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13 April 2012 @ 04:19 am
Killing Me Softly: A Stroke of Genius (Chapter 4)  

The music brayed—imperious, harsh.


Killing Me Softly

Chapter Four

A Stroke of Genius

**O**


The music brayed—imperious, harsh. Dean ached to capitulate to it, to make things right. To obey. If he only knew how. The colors, patterns, and halos had turned lurid and savage right about the time that Sam had left to walk Cleo and Leana out. Light and sound clashed in melee battle with each other, folding and blending. The resulting mélange lashed out at him, a cobra of liquid radiance coiling and striking at him, ruthless. Endless. It was no longer possible to pacify it, and trying to process a whole roomful of this vivid chatter began to erode his sensibilities. He didn’t know how long he could endure a compulsion that he could not accommodate. It was torturing him. So he pulled back and tried to focus on just one thing to quiet his mind, to keep his thoughts inside his head, to keep him from shattering. Looking down at his hand, he became engrossed in watching the fractals on his skin whiffle and ripple. He held his index finger a couple of inches from his eye and watched the light-waves bend and break off into warbling, mirage-like fractals that radiated outward into his blue aura. Taking his other index finger he tapped the first, causing the Song to reverberate and the prismatic fractals to spin and launch higher into the air. This soothed him for some time, helping to contain his growing anxiety. It prevented the light and the Song from becoming a full stampede. Dean nearly jumped out of his kaleidoscopic skin when a big mitt of gold clove through his peaceful finger-mediation, pulling apart his hands, pressing and holding them down. Sam’s honey colored halo moved into his field of vision.

“Dean, what the hell are you doing?”

**O**

Sam had ushered Cleo and Leana out, thanking them for their flowers and gifts. Dean would be sure to put those puzzles and books to good use, he was sure, but right now his brother needed his rest. Of course they could come back another time, maybe. Or better yet Dean would go visit them at the community center in a few days when he was feeling up to it. Yes, that would probably be the best idea. He put the business card that Cleo brought him into his shirt pocket, waved them off, and ran back to Dean’s room to see what he might make of it.

“Dude, you’re not going to believe it.” He waved the small card as he entered Dean’s room. Dean was picking at something on his hand. “I talked to Cleo about the sculptor that died. You know the one whose family requested post-mortem exams and testing…” Sam glanced at Dean, but he hadn’t looked up. “Dude…” He waved the card at him to get his attention, and snapped his fingers. “Dean!”

Dean looked to be in some sort of trance, his eyes were fixed on his index finger that he held loosely in front of his face. He was hypnotically studying it, eyes locked and centered. When he took his other index finger and literally thwacked the dangling one, his eyeballs quivered and jerked as though he were trying to latch onto some rapidly moving target.

“Dean!” Sam husked out, trying not to yell in the hospital, but this rapt behavior was disturbing to watch coming from his normally controlled and rational brother. He grabbed his brother’s hands, held them down and bent close to Dean’s face. He could literally see the lights flicker on and lucidity return as his brother snapped out of whatever altered state he was in. His eyes focused on Sam. “Dean, what the hell are you doing?”

“What the hell, Dude? I’m like a prisoner in solitary, man. Bored as hell. I got to get out of here, Sammy.” He folded his arms and stuck his hands under his armpits in a gesture of childish anger or, perhaps, in an attempt to remove temptation. Sam was betting that the former was just a cover for the latter. “So are they gone?”

Sam guardedly sat down, his own senses were prickling and on high alert. “Yeah, that’s what I was trying to tell you. Cleo gave me the name of that doctor who ran tests on the sculptor after he died.” He handed Dean the card.

Dean took it and strove to focus on the print. He looked at Sam. “Huh. OK, so our next stop is the Twilight Zone?”

Sam nodded. “Yeah, what are the odds? I’m going to go talk to her,” he said getting up.

Dean sat up and started pushing off the blankets. “No flyin’ solo, Dude. I’m coming with.”

“You’re a little tied up, Dean,” Sam said of the hardware he was attached to.

Dean reached for the call button. “I’m supposed to be cut loose and get out of bed today, so we can kill two birds, dude.”

**O**

One urinary catheter and heart monitor later, Dean was slowly easing his legs onto the floor. It had taken a few moments for the light-headedness to pass after being upright, and he had to ignore the rivers of light that were swirling and eddying as he slowly rose, but he finally managed a few tentative steps. He leaned on his IV pole to help him steady himself, and Sam had a hold of his other arm, steering and orienting him. Dean did his best to ignore the Song as it lashed out stridently. He concentrated on a fixed point about four steps in front of him and, holding on to Sam for dear life, he doggedly walked on. His stomach flopped and he hoped his oatmeal wouldn’t suddenly make a triumphant return.

“You OK?” Sam held on a little tighter, offering to take as much as his brother needed him to. His brother’s gait was now even more tenuous and his expression and attention had dulled.

Dean nodded, but saved his energy for fending off the Song as it pounced on him. He instinctively put his hand to his ear to try and block the sound even though he knew it was futile. Sam was watching his brother intently and decided Dean’d had enough. “Let’s go back to the room, man. We can go talk to her later.”

“No, damn it.” Dean shrugged away from Sam in frustration. He was tired of this literal song-and-dance in his head. It was exhausting him. “I’m fine. Let’s keep going.”

Sam took his arm again and headed toward the elevator. They made it down three floors and took two wrong turns, but they eventually found her office. Dr. Liron looked surprised and concerned when she opened the door.

“Dean, what are you doing here? You should be resting,” she chided but drew him in and set him down. He was swaying and she had to steady him as he sat.

“Sorry, they wanted Dean to get on his feet today, so we decided take a walk down this way.” Sam pulled her card from his breast pocket. “You know, before Dean’s accident we were doing some research with Cleo Harper from The Louisville Artistic Endeavor on the recent deaths of those artists. She said you did a post-mortem examination of Martin McKenney.”

Dr. Liron took the card and looked at it in confusion. “Yes, I examined the body, but I can’t discuss the case with you, Sam.” She handed the card back to him.

“Sure, of course,” he relented. “I just thought it was an interesting coincidence. You know that there have been three other deaths, the last one happened yesterday at the community concert hall. That’s what we were doing, investigating the scene when Dean fell.”

“I did hear about the other deaths, but the families did not request any sort of post-mortem, and since there was no evidence of foul play there wasn’t much anyone could do.”

Dean gave up trying to follow the thread of the conversation. Dr. Liron’s turquoise effervescence swirled out and melded with Sam’s gold creating chakra-like pinwheels that broke away and throbbed deliriously with the piercing music. He couldn’t make out the words for the din, so he just sought solace in his index finger, trying to shut everything out.

“I’m here gathering data for my college thesis on spontaneous savantism. I’m not really aware of any instances that are truly spontaneous, all the information that I’ve gathered has shown that some sort of brain injury was responsible, so I was wondering what had been found with Martin.” His sincere, imploring eyes caught her a little off guard and she softened.

“Well, it was just one of those cases where we only found what it wasn’t. That’s really all I can say. Post-mortem examinations can tell you if the person had a brain tumor, aneurysm, or stroke, but we found nothing of the sort. His dopamine and serotonin levels were abnormally high, but there’s no way to make a diagnosis off of that alone. It’s a lot easier to diagnose a bio-chemical brain disorder with a live brain.”

“I understand,” Sam said a little defeated.

“The University offered to do post-mortems on the other artists that passed away in order to do a comparison study, but we haven’t been given permission from the fam…” She cut herself off and rose quickly from her desk, her eyes wide as they fixed on Dean.

He’d taken no part in the conversation and was now quietly rocking lightly in the chair, strumming his index finger. His irises fluttered with each strike, focused in on some moving objects that were visible only to him. She knelt down by him watching him intently. “Dean?” He made no indication that he heard her. “Dean,” she said more forcefully. “Can you hear me?”

“He was doing that earlier,” Sam twinged in his worry. “Right before we came here.”

Dr. Liron put her hand gently on Dean’s shoulder and shook it just a little. “Dean?” Her touch prompted him to rock a little faster and strum just a little harder, like he was trying to override her, somehow. She reached up and calmly pressed his hands down to his lap and lifted his lids one at a time so that she could look closely at his eyes.

His eyes became ‘present’ again and he focused on the doctor kneeling before him. “What?” he snipped, shrugging her off and withdrawing his wrist as she was taking his pulse. “You should learn to knock before just barging in, you know.”

“I’m sorry about that, Dean,” she mollified him. “What’s happening? Can you tell me what you’re feeling?” She gripped his shoulder and forced him to look her in the eyes.

He glowered for a moment, but then his eyes finally melted into a frustrated plea. “I feel like I have peanut butter stuck to the roof of my mouth,” he sighed.

“I’m sorry? What?” Dr. Liron said a little baffled.

“It started out good this morning, but it’s too much now, and I can’t swallow it all,” he said sadly. “It’s stuck, and it hurts. I need to stop it somehow, but until I find a way the music and the lights aren’t going to leave me alone.” Sam looked at his brother with horrified pity.

“OK, Dean,” Dr. Liron tried to reassure him. “OK.” She turned to Sam. “Stay here with him a moment. I’m going to get some help and get him down for his fMRI.” She swept out the door.

They didn’t say anything for a few minutes, Sam was lost in his own thoughts and Dean was, well…just lost, Sam supposed. Dean was leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed, trying not to act out the battle that he was fighting. Sam didn’t know whether he should comfort his brother with a touch or not. He decided against the possibility of making things worse for him physically, so he just tried to soothe him with his voice. “We’ll work this out, Dean,” he said quietly. “We’ll fix this.”

Dean’s heavy sigh was his only tacit reply.

**O**

Dr. Liron had told Sam that Dean’s tests would take a couple of hours, so he decided to try and find some answers on his own. The past few hours had convinced him that sitting idle at Dean’s bedside was not going to get his brother the help he truly needed. He called Cleo, and with her help he’d been able to set up a meeting with the dead poet’s fiancé, Calli. He’d swung by the motel for a much needed shower and a shave and was still swallowing a bagel grabbed from the organic bakery as he parked the car at the community center.

Calli was already in Cleo’s office when he arrived.

“How’s our patient doing?” Cleo asked as she drew Sam into her office.

“He’s fine,” he said absently. “I’m going to be heading back there right after this. I just wanted to talk to Calli while Dean was resting.”

“You give him a hug for me. I hope he’s feeling better soon. He’s a beautiful boy, I feel just horrible about what happened.” Cleo brought him over to a young woman who resembled Jessica and was about the same age. He felt the sharp pang as he looked at her young, lovely face. “Sam, darlin’ this is Calli Donne, Alex Peterson’s fiancé. Calli, this is Sam Winchester. He’s visiting from California, doing some research for his Grad studies.”

“Thank you so much for seeing me, Calli. I’m so very, very sorry for your loss.” Sam feigned nothing, her sad eyes elicited a deep sense of compassion in him, and her resemblance touched off his own sorrow. He swallowed it down and refocused as she shook his hand and sat down.

“It’s nice to meet you,” she said somewhat coolly, taking her seat. “I’m not sure how much help I’ll be for an academic paper, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but I really don’t like talking about Alex as though he were nothing more than some kind of a freak genius. The last week of his life was hardly representative of who he really was.” She looked at her hands and twisted the engagement ring that she still wore.

“I understand that, probably better than you can know, Calli. I’m hoping that somehow we can learn what happened to Alex and prevent it from happening to anyone else.” He offered what consolation he could. He knew it would never make it right.

“If it had been up to me, I wouldn’t have even allowed them to sell or publish his poems,” she said, smoothing her pants and adjusting her shirt in an attempt to keep her hands busy. They eventually fisted, though, revealing a despondent fury. “But I was just the ‘fiancé’. I had no legal rights to his work. His sister sold him to the highest bidder.” She shrugged in defeat and shook her head in frustration.

Sam reached out and touched her on her shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Calli. I know how hard this is for you, believe me. Can you tell me what happened? Can you tell me about that week with Alex and how it all started?”

“It was about a month ago.” She took a shaky breath. “He’d been at the center, here, doing an all-day poetry workshop. When he got home he was…I don’t know…out of it. I—I thought he was on something, to be honest. Alex was no choir boy. Sometimes he drank too much, sometimes smoked a little weed. I tried to get him to talk to me, but he wasn’t really making much sense. He was euphoric, ecstatic.”

“Euphoric? How so?” Sam asked.

He was, well, he was talking poetry, if that makes any sense. Said a whole bunch of damn nonsense about some music he was hearing and how I tasted like strawberries. Said he could see my soul bleeding into his and how perfect our blending was. He talked about seeing haloes around everything. I asked him what he’d taken, but he told me nothing.”

Sam shifted uneasily. “He said you tasted like strawberries? Did he mean literally?”

“Hell, I don’t know. He spoke mostly in metaphor and meter from then on out, but he did keep saying something about how he wished he could show me how beautiful our colors danced together with the music.” She ran her hand through her hair and twisted it. “I’m not going to lie. I thought at first that he had some kind of breakdown or something. Later that night he just started writing his poems. The next few days that’s all he did. He wouldn’t even come to bed.”

“Did he describe anything else that he was experiencing?” Sam felt sick inside, but he had to find out where this was all going.

“The next few days were taken up with nothing but writing. He almost seemed like he was in a trance sometimes, and he seemed to get tired and more drained with each passing day. Then, sometimes he would talk almost intimately to someone who wasn’t there. I’d try and get him to take breaks, but anytime he stopped writing he became very agitated the longer he was away from it. I got mad at him and made him spend some time with me, but he couldn’t even concentrate on the movie I’d put in the DVR. He said that everything was too loud, too bright, and he promised me if I would just let him write it out of him, he’d be all right.” She grabbed a tissue from Cleo’s desk. “The next day, his last day, is when I made the mistake of a lifetime.”

“What happened, Calli?” Sam asked.

“I woke up the next morning and Alex was writing, but something had changed. He acted as though he didn’t even know me. He couldn’t remember my name. I thought he was joking at first but then he—he started crying. I didn’t know what to do. I asked him what was wrong, but he just said that the music had stopped. He kept writing, assuring me—assuring himself that he’d get it back. Why didn’t I do something? I knew something was wrong. But, I was confused by his behavior. I was mad at him for neglecting me for the past week. How selfish was that?” Her tears were flowing now, and she was having difficulty getting the words out.

“Easy, Calli. You didn’t know. You were doing your best.” Sam soothed. Cleo mother-henned her way over and draped her soft, doughy arms around the young woman.

“I had to go to work, that morning. I swore to myself if he was the same when I got home that I was going to call a doctor, do something. But when I got home…” She turned into Cleo’s hug and sobbed disconsolately. It was hard for Sam to watch. Her pain was so palpable that he felt his own eyes respond, and he had to blink away her anguish.

“Calli, thank you so much for talking with me. I know it will never make things right, but you have been very helpful.” Sam rose. He’d heard enough, he had to get back to Dean. They were now two days into a nightmare, and he didn’t have much time. “Cleo, do you have a class roster for the seminar that Alex led that week?”

Cleo grabbed a tissue and wiped her eyes, snuffling. “I’m not sure,” she dirged and gestured toward her cluttered desk with a drag queen-like flourish. She grabbed another tissue and honked her distress. “Leana can probably get it for you. She said she wasn’t feeling well and took the afternoon off.” She nodded toward Calli who was still tucked under Cleo’s protective wing, indicating that there were other more pressing issues right now. “I can call you later or email it to you, honey.”

“That’ll be fine, thanks Cleo. I better get back to Dean, now. Thank you so much, Calli.” His words fell lamely from his lips. He didn’t know what else he could say to her that would make any sort of difference. He turned to go.

“Wait,” Calli said looking up. “There is one more thing.” She grabbed another tissue. “His poems. People claim that the collection is a masterpiece, but they’re wrong.”

Sam turned. “What do you mean?” he asked.

She stopped and searched for the words. “He was. Alex was. Alex was the masterpiece. He was the magic. I don’t know how to describe it, but those poems…they were him. I wish I could verbalize it better. But it’s like Alex put himself, his very essence, into that collection. That’s one of the reasons that I resent his sister selling it off like that. She’s no idea what that collection really means, what it really is. He bled his life out on those pages, and it infuriates me that he’s been reduced to lines of iambic pentameter for just anyone to analyze. To me it marginalizes everything he ever was.”

“I won’t forget that. I promise.” Sam consoled. “I think I’m getting a clear picture.”

**O**

“Mike, are we getting anything at all?” Dr. Liron poured over a monitor and muttered out a couple of frustrated consonants. “He keeps moving.” She flipped on the intercom. “Dean, I need you to hold still for us. I know the sound is a little loud, but you need to stop moving.” She could see him twitching his hand and rocking his body lightly from where she was sitting.

“Sedation?” the radiologist offered.

Dr. Liron sighed and chewed on her lip. “I didn’t want to do that. Kind of defeats the purpose of the fMRI, but if we don’t we’re going to get nothing at all.” She thought a moment. “Damn it,” she made up her mind and ordered the sedative.

She released the switch and stopped the procedure and went into the room to check on Dean. He was twitching his fingers against his chest in a perpetual beat. She removed the surface coil covering his head and bent over him, touching his brow lightly. “Dean, can you open your eyes for me a second?” He halfway opened his eyes and started breathing rapidly as his eyes wandered around the room. “Dean, are you in pain at all?”

He shrugged a little, drumming faster. “The music is taking a baseball bat to my head. Hurts. So loud.” He thumped out his pain in unrelenting staccato raps.

“OK, Dean. I’m going to give you something that’ll help you relax. You may feel a little drowsy. I still need you to try and listen to my instructions, though, OK?” She injected the sedative into his IV.

“K,” he said.

A moment later his drum-beats faltered and his rocking stilled. Dr. Liron set his limp arms down by his side. “You still with me, Dean?” she asked.

“Mmmm,” he murmured.

“Dean, can you tell me the name of the President?” she asked.

“Uh…” He closed his eyes and swallowed. “S’Bush,” he mushed.

“That’s good, Dean.” She replaced his head-set and affixed the surface coil back in place, adding foam blocks to help immobilize his head. “We’re going to try this again. Do your best to follow any instructions I give you, OK?”

“K,” he promised.

Dr. Liron went back into the monitoring room and began the procedure. After getting uncorrupted base images for several minutes she turned on the intercom. “Dean, we’re going to start the test now. I’m going to turn on some music that I want you to listen to. Here we go.” She flipped a switch and the music started.

Mike quirked and eye and grinned. “‘O Fortuna’? Really?”

“Hell yeah. The Carmina Burana is one of my favorites.” She stuck her tongue out. “What? It’s stimulating.”

“Uh, I’ll say,” he puzzled, looking at the screen, “I think it just broke the machine, though. This isn’t right.” He started hammering on the keyboard trying to fix the perceived malfunction. Dr. Liron bent over his shoulder and watched the images.

“Jesus Christ!” she gasped.

“This can’t be real,” Mike assured her. “There’s no way.”

She stared wide eyed at the monitor in both awe and quiet concern for several minutes as the music scored through her patient’s brain. “I think it is,” she said in fascination. “Jesus, Dean.” She looked through the window to where her patient lay and her fingertips started their own drum-beat, tapping her lips in uncertainty. “I’m going to have to call in some help on this one. I’m in way over my head, I think.”

**O**

Sam entered the room where several people were hovering over his unconscious brother. He noticed that not only had the heart monitor been reattached, they’d also hooked him up to what he guessed was some kind of EEG monitor. Dean looked extremely pale and fragile. Dr. Liron glanced up as he entered.

“What the hell? Dean!” Sam seethed out.

“He’s OK, Sam,” Dr. Liron put her hand up to stop Sam’s charge. She met him halfway and turned to watch the orderlies finish settling Dean. “We completed the fMRI, but the test was extremely stressful for him. I’ve given him something to help him sleep. He should be out the rest of the evening, but he really needs that rest right now, trust me.” The orderlies finished their work and left the doctor alone with the two brothers.

Sam stood by the bed and sighed. He knew now that no one would be able to help Dean here, but he also didn’t want to move him when he’d obviously been through so much and needed the rest. After talking with Calli, he had an inkling of what Dean was going through, and knowing that Dean had no outlet the way Alex did only made him more concerned for his brother. “I’ll fix this, man,” He reached out and cupped his brother’s hand.

Dr. Liron had shut the door behind the orderlies and went to Sam’s side. “Sam, I need to go over the preliminary results of the tests with you. Why don’t you have a seat, there,” she said and pulled up the chair. Sam scrubbed his face and sat down, doubtful that anything that doctor might say would have much bearing. Unless her diagnosis could be salted and burned or wasted with iron or silver, he didn’t have much use for it. But he was tired and worried, so he sat down with a heavy heave.

“Yeah, OK. What did you find?” he asked lamely.

She held a manila folder in her arms and opened it. “These are the results of his fMRI,” she said.

“What’s that?” asked Sam.

“It’s basically a procedure that allows us to observe and record your brother while he ‘thinks’.” She pulled out one of the pages and handed it to Sam. “Here, look at this. This is a normal brain reacting to music.” Sam looked at the printout of a cross section of a brain with some slight red and green coloring in the back portion of the brain. “This is the brain of a Synesthete listening to the same piece of music.” She handed him the next print out, another cross section of a brain with far more red and green in both the mid and back sections of the brain.

“OK,” Sam said with little interest. “So Dean has Synesthesia?”

Dr. Liron hesitated. “That’s not his brain. This is.” She handed him a third printout and watched Sam’s reaction.

“What the fuck?” Sam gaped at the photo. The brain was positively glittering with color, the only thing missing was a fucking star perched on the top branch. There were very few areas that were not pulsating and hot with activity. He weakly handed her the page back, leaned his elbows on his knees and tiredly massaged his own aching head.

“You’re brother’s entire brain is reacting to the music. No one has seen anything like this, Sam. I can’t even say whether it is Synesthesia for sure. It certainly shares the same qualities, but this is like some crazy supernatural version. Synesthesia on steroids.” Sam snorted at her choice of words and continued to stroke his hair. “This is why your brother has been reacting in an almost autistic-like manner. His brain is overwhelmed, and so it tries to counteract or correct the problem by pulling back, narrowing his point of focus in order to help him block out the stimuli. So that explains the incessant tapping, ticking, drumming and touching his fingers, that sort of thing. He’s trying to lessen the impact.” She sifted through several other papers in her folder. “We performed other cognitive tests and the results are off the charts. If the stimuli weren’t so disruptive, if he could focus his thoughts better, he’d be performing at outright genius levels. It’s completely astounding. And all of this was done while he was sedated, no less.” She shook her head like she didn’t quite believe the data, herself.

Sam sighed glumly. “I don’t suppose you can help him, can you?”

“We don’t even know what this is right now, Sam. I’ve made some calls to some of the best neurologists in the country and faxed off the results of the tests to them. I know with absolute certainty that they will all be interested in helping your brother. We’ll do everything that we can. Right now we are going to try and make him as comfortable as we can and do some more testing. I believe both his serotonin and dopamine levels are way too high, and we are going to have to look to getting that under control.”

“Keep him comfortable?” Sam snapped. “Keeping him drugged into unconsciousness is not even remotely close to keeping him comfortable. It’s only keeping you comfortable.” Sam shook his head in frustration.

Dr. Liron stepped back a pace at his outburst. She knew that while this was an incredible opportunity for her to learn and study, it was a nightmare for these two. It humbled her and brought her back to reality. “I understand your concern, Sam, and you’re right, of course. Our first priority is to find a way to help Dean. I promise you. I’m just asking that you be patient and give us some time to figure this out.”

Time was the one thing that Sam didn’t have. That Dean didn’t have. He could clearly hear the tick-tick-tick of the clock as it beat out each and every moment that passed. Every second that ticked away reminded him of the danger. He could hear it, taste it, see it. It overwhelmed his own senses. Just the same, he was a little ashamed for lashing out at Dr. Liron. “Yeah, OK. We’ll try and hang in there,” Sam lied to her. He just needed to give himself some time to do research of his own. “I just want to sit alone with Dean for a while, if that’s all right.”

“Sure Sam. Of course. If you have any questions, call me.” She handed him another card. “I’ve written my own personal cell phone number on the back. Call me if you need anything.” She collected her printouts, and with a nod of sympathetic encouragement she left the room.

Sam sat in the devastating quiet and he tried to crate his anxiety for the time being. He had a job to do. And he didn’t have the luxury of giving into his fear. Nothing would stop him from helping Dean. Nothing. He pulled out his cell phone and unhesitatingly pressed a button.

“Dad? It’s me, Sam. When you get this message, I really need you to call me back. It’s about Dean.”

**O**

Sam had spoken to Paster Jim, Caleb and Bobby. He’d given a basic run-down of the case to each of them, but none of them had heard of any creature, supernatural or otherwise, that had that particular M.O. They all promised to help look into it, though, so he had some of the best researchers working on the case. He sat in the soft light of his laptop and went over the names on the class roster that Cleo had emailed him, but they were just names. They meant nothing to him. He had emailed her back and asked for rosters for the community orchestra and the sculpture classes that Martin McKenney had taught so that he could cross-reference any shared participants. It was getting late, though, so he wasn’t sure Cleo would get the email until tomorrow.

He stood and stretched. He’d been sitting for hours. Dean was still asleep. He’d made some twitching movements earlier and had called out Sam’s name once, but he had immediately settled right back down and hadn’t stirred again. That was a few hours ago. Sam watched over Dean for a few minutes but couldn’t stifle a yawn. He stuck the heels of his hands into his eyes and shook the sleep out. He still had a lot to do tonight. Settling himself in the chair, he pulled out the journal from his bag and opened it up, starting at the beginning and rifling through page after page as the seconds, minutes and hours ticked—ticked—ticked away.

**O**

Dean opened his eyes to the loud, sunstroked darkness. Sam was asleep with his computer in his lap. Dean felt numb and dumb, but the music and lights were as clamorous and as staggering as they ever were. His dulled mind couldn’t seem to defend itself from their jabs. He lifted his heavy, uncoordinated hands in attempt to fend off the bedlam. His breathing became shallow and tears of frustration and pain trickled into his ears and pooled there. He could even hear the fucking Song reverberating off of them as he strove to bear the next excruciating moment. There was no way he was going to be able to endure any more of this. He felt a surge of pure sickening horror at the thought of another day like today. He pulled himself unsteadily into a sitting position and was about pull out every wire attached to him and try to outrun the blitz, when his hand splayed out and knocked against the bag that Cleo or Leana had brought him earlier that morning. Firework sparks leapt from the bag as he grabbed and pulled it to him, dumping the contents out on his lap. Even in the dark he could clearly see the sketchbook and art pencils they had packed for him to pass the time. Silly artsy-fartsy people. He picked up a pencil and flipped open the pad, ready to draw a stick-figure with its middle finger held aloft. Should have gotten him something useful like skin-mags. Maybe that was a little unfair, he thought, but he since he was obviously going insane, he felt quite willing to give himself a pass.

Time literally slowed and the stentorian light and music immediately ceased their shrill screams as they were channeled through the pencil with his very first stroke onto the page. Dean’s world immediately righted itself and sight, sound, taste and touch fused into one harmonious conceit. A sense of peace and well-being thrilled through him as the Song found its way onto the page. He’d finally discovered what the Song had wanted from him, and he was more than willing to oblige. A canorous wave of euphoric comfort rolled over him and he willingly let it sweep him away.

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