the day, _______ let out a puff of breath from her lips as she patted her hands clean of dirt. She looked at the pile she had already plucked, neatly set to the side by one of the statues, and she chose to leave them there for the time being. Best to get rid of them all at once when she was able to pull all of them from the area she was focusing on now.

Nodding to herself at the idea, she stood to her feet and made her way towards the building’s backdoor. The rush of cold air which embraced her upon entry was thoroughly appreciated by the young girl, evident by the sigh of bliss which escaped her as she trotted inside. It was nice being in the sun for a while, but it was really shining down today and she had been plucking weeds in that warm sunshine for most of her break between shifts. Not that she minded. She felt it was definitely worth it, but the nice cool air of the asylum was definitely greeted with open arms.

Climbing up the stairs to the second floor of the building, _______ made her way on over to the male ward’s break-room which is where she mainly went to get her patients’ dinners together. Really, she was just lucky that the invisible staff that spends most of their time in the lower restricted areas of the asylum she’s not allowed to go to still made sure keep the general staff’s food supply in check. It wasn’t a whole lot that she could take to make these meals every day for her patients, but it was hopefully enough to give them some fresh food in place of that yucky frozen stuff they had been fed before her arrival.

The first thing she noticed upon stepping into the break-room today was her large gruff coworker sitting by the table by the farther side of the room. In his hand was a ceramic cup filled with hot coffee – black. Matthew tends to only drink his coffee black, apparently. _______ didn’t have anything against it, but she wondered what the appeal was to him. She liked coffee as much as the next person, but having it black was far too bitter for her taste.

“Hello, Matthew.” She greeted the man, offering him a polite small smile despite her distaste for him. Might as well try to get along if they’re going to be living and working under the same roof for who knows how long, right?

From the looks of it, it sure didn’t seem like Matthew was on the same page of politeness as she was. In response to her greeting, he had just nodded his head at her in acknowledgement as he grunted his words out between a sip of coffee. “Sup, doll.”

Her expression irked in her distaste thanks to his reply, her back now turned to him as she faced the counter she had been preparing all the meals on this passed month. Normally, she didn’t have an issue with people giving her nicknames. She quite liked it most of the time, actually; she thought it was cute and it made her feel a little special. When it comes to Matthew, though…it bugs her deep down inside. She swears he only calls her by ‘doll’ because he has no idea what her real name is despite them working together every day for over a month now. Not once has he ever called her by her name since she had gotten to the asylum, so what else was she supposed to think with his disinterested attitude added into the mix?

It was exceptionally annoying, if you asked her.

Silently, however, she chose to ignore it and let it slide. It’s not like she wanted to be spending her time with him anyway, so it’s fine. Instead, she just decided to train her attention on the lunch she was making for her patients today. It wasn’t anything elaborate, just some simple sandwiches made with the ham, lettuce, cheese and mustard she found in the fridge for employees like herself, but it was better than the processed crap the others expected them to eat. She also consistently gave them all a small cup of fruit to go along with their meals, but she usually left that part for last.

As she went about setting the gray trays and paper plates on the counter to set the food up for her patients, _______ couldn’t help but become acutely aware of the awkward silence in the room with Matthew sitting at the table behind her. His sipping at his coffee was louder in her ears than it probably really was. It didn’t help the discomfort, either, to feel him practically drilling holes into her back with his stare.

She knew he was looking at her, just sipping away at that bitter coffee he had every day since she got here. His presence didn’t usually bug her as much as it did right now mainly because they don’t spend as much time together as they used to during her training. He was just a part of her daily routines every now and again and that’s fine – but sometimes, just sometimes, his presence and the things he does and says can become beyond off-putting.

“Ya know, doll,” He eventually spoke up as she began to set her finished sandwiches on each individual paper plate placed on the trays beside her. “I really don’t get why ya keep tryin’ so hard to fix the yard in this dump up. Don’t ya see it’s a waste? The land’s dead. Ain’t nothin’ gonna grow off o’ that patch except more weeds; and them flowers of yours ya keep trying to let grow? They ain’t gonna last. They probably won’t even make it to the end of the week.”

“I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” She curtly replied, always keeping her eyes on the plates. Never turning to look at Matthew. “I think all the courtyard needs is a little bit of love and care. Since clearly nobody else cares enough to try, I’m going to take care of it, renovate it and help things grow. I think it’ll help make this place livelier and get rid of some of the gloom hanging around it. I also think it would make the patients happy to be able to spend some time outside in the sun. It could also be a nice place for us staff members and any family who might come to visit the patients, too.” Come to think of it…Were the patients’ families even allowed to visit them?

Matthew hummed in reply – unamused. His dull brown eyes watched her move by the counter, setting up two paper cups on each of the trays for the fruits and pills she gave her patients. He wasn’t really paying attention to what she was doing, though. He was just sort of taking in the sight of her, analyzing her, wondering what her deal was while he took in the shape of her full, plump figure.

“I can pretty much promise ya, doll, that none of what you’re doin’ is going to work. It’s all just a huge waste of energy.” He took a short pause to take a sip from his coffee before continuing. “All them flowers are gonna die off just like the lot before them and all o’ those weeds are gonna grow back. Not much ya can do ‘bout renovation round here, either. It’s not like we’re in a Home Depot. At any rate, even if we were, I’d say you should drop the hassle. Save your energy; the crazies ain’t worth this much trouble.”

What an absolute asshole this guy was. She found herself questioning why the hell the guy was even here more and more with each day that passed them by. Feeling her annoyance grow because of him, she simply decided not to respond this time. She didn’t want him souring her mood after she had been having such a nice day today.

Leaving the male orderly to his coffee and thoughts, _______ focused on filling up the paper cups meant for fruits for her patients instead. She now wheeled her trays around her area of the male ward on this convenient cart for meals she found in one of the storage rooms which she decided to keep for her shifts. Usually what she would do is prep the food up in the break-room, wheel the trays over to where they kept the medicine for the patients to place the appropriate pills in each cup and then she’d wheel the meals off to her patients.

She was almost done in this room. All she had to do was fill those cups up with the sweet, sweet goodness of the assorted berries just as she did every day – all except for one. While she pulled out a large container of berries from the fridge for the greater majority of her patients, _______ always kept in mind to pull out a single plump, fuzzy peach from the fridge for one individual cup.

Yes, she had kept it in mind that Eddie preferred peaches with his meals. He told her about his preference on their first morning together when she had brought him berries in place of the peaches she served him the night prior to spice things up for him and the other patients. Apparently, he didn’t like spicing things up. He loved his peaches, and honestly, she thought that was pretty cute. It made her happy on the inside that she was able to bring him something that caused him joy in this gloomy place, so why would she ever deny him that?

Especially when the two of them have been bonding so well over the past month since she got here.

After she had filled up all the other cups with the berries from the container she pulled from the fridge, _______ began to carefully slice the peach on the counter into delicate slices. Round and juicy, some of the delicious nectar from the fruit stained her fingers as she placed each slice into Eddie’s cup one by one, taking utmost care not to bruise the fruit as she worked.

Sometimes she wondered if he would ever get bored of eating the same fruit three times a day every day. Throughout the month she had spent with him as her patient, she had sometimes thought that it would be the day she would find his cup of fruit full or half empty, indicating that she should think of something else to serve him. However, that day never came. Each time she showed up to collect his tray, the cup was either totally empty and dry or he chose to keep the cup with him to enjoy the slices on his own time.

Regardless, his cup of peaches always ended up empty one way or another.

A smile graced her lips at the thought. She really liked Eddie. He was an interesting and entertaining guy to talk to. He always had something different to talk about when she passed by his cell to take care of their daily routines. So enthralled he would make her that she would forget the time with him and spend more time with him than she should during her shifts just conversing. The times she usually had the most leeway with it was during the evening since he was always her last stop. It wasn’t a rare day for her to spend a good two hours or three sitting on the hallway’s ground talking to the interesting blue-eyed man after she had finished serving the last meal of the day.

A part of her wondered what he was even doing here to begin with, actually. Eddie didn’t come across as someone who needed to reside in Mount Massive Asylum. He came across as totally lucid, composed and well-mannered compared to the other patients she had to take care of here. He’s an anomaly in this strange place, that’s for sure.

“Why do ya do so much for them crazies?” Matthew eventually broke the silence again, causing for the girl to pause at the last couple of slices of the fruit in her hands. “It just doesn’t make sense to me, doll. Ya go out on a limb for them like mad…Why do ya do it?”

Her smile, at this point, had fallen to a look of irritation at the man’s choice of words. A scowl tugged at her lips as she stared down at the peach on the counter for a few seconds in silence. Eventually, she took in a deep breath and cut the last slices up to place in Eddie’s cup before giving Matthew her reply. “I do it because I feel like it will make them at least a little happier than they were compared to when I first got here. They just looked scared and depressed back then, but I feel showing them some kindness can eventually turn that around.”

“Ya really need to cut that out, doll. Ya really, really do. You’re going to squeeze yourself dry before ya know it. It’s just like I told ya: the crazies in this place ain’t worth that amount of energy. They ain’t even worth a half of it, aight? They ain’t worth the ground they’re standin’ on, truthfully. The sooner ya just let ‘em rot in their own shit, the better for ya.”

Okay, this guy is seriously starting to piss her off.

_______ really had no clue how the fuck this guy got hired. The way he talks about the people under their care is absolutely despicable and she can’t stand it! “I would much rather take care of the patients under my care than be some sleazy employee who’s just here for a paycheck, alright, Matthew?” She tossed the peach’s seed into the waste bucket by the counter, a loud clatter bouncing off of the impact. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s right to work just for money at the expense of people who can’t defend themselves or gain much opportunity to make their own lives better. Is that a good enough answer for you?”

The attitude and fire in this girl is real right now. The orderly behind her had struck a nerve in her system at last, resulting in the spat she just sent his way. It wasn’t something outrageous or anything, but it had been the most she had said against his terrible ways since she first met him – and it felt pretty good to spit some attitude his way even if her glare was set on the wall above the counter instead of him.

As good as it felt, however, the feeling didn’t last long when all she received in response was dry laughter.

“You’re real cute, doll,” He chuckled humorlessly as he stood to his feet, leaving his empty ceramic cup on the table before making his way towards the door of the break-room. Turning when he got to it, he looked over at the female orderly who still refused to meet his gaze. Such a stubborn, clueless woman. “Your ideas and thoughts on what ya think the type of people Massive is filled with are just blind, naïve and straight up ignorant. No matter what ya try to tell yourself, at the end of the day, nothin’ is gonna change the fact that you’re working in an asylum for the criminally insane, and any single one o’ them crazies you’re lookin’ after right now would easily assault ya, rape ya or murder ya if they had the chance – hell, they might even do all of the above if they damn well feel like it. So keep that in mind from now on whenever ya try to talk about how defenseless your crazies are, yeah?”

With that said, he turned his back on the girl, left the break-room and closed the door behind him to leave her in a heavy silence.

For a while, _______ didn’t move. She just stared at the wall above the counter for a few moments in the silence of the room, empty minded. Matthew’s words just buzzed around inside of her head like annoying mosquitoes she couldn’t swat away, irritating her more and more with each second that passed her by in the stillness of the break-room. Dropping her glare to the trays on the counter, brow furrowed deeply, she tried to tell herself to just ignore the things her coworker had just said to her, but she knew deep down inside that this was much easier said than done.

Eventually, she straightened herself up and turned to look at the expanse of the empty room behind her, nothing but the quiet hum of the air conditioning accompanying her in her soiled mood. She caught sight of the chair Matthew had been sitting on when she turned, and by his chair, he had left his empty cup of coffee on the table alongside a couple dirty napkins surrounded by crumbs of some kind of snack he had eaten before she got there – left behind as if he hadn’t been the one to touch them in the first place. Her scowl deepened at the sight.

“What a thoughtless pig…”

Chapter Text

_______ normally felt at peace when she was making her rounds around the asylum. She typically enjoyed her time tending to her patients and bringing them the things that they needed, putting their meals together and doing things for them she felt would make them feel a little better about their given situation. It was the type of job that was meant for a person just like her – the type that enjoyed to devote their time to the people around them.

Despite how fulfilling it felt, she found she couldn’t shake Matthew’s words from her mind as she pushed the cart full of trays to her patients at the start of her shift this afternoon.

She never let him get to her with his negativity and disinterest towards their patients, but today was just one of those rare times that what he said stuck to her. It stuck to her like a bushel of thorns in her mind, rattling and poking at her thoughts every now and again as she interacted with the people under her care. A part of her knew that what he said was true. She knew she had to be aware that the patients in Mount Massive are all deemed criminally insane by the state and they’re there for a reason. Multiple dangerous reasons. She knew that…but another part of her, the bigger part, combated against this truth stubbornly.

Yeah, the papers said they were criminals and their pasts are all colorful and littered with all sorts of things they had done before somehow making it to Massive, but that fact couldn’t shake her defense of the people she looked after. Some of them were rowdier than others, but one way or another, in her eyes, they all mainly just gave off a feeling of fear to her. They often coward from sight, hiding either beneath their cots or in a corner of their cells. It’s heartbreaking, really, and she just can’t find a way to tie that with the need to look at them or talk about them the way Matthew does.

Be cautious, yes, but to completely set them aside as nothing but mindless criminals?

She felt that was an over-generalization for what she had seen so far.

Anyway, that feeling of upset she felt from her encounter in the break-room with her coworker had only lasted so long into her shift, because when she got to see her patients and the looks on their faces when she gave them the simple handmade lunches she prepared for them every day, nothing else really mattered. She remembered why it was she decided to take up a job in a place like Massive to begin with. All she really wanted to do was help people and make them feel better; she truly felt like she was able to do that in her current position.

She didn’t even care that she had to make two trips from the break-room back and forth to bring all her patients their meals after she filled all the cups with the appropriate medication during her three daily shifts. The wheeled cart she had could only carry so many trays along with the clipboards which she left on the bottom shelf at a time, and this made it so she had to go back and forth, but that didn’t bug her all that much. It was worth it to her.

Right now, she was currently finishing up her last round on the fourth floor for lunch today, just having given off another tray to a patient a few minutes prior. This left the young orderly with a single tray on her rickety cart – a single tray with a cup of peaches.

Eddie knew the times she would arrive at his cell by heart already. He was lucky enough to have been placed in a room that gave him somewhat of a view on a clock at the center of the hallway, and over the course of the month _______ began to work with him, he started to keep track of the times she would show up. She’d usually show up at the same times for breakfast, lunch and dinner, maybe adding in a five-minute difference depending on whatever she may have had to deal with before making it to him.

Either way, the blue-eyed man sat on his cot and stared at the clock every day now when the time for her arrival came near, anticipating the scent of her sweet perfume and the sound of that cart’s wobbly wheels she had begun to use for their meals.

He could feel himself binding up with unkempt energy as the seconds ticked by on the clock his gaze bore into. The seconds were slow and agonizing, mocking in their pace when they knew he wanted her with him again. A part of himself really didn’t like this sort of dependence he has begun to gain over the young girl’s presence. Over the past month, he’s found himself bonding with the innocent beauty, touched that she would become so invested in their conversations that she would lose track of time with him.

It made him feel good on the inside.

It made him feel happy.

As if maybe, just maybe, he could eventually trust this one if she played her cards right…

Trust is something hard to gain when it comes to Eddie nowadays – especially with women – but he’s found himself bending at this young orderly’s will, melting at her pure gaze, shivering at the sound of her voice. It was a reaction he didn’t want to have, but he couldn’t fight it. He wanted more of her time, more of her presence, more of her laughter, more of her joy, more of her innocence, more of her. A feeling so concentrated with greed, it made him feel shameful at times, but it was never enough to get him to stop these conflicting emotions.

Yet, she was so young.

So very young…

Young and free…

Truly all he has in mind are fantasies that he knew would never come to fruition, but there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of dreaming, right? Right! There also wasn’t anything wrong with…trying a little, was there? He didn’t think so. Especially not when she seemed so charmed by his ways. It flattered him, it did, but it also sparked a sense of hope in the man’s heart he hadn’t expected. A hope he thought had died off a long time ago. A hope he bet would let him down in the end when reality would eventually sink him like an anchor bowed around his ankle.

Hearing the familiar creaking of her cart’s wheels coming down the hall caused for Eddie’s gaze to fixate on the bars of his cell. He stood to his feet on instinct, without even thinking, and approached the bars. His fingers slowly wrapped around one of the cold metal rods with one of his large hands - a firm grip - while he allowed the other to stay by his side in a cheeky stance as the girl came into his line of sight at last.

Blue eyes meet with (eye color) and two smiles of pure delight beamed on two different expressions.

Finally together again.

“Hello again, darling,” He hummed with that same cheeky air mixing in with his tone. “What’s on the menu today, hmm?”

“Hellooo.” She drew out the sound of her greeting playfully. “It’s nothing fancy, really. Just a sandwich and your usual cup of peaches as per request.” She mused that last part lightheartedly, passing his tray through the hole in between the bars of his cell. Looking up to meet his gaze again, she cocked her head to the side a tad bit inquisitively. “Don’t you ever get tired of peaches, Eddie? Since you’ve been having them three times a day for a full month now?”

“Me? Tired of peaches? Why, never! If anything, I’d say I don’t get enough of them.” He replied without a second thought, definitely loving the peaches he’s been receiving thus far. Though they’re not the exact peaches he wanted, they were still good enough to keep his fantasies alive. Curiously, his captivating gaze lowered to the cart at his darling peach’s side. It was empty of trays now, only the clipboards being left at the bottom shelf just as it was each time she stopped by. He had always wondered why that was. “Tell me, _______, do you have a schedule of sorts you follow when it comes to delivering your meals each day? I couldn’t help but notice I’m always your last stop. Why might that be?”

Her eyes turned to little crescents at his question, the innocent joy on her expression only making his desire for her stronger. “I do have a schedule, actually, yes. I always leave you last for each of my rounds with my patients because you’re my favorite part of the day.”

She had absolutely no idea what she was doing to him with her innocent-minded words which left her virgin tongue. Obviously she didn’t, or she would have stopped building him up like this, wouldn’t she? For Eddie found himself almost awestruck by her shameless reply, his muscles tensing up, eyes widened and cheeks flaring with a heat he hasn’t felt in a very long time. The cheeky thoughts in his head turned to static for a good couple of seconds as his lips slightly parted from his loss for words, and he swore if he didn’t have his hand gripping onto the rusty reality of the bars set between them, he would have collapsed from the idealizations his heart was beginning to believe.

What soon brought him back to the real world was the sound of her gentle laughter, quiet and sweet. The sound (the gorgeous, gorgeous sound) caused him to shake his head ever so slightly to snap himself out of his daze and stop his heart from indulging in illusions again. Yet, no matter how hard he tried to tell himself to cut the feeling at the bud, he still found himself giving her a charming smile of his own to accompany his colored cheeks.

“I’m flattered, darling, really I am. I’m glad you feel that way, because admittedly, I feel the same about your visits as well. Needless to say, my days in here aren’t exactly the brightest, but with you around, it’s really made my stay here feel a million times better. You truly are my favorite part of the day as well.”

_______’s expression brightened up even further thanks to Eddie’s reply, a light blush of elation dusting her warm, full cheeks. It felt really good to be making this kind of difference in someone’s life the way she was with him. The fact that he enjoys her company so much just makes what she goes through with Matthew and the oddness of the asylum worth it that much more. “I’m so glad you feel that way, Eddie. You flatter me too much, you do!” She laughed in that friendly manner of hers. “Hopefully that means I’ve left a better impression on you than good boy Matthew has.”

Ah, why did she have to bring that brute up? She stood by what she said and really did hope she makes her patients feel better than Matthew ever could, but just mentioning him brought his words from earlier back to mind. She was conversing with someone deemed as a criminal right now. Someone who was apparently so out of it and dangerous to society that he’s been placed in the asylum she’s working for. However, something still nags at her about Eddie’s particular situation. No matter how true Matthew’s comment had been on the majority of the patients in the asylum, for some reason, a part of her kept telling her he didn’t fit into that mold. He’s too polite, too eloquent, too lucid, too alert, too…normal, for lack of a better word. Still, there are a countless number of terrible people in history who are just as charming as he is…Could Eddie really be as bad as Matthew swears all the patients are?

Her smile faltered just the slightest bit at the thought, but she managed to keep it up, true and genuine, without catching the man’s attention to it as something out of place.

“Of course you have!” He responded to her previous comment despite her somewhat losing herself in her own head. “You two really don’t compare at all! He was never kind to any of us the way that you are…You do so much for us. Making our meals by hand, treating us like people, doing your absolute best to make sure we are happy and comfortable to the best of your abilities despite our status in this hospital…You truly are an angel of mercy here, _______. I really mean that.”

His words are so thoughtful. So heartfelt. She really believed everything he was saying as she gazed into those sky blue eyes of his. You really don’t get the vibes of ‘patient in a mental institution’ when you have a conversation with Eddie Gluskin the way _______ did every day. She wanted to forget the things Matthew said when they were together. She truly felt like she could find a friend within the man who stood before her, but the rusted bars which separated them fought hard to differ.

Still, she was touched by his words. She was making a difference in his life within Massive. He and the others were happier with her and what she tried to do for them. She knew her other patients couldn’t articulate this due to their situations, but hearing it from Eddie almost as a representative of all of them made her heart feel happy, as cheesy as it sounds.

If it hadn’t been for Matthew opening his big mouth, then the feeling wouldn’t have that pang of uncertainty that it did.

However, it was just more fuel added to the fire which sought to prove the bastard wrong.

That’s what she told herself, anyway.

As the confusion continued to circle about the young female’s mind and she tried to formulate a response, a loud clattering caused her to jump in place. Tearing her gaze away from Eddie’s, _______ noticed a couple of the clipboards she had placed on the bottom shelf of her cart had fallen to the linoleum floor of the hallway thanks to her hip bumping into the side of the cart itself when she hadn’t been paying attention to her surroundings.

She tutted at the sight of it and glanced at the man behind the bars. “Sorry about that, Eddie. Give me a minute, okay?” She asked of him kindly before she leaned down to start picking up the noisy, intrusive clipboards up off the ground.

He didn’t mind much that it happened. Eddie is a patient man. He was just glad that she chose to stay to talk to him despite their heavily contrasting positions. He watched her, curious, seeing as she got on her knees to pick up the multiple clipboards scattered across the ground at her feet. The image reminded him of her times spent in the courtyard when he had watched her through his window, following her figure with his gaze as she spent so much time and effort into making a dead place come back to life.

“I saw you out in the courtyard today.” _______ looked up then, confusion clearly shining in those large eyes of hers. How could he have seen her, her eyes asked him. The silent question brought a smile to his lips. “From my window,” He gestured toward the small sliver of glass. “I can see the courtyard from there, and I saw you out there today. Actually, I’ve been watching you for a while throughout the month. Hopefully that doesn’t sound too strange to you.” He laughed a bit at his own words. “Forgive me, there isn’t much to do in this small room of mine, and I quite enjoy watching you outside when I get the chance to.”

He had been watching her remodel the courtyard? All this time from his little window? _______ suddenly felt herself flush with a light sense of embarrassment, wondering if perhaps he also saw it as though she were wasting her time. Did he think her discrete effort was pointless too? Despite the smile on his face, a part of her wanted to make her think he did, but that very same smile…it kept the smaller part in her hoping she might have someone on her side to encourage the life of the land with a pulse.

“I don’t rightfully believe it will be worth much of the time you’re investing into its soils,” She felt her heart drop just the slightest bit, but the softness and warmth in his eyes in that moment implored her to hold on. “No one has bothered with the land in a long time, but with you? I have a hope in me that you will prove me wrong and bring life to this haunted place. Please do prove me wrong, _______.”

Her eyes widened at his gentle request. Honestly? She hadn’t been expecting anyone to be on her side when it came to the courtyard restoration or pretty much anything she did to try to bring in some light to the hospital they were all living in. It’s fine, being on her own was something she was used to, but having someone actually be on her side? It was something new. Territory unexplored. Something she didn’t expect to encounter with a man who’s separated from her by a set of bars and documents that said he was unfit to mingle in open society.

Yet, none of that kind of stuff seemed to matter to her in that moment. The happiness which filled her due to the man’s hopefulness in her efforts was something she couldn’t ignore. Her smile returned to her, from ear-to-ear, beaming with such brilliance he hadn’t witnessed before. It made him equally as excited on the inside to see that his simple words of encouragement could bring up such a reaction from the young nurse.

“Thank you, Eddie,” Her tone was as soft and warm as his gaze had been, rising to her feet to properly meet those sky blues yet again. “I promise I’ll make it beautiful in the end. I swear I’ll prove you wrong.”

His eyes lidded gently at this. “I look forward to the day you do.” He took in a soft breath as memories of the outdoors returned to him. How long had it been since he had last stepped foot outside? Can he even rightfully remember what the wind feels like when it blows against his skin? What of the rain? What did those cleansing droplets feel like when falling onto him from the clouds above? He knows what thunder sounds like, knows what lightning looks like, but the rain…It eludes him just like the rest of the real world does.

“It’s been so long since I’ve been outside.” He breathed out, tilting his head up to stare distantly at the ceiling for a moment with the small smile still on his lips. “Mattie never quite liked the idea of taking me or the other patients outside. The most he’s done is take us out into the TV rooms every now and again when it became too long to keep us locked up. Must have been some kind of regimen you lot keep over us…I like my time out of my cell better with you. You’re kinder to us. Sweeter. You have a warm soul and I feel most of us under your care gravitate to someone like you; at least, I know I do.”

The way he expressed himself was so vivid, so clear – beautiful, even. _______ loved to listen to Eddie talk. The words he chose to use and the way he brought his thoughts to life from the tip of his tongue were just…incredible. She hadn’t met someone who spoke the way he did before, and it was just further reason for her to wonder what he was doing in a place like Mount Massive.

A criminal…

No matter what ya try to tell yourself, at the end of the day, nothin’ is gonna change the fact that you’re working in an asylum for the criminally insane, and any single one o’ them crazies you’re lookin’ after right now would easily assault ya, rape ya or murder ya if they had the chance – hell, they might even do all of the above if they damn well feel like it.

Her smile faltered some again as Matthew’s comments from earlier returned to her mind while Eddie continued to concentrate on the ceiling for a few moments longer. He was here for a reason. She hadn’t been brave enough over the past month to ask about why he was here yet, because she found herself becoming close to the patient under her care. She considered him her only companion in here, actually, and funny enough, he’s part of the reason she’s still sane in a place like Massive. Ironic, isn’t it? She’d say so, yes, but it only made it that much riskier to trust someone like him and come to appreciate him as much as she did, doesn’t it? His charisma and kindness can be viewed as dangerous, but to _______, it was just more reason to believe he was more lucid than the others might think.

Still, it was something to keep in mind.

She had to be careful.

She couldn’t trust so easily at face value...but Eddie made it so easy to.

So very easy to become mesmerized with those gem-like eyes of his and the soothing lullaby his deep voice created in her ears.

“I truly do believe our time together is far too short,” His blue eyes soon lowered to meet her own once more, the sight of his pristine gaze pulling her out of her thoughts. “So why not have lunch together today to make up for it out in the courtyard? You do go off to have your own lunch after finishing with me, don’t you? I’d really like to see what you’ve managed to get done for my own two eyes, if the thought is something you believe you’d be okay with.”

Her automatic instinct was to tell him ‘yes’ when she noted the hope and kindness in his voice. She agreed with him, after all. They really weren’t able to spend enough time together after bonding over the course of the past month, but Matthew’s words continued to repeat over and over again in her head. A criminal is what he is. Turned into the asylum for help, to better his mental state, to make him a proper citizen of society again…but when she looks at him, is that all she sees? Is all which _______ sees in Eddie Gluskin is a criminal looking to cause her harm?

Of course not.

In Eddie Gluskin, she continued to see a friend.

So, despite the conflict which repeatedly waged wars in her mind and chest, the young girl nodded her head as her smile returned to her lips – small and genuine. “Alright,” She muttered, setting her clipboards down on her cart. “I suppose an afternoon lunch in the courtyard together just this once wouldn’t hurt anyone…Besides, I could write it off as your recreational time, so we should be fine.” Her smile widened as a giggle erupted from her lips. It almost sounded and felt like they were sneaking around, keeping their blooming relationship a secret from the eyes of the world. Turning to her cart to begin her walk back to the break-room, she looked over her shoulder as she went and waved at Eddie. “Please take your pill while I get my lunch together, okay? I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

As she carted away with her clipboards and her smile on her lips, Eddie pressed himself to the bars to watch her go as he did most times she came by to see him. As he followed the sight of her every footstep, he felt as though the hallway she took had become brighter since her arrival in the asylum – as if it was already breathing in new life.

“Prove me wrong,” He whispered as she disappeared passed the hallway’s bend. “Prove me wrong and make things grow again.”

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

It wasn’t long before the two found themselves walking down the halls of Mount Massive’s ground floor together. _______ led by a slight lead, but still by Eddie’s side, guiding them through the building with their trays of lunch in both of their hands. It looked as though Matthew was making his rounds on the second floor of the asylum right now, and that was something the girl was thankful for. She didn’t feel like seeing his face for a long time – especially not when she’s trying to do something nice for one of her patients he so clearly disapproves of.

As lovely as the thought of bringing Eddie outside to get some sunshine and air that he so desperately needed was, a part of the young orderly felt nervous. This would be the first time she would be taking a patient out into the courtyard of the hospital, and the place wasn’t even remotely fixed up yet! It was still in a huge state of disarray with various piles of weeds littered across the lawn which she had plucked over her time spent caring for the land. It wasn’t in the state she would have preferred for it to be when she took a patient out back, but she supposed what really mattered is for the blue-eyed man to get that time in the sun at last.

Still, she wondered in the back of her head if anything would happen between them. She highly doubted it, seeing as she and the tall gentleman beside her had grown to form some kind of bond over her time caring for him and all, but Matthew’s words just conflicted her thoughts more so than she would have liked. It was stupid, she clearly felt it was, and she knew she was spending too much time thinking about it over and over again today, but it was a little hard to ignore sometimes. Even so, she shook her head whenever she felt the thoughts of doubt creeping up on her and refocused her mind on brighter things with the sound of their footsteps resounding in the halls accompanying them.

Meanwhile, Eddie was just happy to be out with her. He was giddy, really. A smile had stretched upon his lips as soon as the girl returned to his cell to let him out, and it hadn’t fallen since the two came down to the ground floor of the building. Though they walked in silence, he felt excited and jubilant at the idea of spending this time outside again with the young nurse he had grown so attached to. Slowly, little by little, she was gaining his trust. She didn’t have all of it, perhaps just half if he was generous, but it was more than he could say for a lot of people in his life.

Deep inside, he hoped she would be able to gain more of it over time, but he didn’t want to fool himself with such silly fictitious fantasies.

“Ah, here we are.” Her voice broke through their footsteps as the door to the yard came into view. Stepping before it, she attempted to balance her tray in one hand to push the door open for them, but it had been pushed for her before she could try.

“Allow me.” The blue-eyed man hummed, politely holding the door open for the young lady with one hand while the other kept his tray aloft.

“Oh, well, thank you.” She kindly thanked the man before stepping through, waiting for him to follow her. However, she kept her gaze away from his now. Though the sun was shining warmly today, the birds chirping from the depths of the forest surrounding the haunting hospital, their yard was in an embarrassing state. She felt she hadn’t done enough so far at her restorations, and after Matthew had shot down all her efforts earlier, she guessed she was just feeling shittier about the issue than normal.

“You’ve made quite the difference to this old patch of dirt and weeds since I last saw it.” Eddie’s voice hummed as the leaves beneath his feet crackled and split with his subtle footsteps. _______ looked up to set her gaze on his back when he came to stand before a pile of weeds she had left beside one of the grand statues in the yard. She couldn’t see, but he was smiling as he looked at them. “Heh, this is where I had seen you earlier today, actually. You were just plucking all of these weeds out during your morning break, weren’t you?”

“Oh? Is that what you saw me doing?”

He nodded his head, turning to face her with that charming smile on his lips, catching her slightly off guard. “Yes. I have to say, I do admire your persistence and dexterity. It’s been warm lately, hasn’t it? You must burn under the sun.”

_______ felt herself laugh lightly at his comment. “Well, no, not really! Hah, I just overheat a bit, but that’s okay! It’s kind of my own little project, ya know? I like doing it; though the sun can be a bit overbearing sometimes.”

“Yes, I can imagine. Ah…The sun feels just wonderful on my own skin.” The man sighed out deeply, tilting his head back just the slightest bit to allow some of that golden sunshine to warm over his face. It truly had been far too long since he had been able to set foot in the great outdoors… “Now that you know I can see you by this statue, darling, won’t you remember to bid hello to an old man when you’re around?” He straightened himself out and gestured to his window up on the fourth floor of the building.

She followed his gesture, the smile on her lips widening as well. He really did have some kind of magic to his presence and conversations that always managed to turn her mood into a joyous one almost without any effort whatsoever. She didn’t know what it was, but really, she didn’t care. She was just happy he was able to do it in the first place. He was the only one who could. “All the way up there and you can still see me from down here? Heh, I’ll make sure to remember to say hi to you whenever I’m out here from now on, then.” She promised before looking towards her favorite bench in the yard beneath the grand old oak tree by the cozy corner of the fence. “Come on, Eddie. Let’s take a seat over there, okay?”

She didn’t need to ask him twice before he was following right behind her. The cozy corner she had picked out for the two of them was the first one he had eyed when they stepped outside as well. He was planning on inviting her to sit there, but it looks like she had beat him to the punch! Oh, and how satisfying it was to hear the crunching of the leaves and grass beneath his feet again. It was pure bliss, indeed it was, but how much better it felt once he had taken that seat on the bench beside his beautiful orderly.

Nestled in the shelter of the grand oak’s shade, he felt as though the wind was more prominent in this spot. With both of their lunches set on their laps, the first thing Eddie did was lift his head and close his eyes, taking in a deep breath of fresh air when that first nice gush of wind blew by them, embracing and welcoming them into a peek of the world he had been fantasizing about for so long. “It truly does feel wonderful to be outside again. It’s been too long. Far, far too long.” He breathed out his words, totally and completely at peace.

“How long has it been since you’ve last been outside, Eddie?” _______ questioned curiously after taking a bite from the sandwich she had made for herself on her plate. Beside the plate her sandwich rested upon was a cup of blueberries, though she planned to save those for later.

“Hmm…” He opened his eyes, relaxing deep into the back of the cracked bench. “I’m not quite sure. It’s been so long since I was last let out at this point.”

“Oh...” She frowned. “Do you know how many times they’ve let you outside before?”

At that point, he had followed her lead and taken a nonchalant bite from his sandwich, also deciding to leave his peaches for later just as he did every time. “Three, four times? Maybe? I can’t say for certain, and even then, it wasn’t because Mattie had ever wanted to bring me outside for some time in the sun out of the kindness of his heart like you do.” He chuckled humorlessly at the memory. “It had just been when I was being moved from cells and sections of the building over the course of my stay. That’s about it. The most I got out of the outdoors before you came along has always been the view from my window.” Though what he said sounded sad, the man still visibly looked at peace in the yard.

As terrible as his situation may be, he always tries to find something to smile about.

_______ lowered her gaze back down to her plate at that, noticeably upset by his reply. “I’ve been wanting to change that for you all. I know it isn’t much, but I’ve been putting in this effort in the courtyard so I can start to give you time outside of that stuffy building. I honestly can’t imagine what it must feel like to be locked up in that place all the time, so I want to give you a sort of escape, ya know? But when I saw the state of the place…I didn’t want to just bring you all here with a bunch of weeds that would stick to your clothes and a yard as dead as this. It’s why I’m trying my best to fix it as quick as possible and bring it back to life again…I’m sorry you had to see it like this.”

Blue eyes shifted from the olden leaves of the oak down to the girl by the patient’s side. He couldn’t believe that she felt ashamed in the slightest bit about any of this. She was the first one to ever show that she gave much of a damn about him in this place, so why would he hold something as trivial as the state of the courtyard against her? “Don’t be silly, darling,” He tutted, lifting one of his hands to pat the young girl’s head lightly. Oh, how soft her gentle tresses of hair felt beneath his fingertips… “The state of the yard doesn’t bother me in the slightest bit. Quite frankly, I’m just happy you agreed to bring me outside with you today at all. I didn’t ask you to come out here simply for the sake of being outside, however.”

Her eyes turned to meet with his too now. Large, innocent and bright, they silently asked for him to continue, and who was he to ever deny her such a request?

Not wanting to push his luck with her, though, he took his hand away from the top of her head when she looked at him. He didn’t want to risk causing her discomfort with his close proximity in a time like now – especially with what he was about to say. “I really do enjoy our time together and I really did mean it when I said I feel we don’t get much of it in the days that pass us by. I truthfully just like our time together quite a bit, so this escape was more of a chance to have more time with you than anything else. I figured we could get away with it a little easier if I asked for you to bring me outside, since you could simply write it off as recreational time spent with me.”

Those large (eye color) eyes of hers widened at his frank reply. Beyond her control, she felt her cheeks flare with a heat she had tried to fight down to the best of her abilities, but nothing she could do could stop it from happening. Her heart picked up its pace ever so slightly within the caged walls which lay beneath her human skin, guarding its secret confusion and shameful delights. Curtly, she ducked her head again to stare down at her tray on her laps, trying to distract herself and ignore the incoherent fluster which washed over her by plucking a couple of blueberries from her cup to slip passed her lips to munch on.

For a moment, it almost felt like they were just sitting in a park together, two people getting to know each other – a young girl with a handsome gentleman. His charm was hard to ignore, the pat to her head she had received from him was affectionate and warm, and his smile was as inviting and sweet as cherry pie. It was something she knew she shouldn’t notice, but the human side of her – the woman in her – noticed it all despite the pill of negation the logic in her head attempted to make her swallow.

It’s not right.

They’re not just two people in a park.

They’re an orderly and a patient sitting in the yard of an asylum for the criminally insane.

In the eyes of the state, he is a criminal due to the things he had done in his past to get him here in the first place.

Anything and everything between them needed to stay separated and sedated between the bars within the building beside them…but they weren’t in that building right now, were they?

“I-I…I’m glad you enjoy your time with me so much, Eddie…I enjoy our time together, too…”

In his head, Eddie was smug. He felt so dang smug about the reaction he was able to illicit from the girl at his side. It hadn’t been his intention to obviously fluster her the way he had, but it was a reaction he was more than happy to receive. A part of him tried to convince him to push it further, to cup her full and warm cheek in his hand and make her look at him, to find for himself just how honeyed and dew-like her lips must taste, but he didn’t explore the possibilities. He kept himself composed and in control, knowing not to ruin what he had miraculously been able to establish with the young woman at his side. Instead, he settled with happily plucking a slice of peach from his cup to nibble on as well, envisioning that she would taste sweeter still than that which already met the sinful tip of his tongue.

“Do you…really think I can make things grow here again, Eddie?” Her voice broke through the peaceful quiet after a moment of silence.

He turned his sky blue gaze back to her once more after he had eaten his peach slice completely. Licking the sweet nectar off of his fingers shamelessly, the man hummed in thought, his smile having morphed to a pondering look as he turned to stare out at the land before them once again.

“Matthew told me earlier that caring for the yard is just going to be a colossal waste of my time…I don’t much care for what he has to say most of the time, but even you said you have your doubts that anything can grow on dead land like this again – yet, despite that, you also said you have faith that I would prove you wrong. So…do you really think I can do it?” She genuinely didn’t know where the question came from. Part of it was to distract from the fluster she felt before, but it was mainly a legit question. Maybe she was just feeling unsure of herself, maybe she felt she was wasting her time on things nobody would end up caring about, or maybe she just felt like whatever she did no matter what it was about would end up being viewed as nothing of importance. She didn’t know.  

_______ had been doubted all of her life. Not many people have ever had much faith in the things she could do, and when she did try to place some kind of passion into something, it backfired with negativity from those around her. She didn’t know why it had been like that back where she lived nor why it was she had such terrible luck with people, but the backlash and rejection from the past is something that made her feel insecure about the things she did. Perhaps it’s part of the reason she dislikes Matthew as much as she does (you know, aside from the obvious stuff). He’s just like the people she could remember from back home. People who looked at her as just a pretty face until she started to talk about and do thing she had a passion for.

It made her feel pretty dang terrible on the inside, and though what Eddie said had been similar to Matthew’s opinion, there was a stark difference between them.

Eddie had said he actually has faith in her.

“I’ve been here for a long time,” He began his reply softly, his eyes trained on the distant rustling trees which swayed on the other side of the asylum’s fenced land. “Longer than I’d like to think about, and during my stay here, I have never seen anybody show this courtyard much attention or care. Inevitably, that neglect eventually led to the yard’s demise with the domination of the weeds and the cracking of the stone of the statues or the weathering of these benches. One loses faith after so much time has wasted away. I used to hope to see life grow on this old patch of land again, but I gave up on that hope long ago. However, my new hope is placed in the faith that you’ll prove me wrong. I sincerely hope you do, because I want you to show me that life can truly come to be even in a place as dead as this one. If anyone can do it,” He looked back to her, tucking a lock of her hair behind her ear to catch her attention. When she turned those big eyes up to his again, he pulled his hand away and smiled. “It has to be you.”

Ah, and there go her cheeks again, flaring with heat uninvited to her skin. Yet, this time, _______ didn’t mind it as much as before. It was a nice kind of uninvited heat, actually. She could handle it with a small, soft smile of her own this time, for she truly was touched by the sincerity in Eddie’s reply. “I’ll do my best…Thanks for believing in me.”

“And thank you, darling, for giving me something to believe in.” He hummed happily and softly in return, turning back to get another view of the expanse of the courtyard before them. “What did you plan to have grown here, anyhow? Do you have some kind of plants in mind? Daisies? Lavender? Jonquils, perhaps?” He couldn’t help but ask, the memory of his daydream from earlier today flashing across his mind causing for his smile to widen again.

“Jonquils? What are Jonquils?”

Light laughter escaped Eddie’s lips at the girl’s question. “My apologies, darling. I suppose that might be an older term for them. Jonquils are Daffodils – my favorite kind of flower. They used to grow in my home’s lawn out back and spring to life like magic between the cold Winter months and the start of Spring.”

“Oh, that sounds lovely…Are they native, then?”

“Indeed they are. Though, I always tried to transplant a couple new bulbs into the lawn every year just to keep it bright and full.”

“Were you into gardening before?”

“I was, yes! I had many hobbies before coming here, and gardening was a very relaxing pastime of mine. You would have loved my old home. Afternoons in the garden with a cup of tea and crackers coated in honey were an absolute dream.”

“In that case…what would you say about helping me bring the yard back to life, Eddie? I won’t make you pluck weeds with me, but…maybe if I find the Jonquils growing in the woods or something…we could transplant them together? I’m sure you probably have a better idea on how to care for them than I do, so we can make this our project and work to make the yard beautiful together – if you’re interested, of course.”

Eddie beamed at the idea. More time spent with _______ outside, bonding beneath the warm and inviting sunshine while surrounded by Jonquils just like in his daydreams? How could he ever say no? “Why, I’d be delighted to help you in this venture, _______. It’ll be our project from now on, then, and I’ll help you with any flowers or plants you may find. Though I still have my doubts about this old patch of dirt, I do think maybe the both of us can make a difference together.”

From then on, the afternoon spent in Massive’s courtyard was a pleasant one. All negative thoughts which had been circling through either of their minds before were completely gone by the time they got to talking about future plans on what they could do to the courtyard’s space together. Embraced by the sun’s gentle rays and the singing of the trees with their dancing leaves in the breeze, the two spent an afternoon Eddie had always believed would only come to be in his mind.

Happy as they were, smiling and laughing as ideas of life came to be between them, Matthew watched from the window by the door leading to the courtyard with a scowl on his face.

What a naïve, thoughtless woman…

Chapter Text

It was a calm night. The soft yellow light of a simple lamp resting on a wooden bedside table warmed the room with its glow this evening. The curtains were drawn over the fifth floor’s window and _______ was comfortably curled up in her bed’s comforters with her phone in her hands and her back resting against a mountain of pillows propped up behind her. Her (eye color) eyes gradually moved from side to side, following behind the words she read as she scrolled through the website she had been on for the past couple of hours.

It had been about a week since her first day out in the garden with Eddie, and she has been researching gardening tips and flower facts since then. So invested was she, she had gone out of her way to make sure she always had at least an hour a night since then to devote to her research on what they could do to brighten up that little space of the outside they had. Dead though it may currently be, the young orderly was determined to bring it back to life – and Eddie’s interest in seeing it happen had only helped in fanning the fire alit in her gut to do just that.

It's a nice kind of project she has on her hands now. _______ quite enjoys reading up on different species of flowers and plants the two could attempt to have growing in the courtyard. Granted, there wasn’t a whole lot they could do about going to flower shops or anything, but it was nice to learn about what she could (hopefully) find growing wildly in the forest surrounding the asylum. The one flower which had stuck to her head since that first day, though, was that of the Jonquil.

Ever since Eddie had called Daffodils by that name, she just couldn’t shake the new title for them out of her head. It sounded nicer somehow. Fancier. It was a cute word she had never heard anyone use before, so she decided she would call them by that name as well now thanks to the blue-eyed man.

Speaking of Eddie, it isn’t as though that day was the only one so far in which she took him outside with her.

In fact, the act of bringing him to the courtyard with her to have their lunch together was beginning to become routine.

A routine she was thoroughly enjoying.

She smiled to herself at the thought as her eyes landed on a picture of a bushel of Jonquils posted at the end of the article she had read. There were both yellow and white ones, but _______’s favorites were the white ones primarily because they had both colors in one flower! The center of the flowers are a miniature yellow blossom and the petals which surround them create the mother blossom, encompassing the whole bud in a cheering sort of praise.

“They’re so pretty…” She muttered to herself, her lips pursing to a light pout as her eyes tried to pick at all the details in the photo on the screen. Apparently from what she read and what Eddie told her, Jonquils do grow wildly in Colorado. She couldn’t really think of a time in which she randomly saw the flower growing anywhere during her time here, but then again, she’s lived in the city her entire life. The most _______ has seen is concrete jungles and rabid tourists. Any Jonquils she may have passed by chance were more than likely in a florist’s shop.

She hoped she would be able to find them out in the forest whenever the courtyard was ready for that. She didn’t plan on venturing very deep into the woods, because Lord knows what the heck is in them. So, for her and Eddie’s sake as well as for the sake of the courtyard itself, she truly hoped there were some Jonquils nearby this haunting place. She’d be pretty damn disappointed if there weren’t any, but she supposed she would cross that bridge once she got there. She’d figure something out in the end.

“When was it he said they would start to grow? In the Winter, I think…?” She questioned herself and left the page she had been on to try to search for the answer online. As she began to type up what she wanted to see on Google’s search bar, a distant scent invaded the girl’s senses. She rose a brow at the smell, distracted from what she had been doing, and took a purposeful whiff of the air.

It was a smell she hadn’t smelled since she first got to Mount Massive Asylum. It was doughy, hot and alluring in its yumminess. Could it really be…?

She shook her head, telling herself she was just imagining it and concentrated on her Jonquil research. Yet, as the page of her search loaded, the sound of quiet footsteps from the outside hallway where the dorms were lined up caught her attention as well. She raised her gaze from her phone when the footsteps got closer to her room and propped herself up on her elbow, furrowing her brow as she stared at her door. The smell was getting stronger too, calling out to her, causing for memories to blossom in her mind from times she spent outside the asylum around that very same scent. She was bewildered by the fact that it had somehow found its way to her here. Either that or the smell of the cleansers they used on the walls and linoleum floors of the hospital were finally starting to make her delusional. It could go either way at this point, honestly. _______ hated those cleansers they had to use.

Eventually, the footsteps came to a stop directly at her door followed by the rasping of knuckles against the cheap imitation wood. “Psst! _______!” A familiar voice hushed out to her with evident excitement filtering through it. “Open up! It’s me! I got a surprise – but hurry! I had to sneak my way up here to get it here already, and I sure as hell don’t wanna get caught now!”

Upon matching a face to the voice, _______’s bewildered expression turned to an amused pursed grin. She shook her head as a tutted laugh left her lips for a moment, sitting herself up and getting out of bed to go answer the door. She was in her pajamas already, a simple blue tank top with a pair of grey shorts, but she didn’t mind being like that around the person the voice belonged to. In fact, the two of them had become friends early on when she first got the asylum.

“Tristen,” She greeted the raven-haired man on the other side of her door when she opened it to see him bouncing on the balls of his bare feet, giddiness shining in his bright hazel eyes. “What are you doing here so late?” Her gaze shifted to something he carried in his hands which was covered by a small black blanket. She noticed that it was from there which the aroma she picked up on earlier wafted. “And what’s that?”

Tristen beamed at her question, lightly shaking the covered box he held with utmost excitement. “This, my dear _______, is a piece of Heaven I was actually able to get us tonight. An absolute national treasure!” He shook the box a little more for emphasis, his eyes wide and a little crazy-looking. He was definitely hyped for whatever it was he had in his grasp – and she had a hunch that she knew what it was, but at the same time, she couldn’t believe it.

How could he have possibly gotten it to Massive?! She swore it was impossible to get anything like it to this place with all the restrictions they were sworn under!

“Anyway, just let me in before one of the joykills comes around and sees!”

Rolling her eyes with a look of amusement, _______ stepped aside and granted Tristen the opening to enter. “Come in, ya dweeb.”

He stuck his tongue out at her at that but took her invitation, quickly slipping into her dorm, the sound of the door closing shut behind him following. His eyes instantly landed on her disheveled bed, and without shame, he waltzed over and plopped right onto it, kicking himself to the end of the bed to give her room to take the head of it for herself. His hazel eyes glanced at her once he set the covered box on the middle of the bed and he gave her an exaggerated inquisitive look. “Well? Aren’t you gonna sit down to see what I got?”

Sighing with a small smile, _______ walked over and took her place on the bed where she had been reading before, her phone since forgotten. She eyed him in question as her legs crossed beneath her and she gestured for him to go on with a wave of her hand. “Alright. I’m sitting. What did you get?”

A smirk angled his lips cheekily at that, his hands grasping the edges of the dark sheet which covered the surprise between them. “Brace yourself, _______! You’re about to witness something we swore we wouldn’t see again for who knows how long! Feast your eyes on…” He paused for dramatic effect before prying the blanket off of the box, allowing for it to fall away somewhere behind him on her dorm’s floor. “God’s gift to humanity!”

Unveiled between them in all its splendor lay a brown Pizza Hut box, grease staining the sides of the cardboard and all.

I knew it!” _______ suddenly exclaimed, her eyes now as wide as Tristen’s. She sat herself up straight from the surprise, and without thinking about it, began to flail her hands about in her over-zealous state. “I just knew I smelled pizza! I could smell it when you were walking down the hall!” It was true. The smell of the pizza was strong and pungent, alluring in its fattening delicacy.

“Oh ho ho! That’s not even the best part! Look at this!” As though he were unlocking a legendary treasure chest, he opened the flap of the box slowly, revealing the riches which lay within. It felt just like a scene from a movie, as if light were shining onto them from the contents which so graciously blessed them with its presence. A treasure far richer to them than gold here in Massive indeed. The pizza itself was a total dream. It was a large, deluxe being covered with cheese, pepperoni, ham, sausage, spinach, bacon, onions, and to top it off – cheese crust. The only visible flaw it held was the fact that it was missing two slices. Not that it honestly mattered. She figured he already ate some of the pizza himself before bringing it up to her to share.

“How…How did you even get this?! The closest Pizza Hut is all the way down in Leadville!”

Tristen blew a raspberry at that and pulled his phone out of the pocket of his gray sweatpants. “UberEATS, bae. Charged me a fortune for delivery thanks to this damn place being up Buttfuck Mountain, but it was so worth it. Not like I’m going anywhere or paying for rent these days.”

“But there’s no way you could have gotten it here like that with the guard out front! How did you get passed Henry?”

“Thus comes the story of the missing slices! I bribed the guy with a piece of the pie, if ya know what I mean.” He pursed his lips and pointed at the pizza. “I mean the pizza, if you don’t.”

“Yeah, I think I got that by now, Tristen. Kind of hard to miss the gap in the thing.”

He laughed at that as he slid his phone back into his pocket and offered her a foxlike grin. “It wasn’t easy convincing him at first, nearly sent my sorry ass back to Catherine to tattle on me, but I eventually got him to hear the voice of reason when I offered him a couple of slices and an opportunity of a lifetime to help pick out the toppings. A long wait and two pizza slices later, he deleted the security videos of the car and us getting our delivery! That’s how this beauty has come to be before us now.” Shamelessly, he pulled a slice from the box and waited no longer to shove a whole mouthful of cheesy goodness passed his maw, a dreamy look crossing his expression. “Gotta say, I’ve got mad respect for ole Henry now,” He spoke between chews. “Didn’t think he’d have it in him to be in cahoots with me! Anyway, help yourself, _______! No bribes required!”

He didn’t have to tell her twice. Grinning happily, the girl looked back at the pizza and grabbed the first big slice which enraptured her. A couple pieces of bacon fell off of it in the process, but she didn’t mind. She was just beyond herself with joy and thrill to have some pizza after the long weeks she’s already spent in the asylum. A hum of pure delight escaped the girl as she took her first couple of bites with her friend and coworker. The two sat in a peaceful silence for a few moments as they ate away at their first slices of Heaven, the only communication which passed between them being the hums of deliciousness and muffled laughter with gleams in their eyes whenever they looked at each other.

“You’re insane, Tristen,” _______ commented when all she had left to munch on of her first slice was the cheese crust. “Only you would think of calling an UberEATS driver over to Massive.”

“You’re just jealous that you’re too much of a weenie to have done it yourself.” He snickered with his own mouthful of cheesy crust.

“Well, you’re not wrong there.” She took a nibble from her crust and leaned back on the mound of pillows she had from earlier. “There’s no way I’d ever risk it with all the uptight higher-ups there are around here. You’re a lot more ballsy than I am, so I’ll give you that.”

Tristen grinned a toothy grin at that once he had swallowed his mouthful of crust. He reached for another slice soon after and offered his friend a cheeky wink. “Thanks for the compliment. I’m a rascal, ain’t I?” He chuckled, taking a breath as he brought the new slice to his lips and took his first big bite from it. Cheese stretched between his mouth and the slice as he tried to pull it away from himself until it eventually snapped and catapulted back to him, dangling from his lips. Slowly, the string of cheese was pulled into his mouth as he chewed. “Speaking of those pricks,” He was decent this time and hid his mouth behind his free palm. Perhaps it was all the cheese he had gotten in this particular bite, for he normally wasn’t so mindfully polite. “How are things going on your end with big galoot Matthew?”

_______ groaned at the mention of her coworker’s name and rolled her eyes, finishing off her cheese crust with a grumble.

“Still a big ole sack o’ dicks, isn’t he?”

“A big ole sack o’ dicks multiplied by thirty.”

“You’re so generous, _______.”

“Yeah, well, you know me!”

“Oh so generous and sweet to the bumbling oaf.”

“Wish I wasn’t. Wish I could be as blunt as you.”

Tristen sputtered out a stream of sudden laughter, the image of the girl before him telling the large man from the male ward off being far too ridiculous in his head to ignore. “Are you kidding?!” He guffawed, thankfully having finished his mouthful of pizza by then seeing as he had let his hand back down from his face. “You’re too damn soft and nice to be a shit like me! Would be a great sight to see though, I gotta say! Come find me when you tell the fucker off, will ya? I need to see that when it happens.”

Munching on her last piece of cheese crust, _______ let out a sigh as she shifted her gaze to the side, her expression being nothing short of total grumpiness. “Maybe it’ll happen sooner than you might think. The guy is a complete prick, Tristen! He’s such an ass, and he always butts his nose into my business when I’m trying to do something nice for my patients just to tell me its shit and a waste of time! I can’t stand him! I wish he’d choke on a stale biscuit and fall down a flight of stairs!”

“Oh ho! That’s pretty dark for a sweet bean like you, _______! Is he really so bad?”

“You know he is. You don’t work with him every day like I do and I’m sure you still know about how dang shitty he is.”

“Mmm…You got a point there.”

“I just hate the way he treats me and our patients. I wish he’d just keep his crap comments to himself, ya know? He treats the patients like they’re in a prison. I get we’re in an asylum for the criminally insane, but that doesn’t make it a jail! We’re supposed to help them, aren’t we?”

“I guess so.”

“You guess so?”

“Well,” Tristen hummed nonchalantly, propping himself up on one hand and munching on his pizza with the other. “I’d be lyin’ if I said I really know what’s supposed to go on around here. I know this is basically a hospital to help try to figure out what’s up with them that made them do the shit they did to get here in the first place, but I couldn’t honestly tell you what the best first step to do that would be.” He shrugged, chewing. “Iunno. We’re just orderlies in the end, yeah? You know I didn’t study to work in this kind of scene. I just took the job ‘cause they took me in – no questions asked. Got myself a room, no bills, no stress.” He smiled at her then. “But I get what you mean. In some sort of way, we’re supposed to help make the lives of these poor bastards at least somewhat tolerable in this hellhole, aren’t we?”

_______ didn’t say anything for a moment. She just nodded her head in reply to her friend’s question.

“Then that’s what I reckon we ought to do. So, I guess I do side with you on this, is what I mean.” He tutted. “I made this so much more complicated than it should have been, but you know what I mean, right? You actually studied to do something like this, didn’t you?

Again, she nodded.

“Then you probably know more about this stuff than I do, but I can say we’re on mutual ground when it comes to wanting to help in some sort of way. Granted,” He snickered and pointed at her phone, still brightly lit amongst her covers with her search from earlier on display. “You sure go the extra mile for it. Mattie boy just ain’t the type to care much about this sort of thing the way you do.”

“But he’s been here longer than either of us. He’s even allowed into the lower levels of this place, and you know those floors aren’t open to all of us here.”

Tristen shrugged his shoulders once more, a small smile having remained on his lips during the entire conversation. Not much of his second slice of pizza remained at this point and it was clear to see he was enjoying the process of its demise. “So? That doesn’t mean jack-shit, _______. They probably took his dusty-ass to work here forever ago and he snatched the deal the same way we did. It’s a nice gig. He probably just stuck around ‘cause he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. Doesn’t mean he gives a fuck about what he’s doing and why – just like Catherine, actually.”

This conversation was ruining her appetite. As good as the pizza was, she didn’t think she was going to get another slice right now. Maybe he’d let her keep a slice to eat later to make up for it, though. “How has Catherine been anyway?” She attempted to change the topic from her own department.

Tristen blew a raspberry at the mention of his superior’s name. “Cunterine is the same as always, too. Hot, but a total fuckin’ bitch. Not my type.”

“This isn’t a dating site, Tristen.”

“Never said it was!” He laughed. “But damn, she’s really trying to make herself as unattractive as possible with how terrible she is. I tell ya, she yells at me for everything. No matter what I do, nothing is ever good enough for her. She’s pretty creepy, too. Where Matt treats your patients like they’re in a jail, she treats ours like they’re in some kind of experiment or something. She takes way too many notes a day for her own good. It’s all about the same crap, too! She ends up forcing me to do it daily, which is as boring as it sounds since not much changes over the course of a few hours.”

_______ sighed at this once more and shook her head as her arms crossed over her chest. “We have strange and shitty superiors.”

“You can say that again.”

“We have strange and extremely shitty superiors.”

“That was different, but I double agree.” Tristen sighed, by then having finished his second slice of pizza. He reached for a third and eyed his friend, raising a brow at her with a smile of amusement angling his lips once more. “I see you’re still doing your garden stuff, though. That’s cute. How’s that going for ya?”

“Oh,” _______ smiled again. “It’s going fairly well, actually. Matthew is a downer about it, but I’ve been enjoying the project. I was just researching some flowers before you stopped by.”

“What kind?”

“Jonquils.”

“Jonqué?”

“Jonquils. It’s another name for Daffodils.” Her smile grew at the mention of the flower as the memory of her first day in the courtyard with Eddie returned to her. They had been spending their lunch out there together ever since, and secretly, a part deep inside of her was eager to impress the blue-eyed man with the work she was committing into what they decided would be their space.

“Well, shit, you could have just said Daffodils then.” Tristen joked. “Why those specifically?”

Crap. She could feel her cheeks warm over with a gentle heat at the man’s question, but she tried her best not to let the fluster show on her expression.

It would be so unprofessional.

“Nothing special. One of my patients wanted to have a hand in helping when he found out what I was doing, and he mentioned those being his favorite flowers. I was hoping I could maybe find some wild ones around Massive to transplant in the courtyard to make him happy, so I was researching them online just to be sure I wouldn’t be hunting down anything that doesn’t exist here, ya know?” She sighed at that, pursing her lips in thought. “But I don’t think we’re in the right season for them to be sprouting right now. I think I’ll have to wait or figure something else out until then.”

“Hmm…”

She rose a brow at her friend’s sly grin. “What is it?”

“Don’t you worry your pretty little head, _______. I think I can give you the perfect solution to your problem.”

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

Time passed in _______’s dorm far too quickly when Tristen was around. It didn’t take long for him to become a great friend and ally to the young orderly when the two first met all those weeks ago. Just like her, he had been a new orderly in Massive, only having started a few days earlier than she did. The two relied on each other for a break from the white walls and uptight higher-ups, and she was just glad to have him around. Still, it isn’t as though the two of them have a whole lot of time to talk and hang out during the day, so it made her happy to have the boy pay her a visit every now and again during the evenings like he had done today.

With his whole sneaky pizza business, Tristen had stuck around with _______ for a good while until the two of them caught a glance at the clock on her bedside table. When it struck three in the morning, the boy was out the door like lightning, saying Catherine would have his head if he would wake up groggy in the morning. _______ didn’t mind that. She figured the boy was probably walking on eggshells with his superior since he first started here, so she let him go without much conviction.  

She did, however, request something of him before he had gone.

Aside from taking her second pizza slice for herself, she had also asked if she could take two extra pieces as well. He didn’t ask why. He just assumed she had been enchanted by the delicacy he had managed to get to them (which, in his defense, wasn’t wrong) and gladly agreed. In the end, they wandered over to the male ward’s break-room to grab a couple of paper plates – one to set them on and another to cover them with. Once they settled that and he got her back to her dorm, the boy was off.

For over a half-hour after that, all _______ could do was stare down at the cover plate of the pizza slices which sat before her on her bed.

She had forgotten all about her research on Jonquils by then. Her phone lay on the bedside table, locked, and the girl sat in silent contemplation while nibbling nervously on her lower lip. Was it a good idea? She felt it was, at least to strengthen her bond with the blue-eyed man she had grown so close to while under her care – but what if someone were to see her? What if Matthew were to see her? She didn’t doubt for a moment that he would tattle on her, get her fired and probably make life hell for Eddie again while the higher-ups searched for her replacement. It’s a risky idea, but the bubbling excitement in her gut kept trying to push her off the bed and make her bare feet land on the cold ground to embark on her journey to the asylum’s fourth floor.  

“Screw it.” She eventually huffed at herself stubbornly, ignoring her jumbled nerves as she threw her legs over the side of her bed and got to her feet. “He’s probably snoring himself to sleep by now and it’s not like anybody else walks around the ward at this time of night.” The understaffed situation was really working in her favor tonight. It boosted the girl’s enticed confidence and lead her out the door of her dorm room and into the dimly lit hallway with the paper plate of pizza in her hands.

Cautiously, she looked down both ends of the hallway to make sure nobody was around, and when she saw that she was clear to go, she moved. On the balls of her feet, she closed her door as quietly as possible before scurrying down the hallway towards the staircase at the bend of the hall. “These people must be pretty dang cheap. They’ve got so many dorm rooms to house orderlies, but they’re understaffed?” She shook her head as she passed by the majority of empty rooms, but she really didn’t pay them much mind.

Eventually, she had stopped in front of the heavy, metal door of the staircase. Gray in color, it intimidated her with its stature, silently reminding her of how loud it could be if left to slam shut. The metal would CLANG with a vengeance, merciless in its unadulterated cacophony. Thankfully, _______ was mindful of this.

Carefully and slowly, she pushed the door open with her shoulder and waddled into the landing. Once passed, she held the door with her foot and hopped on the other, gradually and clumsily bringing it closer to its edge – until the heavy metal slipped from her grasp right at the end of it. She gasped at the sudden release, but thankfully, the clang it made this time was actually quite merciful. Yet, it still made the girl flinch as the sound echoed in the concrete stairwell. She stood in silence for a few moments after the echoes stopped, waiting and listening for something to happen. When nothing did, she continued down the stairs to the fourth floor.

The stairwell was lit by bright fluorescent lights screwed into the ceiling, guiding her down every step of the way. She was thankful for this, because if it had the lights from the dorm hallway, she was sure she would have fallen down the stairs a long time ago. The trip down was painless. She reached the landing of the fourth floor before she even knew it. This time, she had to hold her plate in one hand and open the door with the other, but it proved a better strategy, for the door made no sound nor did it slip from her grasp.

She looked around again, the coast clear, and proceeded.

Her bare feet pitter-pattered down the linoleum floors almost in complete silence. None of the patients she passed by on the way seemed to notice her as she went, and those that did simply didn’t pay her any mind. It was nearly four in the morning at this point; she didn’t expect them to really have the energy to care much for her presence at this hour of night.

Reaching the familiar bend at the end of the hall she had padded down, _______ swallowed a nervous lump which had swollen in her throat before peaking over the edge of the wall. His cell was just a few yards away from her at this point. She couldn’t hear anything aside from the soft sound of sleep from surrounding cells, but a part of her assumed he aided in that mix. She couldn’t imagine what he would be doing up at this time, anyway. It’s not like the hospital gives him much to do while he’s in his cell.

Taking a stabling breath, the girl smiled. She smiled and began to walk to his cell, still on the balls of her feet. Upon approaching the old rusty bars, she instantly saw the man sleeping soundly on his bed beneath the thin blanket offered to him. He was laying on his side, facing her, lips slightly parted with gentle breaths escaping him every couple of seconds. He didn’t use his pillow to rest his head on, but rather, it was held loosely to his chest within his arms.

Huh, she thought to herself, so he’s one of those sleepers.

Her smile softened. He looked so at peace, she almost didn’t want to wake him up – but if she didn’t, then he’d miss out on the pizza she saved for him. She couldn’t keep the slices around; Matthew would find them for sure if she did. They needed to get rid of the evidence tonight, and she wasn’t just about to leave Eddie out of the fun thanks to her foolish, girlish heart.

“Eddie,” She called out to him softly, one hand reaching up to hold onto one of the bars between them. “Eddie, wake up...I brought something for you. Come on…I know it’s late, and I’m sorry to bug you at this time, but I wanted to surprise you!” At first, it didn’t seem like her call helped wake him up, but a flutter of his lashes soon caught her attention, exciting the girl enough to get her to bounce on the balls of her feet – much like Tristen had done when she had opened the door to him earlier that night.

Eddie had always been a fairly light sleeper, but he could honestly say that side of him had intensified since getting to Mount Massive. After all, he doesn’t work on his own schedule anymore. He functions whenever the orderlies and doctors want him to function, and over time, his body had eventually grown accustomed to waking whenever he heard any light, distinct sounds around him. Needless to say, this voice was a sound he had only been woken up by before in his dreams and that in a totally different setting. Still, it willed his eyes to flutter open, a groggy breath of questioning escaping his lips as the blurry image of the orderly’s curvy body came to him.

“_______?” He muttered out her name, sitting himself up on his cot and rubbing his eyes clean of slumber. Once he did, he blinked those sky blues a few times and looked back at the girl behind the bars, catching the excited gleam in her eyes. The sight caused him to chuckle huskily in his early woken state. “What are you doing here so early, darling? Isn’t it passed your bedtime?”

“Ha, ha, very funny.” She playfully tutted back at him. “I came over ‘cause I wanted to give you something. Get out of bed and come over! Come on, don’t be lazy! Up, up!” She showed him the plate in her hand, waving it around some to entice him.

He raised his brow at the sight. What was it that she carried with her? It certainly had a particular smell to it. A smell he couldn’t quite put his finger on, but he swore held familiar memories in his mind. “A surprise? For me?” He questioned, a tired yet cheeky grin angling his lips as he got himself out of bed and approached the bars to join her. Inches apart from one another now, he rested one of his hands on the same bar she had – so close and yet so far away. “You spoil me, darling, you truly do. What have you possibly brought me at this hour of night?”

She beamed at him, eyes bright and excited, all nervousness forgotten when they were together. “Promise not to tell anyone?”

He pressed his free hand against his chest. “I wouldn’t tell a soul.”

“In that case…” She pulled her hand off of the bar and removed the cover from the plate of pizza slices, stacking it with the plate they were on. “Tada! Look what I have! Can you believe it? My buddy over in the female ward was crazy enough to order delivery! Don’t ask me how exactly he managed to do it; he wasn’t very detailed in telling me. Anyway, here!” She moved the plate over to the hole between the bars where his trays of food would normally be handed to him. “I took an extra two slices for you. I didn’t want to leave you out of the fun, ya know?”

He was happy about this. Truly, he really was. Words couldn’t explain how happy he was on the inside to know that the sweet girl on the other side always held him in her mind, always thought of him, always made sure to go above and beyond to do these things just to bring him this mount of joy…but there was one thing that stuck out to him of what she said: her friend from the other ward was a boy. The fact caused for his smile to tighten only the slightest bit. Eddie wasn’t usually a jealous type, but in this situation? Yeah. The jealousy he felt roar to life and shake him awake was something he couldn’t deny. After all, he had grown so close to _______ by now…In his mind, he lived in the fantasy that perhaps they could maybe build something together, but hearing that she was interacting with boys she actually enjoyed the presence of on the other side of his bars…It just burst his perfect little bubble in his head.

Why would his fantasy come to life when she could just as easily be with someone on the other side?

Someone free?

Someone normal?

Someone her age?

He didn’t have a chance.

An older man, labeled a criminal, insane and locked away in an asylum beneath her care.

A fool is all he is.

“Thank you, _______,” He murmured to her regardless, his tight smile softening when he caught sight of the enthused anticipation on her expression. “It brings me much joy to know you always keep me in mind. Hmm…I haven’t had pizza in a very long time. I can’t remember the last time I did have some, actually.” He pondered the thought aloud. When was the last time he had a slice of delicate Heaven like the one she brought him tonight?

“It’s my pleasure! That’s not it, either, though. I have really great news!”

“Oh? What kind of news?”

“My buddy can help us out with the flowers for the courtyard! He says that whenever we’re ready to transplant some, we can ask him to order some and help sneak them in! Isn’t that great? All we gotta do is match that up with the season Jonquils blossom so we can cover it up by saying I found them in the woods! Either way, I’ll still go hunt some down in the forest to add too, just like you did with your garden, and it’ll help make it more believable. Isn’t this wonderful?”

She was so beautiful when she was excited. So precious and pure. Oh, if only they could be beautiful together. If only she would speak of him with the excitement and love she spoke of the flowers and tending to the courtyard out back. A distant dream, surely, but at least he had her in his reality. “That is, indeed, wonderful news! Hah, seems as though we’ve found an ally then, yes?”

“Mhmm! He’s got us covered! Till then, though, the courtyard is all ours. We can plan for them together while we fix things up for them.” She glanced at his plate of pizza, her smile turning a little sad. It’s late. They both need rest, she knew that. She should go to let him eat his pizza and sleep, but that unprofessional voice in her head begged her to stay. It caused for her hand to tighten around the bar she hung onto, but she pushed the voice away in the end. She shouldn’t be holding him up like this. Especially not when she felt herself getting so blissful with the closeness of them two. It was an emotion she needed to let go – but she couldn’t. “Anyway, we can talk more about that tomorrow, alright? I should…I should go so you can eat and rest. I’ll see you in a few hours, okay?”

She was slipping away. Waking him from his static dreams to bring him into a fantasy turned reality; she teased him, about to leave him high and dry after pulling him out of bed to grace him with those few moments of her presence. He knew he should just let her go. He knew it was foolish of him to think anything could happen beyond the exchanges they had every now and again throughout their days in the asylum. It was stupid to believe the young orderly could ever truly care for him the way he was starting to care for her, but he ignored the fact entirely now. He knew he was walking into disappointment in his head, he was aware that this would end badly and result in him sitting alone on his cot to watch the outside world from his window again, but he didn’t care.

As she pulled her hand off of the bar of his cell to walk away, Eddie hurried and outstretched his arm through the gap between them. His larger, calloused hand grasped her smaller, gentle one just before she got out of his reach, holding her in place and time with him, recreating their bubble of dreams and illusions.  

When she turned her head to look at him, eyes large and questioning in their enraptured silence, he returned the gaze with a questioning set of blues of his own. “Won’t you stay just a few moments longer? Just until I’ve finished eating what you brought me?” He squeezed her hand gently in his warm, careful hold, his fingers thoughtlessly moving to weave through the gaps between her own. Slowly and almost rhythmically, they intertwined and squeezed again – to his surprise, hers squeezed back. “Just for tonight?”

How could she say no? How could she possibly ever reject him when he was looking at her the way he was? When he was holding her hand the way he was? His hand…oh, it felt so warm, so caring, so gentle. Her gaze caught the sight of small scars on his fingers, possibly from insignificant injuries he got in the past, but they added character to his hands. They added a story. A story she hoped to unravel in the future. “O-okay…If you really want me around,” She smiled at him softly. “Then I can stay…just for tonight…”

In their bubble they stayed for the rest of the evening together. Eddie had pulled the plate of pizza off of his cell’s small counter and seated himself on the ground beside _______ when she sat as well. Side-by-side on the linoleum floor, they talked the night away, smiling at one another, trying to ignore the wrong of the scene from the perspective of the world around them and focus on the bliss they felt when they were together.

All the while, their hands remained in each other’s between the bars of his cell.

Fingers always intertwined.

Chapter Text

He didn’t function by his own times anymore. He hadn’t for a very long time.

It was just a quarter passed seven in the morning. The birds outside were chirping and the sun was just beginning to stretch its wary rays into the blue horizon beyond the barred window of his cell. The hospital was still save for the quiet murmurings of a few patients from the hallway before his own. Eddie had never been the morning type. In fact, he frequently suffered under the spell of Insomnia even before being admitted into Mount Massive, so the blue-eyed man was well acquainted with the late hours of the evening. Ever since he was sent to the asylum, however, his sleeping schedule was completely restructured by the staff and their own persistent schedules. It was thanks to this that his eyes had fluttered open before any of the staff members would normally even bother to check in on them on a regular day.

A quiet groan left his lips as he brought one of his hands up to rub at his eyes, exhaustion constantly haunting him no matter how much he slept. His muscles and bones creaked and moaned with protest from the movement, a dull ache hitting his spine and all along his shoulders. He felt stiff, uncomfortable. In an attempt to help remedy the unpleasant sensation, he rolled his shoulders and took in a deep breath. Before he could let it out smoothly, a yawn beat him to it, coming out as a silent call from his parted lips.

His mouth felt dry, but at the back of it, he could still pick up on a taste of the pizza he had last night. A flavor no one could ever quite forget, but one which had been lost with the rest of the oddities and rarities he wasn’t allowed to indulge upon from the world on the outside. It was a nice surprise to have _______ bring him some, indeed it was…and the thought had lead him to acknowledge where he was right now, actually.

Slowly blinking his clear blued gaze, Eddie looked down to see he was still seated on the floor of his cell, his legs sprawled out before him. His right foot rested against one of the metal legs which kept his cot up, the edge of his blanket just barely brushing over his toes in the position. He easily could have grabbed it during the night – but he hadn’t. He didn’t need it then. In fact, he still felt rather warm this morning. Furrowing his brow at this, he squeezed his hand as the memory of last night came to him, expecting to feel the rough surface of his palm. Instead, he felt nimble fingers loosely gripping back at him with a skin wrapped around them which was not of his own.

What? Was she really still here? Or was he just imagining it again?

He was almost too scared to look back, because if she wasn’t there, that could potentially mean last night was just a dream.

He sat there in silence, the ticking of the clock in his hall mocking him with the passage of time as he tried to convince himself to face reality already. His heart thumped with fear though he squeezed his hand once more and felt the same fingers from before in his hold. He could feel them, he could feel the warmth from the body behind him, but he didn’t want to look. He could be making it up. He could be imagining, it could be his illusions again, it could be the dancing of the curtain pulling him back into those fantasies he used to spend the entirety of his days thinking about before _______ arrived.

He took a breath and held it.

One second.

Two seconds.

Three.

Four.

Five.

Releasing it, he finally made himself turn to look, and just as he had hoped, the young orderly was still seated beside him – looking as sweet as peaches in her slumber.

He couldn’t remember when it happened, but at some point, they probably turned to have their backs press against each other through the bars of his cell, their hands still held in each other’s resting on the linoleum floor. Her head was turned to the side, lowered from sleep and resting back against the bars. He could see her plump lips were slightly parted. Quiet breaths escaped her from the gap between them in rhythm and time. Her closed eyes granted him sight of her full, long lashes fanned down and draped just over the top of her cheekbones. From this position, they almost reminded him of fanned paintbrushes – thick and voluminous.

So, she was really there. She had actually spent the entire night with him and had fallen asleep alongside him at some point in the evening. He was relieved, but he didn’t bask in the feeling for too long, for he found himself almost entranced by her sleeping state. She looked beautiful…Out of her orderly uniform and in her own comfortable pajamas, she looked like an ordinary girl. A girl he would have fancied quite strongly in the outside world. A girl he probably would have tried to properly woo had circumstances been different.

In another place and another time, maybe he would have woken up to this sight in his bedroom. The two of them hidden beneath warm blankets and his arms wrapped around her waist, keeping her close to his bare chest after a romantic night together. He had always preferred to sleep with just a pair of pajama pants or shorts in the past, but now that he was in Massive, he wasn’t allowed the luxury anymore. No, now he has to sleep in his patient attire of a synthetic top and pants with a thin mattress, thin blanket and no one to keep close to himself.

The only heartbeat he was ever able to listen to within the walls of the asylum was his own. He could hear it drumming in his ears, pounding in time within his chest, and sometimes it would silently whisper within the backdrop of his mind. He knew what it felt like when he searched for its beat along the side of his neck or when he pressed his hand firmly against his chest, but he has long since forgotten what the beat of another’s felt like or what it sounded like.

His gaze softened at the thought, unable to turn away from the sleeping orderly beyond his bars. He wondered what her heartbeat sounded like, what it felt like. Did it drum as loudly as his own? Did it orchestrate within the prison her ribs created for the fragile organ with need just as much as his did? He wanted to find out for himself. He wanted to rest his head upon her bosom, arms loosely coiled around her waist with her fingers weaving slowly through his hair. He wanted her touch and the sound of her heartbeat to lull him back to sleep and cure the spell of Insomnia he had been cursed with since he was a child.

Yet, he knew this would more than likely never happen. The most he had of her were the moments they shared in the courtyard and times like this where she would surprise him with the kindness she naturally held in her soul. It wasn’t much, wasn’t near as much as he wanted from her, but it was something. Something he could never take for granted. Something he couldn’t risk losing. Still, he watched her with longing pooled in his melancholic sky blue gaze, lost in all the things that would never be which circled in his head.

I should wake her up, He thought to himself, glancing at the clock on the wall for a moment. She said she’s supposed to start serving breakfast to the patients at eight-thirty…If she stays here any longer and misses her scheduled shift, Matthew might get her in trouble. It pained him to think of being the reason she leaves his side, but at the same time, he doesn’t want her to have to deal with complications because of him. He was the one who asked her to stay last night, after all. She shouldn’t have to pay for his selfishness and greed. Sighing quietly to himself with a saddened frown angling his lips, he looked back to _______.

But she’s so warm…Just feeling her like this is a delight as it is…No. Don’t be selfish, Eddie. She’ll come by again soon enough and maybe we can do something like this again sometime before she eventually discovers how much better than this place she really is and leaves me behind. Ah, he wasn’t helping himself. His mood was dropping fast. He felt forlorn at the mere thought of her leaving him here and following some kind of hope and dream on the outside that would match what he saw was her worth. She deserved it, she truly did, he just…

He just wished she could take him with her.

“_______...” He murmured out her name to quiet his thoughts at last, plastering a flawed smile on his face in an attempt to keep what happened in his head from his eyes. “_______, darling, it’s time to get up.” He added on, reaching through the bars with his free hand to touch her shoulder and wake her. However, he hesitated. On a whim, he reached over to stroke her cheek instead, too tempted with longing to feel her warm skin upon his roughened palm.

Such soft flesh…Such warmth which emitted from her being…He has to enjoy her while he still can.

_______ whined softly from the disturbance of her slumber and at first attempted to swat Eddie’s hand away from her cheek weakly. He chuckled softly at the gesture but kept his hand in place, rubbing soft circles against her skin with his thumb. “Now, now, don’t be like that. You fell asleep here with me last night and I do believe it’s passed the time you should have gotten ready for the day ahead.”

That voice…It certainly wasn’t one _______ was used to hearing when she wakes up in the morning. Actually, no one really wakes her up in the morning, so to have someone trying to wake her was definitely out of the norm. She thought of this while she rested in the place between wake and dream, too tired at this point to try to swat the hand off of her cheek – but it was still something to think about. Come to think of it…when did she fall asleep last night? She can’t rightfully remember…She can’t even remember where she fell asleep.

The thought was odd enough to cause her brow to furrow and for her lashes to begin to flutter open. The first thing her (eye color) eyes noticed was the white wall in front of her. The sight caused her to blink her tired eyes a couple of times, the action stinging ever so lightly. That wall wasn’t the one she woke up to every morning…The walls in the dorm rooms were a light brown color, not white. Sleepily, her eyes trailed up the familiar wall to take a glance at the clock near the ceiling.

7:44 a.m.

Like lightning cracking through her perfect bubble and setting the good vibes on fire, the young orderly sprung to life with horror sparking in her eyes when she realized what was going on. Upon noticing this, Eddie removed his hand from her cheek, honestly expecting her to stand and sprint the hell out of there. He wouldn’t blame her. Working for a place like Massive the way she was, he’d probably do the same thing if he were late to start his shift too.

“SHIT!” _______ exclaimed and was quick to scramble to her feet, regrettably releasing the blue-eyed man’s hand as she went. “I fell asleep here! I fell asleep and I’m gonna be late! Oh crap!” The girl panicked, looking back at Eddie with pure distraught smeared across her expression whereas the man seated on the ground watching her look back with amusement gleaming in his sky blues. “I-I’m so sorry to up and run like this! I really am, but-!”

“Don’t be,” He interrupted her apology. “You have to go make your rounds, I understand that. I’m lucky enough to have actually had your company throughout the evening as it was. Thank you for that. Now, run along, darling.” He flashed a playful smirk at her. “You can repay me for waking you in time and running out on me like this later, yes? Until then, I wish you a wonderful morning.”

She blinked at him a few times in surprise at his curt retort, her cheeks flaring with color just the slightest bit due to his smirk, but a thankful smile soon took her lips because of it, the terror melting away from her for that instance. “Thanks, Eddie. I’ll see you again in a little while, alright? Sorry again to up and run like this, but I’ll be back!” Just like that, she was gone. She rushed down the hallway on her bare feet, thankful for Eddie having awoken before her and for her having discarded the paper plates from the pizza the night before as well. All she had to do now was make it to her bedroom, change and get the breakfast and pills for her patients together. She’d have to rush, but that’s alright! It’s totally fine! So long as Matthew wasn’t around to hound her about it, she’d be okay!

Yet, with her luck, she’d bet he would be there with his bitter coffee, just waiting to talk smack.

For now, she was just focused on getting up to her dorm to change in time to meet her schedule. It was a pressing thought, no doubt about it, but as she pushed through that heavy metal door leading to the stairwell she had taken the night prior, something else came to mind. She paused with one foot on the fourth floor’s landing and the other on the first step, her hand resting on the banister by her side.

“Wait…did we fall asleep still holding hands…?” She reached up to touch the cheek Eddie had stroked with her free hand. “And did he really just…?” She contemplated what happened for a few moments in silence, but when she felt her blush flaring back to life, she shook her head to dismiss it and simply carried on her way to the dorm rooms above.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

_______ was beyond herself with panic. She was in a complete state of disarray as she had fumbled about her room, desperately prying her uniform out of her closet to clumsily throw it onto herself. On her bedroom floor is where the pajamas she wore the night before would remain until she eventually returned. For now, the girl was hopping out of her room, kicking it closed behind her after she managed to put her remaining shoe on. The laces for both of her shoes remained untied, but she convinced herself she had no time right now to take care of them.

As soon as those shoes were on, she was sprinting down the hall back to the stairwell like nobody’s business.

On the way, Tristen came into view, a group of clipboards tucked beneath his arm and a wide, bright grin splitting across his toasted skin in a cheeky greeting. “Late this morning, are we, _______?” He mused at the girl as she ran passed.

“Yeah! No time to talk! See you later!”

“Run, girl, run!” He laughed after her, watching her from over his shoulder as she pushed through the door into the stairwell. “Run before ole Mattie boy eats you alive!”

As if she’d ever let that happen.

Once passed the door, _______ couldn’t even be bothered by the loud racket the sound of the metal crashing closed caused to echo through the stairwell. She just gunned it down the steps, but as she went, she nearly tripped over her own feet thanks to her laces. Falling down the stairs to her eminent death wasn’t something she wanted to deal with today, so when she got to the third floor’s landing, she invested a few moments of her time into tying her shoelaces as quickly as possible. While she focused her attention on her shoes, however, the sound of a door downstairs opening and closing resounded in the stairwell around her. The echo of footsteps proceeded the sound, but she figured it was probably just Matthew headed up to the break-room to curse her with his presence. That was her first thought, anyway.

Her theory was completely debunked when the footsteps grew closer and louder. In fact, it sounded like they had passed the second floor’s landing and were still coming closer. _______ found her curiosity piqued by this development. So much so that she slowed the tying of her laces though she remained kneeling on the ground with the cords in her hands. Through the curtain her hair created around her face in the position she was in, she peered as best as she could down to the set of stairs which lead to the third floor’s landing from the midway landing. After a few moments, sure enough, someone came into view.

Someone _______ didn’t recognize.

The person who came walking up the steps was a man with a short, blond undercut comb over, broad shoulders and lanky limbs. He had a bag carried over one of his shoulders and, to her surprise, a male orderly’s uniform on. Her brow furrowed deeply at this, caught off guard by the unfamiliar presence of the man, but she quickly turned her gaze back to her shoelaces when he reached the midway landing and she noticed him starting to make his way up to her spot. She moved herself to press against the wall of the landing she was on but kept herself kneeling, busying herself with the tying of her laces as he made his way to her so he wouldn’t catch her staring.

Out of reflex, she turned her gaze up to see his face as he reached for the door. It seemed like he had the same reflex, for when she did, she caught him looking back. A small, courteous smile angled his lips tightly and he nodded his head in greeting. _______ got the feeling that he didn’t care to interact with her, but that’s fine. The feeling was mutual right now. Still, she smiled back and nodded in greeting as well, watching as he opened the door to the fourth floor and left her behind with its cacophonous closing.

Who was that new orderly and why the hell was he headed into one of her assigned floors?

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

_______ didn’t stick around in the stairwell for very long after that mystery man had left her behind. No, she left as soon as he was gone, because she was still late as it was. For the rest of the way down to the break-room’s floor, she had rushed it, sprinting until she had eventually made it. She had prayed that Matthew wouldn’t be there already, but of course, her luck didn’t turn out. As usual, he was seated there with his bitter cup of coffee and a couple of biscuits on a napkin resting on the table.

She hadn’t taken the time to acknowledge him when she first entered the room. She just rushed over to the fridge and began to take her things out to work on the breakfast for her patients. She couldn’t make anything too elaborate for them today with the short amount of time she had on her hands. The best she could do for now was quick scrambled eggs with a side of their daily fruits. She had finished the eggs already and was currently setting up the fruits for the patients, cursing the silence which resonated in the room for once.

Normally, the last thing she wanted to do was talk to Matthew. She’d be happy if he never spoke a word to her again for the rest of their natural born lives – but today was different. It was different because of that man she had seen headed into the fourth floor. She was told that Matthew and herself were the only orderlies in charge of the male ward when she first showed up, and ever since she got here, she hasn’t heard a word about any new employees being hired. She felt that was something she ought to have heard of if they were going to be getting new people they would have to be working with – especially someone who was now apparently working on her floors, from what she guessed. She wanted to know more about it. It bugged her, deep inside, and she couldn’t really tell why – or perhaps she didn’t want to acknowledge why. 

In truth, she was afraid she was going to be transferred from the fourth floor.

Afraid she was going to be taken away from Eddie.

She shook her head and frowned at the thought. No, that’s not why it bothers her. That’s not why at all! At least, it wasn’t the only reason, anyway. It still felt incredibly odd to her to have a new face showing up out of the blue and she felt she had a right to know who he was and why he was here.

“Ya showed up late today.” Matthew’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Ya overslept today, didn’t ya?”

“…Yeah. I guess I did.” She replied monotonously. She didn’t care to have another one of their infamous chats today, but at least he spoke up; now she could find some sort of way to ask him what the hell was going on.

“Stayed up late doin’ somethin’ special?”

“Not necessarily, no.” She lied.

A pause followed from the gruff man as he took a swig of coffee. Sighing in bliss from the bitter taste, he licked his lips as he brought the cup back down, also keeping his gaze set on the table and away from the woman behind him. “I heard ya last night.”

_______ froze. Her eyes widened as a chill raced down her spine, the knife she used every day to slice Eddie’s peaches gripped tight in her hand, halfway through her first cut. Had he found out about what Tristen did? Shit, had he find out about what she did? She swallowed hard and kept cutting the first slice of peach, responding with silence.

“You was talkin’ to that boy Tristen late at night. Don’t know of what and I don’t much care – but after he left, ya went somewhere downstairs, didn’t ya?”

 “…I had to use the bathroom, if you really need to know.”

“There’s a bathroom on the fifth floor by the dorms. Why would ya go downstairs to use the one there?”

“None of your business, Matthew, that’s why.” She replied with some attitude. She could feel her heart starting to beat with oncoming anxiety within her chest thanks to this conversation. Her hands were shaking as she worked the knife, her cuts jagged, tearing at the weeping flesh of the fragile peach on the plastic cutting board in front of her.

Another pause followed her reply from the man. He turned in his seat and set his gaze on the woman’s back at last. Silently, he looked over her full figure and his emotionless expression dropped to a scowl of distaste. “Ya went to see that crazy o’ yours, didn’t ya? That Gluskin guy ya keep takin’ to the courtyard.”

She tightened her grip on the knife harder when Eddie’s name came up. She hated the way he said it. Disgust clearly warped his speech when her patients were brought up, but for some reason, the feeling was amplified now when the blue-eyed man was brought into question. She couldn’t show her bias, however. She couldn’t risk it. “Gluskin? Why the hell would I go see him in the middle of the night? My patients are supposed to be asleep at the time I went to the bathroom. I wouldn’t go down to bother them for any reason at all during that hour of the night.”

“Mhmm.” Matthew hummed, unconvinced. “Ya right. They should be asleep at that time – and so should you.”

“Excuse me?” She was getting upset now as she placed the cut peach slices into Eddie’s cup. “Since when are you qualified to tell me when I should and shouldn’t sleep? My sleeping habits are none of your business, Matthew.”

“Yeah, ya might be right – but I’d say ya ain’t none o’ Gluskin’s business either; don’t mean ya don’t gladly run your mouth with him, does it?”

“What’s with the third degree?!” _______ snapped loudly this time, tossing her used knife into the sink beside her when she was done. She turned to face the man behind her then, narrowing down a glare at him as he looked back with his emotionless stare – any trace of a scowl long since removed. “Don’t you ever have anything more interesting or important to talk about other than criticizing me for everything I do around here? There’s a new orderly walking around my floors now! How about you tell me about that? Because I certainly wasn’t informed of any new staff members coming into the male ward to work with us!”

“Oh. That?” Seems her attempt at switching the subject worked. “That’s just some guy who was transferred to our department this mornin’ from some other section of the hospital I ain’t bothered to remember. Ya ain’t got nothin’ to worry ‘bout him for, if that’s what’s got ya so emotional.” God, she wanted to punch him in the mouth. “He ain’t takin’ your job or anythin’. He’s just been assigned to collect data and shit from patients under our care for them doctors downstairs. Nothin’ special.”

Well…that did actually put some concern to rest for her. So this new orderly isn’t a threat to her position. He’s just come to take notes on data for the patients he can send to their doctors downstairs. That’s good to know. She visibly relaxed as the thought sunk in. A sigh released from her lips and she turned back to her trays for her patients so she could put them on her cart, preparing herself to leave. She didn’t want to stay to talk any further. “Alright then…That’s good to know…I’m gonna go now. I’m late to give out the medicine already as it is.” She muttered and took the front handle of her cart when it was ready.

Pushing it forward, she didn’t pay Matthew a second glance – but he had never removed his gaze from her. Actually, when she got to the door, he stood up to open it for her before she could go. He stared at her as she gave him an awkward word of gratitude for the gesture, but he grabbed onto the side of her cart just as she was halfway through the doorway. She turned an annoyed look at him, but it quickly morphed to unease as the larger gruff man leaned in closer to her, his stare boring into her eyes with a dark intensity that made her want to squirm with discomfort.

“Remember what I told ya ‘bout them crazies, doll. Assault, rape and murder ya. That’s all they’d do if they’d get their hands on ya. Gluskin ain’t no exception. Keep gamblin’ with your time ‘round him, and I’ll be readin’ ‘bout ya in his report next.” He licked his dry lips and narrowed his sharp gaze slightly at her. There was something unreadable yet undeniably disturbing about the way he looked at her then. It made her skin crawl. “Would be a damn shame to see such a pretty face go to waste like that.”

A second harsh chill hit _______’s spine at his words. Her expression contorted with unease and she yanked her cart out of his hand, causing for some of the cups to rattle and shake about on their trays. “Goodbye, Matthew.” Was all she said before she left as quick as she could in the direction of the medicine room down the hall.

All the while, Matthew stayed standing by the door of the break-room where she left him.

Watching.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

It was raining this afternoon.

Rain hammered against the windows of Mount Massive, an applauding audience for the angry clouds and thundering giants up above. _______ had no time to work on the courtyard today at all thanks to that, but a part of her was thankful for the break. She felt sore from the days spent tending to the land, and a break certainly wouldn’t hurt. In turn of her free time today, she had decided to take some of her patients out of their cells to watch some television before their lunch would be served to them. She only took a couple of them to the TV rooms while the others opted to stay in their cells wrapped up in their blankets or cowering in their typical hiding places. Still, even for them, she brought books and papers with markers in case they wished to entertain themselves before it was time to bring them their food.

Eddie, however, had chosen to wait for her in his cell.

Though it was raining, he still wanted to spend time with _______. It wouldn’t feel right anymore to have his lunch without her. Perhaps it was him being greedy again, but in this instance, Eddie didn’t quite care. He was glad she didn’t either, and that she had agreed to leave him in his cell until she came by with his lunch rather than take him out to join the others. Don’t get him wrong, he does want to go to one of the TV rooms for his recreational time if he can’t go to the courtyard, but he doesn’t want to go without her. He could wait for her to get to him just as he did every day. He was patient.

It’s not like he needed to be anywhere.

His patience paid off for him in the end just as it did every day he waited for her. Kind as she always is, she agreed to spend her break with him again today once she took him to one of TV rooms. Currently, the two were sitting on a vacant couch with one of the larger televisions in the room playing cartoons before them. It was on a channel that played old, classic cartoons that the group of patients under _______’s care preferred to watch every time she brought them there. Right now, an episode of Tom and Jerry was airing with its volume brought to a low, moderate level. A couple of her other patients were grouped up around the television on the floor, hugging their knees close to themselves and keeping their eyes trained on the screen – wide and ever attentive.

_______ didn’t mind watching cartoons with her patients. Actually, she was a sucker for cartoons, so it was time well spent if you asked her. Especially on rainy days like today. It was nice to take a break during stormy weather after a day full of rushing and uncomfortable thoughts surrounding Matthew and that man she encountered on the staircase. Ugh, neither of the two men had left her mind in peace since this morning. Matthew for obvious reasons she didn’t like thinking about, and that new orderly for reasons of uncertainty. Matthew wasn’t exactly very detailed when he told her who that new guy was, and his vagueness had left the young woman with a pit of concern growing in her stomach. If that guy was anything like Matthew and he was working on her floors now…

She’d have to keep her eyes out for him and anything he might be doing with her patients. She may not have control of what happens to all the patients in the asylum nor does she have control of everything that happens to the ones she does care for, but she can at least try her hardest to make sure they were being treated right – and if they weren’t, you can bet your life that she’d do something about it.

“You seem preoccupied today, _______,” Eddie’s voice caught her attention, causing for her to lift her gaze from her tray of food to look at him. It was only then that she realized she had been staring at her plate, dazed in thought. He smiled at her in amusement because of that and raised a brow at her in question. “Has your day been difficult since you overslept this morning?”

“No, no, that’s not it.” She replied, sighing and leaning back against the couch cushions behind her. Her tray of food didn’t mean much to her right now. Any ounce of hunger she may have had today was erased from all the worrying going on in her head, so she simply slid the tray onto the small table set beside the couch itself. “It’s just been quite a day in general. I’ve just had to rush around a bit after nearly being late this morning, but that doesn’t bug me.”

Eddie hummed, nibbling on a peach slice for a moment. “What’s troubling you, then? It must be something. You’re normally so cheery. Does the rain have you down?”

“No, not the rain,” She shifted her gaze towards one of the windows for a moment. Rain continued to firmly patter against the glass, occasional distant booms of thunder aiding the droplets in their venture. It gave the room an ambiance she quite liked, actually. Cozy and comfortable. She turned her gaze back to Eddie at the thought. “I like the rain. It’s a nice change from the sunny days. Rain also helps make things grow, so it’s a good thing that it’s raining.”

“That is true.”

“Maybe the Jonquils will start to bloom in the forest because of it?”

Eddie chuckled, his smile widening a bit. “Not quite yet. Perhaps after a little while longer.”

“Bummer.”

“Aside from that, darling,” He attempted to change the subject back to what he asked. He didn’t know what it was, but he had a feeling _______ was deliberately trying to evade answering his question. He respected her privacy, of course, but it bothered him to see her with the look of distant disquiet in her eyes. He knew what he could do to help her was very limited thanks to his own obvious limitations, but he would still like to help the worry melt from her. He liked seeing her happy. She was his only source of happiness around here, after all. “Something is obviously bothering you today. What’s on your mind?”

_______’s eyes shifted to the side, staring at the ground as she contemplated on how to reply. She shouldn’t be bothering him with her problems, she knew that – but Eddie felt like a friend to her, not a patient. Friends are there to help friends out, aren’t they? Another sigh escaped her heavily and she nodded her head, closing her eyes as she reached up to rub her hands over her expression for a moment. When her hands slid back down to rest upon her thighs, she opened her eyes to look back into his sky blues and gave him a lopsided frown. “It’s just Matthew. He makes things here more difficult than they need to be, ya know? He’s just doing what he always does, I guess, but he’s been getting worse lately and it’s been bringing me down.” She grimaced at the memory of this morning’s happenings and shuddered. “Not to mention how creepy he is. I can hardly stand being in the same room as him.”

“Mattie has always been…an overbearing type, so I can see why you’d be exasperated with him. Creepy, though? How so?”

Her grimace deepened at the question. She didn’t want to answer. If she answered, that meant whatever she suspected was going on in that gruff man’s head was an actual realistic possibility. She didn’t want it to be true. She wanted to keep denying it. Denial, however, also leaves one vulnerable to the cruelty of life. “Just by the things he says and does around me when we’re alone. It makes me uncomfortable, that’s all.” She rubbed at her arms as gooseflesh began to bumble upon her skin, a certain degree of fear clawing at her gut from within as the words hung in the atmosphere between them. 

Eddie didn’t like the sound of this. His smile had fallen to a frown, his own concern and upset on the matter now clouding his sky blues much like the angry weather beyond the window behind him. “What does he do to make you feel uncomfortable, _______?”

“Nothing serious,” She tried to dismiss the topic with a shake of her head, meeting his gaze once more. “Really, I’m probably just…overthinking it. Anyway, I have a question for you too…” She trailed off as she brought her hands together on her lap, intertwining her fingers and taping her thumbs against each other in steady rhythm.

One, two, three.

One, two, three.

“Did…Did someone new happen to come by your cell today? A man? Blond with a comb over? You know…before I got there?”

Eddie blinked, surprised by the question. He didn’t want to dismiss the topic from earlier concerning Matthew so lightly, but she almost sounded…afraid when she asked that. As if she were scared of his answer. “Today? Yes, actually. Someone came by a short while before you served breakfast this morning.”

Her heartbeat was picking up now. She didn’t like this. She didn’t like people she didn’t know interacting with her patients. She didn’t want someone with ill intentions to bother them or cause them trouble when she wasn’t around to protect them. Especially not when it comes to Eddie. “Was he...good to you? He didn’t hurt you or say anything rude to you, did he? Did he harass you? Did he upset you or make you feel unsafe in any way?” He wasn’t the first person she asked. She had asked her other patients throughout her working day if they, too, were visited by this man before she got to them. Some of them gave her indiscernible replies while others simply nodded their heads and a few gave her quick and affirmative yeses. This man, this new orderly, he’s tending to her patients and she would have never found out if she didn’t see him in the stairwell this morning. Not if Eddie didn’t eventually tell her about him.

Her firm concern and need to know of his safety touched him. Eddie had never had anyone in his life care this much about him and his safety since the passing of his mother. Sure, before shit went down the toilet and he was sent to this hellhole, he did have friends. Good friends. Amazing friends. Friends who cared for his wellbeing – but they were gone now. They were gone, and even then, he swore he had never had anyone speak to him the way _______ was right now in relation to his safety. He guessed the others just assumed he could take care of himself seeing as he is a large, muscular man – not her, though. She obviously didn’t care about that.

She just cared to see him safe and happy.

His gaze softened at the realization and his kindhearted smile returned to his lips. It was a sign that gave the young woman’s heart some ease, but not completely until she heard from his mouth that he was okay. Eddie raised one of his hands to pet the top of her head, his fingers weaving through her gentle tresses as he did. He was getting bolder with his touches. Unable to resist. Reliant on physical displays of affection to quail the heavy beating of need locked within his cage of flesh and bone. “You’re far too sweet for this place, darling. Far too sweet.” He widened his smile when he caught the sight of light coloration upon the woman’s cheeks. Pulling his hand away from her hair, he gently pinched her right cheek, causing for her to whine a bit at him. He chuckled at the gesture. “I’m fine, trust me. He was fairly polite. Nothing like Mattie. Rest assured, he caused me no harm – though I have to say, I do quite enjoy your coddling of me. It’s as endearing as always.”

This guy. She didn’t mean for this to get embarrassing! She just wanted to know that he was okay and treated properly! Yet, there he goes, flustering her beyond her comprehension and being his ding dang charming self again! Ugh…She hated herself for liking it so much – for liking him so much. “W-well…I’m glad you’re okay, then…Th-that’s the important thing…” She stuttered once he removed his hand from her cheek, meeting his blue-eyed gaze. “You just let me know if he ever does anything he shouldn’t, though, alright? I won’t let anyone hurt you.” That goes for all of her patients, but Eddie was the only one she could have a full-blown conversation with. He was the representative they all depended on. The representative she trusted.

He nodded at her request, his smile now beaming from ear-to-ear due to her protectiveness. It was nice to have someone feel this way about him. Made him feel all warm and cuddly on the inside. A feeling he hadn’t felt in a very, very long time. Yet, as delightful as the sensation was, it quickly dissipated to a sour taste in his mouth when his eyes caught sight of movement from the doorway behind her. His smile fell to an unreadable look and his sky blues shrouded with storms once more as a bulky figure hobbled into the room behind a few other patients.

_______ furrowed her brow in confusion when she noticed this and turned to see what had caused the change in the man’s mood. Upon seeing Matthew walking a couple of his patients to one of the smaller TVs on the other side of the room, she understood why. She grimaced heavily at the sight and turned back to Eddie, a groan leaving her lips as she pressed one of her hands against her face. “Shit…He’s looking over here, isn’t he?”

Eddie’s gaze followed Matthew’s figure, their eyes locking for a few seconds before the opposing orderly’s gaze inevitably landed on the woman beside him. “He is.” He replied, but he didn’t sound troubled. If anything, he sounded protective himself now instead. His expression, however, remained neutral and unreadable. Something _______ wasn’t used to.

Matthew couldn’t believe this girl. What the hell did she think she was doing getting so close to this bunch of crazies? ‘Specially that Gluskin guy. The thought alone was enough to make the man want to gag. It truly is such a waste of a pretty face. If she can mingle with this bunch of rats, then she’s just as disgusting as they were. Putrid. Useless. Still, he watched her, hot under the collar and in his head. She was nothing but a source of amusement and potential carnal relief in the barren wasteland that is Mount Massive Asylum. He knew he caused her discomfort, he knew he made her uneasy and intimidated her – that was exactly what he wanted.

Once he had gotten the lot of patients he was told to take out for recreational time by the television set, he wandered his large self on over to where _______ and Eddie were seated. He eyed Eddie for a moment and Eddie eyed him back until he soon enough turned his attention to the female between them. “Even in shit weather like this, ya still choose to spend your time with the crazies. Don’t ya ever get tired o’ bein’ ‘round ‘em? Ya ain’t supposed to be their pals, yeah?”

_______ didn’t want to look at him. She wanted to keep her face hidden and her eyes fixed on either Eddie or the pouring rain – but she couldn’t just do that. Showing fear would only encourage him to bother her further to always get some kind of reaction out of her. “I don’t want to go over this with you again, Matthew.” She replied, turning her head to look at him. She grimaced at the expression on his face, and as a result, a small smirk took his lips. “We don’t meet eye-to-eye when it comes to our jobs. I get it. Could you just drop it and leave me alone? I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m just watching over my patients, letting them have their time out of their cells and enjoying my break.”

“I guess,” Matthew hummed in response, crossing his arms over his chest. “But you’re always ‘round them like this. Ya know that don’t look right. Brings up questions, don’t it?”

Questions? Her grimace tightened, not liking where he was taking this.

“So why not avoid trouble and try spendin’ your break in the break-room with me for once? What? Are ya scared I’m gonna…do somethin’?” He noticed her shudder as the question left his lips in a questionable hoarse breath, her expression scrunching up with unease while the color drained from her face. His smirk widened at the sight.

“Hey, Mattie, why not go along and mind your own business?” Eddie interjected, promptly standing himself up and boldly wedging himself in between the male orderly and the woman on the couch. A deceptive smile had angled his lips and his stormy blues turned crescent shaped, but one could tell from the tightness of his expression that he was unhappy with the scene. Very unhappy. “You’re upsetting the lady, and I’m sure you must know that isn’t very gentlemanly.”

While Matthew raised a brow and scowled at the Massive patient, _______ looked up at the two with widened eyes, shocked by Eddie’s boldness. His back was turned to her, his body blocking her from the other orderly’s view. Through his hospital clothes she could see his tensed shoulders, his muscular back straightened and his head held high as the two stared each other down. He truly was a protective presence, both feet firmly planted on the ground, refusing to allow the opposing male another glance in her direction. Eddie may be trapped in this damn hospital beyond his control, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t stand up for the only person who gave him some kind of will to live on when he saw she needed someone to defend her. It sickened him to think she ever had to spend time alone with the brute before him.

“Gluskin, the hell ya think you’re doin’? You’re the crazy ‘round here. Ya can’t tell me to do squat, aight? So why don’t you sit your ass back down and keep your mouth shut?”

Eddie simply laughed in response to the orderly’s aggressive reply – lighthearted and undeterred. “You’ve always been very funny, Mattie. Always such a clown.” His gaze sharpened and he tilted his head ever so slightly to the side as he crossed his own arms over his chest as well. “You don’t intimidate me, Matthew. You know you never have.”

Matthew’s scowl deepened heavily at this and he took a step closer to the patient, getting chest-to-chest with the blue-eyed man. “Ya wanna bet? I’ll give ya a reason to piss yourself whenever ya so much as hear me comin’ if ya don’t sit your ass back down and mind your own damn business.”

“Matthew, cut it out! You’re making a scene for no reason!” _______ attempted to be the voice of reason, but she was ultimately ignored.

Eddie shrugged his shoulders and widened his tight smile, planting both of his feet wide apart now to reaffirm his solid position on the matter. “Like I said: you don’t intimidate me. You’re a coward yourself, Mattie, because you pick fights with and force your way into the personal bubbles of people you know won’t or can’t fight back. You make yourself out to be this big monster of a man, completely unmovable – but let me be the one to tell you that I can be the exact same way. I’m not moving. You’re not going to bother _______ anymore while I’m around. Respect a woman’s space and be polite to them, Mattie, and perhaps one day, you might find a girlie for yourself. For now, _______ isn’t interested in a brute such as yourself. Get the message and get lost.” If he had to fight, he would. Eddie was no stranger to fist fights. In fact, he’s been aching to give Matthew a taste of his own fighting spirit since he first got here.

“Ya just love to run your fuckin’ lip, don’t ya, Gluskin?!” Matthew growled loudly, heavy puffs of breath escaping him through his now flaring nostrils. “I could ring your damn neck for the shit that leaves ya! I swear you’re beggin’ for it!” His hands turned to fists at his sides, face turning red. Rage was the name of the beast playing the game for him now and there was no backing it down.

“I’d welcome you a jab, but I don’t fight in front of women nor do I wish to cause any harm to the people around me. Back down, Mattie. Go back to what you were doing and let things be. You don’t know what you’re trying to get yourself into right now with me.”

Matthew’s breathing was getting heavier and heavier. His eyes were wide, wild, and he looked like he was ready to draw first blood. His pale-skinned face had turned completely red at that point, the shaking of his fist from loathing and rage amusing the blue-eyed man before him – but not the woman seated on the couch.

Knock it off!” _______ was quick to firmly shout at Matthew when she saw he was about to raise his fist. Standing to her feet, she quickly separated the two men by pushing Matthew back and away from Eddie with her hand pressed to his chest. “What do you think you’re doing?! You’re upsetting the other patients!” She hissed, gesturing to the people around them. They were, indeed, looking at them – some with widened eyes of fear and apprehension. “Do you seriously plan on picking a fight with him? For what?! Stop causing trouble from thin air, Matthew! We are orderlies! We’re supposed to care for our patients, not beat them! Just go away! Go to the break-room! Leave your clipboards and I’ll take your patients back to their cells, okay?! You got the rest of the afternoon off! Just get the hell out of here!”

Matthew stared down at the woman before him with utmost disdain flashing through his darkened eyes. This dumbass woman has no idea what she’s doing. That’s alright. That’s just fine. He’ll show her the error of her ways soon enough. For now, he just glared at her and Eddie like the Devil himself before turning himself around and walking towards the doorway.

“You’re a fuckin’ dumbass bitch to defend some good for nothin’ crazy like Gluskin, doll! Remember what I always tell ya! He’ll turn his back on ya soon enough!” He laughed loudly, looking over his shoulder before he left with an unsettling grin on his face. “Once a crazy always a crazy! You’ll end up on his report one day when ya have your guard down ‘round him and ya least expect it! Assaulted, raped and murdered! Just like I told ya! I hope your precious buddy-buddy time will be worth that, ‘cause I’ll be the last one laughin’ when it happens!”

Slamming his fist against the wall and laughing loudly when he noticed the jumps and shouts it caused from most of the people in the room – including _______ herself – was the last thing Matthew had done before finally leaving them all behind, cackled laughter echoing down the hall in his wake.

He’s crazy.

She swore he was legitimately crazy.

Judging from the way Eddie handled the situation by choosing not to fight and everything she had thought about since first meeting the blue-eyed man, this event pretty much confirmed it in her head.

He was present.

He was in control.

He was docile, civilized and sane of mind.

Eddie Gluskin doesn’t belong here.

Chapter Text

The rain had been pouring for a majority of the day by the time nightfall came to be. The heavy droplets could still be heard marching and stomping along the roof of the old hospital building, aiding to the weighed atmosphere within. _______ was beyond exhausted at this point. The day had been a long, stressful and grueling one right from the start. She normally enjoyed her job quite a bit, but today was just…completely of its own. Honestly, the main reason she felt as drained as she did was because of Matthew.

It’s all Matthew’s fault.

It’s always Matthew’s fault.

Things were just getting worse and worse with him as the days have been going by – but that he would actually try to start a fight with one of the patients over her? She never in a million years would have thought that would ever happen. What had been the point, anyway? Truthfully, she didn’t want to know. The guy was giving her the creeps in a terribly uncomfortable way, intrusive shivers raking her body whenever she thought about it throughout the rest of her day.

After the events from earlier, she has become more aware of her timing whenever she would maneuver about the hospital just so she could be certain to not come across him again. Thankfully that hadn’t been so difficult after lunch was over since she had to take both of their groups of patients back to their cells, but she didn’t mind that. As aforementioned, she actually really enjoyed what she did when she was on the clock, and she figured Matthew’s patients could use a touch of tenderness after being stuck with him for so long. Naturally, they didn’t trust her very much, but that’s alright. One way or another, she managed to get them back to their cells and even tucked some of them into their cots when she saw all that they wanted to do was curl up and hide from the world.

She couldn’t blame them for that.

She had been feeling the same way since the early hours of the day.

After that, when the time for dinner came to be, _______ purposefully waited a little longer than she normally would to go to the break-room and get everything prepped for her patients. Sure, it was cutting her time short and she was pushing her schedule a bit much as she had accidentally done this morning, but the good thing about that is that Matthew is in and out a lot earlier at night than he is in the morning. By the time dinner comes, he wants to clock out as soon as possible. He usually dashes like a flash of lightning because of that, and it was thanks to this that she was able to prepare the meals in peaceful solitude.

Still, the young woman was tired. So very tired. Her feet ached terribly within her white sneakers and she swore her joints creaked and protested just as much as the wheels of her cart as she rolled it down the hallway towards Eddie’s cell. Her head was lulling about between her shoulders, her brain pounding within her skull. Her eyes stung with the need for sleep and her body cursed her for not taking as many breaks as she probably should have during the day. Who knew emotional turmoil could take so much out of someone?

Thunder boomed angrily in the distant skies outside, a flash of lightning illuminating the hallway brightly with its magnificent flares, but _______ couldn’t be bothered to look out any nearby window to see. She could, however, listen. She listened to the bellowing of the mournful wind and the thrashing of the trees whom were subjected to their woeful assault. They clawed at the walls and windows of the asylum, moaning a haunting call of the damned she tried to ignore.

Her eyes took notice of her shadow on the ground as it slowly moved forward with her rickety cart. It had looked and felt as though it has been nighttime since the early afternoon. Normally, she would have loved the kind of ambiance the stormy weather brought with it, but not today. She would have given anything for some sunshine to lift up her spirits and bring some hope of positive vibes back to her. Oh well…She supposed she would just have to pray that the storm would blow over by morning.

Looking up at the thought, _______ noticed she was approaching Eddie’s cell. She smiled just a bit to herself because of it. She still felt pretty dang shit, but somehow, that blue-eyed man always made her feel better one way or another; even if it was just the slightest bit.

“Hello, Eddie…” _______ yawned out her greeting to the man once she came to stand before the bars of his cell.

Inside, Eddie had been sitting upon his cot, staring out the window at the pouring rain until she had appeared. He looked over towards his lovely orderly, but a smile didn’t come to his lips as it normally would at the sight of her. No, in its place, a sympathetic frown had found its way to the man’s expression. “_______, you’re here…How are you feeling?” He asked, standing to his feet and meeting her at the bars.

She flashed him a lopsided, small, tired smile in response. “I’ve been better…” Shrugging her shoulders, she turned to grab the remaining plate of food off of her cart to slip into his cell for him. Just like the previous two meals of the day, it wasn’t anything elaborate. She felt bad for that. Really bad. All she wanted to do was give her patients all something to look forward to despite it having to be served with a side of pills, but it seemed like today, she just wasn’t able to deliver on a lot of things. “Today hasn’t exactly been one for the record books.” She muttered, a frown beginning to come to her lips now as well the longer she looked at the plate of food she had served for him. She shook her head at the sight and turned her gaze towards the floor. “Sorry I couldn’t make anything nicer today...There’s just a lot going on in my head right now after the whole thing with Matthew and that new guy roaming around the male ward…”

Eddie didn’t like this. He didn’t like this at all. His poor sweet peach…She was clearly running on empty by now after the long day of crap she had to deal with. Normally, the two would spend a good portion of the late night together here by his cell, just talking the night away, but he didn’t want to do that tonight. She clearly needed rest and a lot of it. “Don’t worry about the dinner, darling. I enjoy everything you make me.” His tone was soft, gentle and caring. Reaching through the gaps between the bars, the blue-eyed man gingerly cupped the young orderly’s cheeks within his palms, making her shift her (eye color) gaze back to his. “You poor thing,” He muttered to her as he took in the sight of her tired expression. “You look terribly worn out…”

“Gee, thanks. I always knew I was quite the looker.”

He gave her a small look of amusement at that and shook his head. “Come now, darling, you know very well that isn’t what I meant. Why, you’re always as beautiful as the Jonquils from my memories. However, today has obviously taken its toll on you.” His look of amusement vanished, morphing into one of concern and care once more as his thumbs began to caringly stroke her cheeks just as he had done earlier that very same morning.

Gradually, without even thinking about, she began to press her right cheek a little further into his palm, nuzzling it, enjoying the tender touch she was receiving from him. Her lashes fluttered just a bit, tempted to close, but she forced her eyes to remain open and alert to the best of her abilities. At this point, she was far too drained of energy to truly react to his sweet comment with any form of embarrassment. She would probably remember it in the morning, but right now? Right now, she was lucky enough to still be awake. “Yeah, well…I guess it’s just how things are around here sometimes.”

Eddie shook his head in response. “It shouldn’t be that way. What happened today was something that should never be ever again. Nobody deserves that kind of harassment, _______.”

Her brow furrowed just the slightest bit as she listened to him speak, perplexed by his situation and drawn in by his reality.

“You deserve to feel safe and okay where you work and live, not constantly on edge because of your coworkers. Look at you…” His frown deepened further in sympathy for the young girl, his thumbs brushing the skin just beneath her eyes with a gentleness she had never felt before. “You’ve even started to develop dark rings under your eyes over the time of your stay here…This kind of stress isn’t healthy for you, darling.”

How can you be considered such a danger to society that you’re sent to an asylum for the criminally insane when you speak like this? When your touch feels this gentle?

“Now, listen to me. I don’t want you spending the night here with me tonight, alright? I know we spend some time here together before we go to bed every day, but you aren’t in any condition to be doing that right now.”

It doesn’t make any sense; I can see the concern in your eyes. You genuinely mean what you’re saying. You’re not trying to cause me any harm or endanger me in any sort of way…I never believed you were truly capable of doing anything like that.

“I want you to get yourself to your room as soon as possible and get yourself into bed. You can’t push yourself as much as you did today without taking necessary breaks to rest, darling.”

What could you have possibly done to get yourself sent here? You’re not like the others. There’s something not quite right about this.

“I don’t want you to work yourself sick. Promise me you’ll go to your room to sleep now? I won’t let you go without that promise, just to let you know.”

Her gaze softened thoughtfully at that and she nodded her head in reply, reaching up to gently place her hands atop of his forearms. “Okay…I promise I’ll go to bed as soon as I leave here.” During it all, she had been nuzzling his palm with her cheek, reveling in the sensation of the touch of his skin on her own. Usually, she was always the one coddling people…It felt nice to be on the other end of the stick for once. Really nice. She was so out of it with exhaustion, she didn’t even care how obvious she was about that, either. She just nuzzled his palm further as she felt him pull her in closer to him until both of their foreheads eventually pressed against the bars of his cell. (eye color) eyes stared into blue, deep and thoughtful, all while her hands had begun to stroke his arms the same way he did her cheeks.

Quietly, they remained like this for a while, lost in the gaze of the other. _______ was visibly locked in a world of their own, indulging in the warmth and care she felt from Eddie’s touch, but he had other thoughts racing through his mind. It didn’t take long for those concerning thoughts to turn his gaze into a harder, more serious one. She, too, noticed this in her trance and shook herself back to reality, a questioning gaze visible in her eyes. “Stay away from Matthew, _______. I know what he’s like. I’ve known him for a long time, and I know him as a violent, brutish type…Just…keep yourself safe. Don’t be alone with him. If possible, stay away from him at all costs. I don’t want anything to happen to you, but if all else fails and he does do something again that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe…tell me. I’ll help you. I’ll make him leave you alone again no matter how many confrontations it takes.”

“…You really don’t belong here, do you, Eddie?”

A soft, distant kind of somberness hazed over his sky blues in response to her question. Emptiness reflected upon the hopeless smile he gave her just as it always has since his first day admitted in the olden haunted hospital. Did he belong here? No. Of course he didn’t – and yet, here is where he resides; decaying within his cell alongside the rusty bars which caged him. After so long spent within the hospital and enduring the torment he had been forced under, sometimes the answer became muddled in his head. He knew he didn’t belong here, but after so long of people telling him the opposite, he had begun to question himself. He was just glad _______ saw the truth in him still despite the uneasy haze the asylum clouded over his judgement. After a while, he shook his head and parted his lips in an attempt to answer her with the words on the tip of his tongue, but he stopped himself when he heard footsteps echoing down before the bend of his hallway.

He pulled his hands away from the young woman when he realized someone was coming and took two steps back from the bars separating them no matter how unpleasant the loss of warmth had been. _______ felt the same loss, but she followed his lead and also took two steps away from his bars. They couldn’t be seen like that, couldn’t even leave an inkling of a possibility in anyone’s mind in this place about their growing friendship. Mount Massive is a living beast with walls that talk and floors that squeal. They always had to be aware of this.

Giving Eddie a glance and nod of her head to bid him farewell, _______ took the handle of her cart and turned it to start making her way to the elevator shaft. When she did, she caught sight of the unknown new orderly standing by the bend of the hall, a group of clipboards held neatly to his chest in his left arm. It seemed as though he were waiting for her to finish up so he could pass through and see patients in this particular stretch of hallway. Instantly, her mood dropped at the sight of him. She resisted the urge to glare as she began to make her way to that bend, but she did keep her stare on him. It appeared that he had the same idea, because his eyes remained locked on her own as well. Sharp green hues stared her down as she passed by his side but she felt no intimidation. If anything, she returned the sharp glance in warning, silently daring him to try something with her patients.

“Hey.” She greeted him blandly.

“Hello.” He greeted her just as blandly in return.

She stood there for a second or two with her rickety cart, staring up at the blond orderly who stared back at her with a look as firm and indecipherable as her own. With a final nod, she made her way around the bend and left the man behind. She could hear his footsteps begin to echo once more as she went, and once they did, she made sure to try to lessen the sound the wobbling her cart made as she walked just so she could hear what happened behind her.

“Good evening, Mr. Gluskin. I do hope the day has treated you well. I hate to be a bother, but it’s time I take my evening notes with you.”

Okay, at least he’s talking to him without insulting him or sounding like a condescending asshole the way Matthew did. It gave her a little peace of mind as the sound of the cell’s door opening and closing resounded distantly behind her. She didn’t hear much after that. Neither the man nor Eddie spoke again while she was still in range, and by the time she got to the elevator, of course she wasn’t able to hear anything from that area of the level. Stepping into the elevator when the doors opened for her and her rickety cart, _______ tried to remind herself of what Eddie told her the man was like towards him, but it did little to console the still massive amount of unease she felt in her gut. As she pressed the number of her floor and watched the doors close in front of her, she told herself she couldn’t trust anyone here at face value. She knew Eddie wouldn’t tell her the full truth if he felt it would cause her unrest.

It is because of that she told herself to remain skeptical and protective until she was proven wrong.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

After _______ left her cart in the break-room for the night, a part of her told her to head back to the fourth floor when she came to stand within the elevator for a change to make her way to the dorms. She stared at the numbers on the pad for a long time, her eyes scanning over the plethora of buttons it shone on her person in that dim yellow light. Most of the numbers it held were below ground and restricted, so the only ones she had to quarrel with were the five on top.

Her finger hovered over the glowing button for the fourth floor for a while, but eventually, she pressed the one for the fifth floor instead. She promised Eddie she would go to bed as soon as she was done and that she wouldn’t go to him that night so she could get all the rest she needed. Truthfully, she wanted to throw that promise out the window, but she decided against that and kept it instead despite the voice in her head which told her to do otherwise.

“He’d probably think you’re being way too paranoid,” She muttered, staring at the changing numbers above the number pad in front of her. “Way too paranoid for your own good. You’re seeing things that aren’t happening and you need to relax. He wouldn’t lie to you. He’s fine, the others are fine, everyone is fine. He hasn’t done anything to any of them…He hasn’t hurt any of them…He hasn’t hurt Eddie…” She whispered, but still it did very little to help her.

Thankfully it hadn’t taken very long for the elevator to stop at her floor, cutting her muttering and thoughts short. She sighed as the doors opened and walked out into the hallway as she brought a hand up to rub at her back. It had been a very long day…She was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. Laying down to sleep was starting to sound really good to her right about now, but when she came into the hall her room was in, the sight of Tristen leaning against the wall by her door with his arms crossed over his chest in wait put the idea on hold.

It didn’t take long for him to hear her footsteps. When he looked over to her, a bright grin split across his lips and he waved at his friend in a cheery greeting. “Yo, _______! It’s about time you got off your shift! What took you so long?”

She let out a yawn as she pulled her keys out from her pocket and gave her friend a lighthearted, tired wave when she got to her door. “It’s been a tough day.” She replied in tune with the click of her lock. Pushing the door open, she gestured for the man to follow her as she walked into her room and turned on the light. “I took longer than normal just now prepping the meals for my patients on top of it, so ya know…In late and feeling half-dead.”

Tristen whistled at the girl’s reply once he closed the door behind them and turned back to see the girl kicking her sneakers into a corner of her room without a care. He watched her plop onto her bed and look at him with a vacant, tired stare. “Half-dead?” He echoed her words and went over to plop down beside her. The motion caused for her body to bounce some on her mattress, but she didn’t seem to pay it much mind. “Girl, you look like you’re in a committed relationship with Death. What the frick happened to you today?”

“Since when do you censor your speech?”

“Alright, what the fuck happened to you today? Better?”

Another yawn escaped her and mingled with her words. “Better. You sound more like yourself now.”

“No, but seriously! What’s wrong? You haven’t been this worn out a day since getting here! Is ole Mattie boy being a prick to you again?”

“Ugh, if only that were just it…” _______ muttered out with a look of discomfort contorting her expression as she shifted her gaze to the blankets at her side.

“What do you mean? Did something happen? You know I love coming over to gossip with you and talk shit about our shithead superiors, but if something, ya know…legit happened, we can talk legit too.” He grabbed a small blue throw pillow she had on her bed and handed it to her, offering her a comforting smile when she turned her eyes back to his.

She gave him a small smile in return and took the pillow from his grasp, muttering out a quiet word of gratitude as she hugged it to her chest for some much needed comfort cuddles. “A lot of shit happened today that has just stressed me out more than I’ve ever been.” Her smile quickly fell as the words left her lips. “For starters, we got some new orderly guy walking around our section of the ward and working on my assigned floors with my patients when I’m not on the clock. I wouldn’t be so peeved-off about it if I was just told before he showed up that he would be here, ya know? That, and I didn’t find out about what he was doing until I brought the issue up with Matt myself.”

“A new set of hands to help out with the patients, huh?” Tristen hummed and crossed his legs beneath him on the mattress. “What’s he doing around your floors that’s got you so upset?”

“From what Matthew told me, he’s just taking data from some of our patients for their doctors down in the restricted areas, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about this.” She yawned once again at the end of her sentence and cursed herself for it. Turning to look at her bedside table, she reached for the water bottle she left there the night before, half empty, and poured a bit of water in her hand. She used that to wipe at her eyes in an attempt at waking herself up before she put the bottle back. It worked – to a certain extent.

“That doesn’t sound so bad, though.”

“Yeah, I guess,” She rolled her eyes. “But I don’t trust anyone here at face value anymore. Matthew is an absolute creep of a twat, Catherine is a massive bitch on your end, and all the other official staff hide out downstairs without so much as a peep since I got here, leaving all us general staff and orderlies to our own devices. Everyone else? They’re all a bunch of temporary people who could go at any time just wasting the days away in the reception area and the security room despite this place being deader than a ghost town. You can’t tell me this place isn’t at least a tiny bit shady, Tristen.”

“I see your point.”

“Exactly. This place feels like it’s built on secrecy, and I can’t trust a bunch of people I never see nor can I trust people who are borderline abusive to their patients nor can I trust a new face within these walls with the words from the mouth of the biggest creepy jackass in the asylum that there is. As long as I’m concerned, that new guy is just another shady character to add to the list.”

Tristen blinked his wide hazel eyes at her in surprise at the speech she gave. Oh yeah, something had definitely gone down while he was working in the female ward. “Well, I guess you’re wise for keeping your guard up considering you’re already working with a guy like ole Mattie boy…” He trailed off, rubbing his chin between his thumb and forefinger. “But who is the new orderly? Did you manage to talk to him?”

_______ scowled at the question. “No. The most I did was ask my patients if he had done anything to any of them. Thankfully, all of them said he didn’t do a thing.”

“Okay. What does he look like then?”

“Some tall, lanky-looking blond guy with green eyes. He’s got some undercut comb over thing going on with his hair.”

“Tall, lanky-looking, green-eyed blond guy?!” Tristen laughed out suddenly with a brighter gleam taking over his gaze.

_______ furrowed her brow deeply at him in question, nodding slowly in response. “Yeah…Why are you so excited by that?”

“Girl, you’re fussin’ for nothing!” He laughed once again, flashing her a wide grin. “That’s gotta be David! He told me he’s been hounding for a different position in the hospital for months now! Good to hear they finally listened to his emails! Poor bastard, I thought he’d go insane stuck in that filing room all day. I’m surprised you’re so on edge about him!”

She stared at Tristen in perplexed confusion as he spoke. This time, it was her turn to blink her eyes at him in surprise, shocked by the confidence her friend spoke with when addressing this man whom had caused her so much mental anguish throughout the day. Granted, it was at no fault of his own in actuality, but she still blamed him for it. “…Um, who the heck is David? Am I missing something here?”

Tristen’s jaw dropped slightly at that. “What do you mean who’s David? You have to have met him at some point! He’s the guy in charge of the Record Room! He takes care of all the patient files and hospital documents and tedious shit like that – or he used to, anyway. The higher-ups must have finally listened to his request and reassigned him. Anyway, that’s where the patient files and records are. Don’t you take your data logs to him at the end of your day?”

“No…I always leave my data logs in a bin in the break-room for Matthew to take. He told me he would be handling them when I first got here…”

“Oh, well, that explains a lot. No wonder you haven’t met David! Anywho,” He waved at her dismissively. “You don’t have to worry about him. I’ve been talking to him since I first got here and I can vouch for him. He’s a pretty decent guy – he’s got shitty taste in movies, but he’s an okay guy. I doubt he’ll cause you much trouble.” He pursed his lips at his own words and huffed some, crossing his arms over his chest again. “Still, who the hell doesn’t like Star Wars? The man has no class…” He muttered more so to himself than to _______.

She didn’t really register the last thing he said regardless. The most important part of that whole conversation was the topic of this David character actually being a decent guy…If Tristen said he treated him well, that’s just another person to add to the list who could vouch for his good behavior. Again, it made her feel a bit better about the situation, but not completely. She wouldn’t let him pass until the man himself proved to her he wasn’t a threat. For now, however, she chose to drop the topic. “If you say so…Thanks for the info, Tristen.”

“Nah, don’t mention it…but is that all that happened today to make your day so tough on ya? Something tells me it isn’t.”

“No…No, it wasn’t.” She sighed out deeply, uneasy shivers beginning to rake along her spine once more. “Tristen, Matthew is starting to get kind of…scary. I don’t know what the heck has gotten into him lately, but the way he’s been talking and acting around me is starting to give off really creepy vibes.”

His brow furrowed at this development. “What? What do you mean? What’s he been doing and saying?”

“I…don’t want to go into detail.” She grimaced as the shivers got stronger. “But all I can say is that I really don’t like it. He almost got into a fight with one of my patients today when he stood up to defend me against him in one of the TV rooms.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa – a fight? Over you? How the fuck did that happen?”

“I don’t know! I have no idea why Matthew would even bother getting into an argument like that over me at all! We hate each other and it’s not like it’s a secret!” She whimpered as the words left, hugging her pillow tighter to her chest. “I don’t know what’s going on in that fat head of his and I really don’t want to find out. Honestly, that’s why I was late today. I’ve been trying to avoid him all day since then, so I started up dinner later than I’m supposed to.”

“Jesus, _______...Maybe you should go to HR about this. Pretty sure that could be filed as sexual harassment for you and endangerment for the patients.”

She shook her head. “No, that would just make things worse…Could you imagine what that psycho would do if all HR did was give him a firm scolding before moving him down the ladder and he found out I told on him? He acts more like someone who should be charged as criminally insane than my patient does! He’s a damn maniac! You should have seen it, Tristen. There’s something not right about this place and the way it handles its patients. My patient handled it so well, in total control, and Matthew completely blew up on him!” She shook her head again, staring down at the comforters between them. “My patient deserves to be freed from his cell; Matthew is long overdue a cuff or two, if you ask me. Eddie handled it with a total level-head…He really doesn’t belong in a place like this…”

Tristen was quiet for a moment as he allowed her words to sink in, his lips pursed again in thought. “What did he do to get himself admitted in Massive?”

“Huh?” She furrowed her brow again and lifted her gaze to meet Tristen’s.

“What did your patient do to be deemed criminally insane? Do you know?”

_______’s expression fell to one of anxious uncertainty. She had purposefully not read his report because she was too scared to find out. She was too scared to know what any of her patients did, but with Eddie? The fear was heavier, because she actually had something to lose if she found something to hold against him. “I…I have no idea. I haven’t read his report.”

“You haven’t?”

“I haven’t read any of their reports on their past. I…didn’t want to be afraid of them, so I’ve been scared of the reports instead.”

“Hmm…Why not find out now?” He smiled lightheartedly at the wide eyed look he got from her in return. “You say your patient – this Eddie guy – he doesn’t act like he belongs here, right?”

She nodded, too anxious about where this was going to speak.

“Then let’s find out for sure. Let’s go to the Record Room right now and find out what he’s in for. Who knows? Maybe there’s been some kind of mix-up after all and you could be his grand savior!” He wagged a finger at her. “That kind of stuff does happen, ya know.”

She always knew the day would eventually come where she would have to face the truth about Eddie’s past. One way or another, she knew she was just avoiding the inevitable. Something happened, something shocking enough to get him thrown into this mental prison – and she knew she needed to find out what it was before she got too far with him in this place. He’s already gained so much of her over the course of her stay in Massive as it is…She can’t let that go on for much longer without knowing the truth, and the truth was in plain sight on the man’s records at her disposal. “I-I can just read it in the morning before starting my shift. I don’t want anyone finding out about this.”

“Huh?! Without me?! Nu-uh!” Tristen stood to his feet with an adamant, foxlike grin on his face. “We’re going right now! I wanna find out what’s going on with this Eddie guy of yours too! He sounds like a decent son-of-a-bitch if he’d go up against ole Mattie boy like nothing for ya. If something fishy is going on with your patients, you’re gonna need some backup for it, won’t you? We gotta go together!”

“Even if I wanted to go now, the Record Room is closed.” She pointed at the clock on her bedside table. “It’s nearly midnight, Tristen. I doubt there’s anyone there.”

“So?” He questioned plainly. “It’s not like they lock the place up or anything. Whoever took David’s job must be long gone by now, so that gives us total leverage for looking for that Eddie guy’s file without much issue. You said you wanted to keep this under wraps, didn’t you? Then this is the perfect time! We can go in, grab his file, have a looksee, and go from there while keeping this matter to ourselves!”

Well…he had a point there. They could keep it quiet if they went now, but something just didn’t feel right about sneaking into the Record Room after-hours. It’s weird, but she felt like they could get into some deep shit if they were caught sneaking around like that. They might think they were trying to find confidential hospital records they didn’t have access to reading…but she knew she needed to know the truth. Still, she remained anxiously silent, looking at Tristen with uncertainty.

Eventually, the boy took hold of her hand and helped her to her feet with a strong, confident grip and a reassuring smile on his face. “Don’t worry,” He told her as he began to walk them to her door. “We’ll find out the truth about that patient of yours and I promise we’ll keep it quiet. We’ll be in and out before you know it!”

God, she really hoped he could keep that promise…

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

 

Walking through the bowels of the asylum this late at night always gave her a sense of eeriness she could never shake off of her shoulders. _______ normally only wandered the halls of the ancient hospital after-hours to either go to the bathroom or when she was spending time with Eddie by his cell. Otherwise, she mainly just kept to herself in her room, sometimes perhaps visiting Tristen in his for a quick chat but even that stayed within the fifth floor where the dorms were situated. She had never gone out of her way to venture to the lower levels of the building so late in the evening, and as she and Tristen had begun to descend the vast amount of steps to the ground floor in an attempt at keeping their presence hidden, she was starting to somewhat regret ever listening to him.

The two walked hand-in-hand, keeping each other close and giving one another a sense of security…or more so giving _______ a sense of security and Tristen a hand to keep him in check. He sometimes tended to get carried away and didn’t notice his surroundings or what was happening around him, so she was kind of like his moderator now when it came to that. The closer to the bottom floor they got, however, the more she began to tremble and shake with tension.

What if they were caught?

What if they were fired?

What if she was taken away from Eddie?

What if they called the cops on them because they thought they were trying to take confidential hospital records? Could they even do that?

She had no idea.

She was kind of spiraling in her head thanks a toxic cocktail of the day she’s had and the heist the two were trying to pull off together.

“Relax, _______,” Tristen muttered out to the woman by his side quietly so his voice wouldn’t echo in the stairwell, squeezing her hand with a smile on his face for reassurance. “Don’t be such a weenie. Heh, we work for an asylum for the criminally insane that’s hundreds of years old and you’re not scared of any of that – but you’re afraid of being caught reading reports after-hours which, by the way, are technically yours to read regardless?”

“You’re not helping.” _______ hissed back at her friend, her voice hushed to a whisper as well. “This is a risky idea we’re trying to pull off for literally no reason whatsoever! I could just go to the Record Room in the morning and read the report while the person who works there is actually there! No one gets in trouble in that scenario!”

Tristen blew a raspberry in response. “Can you seriously tell me you could have slept soundly tonight with all the bullshit circling in your head about this Eddie guy after what you told me happened today?”

She opened her mouth, wanting to say something. When nothing came, however, she closed it right back up again and squeezed his hand in her grip.

He snickered at that, patting the top of her hand with his free palm. “See? I’m always right. You know that. Besides, we’re already on the ground floor, so there’s no use in turning back now.” He hummed as the two stepped foot onto the final landing of the staircase.

She hadn’t even noticed when they made it there she was so wrapped up with anxiety and the back and forth she was having with him. Her nerves jumbled a million times over as he opened the door and walked her through with him, the well-lit grand hall of the hospital welcoming them with deceptively open arms. It didn’t seem like anyone was around. The receptionist’s desk was empty, though the computer monitors were still on. The waiting area was devoid of human life and the large computer rooms on either side were dark save for the computer monitors inside as well.

To her, their footsteps echoed thunderously in the large room as they made their way to the correct hall. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, and as though by instinct, she looked over her shoulder to see if anyone followed them. Nobody did, so she continued beside her friend quietly.

The hallway they walked down now was darker than the area they left behind. It appeared that the storm had caused a bit of a shortage in some areas of the building and this just so happened to be one in which that occurred. The hospital itself was enormous, so she couldn’t say she was surprised she hadn’t noticed it before. Perhaps she may have even walked along areas throughout the evening just as dimmed and flickering as this hall as well, but she just hadn’t noticed for obvious reasons.

Despite not reading up on the reports each of her patients had on file, _______ did actually know where the Record Room was. She had never entered it before, but she had passed by it multiple times during her stay in the asylum as she had been running about her daily chores. The closer they got to that ominous room which laughed at her each and every day, the more she struggled with the thought of wanting to turn back. The door to the room was just ahead now, and it was pretty obvious that Tristen didn’t plan on letting her bail from this mission they had set out on together. The further down the hall they got, the dimmer the lights became until, at the very end, they were completely burnt out. Naturally, as if aligned with some horror movie, the room they were looking for was right in the middle of that darkness. The door itself was open, light clearly shining out from the sliver of space the open door allowed it to escape from.

“Someone is still in there…” _______ whispered, tugging on Tristen’s hand to get him to stop.

He turned to look at her in the dark, his lively hazel eyes wide and vibrant even without the aid of light. “That’s kind of weird, don’t you think? David was never in this late when he worked in the Record Room…What do you think they’re doing in there?” He whispered back, shuffling a little closer to the girl so they could keep their voices low.

“Like heck do I know. Listen, I don’t care if there’s someone in there right now. This is way too creepy and risky. I say we should go back upstairs. I can just do this the right way in the morning like I’ve been telling you all along.”

“But if there’s someone in there who can help you find that Eddie guy’s record on file, why not just talk to them now?”

“’Cause it’s weird!” She hushed back. “You said it yourself! Nobody has ever been in the Record Room this late at night still on the clock. I feel like we’re poking our noses into some restricted business right now or something. If we get caught messing with restricted stuff, who’s to say what will happen?”

“You’re such a weenie, _______,” Tristen snickered quietly again. From behind him, he didn’t notice the sound of someone standing from a computer chair, walking towards that open door. “We could be in and ou-” He never got the chance to finish.

When _______ had seen whoever it was who was in the Record Room beginning to push the door open to step outside, she had tugged her friend to the wall right by the door to the room, flattening the two of them against it and covering his mouth with her free hand. Two sets of wide, anxious eyes stared as a short, skinny fellow stepped into the hallway and walked down the way they had just come from, muttering about how hungry the night shift always made him, while the two of them remained unnoticed.

Silently, they watched and listened as he disappeared beyond the hallway until the sound of the stairwell door opening and closing reached their ears. Once it did, the two of them released their held breaths, _______ taking her hands away from Tristen to rub on her face while he snickered and laughed the anxiety away.

“Well, well, well! Look at you, miss sneaky snek!”

“Keep it down!” She hissed back at him quietly. “We have no idea if anyone is still in there and I doubt this is the right time or situation to be using memes!” Even as she said that, _______ moved to the open door, peering into the room beyond discreetly to check if it was empty. To her absolute relief, it was. “…But you’re right: I am a sneaky snek. Booping my snoot in business that isn’t my own right now.”

“That’s the name of the operation! The Sneaky Snek’s Boop!” Tristen proudly declared, pretty much certain that the room was empty without having to look, judging by the girl’s reactions. “Now come on! We’re already here and in the clear, so might as well finish the mission and find ole Eddie’s record!” Without waiting for an answer, he took the girl’s hand again and pulled her into the Record Room with him, being careful to leave the door open as they went.

She hesitated as she was brought inside, but at this point, she guessed there wasn’t any going back. They were there already and the thoughts on what could possibly be in Eddie’s file were beginning to eat her alive from the inside out now that she was so close to those records kept in file. She wasn’t going to fight anymore.

Somehow, she needed to figure things out.

The room itself was relatively small, but most of the walls were covered in tall filing cabinets, each with a different label on every drawer indicating what files lay within. Some were letters, others were numbers and the rest were a combination of both. She couldn’t imagine what were in the numbered drawers or the ones with both letters and numbers, so she figured the best place to find Eddie’s record was by looking in the drawer with the letter ‘G’ on file. Aside from the cabinets, there was a desk with a computer, a chair and a mini TV the person who was working here had left behind when they walked out. It appeared as though he hadn’t been using it at the time of their arrival.

“So, what’s the poor sucker’s last name?” Tristen asked, twirling once in the center of the room with his hands outstretched. “They organize patient files by last name, so that’s your best bet here.”

“It’s Gluskin,” _______ replied, already making her way to the drawer with the letter ‘G’ in its sequence. “But I’ll look for it on my own, alright? You keep watch.” She sighed shakily as she pulled the long, overstocked drawer open. “I really don’t want to get caught.”

“Alright, fine, but tell me when you find it!” He responded as he made his way to the door, peering over the edge of it to make sure nobody was around. Still, the hall and room beyond were empty. “I can help you out with looking for his past record. These doctors have a shit ton of paperwork on file for the patients here. Mine have more than I’d like to think about.” He groaned with a roll of his eyes as the comment left him. “Catherine makes a huge deal out of them all the time, but lately, she’s been especially anal on their data and organizing their reports. Not like I’m allowed to see their medical reports either way. That restricted shit that comes from downstairs is filed in another cabinet, so you don’t have to worry about being a delinquent with that for your Eddie guy, btw.”

“Gee, that’s good to know,” She muttered in response as her eyes thoroughly skimmed along the names atop of the manila folders in the drawer she pulled open, her fingers quickly filing through them as she went. “Is that what all the numbered cabinets are?”

“Yeah, actually. I’ve seen Catherine file through those numbered ones a lot. Like I told ya, she’s been especially anal about it lately, so she’s been pulling and shoving files from there like crazy.” He pouted deeply. “Just tells me to shut up whenever I ask what the sitch is. Confidential crap, is what I call it.”

“Have you ever wondered what’s in them?”

“Mhmm.” He hummed, looking up at the burnt out bulbs at their side of the hall for a moment before turning his gaze back to the opening. “But I don’t reckon the wondering is worth much of my time. Confidential crap and all. It’s stuff Catherine pulls up whenever she goes downstairs. Matthew probably has a bunch of those files on record too.”

_______ furrowed her brow curiously at that. “I…never really thought about that. I’ve never seen him walking around with confidential records before. I’ve only ever seen him with the clipboards for his patients and the data logs he tells me to leave in the break-room. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen him go downstairs yet, but I know he has restricted access and I know he does go down there. He’s the one who adjusts the medication dosages and changes them on our charts whenever the doctors tell him to…”

“Ya know,” Tristen hummed out in a high-pitched, thoughtful tone for a moment. “It’s funny you mention that, ‘cause the only reason I know about Catherine’s underground confidential records is because I’m a nosy prick. I poke my nose into things a lot ‘til she eventually snaps at me about them being restricted from the underground, but I’ve never actually seen her come and go from that place myself yet with the records in hand either. I just sort of asked her once about the numbered cabinets when we came here together to file our data logs and booped my snoot, so to speak.”

“This hospital is really weird,” She breathed out quietly as her fingers finally brushed over the name on file she was looking for: Gluskin, Eddie. “Anyway, is the coast still clear?”

“Yeah, we’re golden.”

“Alright, then come over.” She pulled the file out of the cabinet, a little surprised by its heftiness. “I found Eddie’s record.”

As he was told, Tristen left his place by the door and approached his friend’s side as she moved to open the file on the desk so none of the papers would spill from her grasp. To her surprise, the first set of papers on display were her data logs. No wonder the darn thing was so heavy…Did they really keep the data logs all in one folder? That…didn’t make much sense to her in her head. She’s only been working here for over a month and the file on the desk was already filled with them – so what about his older data logs? She doubted they just tossed them out. Could they perhaps be in one of the restricted filing cabinets?

“Here, let me help you.” Tristen spoke up, taking the thick stack of papers into his hand to quickly scan through them. She allowed him the access, figuring he probably knew what to look for better than she did. “A lot of this is just your data logs. I have no clue why ole Mattie boy is such a messy pig and leaves your logs on the front. That Eddie guy’s info and records should be the first things you see.”

“He doesn’t really care, Tristen. He just does whatever he wants.”

“Yeah,” He grimaced some with a huff as he placed all her data logs onto the manila folder on their own, leaving him with just a few papers in hand. “I can tell. I’ll fix it for ya, don’t worry. The majority of it is done, so let’s see about his history…” He murmured out, flipping through the papers in his grasp quickly until he stopped at a set of three at the back of the remaining thin stack. “Ah, here we are.” He pulled the three pages out neatly, handing them to _______. “That should be your patient’s history, his initial checkup with the docs, his diagnosis and other official shit like that.”

She muttered out a word of thanks once the papers were handed to her but she didn’t say much else. Her eyes had instantly locked on the pages with the answers to her questions as soon as her friend pointed them out and that’s all she cared to acknowledge at this point. Looking down at the words printed on the first page, she began to read her patient’s record, Tristen looming over her shoulder to read along with her.

 

Patient: Eddie Gluskin

Date of Admittance: 2013. 02. 01

Patient Age: 46

Gender: Male

History of Medication: N/A

Criminal Record:

Patient “Eddie Gluskin” was escorted into the hospital by authorities at 8:13 p.m on Friday the first of February. Charged with first degree aggravated assault of a “Tom Gluskin”, biological father to the patient. The patient has been filed as a “danger to society” due to his mental instability prior to admittance on multiple accounts, alleged by the biological father. A “Robert Gluskin”, uncle to the patient, has come forward to support the biological father’s claim. No official documents of allegation on record. Admittance recorded at 8:28 p.m. New Patient Consultation to be conducted on fourteenth of February.

 

“Whoa, poor sucker must have beat his old man something fierce to get himself locked up in this shithole.” Tristen muttered.

“But…that doesn’t make any sense, Tristen,” _______ retorted quietly, her eyes frantically scanning the same paragraph over and over again, hoping more details and answers would spring from the page – but of course, they didn’t. “It even says right here that there were no official documents to back up the claim that Eddie is any sort of danger to the public. It was just a bunch of allegations from his dad and uncle. If anything, don’t you think he would have just done time in jail for that?”

He hummed, bringing a hand to his chin in thought. “He could have gone with the insanity plea. Ya know, not guilty by reasons of insanity? That definitely fits an asylum for the criminally insane.”

She shook her head, denying the possibility. “No, that doesn’t make any sense either. If he had gone for the insanity plea, there should be legal, official documents about it. Court records, files from the police, psychiatric examinations, diagnosis of mental illness…He doesn’t have any of that.” She turned her gaze to meet her friend’s eye. “Do any of your patients have pasts recorded like Eddie’s?”

Tristen pursed his lips in thought, his eyes shifting to the floor for a moment before turning back to _______’s. “To be honest, the female ward doesn’t have a whole lot of patients like the male ward does. The few chicks I care for don’t have records like this, no. Most of mine are documented with unknown origins, ya know? Like, found on the streets but with mental symptoms that got them here. I do have a few, though, that have some sketchy pasts. Straight-up murder, mutilation, desecration of human corpses – that kind of stuff – but I don’t think any of those have court files; just police records.”

Okay, none of this sounded right. For a psychiatric institution to function like this? It hardly sounded legal. Could those crucial official documents be hidden in the restricted cabinets? _______ looked over to the numbered drawers as the thought hit her, but she quickly dismissed it from thought. It wouldn’t make sense for the documents to be in restricted access when the patient records say they don’t exist. If they did exist, the records should at least label them as confidential files only suitable for review by qualified staff. “This…is really, really weird, Tristen. I don’t have a good feeling about this…”

“Yeah, no kidding…It’s starting to freak me out a bit the more I think about it, not gonna lie.”

She remained quiet. Her eyes skimmed through Eddie’s short, vague criminal record log once again before she noticed the start of a new segment at the bottom of the page labeled Treatment Plan. She reached down to turn the page so she could read about what they planned for him, but before her fingers could touch the corner of the sheet, the sound of the stairwell door opening and closing caused her to freeze with a harsh, anxious shiver shocking its way through the entirety of her nervous system.

Tristen looked at her, wide eyed and lips parted in shock. “Shit! He’s coming back!” He hushed and quickly tore the pages out of his friend’s grip, shoving them into Eddie’s file in any way they would settle. As soon as the folder closed correctly, he rushed over to the drawer and shoved the file in the empty slot where it belonged. As quietly as possible, he closed the cabinet drawer before grabbing _______’s hand and rushing her out of the Record Room with him.

She was too scared to speak. She just followed his lead, letting him take control of the situation. Thankfully, it seemed as though he knew exactly what he was doing. Just two doors away from the Record Room was a janitor’s closet she hadn’t noticed before. Tristen threw the door open as quietly as he could and pulled the two of them inside, bringing the door to a screeching halt just an inch before it clicked closed. From the sliver of space left, he peered outside, watching as the man now in charge of David’s position walked casually down the hall with a bag of chips and a can of soda in his hand. He watched with _______’s hand gripped tightly in his own as the man walked to the Record Room and slipped inside, closing the door shut behind him. As soon as he did, Tristen let out a heavy breath in relief. “Okay, he’s in the Record Room.” He looked back at her and gave her hand a squeeze. “Now let’s get the fuck outta here.”

With that last thing said, the two left the janitor’s closet and Record Room behind them on silent footsteps, a few questions answered, but a new slew of them trailing behind in their wake.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

Her mind wouldn’t shut up.

Ever since she and Tristen retreated back to the dorms from the Record Room, the only thing she could think about was Eddie’s past and the shadiness hidden behind the records of all the patients under their care. Why were their criminal records so short and vague? Why was so much of it just allegations? Why were official documents missing or not filed in record? Why was everything that got Eddie and the others sent here so blurred, hazy and questionable? Were psychiatric hospitals really allowed to function and work this way?

There were too many questions that needed answering; far more than she intended to leave with tonight. Needless to say, she was wide awake by the time the two returned to the fifth floor, but they didn’t stick around together for very long when they returned. It was way passed one in the morning and they both felt a little out of it since returning. So, they decided they would have a meeting tomorrow night in her room to discuss what they found instead. That means, for tonight, she was alone with her thoughts plaguing her existence.

The one thought which came to her after Tristen left to his bedroom that wasn’t related to their heist was the urgent need to shower and refresh herself before going to bed. She had been in her uniform for well over twelve hours and it had been about time to get comfortable. She knew what Eddie told her was true, that she shouldn’t push herself to work as hard as she does in this place, but if she didn’t do the things she did, then who would? Certainly not Matthew and definitely not the illusive doctors downstairs. It was a price she was willing to pay, but tonight, she knew she had overworked herself quite a bit with the happenings of the day mixed in the middle.

Currently, she was in the fifth floor’s shower built in for the staff members of the hospital. Lucky for her, the bathrooms were gendered, and since there weren’t many female staff members around in the first place, she usually didn’t have to wait long for her turn in. Of course, at this time of night, nobody was showering, so she had been in the clear to take all the time she needed. Everyone was asleep, so there was no harm done.

The room was fogged up in steam by the time she stepped out of the shower, the mirror hazed over and hiding her image from her as she dried her bare, wet self with her towel. White and covered in colorful little polka dots, it was just another little piece of home she was able to keep to herself since moving to the asylum. It reminded her that there was more outside of this place and that there was always a way out if she wanted one. She only wished it were that easy for Eddie and the rest.

Shaking her head when she noticed the thoughts causing her to daze off again, _______ brought herself back to reality and began to ruffle her hair dry with that fluffy towel of hers. When she was satisfied with the result, she set it beside her set of pajamas on the closed toilet lid to brush her hair out before dressing herself. Facing the mirror, she tutted at the fog and attempted to clear it with the palm of her hand so she could properly see herself despite knowing the remaining steam in the room would simply fog the glass over again soon enough. Still, she attempted it so she could at least fix the part in her hair. Gradually, her image came into view as she wiped at the glass with her palm and she smiled at herself the slightest bit.

That is, until she noticed an eye peering at her from a discreet sliver of space by the slightly open bathroom door.

Her brush fell from her hand into the sink when she caught sight of the person by the door and she let out a squealed gasp of horror, hurrying to pry her used towel off of the closed toilet bowl lid. Frantically wrapping herself in the towel to cover her nude body, the terrified young woman turned around like a flash, her hair whipping from the motion. However, the door had closed by the time she did without so much as a sound.

Shaking and breathing rapidly with a sudden attack of anxiety and panic, _______ rushed to the door when she managed to tuck her towel correctly on her body so it wouldn’t fall. Prying the bathroom door wide open, she stepped out into the hallway to confront and identify who had been spying on her. What she planned to do she had no idea. Her instinctive reaction was to figure out who had been peeping on her and to probably call them out.

Yet, she found that the hallway was empty without a soul in sight.

Nothing but the storm outside aiding in its desolate silence.

Chapter Text

A ruckus was taking over the ground floor of Mount Massive the following morning. It had woken up most of the staff above ground, but not _______. She hadn’t been able to sleep a wink at all the night prior, so when she heard the hustle and bustle from downstairs near the start of her morning shift, she was just thankful to have something going on to keep her thoughts off of the night before.

It was a weird feeling she had coursing through her veins. She knew at that point that she was sleep deprived. After all, she hadn’t slept correctly for two days straight so far – but it didn’t feel like it this morning. It’s strange, because she felt like she was running on autopilot. As soon as she realized things were going on downstairs, she sprung to life off of her bed and tossed her phone which she had spent her night on to keep herself busy to the side. She felt a burst of energy, her eyes wide and awake despite the sting she felt in them which seemed to be becoming a constant. She was aware she was present, that she was awake, but her mind felt as though it were filled to the brim with static. She still remembered what happened the night before. She remembered Tristen and herself sneaking into the Record Room to find out about Eddie’s past and she also remembered that eye peeping on her after she had stepped out of the shower completely in the nude.

She knew these things happened in the back of her head, but it was as though her state of autopilot was preventing her from fully acknowledging it as she had gotten herself dressed and going that morning – as though her mind were protecting her from becoming overwhelmed and having a breakdown of her own. Instead, she acknowledged other things; such as the fact that the storm from the night before had finally ceased. Raindrops no longer battered the glass of her window, but upon looking outside, she had seen no sunshine. It was still cloudy overhead and the storm clouds continued to brew with distant, muffled sounds of thunder. It looked like it wanted to rain – she just didn’t know when.

After she had dismissed the sight of the weather outside, she made her way downstairs. She almost felt like she wasn’t physically present as she went, but she could feel her footsteps hitting the concrete steps of the stairs. She felt the skin of her palm cool and chill over as her hand slid with her movements along the railing at her side. It caused gooseflesh to race along her arm, the cold infecting her body this early in the morning jarring her some – but she welcomed it. It reminded her that she was alive, that things were happening, that she was moving and breathing and everything was real; she wasn’t just living in her head.

It didn’t take very long, however, for routine to change that morning.

As soon as her disheveled self reached the fourth floor’s landing, she had been greeted by a face she didn’t recognize. Another orderly she had never seen before looked down at her as two others walked up the stairs – but their uniforms weren’t the same as hers. Rather than wearing white clothing, their uniform was a pale blue and the man whom had come to stand before her was wearing a surgical mask in the same color. He almost gave off the impression of a surgeon, but she knew that wasn’t what he was. Why would they have surgeons in a psychiatric hospital only meant to deal with mental illnesses of the criminally insane?

“You must be one of the aboveground orderlies of the male ward.” The man spoke behind his mask, muffled, as the two others slipped through the door behind him.

_______ blinked up at him, once, twice, and nodded her head in reply.

“You’ve got the day off. We’re taking over both wards today. Feel free to head to the break-room, the ground floor or the courtyard, but patient quarters are strictly inaccessible to aboveground staff for the day. You can make your way down the rest of the stairs, but do try to take the elevator from now on. Both stairwells are going to be in heavy use by restricted staff.”

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

Things were changing. She could feel the shift in the air as she had made her way to the waiting room on the ground floor of the hospital. People she had never seen before zoomed passed her like a crowd of flies as she had gradually made her way downstairs, but her mind was too fogged to come up with any possibility for it, and as she pushed through the heavy door leading to that large room, she was only greeted with further oddities spilling from the bowels of the hospital beneath her feet.

There were far more Massive employees surrounding the area by the stairs and the elevator than she had believed she would see. They just kept coming and going, disappearing and reappearing from the underground like busy bees working within a hive kept hidden from the world around them. She noticed some of them gave her looks for just standing by the door and watching for those few moments induced upon her by surprise. She didn’t care much that they stared, but to avoid trouble, she simply turned her back and walked towards the receptionist’s desk. The only person she recognized in the organized chaos was the receptionist stationed there: Abigail Young.

“Abigail,” _______ spoke up for the first time that day. Her voice sounded strange to her, as though it weren’t her own. “What’s going on? Who are all these people?”

The curly haired woman turned to the familiar orderly by her desk and offered her a friendly smile in greeting. “Oh, hey, _______! This nonsense? Beats me.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I haven’t been working here much longer than you have and I’ve never seen anything like it. They’ve been coming in and out of that elevator since before my shift even started, apparently. A lot of them are going into the wards, though I can’t tell you for what. I would, but I haven’t the faintest clue. What I do know is that all those men in blue,” She gestured to the men wearing the same orderly uniform _______ had seen on the group she encountered in the stairwell. “Those are underground orderlies. They probably handle the patients that go downstairs to have their checkups with the doctors, but that’s just my guess. I’m just a receptionist. Nobody tells me anything around here.”

_______ hummed at that lowly, her distant gaze fixed on the center of the mass of orderlies. They all worked and moved as if they had done this a million times before. She assumed they have, seeing as she has only been here for over a month. Then, amidst the chaos, another familiar face came into view. Over by the stairwell which lead to the female ward, Tristen emerged looking as bouncy and bubbly as ever.

She wished she could feel like that right now.

“_______!” Tristen called to her as soon as he noticed her by the reception desk, waving to catch her attention. He really didn’t need to, though. She already knew he was there, but it was nice to see that he tried regardless of that. Shifting through the crowd of unknown orderlies, he soon found his way to his friend’s side, but before he said anything, he enveloped the girl in a strong embrace.

_______’s gaze turned to the ceiling as her chin rested upon the man’s shoulder, her arms still hanging limply by her sides. She blinked a few times, and as soon as the comfort of her friend’s warmth settled onto her, she melted into him. Her arms wrapped around him as well and she nuzzled her head against his when she heard his amused laughter, a grimace of fear and anxiety threatening to crack through her neutral expression as she squeezed him tight. It just felt really good to have someone she knew was on her side around. The fear of everything was still heavily cemented in her gut, bubbling up to her throat and nearly making her eyes water, but the warmth and kindness she felt from her friend aided in keeping it down.

“I’m glad I managed to find you as easily as I did! I swore I thought I’d have to search for your ass through a bunch of zigzags and loops around all this restricted shit going on today!” He squeezed her back. “Awesome! Now I won’t be bored all day in my room by myself!”

“…Tristen? What’s happening?” _______’s voice was quiet. Uncertain.

He instantly picked up on the change in her tone and pulled away from their embrace to meet the girl’s gaze. A sympathetic smile replaced the excited one on his lips when he caught the drain of color on her face. It was obvious to him that their ventures from the night prior were still clouding up that complicated head of hers. “Poor babe. You look even deader than last night. Let’s go sit down, huh? We can talk then.”

Nodding her head at the idea, she allowed for him to take her hand in his, caring and helpful as always. She followed him without a peep of hesitation or defiance, her still aching feet fairly thankful to her for that. It bugged her that her feet still hurt as much as they did, but a part of her had almost become numb to it. The autopilot part of her brain, she assumed. Either way, as soon as her butt touched one of the couches of the waiting room a good distance away from the commotion, her body thanked her for it.

“So,” Tristen began as he plopped his butt beside her own, draping his arm over her shoulder to grant her the opening to lean into him so she could rest more comfortably. She took the opening willingly and without much thought about it. “I gotta tell ya right now that I’d be lying if I told you I knew everything that was going on. Catherine wasn’t exactly open about all of this, as you would guess.” He shrugged with a nonchalant smile, his hand rubbing his friend’s arm in comfort. “But those official-looking fucks running around over there are underground orderlies.”

“Yeah,” _______ muttered. “Abigail told me about that.”

“She did? Damn, I’m a little late to the party. Well, anyway, she was right. Did she tell ya they’re coming up here to deal with our patients?”

“She assumed that, though she wasn’t sure.”

“Dang!” He huffed. “I gotta be faster next time for the gossip…Well, did she also tell you that they’re going to be taking some of our patients away today? I have no idea how many, but…at least over on my end of this…” His smile and playful air began to turn more serious, his voice lowering so only she could hear him. “A bunch of them are leaving. Like…a lot a bunch. Catherine wouldn’t tell me why and she didn’t tell me for how long either. It’s weird, though, isn’t it? A mass moving of my patients…Just how big is it down there and how many of those invisible docs are there?” He gave her a sympathetic frown. “I mean, like I said…it’s not just my ward that’s getting hit by this swarm today. Yours is too, but I’m sure you probably already knew about that.”

She knew it. Of course she did. She assumed as much that those people were going to be messing with her patients as soon as they told her she wouldn’t have access to any of them for the rest of the day – but she didn’t want to acknowledge this. Now, though? The acknowledgement was inevitable. As soon as the reality of the day sunk in, a million questions and possibilities began to roam around her mind, and shamefully, a good chunk of them were related to Eddie. She swallowed hard at the questions in her head and met Tristen’s gaze with her own, visibly shaken and at a loss of what to say. Her lips parted in an attempt to speak, but she felt her eyes sting with the threat of tears when she did. She closed her mouth due to that and lowered her head, resting it on his shoulder once again.

“I’m worried, Trsiten…” She whispered. “What do you think they’re doing to them down there? Why…Why would they decide to pull them down now? What if they take Eddie with them? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him that would make him qualified to take all these meds and to go through God knows what down there…What if they take him? What if they take others who are just like him?”

“I don’t know,” He whispered back, shifting his gaze towards the mass of unfamiliar faces, catching a few looking in their direction before they continued bustling about. “But it sure doesn’t feel normal. I’d say we should bring up ole Eddie boy’s case to a higher-up who could do something about it…but then a part of me tells me they probably won’t care. I mean, they’re sure to have seen the records we saw, weren’t they? They probably would have done something about it by now if they gave a fuck, wouldn’t they?”

“That’s what I’ve been asking myself since I first got here…”

“So…I guess that doesn’t make that a viable option.”

She remained quiet at that for a few moments, her hands reaching up to hug herself to her friend’s side as her eyes distantly shifted from chair to chair which surrounded them in the waiting area. “What if…we’re part of the problem, Tristen? We’re giving these people medication three times a day every day…but what if they don’t need it? I know Eddie doesn’t, but I’ve been giving him meds since I first got here. What about all the others? Are…we doing what’s right?” Her grip on him tightened as she grimaced at the thoughts in her head, a sense of overwhelming unease gripping her tight within its grasp. “’Cause it sure doesn’t feel like we are anymore…”

Tristen took in a deep breath through his nose and slowly released it through his slightly parted lips, his gaze now fixed on the same chairs the girl at his side was staring at as well. “Honestly? Nothing feels right anymore. After what we found yesterday and the questions it brought up, I started to think about things a little more in depth after going to bed and I…” He trailed off, attempting to smile to himself despite the heaviness he felt upon his person. He didn’t want to finish the sentence. If he did, the words would mix in the air and bring forth a sense of reality to them. Just like _______, he didn’t want that to happen. He turned his gaze towards the special orderlies by the elevator at the thought, and it was then that the movement began to happen.

A long line of patients whom had descended from the female ward’s stairwell were being escorted to the elevator in groups of five. Slowly, one by one, the women were shuffled into the tight elevator shaft with two lines of orderlies on either side of them. Their hands were shackled together by heavy, clattering chains, their cumbersome noises causing for even _______ to look in their direction. Beside the movement in a group of their own, she noticed Matthew was standing nearby with that David guy, the two of them exchanging a few words amongst themselves. She grimaced deeply at the sight, her mind automatically interchanging Matthew’s expression for the one who had been spying on her in the bathroom the night prior. Then, despite how hard she tried not to, David’s face replaced his as well, nearly causing for the girl to whimper in distress as she sank deeper into her friend’s side. It could be either one of them…Matthew for obvious reasons, and David because of the vibe he gave off…She swore he wasn’t a good guy no matter what Tristen told her. He just doesn’t feel like he is – and what’s the coincidence that the guy would show up the same night she had been spied on? It worked too perfectly and it gave her a deathly chill of uncertainty.

Meanwhile, Tristen’s gaze was scanning the crowd of female patients meticulously despite the smile he still had angled upon his lips. He was searching for something: a someone he hoped he wouldn’t spot in the crowd. Despite unbalanced ratio of patients between the male and female ward, it felt as though the line of women coming down from the stairwell was endless. So many of them were patients he cared for each and every day, and just like that, they were being taken away to a place underground he was never allowed to even know about.

Another group in, another group down.

Another group in, another group down.

He was losing count of how many he still had under his care. After a wave of his patients, a wave of Catherine’s came into view instead. While the sight was still concerning, it filled his heart with a sense of guilty relief, hoping that they would just take her patients from then on and leave the remainder of his alone. Alas, he wasn’t so lucky. The following group of five from the stairwell was a mix of both of their patients – and within that mix, he saw who he had been looking for.

Lindsey…” The horror dripped from his words like an infectious frost, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end when he caught sight of the young girl’s brown eyes with his own.

_______ looked to Tristen when she heard him speak but said nothing. Despite her unsettled state, she followed his gaze to see the short blonde girl in the crowd he was staring at.

She looked at her orderly from over her shoulder as she was shuffled forward, watching as his iconic smile morphed to a shocked look of concern. Seeing his face change the way it did made her gut tighten, because she felt it was just a sign for what was to come in the level below them in which he could not accompany her. Soon enough, she found herself standing in the elevator shaft by the front, the first one in, and she watched Tristen with her doe-like eyes, a million questions reflecting off their color.

As soon as the other women piled into the elevator with her, Tristen was forced to watch the doors close.

Not a damn thing he could have done to stop it.

He turned away when the hum of the elevator announced its descent and stood to his feet. “Come on,” He muttered, plastering a smile on his face again before he turned to look at his friend by his side to take her hand in his. Cheerful though his smile appeared, _______ caught the distance in his eyes; a vacancy held within them of the likes she had never seen. “Let’s go to the courtyard for a while. I doubt you wanna stick around and watch this anymore than I do.”

Allowing for their fingers to intertwine, she nodded at him, standing to her feet by his side as well with her back turned to the orderlies, patients, Matthew and David. All she saw was Tristen and the doors leading to the outside. “Yeah,” She muttered. “Let’s get out of here.”

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

The courtyard outside looked a lot better than it did in prior years. Though it wasn’t blooming with flowers or bursting with life as _______ would hope to see it one day, it did appear a lot nicer after she had dedicated herself into pulling out all the weeds she could find on its terrain. Despite her telling Eddie not to, the blue-eyed man had also taken it upon himself to yank a couple when they had their lunches there together and talked. He’s a stubborn man, but in a good way. A really good way. The first thing she ever did when she stepped foot into the courtyard now was look up and wave at his fourth-story window.

She did the same this cloudy afternoon, but she really hoped she wasn’t just waving at an empty cell.

She didn’t like to think about it, but it was the only thing that came to mind when she and Tristen had taken their seats on her favorite bench. Silence accompanied their space for a while when they got there, and beneath the deceptive embrace of quiet, all she could envision in her head was the sight of Eddie being herded into the elevator in a group of five and taken away from her for God knows how long.

What would they do to him down there? What would they make him take? What kind of medication would they believe was best suited for a man who didn’t belong in a place like this? Would they be as lenient with him as she was? She doubted it. It didn’t seem like Mount Massive was filled with people who were very caring or lenient at all.

She closed her eyes tightly at the thought the same way she had when they were inside, leaning her head back as a rough breeze of wind swept through the trees, foreshadowing another downpour on the horizon with its aggravated intensities. She was trying to tell her mind to shut up. She didn’t want to think about everything that was starting to look and sound so…wrong with this place. She felt like she was making up a giant conspiracy of things that weren’t even there – but the thing is, they are there. A lot of questionable things that didn’t add up. Perhaps even the lack of crucial things being there aided in her unease far more than the presence of others so far. It brought too many questions to her already pounding head, the sound of them all buzzing around causing a constant ache right between her brows. Add all of that with her own troubles of her Peeping Tom, Matthew and David, and it wasn’t so difficult anymore to see why she was tittering on the edge of a breakdown.

Feeling Tristen pat her hand which rested on the cold stone between them caused for her to open her eyes and look at him again. Though his gaze remained fixed ahead of him, he allowed a smile to angle his lips lightly as he squeezed her fingers with his. “It’ll be okay, _______,” He said as his smile widened just the smallest bit. “Things will work out for the best in the end. Everything just looks a little fucked right now ‘cause of yesterday, but I’m sure things will be just fine. They’ll be just fine.”

_______ didn’t say anything for a few beats. She just looked at him, wondering how he could maintain such a glass-like composure the way he did. She wished she could function the same way, but in reality, she knew she never could. Her emotions spilled from her like water seeping through cracks in a sinking ship. No matter how hard she attempted to cover up those cracks with the best patches she could find, more leaks would spring in their place and overwhelm her until she found herself at the seabed. “…Tristen? Who is Lindsey?” The question left her before she could even think about it. It just found its way to the tip of her tongue like a natural extension – another leak she couldn’t patch.

Tristen’s smile visibly changed a bit as he registered her question in his head. His gaze softened as he turned to her, but there was something different in his eyes. Something she couldn’t put her finger on despite his classic smile still plastered on his lips. “Lindsey? Well, shit, I guess you could say she’s my equivalent to what Eddie is to you. She’s my favorite and much more beyond that.”

Her eyes widened at his transparency, honestly not having expected him to be as honest as he was. She also didn’t expect him to make the connection he did to her with Eddie, and it was clear to see that the comment left the girl speechless.

He laughed softly – humorless – and tilted his head at her questioningly. “You look surprised. You really shouldn’t be. It’s pretty dang obvious to see he’s your favorite, if you thought you could keep it a secret from me.” He shrugged. “Maybe it’s just all the time we’ve spent together here that’s let me get to know you and your tells, ya know? Plus, there was the whole thing from yesterday to think about too. Anyway, if you’re worried anyone else will find out,” He made a zipper motion over his lips. “You can count on me keeping my big mouth shut. I’ve got someone here who’s the same to me, too, after all.”

Slowly, she nodded her head, her gaze turning down to their hands resting on the bench between them. It was good to know that she could depend on Tristen more so than she ever expected she would. Honestly, he was her only dependable ally in the asylum. Of course she had Eddie, but the blue-eyed man himself is a victim to the system, locked behind rusted bars that made it impossible to be with him the way she was with Tristen. Yet, after last night, she’d wager to say he might be an ally to Eddie alike as well. “So…she’s your favorite. Why?”

Tristen’s smile faltered a bit at the question, but he managed to keep it in place as he lifted his gaze to the stormy sky up ahead. “Well, I guess it’s a bit of a loaded question to answer,” He began. “But Lindsey is the only sixteen-year-old I have under my care. She’s one of those who the higher-ups found out on the streets. Says she’s been fucked up on all kinds of shit, ya know? Meth, heroine, ecstasy…that kind of stuff. She was trying to get her life together out on the street. Managed to boot the stuff after heading to rehab once she realized she had a problem when some shit went down, though she won’t tell anybody what. After that, she was trying to get herself off of the streets in general by looking for a job and a cheap place to stay, but everything went down the crapper when an old dealer she still owed came looking for her. Again, she won’t say what went down, but one way or another, the guy is dead now and she’s stuck in this place despite her swearing it was self-defense.”

“Jeez…Quite the backstory there.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” He tutted, clicking his tongue over the roof of his mouth. “But the more I thought about what you said about that Eddie guy and the more I tried to parallel it to Lindsey’s story…The more I started to realize that she’s…kind of on the same boat.” He shook his head as the words left his lips. “And it worries me. Fuck, I’d even say it scares the crap out of me. She feels like a younger sister to me here. Reminds me of my sissy back home – you know, minus the drugs and murder accusation. They’re the same age and my sissy is trying to make something good of her life – something my sorry ass could never do. She’s real smart and she’s actually got what it takes to make it in one of those big name universities out there. That’s actually why I took this job.” He lowered his head to stare at the grass beneath their feet with the smile still on his face. “Man, I dropped out of what I was studying. Mechanical Engineering just ain’t for me – school in general just ain’t for me. Lucky me, though, that this dump doesn’t need anything too fancy. I’m alright with this life just so long as I can help my sissy make it out there and I get the chance to see her potential grow. It’s cheesy, but Lindsey reminds me of her and…I want to see her succeed the same way. It just sucks balls that she’s stuck in a place like this in a worse spot than mine.”

_______ frowned distantly, resting her head on Tristen’s shoulder and squeezing his fingers back for comfort of his own. She wanted to talk to him today about what had happened to her last night after they parted ways and all the things that were going on in her head, but in that moment, she felt selfish just debating it. Tristen always held a smile on his lips whenever she saw him and constantly had a cheery attitude with that pep to his step, so she never really thought he could be overwhelmed by anything in his head the way she was.

Clearly, she was wrong.

Because of this, she chose to keep her concerns to herself. She’s been far too selfish. Tristen clearly needs a shoulder to lean on too and she had simply been taking his kind friendship for granted. That’s how it felt like in her head, anyway. At the end of the day, she just wanted him to see that she was there for him the same way he was for her. It’s fine. She’ll deal with her troubles on her own. She’ll figure things out. Even if the thought alone of Eddie possibly being ripped away from her right now was tearing her apart on the inside, she’d handle it by herself one way or another. “Just because she’s stuck here in Massive right now doesn’t mean she won’t ever get out, though.”

“You think so? Do you think the same way about Eddie?”

“I…I’d like to hope so. Neither of them should be here in the first place…Maybe today they’ll find out about that? Since they’re taking Lindsey with them and possibly even Eddie too?”

“Maybe…Either way, _______, this a really shitty situation to be stuck in. I want to do more, I understand how you feel now, but what is there for us to do when we’re just some general aboveground orderlies? Nobody would listen to us.”

“Hope. Hope and pray they make it through all of this – that we all make it through this.”

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

Raindrops began to patter upon the earth near nightfall. The commotion inside the hospital was beginning to die down by the time the two friends were forced by the weather to head inside again. The weather hadn’t let up in the slightest against what _______ had been hoping for, but at this point, the young orderly felt numb to the droplets hitting the beaten, abandoned land beneath their feet. There were too many thoughts running about in her head, too many hazy images of conclusions her brain forced her to rush to. She didn’t have the right state of mind to care about many things that were going on around her, so it truly wasn’t much of a surprise to watch the girl walk into the hospital behind Tristen totally drenched from the rain.

Tristen, who had waited for her beneath the roof by the door, didn’t seem to have much energy to talk more right now either. His gaze was blank – distant. It was a look she wasn’t used to seeing on the energetic, happy-go-lucky man she befriended within the walls of the asylum. She knew that, in his head, thoughts must have been swirling about just as dangerously as her own. Hell, she would even say more dangerously than her own. After all, he had watched that Lindsey girl of his be taken down to the lower levels of the hospital without explanation with his own two eyes – and who’s to say when he would see her again?

She prayed it would be soon for his sake.

Inside, the atmosphere of the waiting room and entrance hall was still. The only one left in sight at this point was Abigail by the receptionist’s desk and a couple of underground orderlies in their strange attire by the elevator shaft. However, they were just leaving, the two having stepped in as soon as the doors opened for them. They faced towards the entrance of the grand hall where the two aboveground orderlies stood. There was an unreadable sense of unease which came from their gazes; as though they were almost offended or something just by having the two lesser employees look in their direction. Frankly, _______ didn’t give much of a fuck, because the feeling was mutual.

The distaste she savored in her mouth for most of the staff in Massive was very clearly escalated and heating over within the young woman’s gut, but the loathing didn’t express itself upon her expression. Partly because she didn’t want to stir even more trouble for herself that she certainly didn’t need right now, and also because she just didn’t have the energy for it today. Her head was still pounding, drums and trumpets exploding in cacophonous choruses in her ears despite how she tried to drown it out of her acknowledgement. It was a dull, irritating ache that she couldn’t find a specific place of origin for within the walls of her skull. It felt as though it started right between her eyes, but then it spread over her forehead, to her temples and over the top of her head as a whole. Her eyes wanted to close after each blink, begging her desperately to fling herself into her bed upstairs and sleep for the next week or so to recover. Still, she ignored their plea, blinking once again as the doors to the elevator closed and took the two underground orderlies with it.

“Hey you two,” Abigail called to two aboveground orderlies, catching their attention from where they stood by the doors. “You should head upstairs and change. You’re gonna catch a cold if you stay in soaked clothes like that! The underground staff all left, so you don’t have to worry about that lot.” She gestured to the elevator with her thumb, her fingernails painted a matte lilac color that hadn’t been there earlier that day. She had probably painted them during all the commotion, seeing as they weren’t exactly up and running today. “Those two were the last to leave and all the patients have been taken and brought back already, so you’re free to go up.”

_______ only nodded her head in reply, barely wanting to do just that.

“Thanks, Abi.” Tristen spoke for them and gave the girl a smile as he took his friend’s wet hand and began to lead the two of them to the staircase. It always took forever for the elevator to come back up again when underground staff used it, and he figured she wasn’t in the mood for waiting either.

Opening the door to the stairwell, he allowed for _______ to shamble her way through first before following right after her, the echoing of the loud metal door sounding especially intrusive in the silence which surrounded them. It wasn’t often that the two friends wandered together without some kind of conversation flowing in the air. Usually, the hazel-skinned male would start them off with a stupid joke or silly comment about the hospital and their superiors, but right now, a funny icebreaker didn’t exactly feel like the best thing to do. Still, he turned his gaze down to the girl, his smile returning to his face as he attempted to ignore the sound of their squelching clothes.

“You ever think those underground guys look bug-eyed?”

_______ lifted her gaze to Tristen’s and raised a brow. “What do you mean?” Her voice came out almost croaky, as though she had been sleeping a countless number of years in her head.

“Well, they always stare at us with ‘em big ole eyes,” He brought the tips of both of his thumbs and forefingers together on each hand, pressing the circles they created over his eyes. He moved them back and forth, pursing his lips at her and making a funny face to add to the commentary. “Some of them even put on those thick, dumb goggles to make them look like they’re big, official shit. They stare off at nothing and walk around either quickly or stiffly – and when they look you in the eye? I swear they never blink! They’re all a bunch of bug-eyed fucks. They even work underground! It fits, doesn’t it? Bug-eyed, underground insect docs and orderlies! I like to think they’re all different types. Like those two in the elevator we just saw? They were a couple of flies! ‘Cause flies got the huge, gross-looking eyes. Catherine I’ve always thought was a Praying Mantis or a Black Widow or something. She looks like the type that would hump and dump – or devour and scatter, actually.”

_______ was quiet for a moment as she looked her friend over, their footsteps echoing around them and following them slowly up the stairs. Eventually, the girl tutted, the click of her tongue sounding fairly louder than she had expected it to. “More like vore and out the door.”

For a few seconds, the two looked at each other and blinked. Then, just like that, the thick atmosphere was cut and cleared as loud, sputtered laughter soon left both of their lips in unison. Smiles took both of their expression at the mental images they both got in their heads of the other employees with insect parts and mannerisms. The images only caused for them to laugh harder, forcing them to stop at the landing on the third floor to catch their breath and make sure they didn’t come tumbling back down the steps they would take to the fourth.

“Awe fuck, _______!” Tristen cackled. “You got me beat on that one! Shit, that was good!” He snickered on, blowing a breath passed his lips as he tried to compose himself and bring his laughter down. He reached a hand up and wiped a tear from his eye as well, patting his chest soon afterwards. “Damn, I needed that.” He flashed the girl his amused, toothy grin. “Internet culture, am I right?”

_______ looked back at him with a smile of her own on her lips, also wiping a couple of tears from the corner of her eyes, though she felt there were a few more of those salty drops on her skin right now than there should be from a simple fit of laughter. “Heh, yeah, internet culture…I really needed that too. Glad it was funnier outside of my head than it was inside of it. I think I’m painfully unfunny most of the time.”

He scoffed at her words and reached over to her when he had calmed himself down. He draped a comforting, protective arm over the girl’s shoulders and began to lead her back up the steps with him as he rubbed her shoulder with his hand. The embrace of an older brother watching out for his little sister within the hellish nightmare the two of them were stuck in together. They had to lift each other up, because of they didn’t – who would? “Girl, shut up. You’re not unfunny! If you are, then my dumbass has terrible a sense of humor too! Either way, I think you’re hilarious. Keep up them good vibes and we’ll smoosh those bug-eyed fucks under our feet in no time! We’ll have more reason to laugh by then when all of this is over!”

“You really think so?”

“I know so!”

She smiled a little at that, her eyes concentrating on the concrete steps beneath their feet as they ascended further and further up the stairs right by Tristen’s side. She was really glad she had someone like him to lean on. Without him by her side, she swore she didn’t know how she would have been able to make it this far within the asylum. Only over a month and she could barely even remember what the outside world was like anymore, but Tristen always seemed to remind her and bring back a little spark of emotion elicited by the goings of the lives they left behind.

“So, we got flies and a Praying Mantis now. What would you say ole Mattie boy is?”

Just like that, her smile vanished. She lowered her head a little further, allowing for her hair to fall around her shoulders and curtain the expression on her face away from the optimistic male by her side. He didn’t need to know. He didn’t need to be burdened by her demons anymore when he was already battling his own.

“A big, fat, disgusting roach.”

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

It didn’t take much longer after that for the two of them to reach the fifth floor. Their conversation on the various insects their fellow coworkers resembled had thankfully died down by the time they set foot in the still narrow corridor. It had simply moved on to another topic that Tristen had come up with, but _______ was just grateful to move on from the others. She didn’t want to think of all the problems and shady happenings surrounding the workers of the facility, so she was just happy that he made it easy to keep her mind off of things when they spoke.

Their conversation helped keep her mind free of dark fogs and roadblocks for a while, but when they came to stop by her dorm’s door, she felt the growing chills of isolated thoughts already digging their claws into her spine. Her pounding head cried in pain from the whispering words and the pain itself manifested into the grimace which morphed her expression now as her eyes bore into her dimly lit vacant bedroom.

“Well, I’ll just leave you for the night, _______. Today has got me fuckin’ dead, and I’m sure you probably feel the same. I’ll see you in the–”

“Please don’t.” She interrupted him, turning her unsettled gaze back up to meet with his own. He stared back at her with sudden concern, the parting of his lips and silence which came from them telling her that he was taken aback by her reaction. Still, she pressed, not allowing him a chance to ask what she already knew he had in his mind. “I just…still feel a little shaken up after today…I know you’re probably ready to just change and fling yourself in bed, b-but would you at least stand outside of the bathroom door while I shower for bed? I promise I’ll be quick! Just…don’t leave me yet…”

His gaze softened at her words. Honestly, he didn’t think the unrest from the others today would affect her as much as it did, but then again, there was probably a lot more going on in her head than just today’s happenings. He felt sympathy for her. Utmost sympathy and care, his brotherly instincts wishing he could take the stress from her eyes and the exhaustion from the dark rings beneath them to put them onto himself; to relieve her of the torment she was pushing herself through within the madness of Mount Massive. “Of course, _______,” He muttered, smiling at her reassuringly as he brought his hand up and gave her head a comforting pat. “I can stand by the door for you, no worries. Go get your stuff, okay? We’ll go together and I won’t leave until you’re done.”

The relief which washed over her due to the kindness in her friend’s heart made _______ feel absolutely terrible on the inside. Once she had thanked him for his kindness and turned back into her room to gather up what she would need for her bath, a deep frown had angled her lips from where he could not see. She felt so pathetic. She couldn’t even be on her own anymore because of how paranoid and afraid she felt. There’s a lock on the bathroom door she could use to keep herself safe, but instead, she was troubling Tristen to keep watch for her. She felt guilty for that despite the fact that, last night, the lock didn’t do much to keep her safe and in private. Still, she isn’t the only one with problems she was trying to ignore, she knew that. She couldn’t keep her stupid mouth shut and leave the man be so he could have time to sort his things out in his head as well.

She was complicating everything. She always did. She knew she was making the beast out to be much bigger than it actually is. Yet, if that were truly the case, why do all of her problems and concerns feel so insurmountable to her? So undecipherable? She thought she had come to Mount Massive to do both herself and the patients within some good, but instead, the asylum was rubbing off a curse of insanity and unrest upon her as well. She shook her head at the thought as she hugged her clothes to her chest and walked back out to join Tristen in the hall, the frown vanishing from her expression to bring back an unreadable one.

He noticed it. That unreadable look that came to her whenever she was fighting things in her head. His automatic instinct was to ask her what was wrong, but he knew it would have been stupid to ask. After all, what isn’t wrong anymore at this point? Besides that, he also felt they’ve had enough bad talks and vibes today. So, he kept the questions to himself and locked them away in his mind for a better time as the two began to wander down the hall towards the bathroom.

Before long, they came upon the room and _______ had slipped her way inside, thanking her friend once again for his kindness. Inside the bathroom itself, the sound of the showerhead turning on and raining water down just like the storm outside could be heard from the hall. Tristen had decided to slide himself to the ground in front of the door with his back resting against its imitation wood. His arms snugly folded across his broad chest and his eyes shifted to the ceiling, following the lines and cracks between the tiles which covered them.

Inside the bathroom behind him, _______ had taken a similar approach. She didn’t waste much time in stripping herself bare of her soaked clothing, tossing them into a bag she brought along with her for now. Tying a knot on it and making a vague mental note of visiting the laundry room tomorrow, she ditched the bag in the corner of the room before stepping into the shower. Once inside, warmed over by the steaming water within, she pressed her back to the bathroom wall and slid down as well. Her arms wrapped around her knees she had tucked in close to her chest, giving her something to hug. The feel of the water pattering down on her felt good against her cold skin and aching muscles. The steam which quickly enveloped the room almost felt as if it were embracing her, cooing in her ear that she should give her mind a break and rest. She almost listened to it as it caressed her cheek, her eyes beginning to close, but the loud crackle of thunder from the outside woke her up and reminded her of how unsafe it was to fall asleep in such a vulnerable state within the hospital she worked for.

She leaned her head back as the booming thunder echoed itself out in the angry storm outside, pressing against the wall behind her and causing for her eyes to land on the ceiling as well. Multiple wet spots came to her view and she tried to count them all over and over again – a mindless task which kept her from thinking about other things in her head.

“_______?” Tristen called out to the girl in the shower, his eyes tracing along the cracks over and over as well, playing along with a mindless task too.

“Yeah?” She called back softly, only just loud enough for him to hear.

“You know you can always talk to me, right? Like…no matter what about?”

“…Of course.”

He smiled a bit to himself. “Good…I’m glad. I want you to know I’m here for you, okay?” He chuckled softly. Humorlessly. “I figure tonight isn’t exactly the best of nights to discuss much, but I know your head is probably filled with a bunch of questions about that Eddie guy of yours and what happened today. Having a dick like Matthew around to have to work under isn’t much of a walk in the park either when you add it on to the mix. So…I guess I’m just saying that you can talk to me, basically. I’m terrible with words. I’m not exactly a fancy talker, but, ya know, I look at you as a little sister too.”

She answered with silence. Beneath the showerhead, her eyes misted with quiet tears. Tears she wasn’t exactly sure why had begun to surface in the first place.

“I know. It sounds super fucking cheesy.” He laughed a bit again. “But I swear it’s true! It’s a different kind of thing with you than it is with Lindsey, but you know what I mean. Anyway, all gross cheesiness aside, I just want you to remember that from now on. I never said it out loud before, so I figured it was about time I did. If you need me around more to help you with anything you’re feeling, even if it’s just to have me sit out here and keep you company in the hall while you shower so you’re not alone with your thoughts, just know that I’ll do it gladly for you.” His smile widened as he hummed with a sing-song voice. “You got a friend in me~”

By then, the tears which surfaced to her eyes grew heavier and heavier until they were racing down her skin like the water droplets from the showerhead above her. Her arms tightened around her knees and she bit her bottom lip tightly to keep any sounds which her body involuntarily attempt to make buried deep inside. It was just overwhelming for her to hear all of those kind words from him when she had only befriended him over a month ago. He treated her more like family than her blood family did and it struck an aching cord in the young woman’s heart quite strongly. Truth be told, she had always kind of looked at Tristen as a weird but dependable older brother as well. A dependable and caring older brother she had always wished she had. The feeling of guilt and shame for dragging him into her problems still stabbed her in the back, the knife curving its way through the gaps between her ribs to reach the sensitive beating organ within, but at the same time, she was overflowing with joy of having him by her side despite it all.

“Tristen?” She called out shakily, thankful for the sound of the water and any masking of her voice it may provide her with.

“Yeah?”

“I-I’m really happy we’re friends…Thanks for being here for me and being willing to go through things with me…I’m glad you see me as a sister to you. I would have really liked having a brother like you around growing up…”

Tristen’s smile softened. “Anytime, girl. I’m around now, aren’t I? We got to keep this up way after Massive. You’re in, right?”

“Of course…Of course I’m in.”

“Then we don’t have anything to worry about. We’ll keep it up. I’ll be there for you and you’ll be there for me. The bugs of Massive aren’t ever going to bring us down.”

 

~¤ ¤ ¤ ~

 

God, _______ was tired.

Her eyes ached and suffered from the lack of sleep and the surplus of tears Tristen had caused her to sniffle out during her shower. She was running way passed empty by the time she finished bathing herself and Tristen had walked her back to her room for the evening, and yet…there she stood. Alone in the middle of her dorm room long after her friend had made his way to his own dorm. The bed called to her with haunted seduction, the covers open wide to her as though its arms were welcoming her into an inviting hug. It had stared at her like that for a long while, but still she stood there in her pajamas with her freshly washed and neatly combed hair.

She desperately needed sleep, she knew that. She hadn’t slept properly for over two days already and she knew she couldn’t keep up with that. Her body was begging her to listen to the soreness in her muscles, the ache in her eyes and the pounding in her head – but she didn’t. She didn’t even register when she had come up with the plan that she did in her mind, couldn’t even recall thinking about doing it. When she finally settled on her course of action, her body moved on its own, as though the plan was instinctive by now.  

Alone again and afraid of all the possibilities her pounding head conjured, the young orderly yanked her keys off of her bedside table before breaking out of her bedroom. She didn’t think twice as she marched down the hall with reason, her footsteps firm and guided. Tonight, the stairwell held no intimidation. The sound of the door slamming shut and echoing around her didn’t scare her anymore either. She took the concrete steps steadily down the stairs on her bare feet as she descended to the level below her own. Before she knew it, she was storming down the halls of the fourth floor where some of her patients reside.

It was almost comical. The way she made her moved so swiftly along the halls in the hospital in her attire. Her pajamas were decorated with cute (favorite animal)s, accented with a light blue background and little light pink and white hearts. All in all, it was a comically odd attire to wear in a place like Mount Massive, but she didn’t rightfully care about that right now.

Her eyes firmly watched the cells pass by her as she moved. Her heartbeat picked up the closer the familiar bend of the hall got to her. Before she knew it, the impatience got the better hand of her and she began to sprint down the hall, catching the attention of some of the patients around her. A few of them hollered in her direction and rattled at the bars of their cells, but they went entirely unnoticed by her tonight. She didn’t even care if official personnel were to catch her right now. She just needed to see…She needed to know!

Grabbing onto the edge of the wall at the bend of the hall, she propelled herself down the remaining expanse. Her eyes were wide, her heart’s beats sounded as though they came from large booming drums. Her bare feet hit the ground with the gentle smack of skin on linoleum – rhythmic and encouraging. The anxiety which shadowed over her path caused sweat to form at the back of her neck, afraid of what she would find, but still she pressed forward until she eventually reached the cell she was aiming to investigate.

Harshly, she came to a skidding stop in front of the cell’s bars, the motion causing for the bottom of her feet to burn from the rough break. Her breath was heaving, panted, and her eyes remained wide as they examined the interior of the cell before her.

Looking back at her, Eddie’s pristine blue eyes caught sight of her gaze with sudden surprise. His eyes had turned just as wide as her own by then, not exactly having expected to see her in the state she was in right now tonight. All this time, he had been awake as well, unable to sleep from all the commotion of the day. So, he had kept himself busy staring at the storm outside of his barred window upon his cot until the sound of her footsteps and the rattled patients caught his attention. This eventually led to a reunion between bars he hadn’t been expecting to feel as though it were several decades old when merely a single day had gone by without them personally seeing each other.

He opened his mouth to speak, but he stopped himself with a look of horror befalling him when he noticed heavy tears welling up and quickly falling down the female orderly’s round, full cheeks. Her expression had pinched to a painful grimace and she moved forward to grab onto the bars of his cell shakily. The act caused a light clatter to sound from the rusted metal, but neither of them seemed to pay it much mind. “_______, darling, what’s wrong?” He asked as he quickly stood to his feet and approached the bars by her side. He had intended to rest his hand upon her own, but she never gave him a chance.

Instead, _______ had yanked her keys out from her pajama’s pocket and unlocked his cell door. As soon as the click of the lock reached her ear, she threw the door open and rushed herself inside the cell itself. Without thinking, she threw herself into an embrace with the blue-eyed man, her arms tightly wrapping around his torso and her head burying against the crook of his neck. It was there which she allowed for her sobbing to occur. “E-Eddie,” She cried, her hands gripping two fistfuls of his hospital attire over his back. “O-oh God, I didn’t think I’d find you here…! I-I thought,” She hiccuped, a violent sob shaking her to her core and interrupting her mid-sentence. “I thought I was going to end up facing an empty cell! I thought th-they took you away from me!”

Eddie was stunned by this. He had never seen his darling peach lose her composure the way she was right now. That didn’t matter to him, however. His immediate instinct as soon as the shock left his system was to wrap his arms around the young woman comfortingly. With gentle fingers, he allowed one of his hands to rub her back up and down while the other slid up to cradle the back of her head gentle against his neck, keeping her in place. “Shh, come now, darling, it’s okay…I’m not going anywhere.” He murmured to her, turning his head to press a kiss to the top of her head. He found a kiss to the head like that from his mother always helped him when he was upset during his younger years. He thought it would be suitable now as well in helping the woman in his arms feel secure and safe with him – grounded. “Is this about what happened today? With the other orderlies walking around the asylum and moving the patients about?”

_______ nodded her head simply in reply, whimpering heavily as she tugged on the back of his shirt. She still felt unraveled, but yet again, somehow, Eddie always seemed to be able to pick up her pieces just by being there. “Yes…” She whimpered. “I thought they had t-taken you to the doctors downstairs…I thought I was too late! I thought I let them take you down there and do things to you even though you’re not meant to be in here!” She pulled a little ways back from his neck to meet his gaze. In any other given situation, the position they were in and how close she was to the man she had grown so attached to would have thrown the girl into a pit of full-blown embarrassment. Right now, though? She was just glad she was able to be this close to him at all. “I know, Eddie…I-I know you’re not supposed to be here. Something isn’t right about this place…” She muttered to him through her tears, shaken and quiet. The last thing she wanted was for the cameras to hear her. After all, if her and Tristen’s thoughts about there being something else going on behind the hospital façade was right and there was someone knowingly running the scheme, who is to tell what would happen if they heard she had suspicions?

His eyes bore into her own tear-filled ones as he allowed for her words to sink in. All of this was leaving her so quickly and so suddenly, it was a little hard for him to keep up with this development. Yet, when she said she knew he wasn’t supposed to be in a place like Mount Massive, he couldn’t help but feel as though a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. All this time, he had been the only one saying he wasn’t crazy, that he was perfectly sane and wasn’t meant to be in a mental hospital. For so long, all he had received in response were doctors and orderlies telling him otherwise, assuring him that his stay in Mount Massive Asylum would cure his critical condition. This began to lead him to wonder if perhaps they were all right about his state of mind. Perhaps he really was in need of professional help – but no. He wasn’t the only one who saw his situation as unjust anymore. Someone else saw it now too. Someone from the outside. That had to mean something, didn’t it?

“How…How do you know?”

“I saw it in your records,” She sniffled. “None of it adds up, none of it makes sense…The more I thought about it, the less sense it made…Tristen told me about some of his patients too and he said some of them had similar questionable records a-and I just…” She shook her head, squeezing him in her embrace. “I’m so sorry I didn’t do anything about it sooner…! I-I’m so sorry! I thought I was doing the right thing! I th-thought I was here to help people, but I’ve been giving you and all the others a bunch of pills and a strict regimen from the doctors downstairs that you don’t even need! I-I just wanted to help! Then t-today with the underground orderlies happened and we weren’t allowed to see any of our patients and I thought I was going to lose you to the people down below and that I wouldn’t be able to help you anymore and–!”

He stopped her by pressing two fingers from the hand that had been on the back of her head against her lips. A soft smile had taken over his own lips and the look in his eyes grew fond. “You’re spiraling, darling,” He chuckled quietly, tilting his head slightly to the side as he gingerly wiped the tears from her cheeks after he removed his fingers from the plump, rosy skin. “You’re working yourself up too much. You look absolutely drained of all energy, and yet, here you are: sobbing yourself to a puddle of exhaustion in my arms.” His gaze turned pointed as he pursed his lips at her doe-eyed look knowingly. “I saw you in the courtyard today. You know I always search for you through my window. The other orderlies didn’t bother me aside from a couple of physical exams and interviews within my cell, so I had the time to do so. I saw you out there with your friend. You two looked dreadfully tired and I saw you sitting in the rain. Do you have any idea how sick you could become working yourself to these limits mentally and physically?”

She looked back at the man who held her with wide eyes, the words caught on the tip of her tongue. It had been as though a bomb went off inside of her head, unleashing the floodgates through her mouth of everything she wanted out of it and in the air. She wanted to fix everything she thought was wrong and iffy all at once on the same night she was running on over two sleepless days. She knew in her head she was pushing herself too far, but she couldn’t help herself. She wanted to save the people she cared about. She didn’t have many, so Eddie and Tristen were enormously important in her life nowadays. She just wanted them to be happy, healthy and safe…and yet, here she is again with someone she’s supposed to be helping while he's taking care of her instead. It caused for her lips to quiver and her eyes to fill with tears once more, but she nodded her head still to answer his question. “I-I know…I know. I’m pushing too hard. There’s too many things going on in my head…I was just r-really scared I lost you today…”

He couldn’t stand to see her like this. She had been this beacon of light and sunshine in his life which brought him up when he was at his lowest upon her arrival. She was always smiling, always happy, always positive and sweet. He never wanted to see that light fade from her being, and he knew Mount Massive was a living beast who feasted upon that kind of brightness to replace it with a dark, dreary feeling of hopelessness. He told himself already he would protect her from that. Now, he would be the one to pick her up instead. Taking the thought literally and to heart, Eddie didn’t say a word in response this time. Instead, he released the young woman for a moment before reaching down to pick her up in his arms bridal style. To his surprise, she showed no signs of hesitation. In fact, she moved her arms from his torso to fold around the back of his neck instead as he walked them to his cot. Once there, he settled himself down with his back against the wall and _______ curled up on his lap. Before she could shift, he pressed his hand against the back of her head again and gingerly made her bury her face into the crook of his neck. When he felt her stay there, he began to stroke her hair all while his other arm kept her comfortably in place.

“Don’t worry about any of that now,” He whispered by her ear. “Just rest, alright? I don’t believe you took my advice last night. You don’t look like you’ve slept a wink in days. You need sleep, darling, or you’ll collapse at any moment. For now, ignore the voices in your head.” He pressed another kiss against the top of her head which was soon followed by another. Kissing her like this was such sweet, light sin. He almost felt shameful for enjoying it as much as he did, but as he felt the girl sink into him more calmly despite the tears which wet his skin, he could tell the feeling was mutual. “We can talk about all those other things another time. Right now, I want you to sleep. I’ll watch over you and wake you near the start of your shift in the morning.”

Normally, she would have protested against this. She would have sat herself right back up again and insisted they speak of the things that she had in mind in order to sort things out and attempt to come up with a plan to fix everything, but right now, she had no energy to try. She had cried and overthought too much today, and having Eddie basically force her to rest was possibly one of the best things to happen to her this week. Questions still swarmed in her head, but the exhaustion was beginning to block it all out. The tears in her eyes slipped and flowed at their own free will, but she no longer sobbed as she had when she first burst into his cell. Her eyes were closing in the dark of his neck and her body was calming at the scent he enraptured her in. As he pet her hair and lulled her to sleep with sweet nothings, _______ eventually let go at last.

Exhaustion finally got a hold of her and set her off to an island of dreams which, for once, were filled with a sweetness she had never experienced before.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

A desolate box.

That’s all which stood before him now.

A desolate box with its door left wide open.

Whoever had left it this way clearly didn’t care enough to close it back up again nor to fix the sheets on the familiar cot left behind. There was a blanket left on the ground, stretched towards the open door almost as though it had dragged behind those who left it with the plea of being taken as well. The sheets on the cot itself were disheveled and wrinkly, the indentation of a head still noticeable on the cheap pillow by the end of it. It appeared as though the patient who had been sleeping there had been taken right from slumber.

Usually, this hall of the female ward was always bustling with life. The ladies Tristen watched over made a lot of noise at all hours of the day. However, when he decided to come down to the ward late after leaving _______ in her dorm, he found nothing but an eerie stillness and silence greeting him. Most of the women he looked after were not returned that day, so it would seem.

This included Lindsey.

Her cell was vacant and left without an inch of care to its dwelling. Tristen slowly walked into her space and lifted her blanket off of the ground, holding it in his hands for a moment. He watched as a tear or two landed upon its surface, soaked up by its fabric. All day, he had tried to keep a smile on his face, but now? How could he?

How could he smile when all he was left with was an empty cell?

Chapter Text

He could have left if he wanted to.

The door to his cell was wide open, the keys which unlocked it still in their place within the door’s lock since the night prior. If he wanted to, he could ditch the woman in his arms, leaving her on his cot carefully so she wouldn’t wake up, and just make a sprint for it in the early hours of this sunny morning. He could bust his way out of the asylum and make his way over the gates somehow. Once over, he could run into the forest and, if he was lucky, he’d be home free. He’d finally be free from this hellhole at last. This opportunity didn’t present itself to the victims of the hospital very often, to find a way out of their cell like this – but Eddie didn’t take the advantage.

Truthfully, if the cell had been left open by anybody else and _______ wasn’t part of the fucked up picture painted for him in Mount Massive, he wouldn’t have even thought twice about it. He would have been out of that place with the first chance presented to him. However, because it was his peach who had left the door open, the very woman he cradled close to himself and watched over the entire night in exchange for his own sleep, he refused the opportunity.

How could he possibly ever do that to her? How could he ever even think about abandoning her when she never abandoned him? She trusted him and he trusted her, so there was no possible way he would ever leave her behind in a place like this just to free himself of his own torments. Of course, he did want to rid himself of the crap he was subjected to in this hell, but he didn’t want to do that at the expense of _______ nor her feelings. He knew he would feel terribly betrayed and heartbroken if she left him to rot on his own here; he could never cause that kind of pain in her. So, despite it meaning that he would pass up the opportunity of escape that hardly ever came to anyone in the asylum, he ignored the door the entire night and instead focused on the woman upon his lap. It wasn’t even a temptation to him. It was simply a route which he could have taken but ultimately decided to dismiss without so much as a second thought.

He had more pressing matters to take care of which required his attention. That just meant it wasn’t his time to leave yet. He honestly didn’t know whether the time to escape Mount Massive would happen in this life or perhaps in the afterlife, but regardless of that, he had it set in mind already that he would remain where he was for the sake of his darling orderly.

Throughout the entirety of the night, Eddie had remained in his spot on his cot with his back pressed to the wall. _______ had fallen asleep on him not too long after he had seated himself and, to no surprise of his own, her sleep was deep as can be and she was practically unmoving. Sometimes he would worry when he didn’t see her move at all for too long, scaring himself in his head with the possibility of her passing away in her sleep. As a result, he would watch her intently for a while, his blue eyes alert on her chest until he noticed it rhythmically puffing in and out with her gentle breathing. It was silly, he knew. To worry that she had passed so suddenly in her sleep when she was in the prime of her youth and health…Perhaps it was the cruelness of the asylum that made him fear the possibility so innately. It wouldn’t have been the first joy it removed from him, and when their relationship began to grow, he knew the danger of losing this sweet woman and source of his happiness only grew larger as well.

His hold on her tightened subconsciously at the thought as he looked her sleeping face over underneath the soft golden light from the morning sun which soothingly seeped through the sides and holes of his curtains. Though she didn’t move often, at some point in the evening, she had shifted away from his neck until she had settled down in slumber with her head resting back on his left bicep, her cheek gently smooshed against his chest. When she had, he took the opportunity to cover the two of them in his blanket to keep her warm and feeling safe. The blanket itself wasn’t very thick nor did it help him much during his nights in his cell, but he hoped it at least did some good for her. Regardless, he had never let her go and made sure to keep her close to himself just so she could continue to feel his body heat through her slumber.

As he watched her this morning, he began to think about how well she actually slept with him. Before he had gotten her to rest at last in his arms, she looked absolutely dreadful. The rings under her eyes were the darkest he had ever seen on her, and the way she had been acting with her spiraling emotions and the outburst of tears in her eyes only told him that she had been pushing herself to the brinks with her. Yet, despite the unrest of her being, she had slipped into a sweet and peaceful land of dreams with him as if nothing had happened at all. In fact, she looked so peaceful that, if he ignored the bars of his cell and only concentrated on her and the sheets that surrounded them, he could have almost convinced himself that they weren’t in an asylum at all. Perhaps it could have been a small bedroom, a quaint space shared by two lovers with nothing but intimacy bridged between the two of them.

The thought got him thinking about those kind of things. Could her obvious ease and peace with him possibly mean she held those stronger emotions towards him as well? Did her mind give her no rest from the scenarios and images it brought of a possible beautiful life they could have together? Did she see him as someone she could fall into the arms of and allow for him to whisk her to a place of pleasurable delights without an ounce of mistrust within her innocent fragile bones? She had to have some kind of deep care for him. After all, her outburst about him being taken away from her and how the thought alone was enough to bring her down to broken sobs had to mean something, right? Something good. Something potentially wonderful. Something that began to give him hope.

As he brought his hand up which didn’t have her cradled to gingerly brush his knuckles against her plump cheek, he wondered of what her reaction would be if he were to mention the topic between the two of them. How would she respond if he asked her of what brought her attachment to him to such a passionate degree when he would wake her for the day? Would he have the chance of finding some kind of positive return? Would she tell him of the same thoughts which circled his head about her centering on him in her mind? Would she tell him of how she wanted to be held by him? Kissed by him? Loved by him? To escape this place and make a life for themselves in a distant town in a distant world where they could make a family of their own?

He felt shamefully selfish and greedy for even considering it when the poor dear had obviously been through so much as of late, when she had come to him in a breakdown of tears only just a few hours ago – but he couldn’t stop the thoughts from progressing. As his blue-eyed gaze took in the beauty of her details beneath the morning light, all he could envision in his head was her positive response to him. How she would indeed tell him that she felt the budding rose of romance and passion sprouting from the seed planted within her cage of flesh and bone. How she would tell him she wanted to leave this place with him by her side for a forever they could promise one another on the outside world. How she would wrap her arms around his neck when he pulls her in for a kiss to make it official, her hands slowly weaving her nimble fingers through his darkened locks of hair. How the sound of a sweet, delicate moan would muffle from her lips onto his own as they fall into the sheets together in pure intimacy. A kiss of passion. A kiss of affection. A kiss of romance. A kiss of lust and carnal need – perhaps even more. 

Fuck.” The quiet curse left his lips sharply as he smacked the back of his head against the concrete wall behind him. He blinked his eyes a couple of times, making sure to open them as wide as they could go each time as his vision focused on the ceiling above him. A long, silent breath escaped him through his nose and the feeling of his teeth gnawing on the inside of his cheek felt like it was doing its job at bringing him back to the zone of reality he was actually living in.

It was involuntary, the thoughts that came to his mind. Eddie had spent a lot of his time in the asylum fantasizing about a life he would have outside of its walls for longer than he could remember, so it was no surprise to him that the act was practically a natural reaction for his mind to have. However, back then, the fantasies were harmless. They held no truth, bore no realistic possibilities. They were just that: fantasies. Fantasies that would never come true but helped keep him sane. It was fine back then. It was okay to dream about things that weren’t real. Now that he had the very same woman on his lap who was pulling at his hair and whimpering to him from underneath him in his daydream? It was completely different.

It embarrassed him, actually. So much so, his cheeks began to gain a light color to his pale skin from the blush her expressions, noises and touches caused upon him. He tried to ignore them, tried to push them back to the back of his head, but sometimes, his mind had a control over itself that he had no power against. It did whatever it wanted to do and caused for those images to flash behind his mind’s eye. By God, words couldn’t describe how guilty and shit he felt for thinking about that kind of stuff when the poor darling had been so torn up the night before. He didn’t want to think about that kind of stuff right now when she needed him as much as she did, but he really couldn’t help himself.

Eddie Gluskin is still a man.

A man who had been locked up for far too long without reason, kept away from any possibility of romance and intimacy with a good woman.

With _______ by his side now, it brought up all kinds of possibilities to the table he desperately tried to ignore. He didn’t want to pull her into that here. She deserved better than to do those intimate things in a place like this. It was dirty, cursed, broken, fucked up; it was the exact opposite of everything she consisted of and everything she fully deserved. She deserved romance, a man to woo her and sweep her off of her feet. She deserved candlelight dinners and slow dances to songs that would beat in time with her heart and soul. She deserved kissing in the rain, running away beneath the moonlight, secret meetings by a riverbed, tumbling in a peaceful field with nothing but the world at her feet. He thought about this all the time when she was around him. Thought about all the things he wished he could give her. That’s all that he wanted for her right now, but his mind enjoyed playing its tricks on him and changing them to carnal desires he knew every man had.

Tightly, he closed his eyes and let out another breath through his nose, forcing his mind to turn blank. Perhaps it was the hope she was starting to sow within him that had him thinking such things about the two of them. Perhaps it was her kindness and the gentle vibes her soul gave off. He could see bluer skies and brighter days when she was around, so maybe it was because of that. He was enamored by her like a young school boy, drawn in by her beauty and entranced by her heavenly ways. A true beauty for a beast. He scoffed lightly at the thought and shook his head as he opened his eyes again.

“How dreadfully cheesy…” He murmured and looked down at the girl on his lap once more when he was able to clear his mind of its previous images. Fondly, he smiled at her. “Perhaps it’ll induce a laugh from you one day…For now, I’ll keep it to myself. Tucked away in my pocket.”

He wished she didn’t give him the hope she did. It was minuet, merely a seedling with glass-like roots clinging to him within his ribs, but it was there. It was there and it was growing. She said she knew he didn’t belong here. Though he was worried of the conversation this would bring up, it also brought a spark to his being that told him there was a chance. There was a chance for her to see him as a man and not just a patient under her care. A man who could be the one to woo her, to sweep her off of her feet, to prepare candlelight dinners, to slow dance, to kiss her under the rain, to run away in the moonlight with her by coursing rivers and tumble down peaceful fields. It was a hope he knew would only come to devastate him one day…but he hated that a part of him was beginning to whisper: perhaps it will come to save you rather than devastate you.

Before his thoughts could take hold of him again, Eddie shifted his gaze from the woman to the clock on the wall. It was a quarter before seven, and while the thought of waking her up so early caused for his lips to purse into a pout, he also didn’t want her freaking out about being late again like she did last time. As much as he wanted to keep holding her, it was because of this that he gently brought his free hand down to cup her cheek, stroking her face in an attempt to wake her. “_______, darling, it’s about time to start waking up. You don’t want to be late again.” He cooed at her as softly as ever.

_______ whined lightly in her sleep and hummed as she nuzzled her hand into his palm. The last thing she wanted was to work this morning when she had had such a good night’s sleep, but upon hearing Eddie’s voice, she knew it was, indeed, about that time again. Sighing sleepily, the girl soon began to stir from that place between wake and dream until her lashes finally fluttered open to reveal her (eye color) eyes. She stared up at him for a few moments, recalling what had happened the night before, and offered him a small smile in greeting when the memory of him hugging and holding her returned to her. “Already…?” She whispered her question to him, her smile faltering when the full extent of the day before returned to her.

“Yes, already.” He widened his own smile back at her. “Regrettably, but it is.”

“I don’t want to,” Subconsciously, her arms which had been loosely wrapped around his torso throughout the night tightened on him, pulling her closer to his chest. “I’m…scared you won’t be here when I come back…”

His smile faltered a bit as well now due to her uncertainties, but he still attempted to keep some sort of a grin up for her sake. Gingerly, the hand he had stroking her face now carefully moved to run its fingers through her gentle tresses to soothe and comfort her. “I’m flattered by your clinginess, darling,” He attempted to lightly joke. “And while I would love to have you all to myself, you and I both know you won’t fair too well if you find yourself late to your shift. Regardless, it isn’t as though I’m going to up and walk out of here all on my own.” He chuckled softly.

The joke, however, didn’t do much help. It only resulted in her squeezing him tighter as she sat herself up straighter to hide her head against the crook of his neck in a proper embrace. “I know you won’t, but I don’t know that someone won’t come around to take you away instead…”

Eddie’s smile left him entirely then. His blue eyes stared somberly at the wall across from the two of them until a sigh left his lips and his arms wrapped around her waist as well. He gently bumped his head against her own and closed his eyes. “Well, if it helps make you feel better, I don’t really believe anyone else will be coming around here to pull any of us out of our cells for a while. It appears they finished taking people yesterday. If anything, they’re probably going to be bringing people back. That’s the way all this moving about tends to work when the doctors underground start shifting their patient rosters. For now, there’s nothing to worry about. I’ll still be here.”

The storm outside had stopped sometime last night. In the world on the other side of these rusted bars, the birds were chirping and the sun was shining. It sounded and looked alive and brilliant. If that was the case, however, why does she feel so dreadfully on edge? He says that the rotations are over for now. They aren’t going to take him or any of her other patients again until the next rotation. She could believe him because he had been here for far longer than she. Yet, why does she feel like it isn’t over at all? To her, Eddie was still in danger. It shook her to her core to know that the people downstairs could take any of her patients away from her at any given moment and do Lord knows what to them down there when they were away from her care. She swore Eddie didn’t deserve to be in here in the first place, so anything else they did to him would be completely pointless. Probably damaging, even.

At the thought, she pulled away from his neck to meet his gaze with her own. A million questions reflected off of her colors much as they always did, but now? Now they were tormented and stressed beyond belief. Even after a good night’s sleep, the worry and fear fell onto her like a pile of bricks for every second she remained awake in her living world. “We need to talk, Eddie,” She muttered. “We need to sort things out about you. We have to so I can help get you out of here. I know you’re not supposed to be in here. The total ambiguity of your record practically screams it out. If the doctors downstairs don’t care, then we have to find a way. We need to–”

Just like the night before, Eddie brought one of his fingers up to press against her lips, quieting her concerns with a feather-like touch. His eyes look empty in that moment. Sad and devoid of hope on the matter they discussed. “Later.” He murmured, leaning down to press his forehead against her own. Despite the vacancy in his gaze, he still gave her another award-winning smile, the act causing for little crinkles in the skin by his eyes to form. Being near her like this never ceased to make him happy no matter the topic at hand or the feelings circling in his head. “We’ll discuss everything you want to know during our typical lunch break. It seems the storm has blown over. I do think we’ll have a perfect chance to sit outside today.”

She stared back up at him with those large doe-like eyes of hers which tempted him so, her plump lips parting just the slightest bit as though to say something, but she couldn’t find the words to let out. So, she just stared, entranced by the hushed tone of his husky, reassuring voice and the cupping of both her cheeks in his hands.

His smile widened just the slightest bit at the trance he seemed to have put her under and a quiet, husky chuckle vibrated deep within his chest. He was so tempted…They were so close…He moved down to her just the slightest bit, images of the kiss the two shared in his fantasy replaying in his head. Their breaths mingled in the silence of the world around them, warm and comforted in each other’s arms with colored paint upon their skin as though with watercolors and oil paints. No words of blossoming romance had been uttered by either of them, but the timing felt almost right...

Almost.

He couldn’t bring himself to do it.

He would be devastated.

His hope, smashed and ruined when they spoke of his past later in the day or perhaps even now if he went through with it.

Instead of listening to the voice in his head, he turned and pressed a tender kiss against her warm cheek before letting her go entirely. His breath was slightly shaky, but he didn’t let it deter him from his movements. No matter how much he wanted to do it nor how much he wanted to keep her with him longer, he forced himself to stand with her in his arms from his cot before putting the girl back down on her feet. Once standing in front of him in those cutsie pajamas of hers, he gave her a somber smile and a final pat to the head. “Go on, now, darling. Before you get yourself in trouble. We’ll see each other again soon.”

_______ didn’t say anything with words, but the blush on her face spoke in volumes. Volumes which ached him with words he couldn’t understand. Still, she nodded her head at him and sighed, turning on her heels to walk out of his cell. Once on the other side again, she closed and locked his door, pulling her keys back into her pocket. For a moment, the two stared at each other through the gaps between his rusted bars – silent and lost in one another despite the seemingly insurmountable distance which separated them. “I’ll be back soon. Don’t let anyone take you away if it isn’t me.” She broke the silence quietly and waved before she began to leave, looking back over her shoulder every now and again as she went.

Eddie pressed himself close to the bars and clung to them, watching for as far as he could as his darling peach walked away from him into the unknown beyond. Soon enough, he was left alone with his thoughts and the ticking of the clock. Within his mind, the image of her face formed again.

For a second, he could have sworn the look she gave him when he pulled away had been one of disappointment.

He shook his head, however, and denied his hopeful fantasy once again.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

That morning and afternoon’s rounds had exposed _______ to the extent of which the work of the underground orderlies had affected her own. To her relief, not many of her patients were missing. A couple of the cells she was used to tending to were, indeed, devoid of the men she was used to seeing every day, but most of the others were still safe in their rooms doing what they tended to always do. It brought the girl some relief and peace of mind, but at the same time, it worried her greatly for the ones she could no longer watch over. Would they be alright? Are the treatments they’re receiving down there appropriate to their cases? Or were there more patients like Eddie and Lindsey inhabiting the walls of Mount Massive Asylum than she believed?

She didn’t like to think about it, seeing as the matter was completely out of her hands once it went down the ground floor of the hospital.

Aside from that, the rounds and basic routine had given her time to think about everything which had been tormenting her as of late. The issues with Eddie’s admittance in the hospital, the peeper she had on her hands, her conflicts with Matthew and her conflicting thoughts on David…It was all very overwhelming, no doubt about it, and thinking about it during her day had only caused the anxiety within her to stir again as she anticipated the lunch break she was currently on with Eddie.

Seated by her side, the blue-eyed man had accompanied her to the courtyard this afternoon as usual once she stopped by to pick him up. The two of them seemed to have a plethora of things stuck in their minds, revolving over and over again in the silence which only the chirping birds and gentle wind of the outdoors was able to permeate for a good amount of time. _______’s tray of food was seated beside her on the bench, forgotten, while Eddie’s was laying empty on the ground, already having finished the food she served for him.

When it came to his daily pills, she had begun to advice he flush them when he was in his cell. Her gaze shifted to the paper cup she typically put the medicine in, noticing it was empty. She didn’t want to give it to him, but she still needed to keep up appearances. She couldn’t let any of the personnel know she was advising for their patients to go against regimen.

“You didn’t take your pill, did you? You flushed it like I told you to, right?”

Eddie turned his gaze to hers and offered the girl a smile, a quiet chuckle escaping him as he took in the look of concern on her face. “Can I be honest?”

“Of course.”

“I’ve been flushing those pills down the toilet since they were first given to me back when Mattie was still my orderly.”

She looked at him for a moment, surprised by his confession, but a sputter of quick laughter soon came from her as a result. He followed suit, and the two of them laughed together, not shaken in the slightest bit by this development. She smiled, shaking her head. Actually, it was a huge relief to know he hadn’t taken them at all. At least it meant she hadn’t caused any kind of impairment to his health and mental state in any kind of way. “I guess I don’t have to worry about that anymore then. I’m glad you never took them.”

“Ah, yes. Honestly, I am too. I never reckoned I needed medication of any type. You know, beyond an aspirin or something of the like for the headaches this place gives me. They don’t often hand those out, though.”

“Go figure.” She tutted, her gaze now focused on her laps upon which her fingers drummed.

He looked back to her in that short moment of silence. Beside her, he noticed her tray of food completely untouched. It wasn’t anything special, just a simple shrink-wrapped sandwich with some carrot sticks, but it still somewhat concerned him to see she wasn’t eating anything. After her breakdown from the night before and noticing how hard she had been pushing herself as of late, he didn’t want to see her going down the road of starving herself from stress as well. “You should eat, darling. It isn’t good to skip on meals, you know that.”

Her small smile faltered at that, nervousness beginning to bubble in her stomach as she looked towards her tray. “Yeah, I know…I’m just not hungry.” She muttered. “Too much going on in my head…”

“I could imagine, but you shouldn’t let that effect your health. You’re worrying me, _______. You haven’t been taking proper care of yourself as of late.”

Her frown deepened at his words. Would she ever be able to do something else? All she could do was worry the people who cared for her. She had failed completely at protecting Eddie and her patients, at comforting Tristen so he had a shoulder to lean on after they watched Lindsey be taken to the underground doctors, and now she was worrying Eddie with her shitty habits of self-destruction all induced by the shit going on in her head. She knew by no means was she in a worse position than Eddie himself or any of her patients, so why couldn’t she just stop making such a big deal out of the things that happened to her? It felt like everyone was going out of their way to make sure she was okay and asking her all these questions to drill her into taking proper care of herself, when really, she should be the one doing it to them. It ate her alive on the inside and caused for her to remain seated in silence.

Instead of replying to him with words, she reached down to pluck one of the carrot sticks she had in a small cup beside her sandwich, nibbling on it just to appease him and put his worries to bed. He smiled a bit at the sight and nodded approvingly.

“Thank you,” He spoke softly. “I don’t mean to nag you about these things. I truly just want you to be okay.”

“Funny,” She murmured halfway through her carrot stick. “I could say the same about you. I just want you to be okay too, but nothing I’ve done has helped in the slightest.” At last she brought her gaze up to meet with his own once more, and by the look in her eyes, Eddie knew what was coming. “And that’s because you’re not supposed to be in here. I’ve been treating you like a patient, putting you through this schedule of medication and watch ordered by the doctors I never even get to see – and it’s all been for nothing. You never needed treatment…but if that’s true, then how did you end up in here, Eddie?” The question finally left her lips before she could even think about it, the words having been trying to claw their way off of her tongue for far too long. A desperation for an answer reflected in the way she looked at him and it only caused for Eddie’s heart to sink lower than it already had.

It was his turn to look away from her. His gaze wandered to his empty tray, his fingers reaching out to drum on the gray plastic his plates rested upon. “It’s…a long story. It delves into parts of my past I buried many years ago. I…would rather not touch upon those details too deeply.” He turned to look at her again despite his gut trying to tell him not to. He felt he owed her his transparency and honesty, so he couldn’t just turn away now. “I hope that doesn’t matter. Those details don’t have much to do with why I’m here…”

_______ nodded in understanding, turning away from her own tray once more so she could properly face the man at her side. “That’s fine. If it’s parts of your past you’re not comfortable with talking about, that’s something I could understand.” Concern accented her gaze in that moment, aided by the furrow of her brow. “But, I hope you don’t mind if I ask if those details have anything to do with…a criminal background? Like…something you did that got you in trouble…?”

Eddie shook his head. “No, nothing like that,” His gaze turned somewhat distant, as though he were watching memories in his head and trying to ignore them. The mind truly is a cruel entity. “You could say it was more so a domino effect. What happened in the past is what eventually led me to do what I did several years later.”

“You mean…the physical assault of your father?”

He grimaced at her words as though the mere mention of it caused him physical pain. He closed his eyes and let out a shaken breath, simply responding with a silent nod.

“The records say you beat him pretty bad, Eddie…It also said he alleged you were a danger to society – why? Why did you do that to him? Why would he say you’re a danger?”

“As I said,” He opened his eyes, giving her a somber glance. “It’s a long story. I won’t go into detail, but I will tell you that he was an abusive man. Both he and my uncle were. They were abusive, terrible people who made my childhood a living hell. I don’t know what it’s like to have a happy childhood. The only good memories I have of my youth are those centered around the times when I was able to be alone with my mother, perhaps a year or two prior to the abuse, and after that…a lot of memories are blocked. I just recall a lot of court dates my mother went to after she left my father when I told her what had been happening. Eventually, my father and uncle did time in jail for what they did. They were sentenced 48 years, and while my uncle is still serving them now…my father got out early. I never wanted to know how nor did I want to know why. I just knew he was released.”

He paused, releasing a slow, quiet breath from his lips as he brought his hands together and began to twiddle with his thumbs. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth; a disassociation to the reality of his past he had grown to harbor when the years passed him by. By then, the topic of his childhood abuse had been brought up a lot. The doctors in this place like to ask him about it, to rub it in his nose during interviews. Before Mount Massive, he had been doing very well. Through years of battling the memories and all the scars done unto him, he had eventually found a way to let it all go. He found the courage and strength in himself to build a life away from the memories and past. He became a tailor, found a profound interest in gardening, strengthened his bond with his mother, bought his own place, made a name for himself…All of that is gone now, however.

His garden, the clothes he would make and fix, his mother, his home, his job, even he himself…They had been ripped away from him just as his childhood had been by his father and uncle. It’s ironic, really, because due to the allegations his father set against him, he was the one to cause his admittance into Mount Massive Asylum as well. It’s as though he had destroyed two enormous parts of his life practically single-handedly.

Back and forth, back and forth his thumbs would twiddle. He focused on keeping them from touching each other, but sometimes, he could feel his skin brush together without meaning to. His hands were shaking. He was nervous. So nervous…Would she believe him? Would she take him for a monster all thanks to the path he’s been forced to take? Would she abandon him and be ripped away from him as well?

What else would be left to be taken from him then?

Not much other than his own life, but he thought he wouldn’t care much if he died after that.

After all, he felt he had died a long time ago within the walls of the asylum already as it was.

_______ just so happened to come in time to bring him back before he had passed the point of no return.

Though he sat in front of her and kept his gaze on her, _______ felt more like he was looking through her rather than at her. His lips were slightly parted, an attempt at continuing his story, but no sound left him. Gently, she reached out to him with an aching heart, resting her hand atop of his forearm as she looked him in those sky blue eyes of his. “It’s okay,” She whispered. “I’m here. You’re not alone…If the thoughts and memories scare you, I’ll help you chase them away.” At the very least, she can assure him and help him like that. She could at least offer her presence and caring comfort to him when his mind worked against him. She knew what that was like, and from the story he was telling her, she knew that his demons had to be a hell of a lot bigger than her own.

The thought of anyone hurting him caused for her teeth to grit and her gut to spark with outrage. Eddie is such a gentle, kind man…She can’t imagine why anyone would want to cause him harm – especially from people who were supposed to be family to him. She didn’t even want to think about what they could have possibly done to him, and she could tell he didn’t exactly want to either. Still, she would be there for him and help him through it all as best as she could.

At the thought, she allowed her hand to slid down his forearm to grab onto his own, pulling the man out of his distant gaze. Finally, he looked at her with wide eyes, almost like a deer caught in the headlights. His hands froze from their movements though his involuntary shaking persisted. His eyes bore into her own as the feeling of both her hands pressing into his for their fingers to intertwine despite his limpness reminded him of his beating pulse. He looked at her and tried to say something, but all it resulted in was a quiver of his lips he couldn’t stop. Something rolled down the skin of his cheeks which perplexed him. He furrowed his brow as his eyes turned down to see the little droplets falling onto his arms.

When did his eyes start to sting?

Since when had those drops of salted water found their way on his person?

He didn’t know, but it didn’t seem that they were stopping now.

Eventually, his limbs came back to life and allowed for him to tighten his fingers with hers in their grasp. He took in a shaken breath through his nose and let it out deeply through his mouth as he nodded his head for the both of them.

“Regardless of the reason, he was released and I was so…so angry. That monster didn’t deserve to be walking on the streets a free man after what he had put me and my mother through. He ruined a part of our lives that should have been happy, that should be filed with loving memories. Instead, all I have left in my head are sudden flashes of things I wish I could forget and blocked memories that I swear are pounding against doors in my head to find a way out again. I was so angry and resentful…I couldn’t continue my life normally for a long time after I received the news. The only thing that would circle within my thoughts in my new life was the fact that he was out there living his own without so much as a care about what he had done to us.”

His teeth grit, his lips curling back into a deep enraged scowl as those bitter droplets continued to trace along the contours of his face – a rhythmic flow which had been long overdue. “Nightmares started to plague me every single night after that. I felt like I saw him everywhere I went, heard him no matter where I was. He was beating at the walls inside my head, forcing his image back to life within my own bubble with his selfish, abusive taunting! Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore! I just couldn’t!” He shouted that last part with a rage filtering in his voice which broke _______’s heart. Despite the anger and resentment he felt for his father weaving itself through his speech, the only emotion she could see on his face right now was that of pain and a deeply rooted sorrow she didn’t think anything other than time could ever help mend.

Eddie’s expression scrunched up though his scowl remained in place. His body had begun to shake more as sobs he held in raked and tortured him from the inside. He never liked feeling vulnerable. He wasn’t the type to hide his emotions or see them as a weakness, but he didn’t like breaking down over things like this. He felt if he still cried today over what happened at the hands of his father and uncle, he was simply allowing them to win. Forgive and forget is so much easier said than done…

He doesn’t want to be a victim.

He hates feeling like a victim.

Yet, his eyes continued to water and leak with memories of scars and emotions he tried to convince himself were long since forgotten.

“Before I knew it,” He spoke as best as he could through the tears now. “He was taking over my life again…He was ruining everything I worked so hard to build for myself and he wasn’t even physically there to do it. I felt like I was going to crash and burn…but my mother stepped in before it could happen. She told me…resentment isn’t something I should harbor. That no matter what he had done to me, I had to forgive him. I had to forgive him so his hold on me could dissipate and I could be free. It sounds so cliché when you say it out loud, but she swore upon it. She said it was what she had done after hate-fueled years passed her by and it brought her peace…She just wanted the same for me. That’s all she wanted…”

_______ scooted herself closer to his side, removing one of her hands from his to reach up and wipe the tears from his cheeks. Once she did, she wrapped her arm around him, pulling him into a hug with her head now resting on his shoulder in an attempt of bringing him some comfort. It helped. It reminded him that he still had her to lean on and that, despite how much he hated this vulnerability, he could trust her with it. Truthfully, just having her still with him now was comforting all on its own.

“I took her advice,” He continued, nestling his chin on her shoulder now as well as his own arm wrapped around her in return. “And went to him…I found his address on a sex offender registry. He was still living there in Leadville, still in my old neighborhood. It was insulting to find that out, but I tried not to let it get to me. I visited him and tried to make amends. I tried to come to terms with what happened with him, tried to wipe the slate clean to at least give myself that peace of mind my mother spoke of…but it didn’t help. The sick fuck was still as terrible as always even in his older age. Condescending, spiteful, argumentative…He acted as if were the one intruding on his life. When I saw we weren’t getting anywhere, I excused myself. I knew the anger he was causing to resurface within me wasn’t worth my sanity.”

He laughed humorlessly. Wetly. “Oh, what irony…Well, I tried to remove myself from the situation, but one thing led to another and he told me I would be just like him if I ever made a family of my own…A family is all I’ve ever wanted in life, to be the father mine never was to me, so to hear him compare me to the monster he was…It broke me. I don’t remember how it happened. I just remember being on top of him. I remember the feel of his nose breaking beneath my fist. I remember…I remember grabbing anything around me when he started fighting back to hit him with…I remember…red…”

His voice was getting quiet as he hid his face against the crook of the young orderly’s neck. His tears slid down her skin from where he hid as he shook in her embrace, his sobs beginning to surface – broken – through his lips despite him trying to bite them closed. “Sirens…Sirens came and tore me away from him. I didn’t…I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t mean to hurt him as badly as I did…I just wanted my life back, but he took it away from me again with my help…Somehow, he convinced the authorities of my so called delusions, calling me a danger to society. It wasn’t long after I was taken into custody that I was moved here...I never saw my mother after that. She died a year after my admittance, and as you may know, Mount Massive doesn’t exactly take kindly to visitors…"

He was scared. Oh so very scared. He didn’t want _______ to leave him. He was scared she would become afraid of him now that he told her what got him here in the first place. What must she think of him? A monster all of his own to attack an elderly man the way he did. Ruthless, merciless, blinded by anger and hate…He could practically hear her footsteps walking away from him in his head already, could practically feel the silence pierce into his eardrums in the solitude of his cell just like the days prior to her arrival. The curtain on his window would start to dance for him, but it would never be the same again. All that he would have been able to envision while watching it would be her and all the kindness she had shown him.

He swore he had just tossed his one reason to keep pressing on out of that very window through the bars that imprisoned him.

“I don’t know how it happened, I swear I didn’t mean for it to go as far as it did…! That’s not who I am! That’s not what I’m like! I-I only wanted to try to make amends with my past but one thing led to another and I couldn’t stop! Please, I don’t want you to look at me like some monster like him as well! P-please don’t, _______! I-I promise you that’s not the kind of man I am! I’m not the violent type! I-I would never-! I wouldn’t-! I can’t-! I-!” His hold on her was tightening, getting desperate as he wrapped both of his arms around her for an embrace he desperately needed. She didn’t hesitate in the slightest bit to wrap her own around him as well in a tight, comforting hold, but it was as though he couldn’t feel it in the storm of his tormented emotions and thoughts. He just wanted things to be okay. He didn’t want her to hate him or be afraid of him, but it seemed as though everything was working against him again. His father was going to rip the one source of happiness he had left in the world right from his fingers even though he wasn’t there to personally do it himself.

It tore Eddie apart on the inside.

He was tired of the abuse, tired of the loneliness, tired of the anguish.

What eventually pried him away from these darkening thoughts was the sensation of her hand running up his back until her fingers found their way through his dark locks of hair. Gently, he could feel her nails scrape against his exposed scalp as she went, stroking his head much as he often did to her to help make her feel better whenever she needed it. The sensation caused for his eyes to open against the crook of her neck, staring into the dark honeysuckle shadows her form hid him in.

“It’s okay,” She whispered to him, squeezing him in closer to her as she continued to pet his hair. “It’s okay…It wasn’t your fault, Eddie. I believe you. I know you wouldn’t do something like that without some kind of reason for it…After what that man must have put you through, I can only imagine that was barely scraping the surface of what he truly deserves. You’re a sweet, gentle man, Eddie...I can’t imagine why anybody would want to hurt you the way he and your uncle did. I wish I could take that pain away from your head and your heart, to erase the memories that haunt you…but even though I can’t do that, I just want you to know I’ll always be here for you, okay?” She paused, gently prying him away from the crook of her neck so she could press a protective kiss on his forehead.

Meeting his gaze with a reassuring look in her own, she cupped his cheeks in her hands and wiped the tears from his skin with her thumbs. “You don’t have to sit through them alone. You have me now, right? I’ll be with you and help you keep your mind off of the old memories and feelings so you don’t have to be alone with them ever again. I’ll replace them with good memories, because I don’t think any less of you after what you’ve confided in me. If anything, hearing this just makes me want to help you get out of here even more – and that’s what I’m going to do. I believe you. You’re not supposed to be here. I know you’re not. All that you’ve been put through has been completely unjust towards a man who deserves nothing but happiness out of his life.”

The way he looked at her now, wide blue eyes searching hers with a disbelief she could almost place herself right in the middle of, only strengthened her determination. The story he told her may have come right from his mouth and perhaps that may come off as the lowest viable evidence of the truth to any other who may hear it, but to _______, every single word he said dripped with nothing but honesty. She viewed Eddie Gluskin as a calm, unmovable man. A man that nobody could intimidate. A man that no one could push around. A man who knew how to hold his own ground.

He had been her place of refuge in the asylum alongside Tristen, but she knew more of him now than she did before. In her eyes now, Eddie Gluskin is still a man who held strength of his own within his person and a man she could always turn to when she needed someone to help her and to comfort her – to bring her back to a place of peaceful sanity – but he is also a man with his own scars, his own pains. His mind was filled with far more memories and events he would much rather forget than she initially believed. Something about that almost made him feel more grounded to her.

Eddie Gluskin isn’t an unmovable rock.

Eddie Gluskin is human.

Human with faults and scars and painful memories just like her.

Just as he was for her, she knew she had to be strong for him. She couldn’t keep being weak and constantly going to him as her rock. She needed to be a rock for him, too. She needed to be a place of refuge, a shoulder to lean on, an ear to cry to, a source of care and protection. Perhaps she couldn’t defend him the way he did with her in physical confrontations, but what she lacked for in physique she made up for with emotion, with a freedom of a mental illness nobody can escape. The mind truly is a cruel organ. It works with and against its host whenever it so pleases. It brings even the greatest of giants down to their knees in a sobbing fit with the simple flash of a distant memory or a vacant emotion thought to be long since forgotten.

Hearing Eddie’s tale reminded _______ of that. She wasn’t the only one with that cruel organ turning cogs within the confines of her skull. Everyone has their own distant memories and vacant emotions. Everyone is a giant just waiting to be brought to their knees by their own mind working against them. Eddie was never exempt of that.

She knew he didn’t like being vulnerable. She could see it in the way he reacted during his tale, could sense it from the attempts of trying to bite back his sobbing or the sudden anger which flooded his veins until his voice eventually fell to a low, somber murmur near the end of his story. Eddie Gluskin is not the vulnerable type. He has the will of an ox, a hope and faith for a brighter tomorrow _______ could only wish she had working within herself. If it had been her in his shoes, she didn’t doubt that she probably would have given up hope by now of things ever getting better – but he didn’t. He’s still here. He’s still alive. Even with the desperate sense of shocked emotion in his eyes, she could sense the thriving will to live to see a better tomorrow still vibrant in his sky blue eyes.

When the world around her was falling apart, she always liked to remember his eyes.

Sometimes, she swore she saw the sun in the reflection of the light upon their breezy colors and summer vibes.

Just as she gave him a reason to push forward, he gave her a reason to be a stronger woman today than she was yesterday.

“I’m going to get you out of here, Eddie. I promise.” She whispered to him, a soft and reassuring smile angling her lips as she leaned up to press her forehead against his own. His gaze seemed to soften out of its state of shock, filling with a sense of overwhelming relief that tugged at her heartstrings just as much as it did his own. “I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I will get you out of here. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you ever again. Nobody is going to be taking you away from my side. I promise you, cross my heart and hope to die, that I will give you a chance at life again, Eddie. I swear it.” Much as he did to her when she needed him, she lifted her head for a moment to press a kiss against the top of his head before moving her hands to the back of it and leading his face back down to the crook of her neck for him to hide in.

He didn’t fight her. He allowed her to lead him down to the crook of her neck with her gentle touch, the kiss he received causing for his watery eyes to close softly in the darkness between her neck and the curtain her hair created. The tight, desperate grip he had around her waist with his arms loosened at last, but they stayed in place. The difference is, rather than holding her with a fear of her slipping from his grasp, he instead held her with a sense of comfort and security. This had been a reaction from her he swore he would have never gotten earlier today. All day, he dreaded this talk with her because he swore she would turn her back on him just as so many others from his past had done before. He convinced himself she would no longer care for him the way she had during her stay in Mount Massive, but yet again, she’s come to prove him wrong.

She’s proven him time and time again that she is someone he can wholeheartedly trust.

No matter where their story in Mount Massive would lead them, he knew he would always have _______ to count on.

Chapter Text

Things felt different after they had spoken.

_______ didn’t know what it was or why it was, but things felt different without a doubt. She always had a feeling deep inside that Eddie wasn’t like the others in this place, but she supposed finally talking about it and putting it out in the open had caused a shift in the atmosphere between them.

Standing in the midst of her dorm now after she left the man in his cell felt positively bizarre. What was she doing leaving a sane man within the hands of doctors who wished to drown him in mental pills and regimens he didn’t need? Why was she leaving him there behind those rusted bars to let the cycle repeat itself? If she had the choice, she would have rushed right back to the fourth floor, taken him out of his cell, grabbed Tristen and Lindsey on the way and gotten them all the hell out of Mount Massive for good. It suddenly felt worse than ever to be working in a place like this under the control of people who didn’t even care enough about their patients to be sure about their origins and legal documents. She tried to think that it could have perhaps been a mistake, but when she really thought about it, she knew she was being too lenient with that excuse.

Still, she stood there, facing her bed as she did the night before she ran to him, her hand held against her mouth in thought. How was she supposed to go about this? She wanted to set Eddie free, but she couldn’t just drag him out of here guns blazing. The place was covered in security cameras and had a strict rule against contact outside of the asylum perimeters. Hell, she didn’t even know how the heck Tristen was able to call that Uber the night he got pizza delivered. Really, when she thought about it, the idea became more absurd by the second! He even offered to order her some Jonquils when she was ready to have them delivered! How did he do that?

She pulled her phone out of her pocket at the thought, staring at it for a few moments in silence. She could surf the web with it, go onto certain websites to do whatever she wanted, but contact with the outside world was totally restricted. The only Wi-Fi network they were allowed to connect to in Mount Massive was one which restricted access to websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and places of the like. She had never tried, but did they just not restrict certain apps like the ones used for UberEATS? Or did Tristen have some other method to bypass the asylum’s security walls?

She didn’t know.

All she knew was that she had to eventually figure out how to get Eddie out of there. While she was at it, she should probably make it a point to check up on the records of her other patients as well. She hadn’t noticed sketchy pasts like Eddie’s in the others, but if Eddie was a possible case in the asylum at all and Lindsey was truly another example of the staff’s negligence, then she wouldn’t be surprised if the same story could be told for a countless amount of others.

All conspiracies aside, there was one good thing that came out of the mystery today. Though their talk resulted in many tears and tormented feelings and memories to surface, she felt as though it had strengthened the bond she had with the blue-eyed man. That wall they had between themselves of orderly and patient had finally been torn down, and while she had always seen a man in Eddie Gluskin before a patient just as she did with all the others, it was a different feeling which came to her now with the confirmation of her speculations. The uniforms and hospital gowns weren’t in the way anymore. Just like with Tristen, if he so wished for it to be, she could see herself still keeping contact with Eddie once the two of them were out of here. She couldn’t think of that before, because she didn’t know how long either of them would even be stuck in this place to begin with.

She still didn’t, but that doesn’t matter.

All she needed to know is that, one way or another, they would make it out of here in the end.

She sighed deeply at the thought, rubbing both of her hands against her face. God, she was tired…Though she had gotten some peaceful rest the night before, it still wasn’t enough to truly make up for the lack of it she had succumbed to over the course of several weeks. She needed a good nap to make up for it all, but when she allowed for her hands to fall back to her sides, her eyes landed on her tray of food which rested on her bedside table. She hadn’t touched it since that single carrot stick she nibbled on earlier –  naturally so. She didn’t exactly feel like eating when they had been discussing emotionally-heavy things together. Still, as she stared at the tray with the wrapped sandwich resting on its paper plate, the only thing the girl could think of was Eddie’s concerned expression and his worrisome blue eyes.

“I guess I should eat…I don’t want him to worry about me…” She muttered to herself, taking a step or two over to the tray only to stop in her tracks again. A thought suddenly came to mind, a reminder from the night prior ringing in her head. She turned her gaze to the corner of her bedroom, and on the floor she spotted the bag of wet clothing she had left there. Forgotten.

“Shit,” She blew a raspberry and walked to the bag instead, plucking it off of the ground. “Guess I should take care of this first…”

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

Doing the laundry used to come off as such a laborious task in the past to _______.

For as long as she could remember, the chore had always felt like a complete drag to her. She could remember helping her mother and father with the laundry when she was younger and still living together, back when things were good. She didn’t like to think of her old life very often, but sometimes, when she did certain things like cleaning her clothes or cooking a certain meal, she was reminded of how things used to be.

Within the Laundry Room on the first floor of the asylum, she stood before a dryer. She watched as it made its cleanly ruckus, shifting and turning and drying. In her head, she could remember her own mother humming a song she always sung when doing chores around the house. In her mind’s eye, she could see her father walking by the room, making a joke with her mother and smiling as he made her laugh. She used to have a normal, happy family – but that was a long time ago.

It’s all turned to simple memories now of a time long since left behind. _______ didn’t have anybody left. Nothing but the memories. She was one of the lucky ones when it comes to this kind of thing, because despite the circumstances, the majority of her memories are all happy ones. A happy childhood and a happy young-adulthood just before it all changed and she was eventually left all on her own. After that, she had to learn to fend for herself. It was hard, really hard, but she’s still alive, isn’t she? She’s still here, and somehow, all of those events have led her to this moment in Mount Massive Asylum.

With Tristen.

With Eddie.

With her patients.

She shook her head when she found herself drifting too far within the recesses of those old memories, bringing herself to other more pressing matters. Her past didn’t matter right now. All of it was just that: the past. What mattered to her now was getting Eddie out of here and helping any of the other patients within this haunted asylum that she could. God, though, just thinking about Eddie’s particular case left her with a burning sense of repulsion deep within her gut. She felt it searing the back of her throat – acidic – a type of nauseated rage and disgust she had only felt one or twice before.

She just couldn’t understand. She couldn’t properly comprehend or even begin to rationalize why his father and uncle would do anything to harm him the way that they had. They had ruined his entire childhood! They savagely took away from him years of his life he could never have again which should have been filled with love and happiness! He hadn’t gone into detail about what exactly they did, but the small detail of him telling her he found his father on a sex offender registry list tied in with his abusive history elicited ideas in _______’s mind that caused her to feel that very same rage Eddie had portrayed during their talk in the courtyard.

Staring into the dryer’s window, lost in the sound of its awkward mechanical clunks and plunks, she was almost tempted to punch her fist right through the glass. Of course, she didn’t, but the temptation was there, pounding aggressively within the confines of her skull. She hadn’t even noticed when her teeth had grit so hard it hurt her jaw nor when her brow furrowed so deeply until the sensation of it all melded together began to cause a dull ache over the center of her forehead. She closed her eyes as the feeling snapped her from the thoughts to focus on its presence instead, taking a deep breath in nice and slow.

“Calm down,” She murmured to herself. “Getting this angry and beating the dryer isn’t going to change anything.”

She tended to do that. Breathing deep and talking herself out of her fits of rage and anger were, at times, the only things that worked to calm her down. She was so in-tune with her emotions, so empathetic and emotional, that she tended to become explosive when everything came boiling at the surface. She tended to forget common sense, ditch logic and just go with that feeling in her gut that told her to fight. Perhaps that’s why she understood Eddie’s predicament as much as she did. _______ was merely an audience to his horrendous tale and already she could see why the sick bastard that was his father deserved the beating he received from his son.

If she had been in Eddie’s shoes – so utterly betrayed by two of the people a young child should naturally trust the most – she probably would have done the same thing.

Hell, who knows?

Maybe she would have done more.

Opening her eyes after a few moments, the young orderly gave herself a nod as though to reassure herself of her own control. Fists she hadn’t noticed she had balled up at her sides until then began to loosen and relax until her fingers splayed over her clothes to absentmindedly smooth out the wrinkles in the synthetic fabric of her uniform. She needed to get out of there. The hot stuffiness of the Laundry Room was causing the ache in her head to get worse and the unpleasantness of the atmosphere made her feel as though she was going to suffocate. She suddenly longed to be in the courtyard again, and at that, a mental image of a field of Jonquils came to mind.

Jonquils…

She hoped they could see some soon.

A creak from the old Laundry Room door cut her thought short, its abrupt announcement bringing her to its attention. Bright fluorescent light shone from the open entryway, illuminating the dim room within. It was almost blinding, how bright those damn lights were. So bright were they, that they obscured the large figure at the door as they lingered for a few seconds, but _______ didn’t need detailed clarity to know who that form belonged to. Just like that, the feeling of repulsion returned to her as she caught the smug smirk which angled Matthew’s lips at the sight of her once the door closed behind him, but this time, he was met with a glare from the female orderly rather than just a simple dismissive glance. However, her gaze only remained for a split second, as she found no reason to give the pig anymore importance than his inflated ego believed he deserved. So, just like that, she turned back to the dryer and attempted to ignore his presence.

Crossing her arms subconsciously around her chest, _______ pondered on the thought of Matthew with the large laundry basket in his arms bitterly. They weren’t clothes of his own, she had seen that much. The patients all had an offset brown wardrobe – distinguishable. That’s all which seemed to encompass the man’s basket at the moment, but the thought of him taking the time out of his day to wash his patients’ clothes almost made her want to laugh in humorless disbelief. She doubted he did it out of the kindness of his heart. He probably only did the bare minimum like that so he wouldn’t get into any kind of trouble with his own higher-ups.

“Hey, hey, what’s up with that nasty lookin’ glare? Is that really any way to greet your boss?” Matthew questioned the woman as he came to stand beside her, deciding to take the washing machine by her dryer despite the fact that the room was filled with many other machines he could have taken instead.

He didn’t care.

He just loved to linger.

Loved to hover.

Loved to see her quiver and shift in discomfort from his gaze and presence.

Oh, how he loved the unpleasant shivers and ill effects he left bestowed on this doe-eyed employee who had graced his daily routine.

Yet, as he dropped his heavy basket by his feet, expecting to see her flinch, the larger male couldn’t help but feel a sense of disappointment when he didn’t provoke any kind of jump or startle from her. Strange. She was normally so jumpy around him…Oh well. It didn’t matter. It only caused for his grin to widen even more when he noticed she was going out of her way to keep her eyes on the dryer in front of her while ignoring his lumbering presence by her side.

“What? Ya ain’t happy to see me? Feels like we ain’t seen each other in a long time, don’t it?” He snickered, beginning to grab the clothes in his basket by the handfuls to dump in his washing machine.

By his side, _______ continued to ignore him. She simply stared at her cycling clothing, willing for the machine to hurry up so she could get the hell out of there. Still, as she stood there with this constant source of anxiety and fear by her side, she couldn’t help but notice that the typical gooseflesh she felt on her skin when he was around hadn’t surfaced yet as it normally would have. No, the gooseflesh never reared its head for her nor did the incessant feeling of undeterred panic. All _______ felt within her was rage. Anger, rage, revulsion and aggression is what bubbled within the woman’s gut for the men who had hurt Eddie – including the one beside her.

After all, Matthew had been his orderly before she showed up.

He took care of all the records. He took care of all the paperwork. He had restricted access to the lower levels of the asylum and the opportunity to talk to the underground doctors. If anyone was supposed to notice that something was amiss with their patients, it should have been him, but Matthew clearly didn’t care about any of the patients within Mount Massive. He treats them all coldly – uncaring. He was abusive, to the point of threatening to fight patients beneath their care when things didn’t go his twisted way.

God, she hated him.

She LOATHED him.

Being afraid of him and his questionable behavior around her simply wasn’t an option for her now. She was done with being afraid of him, done with taking his nonsense. People like him just wanted to get reactions out of their victims, wanted to see them struggle, wanted to see them suffer under his hand. She knew she had been feeding into his sick desires by being so obviously afraid of him to the point where she had been too scared to be in the same room with him. She couldn’t keep letting that happen. She couldn’t risk being blatantly afraid anymore. She had people who depended on her, who needed her, who couldn’t gamble on her cowering away when she was their only line of defense.

Truth be told, she was still scared deep inside, but the anger was starting to take fear’s place today. Fight or flight, she supposed. Flight had always been her go-to, but it seemed the fight in her was starting to bubble in ways she never thought it could. So, she kept staring at her drying with a stony resolve on her face, her teeth beginning to grit again without her even noticing.

“Come to think of it,” Matthew spoke up again as he tossed the remainder of his load in his machine, never once having pried his gaze off of the woman. “I haven’t seen ya ‘round much at all lately. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re avoidin’ me on purpose or somethin’.” He laughed at the end of his statement as though it were the funniest thing he had heard all day.

_______, in response, said nothing. The only move she made was turning her gaze from her dryer’s window to the bag she brought her clothes in resting atop of the machine and back again.

He was convinced this was simply her display of a tough front. She often tried to appear as though she were in control, as though he couldn’t shake her, but Matthew knew better. He was convinced he could see through her façade. “If that were the case,” He continued, undeterred by her silence as he slammed the lid of the washing machine shut and set his load on its cycle. Once he did, he turned his large body towards her completely, one arm propped casually on the top of his machine while the other brought his hand to rest on his waist as he leaned down a little closer to her level. “I’d be pretty damn hurt, ya know. We were gettin’ along so well and all – I can’t imagine why you’d ever want to avoid your favorite pal.” As he said that, he glanced at where her arms were crossed and shuddered just the slightest bit before setting his gaze back on her distant expression.

Still, he received no response from the woman.

Stubborn little bitch, ain’t she, he thought to himself with a raise of his brow, but his unnerving grin did not falter. Instead, it only widened further, an emptiness in his eyes which could only reflect the cold lack of emotion he had carried with him ever since he was a teenager. Always cold. Always distant. Always questionable. “I’ll admit, though,” His tone came lower this time, an auditory tangle of barbed wire and static _______ began to scowl in due of. “I do kind of like this silent routine o’ yours. Ya got a nice lookin’ mouth, but that tongue o’ yours is your downfall. It’s better if ya don’t talk.” He narrowed his eyes at her and flashed his pearly whites. “Makes things easier for us, don’t it? Less obstacles, less hassle.”

The beeping signaling her cycle’s end brought _______’s limbs back to life. She moved curtly but quick, opening the dryer and grabbing her bag to begin to shove her clothes into it without a care to stop and fold them. She’d fold them in her dorm, she decided. Right now, she just needed to get out of that damn room and away from the beast that never seemed to leave her be. She was getting angrier, she could feel it in her bones, could feel it pulsing in her pounding headache, could feel it rushing through the veins lacing a network beneath her skin. She needed to get away, needed to breathe again, needed to tell herself to calm down.

However, Matthew clearly wasn’t going to let that happen so easily. As she finished shoving her clothes into her bag and began to tie it closed, he came to hover behind her, pressing his chest to her back and leaning down close to her so his chin just barely brushed over her shoulder. “It’s better this way, don’t ya think?” He questioned her in a muddy whisper, his breath hot on her ear, a chuckle ringing soon afterward as he brought his hands up to slowly slid along her soft biceps until they came to rest upon her shoulders. He gave them a firm squeeze, allowing his fingers to knead deeply against her with a forceful, malicious intent behind them clearer than the sun was bright. “It’s been so long since the two o’ us have been all on our lonesome together…In here, nobody would even think to wonder what’s happenin’.” His grin widened, splitting across his face almost with inhuman qualities. The look in his eyes wasn’t normal. It wasn’t safe. It wasn’t forgiving.

“It would just be our dirty little secret, doll.”

That was it.

It was the final straw.

_______ couldn’t take it anymore.

All at once, without even thinking, as though the movement were instinctive, she pried herself out of his vice-like grip with forceful aggression, pressing her hands against him from behind her to shove him away for extra momentum. The sudden jerk seemed to catch Matthew off guard and caused for the larger man to stumble in his step a bit, his expression clearly a little jarred. In a matter of a few seconds, _______ turned herself around once she was freed from his grasp and took advantage of his stupor by lifting her foot off the ground with as much force as she could possibly muster, driving a merciless kick right between the man’s legs.

 “YOU FUCKING PIG!” Her voice finally broke through the silence with violence, catching him off guard even as he recoiled from her position, reflexively grabbing at his groin as a strong pain pulsed beneath his palms and an anguished groan spilled loudly from his lips. _______ stared in unadulterated rage, practically shaking on the spot with wide eyes and her mouth contorted into a deep, unforgiving scowl. “Don’t you dare EVER touch me again! You make me SICK! You think just because you’re my boss that I’m going to let you keep doing this crap?! I tried to keep the peace! I tried to avoid you and ignore the creepy vibes and things you do, but you just keep pushing! I’m TIRED of having to walk eggshells around you! If you EVER touch me again, I will make you regret it!”

She didn’t know where this burst of confidence was coming from. She had no idea this reservoir of stupid courage had been hiding anywhere deep within her, but she didn’t care. The disgusting roach doubled over before her right now deserved every single ounce of her outrage and so much more – for herself, for Eddie, for her patients. His abusive and harassing presence was one which had loomed over her and the patients like a belligerent storm for far too long. She had been so afraid something bad would happen if she spoke up and did something against him to try to make it all stop, but right now, fueled with the outrage from Eddie’s tale and what Matthew had attempted to insinuate, the fear simply wasn’t present. What took its place was that explosive outburst, unhinged and undeterred.

“You’ve harassed me, you’ve intimidated me, you’ve done and said things that absolutely repulse me! You’ve done all these things to make me fear you, but the worst part is, nothing makes me DESPISE YOU more than the way you treat our patients! For FUCK’S SAKE! You nearly got into a fist fight with one of my own! You’re an abusive, disgusting, manipulative ROACH! I swear to God, Matthew, I fucking SWEAR that I WILL see to it that you get your ass fired for what you’ve been doing to me and our patients! All you do is take advantage of your privileges and let our patients rot in their cells without even knowing if they belong here in the first place! There are people in here who SHOULDN’T be here and all you can do is ride this place for your own greed and disgusting fantasies at the expense of those around you! I’M SICK AND TIRED OF YOUR ABUSE TOWARDS US AND I’M NOT TAKING IT ANYMORE!

The shouting made her throat burn with the strain of her voice, the burning vocal muscles finding it difficult to keep up with her ferocity. It burned and it ached and she knew she would feel it in the morning, but by God, did it feel good. She was finally standing her ground, finally defending herself and all the people she was here to stand for. Though she knew in the back of her head that making an enemy out of Matthew was not the wisest thing to do, she frankly didn’t give much of a shit anymore. It has been fairly well established that they were never friends nor associates of any kind. This was simply putting on the table what had always been and what always will be.

“Why ya stupid bitch,” Matthew hissed bitterly through gritted teeth as he lifted his head to level his narrow, hateful gaze with her own. _______ returned the look ferociously, burning with passionate repugnance for the creature squabbling on the ground before her. “Do ya got any damn idea what it is you’re doin’?! Huh?! I’ll make your life in this place a livin’ hell for that!”

“You’ve already done that!” She shouted right back, kicking his laundry basket at him with aggressive force. The flimsy basket hit the man in the face, catching him by surprise and causing for him to stumble backward before tumbling down with a loud thud onto the grimy floor beneath their feet.

Right where a creature like him belonged.

“You’ve already made this place a living hell whenever you’re around! Wherever you go, an air of muck and disgust and nasty things just clings to the walls! It makes me SICK! You’re a wretched, repulsive human being, but I refuse to let you keep having this grimy control over me! I’M DONE WITH IT! Better get your shit together, Matthew, ‘cause one or another, I’m shoving you off of your pedestal!”

With that final shouted decree, the woman sharply turned on her heel and stormed out of the Laundry Room, vigorously wiping her shoulders clean as of his touch as she went. As soon as she was out the door, she slammed it shut behind her and allowed for her thunderous footsteps to do the rest of the talking for her.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

Eddie stood within the small confines of his cell settled within a strange mix of emotions. His back was turned to the rusty bars separating him from the hospital beyond and his gaze was focused on his dancing curtain he had been so enthralled by since he was first admitted into this forgotten place. The wind from the mountains flowed through a sliver of space created by the small gap between the glass and concrete which had always been left open for him – almost as though mocking him with a few inches of fictitious escape.

The wind and the curtain had always been close to him. They had offered him a space in his mind where he could retreat to and forget about what his every day consisted of, but after he had spoken to _______ today about the truth concerning his past, these little elements of his daily life didn’t feel the same anymore. Before her, he had nobody. He was stuck in the asylum on his own, surrounded by criminals and hospital staff that saw him as just another patient nestled within the building’s innards. He had nobody on his side, nobody to tell him things would be okay, nobody to assure him he was sane and was simply a victim of horrific circumstance. No, all he had was a jumble of people who had begun to convince him that something was probably actually wrong with him somewhere deep inside the recesses of his mind.

Just another ill criminal, he was supposed to trust his life cooperatively to the good doctors of Mount Massive Asylum and believe they would make him well again. Cure him from his past, erase the danger in his psyche and bring him back to a state where he could possibly be reintroduced to society sometime in the distance future. Yet, Eddie knew that day would never come. He knew he had been sentenced here practically on a death sentence, and because of that, he had given up hope on a lot of things he once so desperately craved.

His dancing curtain and the billowing wispy voice of the mountains were all that he had until his peach entered his life.

When she arrived, things began to change for the better. Something about the hospital felt lighter and brighter with her presence near – as though the mere utterance of her name was enough to begin lifting a curse long since forced upon Mount Massive’s haunted terrain. Within the sweet young orderly, Eddie found hope. He saw the possibilities of a normal life inching closer to himself because of her, but his past had loomed over him like the Reaper himself. It threatened to cut down every little chance the woman gave him. The final blow should have been the reveal of his past to her. The truth should have made her hate him, should have made her turn away and run in the opposite direction to leave him to rot in his prison – but she didn’t.

She stayed by his side and swore she would help him get out of the prison he had been wrongly trapped in. She understood him, saw that his past wasn’t his fault and forgave his heated, enraged actions which haunted him with each day that passed him by. Eddie Gluskin no longer needed an excuse to fantasize. He didn’t need to live in the absence of his mind, didn’t need to disassociate anymore. Though he knew all too well that it was dangerous to hope and to place his fate within the nimble hands of another, he felt he could trust _______ enough to do so. He wholeheartedly believed her ever word. He’d follow her to the ends of the universe if she so asked him to. She was delicious, promising sin in the most heavenly way, and Eddie had never felt more alive than when she was with him.

Tired of the dancing illusions, exhausted of the wispy lies, he gripped the old cloth of his curtain and tore it off of its banister with strong certainty. The sound of its plastic rungs snapping and clattering onto the cold floor beneath his feet chimed loudly in his ears, and he could have sworn they sounded like shackles falling from his wrists.

With widened sky-blues, he gazed out into the sky beyond his window, not even acknowledging the rusty bars separating the two. All he could see was a cloudless horizon, filled with all kinds of possibilities.

He smiled, as though taking it all in for the very first time.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

It was sunny on this given day, storm clouds having finally given way to beams of light several days back. Though the rain does make things grow, the atmosphere the storms and lightning left behind had been smothering and dreary. _______ never thought she’d see a day where she would be tired of the rain, but she supposed given the gravity of the occurrences that seemed to follow her wherever she went within Mount Massive, anyone would feel exhausted of the dark weather.

She was happy the clouds had parted for the sun, but perhaps the flowers budding in the courtyard were a million times happier. They weren’t fully grown nor were they close to opening their green virgin bulbs, but their colors were lively and healthy. Their small leaves and stems seemed to almost dance with the gentle breeze of the mountain’s breath, reaching towards the sky to rejoice the change in the weather alongside her. After so much time spent working on the forgotten land, it seemed her work was finally giving way for life to grow. All the weeds she plucked, all the stones she overturned, all the care she had shown the place history had abandoned – it was all beginning to help the land turn a new leaf. A new page in the story of Mount Massive Asylum, opened by an act performed by the overzealous plant life within its gated territory.

Gazing down upon their liveliness, she wondered if there were Jonquils among them.

If they truly do grow wild and native to the state, then it wouldn’t be so farfetched to believe there could be one or two of them among the steadily growing buds. The mystery and wonder of the thought had her reconsidering the idea of ordering and transplanting new ones into the land. While it was a lovely idea to quickly spruce up the hospital’s gardens with color, she felt there was more meaning and attachment to it if the land was cultivated with what it naturally bore. It was an idea that she was playing with, and the more she thought about it, the more she preferred it. She was yet to run it by Eddie, but she felt he would agree with her. Perhaps it was because of their similar affections towards the topic, their ideologies often crossing into the same lines. Who knew? Regardless, she knew the outcome would be a splendorous one.

If nothing at all, it was at least nice to sit and breathe in fresh air amongst the newborn life surrounding her and Tristen at the time several days after everything had gotten to its boiling point with Eddie and Matthew. She had been trying to think of who she could talk to about Eddie’s predicament and about looking into Lindsey’s case as well, but it was hard to come up with something when the only higher-up she could think of talking to was Matthew – and he was very obviously out of the question. Avoiding him had started to turn into a regular routine for her at this point, and thankfully, she seemed to be doing a good job at it. Ever since she stood up to him, she hadn’t seen or heard from him at all. The only evidence she had of him still being around was his occasional abandonment of his empty coffee mug and dirty napkins on the break-room table. Other than that? She hadn’t seen him.

Thank God for that.

Just thinking about him made her stomach turn and her lips pull up into a deep scowl.

She shook her head, however, when the image of him returned to her head and forced the memory of that day to squander into the clutter of her thoughts instead. She wanted to refresh here, not piss herself off. 

“So, how have you been?” She spoke up, breaking the peaceful silence.

Tristen, who had his arms draped over the back of their usual bench beneath the oak tree, leaned his head back and turned it in her direction, offering her a casual smile. It wasn’t bright and ecstatic like she was used to seeing, but it was at least an improvement from how he had been since Lindsey had been taken to the underground doctors. “I’m doing better, yeah.” He took a breath and released it in a deep sigh, a lighthearted laugh echoing along with it causing for his skin to crinkle lightly by the sides of his hazel eyes. “There’s been some movement from the underground docs recently and I’ve gotten some of my girls back under my care, so I feel better.”

“What?! Really?!” _______’s eyes widened at the news ecstatically. Sitting up straight with a bright grin of her own angling her lips, she faced the boy beside her a little more in her seat and clasped her hands before her hopefully. “Tristen, that’s great! How many were brought back?”

“Not a lot of them; just three so far, actually. Still, it’s a good change.” His smile somewhat faltered. “Although I still haven’t seen or heard anything about Lindsey. I figure maybe her treatment is just taking a little longer than the others…Maybe it has to do with her past and stuff, but I’m sure they’ll bring her back soon enough.” He nodded to himself, shifting his gaze away from _______ to stare off at nothing in particular. “Eventually, I’m sure.”

_______ opened her mouth to respond, but after a few seconds, she closed it right back up again and let out a steady breath through her nose as her hands came to fall upon her laps. She wanted to reassure him that Lindsey would be just fine, but she didn’t want to tell him anything that held so much uncertainty in its reality. Making empty promises that Lindsey would return from the underground without any issue wasn’t going to make him feel any better. “She’ll be back,” She finally decided to say. “Maybe not right now, but she’ll be back eventually. They can’t keep her down there forever. It’s a shitty situation we’re in, after finding out some of the things we did, but really, what’s the worst that could happen down there? She’s with professional doctors, after all. I doubt anything too terrible would happen, right?”

Tristen widened his smile back up again at her words and nodded his head once more, chuckling just the slightest bit even if it wasn’t genuine laughter. Even if it was forced, it felt better than moping around when there was nothing else he could do to change the situation. “Yeah, you’re right. I’ve always been kind of a worrywart, ya know. I’m probably just worrying for nothing.” He shook his head, blinking his eyes a few times, as though to bring him back to the reality he was sitting in now. Worrying and getting anxious wasn’t going to help anything. “At any rate, I’m just glad I got some of them back. Those chicks of mine can be kind of scary sometimes, but hey, they’re my chicks and I was just happy to see them again.”

 “You’re so strong for them, Tristen. I’m sure they must feel a lot better with you watching over them instead of just Catherine.”

Tristen blew a raspberry. “She’s never really cared much for them the way I do. In a way, I can relate to you, _______. She may not be uncaring the way ole Mattie boy is, but she sure does treat them all like a bunch of lab rats. That’s never really sat well with me. It’s no bueno.”

“Your Spanish never ceases to amuse me.” She tutted as the corner of her lips twitched in slight amusement before falling back to a supportive smile. “But you see what I mean? Without you, they’d be stuck with Catherine treating them that way. I’m sure you must make them all feel safe when you’re around.”

“Heh, thanks…I’d like to hope that they do. I try my best. It’s the least I could do when we’re all stuck in this hellhole together.” He shrugged and rose an eyebrow in her direction. “Anywho, enough about me. How are you doing? How’s everything?”

Her smile fell at his question to an unreadable purse of her lips. Turning her head away from him this time, she shrugged her shoulders as well, her fingers drumming softly on her laps. “I’m fine…I…may or may not have sort of…kicked Matthew in the dick the other day.” She shrugged once more, this time keeping her shoulders stiff up against either side of her head. “Other than that, the weather has been nice and it looks like flowers are starting to bloom in the courtyard. That’s nice.”

“Woah, woah, woah, wait.” Tristen blinked rapidly a few times, his mouth hanging agape for a moment as he sat himself up correctly on the bench. “Retrace your steps there, bae! Excuse me? You did what? You kicked Matthew where?” He blinked a few more times, snapping his head from left to right curtly – his gestures purposefully exaggerated in his state of disbelief. “Okay, important questions first,” He clapped his hands together against his mouth and tilted them in her direction so the tips of all ten of his fingers pointed at her. “What did he do to make you murder his dick and did he cry? Tell. Me. Everything.

_______ nervously turned her sights back on him, her (eye color) colored gaze meeting with his wide hazel eyes – his stare eagle-sharp. “Th-that last part…that wasn’t a question.”

GIRL! Does it look like I care?! I ain’t here for a lesson on proper punctuation and sentence structure! My dumbass don’t care about that! What I do care about is getting those dets on Mattie getting his ass handed to him! Now spill those beans!”

“I didn’t do anything that drastic!” She tried to say, grimacing some as she rubbed her arm nervously. “A-and it’s not like we had a fist fight or anything like that…Though I’d be lying if I said I’m not disappointed that he didn’t cry a little now that you got that idea in my head.”

Honestly, though. Matthew sucks.

“Well, then what did you do?”

“Um…” Should she tell him? She didn’t really know. Looking at him for a few seconds in hesitant contemplation, she still felt terrible about burdening him with everything Matthew had done to her thus far, but she also knew he wasn’t going to let her get away with it now without giving him some kind of answer. “It…happened in the Laundry Room a couple days ago. I was just washing some of my clothes and he came in to wash some for his patients, but when he saw me…” She trailed off, sighing heavily and shaking her head, her shoulders slumping. “You know how he is. He started to harass me again. It had been right after I spoke to Eddie about the stuff on his record, too.”

“Oh yeah, I remember you told me about how that went. Kind of a massive detail to leave out of it, though – beating up ole Mattie boy. That’s not something you can easily just leave out.”

She grimaced again. “It’s just…It made me really angry, the things he did. Just looking at his face and knowing how he treats our patients on top of the way he treats me…After hearing Eddie out on his past, I guess I just…snapped. I snapped and I kicked him and blew up on him, told him to go fuck himself and leave me alone.” She brought her hands up to her face, rubbing her palms over it slowly. “Something tells me it was a terrible mistake,” She muttered against her hands. “But I couldn’t stop myself from doing it. I’ve put up with so much of his bull since I got here and it’s only been getting worse the more I try to ignore it. This whole theory we got going on about our patients was just sort of the straw on the camel’s back. It finally made me stand up against him for them and myself. How I decided to go about things, though, has me thinking things are only going to get worse from here on out.”

Tristen furrowed his brow, getting a little closer to _______ and placing his hand on her shoulder as he tried to peer at her expression through the gaps between her fingers. “_______,” His tone suddenly grew serious, leaving any trace of his playful attitude behind. “What has Matthew been doing to you? Don’t think I forgot about what you told me before. I know he’s been saying and doing shady things for a while, even if you never told me the details. You say he’s gotten worse – what did he do?”

She looked back at Tristen’s hazel gaze through the gaps, suddenly afraid to take her hands away from her face. She could see the concern in his eyes, but God, she could feel the protective warmth radiating off of them just by looking. He had always held that older brother sense to him for her, and honestly, the idea of having her older brother make the demons go away was a thought that was more tempting than she’d like to admit. Despite her standing up for herself and her patients, she was still afraid deep down inside. Matthew is much bigger than her, much stronger, so if he decided to do something to her as payback for what she did, there wasn’t much she could really do to fight him off in a physical confrontation. She wanted to be braver, she wanted to be firm, she wanted to hold her ground, but all of that goes to waste if she doesn’t have to strength to hold up.

She really did want Tristen to help her. It was a thought that had been screaming in her head since all of it had first started so long ago, but she could never bring herself to say it. He had to deal with his own demons. He had been hiding just how worried he was for Lindsey behind smiles, jokes and laughter. She could see through his façade and the last thing she wanted to do was add to his burdens.

Yet, the stern, sharp stare he gave her now as he looked at her through her fingers was relentless. She could feel his hand squeezing her shoulder, the concern growing in his gaze and tightening frown. If she wasn’t mistaken, she could swear his hand was even beginning to tremble where it gripped her. She was captivated by his empathy, enthralled by his compassion, and it was because of that very nature of his that she hesitated to heavy his load with her own problems.

“_______,” He said her name once more – firm. “What did he do?

“He…” Her lips parted and her tongue spilled the word without even giving her a chance to think. It was a natural reaction. An instinctive gravitation towards the protective aura he gave off. “He’s getting…scary. He’s…um…he’s starting to get physical a-and the things he’s saying are getting worse and…well…it also happened in the Laundry Room, too. It added to all the tension and me kicking him to get him away…I…also think he might have spied on me a while back when I was taking a shower, b-but I don’t know for sure if it was him or not. I just know there was someone peeping through a crack in my door and…I-I don’t want to say more than that.”

Tristen’s sharp gaze widened at that, his lips parting before closing back up again into that tight frown. Without a word in response to her confession, he stood to his feet and held his hand out to her, his gaze showing that he wasn’t giving her a chance out of this. “Come on. We’re going to HR right now.”

“What?!” _______ shouted, pulling her hands off of her face, exposing the horrified and frightened look laying underneath. “No! He’ll find out, Tristen! It’ll get worse! I can’t do that!”

“You can’t just stay quiet either!” He shouted right back, shaking his head. “This is serious, _______! If you keep quiet and you keep working alone with him in that giant ward, he’s going to get to you eventually! He could hurt you, _______! Do you really think he would care if he did?! He wouldn’t! He’d hurt you without thinking! He could have raped you in that Laundry Room or when you were alone in the shower, and you’re telling me bringing this to HR is a bad idea?!”

_______ flinched at his unapologetic transparency. It was the first time she had ever even heard the word used in her head to address one of the possibilities of what could happen if she didn’t resolve this issue concerning Matthew out loud.

Remember what I told ya ‘bout them crazies, doll. Assault, rape and murder ya. That’s all they’d do if they’d get their hands on ya.

She began to shake, reminiscing on Matthew’s own words as they echoed and reverberated against the walls her skull created for her mind. “I-I’m scared,” She whimpered quietly. “I just wanted this to all go away without things boiling over. I only wanted to protect my patients, but he makes it so difficult…I don’t want to face this.”

“You have to. If you don’t, you know things will only get worse. You know you can’t hide from him forever in that ward. We need to address this issue now to stop that from happening.” His gaze softened as he reached down to take her hand in his own, helping her to her feet at his side. “I’ll go with you, of course. We’re doing this together, okay?” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and rubbed her arm reassuringly. “We’ll work this out, but you can’t hide it like this. We have to tell or it’ll just keep happening and getting worse.”

She looked at him, uncertainty and fear reflecting off of her (eye color) colored eyes. Yet, despite it all, she nodded, finalizing her decision to speak what she hadn’t wanted to say out loud thanks to him. Without him, the words would stay locked in her head for eternity, and as scary as it is to speak up, deep down, she knew it would be much scarier if she didn’t seek help.

With Tristen keeping her close to his side in his protective brotherly grasp, the two headed inside with purpose in their steps.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

Tristen knew where he was going much better than she did.

_______ had never been shown places like the office for Human Resources or anything of the like when she was training beneath Matthew’s tutelage. All that time had been spent on figuring out her routine with her new patients, how the medicines worked, what the proper dosages were for each of them, so on and so forth. The thought of even asking about the office to HR had never even crossed her mind. She didn’t think she would need to know – it pains her to realize she was wrong.

Feeling the cold air of the asylum embrace the two of them as they walked towards the entrance hall – the center point of the entire building – was like getting a bucket of cold water dumped on her. It woke her up, reminded her that this was really happening. Inside her head, it told her today would be the day she finally spoke up about Matthew’s ways – all his ways. If she was going to play the role of loose lips with Tristen at her side, then she was going to sink all of Matthew’s ships. His harassment towards her, his harassment towards their patients, his negligent behavior, the way he threatened one of her own; everything he had ever done that she was aware of was going to slip from her lips today.

As scary as the idea of the outcome was, with each step they took, the more certain she became that this was, indeed, the right thing to do. It would help her, her patients and maybe it would even give her a chance to help free Eddie and Lindsey from this place.

“It’s just down one of the corridors in the main hall,” Tristen spoke up as they stepped foot in said space. “The corridor opposite to the one the Record Room is in.” He told her, beginning to take her towards the hall, but before making it very far in the room, he came to a screeching halt in their pace, stopping her by his side.

_______ blinked in surprise from the sudden jolt and turned a questioning gaze towards him before following his own to settle on a group of men by the receptionist’s desk talking with one of the employees that took the afternoon shift following Abigail’s. There were three men in the group – two dressed in what appeared to be guard uniform and one in a lavished black suit. They weren’t anybody she had ever seen before, thus resulting in the confusion which came to her at Tristen’s sudden stupor.

Could the lavish man be a visitor of some kind for one of Tristen’s patients? Maybe the guards were just employees that worked out by the gate she had never met before as well? “Who’s that guy, Tristen? Do you know him?”

“Yeah, I do. Don’t you?” He looked down at her, his eyes widened. “That’s Jeremy Blaire – the guy who runs this place. He’s the guy whose name is written at the end of that shitty automated email we got when we were hired to work in this dump. You did get that email, didn’t you?”

Jeremy Blaire…Jeremy Blaire…

She furrowed her brow, staring into his eyes, trying to jog her memory. It felt like ages since she had even seen that email, but the name did ring a bell. “I’m sure I did, but I can’t say for sure that I remember his name.” She rose a brow. “How do you know him if I don’t and he’s the head of this place?”

“He’s been here before. He came to the female ward one day a while back to check on the progress of some of my chicks with Catherine. They didn’t let me in on what they were talking about, but I met him before they went off to check out their records.” He bit his lower lip, taking his arm away from _______’s shoulders as sudden, hopeful ideas began to form in his mind. “_______, if anyone would know about our patients and be able to help us out in that department, it would be him.”

Her eyes mimicked his own and widened at this information, urgency beginning to coarse through her veins like the blood they harbored. All thoughts on going to HR had vanished for the time being. For now, what was more important to her was this possible lead on bringing justice for her patients. “We have to talk to him then! Come on!” Without waiting, she began to tug them in this man’s direction, her steps quick and certain. Tristen’s quickly matched her own and the two began to walk in equal pace towards the receptionist’s desk.

It didn’t take long for this Jeremy Blaire character to notice them. Whatever he had been saying at the time in his hushed husky voice had dissolved to silence when he took notice of his guards coming to stand at attention on either of his sides as the two orderlies approached them. One of them he recognized, but the other was a new face he’d never seen before.

Not that any of that meant anything.

Jeremy tended to forget names fairly quickly when he found no immediate use for the face attached to it.

He stored those facial features in his head, however, in case a use for them should arise.

Names never stayed for long, but faces were never erased in that mysterious head of his.

“Mr. Blaire!” Tristen was the first to speak as they came to a stop in front of the group. “Mr. Blaire, could we have a minute of your time? My friend and I just need to have a chat with you about something important.”

“Mr. Blaire doesn’t have time for chats.” One of the guards said as the two took a step forward, creating more space between the orderlies and the man in the suit.

“So run along back to your jobs. He’s a very busy man with a very busy schedule.” The other said, both crossing their arms over their broad chests.

“Now, now, gentlemen,” Jeremy chuckled as a smile took hold of his lips – confident and poised. “There’s no need to be so hostile to a couple of loyal Mount Massive staff members. We’re all family here!” Placing his hands on either of their shoulders, he parted the guards from his path to properly gaze down on the two orderlies who were trying to get his attention.

On command, both guards fell back and took their original positions at either of Jeremy’s sides, stern stares locked on the employees before them. It was almost a little unnerving how synchronized the guards were with their movements. _______ didn’t rightfully understand the need for guards to be trailing after a single man in this place either, but she chose not to question it. It wasn’t important.

Jeremy Blaire himself was a man that easily exuded an air of dominance and control from the very second they stepped foot in his space. His steely cobalt blue eyes gave off a cold impression, contradicting the warmth that dripped from his lips like milk and honey. The way he held his hands behind his back and subconsciously puffed his chest out, his chin slightly tilted upward with his gaze cast down on the two of them gave off a sense of arrogance which further hazed up her impressions of him. She didn’t know if she liked this guy, but if he was really the head of Mount Massive, then she needed to trust he had the best intentions at heart.

“I’m terribly sorry for these two. They can be rather brash at times.” He shrugged his right shoulder dismissively and slightly tilted his head to the left. “Aside from that, what’s this little chat the two of you would like to have with me? I truly am a man with so little time in his hands, so I do hope it’s nothing too frivolous.”

“Of course not, Mr. Blaire. We just have a few questions we thought you might be able to help us with about our patients?”

“Your patients?” Jeremy echoed Tristen’s words, pursing his lips lightly as he shifted his gaze from him to the woman at his side. “You’re an orderly as well, then? I remember you,” He pointed towards Tristen without looking at him. “Though I can’t say I recall your name. I’m terrible with names, you see. You, however, I don’t remember at all – and I always remember faces.”

_______ tried not to shrink beneath his gaze, feeling rather intimidated by his analytic cobalt eyes. “Ah…yes. I’m _______. I work in the male ward.”

“You do, do you?” He smiled, though his eyes didn’t comply with the warmth his lips mimicked. “Wonderful. I hear your patients have been doing very well with underground examinations. Fine work. Fine work indeed.” He nodded as though to reaffirm his words before turning back to look at Tristen.

“Y-you know how the underground patients are doing?” Tristen suddenly blurted out, causing for Jeremy to lift a brow at him.

The hopeful look in his eyes had no effect on the corporate. He simply stared, almost perplexed by his reaction – suspicious, even. “Yes, I do. Of course I do. I run this hospital. I know everything that is going on in every single nook and crevice at any single given moment.”

“Do you know anything about a patient named Lindsey Adams? I know there’s a bunch of patients here, but she’s the only sixteen-year-old girl in the hospital. She’s got blonde hair, brown eyes, pale skin? I’m sure you must know her if you keep tabs on everything. Please, I just want to know how her progress is going downstairs? Is she doing alright? Is she going to be brought back up to the ward soon?”

Jeremy stared at Tristen in silence for a moment as he allowed for his questions to sink in. His expression morphed to an unreadable frown, as though recalling what he did upset him in a way that wasn’t properly expressed on his face. Whatever it was, he didn’t exactly seem all that delighted by the slew of questions he had tossed his way.

“Lindsey Adams is dead. Tragic, but life goes on. Her suffering is over now, to offer a small kind of condolence as it appears you are the type to get attached to your patients.”

The words hit like a bomb. The world around them grew silent, lost to them in that moment as the two orderlies stared up at the man who ran it all beneath his fingertips.

Lindsey Adams is dead.

Lindsey Adams is dead.

It replayed in both of their minds for several beats, as though their brains simply couldn’t process the words he used in that particular order.

It wasn’t right.

Something was wrong.

There had to be some kind of mistake in what he meant to say.

There’s no way he meant to say that she was dead.

_______ couldn’t wrap her head around those four simple yet devastating words, the silence consuming her space as she attempted to piece together how something like that could even happen and how the man who ran it all could be so calloused and cold when admitting to it. Tristen’s reaction, however, was far more physical than her own.

His expression gave way to one of undeniable horror, his lips parting widely, his eyes like saucers and his heart plummeting to the deepest depths of his stomach. He had recoiled at the words, as though Jeremy’s answer had physically punched the air out of his lungs in a violent assault.

D-dead?

He repeated, the word hissed out, laced with pain. “What the hell do you mean she’s dead?! You can’t be serious!” His voice had risen before he threw himself at the man, grabbing tightly at his black suit and pulling him down to stare him in the eye – desperation and devastation dominant in his gaze. “What the fuck did they do to her?! How the hell could she be DEAD?! She was perfectly fine and healthy before those assholes took her away from me! She wasn’t sick! There wasn’t anything wrong with her at all! She was just a scared teenager! WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?!

Before _______ could move to help pull Tristen safely away from the man, one of Jeremy’s guards had lifted his fist and punched him across the jaw, causing for the orderly to stumble backwards. She was quick to react with a shocked gasp, opening her arms up to catch him as he fell backwards. She stumbled as well when she caught him, jarred by his weight, but her feet held as the two orderlies stared up at Jeremy Blaire and his guards in horror.

“It’s like I said,” Jeremy calmly replied, fixing his suit as his frown deepened cruelly, finally tying in to the coldness of his steely-eyed gaze. “Lindsey Adams is dead. Leave it at that. The details aren’t important. If I were you, I’d keep to my own business and let dead things lay.” He nodded his head curtly, not interested now in any further questioning. Thus, he turned on his heels and walked away from the two towards the elevator with his guards at his side without a care in the world. When the doors to the elevator opened and the three stepped in, he stared at the orderlies as one of his guards punched the level they were to descend to.

Just as the doors closed, Jeremy’s eyes narrowed at the two before being concealed by the rattling mechanical doors.

Chapter Text

“Oh God, Tristen, are you alright?! Shit, the side of your jaw is completely red…!”

_______ could be heard urgently worrying over the punch Tristen had received from one of Jeremy’s guards within the entrance hall of the asylum. Carefully, she helped him find his footing again before very gingerly feeling around the reddening area on his toasty skin. It felt hot beneath her fingertips, the affected area crying out with its painful pulse from the attack.

It had looked incredibly painful, but Tristen didn’t react much to her worries. He continued to stare forward, only wincing when she touched about his skin but never truly turning to respond to her. He seemed wobbly on his feet, as though he couldn’t properly keep himself up straight, but he did somehow with _______’s help. Still, as she fussed over the merciless punch he had received from the guard, he simply stared at the closed doors of the elevator shaft, his hazel eyes wide open and his jaw hung with a slack.

“Tristen,” _______ called his name to him once more as she gently allowed one of her hands to rest upon his bicep, her eyes searching his expression with her worrisome gaze. “Come on, please, we have to get you some ice for that!”

He slowly shook his head at her in response, finally beginning to react to the world that was beginning to settle back into place around him. It had felt like the universe had slipped out from right underneath his feet, as though it blacked out and left him free-falling into a deep, tragic abyss that consumed him with a bundle of terrible emotions he had never felt before in his entire life. The aching on the side of his jaw which pulsed through his entire skull and nearly caused his vision to fade didn’t really matter to him. He knew it was important, he knew it hurt – he could feel it – but it simply didn’t establish itself dominantly enough in his head to overtake what he had heard.

His brain just continued to drown him out with those four simple words, repeating them over and over again like the skip on a broken record.

“…She’s dead, _______...” He murmured out loud as tears began to pool in his hazel eyes. “I…I can’t believe she’s dead…” Slowly, he turned to look at his friend by his side as he brought his trembling lips to close together once more. He could taste sweet water on his tongue when he did, and he knew in his head what it was he tasted, but he couldn’t process the act of it. He simply stared at _______ with an almost confused look on his face and tears freely falling along his cheeks, creating darkened trails on his skin wherever they touched.

“Lindsey’s dead…”

Her heart plummeted to the pit of her stomach at the sight, and by instinct, she quickly pulled him into her arms for a tight, comforting embrace. In her arms, she brought one of her hands up to the back of his head and moved it down so he could bury it against the crook of her neck while the other remained tightly wound around his torso to keep him close to herself. With him nestled against her, _______ nuzzled her head against his own and rested her chin on his shoulder, her eyes staring ahead of her in mournful dismay. As she felt him shakily bring his arms up to wrap them around her as well, she swore she could feel the pain in his heart from the way he suddenly squeezed her and gripped onto her. She closed her eyes as tight as she could and took in a deep, shaken breath of her own in an attempt of composing herself.

The need to cry was so strong, but she felt selfish because of it. She didn’t even know Lindsey, and still the effect the news of her passing had on her closest friend here was enough to shake her to her core.

Tristen – a man who was always smiling, always joking, always hiding his pain and trouble beneath his joyful and overzealous behavior – brought to a speechless state of shock.

Feeling his tears soak up into the fabric of her shirt and land on the exposed skin of her neck without him making a sound while his grip tightened on her almost made her crack and sob right into him, but she didn’t want to do that. He was always so strong for her, and right now, he needed her to be strong for him too – no matter how painful it is to see this dramatic shift in his demeanor.

“I got you, Trist,” She managed out softly by his ear in an attempt of reassurance. Swallowing down the knot in her throat, she nuzzled his head with her own a little further for comfort as her hand began to stroke the back of his head. Nimble fingers found their way through his disheveled locks of hair in an attempt of soothing him even though she knew it was a fruitless effort to alleviate the stinging in his chest. It was the most she could do for him. Holding him, stroking his hair, reminding him he would have her to help him along the way…it’s all she could do in a situation like this when they’re both left so utterly powerless to the elements around them. “It’s okay…You don’t have to go through this alone. I promise you that. I’ll stay with you; I’ll help you through this. You don’t have to mourn her loss on your own.”

“None of this makes sense,” He managed to speak, his voice low and murmured by her ear despite the tears in his eyes. “I swear she was perfectly fine before they took her away from me…I can’t believe she’s dead. How could she be dead? It’s ridiculous…It’s f-fucking crazy…How could she be gone just like that? I…” He squeezed her tighter in his embrace, staring into the dark the curtain of her hair created for him to hide in. “I couldn’t protect her like I always promised I would…How must she have felt when whatever happened went down? Fuck…I can’t believe this is happening…How the hell is any of this even real?”

As the two mourned together and held onto one another strongly, the receptionist by the desk beside them watched in sympathy – sympathy and a note of ever-present nervousness. His foot tapped rapidly on the ground beneath his feet as he watched, biting his lower lip, wanting to speak, but the notion was far more difficult to do in a position like his own than one might believe.

He mainly kept to himself ever since he started working under the Murkoff Corporation in Mount Massive. He had a level one security clearance in this place, so he had seen more than he would ever like to admit – and that only with his level one clearance. He knew that there were two levels higher than his own, and the idea of it terrified him. It kept him up at night, staring at the walls and ceiling in his dorm to prevent the constant nightmares he always succumbed to from playing behind his eyelids. He knows this haunted place is not what it seems to innocent outsiders like these two orderlies, and he wanted to help them, to tell them to run while they still could – but the risks were too great to be so blatantly honest with them. He almost looked like a small, meek creature within the grand omniscient hospital, jittering there with his lanky limbs, thin build and neatly combed and tied long locks of dark hair.

After all, the reason he never spoke to anyone aside from his higher-ups is because he knows just how cruel and vindictive men like Jeremy Blaire could really be if one were to do or say anything that could jeopardize whatever it is they have stewing beneath the old hospital’s linoleum floors. So, perhaps he truly is a meek little creature in the scrutinizing eye of the secretive corporation.

It’s better to be safe rather than sorry, he had always told himself, but even so, he continued to watch the innocent orderlies as they eventually pulled apart from each other with unmistakable, nervous sympathy in his eyes.

“We can’t just let things end like this,” Tristen remarked as he attempted to wipe the tears away from his cheeks and dry the skin they slid upon. “We have to tell someone. W-we got to call the cops or something! The way he acted when he said she was dead…” His expression contorted into disgusted anger. “He clearly didn’t give a single damn about what may have happened to her, and I doubt those fucked underground docs are any damn different from him if they’d let a perfectly healthy girl die under their care. This reeks of negligence and foul play! We can’t let them get away with it!”

“I-I wouldn’t say that so loud if I were you…Calling someone to investigate your patient’s death in this place wouldn’t be a good idea, either…” The reserved receptionist had spoken before he could stop himself and before _______ could even say anything on the matter. As soon as the words left his lips and the two orderlies turned to give him those questionable, defensive and suspicious looks, he began to question himself as well for even opening his mouth. Why had he done it? Why had he spoken up at all? He had never done so before…but there was just something about these two that made him feel the need to help them. He had seen them around before, taking care of their patients and being together on their off time. They just looked like a couple of good kids who actually cared for the damned souls confined in this place. Maybe that’s why he wanted to help them…Maybe that’s why he was risking so much in allowing his tongue to let slip just a few subtle secrets he was forced by a contract practically written in his blood to harbor even in his grave.

“What do you mean it wouldn’t be a good idea?” _______ questioned him, instinctively moving to shield Tristen behind her, as though the physical presence of herself between them would protect him from whatever merciless words would leave this man. Her eyes narrowed lightly in her suspicion, darting downward for a moment to catch the name highlighted by the room’s fluorescent lights on the tag clipped to the front of his shirt. “Jordan,” She uttered the name and returned her gaze to center on his own dark brown eyes. “I don’t even think we’ve ever spoken before. Ever.” She knew she had become far more hostile with the employees of the hospital she was unfamiliar with overtime during her employment. The longer she spent in Mount Massive, the less she felt she could trust just anyone anymore. The only trustworthy companions she had were Tristen and Eddie, so this new voice piping up with such a conspiratorial tone definitely left her cautious of his intentions.

“We haven’t,” Jordan confirmed. “But I know the two of you – w-well, I at least know you’re a couple of orderlies for the female and male wards. I’ve seen you wandering about during our shifts.” He clarified, keeping his voice low as his eyes darted in every direction he could practically between each word that left his lips. As an added, paranoid measure, he also brought a hand up to cover his mouth as he spoke to hide the movements of his lips any camera may be able to catch. “Listen, I really can’t say much; Mr. Blaire has eyes and ears everywhere in this place. He’s always watching, always listening. If he were to find out either one of you tried to reach out to people on the outside – the police especially – then you’d have a boatload of more problems to deal with in your hands than you already do.” He looked over his shoulder, just to make sure nobody was passing by. The coast was clear, so he returned to look at the two. “Mr. Blaire is a very cold and vindictive businessman. This is his livelihood, and if you try anything, he will find out, s-so for your sakes, please don’t contact anyone on the outside.”

The two orderlies stared at the receptionist, perplexed with a deep sense of horror and unease bubbling deep within their guts. It was a feeling within the two which they were acutely aware had always been there, silently thriving in both of their subconscious, itching at parts of their brains that amused and teased the ideas of the secrets trapped within Mount Massive Asylum. They wanted to believe this was a place of healing, a place where the sick came to be taken care of and cured for a possibility of release to lead normal lives in the outside world, but the longer they stayed and the more that happened, the more the two began to see and discover. Jordan giving them this information was simply adding onto that terrible feeling within them, feeding its flames, allowing it to grow and thrash until they were left with an unruly sensation that made the atmosphere thick and uncomfortable between the three.

“How do you know all of this? And…what kind of trouble would we be getting into if we tried…?” She asked, though her voice had reduced to nothing but an apprehensive whisper.

Jordan bit his lower lip once more, harder than he had before. His eyes darted to all areas in the room any kind of living being could come from once again to assure that they were alone, and even then, he still turned back to beckon the two orderlies closer to him. The risk was simply too big to be even the slightest bit careless. Once they came forward and neared him by the desk, he leaned in.

“I’m sworn to secrecy beneath my contract with Murkoff, so I can’t tell you much for my own safety, but I will tell you this: Mount Massive Asylum is not what it seems and you’re right to be suspicious. E-even so, even if you’re right, if you try to bypass the firewalls and security measures they have around this place to reach the police on the outside, M-Mr. Blaire will find out and he will make you pay. I-it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened, so it’s best if you keep low, quiet and to yourselves. Please, for your own safety, watch and take care of where you tread while in Murkoff’s domain. You’ll be next, a-and you don’t want to be next.”

“Not the first time?” Tristen was the first to speak, his previously distant voice sparking new life from the vague information Jordan was giving them. “You mean to tell me there’s been more deaths in this fucked up place before? And nobody told us?! What happened to the others who tried to look for help and were caught?”

SHHHH!” Jordan hushed urgently, a whimper echoing from him as he pressed his forefinger against his lips. “Keep it down! D-don’t be so loud! I’m risking everything just by telling you what I already have, s-so please don’t make it worse!” Nervously, he brought his hand back down to press against his other, wringing them together – an anxious twitch he had never been able to shake. “You can’t speak so c-carelessly about this, I can’t stress that enough. I–” He stopped, his eyes widening when he caught sight of movement from one of the halls behind the two orderlies.

Quickly, he pulled back from the two and forced his hands to rest calmly on the edges of the desk as he straightened up his posture – though if one looked close enough, they would easily notice his knuckles turned bone white from tension. “I’m sorry,” He spoke firmly with a certain degree of wavering authority in his voice, his expression turning neutrally cold despite his large, fearful gaze trained on the two. “But no, I haven’t had any visitors nor have I received any new messages for your patients as of late.” From the corner of his eye, he could see someone coming to stand by the end of the hall, frozen in place and staring their way with his unforgiving eyes. Jordan desperately tried with every ounce of his might not to look at him, not to give away what was happening, but the orderlies could see he was beginning to subtly shake.

Perplexed by his sudden behavior, they both turned around to see what it was which put the man in such a state, and as soon as _______ saw who was there, she completely understood.

Matthew stood at the end of the hall where the Record Room resided, a jumble of files tucked beneath his arm and his eyes sharply trained on the trio. A glare encompassed his expression as the large orderly sized the three individuals up, though his eyes inevitably trained on the female in the group the most. There was an undoubtable sense of hatred and spite storming behind his eyes within that darkened mind of his that left _______ completely out of her wits. Just the sight of him now was enough to make the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end and for her stomach to twist and turn in all different directions from within her. Yet, despite that and despite Tristen instinctively moving to block her from his line of sight with a firm, hateful glare of his own, her body had begun to run on that fighting feeling she felt during their Laundry Room encounter.

Her muscles tensed up within her, her heart picking up to a rapid beat. Though Tristen was the wall between them, she could still see the man if she inclined herself slightly to the left. The feeling within her right now told her to run over and pummel the bastard into the dirt where he belonged now that she had all of Jordan’s vague information on the place and its staff in her arsenal. She wanted to act on that craziness and take him down where he stood, but a part of her – the rational part – reminded her that this idea was not the best one. It would help no one and would most certainly only put her in a worse position than she was already tangled in. Regardless, her body felt as though it were getting ready to pounce and defend herself and Tristen from an oncoming attack, but that attack never came.

After several uncomfortable moments of staring and silence between them all, Matthew eventually clicked his tongue over the roof of his mouth with a dismissive and spiteful tut. Then, he turned away from them all, opened the large metal door to the nearest stairwell and disappeared up the steps to the floors above with nothing but the loud shut of the door left behind.

The trio stood in silence for what felt like forever after that. They each stared at the door of the staircase, listening to Matthew’s faint steps as he walked upstairs until they couldn’t hear anything at all. Even when silence reigned over their world, they still remained silent as they turned to face one another once again with wide eyes shared between them. It seems as though that has been common placement today – those wide eyes of horror or shock or just downright fear.

“I’m sorry,” Jordan’s miserably sighed words were the first to break through the fragile, unstable silence. He hung his head slightly and looked down at the two orderlies before him with true sympathy and sheepish fear. “I’m sorry I can’t tell you more than I already have. I-I would if I could, trust me, but my hands are tied…Mr. Blaire would…” He trailed off, his expression turning grimmer before he shook his head to dismiss whatever horrendous thoughts were plaguing him behind his eyelids. All the while, he made sure to keep his head hung low, hoping the gesture would cover his lips enough from the cameras. If he used his hands to cover them too much, it would be obvious he was hiding something. He didn’t want that. “L-look, the point is, you both seem like good people. You’re not like the ones downstairs and the big guys like Mr. Blaire up top. You’re innocent to all that’s going on and I-I don’t want to see you getting hurt. Just be careful during your stay here…however long it may be. If you want more information about what’s happening here – though I don’t recommend you go hunting for skeletons in Murkoff’s closet – then I would suggest speaking with Mr. Waylon Park.”

“Waylon Park?” Tristen and _______ echoed in unison.

“Who’s Waylon Park? I’ve never heard of anyone working up here under that name.” Tristen questioned soon after with a furrow of his brow.

“That’s because he doesn’t typically work on the aboveground floors of the asylum. He primarily spends most of his time downstairs in the I.T department. He’s a Software Engineer, recently got himself a temporary position working with the specialists down below. He says he’s seen things…Th-things he can’t explain.” Jordan swallowed thickly, concerned for the young man just by telling his tale. “He’s bolder than I am despite having so many more risks than I do. Talk to him. Maybe he’ll be more willing to shed light on your questions than I am…a-and maybe he can give you more information on your patient as well. It looks like they have him working nights down there, so he spends most of the day sleeping in his dorm upstairs, but you can catch him just before he goes down tonight at around midnight. We usually chat just before he goes and I clock out, so I can ask him to wait for you.”

Slowly, _______ nodded at the receptionist, inclined not to believe him, but his eyes convinced her otherwise. At this point, she normally wouldn’t trust a living soul in this nightmarish place aside from Tristen and Eddie, but the way he looked at the two of them and the way he trembled in his terrified state…She had never seen anyone look like that in Mount Massive. Nobody officially staffed, anyway. It was a first and it made her believe him. When she looked up at Tristen and saw the determined gleam in his hardened gaze, she could tell he did too. “Okay,” She quietly agreed as she turned to give Jordan another more affirmative nod of her head. “Thank you for all of this…We’ll be careful and we’ll be here tonight.”

With that said, the two orderlies finally began to walk away from the receptionist’s desk with new plans in mind, plans that had _______ rethinking a lot of things in her head. Tristen still had intentions on taking them to HR regardless of what they had just heard, and that was exactly where he was taking them, but she didn’t know if this was such a good idea anymore.

“Tristen,” She murmured his name as she brought the two to a halt between the hall she presumed Human Resources was located and the second staircase in the room. When he looked down at her, she continued. “Maybe…this isn’t such a good idea – talking to HR and all. I think…after what we just heard…maybe it would be best if we keep quiet about this for now and really think things through, because if things really aren’t as they seem like Jordan said, there’s a chance HR could just turn on us for what we say, right? I initially planned to tell them everything that Matthew has been doing – not just to me, but to our patients too. I just…I don’t know if letting our suspicions spill like that is the best way to go about this anymore.” She took a deep breath and sighed. “I think we should just forget about all of this for now and go get you some ice for your jaw, then maybe just relax in my room or something until our next shifts to keep your mind off of what happened…” She attempted to lead the way to the staircase after that, intent on not taking no as an answer, but Tristen didn’t let her get far.

Before she could even turn around, he had firmly gripped onto her shoulders with both of his large hands. He bent down slightly to be at her eye level, and when their gazes met, she could see both adamant fear and fierce protectiveness reflecting off of his hardened hazel eyes.

“I already lost Lindsey today. I am not losing you, too, _______, do you understand me?

He spoke practically through gritted teeth, the words being far more painful to let out than he expected. “I refuse to lose you. I won’t let it happen. I don’t care about what Jordan said; we have to go to HR at least to settle your problems with Matthew. I’m not leaving that damn office, either, until we fucking settle something that ensures me that you’ll be safe when I’m not around. My jaw is fine. We can get ice for it after, but we have to go to HR now. Please…let me keep you safe. I want…I-I want you to be safe, _______...”

She stared at him, lips slightly parted, heart aching painfully because of the way he looked at her, because of the way he spoke to her. He was afraid for her…Tristen was never afraid, so to see that fear in him now was…jarring, to say the least. She wanted to lift that weight from his shoulders, to tear away every single ounce of fear and pain his heart felt, but she knew there wasn’t anything she could do to really make it go away after what they had just discovered about Lindsey and the people they worked for.

So, she did the next best thing for him that she could.

She nodded her head and silently agreed to go to HR despite what her head told her and proceeded to follow him down the hall as they reached down to strongly hold onto each other’s hands for support.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

The sound of the cart’s rickety wheels, though loud and squeaky, always brought a sense of calm to _______’s psyche while walking down the old hospital’s halls during her shifts – but not tonight.

While the cart’s wheels had her lost in her thoughts, they surely weren’t thoughts she wanted to be drowning in. After talking with HR, all she could think about was that conversation and what would result from it. She speculated and thought about every possible outcome that could come from it involving Matthew, Eddie and her job with her patients, and every single possibility she came up with left her with a dominant feeling of unease.

Did she regret telling HR everything she did with Tristen by her side? She kind of did, but she also kind of didn’t.

It was about time she spoke up and defended herself against the man who had been tormenting her in her workplace since she first arrived to Mount Massive, but after hearing the things Jordan had to say, she wondered if leaving her complaints on him with Human Resources really was the best way of going about this.

The way Jordan spoke to them with so much fear in his voice about Jeremy Blaire and the things that really go on underground…It left _______ filled with a sense of dread she simply could not shake off. No matter how hard she tried to force herself to think about other things besides Matthew and Jordan, her brain simply trailed right back to the topic.

Then there was also the matter of her and Tristen’s meeting with Waylon this evening.

How was that going to go down? What the hell were they even supposed to say? Well, she supposed asking about Lindsey first would be the best idea, to see if this Mr. Park fellow could shed some light on their grim and confusing situation, but aside from that, what were they really supposed to say? Could they even trust this guy? Jordan said he could possibly help them, but what if he’s wrong? What if Mr. Park has just as much to hide as he suggests Jeremy Blaire does?

The pounding of her heart was getting louder and faster the more she thought about it as she walked down that familiar hall to Eddie’s cell, but as she reached the bend, the sound of her cart’s rickety wheels came to a halt. She stopped and brought a hand to her face, rubbing it firmly as she took in a deep breath of the hospital’s unnatural air.

Why was she panicking so bad?

Why was she so afraid?

She shouldn’t be this afraid of her own employer.

Surely they can’t be doing anything too bad, can they?

If so, why is this all so damn scary?

Regardless, she was aware that panicking about the situation wasn’t going to do her any good nor would it get her anywhere. What happened with HR was said and done already, and now, she needs to help Tristen find the answers he needs; the answers they both need.

So, she took that moment in time to press her back against the wall of the hallway and hold her face in her hand just to calm her breathing.

One, two, three.

One, two, three.

One, two, three.

Slowly, she opened her eyes to stare into her palm. “This is crazy.” She released another deep breath and removed her hand from her face to stare at the wall across from her. “You’re overthinking again. Stop overthinking. It’ll be fine. Stop thinking about it. Tristen is going with you and everything is going to be okay. All this craziness will be over soon. I’m sure it’s just a big misunderstanding.” She nodded to herself, gripping the bar of her cart once more to continue to Eddie’s cell. “Just a big misunderstanding where a girl lost her life and employees of the hospital you’re working at are acting shadier than you’d like to admit…”

The pep-talk wasn’t working very well, so it would seem.

She tried, though. She really tried. Yet, no matter how much she tried to erase the worry from her mind or the uncertain dread from her expression, nothing would work. What happened to all that confidence she felt before when she stood up to Matthew? What happened to the _______ who kicked him down to where he belonged? She didn’t know, but she certainly wasn’t here right now. Right now, she was just hoping she’d wake up any day now from this freaky nightmare set in a questionable mental asylum. A big part of her regretted ever taking this stupid job to begin with, but then there was another part of her which reminded her Eddie and her other patients would be all on their own against Matthew and the nameless underground doctors if she hadn’t. Tristen would be on his own trying to find justice for Lindsey’s death if she never came to Mount Massive. Maybe this was all happening for a reason. Maybe she was meant to get sucked up in this mess. Who knows? Certainly not her.

Coming to a stop in front of Eddie’s cell, _______ rose her gaze from the tray of food in front of her to rest upon the familiar figure seated upon his simple cot. His crystalline eyes had been set on the barred window in his room, staring out into the evening sky. That window always remained half-open, even on rainy days. It was so small and forgettable, she doubted anyone really ever bothered with the idea of closing it. Whenever it rained, the water was typically absorbed by those old curtains that hung from high up on the ceiling and grazed the ground with the edges of its fringe unless it was really heavy rain. When it was really heavy, she’d go in and mop the floor for him and her other patients who had windows like his. The thing is, the curtain was missing from its place tonight.

When _______ took a look at the floor, she noticed the clear plastic rungs the curtain had been hooked on littered across ground. Some of them were snapped while others were simply wide open from their hinges. Shifting her gaze from the rungs to Eddie, she noticed the curtain was resting on his lap, his hands absentmindedly twiddling with the fabric even as he turned his smile from the sky over towards her.

“_______, darling, you’re right on time as always.” He greeted her, his eyes turning to gentle crescents. He stood to his feet then with the curtain in his grasp, bundling it up so it wouldn’t drag across the floor. “My apologies,” He uttered while setting the bundled curtain down on his cot. “I was getting quite tired of this dreary curtain blocking my view of my window. I suppose I became a little agitated by it.” He chuckled a little bashfully as a light blush came across his pale skin. It’s not as though he lost his composure or anything when he took it down. He just didn’t like to be disorderly nor did he like to cause messes.

He disliked the curtain a lot more, however.

“I feel much better without it.” He hummed as he now approached the bars to meet her in the middle. He smiled at her, expecting a smile in return just as the young orderly always graced him with, but tonight, _______ wasn’t acting like her typical self. Something was off about her, something that refused to allow her to smile at him. She feigned one, a small one he could spot as a fake from a mile away, but even her eyes betrayed her. There were thoughts behind her (eye color) colored eyes – lost, confused, afraid, uncertain, shaky. The sight caused for the man’s smile to falter as concern quickly morphed his expression.

“Don’t worry about it, Eddie,” She pipped up as she turned away for a moment only to grab his tray of dinner and slip it through the gap in the bars just like she did every night before. “I can see why you’d be tired of it. If I were you, I wouldn’t want some raggedy curtain blocking the only window in my room all the time either. If anyone asks, I’ll just say it ripped or was way too old to have around anymore.” She assured him, the corners of her lips twitching upwards only a slight bit more. “Mind handing it over so I can get rid of it for you?”

Yet, Eddie still wasn’t convinced by the face she was making. 

“_______, are you alright? You look…not like yourself today.”

Her smile fell at his question and her gaze shifted to the ground only for a moment; only for the amount of time it took her to let out a breath of air simply due to a limitation of anything else she could do in her current situation. “Eddie, we need to talk.” She muttered out, and though her words were quiet and tame, he could see a sense of uncertain desperation in her eyes when her gaze came to land on him yet again. He took a moment to go retrieve the curtain on his bed and hand it to her so its presence wouldn’t cause a distraction, and as soon as she placed it upon her cart, he met the young woman’s gaze once more with unwavering care.

“Of course. Whatever you need, we can discuss. What’s troubling you?” He asked, ignoring the tray of food on his side of the cell as he reached through the bars to take a comforting grasp of her hand. His eyes, meanwhile, remained trained on hers – warm, pure and caring. “Talk to me, _______.”

Instantly, without even thinking about it, she gripped his hand back as soon as his fingers wrapped around her hand. The warmth of his palm pressed against her own felt nice and reassuring in the midst of the questionable hospital; it granted her a small sense of stability within this unstable world. Closing her eyes for a moment, she wished she could just step into his cell and stay there with him all night so they could talk and forget about things for a while. At least until she was able to get him out of this place. Alas, she has bigger plans tonight. Plans which have left her afraid of what she would discover by the time the evening had passed.

“There’s something not right about this place, Eddie. I know I’ve said it before and I know I probably sound like a broken record to you, but trust me, I sound like one in my head too. Something weird happened earlier today, though…You remember Tristen?”

“The orderly you’re friends with from the female ward? Yes, I remember you telling me about him.”

“Well, one of Tristen’s patients who was taken underground apparently passed away down there…The only reason we know is because we bumped into the guy who supposedly runs this place – the same guy that hired us: Jeremy Blaire. I never met him in person before today, though. He pretty much just authorized our hire here. If that isn’t weird enough, he told Tristen the news so coldly, he obviously didn’t seem to even care about what had happened to her. We were thinking about calling the police to properly investigate, but the guy who was working at the receptionist’s desk advised we didn’t…He told us that Blaire guy and this place aren’t what they seem.” Her eyes narrowed with concern and perplexity as she recalled their conversation, her hand subconsciously squeezing Eddie’s at the memory. “He was…so scared while talking to us. So fidgety…like he was constantly being watched and anything he did would get him into some big trouble. What kind of trouble that may be, I don’t know, but…” She shook her head and grabbed onto one of the cold, rusty bars set between them, leaning in closer to the man who only appeared to be further and further away from her the more truths she unearthed from the omnipotent hospital. 

“Something out of place is definitely going on. Something bad…really bad. The receptionist gave us a tip to speak with some guy called Waylon Park. Apparently, he might be able to shed some light on what’s going on and be willing to give us information on what we’re after…Do you know anyone by that name who works here?”

Eddie was caught off guard by the sudden seriousness which grasped _______ tonight surrounding the possible conspiracies hidden in the hospital. He had noticed throughout the day that something was different about her, but he hadn’t been expecting this kind of reaction from her when he asked. Then again, perhaps he really should have. After all, this sweet, young orderly standing before him now with that firm look in her eyes swore to him that she would make things right for him when she discovered the truth behind his stay in Mount Massive Asylum. Her determination didn’t just stop with him, though, he knew that much just by looking at her. If she found out that there was foul play behind the scenes, she’d do what she could to tear the place down at its very foundation for the sake of the people she was hired to care for.

After a moment, he came back to his senses and shook his head, a seriousness befalling him which equated to her own. “I don’t know of anyone named Waylon Park, no. I know of a Dr. Snow whom attends and manages my consultations…” He paused as he brought the name up, a hint of something…off flashing through his eyes for a moment. _______ narrowed her own, trying to catch what that fleeting emotion was – but it was gone before she could decipher it. “But no Waylon Park. Regardless, if this Mr. Park is someone who works in the underground hospital, please do tread with caution. The underground…it isn’t like what you see up here.”

Eddie had never wanted to tell her about the things he had experienced and witnessed down below. He knew for a fact that he hadn’t even been exposed to a fraction of the things they do down there, but what he had experienced easily gave him the impression that what went on beneath the floors of Mount Massive Asylum was far beyond regulation standards. He had noticed that from his first time down below. Eddie, however, is merely a patient here. Even if he wanted to expose the malpractice of the good doctors of Mount Massive, no one would listen to him. Nobody did.

Not until _______ came around.

As he looked at her and he recalled the time they had spent together since her first working day, he still didn’t want to expose her to the cruelness buried beneath their feet. He had never wanted to tell her, because he had always hoped she would merely remain an aboveground orderly for her stay, and eventually, if she did manage to get him out, none of that stuff would even matter anymore. She is too pure, too good, too kind for the world the hidden doctors are crafting. Not even Eddie knew the full extent of it, but he knew it wasn’t anything good just from what he had seen so far. 

At the thought, Eddie’s gaze softened in a somber fashion, a sudden twang of concern for the woman before him and worry for her being hitting his heart. Gently, he wove his fingers with her own and pulled her hand through the bars onto his side. “You need to be careful, _______,” He reiterated as he pressed her hand gingerly against his cheek. His skin was cool to the touch and it caused little hairs on the back of her neck to stand on end from the lovely sensation, causing for her expression to soften with his. “I…don’t know what’s happening here, but I don’t want anything to harm you as a result of your searching. Even if nothing is going on, promise me you’ll be safe. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you…Stuck in this cell, I wouldn’t have a means of finding out if you’re in trouble. I want to keep you safe at all times, but…” He frowned, squeezing her hand and turning his head to nuzzle his nose against her fingers. “My limitations are clearly set. Please, I know I can’t stop you from looking for the truth, but promise me you’ll be careful and stay safe for both of our sakes…Promise me you’ll come back to me unharmed…Promise me you won’t go digging for skeletons you have no business finding…”

She could feel warmth rise to her cheeks at the tenderness of the man’s nature. Her eyes watched every little move his face made to change the emotions in his eyes, on his lips, upon his brow. A few strands of his slick black hair were fallen over his forehead, swaying gently with his movements and brushing lightly against the top of her knuckles. It tickled her skin and excited her heart – a truly sweet moment. Yet, despite all of that, she could still feel a bottomless pit form in her stomach, swallowing the lovely butterflies he gave her and turning them into vicious, starved locusts.

_______ didn’t like making empty promises.

This time, she couldn’t give Eddie the comfort he sought.

Digging up skeletons was the only way she could figure out the truth and find evidence and a means of making a change.

In the quiet of that moment, the ticking of the clock high up on the wall behind her caught her attention. She looked over her shoulder, tearing her gaze away from his pleading look, and noticed how late it had already become.

It wouldn’t be long until she and Tristen had to go meet with Waylon Park. What would come out of this meeting, she didn’t know, but she at least had to give it a chance – even if Jordan’s tip had the potential of completely backfiring.  

“It’s getting late. I have to meet with Tristen soon.” _______ muttered, neglecting to respond to Eddie’s requests as she gently tore her hand away from his. He allowed her to do so without resistance, but the sadness grew upon his expression. She trained her gaze on the ground as a result. She didn’t want to look into those sky blues of his, begging her for something she couldn’t provide him this time around.

“I’ll see you in the morning, okay? You should get some rest for now.” At that, she released her grip on the bar she clung to and took the bar of her cart instead. Steadily with firm footsteps, she began to walk away, leaving Eddie behind to stare back at her until she disappeared beyond the bend. Everything in her at the time had screamed for her to turn back. She didn’t know for what nor did she know why, but she could hear the echo of the soundless words vibrate within the marrow of her bones. It caused for the hole at the pit of her stomach to grow, but when she came to a stop in front of the elevator she took every day with her cart, she closed her eyes tight after pressing the button to call for it. She wasn’t thinking of anything in that moment. She was simply being, existing, listening, feeling, staring into darkness behind her eyelids.

She knew that it was concrete when the sound of the doors opening caused for her eyes to open and her feet to move without her having to think about it.

She knew when she punched the number of the floor she had to go to next that she wasn’t turning back.

She knew when the doors closed, she couldn’t risk being careful any longer.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

The sound of their footsteps resounding through the stairwell was the only thing which occupied the space around the two orderlies as they made their way down to the ground floor of the hospital.

_______ and Tristen had met up about an hour before they were supposed to meet Waylon Park, and during that hour, they had spent their time simply talking. They had attempted to lighten up the atmosphere both of them clearly felt from the very beginning of the day when they first ran into Jeremy Blaire, and while it almost appeared to work on the outside through laughter caused by silly jokes and funny videos on YouTube, it didn’t change a thing on the inside.

As soon as they both realized it was time to get moving, the heavy atmosphere quickly returned.

_______ watched the steps before them as they made their way down together. She took notice of her fuzzy slippers landing on the barren concrete one step at a time. Once again, she was lost in her mind, but there was nothing she was thinking about. No images came to her head; no colors, no people, no animals, no environments, no events, no possibilities. It was just blank. A darkened canvas she didn’t want to paint on, because she knew if she gave into it and tried, something would emerge from the murky depths she’d rather not dwell upon now. She liked to tell herself it was effortless, but in reality, it took a lot of effort to ignore the pounding of the doors in her head she was trying so hard to keep shut.

Eventually, they reached the landing of the first floor and before them stood the heavy metal door they looked at every single day since coming here. She thought the sense of intimidation she felt from it so long ago had already died.

Apparently, she was wrong.

Tristen, on the contrary, had a myriad of things going on in his head. He was fully aware of the possible risks and problems they could get themselves into if they were caught and something was really going on, but that wasn’t what inhabited the space behind his eyes. No, in his mind, he simply thought about one thing.

Vengeance.

Vengeance for Lindsey, vengeance for his patients, vengeance for _______ and vengeance for any other sad fuck who was unlucky enough to be caught in the asylum’s web.

He is a protector. No matter what, he was determined to make things right. He would uncover the truth, shed light upon the lies and help everyone stuck in this place.

Even if it killed him.

“Hey,” He spoke up before either of them reached for the door. Instead, of opening it, he raised his hand and allowed it to rest upon her head. When she turned her head to look up at him with those big eyes of hers filled with vague uncertainty, he swore for a second that he was taken back in time to his sister’s first day of high school.

“Do you think I’ll do good in this place, Trist?”

“You kiddin’? Of course you’ll do good! You’re smart, Tia! Ya ain’t got a thing to worry about! You’re gonna knock everyone’s socks off!”

“But…How can you be so sure? I’m scared…What if things don’t turn out the way you say they will? What if something bad happens and I don’t do as good as you think?”

“Well, if somethin’ happens that goes against plans, then we’ll find another way around them! Like I said, sissy: you’re smart! Really smart! Give yourself credit! You’ll find a way out of any jam! It ain’t like you need to be perfect or nothin’ either. Just try your best and you’ll see just how far you can go! And hey! If you find something that’s too hard or too scary for ya, you can count on your big bro being there to help you every step of the way!”

“You promise?”

“I pinky promise!”

“It’s gonna be alright, _______,” He smiled softly, petting her head for reassurance and comfort. “We’re gonna go through this together and everything is gonna work out. Don’t worry. Don’t be scared. You’re not going through this alone. You got me – and I sure as hell ain’t goin’ anywhere.” With that, he allowed his hand to fall upon her shoulder to give it a comforting squeeze before gesturing to the handle of the door. “Shall we?”

She stared at him for a few seconds in silence, taking in what he had said and done. It’s crazy, really. How did he manage to do that? How did he manage to help her feel so at ease while barely trying? She hadn’t been more grateful for it than in this specific moment. Slowly, a small smile angled her lips and she gave a nod of her head in reply. “Yeah. It’s about time we got some answers.”

He flashed her his own iconic smile and reached to open the door. The groan of protest the metal made cracked through the peacefulness of the night as it was pulled open to reveal the bright lights of the main hall. _______ flinched at the sound and squinted her eyes out of reflex as the bright lights enveloped them. Both of their smiles had fallen to unreadable obscurity at this point.

Instantly, their gazes trailed towards the receptionist’s desk. Just as he had promised, Jordan was there and accompanied by a man neither of them had seen around before, though that wasn’t a surprise. They presumed this man to be Waylon Park, and before the door could even close behind the orderlies, the two men by the desk turned their attention right on them as they began to approach.

Waylon didn’t look like a very impressive or menacing type of character. At first glance, he was almost forgettable. Just an average-looking Joe. He had a crop of dirty blond hair on his head and a bit of facial hair. His physique was somewhat lanky, though he wasn’t overly thin nor overly hefty. His eyes were a deep brown color and his skin was fairly pale. No matter how much she tried to recall from her time she had seen people from the underground, _______ couldn’t pin his face to any of her memories. 

“Ah, they’re finally here.” Jordan sighed in heavy relief as the orderlies joined them. As soon as they did, he walked out from behind his desk, and both orderlies noticed he was still wringing his hands together.

Truly, he was a nervous, fidgety mess.

“Th-these are the two I was just telling you about, Waylon. They said they wanted to have a word with you…Now that they’re here, I-I hope you all don’t mind if I just e-excuse myself…” Just as soon as they had arrived, Jordan had left without even waiting for a response from the three around him. He simply parted through the small group and scurried his way to the stairwell, disappearing beyond the loud, groaning door.

“Jordan told me you wanted to talk.” Waylon spoke up without missing a beat, attracting the attention of the orderlies onto him. He appeared nervous as well, his foot tapping and his fingers drumming on the counter of the desk his hand was resting upon with a look on his face that screamed he was on edge. It reminded them a lot of Jordan earlier today, and that got _______ thinking: if it wasn’t just Jordan this place had this effect on, then there obviously has to be something causing it.

“Yeah. That’s right.” _______ responded without hesitation.

“Question is, are ya willing to have this convo with us?” Tristen added, raising a brow at Waylon with a stern look on his face.

Waylon nodded. “I am, but let’s go somewhere else first…” His eyes darted upwards in the directions of the cameras hanging from every corner in the room his eyes could see. They had to be careful. He had to be careful. They were always being watched. They were always being listened to. Turning to begin walking towards the farthermost hallway, he looked over his shoulder and gestured for the two to follow him with a wave of his hand.

_______ and Tristen looked at one another for a moment, and they both nodded with certainty.

There’s no going back.

With Waylon leading the way, it wasn’t long before the group of three had found themselves walking down the hall to stop in front of one of the unisex bathrooms on the hospital’s first floor. Waylon pushed the door open and stepped inside, the two orderlies soon following suit.

“Well…this is defo a sanitary place you picked to have a little chat, Way, I’ll give ya that.” Tristen remarked on the odd choice as the three came to stand in the center of the restroom. He leaned against one of the sinks, crossing his arms over his chest while _______ came to stand at his side.

“Yes…This is an odd choice, Mr. Park.” _______ concurred, narrowing her eyes slightly at the man.

Always suspicious, always questioning.

“It’s the closest place I could think of without any security cameras being shoved down our throats, but we have to keep our voices down.” He responded, running a hand through his short hair as he paced back and forth in front of the two. “We have to make this conversation quick. I have to be downstairs for work in a few minutes and it’ll look bad if I’m late.” 

_______’s eyes narrowed further, her suspicion growing as soon as he mentioned the underground. Still, she decided not to act on impulse.

“So,” Waylon clasped his hands together and stopped his pacing to properly face the orderlies. “What is it that you two wanted to discuss?”

“I don’t know,” Tristen answered. “What are you willing to discuss, Way, ole buddy, ole pal?”

Waylon sucked in a short, quiet breath and grimaced a tad bit. “I…guess that depends on what you’re asking.” Nervously, he released his own hands and let them fall to his sides to rub out the creases of his jeans along the outer side of his thighs. 

“We want to know what happened to a patient named Lindsey Adams. She was taken underground during the last mass moving of patients and we recently found out she was declared dead. What we don’t know is how it happened. Got any info on that you’d be willin’ to share with a couple of concerned coworkers?” Tristen promptly got to the point.

Dead?” Waylon echoed, his eyes widened. “A dead patient? I…I honestly hadn’t heard of something like that happening before, but…it doesn’t surprise me, either.” He shook his head and furrowed his brow in disgust. _______’s furrowed brow softened up just the slightest bit at the sight of it. She didn’t know just yet whether she could trust this guy or not, but the emotions on his face and in his eyes made her hope that she could. “I’ve only been working here for a short time and I’ve had my level three clearance for even shorter, so I haven’t really been around a whole lot of patients yet…I mainly work with I.T; so, working with programs, fixing machines, making sure things run smoothly, but even then, I’ve seen some things down there that just aren’t right and make me feel really weird about what they got going on down there…” Waylon’s expression softened to a look of dismay, a sigh escaping his lips.

A moment of silence proceeded. Waylon appeared to be deep in thought, his fingers constantly smoothing out creases on his baggy jeans. All this time, _______ had remained quiet thus far, carefully observing. Tristen, on the other hand, was antsy for answers. The first moment Lindsey was taken away from him, she’s assumed dead. Who’s to say all of his other patients whom hadn’t been returned to him weren’t dead already too? After hearing so coldly about Lindsey’s passing, Tristen was done with taking chances on this place. The constant aching of his jaw had been a reminder to him all day that he couldn’t play nice anymore. _______ had been right to be suspicious all along.

“I…might have seen the Lindsey girl you’re asking about, though…”

Tristen’s eyes widened when the silence was broken. Instantly, his composure stiffened and he pushed himself away from the sink he was leaning against. He took a step closer to Waylon, the aching in his jaw almost intensifying from the act as he bore his gaze directly into the man before him. The two were inches apart now, Tristen’s chest puffing in and out a little quicker than normal as his gaze searched for answers in Waylon’s expression only to come up empty-handed. “Tell me everything.

_______ moved by reflex. Approaching Tristen’s side, she carefully weaved herself in between the two men, resting a reassuring hand upon her friend’s shoulder. “Relax…We can’t be causing a stir with him. He hasn’t done anything.” She looked over her shoulder and narrowed her eyes at Waylon while he simply looked back at her with sheepish sympathy. “Yet.” She turned back to Tristen and her gaze automatically softened. “Just stay calm and let’s hear him out.”

Tristen’s expression was one of pain; a pain she could do nothing to console no matter how badly she wished she could. Still, the young man took in a deep, shaken breath and closed his eyes for a few seconds. “Okay,” He nodded his head. “I’m fine. I swear I’m fine.”

“I don’t mean to make you angry,” Waylon remarked softly. “I’m inclined to think you two are good people despite the risk. The fact that you’re actually worried for your patients says a lot more about you than the people I work with downstairs. I was starting to worry I might be on my own in thinking there’s something obviously wrong with this fucked up place…” His words were sincere and honest, not a hint of hesitation in his voice. Waylon genuinely wanted to help these orderlies out. He was skeptical about them when Jordan mentioned them at first, but now that he sees them for himself with his own eyes…he doesn’t think he can put them in the same category as the underground doctors and technicians.

He can’t put them in the same category as Jeremy Blaire.

“I’ll tell you everything I know.” He began. “During the last movement of patients, we got a lot of females down there, though I’m sure you both already noticed that. I didn’t get to see them for long in the beginning, but I caught a glimpse of them. They walked them downstairs in line and put them into individual rooms with different doctors for what I was told was consultations. After that, I was called away to work on some programs on what they’ve told me is specialized equipment for patient care. I haven’t seen the main thing yet – just the cores that run it.” He shook his head. “A few days after that, they had me in a computer lab of sorts inputting patient data. Apparently, they didn’t need me in the main control room for whatever it was they were doing…All I was doing was inputting the patient information that was given to me. It was a bunch of numerical data on medical jargon I can’t tell you the importance of. I’m not a doctor or anything, but I do remember there being what looked like hormone counts and data logs on the time each of them had spent in that special therapy they give them underground.”

He swallowed thickly, pausing for a moment as his eyes darted to the sliver of space between the floor and the door of the restroom. He could see just beyond the door through the sliver from where he stood. Surely if anyone were to walk by, he’d notice their shadow. Paranoia getting the better of him, he watched the sliver for a few moments in silence to ensure that it was safe to continue. When nobody came by, he returned his gaze to the orderlies before him, though he stepped closer to them so he could speak in a quieter voice.

It was a precaution.

He didn’t want to know what would happen if he was found disclosing all this information to people without clearances like his own.

“When I was inputting all that data, I remember there being a girl named Lindsey on file within the records I was handed. If she was in that group I saw being taken into consultations on the first day, then I might have seen her, but what happened after all of that...I honestly can’t help you there. I don’t know what happened after. They haven’t let me into the main treatment lab yet which is where they eventually take some of the patients if they aren’t sent back upstairs to you guys. Now here’s the weird part: I haven’t really seen any of the women be sent back upstairs. At some point, they should have been sent back – at least a majority of them – because I haven’t seen them around the underground facility at all since those consultations, but this is the first I’ve heard about actual deaths. Did either of you receive any of your patients back recently?”

“I have,” Tristen spoke up. “But only about three of my girls were brought back to me.”

“I only had a few taken away from me during the last moving, but I haven’t heard anything about them since then. They were also all male.” _______ added on, her gaze shifting away from the man distantly. What was going on with her patients who were taken away from her? Why hadn’t she heard anything about them since that mass moving? Walking by their empty cells every day felt so strange to her – so vacant. Yet, despite that, she hadn’t given them as much thought since they had been taken away from her. There wasn’t anything she could have done to change their situation, and she had simply been riding on the hope and belief that they would eventually be returned to her. She felt selfishly guilty for feeling that way, because in all honesty, she was just glad that Eddie hadn’t been a part of the group taken and she knew deep inside that it was a horrible thing to feel, but she simply couldn’t help it. If things downstairs weren’t what they were told, who’s to say what’s happening to her other patients? Who’s to say there weren’t other doctors or orderlies down there like Matthew who would take advantage of their patients and only cause more harm than good as was done to Lindsey?

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes tightly as Waylon continued.

“If they’re not with you and I haven’t seen them anywhere in my levels so far underground, they must have moved them somewhere they haven’t called me to yet…Possibly. That’s my speculation, anyway. I can’t tell you for sure where your patients might be,” He referred to Tristen before turning to _______. “But yours might be in the cell units they have underground. Apparently, they mainly keep the men caged up down there for extended sessions of therapy. They used to do the same with the women too, but I don’t know what’s happening now. All I can say for certain is that your patient, Lindsey,” He gestured to Tristen again. “Was definitely brought downstairs and taken in for therapy. After that, I don’t have any information about her that could help you…” He trailed off, a sympathetic, saddened look coming to him as he lowered his head slightly – unable to look the young orderlies in the eyes now from his own guilt he felt bubbling within his gut. “I’m sorry,” He muttered. “I wish I could help you more with your patients who were taken downstairs…but I’m just a Software Engineer. They give me the bare minimum information about them and their treatment I need to know to work with their machines, and even then they haven’t taken me to the areas they say they hired me to work in yet. I’m basically as clueless about this as you are.”

The restroom fell to silence after that. All three of the Mount Massive employees stood almost uncomfortably within the space, looking away from one another and thinking about distant things. It was a concerning situation to be in, and the information that Waylon had given the two orderlies hadn’t been enough to truly help them with their predicament. What it did do, however, was leave them with so many more questions and even far less answers they had to begin with.

Tristen didn’t know how to react to any of the news he received. Lindsey had been down there once for therapy, that’s all they could say for certain, but what happened between her sessions and the time of her death was still a mystery. He needed answers, he needed to make things right, but it just felt like they were hitting a wall again. His expression was completely blank as he processed the information, and the look in his eyes almost appeared lifeless all on its own. What was he supposed to do now? Where were they supposed to turn? What could they do to make things right for Lindsey and all the other patients who ever had to suffer under the care of Mount Massive staff? If someone found out what they were up to, what kind of consequences would they have to deal with as a result? How were they supposed to find out about Lindsey’s death without being discovered? Who could they reach out to who could help them find out the truth and bring justice to the young girl who merely needed a new start to her life?

_______ was just as aimless as he was. Not even Waylon seemed to know about the full extent of the intention of those doctors underground, so it was as though he were floating on their boat as well. Of course, he had more information to relay to them than they had before, but what were they supposed to do with it? Who were they supposed to go to and tell about the questionable practices they didn’t even have any detailed information on? How were they supposed to know what happened to their patients? What was even happening to them since they were first taken while a minuet few others were simply sent back?

She shook her head and opened her eyes, turning to look back at Waylon once more. He seemed to sense her gaze upon him, so he looked up and met her eyes despite the guilt which clawed at his innards practically making it physically painful to do so. They stared at one another, and both individuals could tell that the other was at a complete loss. Helpless. Looking for something to grasp onto in hopes of giving some kind of direction to the situation they all found themselves in.

“Do you at least have any idea if this place has ever wrongfully admitted patients before?” Tristen broke the silence, his gaze locking on Waylon sharply, steely and determined once again. “We have reason to believe some of our patients were wrongfully convicted and admitted for treatment, and we think some of the staff here knows it too. None of the records we have indicate anything that makes sense for them being here, but we don’t have access to their medical records or therapy sessions or any evidence like that that could possibly help us help them. It’s all confidential crap that requires some level of clearance to see. Do you have any info you can spare on that?”

Waylon’s frown deepened. “I don’t really know anything about patient records or what it takes for one of them to be admitted into this place, no…but I do believe you. The way those doctors downstairs act just comes off as suspicious to me. For some rhyme or reason, they’d wrongfully admit people into their care. I’d bet my life that they would. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there were people admitted into this place who don’t belong here, but I don’t have any information or proof on the subject I can give you…” He trailed off, but after a moment, his eyes widened as though he remembered something important, and in that instance, it was as if a light had sparked in the dreary atmosphere which enveloped them. Suddenly, he looked at the orderlies with excitement, a smile coming to his lips as he beckoned them closer.

“But I do know someone who might be willing to help.”

Chapter Text

The room was quiet save for the sound of fingers drumming on the wooden desk between the three.

Patrick was told from the moment he got his level three clearance that the job wouldn’t be easy, but it would get easier overtime – so long as he did what he was supposed to do to uphold the Murkoff name.

He didn’t have anything to lose, but he sure did have a monumental amount to gain. He was aware of what was going on beneath the floors of the hospital. He knew what happened within Murkoff’s control. He knew that patients who were admitted into care within Mount Massive Asylum seldom saw a life outside of its walls, permanently lost to its clutches as soon as they were sucked in. Life was an essence within the hospital which was both priceless and easily expendable, all for the benefit of the project Jeremy Blaire was orchestrating for the Murkoff Corporation. Patrick knew about all of this and had willingly given himself over to the company indefinitely; he knew all of this because he had willingly given himself over to the company indefinitely. He’s been with them for a long time and has been exposed to their questionable methods and practices for just as long, so one would expect him to be used to routine by now.

He somewhat expected it too, but sometimes, he still got an uneasy and unsafe feeling about everything that was going on.

This was one of those times.

While the main focus of attention in his office this morning wasn’t even on him, Patrick had made certain to push himself to the farther right of his desk upon his chair, hiding himself behind his computer monitor from the man seated on the other side. Jeremy Blaire himself was seated beside him with nothing obscuring his intimidatingly relaxed presence. Seated in his iconic dark suite, Jeremy kept his steely blue eyes trained on the man across from him, his fingers continuously drumming on the desk and an unreadable look on his face. Patrick was just glad that his eyes weren’t trained on him. He knew better than to upset Mr. Blaire. He had never done anything the man didn’t like nor had he ever disobeyed a command. A kiss-ass is probably what people would call him for the way Patrick composed himself within the corporation, but he didn’t care about the name-calling. His obedient behavior is what kept him out of trouble, so he’d keep being that way for as long as he needed. Regardless of that, however, he still made it a point to try to shrink back on his side of the desk, hoping to be as small and unnoticeable during this meeting as possible.

Across from the two of them sat another distinguished Murkoff employee. Unlike many others who worked for the man, Matthew wasn’t afraid of Jeremy Blaire and the power he held within his hands. Instead of fearing him, he held a strange kind of respect for the man. He saw and understood the reason for his madness. Whenever he really thought about it, he knew if their roles were switched and he was standing in Jeremy’s shoes, he would probably do the same exact thing he was doing while running this entire project behind the facade of a charity he gave unto the public. Standing within a multimillion dollar corporation with a strong litigation team gave him and anyone else with his level of power or greater to do pretty much whatever they wanted for the purpose of further profit and power. Matthew admired that about Jeremy. Nothing deterred him from doing what he wanted to get him where he needed to be, and that was part of the reason why he had remained a loyal Murkoff and Mount Massive employee.

That’s why he wasn’t afraid to be sitting in his position across from the executive at all.

In fact, it was quite the contrary.

He was excited to have been called down to this meeting so early in the day – he had the intention of going to him from the moment he awoke anyway.

Still, despite the excitement he felt, the emotion did not translate upon the look on his face. No, his features were stern and serious, his eyes unwavering as he silently stared back at the executive across from him. Upon his lap, Matthew had a file resting beneath both of his large hands. His fingers were itching to pull it out and hand it over to Mr. Blaire, to show him what good work he had done towards the development of his project, but he knew that he couldn’t do that just yet. For some reason or another, he was called by the man himself to have this meeting with him and the puny man seated beside him. So, he would wait for the right time. He would listen like he was supposed to. He would follow orders as he was expected to.

“Mr. Waters…” Jeremy, at last, broke the silence with a drawl of the orderly’s last name. “What is this I’ve been hearing about there being a report filed against you recently? You know we can’t be risking such blatant displays of brute behavior aboveground.”

Matthew’s brow furrowed at the executive’s question to feign confusion, but in his head, he had a good hunch on what he was talking about. He gritted his teeth as the thought came to him and his hands tightly formed to fists upon his lap atop of the file he had with him, but he made certain that his expression continued to feign a quizzical look. “A report? I ain’t too sure what ya mean, sir.”

Jeremy stared at Matthew for a few seconds in silence, his expression unreadable. He eventually broke the stare with a sigh and casually rolled his head to the side so his eyes would land on the man seated beside him.

“Patrick, would you be so kind as to hand me what it is I’m talking about?”

“Y-yes, right away, Mr. Blaire!” Patrick practically jumped in his seat, moving quickly to face the file organizer he had propped beside his computer. The last thing he wanted to do was keep Jeremy waiting. He knew exactly what he was looking for, thankfully, seeing as he had to write the report up yesterday afternoon. Pulling out Matthew’s file as soon as his fingers grazed upon the tab, Patrick opened the manila folder and plucked out a black and white incident report form from within. “Here you are, Mr. Blaire.” He remarked as he handed the document over and proceeded to set Matthew’s file aside on his desk.

“Ah, yes, good boy, Patrick.” Jeremy hummed, taking a nonchalant look at the report in his hand. “You say you don’t know what I’m talking about, do you, Waters?”

Matthew nodded his head, but he remained silent.

Jeremy hummed in response with a subtle nod of his own. “Alright. Maybe this will ring a few bells.” He cleared his throat before reading aloud from the report’s contents. “Two employees whom have chosen to remain anonymous claim that orderly Matthew J. Waters has been an aggressor of sexual, psychological, emotional and borderline physical harassment to a coworker. There are also allegations of Matthew J. Waters subjecting Mount Massive Asylum patients to neglect and abuse of the verbal, psychological and physical kind. Several incidents have been brought forth to back up these claims.” Jeremy paused and glanced at Matthew from over the top of the form, but the gruff orderly wasn’t looking at him anymore. His head had lowered at that point and his gaze was concentrated on his fists – the knuckles turned bone white from how angry all of this was making him.

When he received no reaction from Matthew, Jeremy looked back down at the report and continued. “Several counts of unwanted sexual advancements were alleged to have occurred within the male ward’s break-room. Another incident was alleged to have taken place in one of the hospital’s T.V rooms where Matthew J. Waters persisted with unwanted sexual advancements before threatening a physical altercation with one of the male patients. Another incident occurred on an evening the employee was bathing on the dorm floor. They suspect Matthew J. Waters had been spying on them in the shower without their knowledge until they had noticed someone through the crack of the bathroom door. Another incident was alleged to have taken place in the employee Laundry Room where Matthew J. Waters had another confrontation with one of the employees. Unwanted physical and sexual contact was made during this exchange, and the employee claims to feel unsafe in their work environment. Both employees request something be done on the matter to secure working conditions.” Jeremy concluded, not having cared much about keeping the employee report confidential. Returning his gaze to the orderly across from him, he shrugged his shoulders and casually smacked the report onto the table before him.

“Does that jog your memory, Mr. Waters?”

Matthew lifted his gaze to meet that of the executive’s, though he continued to remain silent. In his gaze, outrage and hate could be seen pooling themselves within the dark brown tones of his eyes. There was a storm brewing behind them; the kind of storm nobody wanted to be caught in. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who had come to Human Resources to rat him out. That stupid bitch and her ratty friend had come here to try to get him fired. He knew something like that wouldn’t happen considering how much time he had spent with Murkoff and the knowledge he actually harbors about what is going on behind closed doors, but the fact that they tried at all was enough to make his blood boil.

That stupid bitch better get ready. I’m goin’ to make her world a livin’ hellhole for openin’ her fuckin’ mouth when I get my hands on her. It took most of his will not to snarl at the thought, though his fists had begun to shake with indignation on his lap. Makin’ me look bad in front of the big guy. Who the fuck does that cunt think she is?! Does she really think she’s goin’ to get away with this bullshit?! I’m gonna make her wish she’d never breathed a fuckin’ word against me!

Jeremy watched the enraged man in silence, his gaze calculative. He was aware that Matthew held him in high regard. He looked up to him, sympathized with him and his cause, admired his work – but the feeling wasn’t mutual. To Mr. Blaire, all these people who worked beneath him were simply his pawns – including Matthew. They’re all just pieces in a game much bigger than any of them could begin to imagine. Each piece was expendable, but some had more use than others. Matthew, for instance, had the kind of potential a rook did though he remained a simple pawn in his eyes. He could get a lot done for him on the board in a few quick sweeps through his brute mannerisms and cold mentality – but that also meant Jeremy had to be careful with him. He was very careful with his steps, very thoughtful with his moves, and if he allowed Mr. Waters to play his part the way the brute man wanted, then that could jeopardize the entire game.

He was expendable, but he was useful.

He may not give a flying fuck about his livelihood, but he does see value in his use – a lot more than Matthew believed or could even begin to fathom as a part for him to play.

“Now, now, Mr. Waters. There’s no need to get so upset.” Jeremy tutted, allowing for his fingers to drum on the desk again. “You should know by now that you’re my favorite employee in my wonderful establishment here. After all, there’s no one else who can prepare our patients for the Morphogenic Engine quite the same way you can. Why, I see you as one of the most valuable employees we have working for the good Murkoff name overall.” He noted what appeared to be the crack of a small smile coming to the orderly’s expression upon receiving the praise, and the sight caused for the corner of his lips to rise a bit into a grin as well.

It’s so easy to fool a fool.

“Your preparatory work for the Engine is second to none, but at the same time,” His grin fell to an exasperated sigh as he lifted his hand from the desk to wave it casually in the air as a gesture of repetition. “You can’t keep doing this to me, Waters. You can’t keep doing this to the good Murkoff name.” His hand returned to the desk, the drumming of his fingers commencing once more. “You know just as well as I do that this isn’t the first time complaints have been filed against you by other Mount Massive staff. As much as I value the good work you put forth for the progress of our patients with the Engine, I can’t have you risking our project with the aboveground staff like this either. That kind of savage, barbaric behavior they complained about in your report is all well and good underground, I have no trouble covering up for you when it comes to that, but you know we can’t risk you doing it aboveground in the public eye. I don’t want a repetition of the Haas and Trager case, Mr. Waters. Of course, our litigation team can handle any legal issues we may come across, but at the same time, how would the incident reflect upon the Murkoff Corporation if these employees were to decide to push this issue you’ve brought to the table? What damage and unnecessary obstacles would that cause for us all because you couldn’t keep your cock in check, Mr. Waters?”

Matthew scowled at Jeremy’s questions, though his expression seemed to soften in what almost looked to be submission. He practically looked ashamed and embarrassed for the lecture he had received from his employer – not because of what he had done, but because it caused for the executive to look at him with disappointment. If he had never been ratted out, he wouldn’t have blinked an eye to the issue. Nobody would have. It’s true that these kind of incidents are completely overlooked when he does anything like it downstairs with the patients who catch his interest, but when it came to the aboveground orderly, he had expected it to be the same result. That was ultimately his mistake.

He should have made sure she’d never speak a word of it when he had the chance rather than passively letting her get away with it for the sake of his game of Cat and Mouse.

“I understand.” Matthew eventually spoke up in that gruff, deep voice of his, hoarse from the embarrassment of this reprimanding.

“No, I don’t think you do.” Jeremy countered, leaning into the desk between them now and bringing his hands together atop of it. “I can’t have you risking our livelihood aboveground any longer, Mr. Waters. Starting tonight, I’m strictly demoting you to work with only underground patients for the foreseeable future.”

“What?!” Matthew raised his voice, his eyes widening and his expression falling to dismay. Patrick startled in his seat at the orderly’s sudden outburst and shrunk further into his corner of the desk. Still, he continued unnoticed by the two males before him. “Ya can’t do that, Mr. Blaire! Ya said so yourself that I’m the best ya got ‘round this place to work with ‘em crazies! Ya can’t demote me all ‘cause some stupid bitch couldn’t keep her shitty mouth shut!”

“That’s where you’re mistaken. I can demote you and I am demoting you. The way you feel about it doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is ensuring we stay out of unnecessary legal troubles like that which Ms. Haas and Mr. Trager brought to us. As I said prior, we do not need a repetition of history.” He gave Matthew a renewed smile. “I don’t see why you’re so upset anyway. Underground, you can do whatever you want. Don’t you love fucking around with the people here? Well, now you can do it to your heart’s content within the cover of the security clearances and several thousand meters of earth and concrete facilities. Besides, it’s not like this will be permanent! When you prove that you can control yourself and keep us out of trouble aboveground, I’ll let you handle the riffraff aboveground and underground again. Just be a good boy for now, listen to your orders and we’ll work from there. Are we clear?”

Matthew was flabbergasted by this news. He couldn’t believe – couldn’t fathom – that some good-for-nothing little orderly shit managed to get him demoted. It was ridiculous! How could this have happened? How could he have let this happen? On the outside, he appeared to be at a loss for words, but on the inside, he was kicking himself over and over again for not having done something about her big mouth sooner. If he hadn’t been so caught up in his own game and playing with her so much, then he could have prevented this from happening. It pissed him off royally that he was partly the reason this had happened, and before he could destroy the already crumpling file on his lap from the amount of pressure his fists were driving into it, he had to calm himself down and remind himself why he had wanted to see Jeremy in the first place.

The reasoning in and of itself would be his final slap to that little girl’s face.

“Are we clear, Mr. Waters?” Jeremy asked of the man once more, raising a brow at him in question.

Matthew met his gaze, took in a deep breath and nodded as he released it. “Yes, Mr. Blaire. We’re clear.”

“Good, good, then you’re free to go. Go ahead and get yourself ready for your underground shift.”

As he was told, Matthew finally stood to his feet, but rather than head out the door, he extended the file he had in his hands to the executive. Crumpled as the manila folder now was, he was certain the documents within it would capture his attention. “Before I go, sir, I wanted to give ya this.”

“Oh?” Jeremy accepted the file from the orderly’s hands. Placing it on the desk, he opened the folder and began to carefully scan the documents in place. “And what is this exactly?”

“The restricted file on one o’ my aboveground patients. I think he’s ready for the Walrider Project.”

Jeremy’s grin returned to his lips much wider than it had prior. His eyes seemed to gleam as he looked over the information and data noted within the patient’s file, excitement stirring to life within him. He didn’t understand a lot of the science behind all of this, but he knew by now what the data typically looked like when someone was ready to undergo the program. Looking over the data Matthew had presented him with now, he knew that this was a folder filled with potential.

Would this be the one he’s been waiting for?

The only way to find out is by putting it to the test.

“I always knew you were my favorite for a reason, Matthew!” Jeremy guffawed, closing the manila folder and flashing that brilliant grin at the orderly. “You’re the best we’ve got around, and I can assure you that Murkoff greatly values the effort you put towards our research. Great work!” 

Matthew’s smile returned to him at the praise. “It’s my pleasure, Mr. Blaire. Anythin’ for Murkoff.” With that, the lumbering man turned on his heel and exited the office at last, the smile on his face growing wider and wider with each step he took down the hallway. The expression on his face was contrived of malicious intentions, a mix of scary and primal human emotions controlling his actions. Matthew had long since forgotten where the line of morality and inhumane had been blurred, but he couldn’t be tempted to care. He loves what he does. It was a job made for him. No matter where he’s assigned to work, he’ll always be certain to enjoy himself and help bring forth a new age to the Murkoff Corporation.

Right now, however, no one was giddier than Jeremy was. It always excited him when he got news of a new potential candidate for the Walrider Project. Any step made towards their goal was a step he would gladly take without hesitation, and he looked forward to rejoicing in the spoils the results of their constant hard work would benefit them with.

Yet, staring at the manila folder reminded him of one more loose end he still needed to take care of.

“Patrick,” He turned to the man seated beside him who seemed to return to his plane of existence. “Would you kindly call my good friend, Jordan, into the office now?”

“Right away, Mr. Blaire.”

“Very good.” Jeremy hummed and leaned back in his seat, moving the crumpled folder onto his lap as his smile widened the slightest bit further on his lips.

Expendable pawns, all of them.

Expendable, yet so damn useful.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

“I don’t know about this, Tristen. Can we really trust this guy? Hell, for that matter, can we even trust Waylon?” _______ could be heard asking as the two orderlies made their way down hall of dorms on this early morning. After last night’s encounter with Waylon Park, neither of the two could get any real rest. They tried, but when they eventually gave up, Tristen had inevitably visited her in her dorm and the two had stayed awake together through the entire night. At most, perhaps they had gotten half an hour of sleep to about an hour if they were really lucky.  _______ had promised Eddie before that she would take better care of herself, that she would rest and eat and be healthy overall, but it felt like there was no real way to go back to that normal sense of functioning in this place. She just had to deal with the lack of normalcy and make it out of it some way or another.

“Well, I don’t know about that Waylon guy for sure, but I wanna believe we can trust him…It felt like he was telling the truth, so I kinda wanna believe that he was.” Tristen replied, looking at each door they passed by.

“Yeah…I feel the same way, but at the same time, I feel like trusting anyone here anymore is a massive risk. I want to trust him too, but it’s hard to.”

“I guess we don’t got much of a choice with him. If we wanna get to the bottom of things, we gotta take his word.”

“Yeah, I guess…but that still leaves this guy he’s referring us to.” She narrowed her eyes at the passing doors, that seeded distrust within her flowering to life within her once again. “I don’t trust him at all.”

“I told you, though, _______. He’s really not a bad guy! I’ve known the guy since I first started working here, and he’s always been pretty good with me. He’s not sketchy, trust me! I know for a fact that he’s on our side. We can trust him.”

_______ didn’t say anything after that. She just narrowed her eyes a little further and shook her head, turning her gaze back down to her feet. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Tristen or what he tried to tell her, because she really did trust the guy with her life; it’s trusting other people within the asylum that was the problem. She’d hear the guy out, but she already had an automatic bias towards him as well on top of every other reason she could have not to trust him.

“This is it.” Tristen murmured out when he slowed down to a stop in front of the familiar dorm, causing for _______ to stop with him. Turning his gaze to the space between the door and floor, he could see there was a dim light lit inside the room and a shadow fumbling about within. “Good thing he’s still around. Looks like his shift hasn’t started yet.”

“Speaking of shifts, are you sure you’ll be alright on your end if you end up being late?” _______ questioned as she lifted a brow in his direction.

“I’m sure I’ll be fine, but that isn’t to say Catherine won’t be pissed off her rocket at me.” He sighed and his lips curved into an exasperated smirk. “I’ll probably have an earful to get back to after this. I can handle it, but fuck, is it annoying…In a way, I kinda sympathize with Way in that respect. Hope the guy made it back in time to avoid any lecturing.”

“Hopefully a lecturing is all he’d get for being late…” Her words hung in the air for a few seconds, both orderlies silently staring at the door before them with questionable thoughts coming to mind. Waylon would be okay, right? What could possibly have happened just because he showed up late? Nothing too terrible, right…?

That’s what they attempted to convince themselves, anyway.

Not wanting to dwell on the thought, Tristen soon reached towards the door and rasped his knuckles against the imitation wood. The shadow from within the room stopped its shuffling about for a moment, silence following for a few seconds more. After a moment, it approached the door and the sound of the lock opening from within the knob could be heard ticking from the inside. When the door opened, David Annapurna stood on the opposite side of the orderlies in his uniform with a messy head of hair and a pair of worn out white socks on his feet. It looked as though he was still getting ready for his upcoming shift, so the two had definitely caught him at the right time.

For a moment, David looked between the two. He looked at Tristen first, offering the familiar boy a nod in greeting. Then, he looked at _______, and it didn’t take long for his eyes to narrow in suspicion much as her own did at the sight of him. The two orderlies sized each other up silently, animosity and mistrust clearly evident between them.

“Hey, Tristen,” David broke the silence after tearing his gaze away from the young woman, training it back on man before him with a curious look on his face. “What are you doing here? Need something?”

“Actually, yeah.” Tristen confirmed. “My buddy here and I gotta have a chat with you real quick, if that’s alright. We were talking to a guy called Waylon Park last night, and he sent us your way – said you might be willing to help us. Think we can come in for a sec?”

David hesitated. He looked between the two orderlies again in response to Tristen’s question, his eyes narrowing again at the woman by his side. _______ wasn’t intimidated by his stare. She glared right on back at the blonde without fear, back straight, stance firm and gaze unwavering. Nothing this man could do would shake her. If she could handle Matthew, she could handle David. If it’s in the name of saving her patients – of saving Eddie – then she would face off with whoever this damned hospital threw her way.

“…Alright. I guess I have a minute or two before I got to start my rounds.” David eventually agreed, stepping aside to allow the two entrance. “Come on in.”

Tristen thanked him with a smile and nod, soon gesturing for _______ to follow as he headed inside. She followed his lead as requested, eyeing David as she passed him by. He did the same, but neither of the two made any kind of move towards each other.

Once the two were inside, David closed the door behind them. His room was very tidy, organized and clean. The only messy area in the room, _______ noticed, was the desk he had situated by the window. He had a white laptop set in place, complimentary upon hire. The laptop itself was closed, and to its right, there was a large stack of what appeared to be patient files. To its left, there was a massive amount of scattered documents and report forms – some more filled out than others. Aside from that, his dorm room was as generic as any other in the hospital, so there wasn’t really much to go off on that could tell her anything about what this man was like.

Slowly, she walked across the small room, reaching the desk where his laptop was to take a glance at the patient files. Automatically, she recognized every name her eyes caught on the pages, and the sight of it caused for her stomach to churn. After all, these were the patients she had been so diligently caring for since she first arrived. Having some stranger she knew nothing about documenting their data daily still left her with an uneasy feeling up to this day. It had planted the seed of distrust she had against him deep within her gut.

I know he’s been collecting data on Eddie. Does he have a file for him in here somewhere too? She was tempted to riffle through the papers right then and there, but she didn’t. Obviously it wouldn’t end well if she tried. No, she’d get the information she needed another way. Another more direct way.

“Go ahead and take a seat wherever you’d like.” David encouraged the orderlies as he retrieved a comb from his bedside table before approaching a small mirror he had hanging by the door. Watching himself, he began to comb his hair just the way he liked, and as he did, he had the reflection of _______ hovering by his desk to diligently watch as well. “You can take a seat on the bed. I just made it, so it’s fine.”

“Alright, thanks, pal.” Tristen hummed, taking up his offering and sitting himself at the foot of the bed.

“I’m fine.” _______ curtly responded, turning herself around to face David’s back as her arms came to cross over her chest. “I’d rather stand.”

“Suit yourself.” David shrugged in reply, his sharp green eyes staring her reflection down a moment longer as he finished up his hair. After he had it styled, he walked away from the mirror towards his closet. In front of its doors, his white sneakers were resting in the same place he always left them. “So, what is it you two need to talk about?” He questioned them as he went about slipping the sneakers on and tying the laces. “Talk to me. What’s up?”

Tristen opened his mouth to reply, but _______ beat him to the punch before he could get a single word out.

“First of all, I want to know what business you have with the patients of the male ward. What are you doing with all the information you gather on them every day? What’s up with these reports and documents you got littered on your desk here about them? What exactly are you looking to achieve by collecting all this data on them all on your own? Enlighten me.

Tristen instantly shrunk back on his seat at her questioning, his eyes widening and his mouth hanging slightly agape in surprise. He didn’t know why he was so surprised by her automatic animosity, though. He really should have seen it coming. Deep down inside, he knew that this confrontation would eventually happen between the two – he’s just surprised it didn’t happen sooner, he supposed. So, he cautiously watched as she trained her glare right into David’s back, ready to step in if needed.

David, on the other hand, was not at all happy with the sudden interrogative questions he was getting from the girl. They oozed with accusatory suspicion, and he didn’t like that. “I’m sorry,” He spoke up as he stood himself up straight, turning himself around to face her again with a harsh glare of his own. “But what I do and the work I have to complete with my patients is none of your business.”

His statement automatically caused her blood to boil. Anger within the young woman flared at the orderly for what he had so blatantly stated, and it was very clearly evident by the outraged look which befell her expression in response to him.

Your patients?” She spat. “They’re all MY patients and whatever happens with them is MY business as well! It is very much so my business to know exactly what the hell you think you’re doing with them at any given time, because their safety is my main priority and I refuse to let some underground scumbag like you do anything to them on my watch! I was there for them before you and I’m going to be there for them after you! So don’t give me that bull, David.” She practically snarled her retort.

David’s eyes noticeably widened at the woman’s words, and along with that, his expression seemed to soften just the slightest bit as well. It was an odd thing to observe on the blond man, in _______’s eyes. It left her confused for a moment, the anger on her face faltering in her confusion as she stared at him. It lasted but a second, however, because she refused to show vulnerability and refused to be gullible, so as soon as the confusion appeared on her face, it had been quickly replaced by that aggressive protective side of her once more.

“Why are you two snooping around talking to people like Waylon anyway?” David questioned, the look on his face becoming unreadable as he changed the topic. “Do you have any idea what kind of trouble you can be getting yourself into?”

“We got an idea of it, yeah.” Tristen replied, raising his pointer finger and giving it a curt, single wag for emphasis.

“If that’s what you even want to call it.” _______ sneered. “Everyone keeps giving us these vague warnings, Tristen, but nobody gives us any kind of answer as to what could possibly happen for trying to look for answers!” She met David’s gaze, shaking her head at him as her brow deeply furrowed. “Regardless, it doesn’t matter. When people are walking around this place noticeably scared to fuck just for asking questions and talking about the underground, you just know something not right is going on. I don’t give a damn what can happen – I just want answers! I’m tired of beating around the bush from person to person!”

“Oh really? You don’t care?” David gave a humorless laugh, crossing his own arms over his broad chest. “You really have no idea what you’re saying, girl. You really are clueless about the fucked up web the people in this place have going on, aren’t you?”

“Maybe I am! That’s why I want to figure it out! We both do! Our patients are in danger and we refuse to keep sitting idly by while everything happens! One of Tristen’s patients died underground and he hasn’t seen a multitude of the others since they were taken from him! I haven’t seen or heard anything about the ones taken from me either! We both have reason to suspect there are patients in here who don’t belong in Mount Massive Asylum! There’s so many fucked up things going on right beneath our noses and so many fucked up questions circling in our heads, but nobody can give us the answers we need! Why?! Why won’t anyone give us a straight answer?! Why won’t anyone like you give us a straight answer?!”

“Because you’d end up meeting a fate worse than death! Is that what you want to hear?! Don’t you have a family you should be thinking about back home instead of this?!”

“My family is already dead thanks to cancer and a handful of happy pills! I don’t have anyone back home to worry about!”

The room fell to silence. David stared at _______ with a mix of bewilderment and sympathy. He sucked in a breath and his lips formed a tight line, momentarily at a loss on what to say. Tristen, however, quickly stood to his feet and approached her side, taking a strong, brotherly grasp of her hand to stand supportively with her. It was in that moment as he intertwined his fingers with hers that he noticed she was shaking. He expected there to be tears pooling in her eyes due to that bomb she sort of dropped – something not even he knew at the time – but no. There wasn’t a single tear in her eyes. Her expression was hardened and steely, but he could see the sadness in her eyes. Those (eye color) colors hid a depth of emotion in them Tristen had been yet to see, but still the woman stood strong. Despite her shaking, she squeezed his hand back and straightened her posture as she stared David down. 

“I don’t have anyone left.” She managed out lowly through gritted teeth. “I don’t have anything left to risk but myself and the safety of my patients, and I really don’t care about what kind of trouble I might be getting myself into if it means keeping them safe.”

David frowned at the girl somberly. His heart went out to her, it really did, but how was he supposed to go about this now? Putting himself at risk was one thing, but getting these two involved? That was completely different. He didn’t want to be responsible for anything that would happen to anyone but himself – and in a sense, in that light, he understood her. Perhaps he had her completely confused in his head this entire time.

“Guys,” Tristen softly spoke after a few moments of silence. “I’ve tried to tell you both a bunch of times that you’re both good people. _______, I promise you that David is on our side. He’s nothing like those other bug-eyed twats from the underground.” He gave her hand a squeeze and looked David in the eye. “David, I swear that _______ is one of us. She’s nothing like that douche Mattie. We are all on the same side – we all want the best for our patients. That’s why Waylon sent us to you. That’s why we’re all so upset. That’s why we’re all here now. We can’t turn on each other when we’re all we’ve got in this place.”

_______ and David stared at one another, both individuals seeming to slowly back down while becoming somewhat awkward. _______ let out a deep sigh and lowered her gaze to the floor, not really knowing where to go from there. David, however, didn’t take his eyes off of her. A sheepish look befell his expression and a deep sigh of his own also escaped him. He was the first to make a move after that, slowly approaching the orderlies by his desk. When he stood in front of the two, he watched the girl lift her gaze to him once more, and when she did, he noticed the hostility was gone from her eyes. He guessed the same could be said about his own as well.

“Listen…I…apologize for being difficult. It’s true that Tristen has tried to tell me that you’re like the two of us, but it’s just hard to trust people here after the things I’ve seen and heard. Most people who work for Murkoff aren’t exactly good people. Seeing as you were working under that Matthew prick, I just assumed the worst from the start mainly because I also want our patients to be safe and okay.”

She grimaced just as sheepishly as he did at his explanation, the walls she built around herself in the hospital gradually coming undone. She knew she was supposed to stay strong for the wellbeing of the people who depended on her in this olden place, and right from the start, she had distrusted the blond man in front of her. She had good reason to back then, but now, it seemed that she didn’t have a choice but to trust him. For all she knew, he could be lying through his teeth to the two of them right now, but the way he spoke and looked at her finally gave her the nudge she needed to cave.

“…I’m sorry too. I didn’t mean to get so hostile…A lot has just been going on lately – a lot of really worrying, confusing things – and it’s just gotten harder over time to trust anyone in this place. Just like I said, the safety of my patients is my priority, so I also sort of just assumed the worst of you when I first saw you coming into my section of the ward without notice…”

David ran a hand through his hair, nodding his head at her a couple of times. “I should have guessed nobody told you I was coming, but even then, I can’t entirely say I blame you for the animosity. If I were in your shoes, I probably would have felt the same…” He shrugged his shoulders awkwardly and extended his other hand to her, giving her a lopsided smile in response to her risen brow. “Truce?”

She stared at his hand, thinking over what this would mean, and inevitably took it. Shaking it lightly, she returned his lopsided smile with a small one of her own. “Yeah…Truce.”

“Alrighty dighty, great, so we’re finally on the same page.” Tristen pipped up, releasing _______’s hand to properly face the two of them. “I’m glad we can finally trust each other, but does this mean we can still have that talk with you, Dave?”

David nodded in his direction. “Yeah. Ask away.”

“Well…for starters, how do you know Waylon? Can he be trusted?” _______ questioned.

“Ah, Waylon is a new guy who works underground with the rest of us. Granted, he’s a Software Engineer, so the guy isn’t exactly interacting with the patients, but we often cross paths down there. He’s a good guy; I trust him. Poor kid is probably just as on edge as the three of us are. We talk a lot about what’s going on in this place when we can, trying to speculate what that program is the doctors down here got going on with the patients.”

Okay, that’s another person who can vouch for Waylon in this place. She supposed that was a good sign.

“Do you know anything about that program you mentioned?” Tristen pressed. “Waylon brought it up when we met up with him, but he said he didn’t know anything about it.”

“Honestly? I don’t know much about it either. I’ve heard talk among the other doctors about something called Project Walrider, but I have no clue what it is. All I know is that I was put to work to collect daily data on patients in the male ward for the program. Aside from that, I’m not sure what’s going on with it – I just know it’s bad and it’s making the deceased patient reports pile on high.” He paused, furrowing his brow lightly at the two. “Out of my own curiosity, what brought on this investigation by you two? Does this have something to do with the death of Lindsey Adams?”

“Partly.” Tristen curtly replied, a distant frown coming upon his lips. “But there’s more to it than just that.”

_______ nodded. “We also have reason to believe some patients have been wrongfully admitted. When we looked over some of their histories available to us, things just didn’t add up. At first, I thought it was just one of my own and that it had been innocently overlooked by mistake, but overtime, we both started to find abnormalities in the records we’re allowed access to. That tied in with Lindsey’s death and the fact that we haven’t heard anything about most of our patients who were taken underground during the last moving has led us to believe there’s some foul play going on. We’re hoping to find answers and some way we can possibly help save these people somehow.”

A deep sigh escaped David’s lips at that, the breath drawn out and low. He shook his head, lips tightened to a firm line. “I can pretty much confirm to you that there’s foul play going on.” He stated. “I’ve been working here for a good while now, and I have reason to believe that the patients underground are being abused. I’m sorry about Lindsey’s death, I really am, but I know for a fact that she wasn’t the first to die in this place under their care. We have a crematorium here and everything. Why would a mental institution for the criminally insane need a crematorium these days? It’s beyond me, and that alone should already say a lot about what might be going on. I noticed these things a long time ago and I’ve been trying to do something about it since, but working around Murkoff is dangerous and difficult. Like I said, I don’t know much about their project, but what they’re doing is getting people hurt and even killed. Obviously, they want to keep this business a secret, so they go about keeping things hidden in extreme ways. That’s why we’re not allowed to contact the outside – just another reason why it’s been so damn hard to rat these bastards out. I’ve been trying to get myself moved out of underground work for ages in hopes of finding some way to help out of their sight, but they’re not listening to my requests. The most I’ve gotten is out of my part-time work with the Record Room, but even then that was just aboveground work they had me sorting out during the day before calling me down during the night.”

It’s sad, honestly, how desensitized they were to the potential abuse going on underground. At this point, _______ and Tristen had already suspected it considering the circumstances, but even then, it was a hard pill to swallow. They had been hoping they were wrong right from the beginning. They had hoped they were looking too deep into things and perhaps reading situations the wrong way. Even when they first spoke to Jordan, they both had a false sense of hope within themselves that this was all just some big misunderstanding, but this information from David was basically the nail in the coffin.

“I appreciate you two coming to me in hopes of helping your patients. Trust me, it makes me happy to know there are people here I can trust are on my side of things, and I’m sorry again for having misjudged you, Miss.”

“_______.” She muttered. “You can just call me _______.”

“Okay. _______. Regardless of all of that, I don’t advise you keep digging further from here on. I’ve been doing my own digging and have had too many close calls – more than I’d like to acknowledge. In fact, I suspect that they’re onto me. I can’t say for sure, but I feel like I’m being watched a little more closely than need be. Anyway, my point in saying this is to deter you two from digging any further than this. I wasn’t kidding when I said you’d find yourselves with a fate worse than death if you’re discovered. I hate to be crude, but that Walrider Project? I can pretty much assure you that it was the cause for Lindsey’s death. This place is run by big shot executives and they have a lot of money riding on this place; they wouldn’t find it very difficult to make a couple of regular aboveground orderlies disappear to keep their operation safe. I know you’re trying to do the right thing, but you really have no idea just how far this rabbit hole goes. For your own safety, I recommend you stop your snooping, don’t even think about contacting the outside in any way and just try to make it as best as you can through the duration of your contract.”

“It’s a little too late for that, pal.” Tristen chuckled, offering the man an oddly emotionless smile. “I already contacted the outside once before, but I’m still kickin’.”

David’s eyes widened. “Wait–” He shook his head and furrowed his brow in utmost perplexity at the young man. “You did what?”

“Yeah. I’ve already made contact with the outside once before.”

“To get pizza delivered to this Godforsaken place, out of all things…” _______ tossed in her two cents, crossing her arms as she turned a risen brow in Tristen’s direction. “You have no idea how long that’s been bugging me. How the actual heck did you manage to do that with all the crazy security measures this place has got?”

Yeah! How?!” David appeared to be the one most shocked by this information, completely beyond himself at the absolutely ludicrous idea of getting pizza delivery in a place like Mount Massive Asylum.

Tristen, however, was almost confused by the questioning he was receiving. He looked between the two orderlies curiously for a moment and eventually shrugged his shoulders. “Iunno.” Was his simple reply. “I guess you could say I’m sort of tech savvy. It peeved me off when the boss lady told me I couldn’t talk to my family back home, ya know? So, during my first couple of days here, I sorta started tinkerin’ about with the security walls this place has got with its Wi-Fi and signal jammers. After a while of trying to get it right, badda bing, badda boom, I ordered Pizza Hut as a test. I forgot about Henry guarding the gate up front, though, so I guess I am lucky he didn’t say anything after I bribed him with some of the pie.”

_______ and David both stared at Tristen in astounded silence, mouths left somewhat agape. Slowly, they shook their heads at him. The way he had just nonchalantly described the absolute cyberespionage-like work he completed left the two speechless. All this time, _______ had thought the people who managed the signal blockers and internet connection in this place had just forgotten something that allowed Tristen access and use of the UberEATS app – apparently she was wrong.

“What? It’s not that big a deal.”

Yes! Yes, it is! You have no clue how difficult that kind of stuff is to do! Not to mention not getting caught! How the hell did you even do that?!” David was quick to counter, spreading his hands out at him in his astonishment.

Tristen laughed a little, picking at a small scab on his arm in a somewhat flattered state. “It’s hard to explain. I just got a knack for that sorta thing, that’s all. I’m shit at academics, but I’ve always had a thing for computers and programming, so…” He shrugged his shoulders again and held his hands up in yet another nonchalant fashion before letting them lightly smack back down to his sides. “I just did the thing.”

“You just did the thing…”

“I just did the thing.”

David shook his head, bringing a hand up to rub at his face as he and _______ both regained their composure. “I…Alright, Tristen. You did the thing. We’ll just leave it at that.” He removed his hand from his face and crossed his arms over his chest. “You’re really damn lucky to not have been caught, you know that, right? Really lucky. Just…don’t push it any further, okay? I told you, if you get found out, it will be bad.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Fate worse than death. We get it.” Tristen waved his hand dismissively. “At this point, we don’t really care about the risk anymore.”

“While we still got the chance, we want to make things right before any big executive in this place starts to get suspicious of us. For our patients, for workers like us, for anyone who’s had to suffer in this place.”

“For Lindsey.”

“For Lindsey…So, as much as we appreciate your concern, David, and as much as I appreciate our reconciliation, I think Tristen and I still want to set the records straight and cause some waves.”

“We know there’s risks,” He nodded affirmatively. “But what kind of people would we be if we just walked away after all of this? We’d be just like those bug-eyed fucks and that asshole Jeremy. I don’t reckon any of us can sleep at night with that on our conscious.”

“Including you.”

David opened his mouth to retort, but their words struck a chord in the orderly, resulting in his lips coming back together again without a word. He shook his head as a tight frown morphed his features once more, knowing fully well that what these two were saying was true. While he didn’t want to be responsible for anyone getting hurt, he also didn’t want to just sit idly by and allow more patients to suffer. He had been trying to expose the corporation for what it was for a while now, but doing so on his own was extremely difficult given the situation. If he had these two on his side, maybe even Waylon as well…maybe they could do something. Maybe they could actually make a positive change for the patients they’re caring for and finally have them set free and those who actually need help can be taken somewhere they can be rightfully treated and taken care of. He closed his eyes tightly and turned his head away from the two at the thought, furrowing his brow deeply as he began to debate what he should do.

“Well?” Tristen spoke up again after a moment without receiving a response from David. “Are you going to help us out in this or not?”

“…Okay.” David opened his eyes and turned to the two again, a serious look encompassing his gaze. “I’ll help you out. Just…be aware of what you’re getting yourselves into.” He took in a deep breath and slowly released it. “So, what is it that you two need from me?”

“We want to get access to restricted records on some of our patients. Only people with clearances can get to them, isn’t that right?” _______ replied.

“Yes, that’s right. We have keys to unlock the cabinets with those files.”

“Great. We need you to help us get to those files. If we can get evidence that some of the patients have been wrongfully admitted, that would be one step towards exposing these people for what they really are. After, we’d just have to find a safe way to contact the authorities without getting caught.” She paused, turning to Tristen. “Do you think you could help us with that?”

“Contacting the outside? Probably, yeah. I haven’t tried calling anyone again after the first time, but I’ve gotten pizza delivered once already – I’m sure I could get in touch with the feds. Just gotta try to figure out how we can get them here without getting busted for it. Pizza delivery is one thing, but I doubt Henry would be as easy to bribe with a squad of cops at the gates.”

“We’ll figure all of that out when we get there. First,” _______ turned to David again. “We need you to get to those files.”

“Okay. I can help you get the files. I can assure you that there is definitely forged documents and the lack of diagnosis in those records for most of the people locked up in this place. With those, we should have enough evidence to green-light an investigation.” David remarked, taking a second or two to look between the two. “But one more time…the last time…I need to warn you again: if we get caught doing this, it won’t be good. Are you sure you’re okay with that? What could happen could go as far as to get your loved ones involved – are you willing to risk that?”

_______ and Tristen looked at each other in silence. They met each other’s gazes, not an ounce of hesitation resonating from either of them.

“Yeah,” _______ was the first to respond. “I’m sure. I don’t have any blood relatives close to me left.”

“I got momma and my baby sissy,” Tristen remarked, turning a smile towards David as a fond chuckle rumbled in his chest. “But they’d have my head on a platter if they found out I had the chance to help these people and didn’t take it. My dad would probably be rolling in his grave too. Can’t have that, can I?”

“Alright…Then it’s a plan. I’ll help you get the restricted records tonight after my day shift. I have the night off of underground work tonight, so I should be able to help you then. Night time would be the best time to look through the records, anyway. They have some poor sack watching the Record Room overnight nowadays ever since they relocated me, but he tends to leave for a break sometime after two o’clock in the morning. We can meet here between midnight and one. Once we have the documents, we’ll see where we go from there.”

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

The day had gone by like a blur for _______ after their conversation with David.

She felt like a zombie as soon as she was working her shift, careful with her timings to avoid Matthew as though it were internally instinctive for her by now. She walked the halls sleep deprived just as she had been in what felt like ages ago. Any progress she might have made back then to stabilize herself up to this point was completely demolished as soon as these conspiracies around the terrible things this hospital had hiding beneath her feet began to unearth themselves to her. She was tired physically, mentally and emotionally because of everything, but still she forced herself to march on and care for the patients beneath her watch as best as she could just as she did every day.

Perhaps it was because of how tired she was that she chose to be reckless today.

She tended to try to stray away from spending time with Eddie inside of his cell during the day. The riskiest time she had ever spent in his cell with him was overnight, waking up the next morning right before her shift. Arguably, that was probably a lot worse than sitting next to him on his cot right now, but it was still a risk nonetheless that she probably shouldn’t be taking right now with everything that has been uncovered lately. Did that mean that she cared, though? Not really, no.

She owed it to Eddie to sit and talk things through with him. After the two had gotten so close to one another, she couldn’t just attempt to expose this shady business without letting him know. There were obvious risks involved – very obvious risks. She knew as soon as her explanation for the plan escaped her lips that he wouldn’t like anything about it – and she was right. He tried to convince her not to, tried to encourage her to just stay low and wait her contract out just as David had tried, but she wasn’t listening to it. She didn’t want to do that. If she did that, she really would be just as bad as the executives and underground doctors calling the shots in this place. No, she remained firm in her position. She told him what she was doing because it would have been incredibly selfish of her not to, but she wasn’t going to be changing her mind.

After she had shown all her cards to Eddie and come clean on the information she and Tristen had been gathering, the two sat on his cot in silence. They were shoulder-to-shoulder, both individuals staring at the ground beneath their feet. It was an uncomfortable silence neither of the two had ever felt around the other, but they were both aware it was only there because of how much they truly cared for each other’s happiness and safety. It wouldn’t change anything, but at least it was happening because of how close they truly are.

“I’m sorry, Eddie,” _______ eventually muttered out to the man, her gaze having shifted to his barred window. “It looks like we won’t be able to order those Jonquils for the yard after all…Looks like we won’t be able to do anything else to the yard in general, actually…”

He nodded slowly, having long since forgotten about the courtyard and the plans they once had for it. “It’s alright.” He softly responded. “You did your best while you still had the time to do so, and I appreciate all the hard work you’ve put into making this place feel a little more comfortable for myself and the others. I’m sure they appreciate it just as much as well.”

“Yeah…I’d like to hope so…”

Silence fell between them again after that. It was a kind of silence that made them want to fidget in their seats, to have something happen to make things better and easier, but they both knew that there was no easy way out of this. The world just kept turning and time just kept ticking while they sat there in their static quiet seated in front of this fork in the road.

“So…” Eddie had spoken up after a while, needing to break the silence as his blue eyes aimlessly focused on different marks on the linoleum floor and his hands came to intertwine his fingers together between his knees. “There’s nothing I could say to try to sway you out of this plan of yours? There’s absolutely no words I could muster which might stop you from digging deeper into this mess than you already have?”

“No, Eddie. There isn’t.” _______ sighed, rubbing a hand against her right cheek. “Like I told you, if I just backed out now, who’s to say what else could happen here? There would be no way for me to help set you free along with anyone else in here who might be in your same predicament…David also pretty much confirmed that there’s abuse going on downstairs; says he’s seen all the signs of it with his own eyes. I can’t just sit by and let this keep happening. I can’t let my patients get hurt.” She turned her gaze to the man beside her, the act drawing his attention to meet her eyes. “I can’t let you get hurt anymore in this place.”

A somber, helpless frown took hold of the man’s lips as he stared at his peach, unable to immediately come up with a reply to her. He knew from the moment she left him the night prior that there would be no way to talk her out of everything she was doing. He knew firsthand just how dangerous this place was, but he decided against telling her right from the start to save her from the dark world hidden beneath their feet. Yet, despite his attempts of saving her from it, she had simply gone on to discover it all on her own. He knew when she began to express her distrust in the hospital that she wouldn’t stop until she found answers. He knew that she wouldn’t rest until things were made right again. He knew all of this, but it didn’t make the situation any easier to take.

He thought _______ was brave.

Much braver than him.

She’s a brave young woman with the world at her feet, choosing to save the miserable souls forgotten by society in this place instead of running away to save herself. Her and her friend were going through so much just to bring light to the darkness within these ancient walls, but still he wished he could save her from having to do so. He doesn’t want her to go through with this, because he knows what might happen. He knows she could get hurt. He knows she could get taken away from him and the rest of the world for good.

“I should have known you’d choose to go down this route a long time ago.” He breathed out, shaking his head as the saddened, worried look on his face became more pronounced. “I know someone like you, sweet as a peach, could never sit carelessly by and allow the things that are happening in this hospital to keep happening once you’ve discovered so much. I…I’ve known I could never stop it from happening…” Gently, he reached over and took a gentle hold of her hand which had been laying upon her lap at the time. She didn’t fight against it. Her fingers had just as naturally intertwined with his as his did with her own, a warmth radiating off of her palm which always brought him such great comfort. He prayed within himself that this wouldn’t be the last time he ever got to feel it. “But…perhaps I’m just being selfish and greedy again.” He softly murmured. “If it were up to me, I’d send you off on your way to some peaceful place far, far away from here. Someplace where you could forget everything about Mount Massive Asylum. I don’t want you to risk your well-being for the sake of a couple of lost souls like myself when you have so much more to live for than we do.”

“Don’t say that.” She firmly retorted, furrowing her brow in distress at the man beside her. “You have a hell of a lot to live for, too, Eddie. You and everyone else in this place. Just because you’re stuck in this fucked up situation doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a way out of here to find something better. I want something better for you and everyone else here.”

He gave her a sad smile. “But you’ve already given me something better. You’ve given yourself in all of your wonderful, gentle splendor to me on a daily basis. You’ve given yourself to me and to all the others within your side of the hospital. You’ve given enough of yourself to this dead place, darling. You don’t deserve to spread yourself thin on dying land. Don’t you think it’s about time you started heading on your way to live a life you can be proud of?”

“There’s no way I could be proud of any life I’d make if I knowingly left this place behind with all of you in it at the mercy of whatever the underground doctors and other bastards like Matthew have in store for you.” She adamantly proclaimed, her eyes closing tightly afterwards as she squeezed his hand in her grip and lifted her free one to wave the conversation off dismissively. “Please, stop saying stuff like that. You’re not changing my mind, Eddie. You all have the right to live a good life, and I’m not going to stop until I get this place exposed for what it is and save you all in the process.”

He chuckled softly at that. Humorlessly. “I always admired your tenacity so very much, but this is different, _______. Getting wrapped up in this mess could spell disaster for you and yours…Don’t you have a family back home you’d rather get back to than risk yourself here?”

“I don’t have any family left, Eddie.” She promptly replied as she opened her eyes to gaze into his own once more, an unreadable look crossing her face. “My mom died of breast cancer when I was sixteen. Dad followed right after her two years later from an overdose of Tofranil. I’ve been on my own for years now, living by myself and mainly for myself. Sure, I’ve got some friends back in town where I came from, but no actual family…Living for myself isn’t something I want to do anymore. It’s really lonely…I want to live for others. That’s the whole reason I took this job in the first place.”

His frown deepened at the girl’s words, a pang hitting his heart for the selfless woman beside him. She held such strength in her words, so much determination, but the way she addressed the topic of her parents was so…heartbreaking. She put all of her patients before herself and the obviously painful memory she carried around with her in her heart of a past she probably remembers on a daily basis. It broke his heart to hear it from her, and all he wanted was to make the wrongs in her life right for her again, but he couldn’t do that.

Eddie Gluskin is just a man.

“…I’m so sorry, _______…I had no idea…”

She shrugged her shoulders, allowing herself to lean against his side. “It’s fine. It hurt a lot way back then, but it’s been over a decade since they died. I can’t live in the past. That’s why I’m here, living in the now. I want to make a difference, and I’m going to help you all get back to living in the now. No matter how much it costs, I’m going to see this through. I’m going to make things right, Eddie. I promise.”

Eddie sighed deeply at that, allowing for his head to fall and rest upon her own, silent for a moment of time. “I suppose there really isn’t anything I can say to change your mind after all.” He softly commented.

“Nope. Not at all.”

“In that case…before everything happens…”

He sat himself up correctly and turned a little to properly face the young woman before him. When she came to settle those beautiful (eye color) eyes on his own once again, he reached forward and gingerly stroked some of her hair away from her face before cupping her cheeks in his hands. Gazing upon her being in that instant, Eddie had never felt more sure about anything or anybody in his life than he did about _______ in that very moment. Through thick and thin, she stood by him. Her passionate tenacity and gentle-hearted kindness lured him to her, and now, he felt blissfully imprisoned by her being. If this were to truly be the beginning of the end, then he wanted to take a chance. He couldn’t keep living behind curtains of fear masquerading as fantasies, dreams and illusions to feed his emptiness in attempt of filling a void within himself. Ever since she showed up, the void had become warmer and warmer, closing slowly as time went on, finally working to make him feel whole again.

She gave him reason to hope.

She gave him reason to believe.

She gave him reason to live.

“I want you to know,” He whispered, bringing himself close to her, pressing his forehead against her own. He could see that color was beginning to softly arise on her cheeks, the warmth of the heated blood beneath her skin soothing his palms mixed with the way she looked at him ebbing him to continue. “That you’ve given me reason to keep on living, _______. Before you arrived, I would have fully accepted death with each day that passed me by in this place. You make me feel…like a better man. I want to be a better man because of you. I lost hope that there would be much of a life waiting for me on the outside, but you restored that hope within me. You proved to me time and time again that genuinely good people still exist, and I simply wanted you to know how much joy you’ve brought to my everyday life again just by being who you are. You mean more to me than I can rightfully put into words for you, but I don’t want you to leave here today without knowing exactly how I feel about you when the possibility of never seeing each other again is so prominently hanging between us now…”

Gently, his thumbs caressed her cheeks, his warm breath mingling with hers. He could hear his heart’s beat thundering within his ears, and from the looks of her, he believed he wasn’t the only one. He knew for a fact that his cheeks had gradually begun to gain color much as hers had as well, but he didn’t care about how it might have looked. Finally, he found the confidence in himself to be open with her. Possibly nearing the end of their road together in this place, he couldn’t let the chance pass him by to let her know just how much she meant to him; to let her know just how much life she breathed into his weary spirit. He wanted to pour his heart out to her, to be as open with her as she always had been with him so she could see what he told her was all true. He wanted to give her his broken, beating heart as an open book she could read over and over again, keeping it to herself upon an intimate shelf within her flesh and bones.

He couldn’t put these strong, passionate, emotional feelings rightfully into words, so he did the next best thing.

He closed his eyes gently and slowly leaned down to her. She followed his lead and allowed her eyes to flutter shut as well, finding herself entranced by his words and the movement of his body syncing with hers. Her hands lovingly found themselves reaching up to rest upon his shoulders, fully welcoming the warm, feather-like brush of his lips she felt on her own. Soon after, a heavenly pressure followed between them as their lips pressed against one another and swayed. It was a tender kiss with a taste as sweet as pure honeydew. It was a kindred sensation neither of the two had ever felt before, and promptly, they became enraptured in one another by the means of that simple, small but adoring kiss. Their feelings towards one another had been building up to this exact moment in time for a long time, but that explosively passionate kiss Eddie had fantasized they’d have didn’t occur. Instead, he was gifted with something much more intimate, much sweeter and much more genuine.

Instead, he had been gifted with a feathery, heavenly, sweet kiss he swore gave him a part of her to carry with him for the rest of his life.

They lost themselves in each other, indulging in that need and attraction they felt for each other. Their warmth mingled and it almost felt like their worlds became one in that instance. Though it might be the beginning of the end and the future was hazed with obscurity, in this single minuet moment in time, they belonged to one another.

So lost in each other were they, that the world around them disappeared.

It disappeared until the loud sound of stomping footsteps shattered the intimate world which Eddie never believed he would be able to create with her.

GLUSKIN!

The sound of the horridly familiar voice instantly forced the two to jump apart, eyes widening as they stared out the bars of his cells for a split second. The stomping was coming closer from down the hall – fast.

Hide!” Eddie hissed his whispered at _______ once they realized the gravity of the situation. She didn’t need to be told twice, for as soon as the two stood and he lifted the blankets of his cot to grant her entrance beneath it, she was on the floor, rolling under its frame. He worked fast at hiding her presence by quickly throwing his blankets around the edges of the bed to obscure her from sight. Once he was done, he had quickly taken himself to lean against the wall by his window nonchalantly – just in time for Matthew to find him on his own.

“Hmm?” Eddie hummed casually as the huffing orderly came to stand before his cell with a wickedly large grin on his face. “I’m sorry? Did you call for me, Mattie boy?”

“Oh, don’t give me that bullshit, Gluskin!” Matthew spat in response to him. “Ya know damn well ya heard me comin’, but that’s beside the point right now. I’ve come barin’ some news for ya, ya shitty crazy!”

“News? For little ole me? And what news in particular would that be?”

“I’m gonna keep the exact details a surprise for ya, but I thought it would be really neighborly for me to let ya know that your days are numbered.” He grabbed onto the bars of the cells, rattling them aggressively with a wild look in his widened, beady eyes. _______ pressed a hand against her lips to prevent a whimper of fear from escaping her as she shrunk back and pressed against the wall by the cot, silently thanking God that she had locked the cell door when she came inside to speak with Eddie. “Ya thought I wouldn’t make ya pay, did ya?! Thought you’d get a good old kick out of Matthew fucking Waters with that stupid bitch of yours, huh?! Well, I’m makin’ your ass pay! The big boss had got his hands on your papers, Gluskin, and thanks to a little paddin’ and polishin’ of your records by yours truly, you’re royally fucked! That stupid bitch who works with ya might have gotten my ass demoted, but I’m taking your sorry ass down with me! So pack your shit, Gluskin! You’re movin’ on to the underground for good!”

Chapter Text

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̷̲̍…̴̜
̴̧̎…̸̮̔
̶͚̐.̵͙͠.̸̗̿
̸͉̇.̵̛̺
̸͔͐

Chapter Text

Laughter echoed down that hallway like something unheard of, resounding from an unknown realm. There was something almost unnatural about the sound, too cruel and too excited to really tie back to its human origins. Yet, despite how monstrous the man may be, he is still just as much flesh and bone as the people he left behind him in that cell, and that was the most baffling thing about it.

He held no sympathy in his person. He knew not of the woman hidden beneath Gluskin’s cot, but his vindication had been driven just as strongly towards her as it had been towards the man now standing there in a state of shock.

Oh, how he loved the sound of his booming laughter echoing off of the scarred walls around him. Though Matthew knew he might be walking on eggshells with Jeremy now, he couldn’t help but feel the tallest he ever had. Despite the trouble he had caused him, he had also given him what he had been after for so long on a silver platter: a patient to fill in the missing gap in his plans to truly make the Engine turn a profit.

His files were padded, of course, and he obviously knew this due to his own actions, but that didn’t matter to Matthew.

In his head, Gluskin had always been the patient Jeremy had been looking for.

He’d bet his life on that.

As he left the hall with his bouncing laughter leaving the echo of his threat behind, _______ stared off into the hall through those rusty cell bars with wide-eyes filled with panic. Pressed up against the wall beside her, the hand she had flattened against her mouth had begun to dig its nail into the skin of her cheek, but she hadn’t noticed the dull ache of their presence until the sound of the large metal door of the distant staircase announced Matthew’s exit.

Her mind was racing. A million thoughts came to her all at once, suggesting a million different things, offering her a million different unpleasant images attached to them.

What had Matthew done?

What did he add into Eddie’s files?

What did it all mean?

Why would this result in Eddie being taken down with him to the underground?

Why was Matthew so damn insistent on ruining Eddie’s life like this?

Why did he hate them so much to potentially put an innocent man’s life at risk?

What’s going to happen now?

What would happen to Eddie if they did take him underground like Matthew said?

The thoughts were booming in her head – loud and shuffling angrily together like a hive of agitated hornets. None of the questions granted her even a second to think about an answer before another just barged in after it, the process repeating itself viciously over and over again through the course of those painfully long, silent moments which followed Matthew’s exit. Eventually, however, soft scuffling from the real world began to break through that silence despite _______ being unable to really concentrate on its presence just yet.

Eddie was in as much of a bewildered state as she was, but deep inside of himself, he had always seen this day coming – he was just heartbroken to have it happen when he was finally finding a reason to live again. As he turned himself to face his cot where the woman he had slowly been gaining such passionate affections for hid, he silently asked himself how he could allow this to happen.

How could he, after all, entangle such a sweet, kind, young woman with a lost cause like himself?

He had known for a very long time already that Mount Massive Asylum would be his final resting place. He knew this place of death and hopelessness – greed and malignancy – would be his cemetery, the olden walls and rusted cell bars his tombstone. He always knew he would die here – so why?

Why did he allow himself to selfishly rope her into something that he knew would only hurt her in the end?

He parted his lips to say something, but no words came out. His tongue made an effort to attempt to translate a thought, an emotion, a feeling, but nothing could formulate itself on its sinful, g̴̩̓ű̴̹ḭ̵͛l̷͓̀t̴͔̓-̴̱͝r̴̼̃i̷̫͝ḍ̶ď̵͎e̵̠̓n̷͚̚ terrain tainted by selfishly unrealistic desires.

“______...?”

It was the only thing his tongue could say.

Her name.

Simply her name.

Even in a situation like this, it still tasted sweet to speak it and have it hang in the air, but oh, what a bitter pill it was to swallow in this given moment.

Unbeknownst to him in the midst of his self-loathing and shame-ridden state, his voice was the only thing which managed to pull _______ back into reality.

The world around her returned to her at the sound of his voice and the questions in her head momentarily grew silent. Her eyes, though they remained wide as can be, slowly turned to stare at his feet from her hidden position. She could tell from the way his feet were turned to her that he was looking for a response from her, hoping to lure her out of her hiding place. Truthfully, she didn’t want to. She wanted to stay hidden beneath the cot, invisible to the world, all problems halted and nonexistent under the cover of the thin mattress that laid upon the metal framework which encased her. It was a tempting thought, too – to forget everything and hide.

That’s what she felt she always did: hide from the problems.

No matter how hard she tried, she could never save anyone. She was always too weak, always too sensitive, always too late. She couldn’t save Tristen from the noticeable decline which came to him after Lindsey’s death. She was too weak to stand on her own two feet when it came to Matthew, so she had to have Tristen come running to help her again. She couldn’t help her own father when he was just as depressed by her mother’s passing as she was. She was too late to stop him that night. Too late to take those pills out of his hands. Too late to save a life. Too late for everything.

Too weak, too sensitive, too late.

Now, she was too late to save Eddie too, wasn’t she?

“_______...?” His voice called out to her once more, hushed into the cold, still air of the asylum. “_______? Are you alright?”

She continued to stare, silent, and it wasn’t until now that she noticed she had been shaking on the ground this entire time. Slowly, she pried her hand off of her mouth to stare at her trembling palm. She felt like she wanted to cry, but no tears formed in her eyes. She couldn’t find the word to accurately tie to what she was feeling. It was a strange, unpleasant feeling of a conundrum of mixed emotions, each contradicting one another and plummeting her deeper into a hole of despair in her mind. The questions had gone quiet and still like the stagnant air of the hospital, but reality stayed the same. Even if she chose to stay hidden beneath that cot, nothing would change. Matthew was still after them, still insistent on ruining Eddie for God knows what reasoning, and she was still stuck in the middle of it trying to save him and everyone else in this damn place – but how was she supposed to do that when she was so weak and defenseless herself? They had a plan, they were going to fix everything by getting the police involved, but once again, she was too late.

Too late.

Too late.

Too late.

Movement caught her attention in her peripheral vision then and her gaze moved to focus on it. She watched quietly as Eddie knelt down beside his cot and used a hand to lift up some of the blanket which draped over the edge of his mattress. Soon afterwards, his blue eyes came into view, filled with concern and gentle care like they always were.

“_______?” He softly called to her a third time. “Darling, please come out from under there…He’s gone, you don’t need to be afraid anymore.” He gave her a sad smile, reaching a hand towards her. “Let me help you.”

Afraid…

Afraid again…

Is that what she was feeling?

She took in a shaken breath, staring at his hand for what felt like an eternity without a response. Again, she was being helped. Again, she was being protected and sheltered with sweet gestures and kind smiles despite the obvious sadness and pain hidden behind them. Could she never do anything else no matter how hard she tried? Could she never be more helpful? Could she ever be anything other than a victim?

Her hand moved forward at the thought, almost as if it had a mind of its own. Shaky though it may have been, it grasped at Eddie’s hand tightly as she nodded her head in a silent reply. He widened his smile softly at her as a result and gently began to help her out of her hiding place, going at her pace, allowing her to gain her bearings before pulling her up onto her feet again. When she finally stood beside him, the two stared at each other in silence, their hands still held together, his fingers covering her own. Their eyes met, and in that moment, they both had a million things to say, but no amount of strength allowed them to speak the words lingering in their minds. Both of their lips still tingled from the kiss they shared just minutes before, the warmth of the others presence upon them seeming to help keep them grounded, but there was an obvious heaviness hanging in the air between them.

It broke Eddie’s heart, having found love again in this young woman, coming to remember what the feeling was supposed to really be like, but he knew he had to let her go. There was no going forward for the two of them from here on out if what Matthew said was true, and thus, he knew he had to set into motion what he had been dreading since his feelings for her first started to bloom. Reluctantly, his hand began to let hers go, loosening its grip, ready to pull away and allow her to leave. He turned his head and closed his eyes, not wanting to see it.

In response, however, _______ tightened the grip of her hand on his.

“I…I-I’m not letting anyone take you away.” She managed to speak through a shaken tone. Eddie’s eyes snapped open the second her words reached him and he turned his view right back to her, surprised. He looked down at their hands, her fingers refusing to loosen up, and when he looked back up at her face, he noticed determination flashing in those (eye color) eyes of hers despite the fear she so obviously felt. “I’m not letting anyone take you away from me…! Not now, not ever! I’m going to fix this!” She stated more firmly, squeezing his hand tightly. “I don’t care about whatever Matthew might be planning! I’m going to get to the bottom of this, I swear I will, and when I do, I’m going to get you out of here to start living the life you deserve! Then, when it’s all over and done with, we’re going to find those damn Jonquils and we’re going to plant them everywhere! I’m going to set you free no matter what!”

With that curt, strong albeit a little shaky resolve, the young woman finally seemed to find her voice again. She finally released his hand then, and as he stood in a shocked stupor, she rushed for the door of his cell with purpose in her hastened steps. Once outside, she slammed the cell door shut and locked it with her key for his own safety. She knew all of the other employees here had a key to all of the cells in this place, but if anything were to happen, that lock would grant her a crucial extra seconds to make it in time.

Her eyes lifted and met with Eddie’s blue gaze after she shoved her keys back into her pocket. She could tell he was worried for her, could tell he wanted to try to convince her out of any crazy idea she might have running in her head to stop what Matthew had set into motion, but nothing left the man’s lips. Once again, she had left him speechless.

“Don’t let anybody take you anywhere if I’m not here! You fight back! You fight back with all you’ve got and you wait for me! I’m not giving up on you!”

Just as fast as she had gotten herself out of his cell, she had begun to sprint down the hall towards the direction of the stairwell and elevator. Eddie rushed to the bars of his cell, his hands desperately grasping at their old, rusted metal, pulling himself up close to watch as she disappeared beyond the bend of the hall.

He stood there, silent and alone, shaken to his core, more afraid than he had ever felt in decades.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

_______ didn’t know where exactly she had to run to once she made it to the stairwell, but she knew exactly who she had to go to the second she rushed out of Eddie’s cell.

It was almost funny to her how David had turned from someone she held such strong suspicion and animosity towards to the first person that came to mind that could help her basically overnight. It had always been such a large, unfortunate miscommunication between them, and she wished they could have fixed things sooner, but at least things between them were okay now. She considered David a good ally and a potential good friend, and now that she had a connection to the underground through him, she knew he was the first person she had to go to if she wanted to make things right for the man she left behind on the fourth floor.

The girl was breathless, having been dashing from hallway to hallway on each floor she descended to in hopes of running into her fellow orderly. So far, she had zoomed through both the third and second floors, but he was nowhere to be seen. By the time she hastily descended to the first floor, she started to panic, thinking maybe she was too late to catch up to him and get him before he went down to the underground rooms of the hospital where she wasn’t allowed access to. She knew he told Tristen and herself that he had the night off of underground work, but if he had gone down there for any reason, then there was no way she could get his help in anything if she didn’t want to be waiting around for him to return.

Turning now into the last stretch of cells the first floor of the male ward had to offer, _______’s frantic prayers had finally been answered. At the end of the hall, David was stepping out of the last cell in the corridor, already pushing his key into the lock of the door. Beneath his arm, he carried his clipboard filled with the daily reports he had to written out with his patients’ data. Clearly, she had found him just in time.  

David!” She called out to him firmly, speeding up the pace of her steps. “David, wait! Wait, I need to talk to you!” He looked up at the sound of her voice and turned his attention to her, a furrow coming to his brow due to her urgency. When she came practically to a screeching halt in front of him, the male orderly blinked his widened eyes at her, opening his mouth in an attempt to say something, but she beat him to it before he could even try.

“Thank God I found you! I’ve been running up and down all the corridors in this place like mad!” She gasped out to him as she tried to regain her breath from all the running. Still, the lack of air wasn’t enough to stop her from continuing in this most dire of situations. “W-we need to go to the Record Room! I need you to help me see Eddie Gluskin’s restricted files! Matthew came by and he said he gave Blaire his documents and that he’s going to be taken underground! We can’t let them do this, David! He padded his file! It’s all lies! He’s doing it on purpose to get him taken away! You have to help me, please!” She frantically exclaimed to him in a jumbled state, her chest puffing in and out heavily as her lungs greedily grasped for the air they so desperately needed. She felt so lost, so helpless, but there must be something she could do to right this wrong Matthew had created! Anything!

“Woah, woah, woah,” He interjected, completely caught off guard by the jumbled information she tossed his way all at once. Even so, he still gently placed his hands on her shoulders, trying to ground her with the contact as he met her eyes with a calm, reassuring gaze. “First off, I need you to calm down, _______. I can’t understand anything you’re trying to tell me if you yell everything like that.” His gaze hardened slightly, becoming more serious. “Calmly now, tell me what happened.”

Panting shakily, she nodded her head. She took a moment to calm herself down and bring her breathing back down to normal, but when she exhaled, there was still a noticeable sense of shakiness to her breaths.

“I was just with Eddie,” She began. “Up…up on the fourth floor. Matthew showed up acting crazy and mad. He said he had gotten Eddie’s file and given it to Blaire; that he padded it with extra documents to get him taken underground. I think he got to his restricted files, David! I think he tampered with them and replaced the information in them with God knows what to get him taken away from me! From us! I-I don’t know what to do! You were the first person I thought to go to! I know we had a plan and all, but this can’t wait! I need you to come to the Record Room with me now before they take Eddie!” She left out all details of her having to hide beneath Eddie’s cot in his cell because of the intimate time alone they had gotten themselves wrapped up in. She could still feel his lips on hers even now, and in a way, that feeling helped in keeping her going in her determined state.

It made her feel like she had him there with her, cheering her on and gifting her confidence.

What?!” David exclaimed, his eyes widening once more. He shook his head, curt, frustrated curses spilling from his lips in tangent. “I always knew Matthew was a shifty bastard, but something like this? What the hell does he intend to gain from it?”

“He mentioned having gotten demoted.” She hastily replied, leaving out the reasoning to his demotion. That was a whole other box of worms she didn’t want to be opening up right now to a new party. “I’m not sure, but I think he’s being taken underground too? Because he threatened that he was going to be taking Eddie down with him now that he gave Blaire his file, but…ahhh!” She whimpered, running both of her hands through her hair out of flustered, panicky confusion. “How would that make any sense?! He works here! How is being sent underground a demotion? Don’t you need, like, restricted access for underground work? It’s backwards logic! Even if that is a demotion, I still don’t get what he gains by pulling Eddie down there with him! Why would Blaire even care about having someone sent to the underground with a padded file?”

“He’s promoting him for Project Walrider…”

Horror befell David’s expression as soon as the realization dawned upon him. He didn’t respond to any of her other questions after that – he was barely even able to really register them in his head. All he was able to focus on right in that instant was what the realization which came to him could mean. “We need to go check his records now. If you’re telling the truth and he’s doing what I think he’s doing, Matthew is getting Gluskin taken to be falsely entered into their messed up project. They only ever take specific patients for that with specific data sets, and he’s been nowhere near what they’re looking for. Who’s to say what would happen if he is taken?” He turned on his heel without warning, beginning to jog down the hall. _______, taken aback by this, quickly started to follow him out of reflex.

“What are you talking about?! What is that damn project?! What are they going to do to him?!”

“I don’t know!” David responded firmly. “All I know is that most of the patients we’ve had sent to the Engine have come out either dead or pretty damn close to it, so we have to hurry!”

She didn’t need to be told more than that. Her footsteps gained speed as she forced herself to run faster, catching up to David to now run by his side as they burst through the doors leading out of the patient quarters. Ahead of them, she noticed Jordan at the receptionist’s desk, startled by their rushing. _______, however, didn’t pay him a second glance as she ran through the main hall to the familiar corridor the Record Room was in.

Before long, David was pushing the door to the small office open with his hand on the doorknob and his shoulder shoving against the imitation wood. Both of the orderlies expected someone to be inside, manning their shift, but there was nobody in sight.

They were on their own.

This was their chance.

“Over here,” David waved _______ over with him towards the line of cabinets in the room with drawers labeled by numbers and letters. Instinctively, he reached for a drawer whose label began with the letter ‘G’ and was followed by a sequence of numbers she didn’t get a chance to really register in her head because of how fast he had pulled it open. In the drawer itself, a multitude of thick manila folders were tucked close together, packed like sardines thanks to all the paperwork filed in each of them. “This is where they keep the underground records for everyone admitted here. You said it was Gluskin Matthew gave Blaire the records for, right? Eddie Gluskin?”

“Yeah. Him.” She replied, watching as he flicked through the manila folders with his fingers in what came off as warp speed to her. The quick flicking of his fingers through the tabs appeared to be second nature to him, only stopping momentarily every now and again, she guessed, to peer at the names he was passing to make sure he was on the right track.

“Gluskin, Eddie. Patient number 19862.” He read the file name aloud, pulling the folder out soon afterwards. As soon as he did, his expression morphed to one of concern. “It’s so thin…” He muttered, turning to place it down on the nearby table the employees used during their shift. Pushing some office supplies aside, David began to shake his head, flipping the folder open as he spoke to himself. “It doesn’t make any sense…Why would they believe him? I’ve been submitting log after log, data sheet after data sheet, and in each one of them I’ve said the same exact thing – he is not ready for the project. Why the hell would they believe Waters when I’m the one recording his daily data?”

“Something’s wrong, isn’t there…?” _______ murmured, not at all needing to look at the file to know – it was written on his face clear as day. She knew coming into this that they would run into something bad, seeing as Matthew had already given up Eddie’s file, but a part of her was still desperately hopeful that there would be even the smallest iota of evidence they could keep to help turn this all around. Yet, from the look on David’s face as he flicked through the little documents left in the folder, she could feel that hope in her dying away.

David didn’t respond to her. He rapidly skimmed through the documents Matthew left behind, feeling the stings of a paper cut or two as his fingers quickly guided his skimming of the familiar records. A lot sooner than he had hoped, he reached the back of the manila file. There was nothing left inside that would be of any use to them, all of his own data and reports written on Gluskin having been taken out of the records. Scowling deeply, David lifted his fist and slammed it on the desk, a heavy slur of curse words echoing from his lips.

“They’re gone!” He snapped. “He took it all! Everything I ever wrote on Gluskin! All my data logs, my daily check-ups, my observations and recommendations – everything! Not even documentation on his appointments with the underground doctors and therapists are here anymore! The only things left are the data logs you’ve been filling out and the first entry patient log that was ever written for him when he was admitted into Massive!”

Seeing how angry and helpless David was upon seeing Eddie’s file scared her. She had been scared upstairs when Matthew slung his threat at Eddie himself, but seeing the evidence of his purposeful sabotage of the man’s wellbeing was something else. Something worse. “Why would he want to do something like this?” She whispered, stepping away from the table they were huddled by on shaky knees. Bringing her hands up to her face, she held her cheeks in her palms and began to pace back and forth within the confined space of the Record Room. She could hear her heart pounding aggressively in her ears, screaming at her, feeling as if it were just about ready to explode. The comforting sense of warmth she had felt on her lips from the first kiss they shared in his cell was gone now, replaced with a chill she had never experienced.

Once again, she was too late…wasn’t she?

“W-What’s going to happen to him now?” She questioned, her breaths coming out shaky again as her hands moved up to grab at her hair in the midst of her pacing. “What’s gonna happen to him down there? What are those people going to do to him? Will I ever see him again? Is he going to die like everyone else you mentioned before? Why wouldn’t they have noticed that his file was padded? Why didn’t they care to check? Oh God...This is all my f̵̬̊á̸̞u̵̺͝l̸͓͑t̷̫̔…”

Listening to her panicked tangent of fearful thoughts spilling from her lips, David straightened himself up and looked towards the younger orderly behind him. Her eyes were wide, her (eye color) gaze filled with a pure sense of cold dread. Her breaths were coming out shallow and quick, as though she were about to hyperventilate. Before they had spoken in his bedroom last night, he had always looked at _______ as an enemy. He always thought she was like the others, like the doctors and orderlies who worked alongside him downstairs, committing all sorts of insane atrocities to the people they were supposed to care for and protect – but that isn’t who she is. He just didn’t know her then, but he knew her now. He saw it last night. Now, though?

Now, he sees a scared girl.

A scared, lonely girl caught in the midst of something so much bigger than her.

Just a kid caught in a spider’s web, at the mercy of its fangs, waiting for it to sink in to deal the killing blow.

Why had he never seen this in her before? How could he have been so blind? She wasn’t some coldhearted fat cat nor was she a desensitized, bitter corporate. She’s just like him, wanting to do what was right, and in that moment, he saw her as nothing more than a kid. A kid he felt the overwhelming need to protect.

“If I hadn’t been so damn careful all the time and j-just gone out to get the cops involved, this wouldn’t be happening…I could have stopped this a long time ago, but I got so scared of everyone cautioning Tristen and me that I just…I c-couldn’t. I couldn’t do anything. I was too afraid of being caught, but now they’re going to take him away from me and they’re probably going to take everyone else along with him eventually too…I-It’s all my f̴̨͝a̴̹͠u̴̱͝ļ̶͗t̷̹…”

He couldn’t take hearing and seeing her like this anymore. Turning to her, he stood in her path to stop her pacing and placed his large hands on her shoulders like he had done back in the patient quarters. Bending down to be at her height, he met her gaze and gave her shoulders a reassuring, strong squeeze.

“_______. I need you to calm down for me.” He spoke to her softly but firmly. When she appeared to have focused in on his eyes to really look at him rather than through him, he continued. “I need you to listen to me and to understand when I tell you that none of this is your f̵̫̕ȧ̷̺ù̵̻l̵̫̊ţ̴̒. None of it. You didn’t pad Gluskin’s file and you didn’t give it to Blaire. You’ve been doing the best you can to help these people, but I can assure you that, if you had been blatant and obvious about it, you would have been caught. You would have gotten yourself into a big heap of trouble – really bad trouble – and what would you be able to do then? I know this is a terrible situation to be in, but trust me when I tell you that you’ve been doing the right thing. Don’t b̷̹̑l̵͉̈ą̷́m̸̯̿ě̷͉ yourself for things you can’t control. So relax. Calm down. Breathe deep and ground yourself in the now. I’m going to help you out with this; you’re not alone.”

Shakily, _______ took in a deep breath and released it, repeating the process a few times until she felt her shaken state calm down just the slightest bit. Once she felt a little more settled with herself, she gave the man before her an acknowledging nod.

“Okay, good.” David praised her with a small smile. “Here’s what I’m gonna do: I’m going to get to the bottom of this by going right to the source. I have restricted access to the lower levels of this place, so I’m sure I can find Blaire and set things straight before they can really put Gluskin in the program. I might even be able to get his records back to put in file if everything works out, and I have a good feeling it will. Blaire doesn’t like wasting his time, and I’m sure he’ll listen to what I have to say about what Matthew did, because getting a patient into the program that doesn’t give him the results he wants costs him a lot more than he’s willing to fork up. I’m sure that as soon as he realizes he’s not ready, he’ll give the order to keep Gluskin where he is and we can work from there. For now, I want you to go talk to Tristen. You said you had finished up your rounds, right? Go be with him. Tell him the plan for tonight is off for now. We’ll meet up again to regroup later. Until then, keep low and stay safe.” He widened his smile, patting her shoulders a few times before pulling her into a comforting embrace. “Everything’s gonna be alright. We’re gonna work this out. You’ll see.”

_______ stood there in David’s arms stiffly, not knowing how to react. She would have never believed it if someone told her she would find herself in a hug with this man anytime soon, but there was something comforting about it. His hug felt a lot like Tristen’s hugs did – warm, safe and secure, like a hug you’d get from a protective older brother. Stiff as she was, she found herself lifting her arms to hug him back, her wide eyes staring off at the wall of the office as she buried herself against David’s chest.

Would things really turn out okay? Would they really manage to fix this and keep Eddie from being taken away from her? She wasn’t entirely sure, but hearing it from someone as calm and collected as David made her believe it was possible. It helped her calm down more in his arms. It was just…really nice to feel like there was someone around with proper ideas on solutions to their growing problems rather than just her and Tristen speculating on what they could do while tiptoeing around all of the warning signs they’ve been given.

“I’m…s-sorry I was so mean to you before…” She whispered against him, her arms tightening around him.

“…It’s water under the bridge.” He murmured back, giving her an extra squeeze in response as well. “I wasn’t much of a saint either. I’m sorry for everything too, but it’s in the past. We’re in this together now, so let’s focus on that and setting things right for everyone. We can make up for the mudslinging when everything is done.”    

_______ nodded her head in agreement. “Okay. Okay…It’s a plan.”

With that, David gave her one last tight squeeze in their reassuring embrace before pulling away from her. Nodding confidently, he turned on his heels and jogged out of the Record Room, already heading towards the elevator to make his way down to the lower levels of the asylum.

_______ stared out the door after him, but she didn’t move from her spot. She didn’t move from there for a while. Rather, she stood and stared out into the vacant hallway, listening to the ticking of the clock on the wall. She was placing all of her faith in David now, relying on him to set things straight.

Question is, do they still have enough time to fix everything as they ambitiously declared they would despite it all being broken beyond repair as it is?

The ticking of the clock seemed to grow louder as the thought rung in her head.

Taunting her.

Eventually, the ticking became far too loud – too malicious. She had to get out of there, and when the need to leave came, she was out with a dash, running out into the corridor towards the main hall. As she passed through the large room, she noticed David was already gone and the elevator had already reached its designated lower level.

Her steps quickened at the sight, pushing her towards where she needed to go next as though her legs had a mind of their own.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

_______ didn’t stop for anything when she made her way towards the female ward. Her legs ached from all the running up and down halls and stairwells, but she ignored the cries of protest her muscles whimpered to her with each step she took. There would be a chance to sit and rest later; right now, she needed to get to Tristen to catch him up on what happened as quick as possible so she could return to Eddie. If she wasn’t there to guard him, who’s to say he’d still be there by her night shift? She didn’t want to take the chance to find out.

She practically zoomed through the female ward as soon as she found the arrows on the walls pointing her towards the break-room. She knew this was around the time Tristen finished his morning shift as well, so she figured she might be able to catch him there before he headed off anywhere else. As she went, however, she noticed that the female ward was awfully…quiet.

Quiet and empty.

All throughout the patient corridors of the second floor, _______ noticed that each and every single one of the cells she passed were empty. There wasn’t a single patient left in sight, each empty cell she passed causing the pit in her stomach to grow. Something was wrong. Something was obviously very wrong and off about the female ward. She knew they had taken a bunch of the female patients downstairs when the underground orderlies came up as a whole mass before, but it wasn’t anything like this either.

Seeing the female ward’s break-room come into view down the hall she was currently in shifted her focus. The empty cells were troubling, but Tristen was her main concern right now. She had been worried that she would come to stand before an empty room, but luck seemed to be on her side today, because when she got to the doorway of the break-room, the first thing her eyes caught sight of was Tristen.

He was seated by one of the lunch tables, his hands held together in front of him. His eyes stared distantly at the wall across from him, a frown angling his lips, removing all traces of his trademark smile _______ was so used to seeing every day. The perplexed, worried and upset look on his face was so jarring to see for the young woman, she had to take a moment to let it sink in, a chill running down her spine in the process.

What could have made him so upset? Tristen was always smiling, always happy. There wasn’t much that could bring his mood down so drastically, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that it had something to do with the vast loneliness of the female ward’s patient quarters.

“Tristen…?” She called to the boy softly from the doorway. When he lifted his head to look at her, _______’s frown deepened. He looked so worn and beaten down. The bruise on his cheek from their encounter with Jeremy offset the coloration on his face, and in the light they were in, it made his expression look far grimmer. It was the second time in this place she had seen him look so…helpless. It broke her heart and angered her at the same time.

Why is it that the people she cared about most in this hell were being put through so much? Why couldn’t they just be left alone and at peace?

“What’s…going on? Why is your ward so empty?” She eventually asked him as she walked into the break-room to join him by his lunch table. When she pulled up a chair and sat beside him, he leaned back against his chair ‘s backrest with a deep breath escaping slowly through his nose. He turned his gaze towards her once again, the melancholic look in his eyes much more pronounced.

“I guess that means ya didn’t hear.” He let out a humorless laugh, a dim, forced smile angling his lips. “They took them all away this morning. Every single one of them. It all happened so fast…I barely even managed to get any info on the issue from those bug-eyed underground fucks when they came up. They were some of the same people who came up when they took Lindsey and the others, only this time, they loaded all of my girls out into this huge truck out front. They said they were being transferred to a different facility, something about being able to treat them better over in their sister location in Texas. Even Catherine left with ‘em. They left me all on my own, and when it was all over, Patrick from HR gave me a transfer slip too.” He widened his forced smile at her, though it visibly pained and ached him. “But don’t worry. I ain’t going anywhere. It’s just a transfer over to the male ward, so on the bright side, I guess we’ll be partners from now on.”

It was difficult to keep his emotions on the subject buried. He really did feel the most helpless he ever had been right about now. They took his patients away from him like nothing, as though his say or opinion on what was best for them didn’t matter at all – and from the way things were handled, he figured it didn’t. It never mattered that he had been their caretaker for months at this point. It didn’t matter that he felt like he knew them all better than anyone else in this crazy place. No, when the people in charge gave the word, they were ripped away from him regardless of all of that, sent off to that facility all the way over in Texas where he would never see any of them again. Losing Lindsey to this place had already been a crushing blow to him, but all of them? Losing every single one of his girls in the midst of the crisis he and _______ were facing?

It was the worst thing that could possibly happen.

The g̷̨͘ù̷̥i̴̧͠l̴̛̰ṫ̴̮ which he felt in his heart was fierce. He felt like he should have done more, been more aggressive, tried harder to convince the doctors and orderlies from the underground that they could care for his girls just fine here in Mount Massive, but thinking about it made him recoil in disgust on the inside, because he knew that wasn’t true. Lindsey died in this place alongside a countless amount of others; how would they have been any better off here? Well, he supposed he could have at least made some small bit of difference, but even then he knew it would be a losing battle for him right from the get-go. Seeing the heartbroken look on _______’s face, however, made him keep most of this buried deep within himself. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust her or he didn’t feel he could go to her when he needed to. It was simply his brotherly instinct kicking in again.

He was supposed to protect her and comfort her, not the other way around.

He is the big brother, and big brothers are supposed to be big and tough and strong – and to _______, he was the only one she had to rely on like that.

“But what about you?” He quickly decided to change the subject, softening his smile on his face. “What are you doing here? Decided to pay me a visit during your break?”

In that moment, there was nothing that _______ wanted to do more than reach out towards Tristen to envelope him in a strong embrace. She wanted to hug him tight, pull him close and reassure him that everything would be okay while they talked everything over together. Her automatic instinct was the desire to lessen the load he so clearly carried upon his broad shoulders, but as she stared into his saddened eyes and watched him spread that forced smile on his face, she thought that was the last thing he wanted her to do to stop himself from breaking down. The way he switched the subject was so quick and brash; he acted like he didn’t want to dwell on it despite how bad it clearly hurt him. Seeing Tristen in pain always left her in pain too, but how was she supposed to help this time when all of his patients were already ripped away from him? She felt like nothing she could do or say could make things better – and she knew she was right too.

“I…I-I don’t know what to say,” She muttered, reaching atop the table to place her hands upon his own. She squeezed his hands in her grip and scooted closer to him on her seat, nuzzling into his side so she could rest her head on his shoulder. It wasn’t an embrace, but she felt he needed that physical contact nonetheless. “I’m so sorry, Tristen…I’m so sorry…I know there isn’t anything I can say to make it feel better, but…just know that I’m always going to be here for you, alright?”

Tristen’s forced smile fell to a more genuine, melancholic grin. He turned his hands to hold both of hers in his, squeezing her fingers back.

“You’re the only girlie I have left in this place, _______. I gotta take care of ya like a big bro is supposed to, so I don’t want you worryin’ your pretty little head over me. Maybe there wasn’t anything I could do for the others,” He nuzzled his head against hers now, squeezing her hands a little tighter in his protective grasp. “But there’s still a hell of a lot I can do to make sure you’re okay and safe here until we manage to get the fuck out and get the cops to shut this place down. Until then, I’m gonna protect you. I’m…hurt now, but I’ll be okay.”

“I’m going to protect you, too, though,” She murmured back. “We’re all we’ve got here, Trist. I can’t let you do all the protecting all the time. It’s okay to let your guard down every once in a while. I’ll be there for you just as much as you are for me.” She shifted her hand in his grasp to wrap her right pinkie with his. “I pinky promise.”

His gaze softened at the sight of their intertwined pinkies, and for once, he chose to keep his strong protective words to himself. Instead, he squeezed her finger back as his response, touched by her words and grateful for how close they’ve become since meeting here in this place of death and decay.

He really had no idea how he would have made it this far without her.

“Aight. Pinky promise.” He hummed softly, staying there for a few seconds before sitting himself up properly beside her. She followed his lead and did the same, turning to face him in her seat better. “So, you still haven’t told me why you’re here. What’s up?”

Her expression noticeably fell at the question, her hands grasping at the cloth of her work pants upon her laps where they now laid. The panic from earlier was starting to creep up on her now that the topic was placed on the table. Her eyes subconsciously shifted to the break-room clock on the wall, watching the seconds tick by, wondering if Eddie was still in his cell where she had left him…She shook her head at the thought. Of course he would still be there! How could anyone organize such a drastic shift of a patient’s plan that quickly?

Either way, she refused to be too late this time.

“Something happened with Matthew again,” The name alone was enough to make Tristen scowl heavily in disgust. Still, she continued. “When I was with Eddie earlier at the start of my break, Matthew came by the cells. I…I had to hide under Eddie’s cot, ‘cause I got used to sitting in his cell with him overtime, ya know? So I hid, and Matthew ended up telling Eddie that he padded his file and handed it over to that Blaire guy and was going to be sending him underground with him. Apparently he was demoted. I think…it’s because of what we told HR. He’s taking it out on Eddie…” The grasping at the cloth of her pants was becoming more insistent – more nervous. Her breathing was getting shakier as she felt the anxiety escalating within her, but before things could get really bad, she closed her eyes and took deep, calming breaths to settle herself down.

Now wasn’t the time to be losing control again. She already spoke to David. He was helping her out with setting things straight on Eddie’s records right as they speak. Eddie is going to be fine and he’s going to be left right where he is.

Nobody is going to be taking him away from her.

Not if she could help it.

“I managed to get away without being seen by him,” She continued once she opened her eyes again. “And I ran right after David to tell him what happened. We went to the Record Room and we found Eddie’s restricted file, but it was empty of all of David’s notes on him and the records of his past appointments downstairs. He said he was going to get to the bottom of everything downstairs himself and sent me to tell you our original plan is off for now, but that we’d regroup later.” With that said, she stood to her feet and pushed her chair in, offering Tristen her own sad smile now in response to his stunned look. “I guess it’s been a rough day for both of us.” She added on softly. “But I have to get going now. I don’t trust these people. I need to get back to Eddie to make sure nobody comes up to take him away from me.”

“I’m coming with you.” He stated before she could even turn to leave, abruptly standing to his feet with full intentions on joining her. The determined look on his face clearly told her he wasn’t going to be convinced otherwise. “I work for the male ward now anyway, so technically, I’d just be doin’ my job right alongside you, wouldn’t I?” He gave her a coy grin before his expression reverted to a more serious look. “I’m in this with you all the way, _______. I’m tired of seeing people fall for the traps in this place. I’m gonna help the two of you and ya know there ain’t nothin’ you can stay to stop me.”

_______ let out a breath and gave Tristen a thankful, admiring smile. “I guess there’s no talking you out of it then…Thanks for always being so stubborn.”

“No thanks necessary. It’s my specialty.”

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

Eddie still stood in his cell with a distant look by the time they had arrived, seeming to have been lost in his own thoughts. He hadn’t taken a seat to relax his nerves or anything after _______ left him earlier. The entire time she had been gone, he stood there in thought, contemplating what his future held for him in Mount Massive. He had been so hopeful about his future recently, finding faith in the (eye color) eyes of his lovely peach. When they had kissed, he was gifted a fraction of time in this world to dream about what life could be like outside of the hospital. He was allowed to envision in his mind a life he could build for himself all over again with _______ by his side, the two of them happy in a cozy home with a white picket fence. They might’ve been able to even start a family of their own together if fate was kind to them…but almost as soon as the pleasant images came to him, they were stripped away by Matthew’s vindictive nature. His hope was taken with him the moment Matthew stomped away from his cell in his cacophonic laughter.

In his head, he had won.

He finally won, and now Eddie was left to deal with the consequences of his fate.

That was all he was able to think about until _______ and Tristen appeared before him, startling him back into reality. He had been so lost in thought, he didn’t even notice the sound of their running nor the sound of the stairwell door or the elevators.

“Eddie!” _______ called to him with a deep breath of relief. “Thank goodness you’re still here…I’ve brought some help and told a friend of ours here about what happened. He’s downstairs right now trying to get your records in order, but just in case, Tristen and I are going to stay here with you.”

The entire way back to the fourth floor of the male ward had _______ fighting with a harsh bout of anxiety building up at the pit of her stomach. She kept on imagining them rushing up to find Eddie’s cell empty, nothing left behind but his carelessly open cell door. The thought mixed with the escalating anxiety had been enough to make her feel like throwing up thanks to her nerves.

Luckily enough, they had arrived with good timing.

Yet, Eddie was visibly rather uncomfortable with the current situation. His eyes turned from _______ to Tristen and back again, unsure as to how to react or how to respond. He knew that Tristen was a good friend of hers, but he didn’t know how much he knew about their relationship. Should he act like any regular patient of hers? Or as he had always been acting with her from the very beginning?

“Don’t sweat it, pal, I ain’t no nark. _______ here has told me a lot about you and I’m on your side.” Tristen assured him with a curt nod and small smile.

“Yeah, you can trust Tristen, Eddie. He’s been helping me and keeping me safe since I first got here. He’s a really good friend.”

Once again, Eddie looked between the two orderlies, only able to respond to them with a vacant nod. Oh, what trouble he has caused. Not only has he wrapped up _______ in his problems, but now her dear friend too? Where will the effect of his bad omens end? They didn’t deserve to be risking their skin over him. _______ had given him life again for the amount of time he was able to spend with her, and he was grateful for that. He was even allowed that kiss he had been starving to indulge in for so long. She was nothing short of an angel to him, and for now, that should be enough. He should be able to let her go, to tell her and her friend to forget about him, but when he parted his lips to try to say so, nothing came out.

Pain flashed through his sky blue eyes, a pain he had never felt before meeting _______. He had to shut his mouth and turn his gaze towards the ground, because his heart would constrict and squeeze in agony within its cage of ivory deep within himself the longer he looked at them.

He was losing her.

He was really losing her.

They had such high hopes of saving him, but he knew this place much better than they did.

He knew he would soon be lost to Mount Massive’s history, just another name added to the list of deceased patients, abandoned by time.

_______ and Tristen looked at one another then, both of them exchanging a sympathetic glance, but it clearly hurt her so much more to see him like this than it did him. Turning back to Eddie, _______ reached through the gaps between the bars of his cell, her hands gently grabbing his own to squeeze in her delicate fingers.

“It’s okay,” She whispered, her eyes set on him as he slowly lifted his gaze to meet her own once more. “I know this is scary. Trust me, I’m scared too, but Trist and I aren’t going to let anything happen to you.”

He doesn’t deserve her. He never did. He knows that. She was too good to him, too caring, too loving. He was far too selfish for someone as selfless as her. He should have told her right from the beginning to run away from this place as quick as she could, but now that their feelings were mixed in the middle and that kiss was still hanging between them, he knew it was too late for regrets like that. As they looked into each other’s eyes, he knew there was no turning back now, though he supposed they passed that point a long time ago.

“Okay,” He eventually muttered back to her with another nod of his head. “Thank you, darling. Thank you for always being there for me when nobody else bothered with a lost soul like me.” _______’s lips angled into a sad smile in response to him as the three of them slid down to sit on the floor beside one another, the bars in between them nothing that could rightfully separate them beyond the physical.

“You don’t have to thank me for that. I’ve promised you time and time again that I would get you out of here, and I’m not about to go back on that promise.”

“I wouldn’t worry so much about it if I were you anyway, buddy,” Tristen interjected as she and Eddie pulled their hands back to one another to sit more comfortably. “We’ve got a plan, see? Once we get the ball rolling with it, we’re gonna set you and everybody else in this fucked up place free. Peeps like you who don’t belong in a place like this will be free to live their own lives again, and those who need real help are gonna be sent to places that can actually help’em. We’re gonna make sure of it, so don’t even sweat it. Once we got your record ordeal settled, we’ll hop right on that bandwagon again. Ain’t that right, _______?”

She looked at Tristen, flashing him a thankful smile in return for his compassionate one.

“That’s right.”

Once again, Eddie had to take a moment to look between the two young orderlies. He was so grateful for them, but the g̵̜̍u̶̱͛i̶͊͜l̴̘̄ṫ̶̯ within him only grew stronger the deeper into trouble they got for his sake.

They would be better off if I wasn’t around anymore.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

Time passed slowly for the trio.

So painfully slowly.

Since returning to Eddie’s cell, _______ and Tristen had pressed their backs against the rusted bars, guarding the man who sat beside them on the other side. They were silent for what felt like an eternity to the three, and during that long, quiet wait, _______ would stare up at the clock on the wall.

Tick…tick…tick.

Time was running at its own pace, deciding to feel extra sluggish deliberately for the trio. She swore it was doing it on purpose; it simply must be. It must sense the relief she felt with each couple of minutes which passed them by without any kind of situation rearing its ugly head. In her mind, she thought if they were able to pass the day without anything happening, that Eddie would be relatively safe overnight as well. Maybe it would even mean that David managed to talk to Blaire downstairs and fix up what Matthew had done. It was a hopeful thought, one she desperately clung to, but by the slow-moving hands of the clock, she feared they wouldn’t make it that long without something happening.

She urged the hands to tick faster, mentally cheering them on, begging for them to be merciful with her, Eddie and Tristen. She prayed in her head that, despite being such an obviously ruthless man, Mr. Blaire would see the error of Matthew’s ways as soon as David brought it to his attention.

God, she just wanted everything to turn out okay.

Any amount of peace she was feeling in that moment, however, was quickly shattered and pried away from her the second the sound of the stairwell door hit her ears.

She was startled in place, automatically stiffening up with Tristen and Eddie on the spot as their gazes all focused on the end of the hall. A myriad of footsteps were making their way over to them, a mumbling of voices mixing with the ominous sound. At the same time, the group of footsteps seemed to startle the rest of her patients in their cells, causing for some of them to shout or cry or even whimper in fear.

In mere seconds, the fourth floor of the male ward was filled with inharmonious sound, and it was like a cue for the trio to stand on their feet all at once. _______ and Tristen faced the end of the hall as the group marching over grew near. They stood side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, giving one another strength and courage against the upcoming storm they’d be facing together.

With hardened gazes, the two aboveground orderlies watched as a group of underground orderlies turned into their corridor. There were four underground workers, to be exact, and a man _______ and Tristen automatically recognized leading them at the front.

Patrick, with his warm chocolate brown eyes, looked just as surprised to see _______ and Tristen standing guard before Eddie’s cell as they did to see him at the head of the underground group of orderlies. Contrasting with the serious coldness which resonated from the group, Patrick gave off the impression of understanding and warmth – something the two orderlies noticed the day they met him when they went to talk to him about Matthew in the Human Resources office.

Could that kind of warmth really be trusted in a place like this anymore?

They weren’t so sure.

“Ms. _______, Mr. Anderson,” He formerly and politely addressed the two with a sympathetic look befalling his chocolate gaze, his hand absentmindedly patting the breast pocket of his jacket. “It’s so nice to see you two again; I hope you’re both doing good. If you don’t mind my asking, what exactly are you doing here? I thought your day shifts ended a few hours ago.”

“We’re here to stop whatever it is you people think you’re gonna do with this dude back here.” Tristen replied, gesturing to Eddie by pointing behind him from over his shoulder with his thumb.

_______ nodded. “We know you received Eddie’s file from Matthew and you’re probably here to take him downstairs with you, but we can’t let you do that. Matthew padded Eddie’s files, Patrick. I heard him say so myself! He padded his files and I have reason to believe he’s taken official underground documentation from my coworker, David, too. I don’t know what kind of treatment you’re all putting these people through underground, but whatever it is, Eddie isn’t ready for it. His data was compromised, and if you take him, you’ll be administering unnecessary medication to someone who doesn’t need it.”

Patrick blinked in surprise at the information he was given, his lips parting slightly for a moment as confusion washed over his features. Padded files? Why would anybody bother with something like that? Let alone anyone like Matthew since he was obviously always trying to impress and appease Mr. Blaire. It didn’t make sense to him, but then again, a lot of things about Mount Massive never did. In a way, he wouldn’t be surprised, either, if the man’s file was padded.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time someone was admitted to the hospital unjustly.

As strange as the information was, Patrick shook his head, the sympathetic look still welled up in his gaze. “Listen, I like you two. You’re both good people, but even if I did believe you, there isn’t anything I can do to stop this from happening. These are orders from Mr. Blaire himself. If we don’t get that man downstairs today, it’ll be my head on the line.” His expression noticeably fell to an unsettled one. “I’m sorry, but there isn’t anything I can do.”

As soon as the words left him, the underground workers behind him began to move. In reality, Patrick had no real authority over any of them. He was simply told to show them the way over to Eddie’s cell as soon as Mr. Blaire gave him the order. Seeing the panicked and horrified looks on both of their faces now made him feel worse about the predicament he was caught up in. He genuinely did think they were good people. He wasn’t heartless; he didn’t want to hurt them in any way or take their patients from them unjustly, but what was he supposed to do? He didn’t have any control of the situation. It was completely out of his hands.

All he could down now was powerlessly watch as the underground orderlies shoved their way passed _______ and Tristen to get to the patient behind them.

“No! You don’t understand! He isn’t what you’re looking for! You’re making a big mistake!” _______ shouted at the workers, rushing over to cover the door before they could reach it. Staring up at them, she tried not to look too intimidated by their cold expressions. Her hands grabbed at the bars behind her as an added measure to keep her in place and she tried to harden the look on her face to meet them head-to-head, but it didn’t look like they cared much for her tough front.

“Move aside. We have our orders. This isn’t any of your concern anymore.” One of the four workers told her, already reaching a hand down to push her out of the way, but Tristen had gotten a strong grip of his wrist with a snap before he could touch her. Turning his view to the man, the orderly narrowed his eyes at the aggressive look on his face.

“Keep your damn hands away from her.” Tristen practically snarled at him, shoving his hand aside.

The man scowled at him in response, but rather than do anything himself, he simply stepped back and allowed for two of the others to get a grasp of both Tristen and _______’s arms. The two underground workers held the orderlies back, pulling their arms behind their backs despite how hard the two of them fought against them.

Stop!” _______ cried out again, pulling and tugging against the worker’s grasp on her, watching helplessly as the other two opened Eddie’s door with their own set of keys. “You’re making a huge mistake!

“Hey! Don’t act deaf! You bastards know you can hear us! He ain’t ready for your crazy shit downstairs! That sack of crap Mattie is playing you all like a violin! I can’t believe you’d actually trust that guy!” Tristen shouted at the group as well, roughly trying to pry himself away from the man’s grasp behind him.

The entire time, Eddie had been watching – horrified into speechlessness.

He had been the cause for all of their distress and all the trouble they were getting into right now. It’s his f̷͚̿à̶͇ũ̸̱l̵̩͘ť̶̝ they’re fighting so hard; it’s his f̶̥̆a̷̛̲ũ̴͇l̶̬̂t̶̢̄ they’re getting themselves wrapped up in such a terrible situation. If it weren’t for him, then they never would have started meddling into the darker parts of this place. Who knows? They might have never even figured out what was going on behind closed doors. It was all his f̷̯͆a̴̢͑u̵͉̾ḻ̶͝t̷̠͛, every single bit of it – and he couldn’t stand it anymore.

When the two other underground orderlies came into his cell, he didn’t put up a fight. He simply looked at them with the eyes of a defeated man. He felt brokenhearted that everything had to come down to this, but it was finally time to give himself up to his fate. He would no longer allow himself to be a burden and threat to the peace of his darling peach and her dear friend.

Thus, he nodded his head slowly at the two underground workers and allowed them to take him by the arms, one on either side of him. He took in a deep breath as he was walked out of his cell, _______’s particular scent hitting him harder than usual as he walked by her.

“Eddie, you have to tell them! Speak up! Tell them about what happened with Matthew! Tell them this is all a big misunderstanding!” She cried after him, her eyes staring intently at his back. Subconsciously, she pulled harder from the man who held such a strong grasp of her arms, desperately wanting to rush to Eddie’s side and save him from everything – to make everything right again.

“If you want to stay out of trouble yourself, then shut your damn mouth and quit squirming so much!” The man who held onto her snapped, tightly twisting her arms behind her back, forcing them harshly in the opposite direction they were meant to be in naturally as a warning. She let out a gasped whimper of pain in response, recoiling back to the man in hopes of loosening his grip on her.

HEY! Let go of her, fucker! I swear to God, when I get my hands on ya, I’m gonna smash your face into concrete!” Tristen spat at the man, just about ready to take things a step further into a physical confrontation. The man who held onto him, in response, pulled him back abruptly before slamming him face-first against a nearby wall to detain him further. Tristen, who wasn’t expecting any kind of backlash from his captor, let out an agonizing wheeze, the air having been completely knocked out of his lungs.

Tristen!” _______ cried, horrified by the sudden attack. “Stop it! STOP! You’re hurting him!

The man pinning Tristen to the wall simply scoffed, pulling Tristen’s arms further up on his back, forcing the boy to choke out in agony again. “You really think you’re going to be able to do anything to us? You’re real funny, kid; a genuine comedian. I’d suggest you keep your trap shut, too, if you know what’s good for you. If you play nice, then maybe we can leave you with just these few bumps and bruises.”

This violent scene was something Patrick hadn’t been expecting when he came up the stairs with this lot of underground orderlies. His orders had been simple. They really were. All Mr. Blaire told him to do was lead the group of workers he brought to his office up to the fourth floor of the male ward where he told him Gluskin’s cell was located. They would take care of business from there. Once he left them there, he was expected to go back to his own office on the first floor, but as he watched the confrontation with his own look of horror, he felt himself freeze in place. He had seen a lot of terrible things while working for the Murkoff Corporation, but he had never met anyone working under it with such innocence like them.

Sure, he had known of other employees working beneath Murkoff who didn’t have even the slightest clue of the beast hiding behind the guise of charities and good will, but he had never known of two employees actively trying to make a right in so much sin. In his eyes, Murkoff was beyond saving. Anything it touched decayed to nothing but a rotten mound of disease, bile and c̷̹̽o̷̻r̶͖̒r̴̯͌u̷̟p̵̢̈ẗ̵̲i̷̗͠ö̸̟́ṇ̷́. There was no saving anything the corporate giant got to – but these two insisted on attempting the impossible. Why? Why were they so persistent? He didn’t understand them, but he felt so much pity for them. Although, perhaps pity wasn’t the right word. There was another word for it, one better suiting the empathetic nature he hid beneath the fear he displayed on the surface:

Sympathy.

ENOUGH!

Eddie’s voice boomed like thunder through the chaos, quickly silencing the shouting, the cries and the fighting. The men who held _______ and Tristen paused in their constricting of their arms, their annoyed gazes both shifting to the patient held by their other two companions just a few feet away. Patrick’s gaze quickly turned to the patient as well, his eyes widened at the stability in his voice. Out of everyone he expected to hear protest from, he certainly didn’t expect it from him. The look on his face was also something he hadn’t been expecting either.

He looked completely sane of mind, though tired and aching from the chaos around him.

Could this really be one of our patients?

Who was he kidding?

Any single one of the people standing in this corridor right now could classify as a Mount Massive patient.

“_______, Tristen,” Eddie’s voice softened as his gaze focused on them and them alone. A sad smile angled his lips then, the look in his eyes much softer. As a whole, he almost looked like he was at peace with this decision – as at peace as he could be despite the heartbreak he felt. “I can’t come up with the proper words to thank the both of you for wanting to save me from this. I appreciate it more than you would ever know, but…you’ve done so much for me already. Far too much…It’s my turn to do the same for you.”

Already, _______ began to shake her head at him firmly in reply, tears welling up in her eyes. She didn’t need to hear everything he was going to say. Just picking up on the tone of his voice told her everything she needed to know.

He was giving himself up to protect them.

“You’ve put so much effort into saving a lost soul like myself, and I could never truly repay you for that. Thank you both. Thank you sincerely...but I’ll be leaving with these gentlemen here today without a fight, so I don’t want you fighting against them either.” He met _______’s eyes specifically then, his sad smile faltering into a hurt grimace when he noticed the tears rolling down her chubby cheeks. He wished he could reach out to her, cup her cheeks in his hands, wipe those tears away with his thumbs and envelope her in another kiss. Just a final taste of her, a final token of goodbye – but he knew that was far beyond his reach now.

In a way, it always had been.

He was just lucky enough to scratch the surface before his descent.

“Thank you, _______, for always being by my side since your first day with me. Thank you for showing me the warm kindness you hold in that heart of yours. You’ve breathed new life into me, and although it was short-lived, I wouldn’t change it for all the time in the world. My only regret is that we were never able to fix the yard like we always promised we would. I wish the Jonquils had sprouted before today, but I suppose it’s much too late for that now. Please, don’t let this take away that warmth in your heart from you.” He managed to bring another smile to his lips for her in hopes of easing the pain in her eyes and the depth of sorrow washing over her with her tears, but even just smiling at her caused his own chest to tighten terribly. He could feel his eyes sting with the threat of tears as well, but he shook the feeling away and widened his smile again in spite of it.

“Run away from this place, _______. Forget about this hospital – forget about me – and go live the beautiful life you so rightfully deserve on the outside. You’ve given me more than enough. Now, it’s time I give back.”

All day, she had been fighting back the urge to cry. She felt like that’s all she’s been doing nowadays: crying. Whenever something happened, she was always shedding tears, and it always made her feel so weak. She wanted to be stronger for her patients, stronger for Tristen, stronger for Eddie, but finally…she couldn’t hold them in anymore. His heartfelt, somber speech to her forced the tears to fall heavily down her cheeks without mercy. They slowly traced along the curves of her plump cheeks, sliding down to follow the lines of her jaw. Some would simply fall from her chin down onto her uniform’s top, heavy with a kind of sorrow and emotion she had only ever felt for Eddie.

She continued to shake her head at him, the shaking becoming more vigorous as a slew of “no”s left her lips in tangent. The word was choked up and broken amongst her crying, the world around her having turned blurry. Though her gaze remained on him, Eddie, too, grew blurred and undefined in her vision as she watched the orderlies begin to lead him down the corridor towards where they came from.

EDDIE!” She gave one final shriek of his name as her knees buckled beneath her.

He looked over his shoulder to her in response, she could see that. He was trying to tell her something, mouthing it off, so she quickly shook her head again and blinked her eyes rapidly to clear them of the tears they were drowned in. When she focused on him again, she was able to see what he was mouthing off to her:

It's okay.

With that, finally, she wasn’t able to watch him being taken away any longer. Her head fell, ducked between her shoulders as she openly sobbed in the grip of the man who held her. She felt grief, she felt mourning, she felt loss. It was as though they had killed Eddie off right in front of her, ripped her right out of her arms and taken his last breath before her very eyes. She could do nothing to save him. Time and time again, she failed to protect the people she cared about most.

When would the loss and failure ever end?

After a few moments, the sound of the elevator could be heard from around the bend of the hall, and that was the cue for the remaining two orderlies to let _______ and Tristen go. As soon as they did, _______ fell to her knees right where she was and her aching arms came up to hold her face in her hands. Hidden there, she cried into her open palms. Without missing a beat, Tristen rushed over to her as soon as he was released, stumbling on his feet, still a little jarred from what the other orderly had done to him. Despite that, he was right there with her, falling to his knees beside her before tightly wrapping his arms around her trembling figure to comfort her with whispered little nothings leaving his lips. He knew this would do very little to heal the pain she felt, but there wasn’t anything else he could do other than be there for her just like he promised her he always would be.

“That takes care of that.” One of the unknown orderlies remarked to his partner, the two already making their way down the hall to meet with the others. Before getting too far, however, he looked back at the man who had lead them here. “Patrick,” He called. “You’re done here. You can go back to your cubicle. We’ll let Mr. Blaire know you did a fine job, but try not to loiter around so damn much. I’ll be forced to add that to my report on your services.”

Patrick didn’t respond. He simply nodded his head at the two orderlies, watching then as they both wandered off to the bend of the hall. Once they were out of sight, he turned his gaze back to the two aboveground orderlies huddled together on the floor of the corridor. He shuffled awkwardly in place, shifting his weight from one leg to the other as he, once again, patted at his jacket’s breast pocket.

He didn’t really know how he should go about this anymore. These weren’t just some emotionless employees under Murkoff anymore. For some reason or another that he couldn’t rightfully pinpoint, these two actually cared deeply about the people under their care despite knowing how potentially dangerous each and every single one of them actually could be. That didn’t stop their care of their patients, though, and that clearly showed in the effort they put up to keep that Gluskin character from being wrongfully taken to the underground. He doubted they really knew what the underground therapy really meant, seeing as the girl had insisted on his files being padded and whatnot, but still. He could tell they both just wanted the best for the people they cared for, and that was something Patrick could relate to and understand.

He never wanted to cause either one of them any harm and he never would have guessed that things would have escalated the way they did when he brought the group up here. He had intended things to go by smooth and easy, but clearly that wasn’t the case. Instead, he got these two innocent and kind people involved, and he swore he had never felt g̶̮͝u̶̗ï̴̘l̸̮̑ṱ̸͛i̶̜̐ẹ̵̀r̷̞. He almost just wanted to slink away from them, to disappear beyond the bend of the hall as though he had never been there to begin with – as though he didn’t exist. He couldn’t do that, though. He still had unfinished business with _______ he had to get out of the way.

As soon as he heard the elevator from the bend of the hall announce the departure of the remaining underground goons, Patrick approached the two individuals on the ground. He was slow and cautious, his footsteps barely making a sound as he grew near, and once he stood in front of them, he took it a step further by crouching down to their level with a sympathetic look on his face.

“I’m so sorry about what happened,” He murmured to the two, gaining their attention. He noticed Tristen give him a warning glare while _______ lifted her head just the slightest bit to show her tear-stained face. He knew the look from the boy was a protective one, and in response, he lifted his hand as a peaceful gesture. “I know…I know you probably don’t trust me after that – can’t b̴̧͗l̸̘̄ả̶͚ṁ̸̘e̷͎͂ you if you don’t. I wish there were something I could say to make this better, but…I’m in as much of a hard place as the two of you are. Mr. Blaire sent me to bring the group up here, and if I didn’t…” He trailed off, taking in the look on the girl’s face, noticing how fearful and broken she appeared.

He didn’t want to hurt or scare her more than she already was.

“Well…what would have happened isn’t important. I just wanted to apologize for everything. I didn’t expect things to turn out the way they did…” He let out a deep breath, finally reaching into his breast pocket to pull out a folded slip he had carried within. Opening it up, he handed it over to _______, an unreadable, forlorn look befalling his expression.

She stared at the paper for a few seconds, whimpering and sniffling, before reaching out to shakily take it from him.

“Hey, this looks like what you gave me earlier today…” Tristen muttered as he and _______ tried to read what the slip was all about. Truth be told, she was so out of it, so shaken and torn apart about Eddie, she couldn’t properly register in her head what any of the words on the paper meant. None of it mattered to her. It wasn’t important. None of it was anymore.

“That’s because it’s essentially the same transfer slip, though it has its differences.” Patrick remarked, meeting _______’s eyes when she looked up at him. “It’s a special transfer slip Mr. Blaire had me hand out to all the aboveground female workers. You were the last transfer I was supposed to talk to...You’re being moved over to another of Murkoff’s facilities with the rest of the female patients we had sent off this morning and the other female workers. Mr. Blaire is giving you and the other workers until tomorrow to pack. A Murkoff truck will be here in the morning to pick you and the others up, but if you want my advice…I’d leave this place while you still can. Both of you. You’re both good people and you have no real ties to this place. You’re essentially free to do whatever you want…for now. Don’t take that freedom for granted. I’m tied to this place until the day I die, but you can leave. You can escape…If I were you, I’d leave my notice in the Human Resources office and leave before daybreak.”

Patrick stood to his feet once more then, though his gaze remained on the orderlies at they looked up at him with confusion and pain still riddled on their faces. He offered them both a sympathetic smile in response.

“I hope you heed my advice and I wake up to your notices in the morning.”

Finally, after saying his piece, he turned around and began to make his way out of the male ward, leaving _______ and Tristen behind him on their own with nothing but the sound of the ticking clock on the wall to keep them company.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

The rest of the day from that point forward didn’t feel real to either of them.

It felt completely surreal, everything that was going on. First, all of Tristen’s patients are taken away from him, then he’s transferred to the male ward, then Eddie gets taken away and now _______ is expected to transfer with all the other female workers? It was too much to take in all at once. Saying that the day was eventful was a clear understatement, and just thinking about it was enough to make her chest ache in the worst way possible.

There was nothing she was able to do to fix things when Eddie willingly let himself be taken underground. Once he was walked down that corridor and he was out of her sights, she knew somewhere deep inside of her that things would never be the same again. Something in the back of her head told her it was the last time she’d ever get to see his smile, and oh, how bitter it was for the final one she was able to see to be so melancholic and tragic. The image of his sad smile was burned into her mind, permanently finding a place within her memories where she knew it would never leave. His eyes struck her so differently in that moment, as if the world had stopped around them all over again just to give them that chance to say goodbye.

She knew she had gained feelings for Eddie for a long while now and that she was only trying to deny it from fear of them being swallowed up by the asylum if they properly let it show, but in the end, it didn’t seem like any of it mattered.

The first and only kiss they managed to be able to share, something that should have been a sweet beginning to the rest of their lives, turned out to be a bitter goodbye.

She wasn’t able to put herself back together on her own after he left.

When Eddie, the underground orderlies and Patrick all left her and Tristen alone in that corridor, the two friends remained huddled on the ground for what felt like ages. He held her close to himself the entire time they were there, his arms maintaining a strong grip on her as she cried openly against him in the midst of their turbulent situations. Tristen was all that _______ had left, and now that Eddie was pried away from her and she was given that transfer slip by Patrick, she dreaded deep inside of her that Tristen would be next.

The thought was terrifying. Enough to chill her to her very core.

There wasn’t anything they could do anymore to fix what had been done. She knew that. So, when Tristen eventually began to stand the two of them up when her tears had run dry and the only thing that came from her were whimpered hiccups, she didn’t protest. She allowed him to guide her to the stairwell and walk her to the bathroom on the first floor. There, he had gently taken care of her by wiping her face clean of tears with a towel wet with warm water. He instructed her to wash her eyes out as well, and she did as she was told to, hoping that the water would help wash away the way she felt.

Sadly, no such luck.

After they left the bathroom, Tristen had taken her outside with him to get some fresh air. They didn’t talk or anything. They just went out to the front of the hospital together to sit on one of the benches by the large fountain in the middle of the building’s entrance. He knew better than to take her out to the courtyard they used to take their patients to.

Alone together, they silently huddled close on the bench and watched the sky, never letting each other go. Her mind was blank, that much was certain, but at the back of it, there were parts of her which kept shouting at her, angry with how little she was able to help Eddie in the end. The g̷͚̕u̶̗͑i̴͎̓l̷̤͝t̷̳ she felt inside of herself as a result of her failure was something she couldn’t handle on her own, she knew that much. She was just glad she had Tristen there with her, rubbing her arm and shoulder with his hand, always pulling her away from that abyss before she could sink in too deep to be pulled out again.

Yet, despite how bleak everything appeared to be, there was still one last string of hope they clung to: David.

David was still underground, last _______ had known. He promised her he was going to get things straightened out, but where was he? The pair had spent the entire day waiting for him to appear. After they got tired of sitting outside, they retreated back into the haunting halls of Mount Massive, deciding amongst themselves quietly that they would be taking the rest of the day off. Considering the situation, _______ figured she wasn’t expected to do anything else with her patients anyway.

They made their way up to her bedroom to wait after that. They waited the entire day out in that small room together, but the only progress they were really able to make was calming her down to a more stable state of being. When dinner time came, she still didn’t want to leave her room, but she was noticeably better than before. She felt hungry just like Tristen and had the want to eat, so he had done her the favor of going to get their dinners for them from their break-rooms so they could eat together in her room. Before eating, they even changed into their pajamas to get themselves into comfortable clothing, wishfully thinking their full tummies and the comforting embrace of fluffy PJs would help calm their nerves. They hoped David would find them in her room by the time they were done, but still nothing. Not even the sound of shuffling footsteps along the halls.

Eventually, the clock on _______’s bedside table struck ten o’clock, and by then, the worry began to set in.

“This isn’t like him,” Tristen commented, staring at the hands of the clock as the seconds ticked by for a moment before turning to look at _______. “He said he was taking tonight off of underground work. He should have been up here already hours ago. You’re sure you saw his room’s light was off when we came up here?”

She nodded slowly, wringing her hands together upon her lap. “Yeah...I didn’t see any light coming from under his door…He went downstairs early in the afternoon, too…” She trailed off, both of them sitting in silence with uncomfortable thoughts beginning to flood into their minds. After everything that happened today, what else could go wrong? They really didn’t need anything else to happen anymore, but David missing for so many hours without word from him is definitely reason for concern. “Do you think something happened to him?” She whispered her question lowly, a chill hitting her as soon as the words left her lips.

Tristen stared at her, silently parting his lips before giving a shake of his head. “No,” He eventually replied, laughter coming from him, hoping to lighten up the quickly plummeting mood. “No, no, we’re just overreacting! Dave’s been working here way longer than us! I bet he just came up to nap after he was done downstairs! Him and his lazy ass must be worryin’ us for nothing!” He laughed out, waving his hand dismissively at her, internally letting out a sigh of relief when he noticed her tense form visibly loosen a bit.

“Yeah…I guess that’s possible…” She muttered, her eyes trailing over to her door She stared at her door vacantly for a while, the unrest within her stirring as the troubling thoughts in her head grew louder. “Let’s go check.” She stated, already standing to her feet. “If he’s napping, then that would explain the lights being off in his room and why we haven’t seen him all day…Yeah…I’m sure he must be asleep in bed by now. No doubt about it.”

Tristen grimaced lightly at the sound of her voice. He could tell she was trying to talk herself into believing their speculations. He was having a hard time believing it too, but seeing that in her was a lot harder on him than anything else. Nonetheless, he stood to his feet with her and followed her to her door on this new mission of theirs.

“Yeah, exactly,” He agreed with her as they walked out into the dorm rooms corridor. “I bet he must sleep like a rock. He had the morning shift today and everything, so he probs just flung himself into bed as soon as he fixed everything up with that douche Jer.” He scowled deeply when he mentioned his name. “I’d be tired of his shit, too, if I had to deal with him like that.”

“Y-yep,” She stuttered out now as they walked down the hall, slowly approaching David’s dark bedroom. “That’s true…I would be too…” She couldn’t say much beyond that. She felt herself tensing up again the closer they got to his bedroom door, a lump forming in her throat as the muscles in her body tensed up again, bracing for whatever they would find.

Once they came to stand before his door, they silently stood next to each other for a few minutes. They stared at the imitation wood, uneasy, almost as if the door itself was staring right back at them. In her head, _______ tried to tell herself multiple times to knock on the door and call out David’s name to get his attention, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She was too anxious – too scared.

“Welp,” Tristen softly spoke up, lifting his hand as he gave her a reassuring, small smile. “Time to wake Dave’s lazy ass up.” Turning back to the door, he hesitated for a second.

Two.

Three.

Then finally rasped his knuckles against the imitation wood.

Rather than hearing the knock from it they both expected, the two watched as the door slowly swung inward, a shrill CREEEAK groaning out from its hinges. They both stiffened in place again, watching as the door slowly swung open, revealing the dark bedroom within. The lights were turned off – the room pitch black. They knew the light switch was near the door; each dorm in the asylum had the exact same layout, but for a few seconds, neither one of them moved to turn on the lights. It was almost as though they were too afraid to shed light on what waited for them in the dark. Still, they both came here for answers and to ensure the safety of their friend and ally.

With the thought in mind, Tristen took the first step into the room, stretching his arm out towards where his memory told him the light switch was supposed to be. It took a little swatting and fumbling about, but he eventually felt his fingers brush against the switch. As soon as he did, he flicked the lights on, the attention of the two immediately centering on the room ahead. 

The first thing they both noticed in unison was the fact that David clearly wasn’t around. He wasn’t napping in his bed like they had speculated. In fact, his bed was immaculately made. It gave the impression that nobody has lived in the room for a while, but was being kept clean and tidy by hospital staff. Taking a slow glance around the room, _______ noticed that the entire space looked just like the bed. Everything was clean and picked up, devoid of any kind of personal item lying about. She knew David was a tidy and clean man from the first time she had stepped into his room, but she couldn’t spot a single one of his belongings. Even his desk was cleared of all the files, paperwork and forms he had littered across it just the day before, not a trace of the complimentary laptop he had on there to be found either.

It was as though nobody had ever been living there at all.

“Okay…this is starting to get pretty freaky, not gonna lie.” Tristen commented, looking over to _______ with a wide-eyed glance. “I know I haven’t been in the guy’s room much, but don’t it look a bit too…clean?”

“I…was just thinking the exact same thing…” She muttered her response, meeting his gaze as an unsettling shiver raced down her spine. “If I didn’t know better, I would say it looked like nobody had ever been living here to begin with…”

They could practically sense the heaviness in the atmosphere now. Tensions were building and their ability to find any viable excuses for the strange happenings was becoming weaker by the second. Had they actually done something to David when he ventured down to the underground?

“Let’s look around!” Tristen eventually suggested, his face brightening up hopefully. “Maybe he left a note or something!” _______ could only nod in response, but she did follow his lead.

Walking further into the dorm, the two friends began to search about every place they could think of to find a note from David. _______ immediately approached his desk while Tristen tried his dresser and bedside tables.

Standing before the cheap desk, she ran her hand atop its surface, the emptiness it offered her feeling completely unreal. Turning to look at the three lined drawers the desk had to offer, she went through each of them one by one, coming up to empty spaces in all of them. Her fear was starting to escalate with each empty space she found herself running into, her heart pounding loudly in her chest. Could there maybe be something in the closet?

Instantly, she rushed over to it at the thought, throwing the closet door open to reveal the vacant space inside. The only thing she found in there were two coat hangers and an empty shoebox. Cursing heavily and shakily to herself now, she slammed the closet door shut and rushed over to David’s bed while Tristen rummaged through all the drawers in his dresser. It wasn’t long before pillows were flying across the room as _______ attempted to maybe find something in his blankets and comforters. She pried the blankets and comforters off of the mattress, completely ruining the made bed. The mattress was bare now, the bedding dropped down beside her feet, but there was nothing to be seen. By then, Tristen had begun to frantically tear through his beside tables, obviously coming up with nothing as well.

As she watched him pull out the drawers to check more thoroughly, she just stood there, staring at him with a look of terror on her face. There wasn’t anywhere else to search. The dorm didn’t have much else to offer them and it wasn’t like they had found any of David’s personal suitcases or anything. The man had completely vanished, erased from his dorm room like he had never existed, but she knew he was real. She had spoken to him just that morning and had made a friendly amends with him just last night.

Something happened to him.

She grimaced heavily at the voice in her head.

Something bad happened to him. You sent him down there. If it weren’t for your meddling, he’d be here by now.

“It’s my ḟ̴̧ā̷̘u̷̮͐ḻ̸̐t̵̡̍…”

She spoke before she could even think about it. Tristen, who was in the midst of pulling the mattress off of the bedframe in hopes of finding something underneath, paused to look in her direction.

“What?”

“It’s my ḟ̴̰ä̴̳́u̴̟̎l̷̻͗t̶̳͒…They must have done something to him down there, Tristen. I-I asked him to help me, he went down there to confront those people for my sake, and now he’s come up missing…It’s my f̴̧̌a̵͉̒ǔ̷̢l̴͙̈t̷̑͜…” She shook her head, meeting his gaze, but this time, there wasn’t sadness reflected in them.

No, this time, there was anger swirling in her (eye color) eyes.

“It’s MY f̴̬̈́ȃ̷̼u̴̺̐ĺ̵͍t̵̻͝ all over again! Again and again, people are being taken away and hurt because of ME and I’m SICK OF IT! I’m sick of those underground rats and I’m SICK AND TIRED of Mount Massive!” She shouted, jumping over the pile of blankets at her feet and storming out of David’s vacant dorm.

“H-hey!” Tristen called out to her, abandoning the mattress to rush after her in the corridor. “What do you mean, _______? Where are you going?” He asked her urgently once he caught up to her quickened pace in the corridor. 

“I’m tired of all this shadiness, Trist!” She shouted again, though her stride continued uninterrupted. “They’re taking everything away from us! They took all your patients, they took Eddie, they’re sending me away and now David is missing too?! No! I’m sick of the secrets!” She quickened her pace to a sprint, Tristen not missing a single beat as he matched her every step.

“You’ve got an idea?”

You’re damn straight I do.” She firmly replied. “I don’t care how off limits the underground is anymore.” She came to a stop in front of the elevator doors on their floor, Tristen stopping right beside her. Meeting his eyes, she narrowed her furious gaze. There was no stopping her now. “I’m going down there. I’m going down there, I’m gonna find David and Eddie and I’m getting us all the hell out of here! I’m not letting anyone suffer at their hand anymore! I’m sick of playing it safe! This ends tonight!”

Tristen blinked at her determined words in surprise for a few seconds, but before long, an equally as fierce and confident grin angled his lips.

“I’m with ya all the way, babe. Let’s give those bug-eyed fucks what they’ve got coming!”

With a firm nod given to one another, they both reached for their open hands in unison. Their fingers intertwined as soon as their hands met, and with his other, Tristen punched the button to open the elevator doors. Once they stepped inside, there was no hesitation. _______ punched the button to the first underground floor the elevator had to offer. They watched as the elevator doors closed before them slowly, sealing their fate, and neither one of them seemed to regret a thing. They were done with the lies, done with the pain and done with the injustice.

They had passed the point of no return, and they had full intentions of making it through to the end.

Together.

Chapter Text

It had always been practically impossible to keep track of time within the underground without some kind of watch or clock nearby. Even with the aid of these keepers of time, it always felt like the man-made world created beneath Mount Massive ran on its own rules of reality.

They had no kind of natural lighting down there. Everything was lit by the hot, bright fluorescent lights the underground shared in common with the aboveground. A person could easily become disoriented and absorbed in the ever-winding halls, cells and rooms beneath the peering lights for a countless amount of time if they weren’t careful. It’s truly a maddening thought. Patrick had never grown accustomed to the environment despite how long he had actually been working for Murkoff. He always felt eager to head back up into the real world almost as soon as he stepped foot into the elevator and pressed the button to descend – even if his real world only consisted of basking in the sunlight and fresh air of the asylum’s courtyard whenever he wasn’t on the clock.

It had actually been quite nice as of late.

Someone had been taking care of that dinged up courtyard, he noticed, though he didn’t know who would bother.

Regardless, he wasn’t really one to ask questions. Fresh air is fresh air, and that courtyard caged away from the mountains and woods surrounding Mount Massive has been his only place of escape for a very long time. He was grateful he had a place to run to at all when he had the time to himself, because he knew too much time cooped up within Mount Massive’s walls and stared upon by its unblinking, harsh lights could easily drive anyone to the brink of insanity.

Frankly, Patrick didn’t care for the underground work Murkoff was conducting beneath the floors of the asylum. He did everything he could to spend as little time there as possible, though it wasn’t like he was frequently requested as an audience down there to begin with. Naturally so, because of this, it truly did throw him for a loop when Mr. Blaire had called him past midnight and requested he meet him near the underground orderly living quarters. Not only that, but he was ordered to go down there with one of his messenger bags he uses for work packed with every single file they had on record for Matthew Waters.

The bag weighed heavy on Patrick’s slender shoulder. Its strap persistently dug into his skin through the t-shirt he threw on after hanging up on the intimidatingly unreadable man walking alongside him right now. He struggled to carry its weight, a few silent winces hissing passed his lips every now and again whenever he attempted to shift the strap to make it more comfortable on himself.

He n̶̂͜ḙ̴̔v̵̺͊ẻ̶̹r̴̬̎ ̴̹̒h̷͔̊a̵̦͒ḓ̴́ ̴̞̃ā̴̻ ̸͙͝g̸͇͋o̸͚͘ö̵̳́d̷͔͋ ̶̹͘f̸̲͝e̸̼̒e̴̘̿l̴̰̑i̸̢͌n̵̮̉g̷̪͋ about that Matthew guy. He had been there when the man first arrived after being approved and hired online by Mr. Blaire. His incoming file had been filled with all kinds of different police reports documenting multiple accounts of assault, battery, robbery, possession of illegal firearms, and a few other crimes and misdemeanors – and from the look of him, Patrick knew right from the start that he hadn’t been caught for everything he had done before his time in Mount Massive.

It didn’t take a detective to figure that out.

Because of all those police reports and the complaints which quickly came in from other staff members aboveground and underground, the man’s file had become much heavier than it really needed to be. The fact that Patrick had to lug it down to this synthetic place in a messenger bag that was causing his shoulder all kinds of hell was enough proof to him of how messed up this guy really is.

It was truly no wonder he felt so incredibly uneasy around Waters and any business surrounding him. Being in the same room as that man left him with a sense of dread; the discomfort he felt at the mere mention of his name was enough to make all the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck stand on end. It had become a subconscious habit of his to avoid all eye contact with him whenever possible, though he knew he didn’t carry much presence around intense Murkoff employees like Waters, anyway. That’s the way he liked it to be, too. The more invisible he was to the world around him, the less likely he was to find himself wrapped up in trouble like so many who came before and after him.

What has always been, perhaps, the most unnerving thing about his work environment, however, was Mr. Blaire himself.

No matter how little he spoke up around him, no matter how invisible he thought he was and how little presence he believed he carried, Mr. Blaire always saw him – even if it was just from the corner of his eye.

Always.

That kind of indiscernible, mysteriously merciless personality of his is what always kept Patrick on the edge of his seat whenever he was around. Somehow, he managed to stay on his good side thus far by following all his orders, but that didn’t make situations like the one they were currently in any easier to deal with.

Patrick was aware that he was basically one of Mr. Blaire’s secondary lackeys. He was typically called upon whenever documents and paperwork needed to be filled and hidden away from public view. Often times, he was even tasked with altering certain documents for public records as well. Whenever there were transfers or changes in job positions in the asylum, Patrick was called to take care of the work nobody else wanted to deal with.

It’s scummy.

It’s disgusting.

It’s very illegal – but it kept him safe.

He knew he was stuck under Murkoff’s thumb for the rest of his life, so having a pencil pusher kind of position ensured him a boring but safe job to do. M̴̠̑o̸̦̚r̸̽͜a̶͕͝l̴̰̏l̴͎̎y̷͓͠ ̵̚ͅq̴͚̇u̴̍ͅe̴̳͑ŝ̸̺t̷̞͐i̴͂͜ǫ̶͒n̴̛͜a̷͜b̸̲̎l̴̳̅ĕ̴̝ most of the time no doubt, but safe nonetheless.

Yet, there was something different about this specific task he had been called for. He had been there during the meeting when Waters was demoted, so he knew this kind of paperwork was going to be coming up sooner or later – but during the middle of the night on the same day? It was something that had only happened once before – an incident he didn’t like to remember. He shivered at the memory, but quickly shook his head to dispel the images which came to his mind.

No, this was completely different from that time.

Mr. Blaire was probably just eager to get the man’s files underground to avoid any incidents. After all, it’s not as though Waters has a squeaky clean record. His record is the entire reason he’s stuck down here now to begin with!

Patrick nodded to himself at the thought, but upon looking up at Mr. Blaire in his immaculate suit and steely gaze, he couldn’t stop the knot which formed in his throat as he parted his lips in an attempt at speech.

“M-Mr.Blaire?” He stuttered his name. “If you don’t mind me asking, I was just wondering…why did you call me down here at this time? I would have thought you’d be asleep by now.”

Jeremy hummed at Patrick’s sudden yet unsurprising question. Bringing his hands behind his back, he kept his gaze focused on the stretch of hall before them as he replied. “There are simply a few things which need to be cleared up with Mr. Waters and his records. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Patrick felt himself stiffen at the man’s choice of words, his eyes widening and quickly shifting to the floor beneath their feet. This wouldn’t be the first time they had to clear things up for Waters. It was no secret that Mr. Blaire often covered for a lot of the messed up things the Mount Massive employees get themselves wrapped up in to save face for Murkoff – Matthew Waters being one of the biggest cover-ups he’s ever employed. Certainly it had to do with his demotion. Had Waters done something else he was unaware of that made Mr. Blaire intervene like this?

He didn’t like thinking about it too much. The anxiety began to escalate and jitter within him as a swirl of possible scenarios invaded his headspace, forcing him to visualize all the things he had been tasked to cover up for him with Mr. Blaire in the past.

What could he have possibly done here in the underground, protected from the eyes of the public, which would require his already traumatized presence?

“There’s no need to worry so much, Patrick.” Jeremy’s voice called for his eyes to shift back up and focus on his expression. A warm, charming smile had angled the corporate’s lips – a smile Patrick knew all too d̸̳̕ḙ̷̒c̴͔e̴͚͛p̷̩͌t̶͎̿ǐ̴͍v̷̝̚ȅ̴̮ḷ̴̀y̸̦͆ well. There was a reservoir of wrath hidden behind those pearly whites which could turn anyone’s blood cold. “None of it has anything to do with you specifically. You’ve been a model employee to me and very valuable to the Murkoff name. All you’ll be doing is accompanying me – just like always. You don’t mind that,” His smile widened just the slightest bit, the skin around his eyes crinkling pleasantly. “Do you?”

His eyes.

Oh dear God, his eyes.

There was something hidden in them – something malevolent. Mixed with the hinted threat of his question, his gaze pierced Patrick where he stood. It shot cold, unadulterated fear through his veins, and to him, it felt like it was being pumped throughout his body right from his heart. He knew what kind of power he held in his hand and how swiftly he could turn his life into a living hell – he also knew how easy it would be for him to do so. He never looked back whenever he made a decision like that, and it was unjustly easy to get on his bad side.

All traces of language were caught and trapped in his throat. His mouth felt dry, as though it was almost crackling from the arid breaths they were forced to take in the underground facility. His lips trembled – parted – attempting to respond in a way that would satisfy the corporate’s sadistic ways, but no matter how hard he tried, no sound came from his tongue. All he was able to do was keep walking alongside him as though he were on autopilot, because essentially, he was on autopilot just walking down paths he had ventured upon before.

When he realized his fear won, he finally answered with a firm shake of his head.

Jeremy laughed wholeheartedly in response and clapped his hand on Patrick’s shoulder. The sudden impact made him gasp out a timid yelp, the sound of which only caused for Jeremy’s laughter to boom louder.

“Atta boy, Patrick!” He guffawed. “You’re a good guy. A bit of a pussy, but a good guy nonetheless.” He praised him, though it was a very backhanded compliment. Not that Patrick really cared. He was used to his masked insults by now.

“I-I’m sorry, Mr. Blaire,” He apologized, though he knew the reason for his apology was unclear. “There has always just been something about Matthew Waters that leaves me feeling…unsettled, to say the least…”

“Is that so?” Jeremy hummed, the smile still on his lips as he retreated his hand from his shoulder and faced the hall just as they turned the corner. Beyond them lay a stretch of numerous more orderly bedrooms and offices. The rooms were relatively empty and quiet, seeing as most of the underground orderlies worked with their patients and the Morphogenic Engine around the clock. “Why does he leave you so unnerved?”

“Honestly, sir? He’s…worse than some of the more aggressive criminals we have here.” Patrick replied lowly, his gaze finally shifting back to the hall as well now that he wasn’t being stared down by those ungodly eyes. “His file is filled with all kinds of police reports, I’m sure you know. Atop of that, there are the incidents he’s been involved with while working for Murkoff with us…If you ask me, the only reason he hasn’t been sentence to life in jail or even a mental institution like Mount Massive is only because he’s never been caught.” He grimaced once he finally voiced his thoughts aloud. It was worse hearing it than it was just thinking it. It really made the situation with Waters that much more real and potentially dangerous. “I-I’m worried, sir,” He added on in a whisper. “I’m worried his instability will make him snap soon, especially now that he’s been demoted. You and I both know just how much he loved prepping the aboveground patients for the Engine’s therapy…"

“Mmm…I see what you mean.” Jeremy responded. “I admit you do have a point about his behavior. Matthew tends to be a bit…obsessive and questionable when it comes to the way he does things. He’s always been eager to give me the best results possible, so he preps them by any means necessary to achieve that goal. I know it can be unusual when it comes to him – trust me, I do. However, I can assure you there’s nothing to worry about.” Once more, he held his hands behind his back and lifted his head slightly in a prideful stride. “Waters has had his incidents before and cleaning up after those accidents has become second nature to me. I have him completely under control.”

Patrick didn’t know how to respond. He knew he should be used to this kind of thing by now, covering up for terrible people like Matthew Waters even when the things he does become sickening, but for the life of him, he never grew accustomed. This was never the life he intended to lead.

Never…

He felt like he was a good person. He tried his best to be, but shackled by his contract and under the omniscient gaze of Murkoff, there was only so much he could do to keep his m̶͓̒ơ̵̼r̴̛̙a̴̮͗l̴͍̆ï̵̞t̸̞̓y̶̼̓ in check. He was playing with the villains in this story, he was aware, and he also knew that made him a bad guy too. He knew all of this, and no matter how many excuses of necessity he said that he had at the time of joining Murkoff, he knew there was no way he could ever say he was a good person with a straight face anymore. He knew the consequences of his actions have helped cause misery, strife and death for a countless amount of people under the asylum’s care. He hated himself beyond words for it, but there was still a part of him that hoped he could one day redeem himself.

He knew redemption was impossible, but a man can dream.

Yet, despite all of that, despite his exposure, despite the work he does, there was never any way he could grow accustomed to the brutality committed under Mr. Blaire’s guidance. So many things went unchecked, so many people let off the hook for so many atrocious crimes…It’s disgusting, it’s terrifying, but there’s nothing he could do to stop it.

He’s just as responsible for the nightmares of this hell as the immaculate demon beside him.

So, he said nothing more. He simply nodded his head at Mr. Blaire’s assurances before coming to a stop alongside him in front of one of the bedroom doors along the middle of the hall.

Jeremy didn’t even notice Patrick’s lack of response. As soon as they stepped in front of the door he had been looking for, he didn’t care to continue the conversation. Instead, he turned and promptly drummed the knuckles of his right hand against the door before bringing it behind his back again. The two stood there and waited only for a few moments before the sound of footsteps could be heard coming towards them.

Matthew’s face came into view once he opened up to the men before him, but all his eyes landed on right from the get-go was Mr. Blaire. His eyes brightened with glee and admiration at the sight of him and a wide, eager grin pulled at his lips, delighted by the surprise visit.

“Mr. Blaire!” He greeted him zealously. “It’s so nice o’ ya to visit me! I was just gettin’ myself cozy in my new home.” He stepped aside a bit and gestured to the inside of his room with a wave of his hand, though his gaze quickly returned to Jeremy without missing a beat. “I don’t got much left to do, but it can wait! I’m excited to get back on the saddle for ya, Mr. Blaire! I’ll prove to ya just how useful I can be to ya all over again whenever ya need me to and for as long as ya need me to! Anything to show ya I’m still good for Murkoff despite my mistakes upstairs!”

Patrick had to hold back a grimace of discomfort which threatened to morph his features in response to Matthew’s abrupt declarations.

He knew he was practically invisible to Waters whenever Mr. Blaire was around, but he didn’t want to risk getting on his bad side. The last thing he wanted was to be targeted by someone like Matthew Waters, but the way he always reacted to Mr. Blaire left him with an uneasy feeling. He’s always been very fanatical of him. He might even go as far as to say that he worshiped him. Come to think of it, the only time he has ever seen him express genuine joy is whenever Mr. Blaire is around him and talking to him as well. It’s as if he looked up to him as some sort of god – always looking to do things to make him happy, always bringing him the best patients to the underground like sacrifices, always looking to do anything and everything to be within his good graces. The entire relationship just had a vibe that was getting harder to simply dismiss.

Thankfully for Patrick, however, his presence wasn’t even acknowledged by Matthew yet.

No, just Jeremy.

Just Mr. Blaire.

In response to Matthew’s eager ways, Jeremy gave him a warm smile and nodded his head as his eyes scanned the room behind him. His gaze slowly took in the details of the messy living space, taking notice of a few belongings strewn randomly out of place and others more tidily put on shelves or in drawers. His eyes eventually lingered on something at the far back of the room for a few moments longer than the rest. His gaze remained in that spot for few seconds until his smile eventually tightened just the slightest bit and his gaze returned to Matthew.

Patrick furrowed his brow faintly at that and attempted to peer at what Mr. Blaire had seen, but he couldn’t find anything out of place in the room from a distance; it all seemed fairly normal to him. Just another orderly’s living quarters underground.

If that’s the case, however, what was it that made Mr. Blaire’s expression tighten like that?

It was the smallest bit, a hint of a change that nobody would have noticed if they weren’t paying attention. Not even Waters seemed to notice it since he was so entranced with Mr. Blaire as a whole – but Patrick definitely did. Being invisible came with perks like that during conversations like these, though he didn’t know if he would necessarily call it a perk right now.

“I can tell you’re really eager to get back to it, Waters. Good, good! That’s something I’ve always liked about you. You’ve got that go-getter attitude!” Jeremy praised him, lifting a hand to wag a finger at him soon after. “Actually, the first line of business I’d like you to do for me is the reason I’m here.”

The excitement on Matthew’s face instantly grew more prominent. He felt invigorated, being sought after by Mr. Blaire himself like this. He was practically bouncing on his toes from anticipation for the task he was going to be given. Yet, it was finally in that moment that he took notice of the shorter man standing at his side. His eyes focused on him for a second, recognizing him from the meeting he had with Mr. Blaire aboveground when he was demoted. He narrowed his gaze sharply then with a strong note of seeping hatred once he realized he had been with Mr. Blaire this entire time.

Patrick also couldn’t stop himself any longer from grimacing in heavy discomfort, already subconsciously taking two steps back from the door the burly man was standing by. No amount of distance between them was ever enough.

“What is he doing here?” The irate venom which dripped from Matthew’s lips with each word he uttered was painfully obvious to Patrick. He stared down at him with what he would describe as seething spite for his very existence.

“Patrick?” Jeremy replied, not fazed in the slightest by his behavior. In fact, when Matthew directed his gaze to him once more, he widened his inviting smile as a gesture of goodwill. “Don’t mind him. Patrick here is just tagging along to take care of formalities of the documents and forms relating to your complete underground transfer. You know how it is, Waters, this isn’t our first rodeo. Paperwork can be such a hassle; it’s best to get it out of the way. You understand, I’m sure.”

As soon as Jeremy explained the situation to him, Matthew’s temper visibly simmered and the enthusiasm which had been in his eyes earlier returned to him. “Yeah, ‘course I understand. Long as he ain’t messin’ anythin’ up, then I don’t really care if he’s around or not. Someone’s gotta do the pencil-pushin’, right?”

“Of course!” Jeremy beamed, clapping one of his hands on Matthew’s shoulder much as he had done to Patrick on their walk over. “Thank you so kindly for understanding, Waters, your cooperation means a lot to me, you know! Now, walk with me, talk with me. Tell me about how you’re settling back in down here with the others while I take you to where I need you to be.”   

With that, Jeremy began to guide Matthew down the hall leading out of the orderly quarters, Patrick trailing a few feet behind the two. It would be for the best if he continued being as invisible to them as possible. Matthew’s instability was still a threat, just as he feared. To top it off, now there was something else which concerned him as well.

What exactly does Mr. Blaire have in mind for him? At least upstairs he had limitations to the things he could do that wouldn’t have him step completely out of line in his eyes. Down here, it’s a completely different story.

Down here, everything goes.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

It felt like the three of them had been walking for hours now to Patrick, though he knew it could only have been a few minutes. Time was a thing that was lost in the underground. Nothing ever seemed or felt real whenever he had to spend any time down below, but today proved to be a lot worse than any time he had been called upon before.

He quickly realized Mr. Blaire was leading them down paths, stairs and hallways he didn’t recognize. They were going deeper and deeper into the belly of the beast until nothing was recognizable to him anymore. The lighting somehow felt as if it became harsher from the fluorescent lights overhead the further they went, making it hotter and harder to breathe, but that couldn’t be. The entire asylum was filled with the same type of fluorescent lighting except for areas of sensitive work.

Truthfully, he knew the situation was just getting to him and that was probably the cause of these strange sensations. The sound of the shouting and cries from patients in the closed rooms they passed by certainly weren’t helping his nerves either. He felt lost, surrounded by horrifying unfamiliar places and sounds, and his only guide was a ruthless corporate accompanied by a violently unstable orderly who followed his every move like a loyal rabid dog. Patrick couldn’t help but swallow tightly at the thought and look over his shoulder to stare down the stretch of unfamiliar hallway they left behind. It echoed at him with ravaged shrieks of the patients hidden behind the walls of the private rooms on either side of him, not offering him any more consoling than the path ahead. It didn’t take long for him to turn his sights back in front of him, and for a second, he had scared himself into thinking Waters and Mr. Blaire wouldn’t be there when he turned. Of course, that wasn’t the case and his gaze simply landed on their backs once more as they continued to tread forward.

Whether that was a good or a bad thing, he was still unsure.

While Patrick was wondering if he had made the right decision coming down here tonight, Matthew was grinning widely at the sights and sounds revolving around him. Walking alongside Mr. Blaire and matching his every step, he felt himself beaming with excitement at the familiar, nostalgic paths they were walking upon. It had been quite some time since his services had been requested in the actual therapy sessions for the Engine. Before he was demoted, all he was doing was prepping patients for therapy aboveground and underground. He had cell duty on both levels, thus he had no time to spare in helping with therapy sessions like he used to during his earlier work in Mount Massive. Certainly he always enjoyed his work when it came to cell duty. It was a fun gig to him and it gave him more leverage to push and push as much as he wanted to get their patients ready for the sessions – even if that stupid bitch and Gluskin had been the cause for the end of his fun.

He gritted his teeth at the thought, his grin momentarily faltering with a sharp twitch of strong, bitter resentment, but his grin didn’t stay down for long. Neither Gluskin nor that useless woman would get in his way again. Gluskin is as good as dead now that he’s set to be entered into Project Walrider, so that irritation was completely dealt with. Atop of that, if he ever came to find that woman down here for whatever reason, there was nothing stopping him anymore from doing whatever he wanted. Underground, he was completely protected. Mr. Blaire covered up for him all the time, so if he ever found the chance, he’d really make her wish she had never been born.

“I’m sorry I had to demote you so suddenly, Waters,” Jeremy’s voice pulled Matthew out of his twisted thoughts and back into reality by his side. “It was really such a shame that it had to be done. Still, even within that negative, I could see that you’ve always been one of the best I have here just by seeing the incredible progress you’ve made in Gluskin’s records. You did a great job, Waters. You made me proud. Don’t you forget that.”

“It’s aight, sir, ya don’t gotta apologize! I completely get where you was comin’ from.” Just like that, Matthew’s good mood was elevated once more. “I know I was kinda spoiled by ya always havin’ my back, ya get me? I got carried away. It’s my fault. Still, I’m happy I was able to get ya what ya were lookin’ for! I can guarantee that crazy Gluskin is exactly what you’ve been needin’ to make that Walrider Project work.”

Patrick’s brow furrowed at the mention of Gluskin’s name. He remembered that was the name of the patient he had been sent to retrieve earlier that same day. A deep frown angled his lips at the memory of the two orderlies who tried to intervene.

Ms. _______ and Mr. Anderson…I really hope you listened to my advice. I hope you’re both far, far away from this place by now.

“Pah! That’s water under the bridge, really. You’re much more valuable to me than just a couple of mistakes you made aboveground. Besides, from the data I saw in Gluskin’s files, you’re right. He’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. I already have people working on his placement in the Engine and it’s all thanks to you. I’m very happy with you, Waters. I see good things in your future from here on out.” The sound of Mr. Blaire’s praising of Matthew brought Patrick’s attention back to the men leading in front.

They were slowing down, Mr. Blaire coming to a stop in front of a room which, ominously so, was devoid of sound unlike the others they had passed. Patrick supposed that should be expected from some of the rooms, especially now that they no longer worked with female patients, but there was still an eerie feeling the silence forced down his spine he couldn’t shake off.

“You’ve been able to give me the perfect candidate, and now, I want to see you recreate those results with another.” Jeremy didn’t waste a second more before opening the door for the three of them wide, revealing the setup within.

The room itself had dimmer lighting than the halls outside. It was dark, even, except for a single panel of fluorescent bulbs still lit by the front of the room, the light emitting from a computer placed near the door and a projector hanging overhead near the center of the ceiling. Within the room, Patrick noticed there were six orderlies patiently waiting, dressed in their special protective uniforms. His eyes slowly scanned the small room around them, taking in the sight of the see-through walls on either side of the room peering into the setups of their neighbors. Thankfully, there wasn’t anyone currently being treated on either side, though the shrieking from the halls sounded so close, they could have convinced him otherwise before he looked in the room.

In the very center of the small space was the chair they used to restrain the patients during their therapy sessions. It was positioned right in front of a large projector’s screen which was currently blank. Beside the screen itself was a camcorder on a tripod. It was an odd thing to see in a room dedicated to this kind of psychological treatment, but again, he wasn’t one to ask questions. What they did with the footage they captured in these rooms was none of his business and he didn’t care to know the explicit details.        

The various, diverse, intimidating surgical tools surrounding the chair itself clearly told him as much as he really needed to know about the happenings of these rooms. He didn’t even want to set foot in it, but as Mr. Blaire and Waters walked inside, he knew that he had to follow.

The sound of the door closing behind them was louder than the shrieking, louder than the trembling inside his bones, and something about its finality made him feel like this would be where a part of him would die.

“You would do that for me, wouldn’t you, my good man?”

Patrick looked back to the two men at his side, watching as Waters revealed his teeth with the monstrous smile which took hold of his expression in response to Mr. Blaire’s question.

“Ya don’t even have to ask, sir! Give me ya word, I’ll happily get at it! Anyone ya need from me, aboveground or below,” He promptly turned and set his eyes pointedly at Patrick, widening to reveal the darkness behind the dull colors of his vision.

“It would give me so much pleasure to make them perfect for ya.

Patrick’s eyes widened in horror at Matthew’s insinuations. Subconsciously, he began to take a few steps away from him again as the room around him became more and more prominent in his field of vision. The surgical tools glimmered in the corner of his eye with whispered, malicious secrets they held from past patients whom had endured hours upon hours in the bloodstained chair they were made to serve them in. He could feel the other orderlies in the room staring him down through their protective face coverings, plotting in their heads to restrain him and get to work on making his mind mush for them to mold to their liking. The few panels of light overhead began to overheat and boil above his head, making it harder to breathe and concentrate as the sound of his own wildly panicked beating heart ravaged his eardrums.

No! How could I be so stupid?! Why the hell would Mr. Blaire bother calling me down here at this time for a bunch of tedious paperwork?! Especially with Matthew tagging along! Why the hell would he bring me to this room for nothing?! How couldn’t I see it?! How could I be so naïve?! It’s finally my turn! He’s going to turn me into the next candidate for the Engine! Is this where I die?!

He was trembling.

Trembling and quacking so damn much.

He could practically feel the quakes resounding in the depths of his bones and marrow. He could feel his teeth clattering together within his own maw beyond his control. His muscles constricted in on themselves painfully as his body stiffened up the worst it ever had. His toes curled tightly within his shoes for some meek, pathetic sense of stability, but nothing worked. In his ears, the pounding of his meager, beating heart grew more and more intense – like a cacophonous horror-core concert entering an enthused encore.

BA-DUM-BA-DUM-BA-DUM!

BA-DUM-BA-DUM-BA-DUM!

BA-DUM-BA-DUM-BA-DUM!

“That’s the kind of go-getter attitude I was talking about that I love so much from you, Waters, and I can assure you from everyone in Murkoff that your dedicated commitment for our cause is highly appreciated.” Jeremy hummed with that same warm smile on his face. His lips widened just the slightest bit out of amusement when he caught the fear on Patrick’s expression, causing the crinkles by his eyes to deepen.

“Strap him to the chair, boys. You know what to do.”

No…

He braced himself for the freezing hands of death to grasp at him and pull him into the executioner’s throne as soon as the command spilled from the corporate’s lips.

No…!

His breath hitched in his throat and his eyes filled with tears, blurring his vision as he watched the orderlies start to move towards his direction.

Please!

He tightly closed his eyes and fell to his knees as he felt his chest painfully tighten in fear and despair. It felt like his ribs were caving in on themselves, folding within his body and piercing his terrified, quivering heart caged inside.

I DON’T WANT TO DIE!

“Oi…! Oi, what the actual FUCK?!

Matthew’s voice broke through his fearful paralysis, forcing the man to lift his head from his bent position to witness the commotion. Before him, the group of orderlies he thought were fully prepared to drag him to his impending death had fallen upon Matthew instead.

Two of the men grabbed at each of his arms and began to force him to walk towards the chair filled with wide open buckles, hungry for flesh. The other four orderlies remained by the chair all at the ready to settle the burly man in his place. Two of the four by the chair, Patrick noticed, pulled out syringes filled with an unidentified medication from their pockets and held them at the ready as Matthew began to fight back against the two who dragged him over.

GET THE FUCK OFF O’ ME, YA BUNCH O’ WORTHLESS RATS! I’LL RIP EACH AND EVERY ONE O’ YOUR HEADS OFF WITH MY BARE FUCKIN’ TEETH!

The group was prepared and ready for this situation. They weren’t even surprised or caught off guard when the giant of a man began to fight back and struggle against them once he was forced into the chair at the center of the room. Without an ounce of hesitation, the two orderlies with the syringes stabbed the needles into both of the man’s thighs and quickly pumped the medication into him. Meanwhile, the remaining two orderlies whom were standing by quickly began to secure his arms to the chair, tightly fastening the buckle restraints on his wrists. Not a moment too soon, either, as Matthew had begun to violently thrash about in the chair, kicking his legs out at the men around him as shouts and incomprehensible curses and promises of death spilled from his lips. Still, the group was completely undeterred. They made haste as a group to force his legs down so two of them could manage to buckle them into the chair. If it hadn’t been bolted to the floor, Patrick was sure Matthew would have toppled over with it by now.

They all worked so perfectly in sync – no mistakes, no accidents. It was as though it had all been choreographed by them several times before tonight, and Patrick realized it very well might have been.

It was painfully obvious that this had been planned ahead long ago.

“The subject is secured and subdued, Mr. Blaire. He should be soft as a kitten in a few minutes.” One of the orderlies informed Jeremy as the group came to stand beside him.

By then, Jeremy himself had walked in front of Matthew to watch him struggle with an unfeeling stare. The white light reflecting from the overhead projector cast his shadow onto the projector screen behind him. His silhouetted figure made him appear so much bigger than he actually was in comparison to the shadows of the orderlies around him. The white lighting also gave his physical self an ungodly glow, highlighting his features sharply with lights and shadows created in the ambiance of the room. The smile he had on his face earlier was completely gone, replaced by a deep frown which showed no emotion other than pure displeasure and m̴̠͝ĕ̸ͅr̵̳͝c̷̤͂i̶̲͝l̷̟͛ë̵̪́s̵͈͝s̷̡̀ ̷͍̿j̸͇͌u̷̠͆ḓ̸͊g̴̪̽e̴̯͆m̸̒͜e̴͇n̶̗̒t̴̨͑. 

“Perfect.” Jeremy commented with a subtle nod of his head. “I know Waters is a handful, but you did exactly what I wanted you to without a hitch. Great job.”

WHY?!” Matthew spat his devastated question to the man towering before him as the orderlies fell back behind the corporate he looked up to so much. “Why would ya let these fuckers do this to me, Mr. Blaire?! I’m your best prep worker! Ya said so yourself! It makes no fuckin’ sense! Why would ya ever let these pieces o’ shit treat me like just some other crazy!? I ain’t no fuckin’ crazy! I do everythin’ to make ya happy! I do everythin’ ya ask o’ me and then some! I admire ya! I want to be like ya! Ya can’t do this to me!”

“Yeah, well, news flash, Waters – you’ll never be like me.” Jeremy calmly sneered, causing for Matthew’s expression to fall in unprecedented dismay. “I’ll admit you were somehow extremely helpful with getting me what I wanted. Murkoff is going to benefit a lot from this man you’ve helped prep for the Engine. If he’s really what we’ve been looking for, he might even surpass Billy. I owe all of that to you – but you just don’t know when to stop. You have no sense of self-control and it’s become a risk to the project and Murkoff’s name. I’ve told you time and time again that I don’t care about what you do to the lowlife test subjects we have here under our care, but you have limits when you are aboveground. You’ve been told time and time again not to get into any trouble with any of the employees up there, and what do you go and do? Harass the first woman I allow in the same vicinity as you.”

Matthew’s teeth grit tightly at the mention of the woman above. His hands balled tightly into fists – so tight, his nails caused blood to surface on his palms as they dug deeper and deeper into his skin.

“This is about HER?! That useless, PATHETIC, walkin’ pussy?!”

His face was turning red from rage despite how strange he began to feel. His head was starting to get fuzzy, but he fought through it with his outrage. The pure sense of dark hatred he felt festering inside of him was an untapped well which had finally burst and come to life – and in the end, it was all thanks to _______.

SHE DOES NOTHIN’FOR YA, SIR! SHE’S USELESS! SHE’S WORTHLESS! She treats all these fuckin’ crazies like they’re PEOPLE when you and I both know they fuckin’ AIN’T! How could ya EVER punish me for the sake of some stupid bitch like THAT?! She ruins the good Murkoff name you’re tryin’ to establish and gives ya nothin’ of value! The only thing that pathetic SLUT would be good for is a good FUCK! How could ya–!”

Before he could finish his raging, Jeremy had lifted his fist in the air and mercilessly brought it down for a devastating punch to Matthew’s jaw. The blow was effective in shutting him up and causing blood to spew from his mouth as he recoiled and grunted from the pain.

THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I’M FUCKING TALKING ABOUT, WATERS!” Jeremy’s voice thundered in the small room. “I’ve already had this kind of bullshit happen once before! You’re EXACTLY like Trager! Fucking around with some damn female employee upstairs like you own the Goddamn place! I swear to FUCK it’s like you animals never fucking LEARN! If I told you once, I told you time and time again that I don’t give a flying fuck what you decide to do down here, but what you do up there is STRICTLY limited! Covering up for shit with the inmates is one thing, but messing around with one of us?! Can’t you drill it through that dense, useless skull of yours how many problems that would give us?! You’re a walking HR and PR NIGHTMARE, Waters!”

It was starting to get harder for him to focus. He could still feel the rage inside of him bubbling, the image of the female orderly burned in his retinas, flashing before his mind’s eye. His hazel eyes blinked rapidly as blood mixed with saliva dripped from his lips and his head lulled back to look up at Jeremy again.

He looked heavenly in the synthetic lighting, but why, oh why, did he have to be so angry with him, his loyal follower?

“Because of Trager’s own stupidity, Haas nearly had our asses in court! Do you have any clue how royally fucked we would’ve been if she decided to pull through with her lawsuit?! I wouldn’t even be here talking to you right now if it weren’t for the Pauls keeping our asses out of the shitter with that old bat! We dodged a massive, shit-stained bullet once, and I sure as FUCK will not sit here and have some little girl crying rape and me-tooing us to hell all over again because you can’t keep your damn cock in check! Trager may have blindsided me, but I will NOT give you the chance to do the same!”

“Why…Why are ya protectin’ her? Why would ya do this for her instead o’ me? Your best worker…said so from your own mouth…” What was happening? His body was becoming weaker and weaker by the second, the room around him fuzzy, but he was still awake and aware. His eyes continued to blink rapidly, watching the man before him – desperate for answers to calm the unbelievable sense of betrayal he felt deep inside.

Jeremy scoffed heavily in response to his quickly encroaching slovenly state and straightened himself out. He pulled out a handkerchief he had tucked in his pocket and used it to wipe Matthew’s blood off of his knuckles as he began to answer his question. “Oh, don’t misunderstand me. This isn’t about her or you. This is simply business, Waters. Business that you’re getting in the way of. You fucked this up royally all on your own by doing this shit with an aboveground employee, but if she had been one of our patients down here, I wouldn’t have given three shits about what you’d done. You’ve simply proven to me one too many times that you can no longer be trusted.”

“B-but, sir…M-Mr.Blaire…I helped ya find what ya needed…I gave ya what you’ve been searchin’ for all this time…Don’t that mean anythin’…?” His mouth was starting to feel numb. He tried to lick his lips to give him some feeling, but it proved pointless.

“Of course it does. It means a lot. You’ve been a massive help in advancing the great ideals of Murkoff into the quickly approaching future – and you’ll continue to be a great help by submitting to treatment.” He smiled at him. That warm, trademark devil’s smile of a man who cared not for the horrors those around him may face by his hand if it meant achieving what he wanted.

“After all, you’ve had the perfect kind of exposure and experience to fit right in with the rest of our patients.”

To Jeremy, this conversation was over. There was nothing else to say. So, he finally turned away from a now speechless Matthew to face the group of orderlies behind him. “You know what to do.” Was all he said before he turned to walk towards Patrick who was still frozen in place on his knees.

Patrick hadn’t moved from his spot on the floor since he realized Matthew was the one they were after instead of him. As he had watched the entire scene between him, the orderlies and Mr. Blaire unfold, he could do nothing but watch in cold terror. There was no way he could have moved an inch from where he knelt even if he had tried. He swore if he even breathed too loudly, he would have been thrown into one of the vacant chairs in one of the rooms on either side of them. In his head, it was truly a miracle that he was still alive at all.

He had always known about the things that went on under the asylum’s floors, but he had never seen anything explicit in the works with his own two eyes. This was the very first time he had been witness to something so terrifying and coldblooded. Just like Matthew had said, Waters was his best worker, but Mr. Blaire didn’t care. Despite how useful he had once been to him and how much he constantly praised him for his work, it was also just as easy for him to send the man to his death when he proved inconvenient to him. If he could do that to a person as valuable to him as Matthew, what did that mean about him? He supposed that was the difference between the two of them. The only real reason he had been spared today is because, unlike Matthew, he knew not to make the web he was tangled in quiver. By staying still, he ensured his safety for the time being.

However, he knew that this kind of behavior wasn’t foolproof either.  

The thought alone was enough to make Patrick tremble on the ground again, and the feeling only grew so much worse when he noticed Mr. Blaire beginning to make his way to him. As he met his cold, unfeeling steely blue eyes in his teary vision, every cell in his body told him to move, to stand and run to save his own skin, but he couldn’t. No matter how badly he wanted to, his body didn’t respond to the petrified screaming in his head. The inviting smile which angled Jeremy’s lips as he gazed down on him contradicted so heavily with the message and emotion in his eyes that it practically made his heart stop for a second. A second alone in time doesn’t sound like much when discussing it in a general sense, but in that moment within that room of unspoken horrors, it felt like several lifetimes to Patrick. A second later, his breath hitched painfully sharp in his throat when Mr. Blaire offered him his open hand.

“Come on, Patrick. Let me help you up. It’s time we left these good men to their work.”

Patrick had to actively try very hard not to allow his eyes to shift to the scene behind his boss, the sight of the orderlies moving around the doped up Matthew calling his attention in his peripheral vision. Still, Mr. Blaire’s gaze was much more intimidating and demanding for attention, so he was really too scared to turn his sights away regardless.

Not wanting to push his luck, he finally forced his body to move and grasp the helping hand which had been shoved in his line of sight. As Jeremy’s fingers tightly gripped onto his trembling hand to pull him up, Patrick could see a glint of something maliciously amused in his gaze. He couldn’t put his finger on exactly what it was, but he didn’t really care to figure it out. Instead, he quietly followed Mr. Blaire out of the room as soon as he was on his feet and his hand was released.

He didn’t allow himself to look over his shoulder at the sight of the ex-orderly behind him, but as he wiped his tears feverishly off of his face, he could hear the projector whirring to life with the images they likely showed to all the sorry souls who ever lived long enough to set foot into one of these nightmarish rooms.

There was no point in looking back.

His brain was already tattooed with the memory of the place and the look on Matthew’s face when he realized what was going to happen to him. He didn’t have any sympathy for the questionable man they left behind the now closing door, but whatever happened beyond this point, he never wished it upon even his worst enemies.

“I’m sorry I had to drag you along for all of these formalities, but it had to be done.” Jeremy apologized, though his words and tone couldn’t be further from sincerity. “There’s been a lot of different problems running around right under my nose lately, and Matthew has been one of the biggest brewing for a very long time.” His smile had fallen to an unreadable frown, neutral by appearance, but Patrick knew better. “Now that this messy business is over and done with, there are a few other pesky flies I have to get rid of before any other unnecessary problems start to turn up.”

“…F-flies, sir?” Patrick finally found his voice, though his question left his lips dripping with skittishness. The last he had ever heard him call anyone a fly was during the Haas and Trager incident and that definitely wasn’t a good sign. The twitch of irritation he caught on Mr. Blaire’s expression clearly said as much as it pulled the lines of his face to finally express the annoyance he actually felt inside of him.

“Yes. Flies,” Jeremy confirmed. “They’re problems, possible HR and PR nightmares, rats, spies, asking too many questions, sticking their noses where they don’t belong!” He raised his voice, his teeth gritting as he went on. “They don’t belong here like you and I do, they’re thorns in my sides, flies wriggling on the wall thinking they’re hot shit and so inconspicuous, but oh! They’re so fucking wrong! Morons is what they are for thinking they could try to pull one on Jeremy fucking Blaire!”

Patrick suddenly regretted opening his mouth. An angry Mr. Blaire is a very dangerous Mr. Blaire, and being alone with him when he was in that kind of state never failed to leave him with a sense of undying dread in his chest, because his absent presence was never fully absent to him. As if reading his mind, Mr. Blaire shifted his gaze to meet Patrick’s, his unfeeling blue eyes staring sharply into the trembling employee at his side.

“Are you a fly, Patrick?”

“N-no, Mr. Blaire!” The reply came instantaneously. No matter how afraid he was, Patrick knew not to keep him waiting for answers.

Still, Jeremy’s merciless gaze remained on him for several seconds too long, practically peering into his soul, looking for any signs of lies or rebellion. When he found nothing but cowardice, he nodded his head and looked away.

“Of course you’re not. You’ve always been incredibly helpful to me, and you’ve always been smart enough to play the game to your advantage, haven’t you, Patrick?” He gave him no time to reply as he began to walk further down the hall ahead of them, heading deeper into the bowels of the underground laboratories. “I trust you’ll take care of all the crap in Waters’ room. He won’t be needing any of his things anymore. It’s room 504, if you forgot. Then, once you’re done, take care of his files; say he’s been admitted as a patient – you know the drill.”

Just like that, he was gone, and Patrick was left all alone in that cold, inhuman place.

Slowly, he looked around himself, shivering, but it didn’t take long for him after that to start gunning it down the hall in the opposite direction to do as he was told. 

The web they were all caught in was quivering far too much and he didn’t want to be around when the spider finally decided to sink its fangs into the victims of its choice, and to do that, he had to keep playing the game he had been in for several years.

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

Patrick had never been so happy to be in the underground orderly dorms.

After leaving the therapy rooms, he immediately had to find himself a bathroom to wash his face and calm himself down in for a few minutes. There was no way he would have been able to get to work on what Mr. Blaire wanted from him just like that after the near death experience he was forced to go through earlier, and lucky for him, he wasn’t around to pressure him into doing so. The time he had to himself while working under Murkoff had always been incredibly precious to Patrick, because he had very little of it. Since his job typically dealt with so much legal paperwork and public records and files, there was always someone around, always someone listening in. Hell, he even knew better than to believe that his own dorm room aboveground wasn’t bugged with a speaker somewhere. Granted, he had no idea if it truly was, but it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Because of the intense security Murkoff has over everything, he is simply a causality to the system, thus making the few, short moments he has to himself something he has to relish when he gets the chance. Sitting in that empty bathroom in the middle of the night, his face damp from the sink and the collar of his shirt slowly getting soaked by the dripping water on his skin, he allowed himself the spoils of a few minutes of solitude to breathe, to think and to ground himself back into a stable state of mind. When he left, he had to do it by forcing himself to his feet and motivating himself by telling himself Mr. Blaire wouldn’t be around.

Thankfully, there were no nasty surprises waiting for him when he showed up at Matthew’s dorm. On the way, he had found a pair of orderlies whom had been free of work at the time, and he had asked them to lend him a hand at emptying the dorm. To his relief, they were orderlies he already knew and was fairly friendly with. It felt a little better having them help him, so once they agreed, simple organizing of Matthew’s basic material possessions in cardboard boxes had taken up his time for a while.

There had always been something calming in organizing to Patrick. He felt himself relax during the act of it, allowing his mind to focus simply on the task of moving, storing or burning. The orderlies he had asked to help him were now mainly taking out full boxes and burning anything that needed to be canned for him while he himself remained in the dorm to finish up what remained.

Currently, he was on his own, the orderlies having gone out to burn the latest couple of boxes. Patrick himself was seated at Matthew’s old desk, going through the drawers and throwing used, unnecessary papers and patient files or documentations he found under his name into a big garbage bag at his side. He had just finished the last drawer in the desk and was now focusing his attention to the vacancy atop of the desk itself. There wasn’t a whole lot to see other than a small box with a few toiletries bundled inside and a thick binder he assumed Matthew would use for his work with his patients. He guessed none of it would be of any use to their records anymore since all of his files had to be signed in his name when it came to patient reports. However, when he faced the binder, he noticed there were a few pages sticking out of the side with Matthew’s scribbled handwriting etched messily on their surface. He had thought about just tossing the whole thing, but to ensure that there was nothing important inside and out of his own curiosity, he decided to flip it open and take a look into the man’s writings.

What his eyes instantly landed on left Patrick bone white in his chair.

The first layer of papers in Matthew’s old binder were not of patient files. Rather, it appeared that Patrick had stumbled onto messy, elaborate plans of murder the man had been brewing in his head for God knows how long. The first page specifically was a plan he had constructed for the patient he had been tasked to transfer underground earlier in the day: Eddie Gluskin.

Patrick’s face contorted in speechless horror, his breath coming in slow and shallow now as his eyes quickly darted all over the manic, messy writing and drawings littered all over the page. It was an elaborate plan, but it was scrappily mapped out. It seemed to start with him giving Mr. Blaire the man’s files, just as he had done when he was called in for the complaint made against him. Then, it went on to describe how he would have Mr. Blaire assign him to the group that would be initiating his therapy sessions. From then on, in gory, disturbing detail, came lines and pictures the man had drawn of himself torturing the patient with all kinds of different tools Patrick could recall seeing in the therapy room just a while before. The page itself had all the scribbles and drawings front and back, and upon pushing it aside to see the following page, the mechanisms of Matthew’s mind noticeably grew darker.

There was dismemberment, there was carving into the skin with scalpels, there was burning, there was mental torture. There was even a part of the plan which mentioned bringing the orderly, _______, over to force her to watch some of it happen before forcing her to go through some of the same herself. The disgusting thoughts went on and on until it ended with the two of them in the Engine he had heard so much about and dying connected to a multitude of tubes when the process didn’t work with them. 

He was starting to feel nauseous. These were the writings of a madman – a true criminally insane individual who desperately needed to be stopped. As terrible as he sounded, Patrick couldn’t help but feel glad that Mr. Blaire ended up double-crossing Matthew. Had he not, this kind of thing would have been scarily possible. The nightmare, unfortunately, didn’t stop there either. When he pushed the second page aside, another murder plan lay underneath, this one specifically for _______. Despite how much he told himself to look away in his head and how disgusted and unsettled he felt by looking at all the thoughts this man had been brewing in his head for so long, he couldn’t look away. His eyes quickly scanned over the page, seeing the insane plan Matthew had of luring _______ downstairs somehow and throwing her in with the other patients. Much like Eddie’s plans, there was a multitude of different torture methods portrayed, though hers also included a graphic depiction of rape which instantly gave Patrick flashbacks to Trager and Haas.

Please be gone. Please, please, please. Please just go with Mr. Anderson and leave this place. You still have a chance. You two have no idea how lucky either of you really are. If Mr. Blaire hadn’t intervened tonight, you’d be next in his hit list!

Shoving the first couple of plans to the side on the table with the frantic thought in mind, he continued to rummage through the others which lay underneath. After _______, there were several more written out for both her and Eddie, all of them including several different depictions of their murder by his hands with graphic, manic detail. At some point, he had found some plans for the girl’s friend, Tristen, also thrown into the mix. There were also a couple of stragglers for people he didn’t recognized. He assumed they were either some of the orderlies he hadn’t met underground yet or maybe even some of Matthew’s old patients. Really, the only other name he recognized in the bunch was that of David Annapurna when a handful of different murder plans came up under his name in just as much graphic detail as the rest. It gave the impression that he might have held a grudge against him at one point or another. Whoever the others may be, for some reason or another, Matthew had developed a sick and twisted vendetta against them he had clearly been working on for a long time.

What eventually made him stop flipping through more plans was when he had fallen upon a few of them made under his own name. His blood turned freezing cold in his veins when he spotted his name in that aggressive lettering, his stomaching churning within his gut as his eyes scanned what Matthew had in store for him. It was all insanity. Pure insanity and a ridiculous vendetta he had against him for having played a hand in his demotion. At least, that’s what it said on the pages. There was just something about seeing his body drawn bleeding out on an operating table – bent in all kinds of unnatural ways and disemboweled – that made Patrick want to throw up everything he ate earlier that night. His breathing had gotten so labored and shaken, even the pages he held in his hands started to shake from the terror he felt within himself once again.

“Coooño, that’s some real fucked up shit you found there, Pat.” A voice laced with a masculine Hispanic accent whistled from behind him, causing Patrick to jump and cry out in sudden fright.

Jesus, man!” Patrick couldn’t help but hiss as he quickly turned to look up at the orderly behind him. Lázaro was his name. He’s one of the more pleasant orderlies who worked in the underground. Whenever Patrick needed anything to go to or from the underground, he either looked for Lázaro or Bryan – the two orderlies he was just lucky enough to find to help him tonight. “Don’t sneak up on me like that! You’ll kill me off one of these days doing that!”

Lázaro couldn’t help but snicker at Patrick’s outburst in amusement. “Lo siento, chico. I actually wasn’t trying to mess with you this time – aunque me lo haces bien fácil.”

“I have no idea what you said, but whatever it is, it’s invalid.”

A hearty laugh escaped Lázaro’s lips in response to his salty comment. Even with how ill-timed his return was, Patrick couldn’t be genuinely upset with him. His laughter and kind smile he wore on his face whenever possible showed that he was a good person despite what they were surrounded by. Both he and Bryan were good people, and quite frankly, Patrick really couldn’t wrap his head around why they had found themselves with Murkoff in the first place. Although, he supposed the same could be said about his own situation as well. They were all in different holes they couldn’t claw their way out of, and some way or another, Murkoff came along offering a golden solution to all their problems.

Foolishly, they took the bait and were now paying for the consequence of their naivety.

“Forget what I said,” Lázaro waved his hand dismissively before gesturing to the binder on the table. “Instead, why don’t you tell me about what you found in this pendejo’s desk? That looks pretty messed up. Was this the psycho’s hit list or something?” He questioned, looking down at the binder and flipping the current page over. Suddenly the laughter and smiles died down when the focus was on the contents of the binder. It took him a moment to realize the page Patrick stopped on had his name on it. “Pa la mierda…You really lucked out. I guess he had some kind of grudge against you after that whole HR stuff upstairs, eh?”

Patrick didn’t say much in reply. He simply gave a slow nod of his head as he turned his gaze back down to the manic scribbles and writings of his own planned murder. It was beyond unsettling. It proved to him that no matter how invisible he thought he could make himself, he was never fully protected from peering eyes and the maliciousness of those above him. He was still reeling after the exchange between himself, Mr. Blaire and Waters. Remembering how close he had been to death again caused him to tightly close his eyes and press his hand against his face as he attempted to give himself a moment to breathe.

Lázaro seemed to notice this and let out a soft sigh in response. “Oye, don’t worry so much. That pendejo is long gone now, isn’t he? This crap doesn’t mean anything anymore.” He reassured him, giving him a firm pat on the back. Patrick jumped a bit on his seat due to the impact, but didn’t do much aside from opening his eyes again to stare at the twisted binder before him. “Want me to get rid of this thing, jefe? Mejor largarlo, if you ask me. Out of sight, out of mind.”

“No,” Patrick shook his head, pausing to clear his throat for a moment. After a few seconds, he straightened himself out and proceeded to slip all of the messy pages back into the binder before closing it. “I won’t lie; it does freak me out…a lot…but I should keep these – put them in his records as evidence and defense for his admittance as a patient here. I can’t say the therapy will help him at all, but for once…I’m one-hundred percent sure he’s the textbook definition of someone who should be in an asylum for the criminally insane.”

 

~¤ ¤ ¤~

 

The back of the room was cramped and dark, but there was a single glow emitting from the dead-end to the right. It was so low and faint, if someone were to give the room a glance, it would be so easy to miss. Perhaps they would assume it was light emitting from the fluorescent bulbs on the ceiling near the front and center of the small closeted area. There really wasn’t much to see at all. Just a bunch of computer stuff only people with a degree in this sort of thing would really be able to identify.

It was the perfect spot to go by unnoticed.

The perfect place to hide.

The perfect place to stir unnecessary, useless trouble.

Seated by the desk in that small, insignificant corner of the dead-end by the back of that electronic closet was Jeremy Blaire. His entire being was highlighted by the soft, insignificant glow of a laptop given to employees by the courtesy of Murkoff when they join the crew. It was a trusted piece of equipment – simple and modest, but always entrusted in the hands of his workers with respect to their cause. Most of his employees knew better than to double-cross him, but every now and again, he did come across a dimwit who believed they could get away with stupid little things that go in his way.

Stupid of them to think they would succeed, really.

This, however?

This was absolutely insane.

He had been sitting in front of that laptop for several minutes. His elbows were resting on the desk’s surface and his fingers were interlocked in front of him, covering the ugly, deep scowl which had ripped his typical calm composure right off of his skin. His nails were leaving indents on his skin, his arms quacking from the amount of force he was using in keeping his fingers interlaced. His jaw was aching with a dull pain which came from the grinding of his teeth he slowly pushed back and forth against each other in his maw. His eyes reflected the image on the screen, and mixed within the visuals of electronic modern sabotage was a pure sense of hatred and murderous intent. Always, he was so composed. Jeremy is a calm man, really – up until he is pushed passed a certain point.

Today has been one push after another after another. There were flies all around him, ruining what he worked so hard to achieve, getting in the way of pushing forward with the progress of the Engine. He knew something had to be done, but that it would get to this point before he was able to stop it? He never thought it would happen.

The longer he stared at the anonymously sent email on the screen, the angrier he felt himself become. He should have known Park would pull some stupid stunt like this. He had been acting strange and flaky since he first authorized his replacement position for Haas underground. Ultimately, it was his own fault for not silencing him more quickly. He also knew he had been too careless when he tried to leave the whole incident with Trager and Haas in the past with all the cover-ups. It had been so fast and messy, it gave room for these kind of problems to sprout and grow.

His nostrils flared as his acidic gaze stared down the name in the receiving email address. Miles Upshur…He couldn’t fucking stand that meddlesome reporter. It certainly wasn’t the first time he had seen his name pop up in relation to Murkoff’s psychiatric facilities. He had a bad habit of asking a lot of questions about a lot of things he had no business in knowing – not only about Mount Massive, but also about other facilities they have around the country. Truthfully, Upshur could do nothing to Murkoff. He was a microscopic spec in comparison to the massive corporation, but fuck, is he an irritating thorn in his side.

It’s just another loose end that needs tying up. If something needs to be done about Upshur, then it’ll be done. It doesn’t matter. Nothing is going to stop what’s already happening.

His own reassuring thoughts did little to calm the festering sense of rage he felt within himself because of the damn email in front of him. Truth be told, he couldn’t wait to get his hands dirty in this mess.

He couldn’t wait ruin everything that gave Park and Upshur a reason to live.

The sound of the door opening to the room pulled Jeremy out of his malicious thoughts, and as soon as it did, all the aggression drained away from his face. He turned in his seat to face the opening into the little dead-end hall as a charming grin replaced the look of murder he had in his eyes just seconds before. Still, if someone looked closely, they would be able to tell there was something else behind his smile. It wasn’t just a friendly, inviting gleam anymore. No, there was something truly sadistic hiding behind the skin of the plastic face he wore for the public.

As soon as Waylon stepped into that narrow stretch of room, he turned and their eyes met. His eyes widened, filling with unadulterated horror at the sight of the corporate and his stashed laptop turned on behind him. Fear pooled into the colors of his gaze, and for a second, he could feel his spirit leave his body completely – and Jeremy could tell.

In comparison, his steely eyes lit up with sadistic joy at the sight of the fear he drove into the man’s heart.

He should be afraid.

He’s a force to be reckoned with and Waylon just woke up the demon he had always been.

Somebody’s been telling stories outside of class.

Without needing any kind of introduction, the guards Jeremy had called upon when he first arrived stormed into the room and began to shove Waylon onto the floor.

“On the ground! NOW!” The guard up front shouted, though he gave Waylon no chance to do as he was told and simply gave him a harsh push onto the ground. When he landed on his hands and knees, the guard lifted his leg and gave the traitor a merciless kick to the gut, pushing him against the wall nearest to him.

Waylon gagged and coughed painfully as a harsh, stabbing pain erupted from his stomach. His widened eyes stared hazily at the scene around him, trying to register what was happening, his brain screaming that his life was in danger, but his body was unable to react appropriately. Before he could even properly gather his surroundings, his gut was kicked once again – twice – by the same guard. He heaved, saliva dripping from his lips this time and tears stinging in his eyes beyond his control. Everything was happening so fast. They gave him no chance to gain his composure or to even speak for himself, though he supposed there really wasn’t much to say. Through the tears and the gags of pain, Waylon weakly lifted his head to stare at Mr. Blaire as he approached him, the glow of the computer screen he now carried with him highlighting his features in all the worst ways possible.

He looked like Death himself as he leaned down to him, and he swore he could see the vacant depths of hell illuminated in his onyx pupils.

“Mr. Waylon Park, consulting contract 8208. Software Engineer with a level three security clearance. Graduated cum laude from Berkley, but somehow still not smart enough to realize that the last thing a fly should do in a spider's web is wiggle.”

“M-Mr. Blaire, please–”

Jeremy’s sadistic smile widened, and as if on cue, the guard up front gave Waylon another couple of cruel kicks to the gut to shut him up.

“Somehow dumb enough to think that a borrowed laptop, onion router, and firewall patch would be enough to fool the world's leading supplier of biometric security.” Jeremy continued despite the coughing sounds of pain which continued to pour from Waylon’s lips.

“P-please,” Waylon forced himself to say through the pain. “I-I have a family–”

Jeremy tilted his head at the Engineer, the smile still plastered on his face, but he did lift his hand to stop the guard from hitting him again. He was enjoying this sniveling, slobbery groveling.

“Did you really think we wouldn’t find out, Mr. Park? Did you really feel so safe here while you were running around with your little orderly friends upstairs, conspiring against Murkoff and I?” The horrified realization which flashed through Waylon’s eyes caused for Jeremy to chuckle in glee. “You really thought I didn’t know. You seriously believed you were slick. You, those big oafs and that new little brat upstairs.” Slowly, he began to nod. “Oh yes. I know. Your talking has definitely reached my ears. I’ve heard all the complaints all of you have had to say about the way we do things around here. I know about all the little plans you’ve been making. I know you’ve been trying to ruin things for me, and this was really just the icing on the cake. You really thought you’d get away with this little plan of yours.” He chuckled once more. “Stupid, Mr. Park. More than stupid – in fact, that was crazy.”

Gracefully, Jeremy straightened himself up and stepped aside only to place the laptop back on the desk where it was. Once he did, he returned to Mr. Park alongside his guards.

As Waylon stared up at the group around him, he felt the hope he had in himself of escaping this place scot-free completely die. He just wanted to do what was right. He wanted to expose the cruelty of the hospital after everything he had seen and experienced before getting back home to Lisa and his boys, but it looked like that wasn’t happening anymore.

Lisa…I’m so sorry…

“I'm afraid that I’m going to have you committed. Mr. Park, will you willingly submit to forced confinement?” Jeremy hummed down at Waylon, watching in pure joy as the man began to quiver and shake with oncoming sobs of a combination of dread and misery. “Huh? What was that?” He lifted his hand to cup it around his ear. “Did you hear that, boys?”

“Sure did. He said yes, Mr. Blaire.”

“Alright, great. I like cooperation. I like it a lot.” Jeremy lifted his brow to feign surprise as he leaned forward with his hand still cupped around his ear for dramatic effect. “Oh? You’re willingly volunteering for the Morphogenic Engine project? Did I hear that right, boys?”

“That’s what we heard, Mr. Blaire.”

“Wow, Mr. Park!” Jeremy whistled in fake praise as he straightened himself up correctly again before the sobbing man. “That’s very brave of you. The Murkoff Corporation and the onward march of science both appreciate your bravery and sacrifice.” Clasping his hands behind his back, he nodded his head to the guards beside him. “Boys, would you be so kind as to administer Mr. Park here a light anesthetic?”

The guard up front flashed a sadistic grin and began to approach Waylon. “Gladly.” He mused before reaching down to pull the sobbing man up to his feet to face them all – to give him a final image for his brain to digest before they consumed everything he thought his life could be.

“Oh, Mr. Park,” Jeremy sighed mockingly as he flashed him one final smile. “You out of everyone should have known that I have eyes everywhere. You and your friends w̷̻̅e̵͈̾r̷̜̄ē̵̖ ̷̬͛ń̵̤ȩ̶v̸͕̈é̶̟r̶̞̾ ̵̩̐s̶͎͑a̸̢͠f̸̤̄ȩ̷̏, W̵̭͘a̸̳̋y̷̨͋l̶͈͋o̸̲̍ṅ̷̩. N̸͎̆o̵͚͆t̴̹̑ ̶͔̉e̸͖v̸̥̊e̶̠̎n̶͕̓ ̸͓̿f̸͓o̸̳̎ŗ̶̈ ̵͎͐a̶̰͠ ̴̺̑s̸̯̐e̸̠̽c̵͖̊o̵̮͌ṉ̸̌d̶̗̿.”