A/N: This entire thing was inspired by a chat between Sillypants Jackson and I. It was basically written in the chat, I just added prose.
Dell can't remember.
Every day, he brings himself out here to sit at the same spot in the cafeteria, blank papers and unused writing tools scattered across the tabletop. He presses his miniature pencil against a sheet in front of him until it threatens to tear a hole, and he tries to get it to come back to him, tries to focus, properly. He'd been told the head trauma caused irreparable brain damage. That was a problem. He could fix it. He could fix it if he tried. He once looked at these tools and saw projects, machines, buildings. And they'll come back, one day, if he tried. The concept is almost there, still.
He spends hours, staring.
He draws a line on the paper, and the joy is almost there. Still.
It wasn't his fault he couldn't concentrate. There was another patient here who'd taken a liking to being in his general vicinity, and it wouldn't have been a problem if the other man was at all capable of shutting up. Didn't really talk much to anyone in particular, either-didn't have enough of a grasp on himself to, always ended up having conversations with himself. His multiple selves. On the better days, he gets to rambling on about this cauliflower he loved once upon a time, some girl from a half-retained memory. On the bad days, he gets awfully delusional-tends to jump to his feet and pat himself down frantically, wondering where his 'kit' is, wondering why he can't turn off his 'disguise', wondering why he can't have a cigarette.
He keeps it up until security drags him away. Then the good doctor gives him a dose of something that makes him go real quiet.
Dell scratches uselessly at the paper, a low, frustrated growl rumbling in his throat. The spaces between wooden planks boarding up the window a few yards away lets a slight draft in, chilling the air around him and curling up the corners of his blueprints. They hadn't gotten around to fixing it since the kid in the wheelchair threw himself out of it a couple of days ago. It didn't come as much of a surprise, if Dell was honest with himself. You spend as much time alone staring out the fourth floor as that kid did, you were bound to get some ideas.
There were more of them up here. An individual, constantly buried beneath a mass of blankets, who always retreated to a corner of the room and curled up into themselves-folded legs pressed to their chest, mouth buried against their knees-shivering uncontrollably. The massive bundle of cotton was smaller than it was last week; they were stripped of a few layers on the suspicion they were trying to suffocate themselves.
Dell takes the fellow inpatient for some kind of mute-they were only here because they were dragged out here, and Dell thought it downright criminal. The only time Muffles even started coming out willingly was when the good doctor began lighting the fireplace in the wintertime.
For an hour every day, Muffles settles in front of the dancing flame and stops shivering.
There's one patient housed in the ward the good doctor is nicer to than most: a brute hulk of a man with a quiet demeanor about him. He sits up against a wall by the doors, always waiting for the doctor to lend an ear, always talking about how much he's waiting for her. His Sasha.
Any day now, doktor.
The big guy always has this resigned, saddened look about him, like life's dealt him one too many bad cards. But he's content, waiting. The good doctor gives him hope. Maybe tomorrow, he says, as a monstrously thick needle pierces skin and the plunger drives the liquid through the waiting man's veins. And so the Russian waits for tomorrow.
Once in a while, Dell's lucky enough to enjoy the stories of the local high-risk case. The man was allowed to join them in the cafeteria every so often based on his good behavior, and every time, he planted himself at Dell's makeshift workbench, propping his elbows onto the table and running his hands through his own buzz-cut hair as if somewhere were missing. Dell likened him as one hell of a storyteller-his tone and tales gruff, assured, and direct-though time and constant therapy dulled him with an odd, bitter sense of misery. He doesn't talk about his weaponry or his medals anymore, not like he used to.
Sometimes, on the unluckier days, his attention redirects to Dell. He asks why Dell wastes his time sitting around, staring at sheets of blue all day, waiting for an answer to stroll along and knock sense into him. Eventually, he storms off with an anger Dell can't understand, cursing him as 'the mumbling idiot who can't even remember his own last name'.
The storyteller feels familiar, and warm, but the recognition is gone before Dell can place it. It comes from the same dark, fuzzy place inside of him that's telling him to get out of here. To stop eating their food, to stop drinking their water and taking their pills.
But Dell can`t stop working. Not when the answer is so near, the solution for all of this so tangible. This was all a code that has went unbroken for far too long, a distant memory, a recognition of skills he once knew. He's near. He can taste it.
The good doctor helps him out, whenever Dell asks who the storyteller is. Dell asks why the man keeps glaring at him from across the room like a hawk ready to strike. And the good doctor, with his German accent and his index finger pushing his glasses up the brim of his nose as-a-matter-of-factly, insists he's being paranoid, insists they had no previous connections. The good doctor, he insists, as he forces down another injection.
Dell doesn't really like the meds, so he learns to stop asking.
The questions still keep him up at night.
The front doors of the ward swing open, and Dell glances up from his papers for the first time that day. He watches a dark-skinned man enter-an acquaintance who visits the ward every month or so even though no one around seems to know who he is-but today, he's brought someone else along, someone with a tan panama and a cane who's ended up even blinder than the first man was. They both speak with the good doctor in thick accents, though through the foreign pronunciations Dell can't quite make out what they're talking about.
And so he keeps working.
Demoman makes his usual rounds through the ward, asking Heavy how Sasha was doing, offering to show Engineer how to draw basic shapes. Sniper follows along and just listens, making his way across the room, until his cane touches the boarded window where Scout once was. Sniper remains idle, for a while. Quiet.
Demoman has the money ready, but no amount of money in the world can get them out of this.
Medic insists they need to be kept under his care, and that if Demoman wanted to help them, he'd let them stay. Medic hands him folder upon folder of documents as proof of their instability, documents filled with medical jargon Demoman can't make heads or tails of but, every month, nods lightly and accepts anyway. Because he trusts him.
Demoman was too wealthy and Sniper was too recognized in his field for either of them to simply disappear. The Announcer didn't want to let them go, of course. She couldn't have freelance mercenaries running around loose in the world with their knowledge of what happened during the war, and took extreme measures to prevent the compromise from happening. Medic had volunteered for this position as their keeper, for if it wasn't him doing it, it would be someone they didn't know. Someone ruthless. Someone who didn't, wouldn't, couldn't begin to understand.
And so Medic makes sure they're taken care of. He sharpens Engineer's pencils and provides him with paper. He pats Heavy on the back and assures him Sasha's flight was delayed, that was all. He provides old photographs of Scout's mother for Spy to use as anchors to his reality, and lights the fireplace for Pyro whenever it was reasonable (whenever he could without getting a stare from the security). He tries to keep them medicated, to keep them from fully grasping their situation, in doubts they'd be able to live with it if they knew.
Scout couldn't, because the act had gone on long enough.
Demoman and Sniper are long gone by the time Medic retreats to his cabinet store. Medic cleans each of the five needles before setting them down upon the silver tray with careful precision. Polished steel glistens beneath his fingertips. He smiles at the feeling.
Reaching for the shelf, a gloved hand grasps poison instead of sedative, and it was no accident.
The good doctor hums to himself as he carries the tray out through the swinging ward doors, the tail of his crisp white lab coat trailing behind him.
They're a team again as the world crashes down around them.
The only difference being there was no respawn here.