The window in the main room had metal bars over it to prevent escape attempts, but Jay could still see through it enough to watch the courtyard of the hospital. In the three days he'd been in the psych hospital, he'd already developed a routine: try to sleep off the meds, eat some breakfast, then look out the window until one of the other patients tried to engage him. He didn't want to make friends. It was enough to have a passing smile at the nice nurse who worked more often than the others, and that was it. He was going to be out of here in a matter of days.
It happened more quickly today; he got maybe a half hour of watching in, only slightly interrupted by an outburst from one of the teenagers in the corner, before Carol approached him with her ramblings about the nonexistent flowerbed she seemed convinced she was tending daily. He waited until she took a pause to breathe and muttered, "I, I need to go," before ducking through the chairs.
"They're not going to leave you alone."
It stopped Jay cold. He glanced back at the person who'd spoken, a guy about his age with dark hair, bruises, and bandaged hands. "You might as well get used to it," the guy went on, with something that barely qualified as a smile. "They'll get upset if you keep walking away."
"No such thing as privacy around here?" Jay asked dryly.
"Not really." The guy dropped his head back. "I'm Tim. You're new."
"Yeah." He stuck his hand out. "Jay."
"Jay," Tim repeated after shaking his hand, and glanced sideways as an orderly and Dr. Corenthal came into the room. "Fuck."
"What?" Jay tensed, too, though.
Tim scratched his head with his bandaged fingers. "They're here for me. They haven't checked in with me yet this morning."
"Well that's fucking peachy," Jay said, which garnered a wry thing closer to a smile from Tim. "Should I leave you to it?"
"Fuck it, I don't care." Tim looked up at Corenthal as he came up next to him. "Hey, Doc."
"Hello, Tim," Corenthal said, with a smile, and turned to Jay. "I'd like to speak to him privately."
"He can stay," Tim said. "It's not like he doesn't know why I'm here."
Corenthal sighed, but went on. "Do you remember who I am?"
"You're Doc Corenthal," Tim said wearily, "and I'm at St. Dymphna's, and my name is Tim Wright, and it's 1951. November tenth, I think."
Corenthal raised his eyebrows. "So it is," he said. "You're doing well lately, you know."
"Not well enough," Tim retorted, without much venom.
"The ECT is working well," Corenthal said firmly. "I imagine we'll see great progress out of the two of you within the next few weeks."
"Oh, you too," Tim said to Jay. "I'd pegged you as a depressive."
Jay immediately shot his gaze down. "Do you have any questions for me, Dr. Corenthal?"
"I think we should speak privately," Corenthal said, tone delicate. "Don't you?"
"See you on the other side," Tim said dryly. "Eventually you won't care what people think anymore."
Jay sent him a careful look, then shifted and followed Corenthal into his office. He took a seat and looked at his socked feet.
"What's your name?" Corenthal asked.
Maybe he was already getting bored of it. "Jay Merrick."
Corenthal nodded. "What year is it?"
"Did you know that before you heard Tim say it?"
He kept his tone blank. "I remember what year it is."
"Good. Very good." Corenthal wrote notes as he went. "So have you seen it today?"
Jay felt his throat tighten. "No," he admitted.
The doctor looked up at him. "Are you frightened, Jay?" he asked.
He didn't want to talk anymore, so he didn't. They couldn't make him talk. They could tie him down when he screamed and pointed at what they said was nothing, they could feed him pills that made him sleep from six PM to six AM, but they couldn't make him talk. After two minutes of silence, Corenthal sighed.
"That's all I have for you today, Jay."
Jay left, accompanied by an orderly as he made his way to his room. It took three hours this time for the thing that looked like a man to arrive in the corner of his room, to stare without eyes, to flicker closer until he screamed his throat raw. The bonds were tight against his wrists, and rubbed raw until they forced pills down his throat and everything went black.
Tim sat next to him at breakfast two days later. "You were hiding," he noted.
"Yeah." Jay felt numb, weak, just like he did after every visit from the thing.
"Look, I don't normally go around talking to complete fucking strangers, but everyone else here is out in space or under the age of fifteen and I've read every book in this place," Tim said. "I'm bored, and you're new."
That got him to look up at Tim from poking what passed as eggs with his fork. "So I'm entertainment?"
"Kinda, yeah." Tim raised his eyebrows. "I can entertain you, too."
"Can you?" Jay shot back, and felt a half, maybe quarter-smile cross his face.
"Guess I can try." He paused. "They've got you on sleep therapy, right? Congratulations."
That killed his mood. "Yeah, it's great, sleeping all goddamn day and feeling like a zombie for two or three hours after waking up."
Tim shrugged. "Better than the alternative. Hope you're out of here before they start you on ECT."
Jay tensed and dropped his fork, appetite now gone. "What's ECT?"
"Electro-something. They strap you down, paralyze you, zap you with bolts of electricity." Tim nodded to the look crossing Jay's face. "Yeah, it's a fucking shaft, man. But you're doing better than me, I think. Should be out of here soon."
He hesitated before asking. "How long have you been here?"
Tim glanced away, laughed shortly, then said, "Ten years."
"Oh." A storm of emotions came over him, pity, worry that he'd wind up the same, and desperation to get the fuck out. "Sorry."
Tim shrugged at him. "I'm here," he said. "I see the doc every day, they zap me a few times a week, it doesn't do enough, they tie me down, it's life. It's nowhere, but it's life."
"Yeah." You need to get out of here. Now. "So you're…"
"Schizo," Tim said mildly. "Yeah. You too?"
"Yeah," Jay said. "That's what they say, anyway." He glanced askance at Tim. "Do you…"
"I see shit," he said. "All the time."
Jay could feel something horrible rising in his stomach. "Just came out of nowhere," he said. "One day I saw him, and… they…"
Tim froze, then shook his head. "Hey," he said. "You don't have to say anything."
Who else could he talk to? Fucking Carol? "Ten years ago. You were just a kid."
"I was rounding down, it was actually twelve years ago," Tim said, and picked at his bandages. "I was six." He casually gestured with his fork. "What do you see?"
The idea of voicing it was too much for him. "Him," he said.
"Some tall asshole in a suit?" Tim said flippantly.
It sent a horrible chill through him, and he dropped his face into his hands. There was a long pause where the mild buzz of conversation carried through the room, and then Tim said, "That's what I see."
Jay dared raise his head. "He has no eyes," he said. "No face."
Tim's expression was unreadable, too flat to interpret. "Strange."
"Yeah." What the hell did it mean? "Guess we're both scared of our dads."
Tim smiled, self-deprecating. "I'd have to have a dad first."
Jay cringed. "Sorry."
"Anyway," Tim said, flippant, "you're probably right, that's what they'd say, anyway. Father figure bullshit."
He was scared to ask or answer anything more than he already had. "Twelve years."
Tim clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't worry," he said. "You'll be out of here before you know it."
Jay couldn't sleep. He finally pounded on his door to get an orderly to open it. It was entertainment enough to get to argue with him, some stress relief for the feeling of being stretched thin as putty falling apart at the center. Unfortunately, it didn't last long.
A dull pounding came from the room across the hall and one over. Tim's room, Jay thought. First it was a slow, steady beat, then faster, harder, and orderlies rushed to answer.
Tim came flying through them, landing on top of one with hands immediately wrapping around his throat. The orderly by Jay ran over and restrained one of Tim's arms, the other scrambling to his feet to help yank Tim up. His strength was nearly inhuman, and his eyes were horribly sunken.
Jay couldn't stop watching.
A fourth orderly ran in with a needle and jabbed it into Tim's neck; he slumped, and they hauled him into his room to bind him down.
"Get back in your room," an orderly snapped at Jay, approaching him; he had no choice, and went to get locked inside.
He stared at the ceiling. He thought of the pounding against Tim's door, and what it would feel like to have Tim's hands wrapped around his throat.
It took two days for Tim to emerge into the main room again. Jay sat next to him without hesitation, but let him speak first.
"You heard," Tim said flatly.
"I saw," Jay admitted.
"It happens." Tim shrugged. "I don't remember any of it. But it happens."
Jay looked away from him. "I just walk."
"Sleepwalk?" Tim supposed.
"I black out. Wake up different places. They call them fugues." The corners of Jay's mouth turned up, but it wasn't a smile. "They didn't lock me up until I told someone about him, though. Just thought I was having panic attacks and crammed me full of anxiety pills."
Tim mirrored the not-exactly-smile at him. "Your mistake."
"Tim." Jay made himself say the words. "Do we see the same thing?"
"I see shitty breakfast," Tim said idly.
"I'm serious," Jay pressed. "You see him."
"It's just some fucked up psychology thing," Tim reasoned. "Issues with dads or lack thereof."
Jay exhaled. "You believe that?"
"As opposed to what?" Tim shot back.
"I just think that's a hell of a coincidence," Jay said.
"Fine, let's compare notes," Tim said, a little sardonic. "I blacked out, woke up in a park miles away from my house I didn't know, talked about the man, they put me in the hospital. I was in and out four times before they put me in here permanently, after – "
Jay cut him off with a sharp gesture. "What park?"
Tim sighed. "Rosswood. About six miles from here."
He couldn't deal with this. "Jesus Christ," he swore.
"What?" Tim shot back. "What's the problem now?"
Jay ran his fingers into his hair, panicked. "That's where I go, Tim, that's where they found me, in some shitty shack in the middle of the place – "
Tim interrupted him. "You're messing with me."
"I'm not," Jay insisted. "I'm serious."
Tim fell silent, then shoved his tray back. "Jesus fucking Christ," he said, by way of agreement.
"Jay," Dr. Corenthal called as he approached.
Jay went rigid, and looked at Tim, who just exhaled and glanced away. He got Tim's point. Nothing you can do about it right now. "Hey, Doc," he answered.
"We need you to come with us," Dr. Corenthal said, with a small smile.
Jay knew he couldn't say no, so he slowly stood, and followed Corenthal; he tensed more as they passed the doctor's office without stopping. "Where are we going?" he asked.
"We've had a discussion about your progress here today." Corenthal kept at the same pace as Jay, walking right beside him. "We thought it was time to take a step forward."
He paused. "Is that good or bad?"
"Just different," Corenthal assured him, and opened a door. "Go on and rest on the bed."
Jay stopped dead in the doorway as he looked at the machine sitting on the table next to the bed. The orderly gently led him through the doorway, and shut the door behind him. He glanced back as though Tim might be behind him to assure him that this would be fine. Even after a nurse entered, he stood there dumbly until the orderly led him to the bed and pushed him to a seat. Finally, he gave in and laid down.
Corenthal pulled a chair up. "I don't want you to be frightened," he began. "I know that you may have heard things about electroconvulsive therapy, but this is a process that helps many people in your condition."
"I thought the sleep stuff was going fine," he said honestly.
"You're still having episodes, Jay," Corenthal said gently. "It's not enough for you."
Jay knew he needed to calm down or shit was going to go south very quickly. "I don't want to."
"I understand." Corenthal looked to the nurse, who slipped past him with a syringe in hand. "Just breathe. It will be over quickly."
It was a different terror than he was used to, not the sort that froze him to the bone when he saw the thing that looked like a man; this made his throat feel raw and shame swell in his stomach. "Yeah," he said. "I guess."
They fit the device over his head, and slid the syringe into his vein. He couldn't move. He couldn't fight back. They turned on the device, and the pain broke over him.
It didn't even fucking work.
It took a full day for Jay to remember his name and the year again, but only eighteen hours for the thing to show up in his room again. This time he didn't remember the way he normally did, or have even the slightest bit of self-control. He scratched his nails bloody against the door when they didn't come fast enough to open it.
They kept him bound down for another eight hours, drugged beyond ability to think, slipping in and out of consciousness. When he was awake, stable, he tried to stay calm.
"Let me eat breakfast," he asked.
They probably knew what that meant, but they didn't care. He took his seat and waited.
Tim sat next to him. "You look like shit," he said.
"They zapped me," Jay said, to the point. "Didn't work."
"Yeah." Tim looked at the bandages on Jay's fingers. "Looks familiar."
"Did it make it worse?" Jay whispered.
Tim shrugged. "Not exactly. You just don't remember him, so you panic more."
"Great." He picked at his food. "Finish eating."
"Why?" Tim didn't seem to be arguing, though.
Jay paused. "Because I want to talk to you."
"We're talking right now," Tim pointed out.
"In private. There has to be a way we can do that," Jay said hurriedly. "Right?"
"Well, yeah." Tim sighed. "If the orderlies decide not to be assholes."
Jay glanced away. "I just don't want to talk about it where everyone can hear."
"You still want to talk about that." Tim's voice was forced nonchalant. "Even after everything."
"Especially after everything," Jay said honestly.
"I'm not really hungry." Tim pushed his plate forward and stood. "My room. Wait a minute or two."
"Yeah," Jay said quickly. "Yeah, I'll be there."
Tim nodded, and went off at a casual pace. Jay still felt like shit, and took the minute to breathe and rest before what was probably going to be an unpleasant conversation. He headed off once he had no excuse to delay, and sneaked into Tim's room, where he sat against the wall on his bed.
"Hey," Tim said. "Don't shut the door." He offered a wry smile.
"Yeah," Jay agreed, vaguely amused at that, and took a seat next to him. "So. I've been thinking. About what we realized."
"Yeah." Tim propped his knee up on the bed and leaned against it.
Jay paused before he dared say it. "Maybe we're not crazy, Tim."
"We hallucinate, wander around while unconscious, and attack people," Tim said sarcastically, "but we're not crazy."
"But we're seeing the same thing," Jay pointed out.
Tim forced himself to keep his voice down. "Are we? How do we know? What if it's just kind of the same thing, and we both really are crazy?"
Jay sighed. "I don't know. Faceless guy in a suit. That's a little specific, isn't it?"
"But you're suggesting there's actually a faceless guy in a suit that can disappear and reappear and we're the only ones who can see it." Tim pressed his fingertips to his temples. "That might just be the crazy talking. Denial."
"You've talked to a lot of people in hospitals," Jay figured. "Have any of them seen what you've seen?"
"No." Tim just sounded tired now. "I guess you're probably right. That's weird."
Jay settled back against the wall. "I don't know if I'd rather be right or wrong, Tim."
"I mean, what happens if we're wrong? We stay here." Tim rolled his eyes. "And if we're right…"
"We stay here," Jay finished the thought, and sighed.
"Maybe you just need this shocked out of you," Tim said after a pause. "Me, I'm here for life."
Jay shot him a look. "Don't say that."
"I'm serious," Tim said, and looked it. Jay hated it. "I hope you get out of here."
"I'm not feeling all that optimistic," Jay said bluntly. "And I don't want them to zap me again."
"Can't help you there." There was a small pause, then Tim leaned towards him. "You know how I get through it?"
Jay glanced askance at him. "How?"
"I just enjoy the time I have out. As me. When I can remember." He smiled for an instant. "Showers. Breakfast. Decent conversations with decent people."
Jay felt warm, flustered. "Yeah. I get that."
"Give it a try." Tim nudged him after a second. "You'll figure it out, and by then you'll be out of here."
"Uh-huh." Jay exhaled. "However long it takes."
"Yeah." Tim looked at him. "Let's just tough it out."
"Yeah." It probably wasn't real, and they'd zap him, and it'd all go away. It would be fine. "Thanks, Tim."
It was breakfast, Jay laughing at a joke Tim told, when it happened. There was a loud crash as one of the teenagers in the corner knocked over the table and seized a chair, and Jay's gaze shot to them as the other teenagers hauled him back. "SOMEONE GET HIM THE FUCK OUT OF HERE," the kid shouted, as two orderlies rushed him.
"Nurse," an orderly shouted, but Nurse Jessica did nothing, frozen where she stood.
"Jay." Tim's tone was faint, then he slipped out of the chair and began to seize. Jay shoved his chair back and dropped next to him, looking up only to see him standing there, implacable, horrible, real, more real than anything else.
"SOMEONE HELP," Jay shouted, gripping his fingers in Tim's worn clothes so he wouldn't run. "I've got you, TIm, just, just – oh, fuck – "
Jay swayed where he knelt, desperately trying to cling to what had to be reality, before he lost consciousness.
No one who worked at the hospital would talk about what had happened. Everyone who had reacted was separated into their rooms. Jay paced back and forth, restless with the one horrific thought that he held just under the surface, knowing he couldn't deal with this while alone and trapped.
After what felt like at least three hours, he began to pound at the door. "Dr. Corenthal!" he shouted. "I need Dr. Corenthal!"
Nobody came. He pounded more. "Get me the fucking doctor," he yelled.
"Jay," Tim called.
Jay sank against the door. "Tim, I – "
"No talking," an orderly shouted down the hallway.
"Fuck you," Tim retorted.
"Why are we locked up right now?" Jay snapped. "What did we do?"
Jay couldn't see the orderly, but he was closer. "I said no talking!"
"We need to talk to Dr. Corenthal now," Tim pressed. "It's serious."
He barely saw her, but the nurse from the main room was there. "Let's settle down," she said gently. "You'll see the doctor in good time."
"That's not good enough," Jay said bluntly.
"He's with other patients right now," Nurse Jessica said patiently. "Please, just... rest. I know you've had a hard day."
"No joke." Tim's tone went beyond sarcastic. "So, what, we just wait here in silence?"
"Just relax," the nurse tried, and approached Jay's room, blocking his view of Tim's door. "Jay, Dr. Evers will be with you in a moment for your treatment."
Jay immediately moved back from the door in a swift, unconsciously visceral motion. "No. I'm telling you, it doesn't work, Dr. Corenthal knows it doesn't work – "
The nurse interrupted him, sounding a little desperate. "Just a moment, Jay. Have a seat."
Fuck it. "Tim!"
"What the hell just happened?" an orderly demanded, from behind Nurse Jessica.
"Find him," another one said pointedly, with an edge of panic.
"He was right there, Don, I don't – "
"He had to go somewhere, find him, now!"
"What happened?" Jay demanded, and went to the door, where the nurse was still lingering and blocking his view. "Nurse Jessica, tell me what's going on."
"Dr. Evers!" Nurse Jessica turned quickly away from the door. "Mr. Merrick may need some help."
Jay had a good idea of what that meant. "I'm fine, I'm fine, I swear, I – " But the door opened, and an orderly approached him. He felt the fight bleed out of him as the orderly took his arm, and he sat down on the bed as they brought the ECT machine into the room.
"Lie back, Jay," Dr. Evers suggested, and the orderly guided him back.
He shuddered, but he submitted.
It took a full day for Jay to remember himself again, and his first thought was of Tim. He waited at breakfast, even eating all of his food as he did, but Tim never arrived. He rested his head on his chin and waited for Corenthal. It wasn't a long wait.
"Jay," the doctor said gently, "come with me."
Jay realized as he walked that he hadn't looked out the window in weeks. These walls were closing in around him. They were becoming his world.
"Doc," he said urgently once they were in his room, "where's Tim? Did he hurt someone again or something?"
Corenthal shook his head. "We're here to talk about you."
"I'm fine," Jay said in a furious burst. "My name's Jay Merrick, it's 1951, I'm at St. Dymphna's, and I want to know where Tim is."
Corenthal sighed. "Tim is missing, Jay. They're looking for him now."
It stopped him cold. "What do you mean? How can he be missing, he was – you locked us all up – "
"Exactly," Corenthal said, and he looked as weary as he sounded. "He disappeared."
Jay froze; he barely remembered the events before he'd been zapped, but there were echoes in his brain yet. "Literally disappeared," he said casually as he could. "Going through the door?"
"Yes, Jay." Corenthal fixed a look on him. "Just as you claimed about your escape from your parents' house into Rosswood Park."
"It's real." It came out of his mouth before he could stop it, then nausea swept over him and he buried his face in his hands. "Oh fuck, it's real."
"It's time that I'm honest with you," Corenthal said. Jay didn't look up. "What you see is not unique to you by any stretch of the imagination. I was picked to oversee as many American patients as we could find with hallucinations along your lines, to study treatment for this specific delusion, but the evidence has become incontrovertible." He paused. "No treatment currently available is going to help you against a delusion that is real, harmful, and malicious."
Jay retched, and gripped his hair. "You have to do something," he said. "You have to find Tim, you have to try everything, maybe something you can do can, can help us, please."
"I have a plan." That got Jay to lift his head. Corenthal's expression was deadly serious. "But it's going to take time. Can you be patient?"
"Do I have a choice?" Jay shot back.
Corenthal waved that off. "Once Tim is back, I can put things in motion. Until then, I need you to be strong."
Jay shook his head, not in disagreement, just to get his head straight, then spoke. "That kid who freaked out first," he said. "Those teenagers."
Corenthal's expression softened. "Yes," he said. "They're mine."
Jay glanced away. "If you can't get us out," he answered, "at least get them out."
"I have a plan," Corenthal repeated. "Do you trust me?"
Well, he didn't have much of a choice; could going along with Corenthal be worse than what was happening now? "Yeah. Sure."
Corenthal snorted with amusement. "Great. I'll let you know when everything's in order, I promise."
Jay wasn't in the mood to talk anymore, or to do anything besides lie down on his bed and will Tim into coming back. "Can I go?"
"Let's go," Corenthal agreed, and went to open the door. Jay escaped to his room and closed his eyes, desperate to sleep.
Another breakfast passed with Tim still gone. Jay knew that he'd only known Tim for two, three weeks, but the stress had passed from just being mental into being acutely physical, knotting his shoulders. After breakfast, he glanced up at the sound of laughter in the room, and realized.
It was against his instincts to talk to someone new – he'd always been awkward, not great at people – but this was a special situation, so he approached the teenagers in the corner and stopped. They looked up at him, and he spoke. "Hey," Jay said, immediately having to resist the urge to leave.
"Hey," the one with glasses piped up. "You're Tim's friend."
"Yeah." He relaxed a little at the casual tone. "Sorry, I wouldn't bother you guys if I didn't have good reason."
"You're here 'cause of Corenthal," another one said, an edge to his tone and his thin smile.
"Evan," the third one chided.
"I'm right," Evan said, gaze tight on Jay. "Aren't I?"
"Yeah," Jay said, supposing there was no point in lying. "Looks like we have something in common."
"I kinda guessed," the one with glasses interjected. "They said you blacked out." He paused. "I'm Vinny. That's Evan, that's Jeff."
"Hey," Jeff offered.
"Welcome to our humble corner, I guess," Evan said dryly. "What can we do for you?"
Jay had no clue what he'd expected to get out of this. "I just wanted to say," he started, then rushed through, "I hope this works out for the three of you. You're young still, you deserve a shot. Tim and I…"
"No," Vinny cut in. "If Corenthal cut you in, he cut you in. You can trust him."
"Supposedly," Evan said, and sat back heavily.
"We're just waiting," Jeff spoke up, with a little smile. "So, just wait."
"Like sitting ducks." Jay smiled to take the edge off of it.
"Nothing new there," Vinny said, with a smile of his own. "What, are you new?"
"Not exactly." Jay eyed the skeptical one, Evan, but stepped back. "Anyway. I'll… yeah."
"Yeah," Vinny agreed. "We'll see you."
Maybe they knew more than he did about this plan. Maybe they were right; maybe this could work out. "See you," he echoed, and withdrew to his room to wait for Tim, the plan, the thing's next appearance, whichever would happen first.
Jay woke up the next day to a knock on the door of his room just before it opened. He blinked awake, then sat up. "What," he half-asked, then looked at Corenthal standing over him. "Doc," he started.
"Tim's back. It's time." Corenthal wore a small smile. "I thought you might want to talk to him."
Jay pushed himself out of bed. "Is he out in the main room, or – "
Corenthal's smile faded. "No, he's… well, there are protocols on managing patients who elope," he said. "He's in his room, but he's coming to."
"Let's go," Jay said instantly, and Corenthal's smile flickered back on for a moment before he guided Jay out and across the hall to Tim's room. He opened the door with a key on a large keyring, and Jay pushed past him to get to Tim's bedside.
Tim looked like shit. Jay knelt beside the bed, ignoring Corenthal, but appreciating when the doctor withdrew and shut the door lightly. "Hey, man," he said to Tim quietly. "It's me."
Tim's eyes opened a little, and one corner of his mouth turned up. "Hey."
Jay smiled faintly. "You scared the shit out of me."
"I scared the shit out of me." Tim managed to sit up a little. "Wound up in some abandoned house. Had a seizure, woke up here."
It's getting worse. He felt his smile dimming even more. "I have good news," he decided to go with. "Corenthal's going to help us."
Tim raised his eyebrows. "What, with more ECT?"
"He knows," Jay said, to the point. "He knows it's real. Someone brought him here to take care of all of us who see him, and he didn't believe it until just now."
Tim exhaled sharply. "Enough of us in one room. How could that thing resist?"
"It's real, Tim," Jay said firmly. "We're not crazy."
"So what's Corenthal going to do?" Tim's words were still a little slurred from whatever they'd injected him with, but Jay could ignore that. "Does he have some sort of evil ghost capture thing we don't know about?"
"No." Jay shook his head. "He said he'd tell me when you were back, but those kids, the teenagers, they're like us and they said trust him."
"Jay, I dunno." Tim propped himself up until he sat up entirely. "Are you sure about this?"
"I'm sure." Jay felt optimistic for the first time in weeks, maybe years. "Someone believes us. That means something. Maybe he can do something."
"Maybe." Tim examined him, then said, "Fine. I'll do it."
Jay breathed out sharply. "Great." He went to the door and knocked. "Dr. Corenthal?"
The door opened, and Corenthal tossed a duffel bag through it. "Change," he said casually.
Jay blinked. "What?"
"You've been discharged," Corenthal said, with a wry smile. "We'll get to part two in just a minute." He shut the door again.
"Discharged," Tim repeated. "Even after – "
"This is it," Jay hissed, and pulled Tim out of bed. "Come on, hurry up!"
"Fine, fine." Tim pulled his clothes out of the bag and stared at them for a moment until Jay clapped him on the back pointedly. "Yeah."
Jay didn't care that Tim was right there, shedding the thin clothes provided by the hospital for the clothes he'd come in wearing to quickly change into what he'd arrived wearing. Wearing shoes felt weird, but he glanced up from tying his shoelaces just as Tim was slipping on a shirt, glancing away in embarrassment at the flash of skin he saw.
"Go," Tim insisted once they were both dressed, and Jay knocked on the door again. Corenthal opened it, and Jay pulled Tim through only to be immediately struck by the cool air and the sound of a twig snapping beneath his shoes.
Tim released his hand. "No," he whispered.
The hospital was gone. Above them, the trees stabbed into the grey, late autumn sky.
They walked for what had to be two hours without seeing so much as a path.
"Well, it's definitely Rosswood," Tim said sardonically.
"We'll find our way out," Jay insisted.
"It's trying to separate us," Tim shot back. "It won't let us get back to Corenthal. It doesn't want us getting help."
"Tim, we have to at least try." Jay touched his shoulder, and sighed heavily as Tim withdrew. "Come on, don't lose it right now."
"What's a better time to lose it than right now?" Tim gestured broadly. "I'd love to know."
Jay couldn't really argue with that. "If we just stay calm and keep looking – "
"This place is haunted," Tim pronounced. "If that thing doesn't want us getting out, we're not getting out."
"Just trust me," Jay tried. "What else can we do, anyway? Just sit down, do nothing, wait for it to come to us?"
Tim was silent for a moment, then threw his hands up. "Fine," he said. "Let's keep walking."
"Yeah." Jay restrained a sigh, and began to lead the way again. It was a tense few minutes, until Tim flinched next to him and Jay felt his stomach drop.
"Run," Tim murmured, then bolted. Jay ran after him, even as he felt the thing behind him, a few hundred feet away, maybe on all sides of them. There was no running to, just from. He could hear Tim choking in breaths, his own shuddered breaths, his pulse pounding in his chest and neck and temples, and wondered if there was any hope.
Then, there was nothing. He fumbled past Tim, and collapsed on the ground. "Tim," he managed.
Tim fell against a tree. "I think it's gone," he said. "But we need to get the fuck out of here."
How? They could be trapped for the rest of their lives in this fucking park just to amuse the thing. Jay pushed himself up enough to sit. "So," he said, "we need to – "
"Hey," Tim called, cutting Jay off. He followed Tim's gaze to see someone standing at the top of the hill. "Do you know the way out of here?"
Jay stared up at the figure; it looked male, but so did the thing that was chasing them, and who the fuck knew what was what these days. He couldn't see its face as it stared down at them, then he realized it was covered in something black, a cowl over its head. "Can you help us?" he pressed.
He turned away from them and began to walk. Jay scrambled to his feet and looked to Tim, who was already up and heading up the hill.
"Are you showing us the way out?" Jay dared ask.
The man barely looked back, then kept walking straight ahead. Tim sighed. "I don't think we're getting much conversation out of him."
"What if he's not," Jay whispered.
"Then we're still lost," Tim answered.
"Jesus Christ." Jay's head ached.
They walked in silence until a clear path emerged, and the cowled man looked back at them expectantly.
"This is the way out," Tim half-asked. The man didn't answer, but approached them directly, silently, and stuck his hand into his pocket. He reached for Jay's hand, who resisted the urge to yank it back, only to feel the man deposit two pills into his hand. The man looked at Tim for a moment, then walked past them and back into the woods.
There was a long pause as the man disappeared into the trees, then Jay pocketed the pills and muttered, "I have a bad feeling about that."
"Forget it," Tim said, "and let's get out of here."
That was probably a good point. They walked in silence, Jay too uncertain at the set of Tim's shoulders to speak.
The wooded path ended in favor of concrete. "What now?" Jay asked directly.
"We'll figure it out," Tim said, and glanced back at him with a grim smile.
Making it to the city was the easy part; it was an hour's walk along the side of the road, with no interruptions, supernatural or otherwise. As the city limits appeared on the horizon, though, they realized they had no money, no way to contact Jay's parents, no idea whether contacting Jay's parents was a good idea, and no way of finding out how to contact Corenthal outside of contacting the hospital.
No money meant nowhere to sleep. They found an abandoned house a few streets into the city and ignored the light seeping through cracks in the boarded-up windows to fall into an exhausted sleep on the large bed that had been left behind. Jay woke first, the beginning of a sunrise starting as he peered through the window, then he glanced back at Tim, the truth dawning on him.
He sat on the bed, thought, and waited for Tim to wake up.
"Hey," he said finally, when Tim stirred.
Tim blinked. "Hey."
Jay offered a small smile. "We have to talk."
"Plans," Tim muttered, and stretched. "Yeah."
"We have to get to Corenthal. Wherever he is." Jay paused. "So I'll get us some money, make the call, have him pick us up. Maybe. If it's that easy."
"It sounds like you're about to say 'but' and something shitty," Tim said directly.
"But," Jay agreed, "I don't think you can come with me."
Tim's eyebrows shot up. "Why not?"
Oh, great, he'd have to say it. "If you seize," he said, "if you hurt someone, you're right back there again."
"So, what," Tim said, weary, "you leave me alone here?"
Jay hesitated. "I think… I think we're going to have to take precautions."
Tim sighed, and pressed his face into the mattress. "Yeah," he muttered into it.
They found rope in the basement. Jay cringed at the idea of it wrapped around Tim's wrists as he carried it at the weight and roughness of it, but there wasn't much they could do. Tim laid down on the bed with a grim, desperate look on his face, and Jay took a deep breath.
"Don't hate me for this," he asked Tim.
"No," Tim said, eyes trained on his face. "Promise."
Jay leaned over Tim, and began to expertly knot the rope around his wrist, then started to wind it around one of the bedposts.
Tim's tone was different, uncertain, when he touched Jay's shoulder and spoke. "Jay."
"Yeah," Jay said, forcing his tone casual in spite of the grimness of the moment.
Nothing prepared him for Tim's hand on the back of his neck, guiding his face to Tim's, and his mouth firm against his. The rope dropped from Jay's hands and his eyes fell closed, a wonderful sort of yearning in his chest; he kissed Tim again after, and they broke a moment later.
"Sorry," Tim said softly.
It couldn't happen again, could it? But Jesus, Jay wanted it. "How'd you know I was a homo?"
Tim laughed, startled. "I didn't."
"Lucky for you, I guess." He looked down at Tim, pinned beneath him. "I could've beat the shit out of you or something. Be more careful about who you kiss, Tim."
"I'll keep that in mind." Jay wondered if the stupid look he could feel on his own face was anything like the look on Tim's, cautious but soft and wanting; then Tim's mouth quirked into a wry smile. "What, after everything, you're scared of making out with a guy?"
"Probably shouldn't get in the habit," Jay offered, but he kissed Tim anyway, bandaged fingers in his longish hair, over and over again until they separated by just inches, breathless. He could feel Tim half-hard against him, against his own rising cock, and it was so much more than just a standard off-handed homosexual tryst right now, but he couldn't think about that without a knot settling in his throat.
"Can you get this fucking rope off my wrist?" Tim murmured. Jay laughed, harder than he meant to, and picked through the knot to release him.
"So," Jay asked as casually as he could manage, "you want to keep going or what?"
"Oh, fuck you," Tim shot back, laughing.
He slipped his hand over Tim's cock over his pants. "I mean, if we've got one shot at it," he said, "might as well have fun with it."
"Fun," Tim echoed sarcastically. "What's fun?"
"Shut up," Jay advised, and began to undo his pants, gratified to watch Tim's head fall back against the mattress at that simple of contact, a fantastic indicator of his reaction of what was to come.
Corenthal's plan was simple, once explained to them on the car trip from town. He had a cabin in the middle of nowhere, and the five patients would live there so he could figure out the best way to help them without the supervision of people who thought it was a delusion needing treatment like ECT or worse. Jay only remembered the pills in his pocket once they'd arrived, and offered them to Corenthal.
"I think these might be something," he admitted. "This guy was in the middle of those woods, maybe he's… dealing with it too, maybe he knows things we don't."
"Let me look into it," Corenthal said, accepting the pills, and clapped Jay on the shoulder. "Go on, head to your room. Tim's already in there."
"Thanks." Jay sighed and headed to the back of the cabin, to the small room with two cots crammed into it. Tim looked up at him, and Jay spoke first. "So. We're home."
"Or something," Tim said, clearly watching him. "Never thought I'd look back on being homeless with any fondness."
"Yeah, well." Jay felt embarrassment tumble into his awkwardness. "Good company, you know."
"Maybe I'm not ready to give the only good thing up," Tim said casually. Jay's throat tightened as Tim shrugged. "What do you think?"
The words were on the tip of his tongue, but he knew he couldn't say them. "Do you really want to risk all this?" Jay pressed on, past that. "What if Corenthal…"
"Please." Tim looked so tired in that moment, and desperate. "Jay."
Jay knew this was exactly what he thought it was, what he'd always wanted to feel with a woman, what he knew he was supposed to feel with one. He offered his hand to Tim silently, and Tim pulled himself up without hesitation. Dizzy with feeling, Jay led Tim out as far into the nearby woods as he could expect himself to remember the way back, and they met in a harsh, desperate kiss. Tim pinned Jay to a tree, and they made out fiercely against it until they sank to the ground; Tim pulled down Jay's pants first, then undid his own just enough to reveal his cock, hard and ready.
"Tim," Jay said, desperate and overwhelmed.
"I know," Tim answered, and Jay could tell he did, a lightness rising in his chest. "Turn around."
Jay moved immediately, and breathed as Tim slid his hand around Jay to wrap his hand around his cock.
"Tell me what to do," he murmured. "Never done this before."
Jay smiled. "No problem," he said dryly.
Everything at the cabin was mostly normal. Evan went into fits sometimes, but Vinny and Jeff stayed with him until they passed. When they went outside, there was always the risk of an appearance of either the thing that Jay and Tim also saw, or the creature they called the Rake, but they limited those. Or they were supposed to, anyway; Tim and Jay didn't. They didn't care as much as they should.
Tim remained bound at night. Jay rested against him until he thought he might actually fall asleep, then moved to his own lonely bunk. He hadn't seized in a week, but Jay wasn't stupid. It was going to happen again.
Jay scratched his healing knee (Tim had been a little overzealous in the woods a few days ago) as they sat down for dinner, and Corenthal arrived home.
"I have good news," he offered immediately. "I have... a treatment." He smiled. "And a new friend." He opened the door. "Come in, Alex."
Jay stared. "Alex?"
Alex Kralie smiled. "Hey, Jay."