Sam dropped heavily on his bed like he couldn’t keep standing any longer, but he could have just been trying to stall, giving himself time to think over his reaction to Stiles’ question.
“What do you mean?” he finally asked.
He looked exhausted, but Stiles had never seen him look any different, and he wasn’t letting any other emotion come through. His calm, contained behavior convinced Stiles that he wasn’t being totally paranoid, that there really was something fishy about the man, so he pushed further: “You know what I mean! I’m not asking you if you hunt cute woodland creatures in your free time. What I’m asking is—” He lowered his voice there, because who knew what could be lurking outside the door? “—are you a hunter? You know. The kind that takes on creatures of the night.”
“Creatures of the night,” Sam said, his voice flat.
“Yes!” Stiles threw his hands up in the air. “You were acting weirdly CSI-like about that girl—”
“I could be working in law enforcement.”
“My dad is the Sheriff, okay? I know law enforcement, and you’re not it. You’re way too shady for that. Also, when I said ‘kanima’ and you repeated it—you don’t repeat a word that’s completely foreign to you that perfectly. You were saying it like you know what it means.”
Sam didn’t say anything for a long moment. His back stiffened, reacting to something that Stiles couldn’t hear or see, and then he sighed heavily. “Okay,” he said. “I’m a hunter.”
Stiles’ feeling of triumph at being right was short-lived: knowing that Sam was a hunter didn’t really tell him much about whether he could be trusted or not. He liked Allison, and her dad was okay, but for every Chris and Allison Stiles could raise you a Kate or a Gerard. What kind of hunter was Sam? Was he the kind who would cut Stiles’ best friend in halves without provocation?
“Do you know the Argents?”
Sam’s brow furrowed in a thoughtful expression. “Werewolf hunting family? I know of them, but I don’t think I’ve ever met any of them in person.”
“What’s your stance on werewolves?”
“Do you mean do I know how to kill them?”
“No! I mean, do you think they should all be killed for being disgusting unnatural beasts, even if they’ve never hurt anyone?”
Sam flinched, but Stiles wasn’t sure if it was because of the question or because of the ghosts in his head.
“My brother and I don’t kill creatures who’ve never hurt anyone,” Sam said. He wasn’t looking at Stiles; his eyes were directed inward, staring at some unpleasantness in his mind. “But werewolves can’t help themselves.”
“But what if they could? What if they could prove to you that they could?”
“Like I said, we don’t kill anything that’s harmless. But—”
Sam’s eyes had regained some light, and he was now looking at Stiles with curiosity. Stiles felt a sudden surge of discomfort—he’d been so intent on finding out whether Sam and his yet-to-be-named brother were a danger to his friends that he hadn’t thought about himself. He no longer was a harmless human being whose only defenses were his quick wit and sharp tongue—the clandestine passenger in his head was definitely unnatural, and disgusting, and extremely harmful. The whole combo. Any hunter worth their salt would want to kill him.
“How do you know about all this?” Sam asked. “Are you an Argent?”
Stiles snorted. “God, no. I’ve had a number of more or less fortunate encounters with members of that family. One of them is even my friend, but overall they’re kind of a nasty bunch.”
“Are you a werewolf?” Sam still looked calm, but his posture had subtly changed and some tension showed through in it.
“But you’re friends with werewolves, right? You’re trying to protect them.”
Stiles scowled. Someone whose brain was being eaten away by insomnia should not be allowed to be this perceptive.
“What about your thing?” he asked in retaliation, spinning a finger to his temple. “The voices in your head. Is it a natural problem, or a supernatural one?”
“Supernatural. He—” Sam tapped his own temple. “—is a residue from a bad experience.”
The way Sam casually called the voices—or rather voice, in the singular—a he froze the blood in Stiles’ veins.
“Are you sure that—“ He had to pause to swallow. “—that residue can’t take over and—”
“No!” Sam shook his head fiercely, but it looked too much like denial for Stiles’ taste, and not enough like the calm, rational response supported by strong arguments that he would’ve liked. “No,” Sam repeated. “He’s not real. He’s just a memory. He can’t—”
“Okay, okay.” Stiles raised his hands, palms out in surrender. “Just asking.”
He sat down too, mirroring Sam’s position on his own bed. He suddenly felt like a wet blanket had been thrown over his shoulders, weighted down by exhaustion. His head hurt, but he couldn’t stop the thoughts whirling around in his mind. What were the chances of two guys with their brains scrambled by the supernatural becoming roommates in a mental institution? It sounded like the beginning of a bad joke. Regardless of whether Stiles trusted Sam the hunter or not, he certainly didn’t trust the thing in Sam’s head. He sagged in on himself under the invisible burden, burying his face in his hands. The pressure felt good on his aching head and he sighed in relief.
“You should try to take a nap,” Sam said.
Stiles looked at him through his fingers. “Are you kidding me?”
“Well, it can’t hurt to try.”
If only. It actually could hurt, very much, and a lot of people, which reminded Stiles that Sam would be first line and he didn’t even know about it. Stiles should tell him. He didn’t trust Sam not to hurt his friends who’d done nothing to deserve it—Sam didn’t look the sadistic type, but Stiles was wary of Sam’s belief that werewolves couldn’t help hurting people—but he wasn’t that innocent. And what could Sam do to him, anyway? If he’d gone through the same procedure that Stiles had, they’d asked him to empty his pocket and had taken his belt. Sam should be harmless.
Stiles lowered his hands on his lap, clenching his fists. He was steeling himself to tell Sam the whole story, when the door to their room opened and an orderly Stiles didn’t know said to Sam, “You’ve got an appointment with Dr. Krakow. Come on.”
Sam stood up with such obvious weariness that Stiles thought it was cruel and unusual of the doctor not to dispense him of this appointment. Especially since, if Sam had told the truth, there was nothing a psychiatrist could do to help him.
“Have fun!” he said, and Sam gave him a tired half-smile.
Stiles would just have to chill and wait until Sam was back before he spilled his guts. Hopefully not literally.
“Mr. Wesson? Mr. Wesson!”
It was the urgency in the voice rather than the name itself that got Sam’s attention. Only a second later did his brain caught up to the fact that the name was supposed to be his.
“Yeah? Uh, sorry.”
Dr. Krakow, a potbellied man with a kind round face, looked at Sam over his half-moon glasses.
“Having trouble focusing?”
“I haven’t slept in five days,” Sam said a little irritably. “So yes, I have trouble focusing.”
It wasn’t the man’s fault if he was feeling on edge, but to hear him comment on the obvious was like going to the eye doctor and have them say, “so you have problems with your eyes, huh?” Besides, there was nothing the man could do for him, and Sam’s thoughts kept straying to the conversation he’d just had with Stiles. He didn’t look like a bad kid, but it was now more obvious than ever that he was hiding something.
“Told you!” Lucifer said. “Or least, I hinted very strongly at it. Didn’t you get my hints?”
He was standing behind the doctor and had been killing the man in various gruesome ways since the beginning of the appointment. Right now, Dr. Krakow’s face was veiled over with blood from having the top of his head sawed off. Sam’s mind must be starting to crack under the combined pressure of the insomnia and hallucinations, because he actually found the vision more amusing than horrifying: despite the graphic realism of these illusions, the doctor’s tone of voice never varied from practiced calm and evenness, and the contrast was pretty funny.
But, right, Stiles. What could he be hiding? He was obviously protecting people, but there must be something else, something that touched him personally. And how much faith could Sam put in what he’d said about werewolves? He’d looked like he believed it, but Sam knew all about the great lengths of delusions you could go to protect someone you loved. On the other hand, if he was right, it meant that maybe Sam hadn’t needed to kill Madison.
Meanwhile, the doctor kept droning on about sedatives and other kinds of medications he could give Sam. No sedative had worked so far on him, but Sam felt too tired to point it out, and it was also possible that the doctor had access to stronger stuff than he did, even counting the raids Dean had made on free clinics.
“Mr. Wesson? Are you listening?”
“Yeah, I’m just a bit preoccupied.”
The doctor’s face softened like a melting ball of wax. “Were you there for the—incident?”
Is that how we call it? “Yeah. I saw what happened. How is the—is he dead?”
“No, the cut wasn’t very deep and he was taken care of immediately. He’ll be fine,” the doctor said reassuringly, as if he wanted to soothe what he perceived as Sam’s distress.
Sam wasn’t feeling distressed at all—he actually felt rather intrigued—but if a distraught patient was going to keep the doctor talking, he wasn’t above playing the part.
“I heard that there was another suicide two days ago. I chose to come here because I wanted help, but—”
“This place doesn’t make people suicidal, if that’s what you’re getting at.” The doctor’s voice had taken on an edge, and the way his plump fingers played with his pen betrayed some nervousness. “We do our best to help our patients, but sometimes it’s not enough. You also have to want to be helped,” he added pointedly.
“So these patients were beyond help?”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss other patients. I’m sure you can understand that.”
The brief rush of adrenaline caused by the topic had ebbed and Sam was once again too tired to hold a coherent conversation, much less one about his mental health. Dr. Krakow must have perceived that, because soon enough Sam was led back to his room, feeling like he was floating on a cushion of air all the way there. Even Lucifer sounded distant, a familiar echo in the background. The only thing that almost startled him from his daze was running into a teenager, a lanky kid with long hair who glowered at him before stomping off, muttering under his breath.
When Sam entered his room, trying to gather the scattered pieces of his mind and think of how to resume his conversation with Stiles, he found the kid laying on his back over the covers, his eyes closed and his face slack from sleep.
For a moment Sam just watched him, feeling sick with envy. Soon enough, though, he noticed that Stiles’ sleep looked far from peaceful. “Let me…let me out…” the boy was murmuring, head tossing from side to side.
Sam took a step in direction of the bed, wondering if he should shake him awake or let him catch up on some much needed sleep, but Stiles took the decision off his hands by waking up violently, gasping for breath, a cry dying on his lips.
“Wow, hey, you okay?” Sam asked, hands put out in case the flailing boy fell off the bed.
Stiles’ panicked eyes roved around the room. “Did I, did I—was I sleeping?” He seemed to have trouble catching his breath.
“I just came in, but it looked like it.”
“Oh my god! This is so bad. So very bad, oh god. Can you look at my back, please?”
“Here—” Stiles was frantically tugging at the collar of his t-shirt, twisting his neck trying to look at the back of his shoulder. “I can’t—I can’t see it. Can you check, please?”
Moved by the distress in the boy’s voice, Sam obeyed and leaned in to examine the exposed part of his skin. At first he could see nothing but pale skin and a few scattered moles, so he pulled a little more at Stiles’ collar so he could look further down his back, and then he saw what he’d managed to catch a glimpse of before: red lines running down Stiles’ back, jagged lines that formed a web reminiscent of a bolt of lightning.
“You have a… something there,” Sam said, unsure what Stiles wanted him to check.
He obviously knew the mark was there—he’d called it a scar earlier—but why was he so panicked about it? The mark looked strange, though, like no scar Sam had ever seen, but more… A Lichtenberg figure, right; Sam’d never seen one anywhere but in a picture, but the lines on Stiles’ back looked just liked he’d been hit by lightning.
“How does it look? Like the color—are the lines an angry red, or are they faded? Does it go up to my neck?”
“Kind of faded, I guess. And no, I can’t see anything on your neck.”
Sam had expected this piece of news to be a good one, or at least for Stiles’ anxiety to ease a little. Instead Stiles immediately backed away from Sam, pushing him at the same time with trembling hands like he was doubly in a hurry to put space between them.
“How long were you gone?” he asked Sam.
“I—” It was hard to measure time with the permanent fog blurring his mind and the way he kept drifting off. “I’m not sure. Not for very long, I don’t think.”
Stiles closed his eyes, murmuring a fervent litany of ‘fuck, fuck, fuck’ under his breath. Then he opened his eyes again and said, “Okay.”
“I gotta tell you something, because you’re my roommate for now and it’s only fair you know what you’re sharing space with.” Stiles’ fingers played nervously with the hem of his t-shirt as he talked, and a sense of foreboding dread grew in Sam. He didn’t like Stiles using the word what very much. “You’re a hunter, right?”
“I think we’ve already established that much,” Sam said warily. He caught a glimpse of Lucifer watching the conversation with an intent expression, and it only made his apprehension greater.
“Have you heard of a nogitsune?”
“Sounds Japanese, but other than that I don’t have a clue.” Bobby would’ve known, Sam thought with a pang. “But I’m guessing you know what it is.”
“It’s Japanese alright. It’s a fox spirit. It’s—” Stiles swallowed hard, Adam’s apple bobbing up and down with it. “Bad. Very evil. It’s also in there,” he added, pressing a finger to his temple.
“You mean, in you? Like possession?”
“Yeah, exactly like that. I mean, I’m myself right now. I think. I feel like myself, although it’s a version of myself that’s been stretched very thin, and I don’t know how longer I can... But the nogitsune has taken over a few times. Last time I was under for two days, and it used me to do… stuff.”
Stiles’ voice was thin and raspy, like every word hurt and it was a wearying struggle to get them out. Sam held his breath, waiting for the rest and trying not to think of his hands stained with blood, his own fists pummeling his brother’s face. Even Lucifer was silent.
“Deaton—he’s a friend—injected me with something that’s keeping the nogitsune… asleep, I guess? But it’s not permanent, and Miss Morrell, the woman I was talking to earlier, told me I shouldn’t sleep, because it makes it easier for the spirit to take over again. And she also said that when the mark will have faded completely, it’ll mean that it’s back. Believe me, you don’t want it to be back.”
Stiles finally met Sam’s eyes—he looked young, pale, and weary, but his eyes held a steadfast determination.
“You need to keep an eye on that mark.” Before Sam could remark on the fact that the mark was generally hidden by his shirt, Stiles added, “You just ask me if you can have a look at it, and if I say no…then you’ll know I’m not me anymore. There won’t be any other clue—this thing fooled my dad and my best friend before. I can still act like myself and be the nogitsune.”
That was a chilling thought. “And if you’re not you, then I…”
“You tell Miss Morrell, and she’ll handle the rest. This woman has ice in her veins. She’ll do what she has to.” Stiles shuddered.
Sam had been hunting long enough not to need an explanation on what “she’ll handle it” meant, and in theory he even agreed with that course of action. He remembered all too well what it felt like to be in Stiles’ position. Still, it was sobering to be casually discussing a teenager’s death with the interested party himself.
Stiles looked over to him. “I don’t want to be used to hurt people again,” he said, obviously misinterpreting Sam’s silence. “And he will. That’s all he wants, pain and chaos. He’ll hurt the people I love. Again. He made me—twist a sword into my best friend’s gut, for fuck’s sake.”
Sam absently noted how Stiles had gone from calling the nogitsune a it to a he, but something else in what Stiles had said struck him with a one-second delay. “You killed your best friend?”
“No, I—uh, he got better. It wasn’t like a sword sword, it was more of—”
Werewolf, Sam understood immediately. It made sense that Stiles would be protective of werewolves if his closest friend was one. But Sam didn’t have the energy to worry about a potential werewolf threat roaming the streets of Beacon Hills when he had a possessed teenage boy on his hands already. A possessed boy who got locked in a room at night with him.
“—something like a knife, or—”
“Stiles, it’s fine. If your friend’s a werewolf, there’s nothing I can do about it from here anyway.”
Stiles narrowed his eyes. “He’s not dangerous.” He’d sounded apathetic about his own death, but he was all fire now. “He’s never hurt anyone! Look, I’ve spent plenty of full moons with him by now, and he’s totally safe. I mean, the guy’s a boy scout! I stabbed him, and the first thing he said when I told him I was getting committed was, ‘I can’t protect you if you’re in here.’ Protect me. Like I’m not the one who—” Stiles cut himself off abruptly.
“Okay,” Sam said, more because Stiles looked upset than because he was convinced. Love gave you blinders, and the nature of lycanthropy made it possible for Stiles’ friend to both be a blood-thirsty monster a few nights a month, and a devoted friend the rest of the time.
“How do you think Dean’s doing out there?” Lucifer commented, the sound of his voice startling Sam because he’d been so silent during the conversation. “Nah, I’m sure he’s fine. He can handle werewolves. You, on the other hand, are in a tight spot, my boy. What are you gonna do about this? Gonna slit the boy’s throat as he… oh, but he doesn’t sleep, does he.”
You knew, Sam thought, but kept himself from saying it out loud. From the moment they got there, Lucifer had acted as if he knew something about Stiles that Sam didn’t, which didn’t make sense if he was only a figment of Sam’s imagination. He could be a manifestation of things Sam had observed subconsciously, but there was no way Sam’s subconscious could have picked up on what was wrong with Stiles upon their first meeting. If the Lucifer in his mind could have independent knowledge and thoughts, then could he be—
Sam spent most of his time avoiding looking at Lucifer as much as he could, but this time he looked straight at him, in time to see Lucifer’s lips form a slow smile.
“Howdy, partner,” said the Devil.
“Sam? You okay?”
It must have looked to Stiles as though he was staring at nothing.
“I’m fine,” Sam said faintly.
Neither he nor Stiles could trust what was in their minds. They’d both thought they could be safe in Eichen House, but the truth was, neither of them was safe anywhere.
“Who are you?” the girl with the crossbow asked Dean.
On his periphery, the blue-eyed werewolf he’d shot made a move as though he was going to get back on his feet, and Dean shot his other knee. The werewolf went down again with a half-growl, half-whimper.
“Hey!” Scott McCall exclaimed. “You didn’t need to—”
“He a friend of yours?”
“Scott,” murmured the red-haired girl. “You know what we need.”
Next to her, the girl with the crossbow turned her weapon back on Dean—she’d shifted her aim on the werewolf just a fraction second before Dean himself had fired. He had no doubt that she would’ve shot if he hadn’t; she couldn’t be a werewolf, or she wouldn’t need to be armed. The only thing that made sense was that she was a hunter, but what would she be doing with a bunch of werewolves?
Scott, for his part, looked chastised by his friend’s comment. His expression hardened, lips pressing tight, and there was that look on his face again, the desperate determination Dean had read in his eyes at the clinic. He looked at Dean, and his face was so expressive that Dean couldn’t miss the moment the boy recognized him.
“You were at Deaton’s earlier today.”
“Yeah. Name’s Dean Winchester.”
He glanced at the maybe hunter girl to see if she showed any recognition at the sound of his name, but her face was unreadable.
“What do you want?” Scott asked.
“I want Deaton’s help. For my brother.” If he was correct about Scott, then it couldn’t hurt to tug at the heartstrings. “He’s in a very bad way, but Deaton told me he was too busy to help, and I could tell pretty quickly that there’s something off about this town. It’s kind of my job to tell.”
This time crossbow girl reacted. “You’re a hunter?” Her voice was tight rather than relaxed or hopeful, and she didn’t lower her crossbow one inch.
“Yeah. Are you? That’s a mean-looking crossbow you got there.”
“My name’s Allison Argent,” she said, like it was all the introduction she needed.
And, indeed, after Dean had turned the name over in his mind for a few seconds, he remembered where he’d heard it before. “Werewolf hunter? But—”
The twins were still half-transformed, but the Argent girl was the only one of the group that was armed, so it left Dean wondering about Scott and the other two girls. Were they all werewolves too? What was a girl raised in a werewolf hunting family doing with werewolves? In Dean’s experience, families who specialized in a specific kind of hunting tended to be a special brand of fanatics.
“Allison!” the red-haired girl shouted suddenly, and it was all the warning Dean got before the werewolf he’d shot crashed into his side.
Dean brutally met the ground and the shock made him lose one or two seconds of awareness. When he came back to himself, it took all his strength and focus to keep an enraged werewolf off his face. He’d lost his gun in the scuffle, and the man was large and heavy in top of possessing a werewolf’s unnatural strength. Just when the fangs had snapped a little too close to his nose, the weight was lifted off of him and Dean managed to get up to his knees.
“Jesus,” he cursed, trying to catch his breath.
When he looked around him to assess the situation, he saw that his previous question had been answered: Scott’s face had morphed, sideburns spreading until they covered half of his cheeks, and fangs had grown in his mouth. His eyes gleamed a bright red.
The twins were holding the blue-eyed werewolf down to his knees, and one of them asked Scott, “Do we kill him?”
The girls had gathered around Scott and were looking at him—waiting, Dean realized, for his decision. They were all acting as though this earnest-looking teenager was their leader.
“No,” Scott said, his voice soft but decisive. “That’s not what we do. There’s only one thing we want. Where’s Katashi’s finger?” he asked the defeated werewolf.
The man’s eyes had reverted to a normal, non-descript color, and he was looking up at the teenager with an expression of surprise mixed with wariness.
“Breast pocket,” he eventually said, and Scott leaned over to fish something silvery from the pocket.
Dean got back to his feet, and, feeling curious, took a few steps to better see what it was. He had the time to see that it was indeed a finger, or at least a fake finger made out of silver, before the girl with the crossbow whirled on him, pointing her weapon at Dean’s chest.
“Woah,” Dean said, hands up in a surrender gesture.
“Don’t move,” the girl commanded.
“Allison,” Scott said. “It’s okay.” Allison lowered her crossbow, but kept her eyes on Dean, warily tracking his every movement.
“Scott,” said Scott’s maybe girlfriend, the one he’d taken on his bike. “What are we going to do with him?” She shot a nervous glance in Dean’s direction. “He, um.”
One of the twins huffed, and that kick-started a debate on whether or not they should kill their prisoner: both the twins were fervently of the opinion that a good enemy is a dead enemy, but Scott stayed firm in his opposition. The girls didn’t speak, but seemed to lean toward Scott’s position. In the end, they let the man go, and Dean was left with the clear impression that for all the twins’ protestations, Scott’s opinion was the one that weighted the most, and that the final decision had been his.
“Now, what do we do with him,” the red-haired girl said coolly, pointing at Dean. She stood close to Allison, either for protection or support.
Scott directed his attention at Dean, not hostile but still cautious. “You followed us?” he asked.
Dean pondered his answer, and decided to tell the truth. He was on his guard, but he didn’t feel in danger: the werewolf they’d let go had fought against them, and they’d spared him. Dean hadn’t done anything to them; he’d even stepped in to help. That would count for something, hopefully.
“Yeah,” he said nonchalantly. “Sorry,” he added, although he probably didn’t sound very sorry. “What’s the finger for?”
The question seemed to remind Scott what he had in his hand. He opened his closed fist and tapped the object against his palm. Something fell from it, something too small for Dean to be able to see what it was, and Scott clutched it protectively in his hand. He was smiling, looking relieved and accomplished.
“Something we need,” he said.
“Deaton said that you were upset because your pet was about to be put down.” It was provocation on his part to bring that up, because he’d never really believed that story. Scott clenched his jaws and Dean said, “Guess it’s not true. Who’re you trying to save?”
“My best friend.” The words held a depth of feeling in them.
“The Sheriff’s kid?”
Scott’s eyes widened. “How do you know that?”
“Checked the news. Again, this is kind of my job.”
“Why so inquisitive?” the red head cut in, tilting her head to examine him. “What do you want?”
“To help.” The answer surprised Dean almost as much as it did the kids; he hadn’t really worked out what he was going to do until now, until he’d seen the determined set of Scott’s jaws, a determination that was reflected in the group gathered around him. “Helping you will get help for my brother to come faster. Plus, it’s what I do.”
“Maybe we should—” the Asian girl said, her voice wavering a bit with hesitation. “I mean, help’s good, right? And he’s a hunter—like Allison.”
“Oh, Kira. You obviously haven’t met the rest of Allison’s family,” the red head said sardonically.
Allison didn’t seem to take offense to what her friend had just said. In fact, she was the one who looked the most distrustful of Dean. It wasn’t difficult to get why: a hunter kid consorting with werewolves, no doubt her family hadn’t been happy about it. She was protective of her friends. Dean wasn’t overjoyed with the whole werewolf business himself, but he had to admit that these kids were behaving like no werewolves he’d ever seen. They seemed to be in control of the transformation and didn’t act particularly enraged. The twins appeared to be the most bloodthirsty of the lot, and Dean silently vowed to keep an eye on them.
“Scott,” Allison said after a moment. “Can I talk to you?”
“Sure,” Scott said, sounding a bit confused.
Scott and Allison stepped apart to confer, leaving Dean with the rest of the gang eyeing him warily—Kira was the only one who tried to be friendly, shooting him quick, cautious smiles. Dean smiled back at her, and maybe it came out a little too flirtatious, because the red-haired girl glared daggers at him in return.
Allison and Scott’s discussion was conducted in heated whispers, and Dean strained to catch a few words: “—want to kill him—”
He wasn’t sure if they were talking about him or about someone else entirely, but he swept his eyes over the ground searching for his gun, finding it a couple of feet away. It wasn’t very likely that he’d manage to trump werewolf reflexes if they decided to attack him, but it didn’t hurt to prepare himself.
Scott returned from the discussion looking somber, and Dean braced himself for a fight.
“Thank you for offering to help,” Scott said, sounding distant in a way that contrasted with before. “But we won’t need it. With what we got tonight, we have it under control.” His jeans pocket was bulged with the shape of his clenched fist.
“Okay,” Dean said amiably. They might be kids, but they outnumbered him and it wasn’t the right time for him to get into it. “Can I get my gun back, though?”
He went to pick up his gun from the ground under the teenagers’ watchful eyes, and walked away feeling that intent stare on the back of his neck like a warm ray of sunlight. He only relaxed once he thought he was out of sight.
Stiles thought he was starting to feel a little bit better—for a certain value of better, anyway. A bit more centered, at least, not quite as shaken by his dream. Let me in. Let me IN!
“Stiles?” Sam called, and Stiles almost jumped out of his skin.
Okay, so he wasn’t totally fine, but who would be, in his situation? And the dream—well, it was hard not to be shaken when he knew it wasn’t really a dream per se, but the manifestation of the nogitsune pounding on the metaphorical doors of his mind. Stiles’ whole frame shook from a violent shudder at the thought, almost a spasm.
“Are you okay?” Sam asked.
Stiles glanced over to him: the man looked like he’d been taken for a spin then spat out by a washing machine.
“Right back at you, buddy,” Stiles mumbled, and Sam snorted, before carefully lying back down on his bed.
Stiles was still dead tired, but he wasn’t afraid of falling asleep again right now, because he felt like ants had taken residence under his skin, making him restless and jittery. He managed to remain silent for a grand total of thirty seconds. “Hey, you’re a big bad hunter, right?”
Maybe it wasn’t very prudent to bait a man like him, but Sam simply said, “I have my moments.”
“How do you deal with possession?”
Stiles was staring at a spot on the wall in front of him and not looking in Sam’s direction, but he heard a soft rustle of sheets when Sam shifted on his bed. “Exorcism, generally,” Sam eventually answered. “But I’m used to another kind of possession, and… I’m not sure it would work on you. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t, actually.”
Stiles let out a sigh, his shoulders sagging with the exhalation. “Yeah, I didn’t think so.”
Next time, he was able to hold out for a whole minute. “Wonder what’s going on out there. I mean, we’ve been stuck in here for hours—”
“It’s been twenty minutes at most.”
“—and now the group therapy has been cancelled but no one even came to tell me, it’s like—It’s like they’ve decided to let us rot in our cells.”
He was aware he was being a bit overdramatic, but he couldn’t help himself. Babbling whatever paranoid thought was going through his mind at the moment was the only thing that kept him from unraveling completely. Unable to sit down any longer, he got to his feet, and had to pause for a second when the change of station made him light-headed. He started pacing the length of their room, talking as he moved, “I feel like there’s something going on in this place. Other than, I mean—” He stopped then, thinking, other than me. Sam had told him the guy who’d tried to kill himself had survived, but that didn’t make the incident any less unsettling. “Anyway.” He resumed his pacing. “The girl we found. I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think that whatever happened to her was natural.”
“The doctor,” Sam said hoarsely. He cleared his throat, a weak sound that closely resembled a dying wheeze. “The doctor who saw me, he looked—worried, I guess. He was trying not to show it, but I think they’re keeping us in our rooms for our protection.”
Protection. At least if he was locked up, Stiles thought, then other people would be protected from him. Well, except for Sam, who looked like he was dying anyway. And that was hoping a simple door would be enough to stop the nogitsune.
“Right,” Stiles said. He was making himself dizzy with his pacing, but he had the feeling that if he stopped moving he would just collapse. “Something’s going on. You know, when we saw the girl turn around the corner right before we found her, I kind of had a weird feeling. You saw her, right?”
“I did. But you and me aren’t very good judges of what’s real or not right now.”
“Yeah, I guess. We’re quite the broken pair. Still—”
Exclamations broke out in the hallway, interrupting him. Help! Somebody help me! This was getting familiar enough that instead of startling, Stiles stiffened, thinking, what now?
“Did you—?” Sam said hesitantly.
Stiles went to the still locked door and futilely shook the handle. Then he pressed his ear against the surface of the door, straining to listen.
Stiles waved his hand imperiously at Sam. “Sshh!”
Ben! Come on, dude, wake up…
Stiles didn’t know who Ben was, but he recognized the voice as one of the orderlies’.
What….found him like that.….like that girl…
Stiles straightened up, a hand pressed against the door to keep his balance. Like that girl…
“I think they found another body. Sounds like it’s one of the orderlies, this time.”
Sam wasn’t saying anything, so Stiles looked over to him and found the man staring at an empty spot by the window.
“Hey, Sam. Dude, come on, don’t space out on me.”
Sam blinked, and it seemed like it took forever before he could focus on Stiles. “Sorry. You were saying?”
Stiles repeated what he’d heard, and Sam said, “Whatever it is, it looks like it’s loose in the hospital.”
“Well, that’s cheerful, thank you so much for sharing. So, what do we do?”
Sam closed his eyes. “There’s not much we can do, is there? Not as long as we’re locked in that room.” He opened his eyes and started pushing himself into a sitting position. It was excruciating to watch him, and Stiles felt obscurely guilty for it, like he had somehow forced Sam to move. “If I had something, like a paperclip,” Sam said, “then I could pick the lock.”
Stiles had no reason to have a paperclip on him, but he still turned around his pockets to check. “Yeah, so that’s a bust.”
He walked from the door to the window, more because he needed to move than to check the view: the only thing they could see from their window was a stretch of the front lawn and a few trees, their foliage swaying slightly from a breath of wind.
Stiles pressed his forehead against the glass. The cool helped a little with his headache. “Damn it. We need to get out of here. We—”
As if he’d just made a wish to the stars and his prayer had been answered, the door opened and Judith came in.
“Stiles,” she said. She looked disapproving, like he was breaking some kind of rule by looking through the window. “Group therapy, now.”
“Now? It was supposed to be—”
Stiles shared a look with Sam, trying to pass the thought, if I don’t come back, tell my dad I love him. Sam blinked at him, which Stiles chose to take as a yes.
As he was led to the room where the group therapy would take place, Stiles tried to be on the lookout for clues about what had just happened, but it looked like maybe Judith was keeping him away—accidentally or on purpose—from the crime scene, because he couldn’t see anything wrong. Although, if they’d merely found another unconscious person, it was likely there just wasn’t anything left to see.
“Stiles,” Judith said at some point in a warning tone.
“What?” he said, aiming for his best impersonation of wide-eyed innocence.
“Just keep to yourself,” she said. He’d never been that good at wide-eyed innocence.
The room where Judith took him was the same as the day before: luminous, the late morning sunlight flowing into it through the large arched windows, and as wide as a ballroom. Miss Morrell looked sleek as ever, and she even smiled at him when their eyes met—who would think that behind that pretty façade, she was probably assessing whether or not he needed to be put down yet?
The discussion ran around the same topics as the day before, so it was essentially a dissection of just how bad they were feeling today. Stiles had a hard time keeping up with the conversation, and very little motivation to do so—he had the chance to experience first hand just how bad he was feeling and didn’t need a rehash of it, thank you very much—and instead he tried to observe the other participants without being too conspicuous about it.
He thought the group was mostly constituted of the same people as yesterday, except for Oliver being gone, but to be perfectly honest he hadn’t been paying a lot of attention to the group then, so he wasn’t sure. Malia was there, crouched on her chair like a cat about to pounce. She’d given him a look when he’d entered the room, but Stiles thought it wasn’t quite as murderous as the looks she’d given him before, so she was probably getting used to him. There was also, what’s her name, Meredith, the scarecrow-like girl who he’d heard talk on a phone that didn’t work. She kept looking at him like she expected him to attack, like she knew, and it made Stiles more than a little uncomfortable.
How does guilt make you feel, Stiles? Morrell had asked the day before.
Nervous, he thought again. Yeah, nervous as fuck, like he was going to jump out of his own skin—which would be a definite improvement on his current condition.
Other than those two, Stiles didn’t know the names of the other members of the group, and only vaguely remembered having seen them before, so he kept an ear out for Miss Morrell calling for them until he knew who each was. There was a black girl who kept twisting the fabric of her sweatshirt—Amy—and a bulky white guy who looked bored out of his mind—Kyle—and another white boy with long dark hair who seemed to be one step away from breaking out shouting at the group. His name was Jordan, which for some reason rang familiar to Stiles, and he looked like one of those kids involved in school shootings. Hell, maybe he was. Although, would he be in Eichen House if he’d really shot at his teachers and classmates? Wouldn’t he be somewhere more… secure?
“Stiles? Stiles.” It was Miss Morrell, her voice tinged with the slightest edge of impatience.
“What about you?”
Stiles leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, looking up to Miss Morrell’s expectant face. He’d obviously missed a question directed at him and wouldn’t be able to hide that he hadn’t been paying attention. It wasn’t a rare occurrence for him, but this time he felt a hard-edged annoyance cut through him. Who was she anyway, his math teacher? He wanted to tell her not to pretend to care about him when she wanted to kill him. Couldn’t she just leave him be until it was time for her to inject him with poison?
“What about me?” he asked through gritted teeth.
“We were talking about what happened: the attempted suicide, the two people who have been founded unconscious in the hallways. Did you witness or hear any of it? How do you feel about it?”
“I was there for the, uh, attempted suicide. I heard about the other two. You know, the echoes. It’s, well, it’s awful.”
A murmur of assent ran through the group. Stiles was feeling more curious than annoyed, now—he wasn’t sure if Miss Morrell’s inquiry genuinely aimed at helping the group, or if she was trying to gather clues, but whatever her intentions were, Stiles was much more interested in what the others had to say than before.
“Adam was my roommate for a while,” Kyle said. “He was screwy.”
“Kyle,” Miss Morrell said with cool disapproval.
Malia snorted. “Listen to yourself,” she said. “We’re all screwy here. Sorry,” she added for Miss Morrell’s benefit, although she didn’t sound very sorry. She probably didn’t have a lot practice with the sentiment.
“I saw Ben,” Amy piped up. “Leaving the common room, right before I heard all the shouting.”
“That’s impossible!” Jordan exclaimed, so loud he made Amy jump in startled fear. “He couldn’t have gone from the common room to where he was found, it’s too far. You mixed him up with someone else.”
“No,” Amy said, her fists clenching on her stretched-out sweatshirt. “I’m sure it was him.”
“You’re wrong! You—”
“Jordan, calm down,” Miss Morrell said.
She didn’t raise her voice, but her words were laced with an authority that wasn’t to be trifled with. Even Jordan, as angry as he seemed to be, must have heard it because he shut his mouth and went back to silent scowling, arms crossed over his chest.
“I saw him,” Amy mumbled mulishly. Jordan glared at her, but was kept from replying by Miss Morrell’s sharp change of topic. Stiles just tuned them all out again until Morrell declared the session had come to an end.
The group shuffled out of the room, but Stiles wasn’t particularly surprised when Morrell stopped him from leaving with a crisp, “Stiles! Do you have a moment, please?”
Stiles gave a forlorn look to Malia’s back, the last one to leave the room. When the door was closed behind her, Stiles turned to Miss Morrell, and, before she could ask her question, said, “It’s fading, but still there. I’m still hanging on, yay.” He made a fist and half-heartedly pumped it in the air.
Miss Morrell sighed. “I was going to ask you if you knew anything about what happened. Anything you wouldn’t say in front of the group.”
“Oh, um.” I’m doing it just as you said. “Well, my roommate and I actually found the girl in the hallways, but we… Well, we were worried someone would think we’d done something to her. We saw her turn the corner right before we found her body. Kind of like…” He swept his eyes around the room, but they were still alone. “Kind of like what Amy was telling about Ben.”
“Amy wasn’t lying,” Miss Morrell murmured, sounding like she wasn’t so much talking to Stiles as to herself. “She’s not the only to have seen Ben, and other people have seen Lisa, the first victim.”
“It is none of your concern, though.” Miss Morrell looked back at Stiles with sharp eyes. “You look terrible,” she commented.
“If you tell me I need to get more sleep, I will punch you, you know.”
She didn’t crack a smile. Maybe he hadn’t really sounded like he was joking.
“One way or the other,” she said, “it will soon be over.”
He felt the blood in his veins turn into ice. “Thanks for the pep talk, I guess,” he said, his voice coming out squeaky and breathless.
Maybe he should have told her about what Adam had said, about the potential danger lurking there. But despite everything his sense of self-preservation was still kicking, and Morrell’s clinical way to look at him made him want to run for the hills.
Soon after Stiles came back from his group therapy, they were served lunch. It was somewhat ruined for Sam by the maggots he could see crawling across the tray and over the food.
Stiles, who was pushing his own food around his plate, asked him, “You’re not hungry?”
“No, not really,” Sam said, trying not to puke. The maggots eventually disappeared, but the food still looked unappetizing.
None of them being up for eating, they started discussing what Stiles had learned during therapy.
“Could be a shapeshifter, I guess,” Sam said. He lay back in his bed after having pushed his food to the side.
“A shapeshifter. What kind of shapeshifter? Werewolves count as shapeshifters, don’t they?”
“I mean a creature who can make itself look like whoever it wants. My brother and I have crossed paths with a few.”
“Okay, but since we saw Lisa, and other people saw Lisa, does that mean that there are several shapeshifters wandering around?” Stiles asked. “Because that’s a scary thought. And what the hell are they trying to do?”
“Yeah, that’s the problem. The shapeshifters we’ve met before were very human in their motives, but there doesn’t seem to be a purpose to what’s going on here. Also, what exactly happened to those people? Shapeshifters don’t have other abilities than their shapeshifting one, as far as I know.”
“Then what could it be? What’s causing this? What is this, even? I should have asked Morrell about how the people who were injured are doing. Are they asleep, or in a coma, or what? Those open eyes were creepy as fuck.”
“Hmm.” Sam tried to think of everything he knew about doppelgängers. Thinking was hard, and made harder by Lucifer’s off-key singing, but there was something soothing about the intellectual exercise. “You know,” he said, “maybe we’re looking at this wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe the doppelgängers are not causing anything. Maybe they’re just omens. In Norse mythology, you find that concept presented in a couple of ways, but basically seeing a person’s double is a form of premonition, sometimes even a warning.”
“Okay.” Stiles sounded a bit doubtful. “Let’s say that the doppelgängers are actually harmless warnings. Means that we’re back to square one, though. We have no idea what’s going on.”
He sounded frustrated. Sam sympathized with the sentiment, as it was his job to solve that kind of problem and he hated feeling inadequately armed to do it, both because of his physical and mental state, and because of the absence of his brother. It was odd that Stiles felt like he had to solve it too. He’d said he wasn’t a hunter, but he kind of thought like one, if you ignored the part where he was friends with werewolves.
Sam turned his head on his pillow to look at Stiles, and gasped at the sight that welcomed him: the boy was on his bed, like Sam had expected him to be, lying on his back with his face turned to the ceiling, dead eyes wide open. Blood stained his entire front, some of it dripping to the floor along the hand that was dangling from the side of the bed.
“Stiles!” Sam sat up with a jolt, his aches and weariness forgotten for a moment. “What—”
“Sam? What’s wrong?”
Sam blinked a few times, until the sight of Stiles’ dead body disappeared, leaving in its stead a living Stiles sitting on the edge of his bed, looking at Sam with worried eyes.
“Nothing,” Sam managed to squeak out. His heart was still pounding hard but he could feel it slowing down already. “I thought I saw—but it’s fine.”
“They’re really bad, right? The hallucinations. You can’t tell them apart from reality.”
When Sam looked at him it wasn’t pity that he saw in the teenager’s eyes, like he’d expected, but rather something that looked like understanding.
“Me and two of my friends,” Stiles said, unprompted, “we did some kind of ritual a while ago, and, ah. As a side effect I had some pretty vivid dreams and hallucinations, to the point that I couldn’t tell whether I was awake or asleep. Lasted only a few days, though, but… It’s what made it possible for the nogitsune to possess me. So.” Stiles cleared his throat. “Is it what it’s like for you?”
While Stiles was talking Sam had had the time to compose himself, and he no longer felt like his heart was going to break out of his ribcage.
“I know I’m not asleep,” he said. “But I never know if what I see is real or not. And he’s always there, whispering to my ear.”
Lucifer was sitting at the far end of his bed, one ankle resting on the top of his knee, looking delighted that Sam couldn’t help mentioning him, even in an oblique way.
“Like a devil on your shoulder,” Stiles said, and Sam’s stomach lurched at the terribly appropriate expression.
“I like this kid,” Lucifer commented cheerfully.
“Exactly like that,” Sam said to Stiles.
“Who’s ‘he’, by the way?” Stiles asked. Sam didn’t know what kind of face he made at the question, but it had Stiles backpedaling immediately: “Sorry! Ignore the question, I just—my brain doesn’t always catch up to my mouth. I don’t need to know. You said he was just a residue, and—”
“He’s the Devil. I mean this literally.”
“Aw, Sam, you flatter me,” Lucifer said, pressing a hand on his chest.
Stiles gaped at him for a few seconds. “The Devil. You mean—”
“Lucifer.” The name felt like it burned Sam’s throat on its way out. Was he giving the Devil power by naming him?
“You’re joking. No, sorry, you’re not joking. How does—” Stiles vigorously waved his hands like he wanted to wipe out his words. “Okay, confession time is over. I totally regret asking. Damn, and I thought I was fucked up.”
They dropped that line of conversation, and the rest of the afternoon crawled at a snail’s pace. They were not let out again, and didn’t see anyone, save for being served dinner. They talked some more—Stiles didn’t seem to be able to help it—sometimes about trivial things, sometimes about what was going on in Eichen House, bouncing theories back and forth to each other. Stiles seemed to be used to doing this with someone else, and, even if a teenage boy was a poor substitute for his brother, Sam enjoyed having someone to debate a case with. Although he’d been in Eichen House for merely a day, it felt more and more like the outside world was dissolving into a dream.
As the day progressed and daylight started to dim, though, it became tough to maintain a conversation. There was a special kind of hell in wanting to sleep so badly that every cell in your body yearned for it, but being torn away from the edge every time. Lucifer was getting more creative in his hallucinations: for example, Sam was at some point violently awakened from his doze by Stiles strangling him. Lucifer maintained the hallucination only long enough for Sam to fully wake up, and Sam didn’t tell Stiles what he’d seen, but after that he couldn’t quite shake off his unease. He’d grown to like the kid, but the hallucinations, combined with the very real possibility that Stiles could turn on him, made being locked up in a room with him very awkward.
Night fell, and the shadows in the room came alive with it. Sam was trying to remember the lyrics of some of Dean’s songs to distract himself from the agony of sleeplessness, when he heard Stiles gasp.
“Stiles?” Was the boy asleep? Maybe Sam should have been checking that he didn’t do that.
Stiles made a soft sound of distress, but then said, “I’m fine. Don’t—don’t let me fall asleep.”
“Okay,” Sam said, although he wasn’t sure how to do it when he was trying to sleep himself. “Were you dreaming?” he asked. Keeping him talking was probably the best option, even if it was about off-putting topics. “What did you see?”
“The nogitsune. He… I’m inside one of the school’s lockers, and he’s pounding on the door, yelling at me to let him in. He—” Stiles’ voice lowered to a thin thread. “He’s getting louder. I don’t know how much longer I can keep him out.”
It was dark enough in the room that Sam couldn’t see Stiles’ face, and he was glad for it. Stiles’ distress hit way too close to home.
“I understand what you’re going through,” he said. He hadn’t meant to say it, but he was too tired to hold the words in. “I remember what it’s like—I remember seeing my hands, hearing my voice, except it wasn’t mine anymore, and I could see it all like through a pane of glass, like a prisoner in my own body.”
“You—” Stiles cleared his throat. “You were possessed? By, um—god I can’t believe I’m about to say this—by the Devil?”
There was no need denying it. “Yeah.”
“And that’s what it felt like for you?” Stiles didn’t wait for a reply before he went on, “Then you don’t—you don’t know what it was like for me. There was no pane of glass in my case—it was my hands, and my thoughts, and my feelings. It was me who stabbed Scott, and got Coach shot with an arrow, and put a bomb at the station, where my dad works. And the worst part is, I enjoyed the hell out of it. That’s how I remember it.”
Sam knew enough to be aware that there was nothing he could say that would make it easier on Stiles, no amount of reassuring the boy that it hadn’t been him, especially since they didn’t know each other that well.
“Your friends are looking for a way to help you, right?” he said instead.
“Yeah. I know they’ll try their best, but…” Stiles’ voice contained that brand of nighttime despair that Sam knew well.
“My brother’s out there too, in Beacon Hills. Who knows, maybe they’ve met? Maybe they’re helping each other. My brother has faced the worst kind of odds.”
Stiles cut himself off when new echoes came to disturb the quiet of the night.
…are you? where are…
“Who the hell is up at that hour?” Stiles said.
…where are you? …good boy…are you…
Stiles snorted. “Sounds like someone is looking for their dog or something. Must be one of the patients—looks like you’re not the only one who knows how to pick a lock.”
The forlorn murmurs were interrupted by a sharp, Jordan! Get back to your room! An argument conducted in furious whispers ensued for a minute, and then silence once again fell down on the building like a drape.
“Jordan?” Stiles murmured thoughtfully. “He was at my group therapy thing. Looks chock-full of anger issues. What was he doing?”
Sam had nothing to answer to that question, because Lucifer had started to paint the walls with entrails.