No Man's Land
Kurt was startled awake by a sudden shout from the other side of his room.
"The curtains are on fire!" Scott was screaming, swinging a blanket uselessly at the window (which had no curtains or flames to be seen – it was still dark outside). "THE DEVIL'S AWAKE!"
Kurt scrambled back, pressing himself against the wall behind his bed as his pulse roared in his ears almost loud enough to drown out Scott's howling. Scott's eyes were wide and frenzied as he beat at the imaginary blaze with the blanket.
"Call the army! The Devil's awake!" Scott shrieked, making Kurt flinch. "Call the Pope!"
Kurt clamped his hands over his ears, pulling his knees up to his chest. Had he stopped to think, he might have thought the reaction was childish, but it had been little more than a reflex.
The door slammed open and three orderlies rushed in to grab Scott, almost dragging him toward the common room. Charlie was standing in the doorway with a solemn expression. "Take him to solitary and give him a light sedative," he ordered, and Scott's screams slowly faded out of the ward.
Kurt's hands fell into his lap.
"You okay, Kurt?" Charlie asked, coming into the room.
Kurt swallowed, shrugging one shoulder. "I don't know," he said shakily. He rubbed a palm over his face. "Aren't you here a little early?"
"Yeah, Dr. McManus asked me to cover today's morning shift since he wouldn't be here. It's just after five."
Kurt frowned, then his heart lurched as he remembered what today was. "Right, I… I forgot he was testifying."
Charlie watched him for a moment, making Kurt uneasy with his honest concern. Kurt thought Charlie's attention should probably be focused on Scott in that particular moment and the look on his face wasn't helping Kurt to relax.
"Kurt, are you all right?" Charlie asked, moving to sit on the edge of Kurt's bed.
Kurt frowned; he'd already answered that. "I'm fine."
(It probably would have been more convincing if he wasn't still curled and pressed against the wall.)
"I just…" Charlie started. "I know the trial's today, and if you need someone to talk to, I'm here for you. If I were in your shoes, I'd be freaking out, so I just want you to know that—"
"Thanks, Charlie," Kurt cut him off (a little too sharply). He avoided Charlie's gaze, but could still feel the nurse watching him and it made his stomach twist. "What?"
Charlie sighed, standing and moving back toward the door. "Why don't you sleep in this morning? I'll save a breakfast tray for you."
Kurt swallowed. "Okay," he said, and Charlie shut the door behind him, plunging the room back into darkness.
Kurt shivered slightly, not moving for a long time. Eventually, as the silence in the room began to ring loudly in his ears, he curled up on his side, pulling the blankets around his shoulders as tightly as he could, until they were almost choking. It was harder to breathe, but it made him feel just a little safer.
The courthouse in Toledo was a massive, intimidating edifice of greyish-brown stone that towered overhead and made Blaine feel twice as small as he naturally was. It appeared to be a typical courthouse, if Blaine's experience with Law & Order reruns was any foundation for an opinion, but he'd never been to one in person and looking up towards the huge Latin engraving across the front archway was enough to make Blaine's palms sweat.
Rachel's hands gently encircled Blaine's upper arm as she stepped up beside him. "Are you all right?" she asked. She was wearing her hair pinned up on the back of her head, a plain grey dress ribbed with black along the seams replacing her regular doll dresses and knee-high stockings.
"I'm fine," Blaine said, smoothing out his tie.
"It'll be okay," Rachel said, swallowing audibly.
"Are we going in, or what?" asked Puck from Blaine's other side. Puck (strangely enough) had requested to come to the trial as well, and although Blaine wasn't entirely sure why Puck had wanted to attend, the Hudson-Hummels were apparently okay with it. The three of them had carpooled while Finn rode with his mom and Burt, and Rachel's dad had been in Toledo since five in the morning.
Steeling his nerves, Blaine began the climb up the smooth granite steps with Rachel and Puck alongside.
It took them almost ten minutes to find the right courtroom, spotting Finn, Burt, Carole, and Hiram standing just outside the open doors. Rachel immediately trotted up to give Finn a hug, and Carole managed a smile in Blaine's direction, but whatever conversation they might have had was cut short as the bailiff called for the doors to close.
Blaine slid into a bench three rows behind the desk where Hiram was seated on the right side of the courtroom, sitting squeezed between Puck and Rachel. Rachel was hugging Finn's side to Blaine's left, and beside Finn sat Carole and then Burt on the end. Blaine saw Burt check his watch, and then the doors banged loudly shut. His heart skipped.
No going back now.
Burt felt sick. He wasn't sure if it was anxiety or food poisoning, but whatever it was felt like a snake working its way through his digestive tract, and he felt hot. He tugged nervously on his tie, twisting his wedding ring around his finger. Carole's hand reached over and wound through his fingers, squeezing slightly. She gave him a smile, but he could see she was just as unnerved.
"You can do this," she whispered.
Carole suddenly tensed, her fingers tightening around Burt's hand, and Burt followed her gaze to where the bailiff was leading a man in handcuffs to the defendant's desk on the opposite side of the room. Burt felt his blood run cold, a stone-hard lump of abrupt rage settling into his gut and burning the pit of his stomach. He clenched his fists, forcing himself to not react outwardly.
John sat down at the desk, allowing the bailiff to remove his cuffs before he was joined by a tall, sharply dressed woman whom Burt recognized as Ruth Summers. Burt watched John closely, unable to look anywhere else.
Burt wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but it was terrifying to see John in person simply because he looked normal.
Carole let out a small, sharp gasp and grabbed Burt's arm. "Burt," she hissed, her eyes wide.
"What—?" Burt started, trying to see what she was staring at, and then froze. The breath halted in his lungs.
Stretched along the side of John Truman's right forearm, branded into his skin as solidly as Kurt's cigarette burns, was a black tattoo of four horribly familiar Chinese symbols.
MAN IS BEAST, they screamed, stabbing into the back of Burt's head as cleanly as a knife.
A line of sweat formed along the back of Burt's neck. He was going to be sick. All that time, he'd thought Kurt had only been scribbling gibberish when instead he'd been pointing a finger right where Burt was supposed to be looking.
"All rise for the honorable Judge Joseph Ackerman," called the bailiff, and Carole seized Burt's arm and pulled him up alongside her and the rest of the courtroom. Burt could barely think as the judge took his seat atop the high bench, and it was only with a second prompt from Carole that he sat down again.
He couldn't hear anything above the dull hum of his blood in his ears. He could see the judge speaking, acknowledging the case, but whatever was being said was lost on him. The air was pulling itself out of Burt's lungs, and it hurt.
Rachel's fingers clenched together in her lap as she tried to keep her stomach from doing flips in her gut. She tucked her feet under the seat in order to stop her legs from jumping restlessly. (Blaine seemed to be having the same amount of trouble, so she reached over and squeezed his arm.)
She sucked in a slow breath through her nose, allowing it to rest in her chest for several seconds before releasing it. It didn't really work.
"The case in question is the People versus John Franklin Truman," Judge Ackerman was saying loud enough for the entire courtroom to hear. "On twenty-seven accounts of child sexual abuse and rape, five accounts of domestic violence, and six accounts of manslaughter." The judge coughed, dropping the page he'd been reading from onto the bench and glaring down at John Truman from his high seat. "That's quite the rap sheet, Mr. Truman," he said. "How do you plead?"
John coughed slightly as he stood, his shoulders hunched ever so slightly, and said, "Not guilty by reason of insanity." He sat back down.
Rachel was suddenly having trouble unclenching her jaw. How was everyone so damn calm?
"We will now hear the opening statement from the prosecution," the judge ordered.
Hiram stood up to take the floor, buttoning his suit and moving to the open space in front of the judge's bench. Rachel sat up a little straighter, her attention grabbed. She'd never seen her dad in action, and regardless of the circumstances it was exciting.
Hiram surprised the majority of the people in the room when he addressed the audience instead of the jury. "I'd like to request that anyone in this room who has been directly affected by John Truman's actions stand up, please," he said.
After a split second of silence, people began to rise to their feet, one by one. Burt, Carole, and Finn stood along with them. Rachel swallowed and remained seated beside Blaine, instead turning her head to count. There were nineteen standing in all – some older couples, a few younger or on their own. All of them bore the same worn shadow to their faces that had become a familiar sight in the Hudson-Hummel household.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. John Truman is a pedophile, a rapist, and an abuser," Hiram began, each accusation feeling like a knife slicing through Rachel's windpipe. She swallowed again, but the reflex only hurt a little more.
"Those currently standing make up only a small fraction of the people whose lives have been irreparably damaged by Mr. Truman's utter lack of human consideration." Hiram turned back to the audience again. "Thank you, you all may sit down."
There was a rustling as all nineteen of them retook their seats.
"There is no question as to whether or not Mr. Truman truly committed these crimes," Hiram continued, folding his hands neatly in front of him. Rachel knew that posture; her father only stood like that when he knew he had full control of his situation, and seeing it made Rachel feel a little less anxious. "More than twenty years' worth of victims can testify to that. It only takes a moment to destroy a child's innocence. Mr. Truman has caused far too many of those moments, and the only thing we can do now – the only good thing – is to bring him to justice."
He paused to let that sink in for the jury, though Rachel was somewhat sure the pause was just as much for dramatic effect (she had to get her flair from somewhere), then waved a dismissive gesture toward John's lawyer.
"Ms. Summers will have you believe that John Truman isn't at fault for his actions," Hiram stated bitterly, his lip barely curling. "But everything that John Truman has ever done has been a choice that he and he alone made." Hiram jabbed a finger in John's direction.
Rachel glanced nervously at the defendant's desk. John's face (or, what Rachel could see of it from this angle) remained infuriatingly impassive.
"Choices have consequences," Hiram said. "It is our duty to see that we follow through for Mr. Truman on the consequences owed to him."
"And stretch…" Charlie coached, bending to touch his toes while keeping his knees straight. A handful of the residents of 3F followed suit, scattered across the open floor in front of him. "Inhale… exhale…"
Charlie wasn't really a yoga type of guy outside of the hospital, but he did enjoy leading the tri-weekly session for the patients. For the most part, the men who took part in the activity were less likely to suffer breakdowns or lash out later in the day, which meant that Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays were easy days for him and the rest of the staff.
"And release," he said, straightening back up. He rolled his shoulders back to loosen them even further. "Great job, guys. Roll up your mats and give them to Leonard, please; he'll take them to storage."
As Leonard collected the yoga mats and the patients dispersed, Charlie spotted Kurt sitting on the couch with his notebook on his lap. He hadn't noticed Kurt emerge from his room.
"Hey, Kurt," Charlie greeted him as he wandered over. "I saved you a breakfast tray; you hungry?"
Kurt laughed through his nose. "For the watery crap you guys call food? No, thanks."
Charlie's heart skipped slightly, but he managed not to appear too shocked. "Sorry, I thought Kurt was here."
The smile that tugged subtly on the corners of Kurt's mouth made Charlie feel a little sick. "You know, Truman, you're welcome to join in the yoga sessions," he said. "Just because you're not Kurt, you don't have to be excluded."
"Thanks, I appreciate that," Kurt said, almost earnestly. Something about his tone made Charlie pretty sure Kurt was making fun of him. "But I just like to watch."
Charlie swallowed. He didn't like the sound of that. He cleared his throat. "Well, art therapy's in an hour if you want to join for that one. I'll see you later."
"Can't wait!" Kurt called after him.
Charlie suppressed a shudder.
Ruth Summers was obviously a force to be reckoned with, and Finn disliked her immediately. She was nearly six feet tall, with red hair cropped at the shoulders, lipstick, and blindingly white teeth that gave her the appearance of a shark. Finn dug his fingers into his knees, fighting off the urge to punch her in the mouth as she addressed the jury.
"My associate Mr. Berry is correct," she stated, clasping her hands coolly behind her back. Her voice was smooth and even and it made Finn grimace. "There is no doubt that John Truman committed these horrible crimes. But, while it is vital for the law to deal out consequences, it is just as important for the law to be understanding of the circumstances. Mr. Truman is a criminal, yes, but we must be open-minded as to why he turned to criminal acts."
Finn frowned, feeling like he had to throw up. He didn't want to know why.
"You don't have to be a medical professional to know that there are many different factors that contribute to the way a person's brain functions," Summers continued. "If enough of those factors are corrupted, then it's no surprise that a person will begin to display inappropriate or violent behavior. Is it still that person's fault?" She lifted her shoulders, almost in a shrug. "Maybe not entirely."
Yes, it is! Finn screamed silently. He felt Rachel's hand wrap around his, forcing his fists to unclench.
"Deep breaths," Rachel whispered.
Finn did as he was told, inhaling and exhaling as slowly as he could.
"Maybe the fault lies with nobody in particular," Summers theorized, "and the instead the circumstances could be chalked up to rotten luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a terrifying gap in the system that allows for cases like this to slip through unnoticed. Maybe the fault lies with us."
"I'm going to kill her," Finn hissed, too quiet for anyone but Rachel to hear.
Rachel gripped his hand tighter. "Just keep breathing."
Dr. McManus was seated on the opposite side of the aisle from the Hudson-Hummels as he listened to the opening statements. His gaze continuously jumped between keeping a concerned eye on Kurt's family and studying the back of John Truman's head. As a doctor, he was rarely involved in the aspects of his patients' lives outside of their treatment. The only times he'd ever met his patients' former abusers (when abuse was an issue) were when they'd been traumatized by people close to them – family members, mostly. John Truman was an anomaly; Kurt had no connection to him other than the abuse itself, which made Kurt's mental health trickier to monitor and his wounds harder to close.
His cell phone, which he'd left on as a precaution for his patients back at the hospital, vibrated silently in his pocket just as Ruth Summers was closing the defense's statement. Keeping the phone as hidden as he could, he discreetly glanced at the screen to see a text from Charlie.
Crap. He'd suspected the stress of just knowing the trial was taking place would push Truman to the surface, but he'd been keeping his fingers crossed.
Is he giving you trouble? he texted back.
"The prosecution will call its first witness."
"The prosecution calls George Larsen," Hiram announced, and a man from three rows behind McManus stood and made his way to the front.
Not yet, Charlie replied. Should we put him in solitary just in case?
McManus chewed on the insides of his cheeks for a moment, considering. No, he typed. If he starts harassing the other guys, put him in solitary, but let him be so long as he keeps to himself. And keep me posted.
McManus shoved his phone back into his pocket just as George Larsen was finishing his oath and taking his seat on the stand. Hiram stood in order to pose his first question.
"Mr. Larsen, when did you first meet the defendant?"
George shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "John was a substitute at the middle school I worked for fourteen years ago."
"So he was your co-worker?"
McManus felt a cold sickening feeling move through his gut. He hadn't known John Truman worked in education.
"For how long?"
"Off and on for about a year."
"Was he a good teacher?"
George shook his head, looking nauseous. "I never saw him teach, but from what I understood, the kids liked him. He taught mostly eighth graders."
"Did you ever think there might be a reason to question his abilities as a caretaker?" Hiram inquired, his hands in his pockets. "Even a temporary one?"
Another shake of the head. "I didn't work very closely with him, but no, I didn't."
"Were you friends with him?"
George swallowed. "I thought so, yeah."
"So, overall, John kept his abusive tendencies hidden."
Hiram nodded, pausing to take off his glasses. "Mr. Larsen, what happened in October of 1999?"
"My wife started to get pretty sick," George said, straightening his back. McManus thought it looked like George was getting ready to be hurt (which didn't make sense; he was the prosecution's witness). "We found out she had brain cancer, and she had to go into the hospital for awhile. She's all right now, but it was a scary time."
"And how did Mr. Truman affect that?"
George looked down for a moment, clearing his throat, and when his head rose again, his face was pinched and contorted. "M-My son, Jack… he was five," he started, his voice wavering for the first time. "He came to the hospital with me for the first couple weeks of Helen's treatment. You can't keep a kid that young in a hospital all the time, though. I had to get a babysitter, but money was tight and there weren't many people who were willing to work those hours." His mouth tightened. "John volunteered."
Hiram gave George a moment to compose himself, straightening his shoulders again. "How long did John babysit Jack for?" Hiram asked gently.
"A few days a week, for almost f-four months," George said through gritted teeth.
"And when it ended?" Hiram prompted. "What happened?"
George took a deep breath. "Jack was just kind of distant for a really long time. Then, a few years later, he started having some more serious behavioral problems. Hitting, getting into fights easily, overreacting to things…"
"Did you take him to a doctor?"
"Absolutely. They, uh…" George looked down again, swallowing with his palms braced on his knees. "His therapist eventually got him to say what had happened when John was – was there, and then the doctors found some sc-scarring…" He sucked in a shaking breath and forced it back out. "We called the police, but by then nobody we knew had any idea where John was. They never found him."
"How old was Jack at this point?"
"And how old was Jack when he passed away?"
George's mouth pressed into a thin line. "Fifteen." He swiped the heel of his hand over his eyes. "He – he killed himself."
McManus wished he could say he was surprised, but he'd seen too much since graduating medical school.
"Mr. Larsen, do you believe that Jack's death was caused by what John did to him?"
"Jack wasn't the same afterwards," George insisted. "I know a lot of it is m-my fault – I was worried about Helen and I wasn't paying attention – but Jack…" He trailed off, shaking his head. "Jack wouldn't have done it if he hadn't been hurt."
"Thank you, Mr. Larsen," Hiram said. "No further questions." He sat back down.
McManus sat forward, his curiosity peaked as Summers took her place in the middle of the floor. He was apprehensive; she was intimidating and he'd heard things about Ruth Summers' legal strategies that made him worried for the Hummels' case.
"Mr. Larsen, I'm very sorry for your loss," she began solemnly.
Summers squared her shoulders before her first inquiry, somehow growing a few inches taller. She knew exactly what she was doing, which only would make it harder for Hiram to win the case.
"When you accepted John's offer to take care of Jack, did you ask John for references?"
McManus frowned. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting Summers to ask, but that wasn't it.
"No, I didn't," George said, appearing equally confused.
"I… didn't think it was necessary."
"And why was that?" Summers pressed.
George swallowed, and McManus felt a small jolt of anger; Summers didn't have any reason to be twisting the knife. "He – he was a teacher and the kids liked him," George repeated, stammering with a hint of desperation slipping into his voice. "He seemed responsible enough."
"So he was capable of being a good caretaker?" Summers asked.
George stopped short. "I… suppose."
"No further questions."
McManus gritted his teeth as he realized that Summers hadn't been trying to lay the blame on George. She was building her argument based on the idea that John could be reformed. If he'd done good in the past, he was capable of doing good in the future.
He hated to admit it, but McManus couldn't really argue with that notion.
Carole couldn't seem to get her heart to slow down after George Larsen stepped down from the witness stand. Hearing him talk about his son had made Carole's palms sweat, her mind swarmed with images of finding Kurt lying in a frighteningly large pool of blood back in February, and the memory of him in the hospital bed, pale and hooked up to an IV, made her lungs burn. Breathing was suddenly a difficult task as she tried to concentrate.
Hiram had stood again. "The defense calls Vincent Blake."
Carole exhaled slowly, her throat aching, and a younger man came up to take George Larsen's place on the stand.
"How old are you, Vincent?" Hiram asked.
Nine years older than Kurt, Carole thought, although she didn't know why she was comparing them. Maybe she was desperate to find someone else like Kurt, so he wouldn't be as alone as he was in a family where no one could see inside his head.
"And how did you meet the defendant?"
"He was my Little League coach when I was nine."
Carole suddenly had to fight off a wave of nausea, and by the way Burt's hand slightly clenched around hers, he was feeling much the same.
"Was he a good coach?"
Vincent hesitated. "It was almost twenty years ago; I don't really remember."
"What do you remember about your time with him?"
"He… started coaching me separately, since I wasn't that great at baseball. I ended up spending a lot of time at his apartment." Vincent paused to swallow, clasping his hands together. Carole could see from where she sat that his knuckles were white. "My mom, she – she was fine with it because it meant she didn't have to worry about me in the afternoons when she had to work, but…" He shook his head.
"How much of that time did you spend practicing baseball?"
Vincent's mouth clamped shut for a second. "I don't recall ever practicing baseball."
Hiram's eyebrows shot up. "Ever?"
"Not when we were at his apartment, no."
"If John lived in an apartment, was there even any space to play sports?"
Vincent scratched behind his ear, fidgeting in his seat. "There was a little yard behind the building, but it wasn't really big enough."
"So what were you doing, if you weren't practicing baseball?"
Vincent set his shoulders back, and the bottom of Carole's stomach went cold. His shirt collar has shifted with the movement, exposing for only a second an aged ring of knotted skin encircling his neck. Vincent had tried to hang himself.
"We, uh…" Vincent started, his voice cracking. He wiped his palms on his jeans.
"Can you give an example?" Hiram tried.
Vincent's gaze shifted to John, and Carole didn't know how, but in that single moment she heard exactly what Vincent wasn't saying aloud.
I am bringing you down.
"Vincent?" Hiram prompted. Vincent's attention snapped back to center. "Do you need a moment?"
"N-no, sorry," he said quickly.
"What sort of things did you do with John?"
Carole saw a muscle twitch in Vincent's jaw. "I sucked him off, mostly," he said, his tone abruptly hard and solid.
(Despite having never met Vincent before, Carole couldn't help feeling a tiny burst of pride. He was fighting back.)
"He had you perform oral sex on him?"
Vincent nodded. "Yeah. Not always, but he seemed to like that best."
Carole could see even from this distance that his eyes were practically burning with determination.
"What else?" Hiram asked.
Vincent opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by a demand from Summers.
"Objection, Your Honor," she insisted, standing up to address Judge Ackerman. "I think we get the gist of Mr. Blake's experience; there's no reason to make him—"
"The purpose of this trial is to determine whether John Truman should go to jail for his crimes or if he will benefit from psychiatric treatment," Hiram cut her off as quickly as she'd interrupted Vincent. "It is absolutely crucial to hear the exact details of those crimes in order for the jury to make an informed decision." His eyes narrowed at her. "Or do you not want to hear what you're defending?"
Judge Ackerman sighed, nearly rolling his eyes. "Overruled," he said, and Summers sat back down. "Proceed, Counselor."
Hiram turned back to Vincent. "What else did John do with you, besides force you to perform oral sex?"
Vincent took a deep breath, some of the fire in his eyes already gone (Carole wondered why). "He would sometimes do the same to me," he continued. "Other times, he would use his hands…"
"Was there ever penetration?" Hiram inquired, and Carole was relieved to hear a gentleness in his tone to somewhat alleviate the otherwise harsh question. He was trying to make it easier.
"Not, um…" Vincent swallowed again. "He used his hands for that too."
Carole flinched, drawing an unsteady breath as she pulled her hand out of Burt's grasp for a moment to stretch out her cramped fingers.
"Did he ever leave bruises or cuts?" Hiram asked. "Any noticeable injuries?"
"So this man sexually abused you for an extensive period of time, but never enough to leave marks that others would notice," Hiram mused aloud. "That sounds like something a very smart, rational person would do, don't you think?"
Summers shot to her feet. "Objection!" she cried. "Counsel is leading the witness."
"Withdrawn," Hiram amended smoothly before the judge could say anything. "No further questions."
As Hiram went to sit back at his table, he shot a discreet wink in Carole and Burt's direction, and Carole had to suppress a grim smile. The question had never been searching for an answer; he'd only planted the idea in the jury's heads.
Nice work, Carole thought as Summers moved to take Hiram's place.
"Mr. Blake, generally speaking, how did John treat you during your time together?"
Vincent blinked. "Excuse me?"
"How did he treat you?"
"…I was nine and he spent the majority of his time having sex with me," Vincent spat.
Carole felt a hot spike of rage shoot through her chest. Who the hell did this woman think she was?
"What do you mean, 'besides that'?"
"You said 'the majority of his time'," Summers pressed, and Carole wanted to march up and punch the woman in the stomach. "What did he spent his time doing when he wasn't molesting you?"
"Why does it matter?"
"Please answer the question, Mr. Blake."
"I – I think I remember playing board games and watching TV…"
"Did he feed you?"
"I…think so, yeah."
Summers nodded in understanding. Carole felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. "It sounds to me like he wanted you to like him, whatever twisted logic he was employing. Do you agree with that?"
"Objection!" Hiram nearly shouted, lurching to his feet. "Your Honor, do I even have to explain why that question was ten levels of inappropriate?"
"No explanation necessary, Counselor, but I'll allow it," Judge Ackerman said. He sounded bored.
That made two people Carole wanted to punch. (Not John Truman, though. She'd do much worse things to him.)
"Your Honor—!" Hiram started to protest, but the judge cut him off again.
"You said yourself that the purpose of this trial is to decide whether the defendant is sent to jail or to a psychiatric facility," Ackerman drawled. "And I agree with you – the jury can only make an informed decision if they hear the exact details. After all, it's the defendant's mindset at the time of his crimes that will determine whether or not those crimes are worth an attempt at redemption. Please answer the question, Mr. Blake."
Hiram sat down with a huff of breath that Carole could hear from three rows back.
"Mr. Blake?" Summers prompted. "Do you think it's possible John Truman was attempting to be kind despite the sexual abuse you suffered?"
Vincent's mouth was clamped tight, his face hard.
Say no, Carole pleaded silently. Say no. For God's sake, say no.
"I don't know," he said.
"No further questions."
Kurt blinked, staggering and barely catching himself with an arm braced against the wall. (He was really getting good at not falling when he transitioned mid-step.) He rubbed a hand over his face, leaning against the tiled wall as he tried to think and solidify his bearings in the fluorescent light from above the mirror. He was in his bathroom, and it felt like it might be close to mid-day, but he couldn't be entirely sure.
He straightened up, tugging his fingers through his hair as he glanced at his reflection in the mirror. He was going to need a haircut soon; it was starting to look lopsided and unhealthy. Then again, he just looked unhealthy in general, so maybe it worked.
He tugged anxiously on the hem of his t-shirt; he didn't remember getting dressed that morning.
Swallowing the sick feeling rising in his throat, he turned away from the mirror and backed out of the bathroom, flopping onto his bed. He wasn't tired, but he didn't want to go out into the common room just yet. Stretching his neck until it cracked loudly, he pulled on the tight muscles in his upper back (the tendons were coiled taut from months of stress buildup; he was in dire need of a massage) to try and alleviate the soreness beneath his shoulder blades.
(It didn't really work.)
Heaving a sigh, Kurt twisted around on the bed to grab his journal from where it sat on the bedside table. He might as well be somewhat productive and write some more. He flipped through the pages until he found the last one used and nearly turned it over without looking at it, but a new set of handwriting made him stop.
And then his heart seized in his chest, and he couldn't breathe.
I'm going to make you burn
"The prosecution calls Burt Hummel."
Carole squeezed Burt's hand as he stood up, making his way to the witness stand with his heart thudding violently in his chest. The bailiff held up a Bible.
"Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"
"Yes." I'll say whatever I need to if it puts that bastard in jail.
The bailiff returned to his post at the side of the court, allowing room for Hiram to approach the stand.
"Mr. Hummel, you were the one who contacted the police with the information necessary to track down the defendant," Hiram stated, keeping his tone professional and aloof. "How exactly did you come by that information?"
"My son said what his name was, and I found an address book in my ex-wife's belongings with his name and phone number," Burt explained. "The police did the rest."
"How old is your son?"
"Where is he now?"
Burt swallowed. "He's in a psychiatric hospital at the moment."
"Why is that?"
Burt's gaze jumped nervously to the audience, finding Carole. He hadn't anticipated this; the panic creeping up his spine at having to talk about Kurt and his demons so openly in front of so many people. Carole gave him a nod of encouragement.
"He's got split personalities."
"How long has that been going on?"
"He was diagnosed when he was eleven, but he's had behavioral issues for a lot longer." Burt wanted to reach up and loosen his tie, but he didn't want the jury to think his testimony was shaded by anxiety.
"I understand that Kurt was left in John Truman's care for a short period of time when he was a child," Hiram prompted.
Burt nearly choked. "Yes."
"Almost two weeks."
"What prompted you to leave your son for that length of time?"
Burt was grateful that Hiram had asked that particular question; he'd known it would eventually come up, but if Summers had asked him Burt would have snapped. Coming from Hiram, it didn't sound accusatory.
"My wife at the time, Linda, and I decided to go on a second honeymoon," he said, feeling guilt and bile work their way up his throat. "Kurt's grandma was supposed to take care of him, but she came down with the flu the day before we were supposed to leave. We weren't going to ask anyone to take him that last-minute, but Linda ran into John in downtown Lima that afternoon and he offered to do it."
Hiram's eyebrows rose. "You left your son with a stranger?"
Burt's heart skipped as he realized what it sounded like. "No!" he amended quickly. "No, no, Linda knew him. She went to college with John and they were already friends. He just happened to be in the area."
"Ah, okay," Hiram nodded, sending a discreet wink in Burt's direction. He'd recovered from the slip-up. "So, these split personalities that your son has… how many are there?"
Burt paused, glancing at Carole again. "If you include Kurt, there's nine of them."
"Nine separate identities in one person," Hiram said. "That must be difficult to deal with. What sort of behaviors does Kurt exhibit when these other personalities take over?"
Burt scratched his temple nervously. "It – it depends on the alter," he said, stammering slightly. It felt so wrong to be talking about this where everyone could hear. "He can be aggressive or violent sometimes. Not always, but there's a lot of hitting when the alters get angry. He also…" Burt gulped, his mouth dry. "He tried to stab my stepson once."
There were mixed looks of shock among the spectators sitting in the benches, a couple of hushed whispers. Burt saw Rachel and Blaine both turn towards Finn with wide eyes (Puck looked like he'd already known).
"And why do these personality switches occur?"
"Because John Truman did stuff to him that he's still scared of," Burt forced out.
"Sexual stuff or physical stuff?" Hiram prodded.
"Both," Burt spat. "We still don't know everything. Kurt doesn't remember a lot of it; the alters do and they can be hard to talk to. But he's been able to tell us enough."
It took Kurt exactly thirteen seconds to leave his room, cross the common room floor, and disappear down the short corridor where the outgoing phone was mounted on the wall.
Not today, not today, PLEASE not today, was the mantra spinning round and round inside his head. Not today, Truman.
(Truman gave no response that he could hear.)
His hands shaking, Kurt grabbed the receiver and punched in the number of Burt's cell phone. It rang once, slowly, taking its time as Kurt's fingers rapidly tapped against the wall, then rang again.
Not today, not today…
Please, Dad, pick up pick up pick up pick up pick UP PLEASE
It rang a third time, and then a fourth.
"—you've reached Burt Hummel; I can't come to the phone right—"
Kurt's fist punched the wall of its own accord. He slammed the phone back onto its hook once before yanking it back up and dialing the number again.
"Hi, you've reached—"
Kurt jumped, nearly falling back onto the wall. Charlie had followed him and was watching him with a look halfway between worry and apprehension.
"My – my dad's not…" Kurt shook his head. He felt dizzy. "He's not answering his phone."
"What's the matter?" Charlie asked, stepping closer.
Kurt couldn't breathe. The air hitched underneath his breastbone, and he was forced to lean against the wall and bend over in a desperate attempt to get more blood to his brain. The heels of his hands dug into his eyes as he struggled to inhale.
Suddenly, Charlie's hands were on his shoulders, guiding him to a sitting position on the floor. "Kurt, what's going on? Tell me what's happening."
"I don't want to switch," Kurt whispered, sucking in a gulp of air through gritted teeth as his hands gripped his head, as if the hold would keep himself together. "I don't want to switch."
"You don't have to," Charlie said, still holding on to Kurt's shoulders. "You can fight it, Kurt, I know you can. Just breathe. You can do this."
Not today not today not today not today
"I – can't—"
"Kurt, your body's not going to let you suffocate, okay? You have to trust it," Charlie coached. "Let yourself breathe, come on."
Kurt's skull lurched back to hit the wall, hard, and Charlie quickly reached up with one hand to cradle the back of Kurt's head.
"Don't – don't do that, Kurt," he said. "You don't have to do that."
(Kurt didn't know if he'd done it on purpose or not.)
"Come on, you can do this," Charlie pushed. "Just take it slow."
Not today not today
I am NOT going to burn today.
Burt took a deep breath as Summers approached him, feeling a little like he was being stalked by a predator. Her expression seemed deceptively calm, as if she was patiently waiting for the perfect moment to spring a trap. Burt clenched his jaw.
"Mr. Hummel, what's your opinion of John Truman?"
Burt blinked. That… was unexpected. "My opinion?" he echoed.
"Yes," Summers nodded. "Based on what you know of Mr. Truman, what is your opinion of him in general? You can be completely honest."
Burt narrowed his eyes at her, MAN IS BEAST flashing through the back of his mind. He didn't know where this was headed, but he didn't like it.
"Ms. Summers, the man raped my son," he snapped. "I'd like him to burn in Hell, and I think he's a crappy excuse for a human being."
"Thank you," Summers said with a professional smile. "Could I ask your opinion of your son, Kurt?"
Again, unexpected. "…I'm sorry?"
"Objection, Your Honor," Hiram interrupted from his table. "Counsel is leading the witness."
"Overruled. Answer the Counselor, Mr. Hummel."
Burt hesitated, glancing at Hiram. Hiram's jaw was tight; he clearly understood where Summers was taking this, but there was nothing he could do to help Burt on the stand.
"Would you like me to repeat the question?" Summers pressed.
"I love my son," Burt responded, his voice hard. "I value his life and his health over anything else."
Summers nodded, turning to the jury to briefly state, "As would be expected of any good father."
Burt wanted nothing more to reach across the floor and wrap his hands around Ruth Summers' neck, but instead he kept his palms pressed flat against his knees.
She returned her attention to the witness stand. "Has Kurt ever behaved in a way that you would describe as… monstrous?"
"Your Honor, objection!" Hiram cried, almost sounding exasperated.
"Sustained," Judge Ackerman drawled. "Please phrase your questions respectfully, Counselor."
"My apologies," Summers said smoothly. Burt's fingers twitched as he repressed the urge to break her nose with his knuckles. "Has Kurt ever behaved in a way you would describe as unusually inappropriate or violent?"
Summers' thin eyebrows disappeared beneath her neatly trimmed bangs. "Really?" she asked. "Just a few minutes ago you stated that Kurt's hit you and your family members more than once, and in one instance he attempted to stab your stepson."
"That wasn't Kurt," Burt insisted, his teeth grinding. "It was the alters."
"All right, I'll rephrase again. Do any of Kurt's alternate personalities ever behave violently?"
"Some of them, yes," Burt bit out.
Burt tried not to appear too frustrated. He'd already been over this during Hiram's examination. "Hitting, biting, scratching, yelling…" he listed off.
"As well as the aforementioned stabbing attempt?"
"Any inappropriate sexual behavior?"
Burt flinched in his chair, and Hiram leapt to his feet.
"On what grounds?" Judge Ackerman sighed, sounding annoyed.
"Kurt Hummel is not the one on trial here, nor is his father!" Hiram argued.
The judge turned his stern glare to Summers. "You'd better get to your point very soon, Counselor."
Summers nodded, then raised her eyebrows expectantly at Burt.
"Mr. Hummel, please respond," said Ackerman.
Burt let out a long breath. "Yes."
He swallowed, his palms feeling cold. "One of Kurt's alters… molested my stepson."
Again, Burt saw Blaine and Rachel's shocked faces immediately turn to look at Finn. Carole reached over to hold Finn's hand, but Finn was tense, keeping his gaze ahead. (And again, Puck looked like he'd already known. Finn must have told him more than Burt had thought.)
Summers paused, unaware of the exchange taking place in the benches behind her. "Mr. Hummel," she said, bringing Burt's attention back into focus. "You've made it clear that you love your son dearly, despite the fact that he's done horrible things to you and your family." Her head tilted slightly to the side. "Why is that?"
"It's not his fault," Burt protested, his voice split between furious and desperate. "He's my son."
"So, what you're saying is that you find all of Kurt's abhorrent behavior forgivable because it's not something he can control?"
"And what if I told you that John Truman isn't in control of his actions either?"
It suddenly hit him like a freight train. Too late; Summers had closed her trap. Burt felt his throat contract as he realized she was comparing Kurt to that— that— He couldn't even finish that sentence.
Involuntarily, Burt's gaze jumped to meet John's from across the court. John was watching him with absolutely no sign of remorse or anger or fear or, hell, even amusement. He was as unperturbed as someone mindlessly watching television commercials, and it made Burt want to scream. The least John Truman could have done after everything he'd caused would be to be a little bit afraid of what was coming for him.
"I wouldn't believe you," Burt growled, tearing his eyes away. He could still feel John watching him.
"Mr. Hummel, you're obviously very familiar with Dissociative Identity Disorder," Summers continued. "I'm wondering if you're at all familiar with an equally upsetting disease known as Reactive Attachment Disorder?"
Burt frowned; the name was unfamiliar. "No."
"How about Antisocial Personality Disorder?"
"No." He shook his head, again confused by the direction Summers was pushing the conversation.
"Then you must also not be aware that John Truman meets many of the psychological criteria for the diagnosis of both disorders?"
Burt blinked. "…No, I wasn't."
The tight, aloof smile reappeared on Summers' face. "No further questions."
It took several minutes before Kurt was calm enough to breathe in and out with almost no trouble. His chest still felt tight and it hurt to inhale too deeply, and his fingertips were tingling a little from the lack of oxygen, but he could feel his heart slowing to a steadier pace and the wall against his back felt more solid now.
"Feeling better?" Charlie asked. He was sitting on his heels in front of Kurt, having stayed there for the duration of Kurt's panic attack.
Kurt exhaled slowly, nodding with closed eyes. He felt drained.
Charlie shifted to sit with his legs crossed. "What happened, Kurt? You can talk to me."
Kurt's throat hurt, and he pulled his legs up to rest his forehead on his knees. "Truman told me he's going to kill me," he confessed, too tired to fight with Charlie.
"Ah." Charlie was silent for a few seconds. "And… do you think he can?"
"He did once already."
"But you came back," Charlie countered. "Sounds like he just knocked you out; he didn't kill you."
"I was gone for two and a half months, Charlie."
Charlie huffed. "Look, Kurt, I'm not an expert with this stuff, okay? I've never met anyone else with this problem, but I know the alters – Truman included – aren't real people," he said. "They're part of you."
"That makes me feel so much better," Kurt deadpanned.
"Hey," Charlie lightly slapped Kurt's shin with the back of his hand, making Kurt raise his head. "I'm not joking here. It should make you feel better. If they really were separate people, Kurt, you would never be able to get rid of them. But because they're just you, you can fight them."
Kurt swallowed around the rock in his throat, staring at his toes.
"Like I said, I'm not an expert," Charlie continued. "But if you ask me? Truman threatening you just means that you're still scared that what that guy did to you is going to kill you after all."
"This really isn't helping, Charlie," Kurt exhaled, closing his eyes again. He didn't have the energy for this.
"Kurt, it's not stress that makes you switch," Charlie said. "It's fear."
"Stress is fear."
"No, it's not. Fear is fear."
Kurt sighed, resting his head in his hand. He didn't want to be debating this stuff with Charlie right now. "So, what, just don't be afraid? That's your advice?"
Charlie shook his head. "No, of course not. That'd be stupid. But… maybe you should stop believing there's a way to avoid being scared."
Kurt frowned in confusion.
"Everyone gets scared, Kurt; you can't avoid that. Fear never becomes more or less important depending on why it's happening. The only thing you can do is face it head-on." Charlie smiled slightly. "Make it afraid of you."
By the time Burt sat back down and Dr. McManus was called up to the witness stand, Blaine's palms were marked over and over again with small crescents from his fingernails and his jaw was sore from clenching. After everything Ruth Summers had said during her cross-examination of Burt, Blaine desperately needed a visit with the punching bag in the McKinley weight room.
"Dude, calm down," Puck whispered out the corner of his mouth.
Blaine resorted to clamping his teeth onto the insides of his cheeks and drawing a long breath through his nose.
"Dr. McManus, could you please summarize your qualifications for the jury?" Hiram requested.
"I have a medical degree and a degree in psychiatry from Johns Hopkins, as well as a PhD in psychology from U.C. Berkley and twenty-five years' experience treating patients suffering from abnormal psychological diseases," McManus rattled off.
"Are you good at what you do?"
McManus gave a reserved smile. "I'm very good."
"How long have you been treating Kurt Hummel?"
"He was admitted to Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare on the nineteenth of February this year, and I began treating him the next day."
Blaine tucked his legs underneath the bench, sitting forward. This is what he wanted to hear (well, maybe not wanted; just… had to).
Hiram nodded in understanding, his hands resting in his pockets. "Okay, so it's been a few months," he said. "And, as it's been established, Kurt is suffering from split personalities. Have you been able to determine exactly what made Kurt's mind fragment into so many pieces?"
McManus laced his fingers together in his lap. "It's caused by a combination of a lot of different factors," he explained. "Kurt was raped multiple times at the age of four, which caused the initial split, and then at the age of eight he was in a violent car crash resulting in the exacerbation of his mental rift, as well as the death of his mother."
Blaine wanted to throw up.
"It's also possible that the problem was made worse by the extensive bullying Kurt dealt with throughout his years at school," McManus added (to Blaine's right, Puck abruptly coughed). "Being constantly threatened isn't healthy under any circumstance, but in Kurt's case it would have been extremely dangerous to his mental equilibrium, which is… fragile, to put it lightly."
"But the rape is the main reason for his disease?"
Blaine's heart was having a difficult time maintaining a steady beat.
Hiram paused to take off his glasses. "Even with the car accident and his mother's death and the bullying, is it plausible that Kurt could have developed DID if John Truman hadn't raped him?"
God, please stop saying 'raped'… Blaine pleaded silently, his mouth parched and dry.
"It would be extremely unlikely," McManus shook his head. "Only the accident could have been traumatizing enough to cause a split, and even then it would've been virtually impossible for Kurt to develop as many personalities as he has, especially at such a young age."
"What has Kurt been able to tell you about his experiences with John Truman?"
McManus leaned back in his chair, letting out a heavy breath. "Well, to be honest, 'traumatizing' is probably an understatement," he said, and Blaine felt a jolt of electricity crackle through his brain. "Kurt's memories of his time with John Truman are difficult to access, but he's been able to recall both sexual and physical abuse, including force-feeding, physical neglect, and being force to perform and receive oral sex."
Blaine's sinuses felt tight, like he was submerged underwater. His hands were shaking in his lap, the nails digging into his palms.
"There are gaps in Kurt's memory, however, so it's impossible to say if that's all that took place."
"I understand you brought evidence of Kurt's abuse with you today," Hiram prompted, and McManus nodded, reaching into his inner coat pocket.
"Yes, this is an audio recording of a session I had with Kurt about a week ago," he said, withdrawing what looked like a handheld tape recorder. "What you'll hear on this is actually Kurt's youngest alter, Zack."
Blaine's heart screeched to a stop. No. He didn't want to hear this. His shoulders and spine all the way down into his legs went rigid, feeling cold. He couldn't do this.
McManus set the recorder on the banister separating him from the rest of the floor and pressed Play. The volume had been turned all the way up, and at first it was McManus' voice coming from the speaker.
"Zack, can you tell me where you are now?"
The question was met only with the soft sound of crying. Blaine drew a sharp intake of breath, holding it in his lungs as he willed his heart to slow down.
"It's okay," McManus' voice soothed. "Where are you?"
"In my bed."
The air rushed from Blaine's chest, his ribs feeling like they were about to collapse. Kurt's voice – and it was Kurt's – sounded so small and scared and terrifyingly young.
"What are you doing?" asked McManus.
There was a whimper. "I tried. He hurt me."
Blaine's eyes squeezed shut of their own volition, as if the action could somehow block this out. He felt dizzy and nauseous and he wanted to clamp his hands over his ears like a child.
He was startled when another hand suddenly squeezed his fingers, and he opened his eyes again to see that Puck had reached over to grab his hand.
"No homo, dude," Puck whispered under his breath.
Blaine was having a hard time believing that Puck, of all people, felt the need to hold someone's hand, but he didn't question it and he left his hand where it was.
"Is he with you now?" McManus' voice asked.
Another whimper, louder this time.
"What is he doing to you?"
"I don't know," Kurt whined.
"Where are his hands?"
"Do you want him to stop?"
Kurt sniffed. "I'm scared."
Puck's fingers tightened around Blaine's. Blaine wasn't entirely sure if he was squeezing back.
"Does it hurt?"
This time there was a broken sob. "Yes."
"The prosecution calls Natalie Truman."
McManus blinked in surprise at the name, sitting up a little straighter as a thin blonde woman stood from the back of the room and walked shakily up to the witness stand to be sworn in. He studied her as closely as he could from this distance; she wasn't very tall and was almost unhealthily skinny, and judging by the way her fingers constantly twisted around each other, McManus thought she was probably suffering from some kind of anxiety disorder.
His phone vibrated in his pocket, and he pulled it out to see another text from Charlie.
Truman's gone. Kurt had a minor panic attack, but he calmed down. He's in the Quiet Room now.
Okay, good, he replied. Let me know if anything else happens.
"Miss Truman, how do you know the defendant?" Hiram asked.
"He's my older brother."
"When was the last time you saw him?"
"When he graduated from Ohio State, in 1995."
"Seventeen years is a long time," Hiram said. "Why haven't you kept in touch?"
"I didn't want to."
McManus could almost hear her fingernails clicking from where he sat as she picked at them nervously.
"You didn't talk to your brother for seventeen years and now you're testifying against him," Hiram said. "What exactly did he do to make you react this way?"
Natalie's arms hugged her stomach, one hand agitatedly rubbing her upper arm like a nervous tic. "When I was f-fourteen," she started, her voice wavering, "John a-attacked me."
Oh, Jesus, McManus thought. That explained the possible anxiety disorder.
"Attacked you how?" Hiram pressed gently.
Natalie's face contorted, her head dipping for a moment so she could swallow. "He… he r-raped me."
Hiram waited for her to straighten up again, recomposed, before asking another question. "What was your childhood like with John?"
"What – what do you mean?"
"Was he nice to you as a kid? Mean? Protective?" Hiram clarified.
Natalie shook her head. "No, he… he didn't really pay much attention to me. After our dad died, he just kind of stayed on his own most of the time."
"Did you ever suspect that he might have a problem, mentally speaking?"
Natalie nodded. McManus could see her shoulders trembling. "Always. He was always a little bit… off, I guess. Ever since I could remember."
"Was he ever violent?"
"To our mom, yes." Natalie's voice cracked, and she coughed to clear her throat. "I remember he would… he would hit her a lot, especially when he got bigger than her. That didn't stop until he left for college."
"No further questions; thank you."
McManus felt a little bit sick. He knew all too well what growing up in an environment like that could do to a person; it was no wonder that Natalie gave such an obvious appearance of being damaged. However, it was uncommon to find a home so toxic that the child eventually turned and began to abuse the parent. Fighting back was one thing. This was another.
"Miss Truman," Summers addressed her. "What was your father like?"
Natalie flinched. "Uh, he… he wasn't a good guy."
"Could you elaborate?"
"He was an alcoholic, a-and he used the belt a lot…" Natalie's fingernails clicked against each other. "He was really… really rough. We weren't allowed to call him Dad; we had to call him Frank."
"Did he target you a lot?"
Natalie tugged on a strand of hair, trying to get it to stay tucked behind her ear. "S-sometimes. He saved most of it for John, though."
"What did he do to John?"
Natalie chewed on her lips, glancing in the direction of the defendant's table. "I – I don't know." She drew a shuddering breath. "I was really young, but I… I remember hearing—" Her voice cut off and she hid her face in her hands for a second, wiping away the sudden onset of tears.
"Take your time," said Summers.
Natalie's face had turned splotchy and her chin was quivering. "I remember he-hearing John sc-screaming upstairs," she forced out, her words choppy with sobs. "Sometimes f-f-for hours."
"That must have been terrifying," Summers sympathized, sounding genuinely sorry for the first time that day. "Did that happen often?"
Natalie seemed to stop breathing for a few seconds as she tried to keep herself from breaking down completely. "Ye-yes," she choked out. "It happened a l-lot."
"One final question, Miss Truman," Summers promised.
Natalie sniffed, blotting her face with her sleeve.
"Do you love your brother?"
Natalie didn't say anything for a long moment, her eyes glassy. She pressed her lips together, turning to look at John. Considering the history she'd just described, McManus might have expected her to be scared or angry, but instead Natalie just looked sad.
"Thank you," Summers said. "No further questions."
Natalie quickly stepped down from the stand, walking back up the aisle with her head ducked. McManus couldn't blame her when she strode right past where she'd been sitting and instead pulled the door open, disappearing from the courtroom entirely.
Kurt lay half-curled on the bed in the Quiet Room, his arms tucked against his chest as he willed his mind to stop thinking (it wasn't working very well). As the thoughts darting through his brain warred with each other to be heard, Kurt tried to concentrate on the air moving steadily in and out of his lungs, on the feeling of the firm mattress underneath him, and the pulse in his ears. His skin felt a little cold, but he didn't move to grab a blanket; it almost felt nice.
He stretched out his arm, flexing his fingers since they had fallen asleep, pulled to his chest so tightly that the blood flow had been restricted. His fingertips tingling as the feeling was restored, he found himself tiredly studying the scar stretching along the inside of his forearm.
Strangely, this was the first time he'd really looked at it without feeling like he was about to suffocate.
Still breathing slowly and evenly, he uncurled his other arm, running the fingers of his left hand along the scar. It was longer than the one on his left arm, a little jagged and slanted. It had been a sloppy cut, and he knew why – he'd cut his left wrist first, with his dominant right hand, and then struggled to use the damaged tendons in his left hand to cut the right wrist. He couldn't remember much after that.
With an almost alarmingly calm curiosity, Kurt's fingers explored the scar, feeling the bumps of knotted skin where it had been sewn back together, the tiny white flecks lining either side of the cut where the stitching thread had been pulled through to keep the wound closed. The scar rippled slightly every time he moved his fingers, looking something like a ribbon in a light breeze.
His fingers moved up to where his wrist met the heel of his hand, and stopped there when he felt the stable drumming of the blood in the veins underneath the skin. If he looked closely enough he could actually see the skin surely pulsing.
He let his hand rest where it was, feeling his own heartbeat, and before long he'd finally drifted off to sleep.
Due to the fact that the prosecution's witnesses had all testified, Judge Ackerman had called for a short adjournment before the trial moved on to the defense's case. Finn was grateful for the break, filing out of the courtroom behind Burt and Carole. He could feel Rachel watching him closely, but he didn't want to acknowledge her just yet. Instead, he left Burt and Carole talking to Dr. McManus and went in search of a bathroom before Rachel could pull him aside.
He found the men's room down the hall, and, feeling slightly dizzy, braced his arms against the sink counter. He rubbed a hand over his eyes, then turned on the faucet and splashed a small amount of water on his face. He sucked in a deep breath, holding it in his lungs for as long as he could. It felt like there wasn't enough blood in his brain.
He didn't want to go back out there. He didn't want to sit in the courtroom and listen to any more sob stories about what took place behind closed doors.
He didn't want any more of this.
Finn sighed, feeling tired and knowing that as soon as he left, Rachel would try to talk to him. He should have told her not to come; he should have known that she'd find out what Truman did to him. He was stupid, and he felt disgusting.
Pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes, he dried his face with his sleeves and, refusing to look at his reflection in the mirror, returned to the corridor.
As expected, Rachel was waiting for him outside, and Finn flinched, fighting the urge to vomit.
"Hey," she said. "You okay?"
He hesitated, scratching his forehead with his thumbnail and avoiding her worried gaze. "…Not really, no," he confessed.
Rachel nodded solemnly, and he braced for a cheesy pep talk or a plea for him to open up and talk about his feelings.
Instead, though, she only reached forward to lightly grasp his hand, giving it a comforting squeeze before walking with him back to the courtroom.
Hiram was practically livid, rage burning the roof of his stomach as he strode down the corridor. He spotted Summers just exiting the women's bathroom and leaning over the adjacent water fountain to drink, and, not really thinking it through, Hiram stormed up to her.
Summers straightened up as he approached, immediately crossing her arms. "Hiram, you know I'm not allowed to speak to you outside the courtroom," she said evenly.
"I don't want to talk about the case," Hiram dismissed. "I want to know what the hell you were thinking that made you volunteer to defend a guy like John Truman."
Summers held up a hand to stop him, her eyes narrowed. "I'm going to stop you there, Hiram, and I want you to listen closely," she said, her voice as cold and hard as the stone walls around them. "This is America. Everyone is entitled to a defense lawyer, and my client is no exception."
Hiram opened his mouth to protest, but she wasn't finished.
"Now, before you go and accuse me of doing something so horrible as my job," she continued, "you should know that I understand one of the victims is friends with your daughter, so I'm beginning to wonder if I should inform the judge that you're a little too personally involved with the case."
Hiram's jaw clenched; he knew perfectly well that if she followed through, he'd be quickly replaced with someone else.
"Hiram, what you're doing is admirable," she said. "But this is not a black-and-white, open-and-shut case. You see, from my perspective, all I'm trying to do is get a very sick man some help." She reached down and retrieved her briefcase from where she'd set it on the floor, then brushed by him as she headed down the hall. "I'll see you back in the courtroom."
Hiram wanted nothing more than to punch the nearest wall.
Blaine sat on a bench outside the courtroom, leaning over and staring at his reflection on the polished floor, his elbows propped on his knees. He felt lightheaded and dehydrated, but he didn't want to get up to go find a water fountain. Puck had sat with him for a minute or two before going in search of a place to get a cup of coffee (he'd asked Blaine three times if he was alright on his own, but Blaine had waved him off).
Blaine let his head rest in his hands, praying for the dizziness to subside.
"You okay, Anderson?"
Blaine jumped, sitting upright again to see Burt standing in front of him, his brow knitted in concern.
"You're looking a little green," he said.
"I just, uh…" Blaine stammered, rubbing a hand over his face. "No, I'm fine. I'll be fine."
Burt's eyebrows rose slightly. "Blaine?" he said.
"Don't lie to me."
A rock pressed against the walls of Blaine's throat, and he nodded, looking down at his hands for a moment. "How – how do you do it?" he asked. "How do you deal with – with all this?"
Burt let out a heavy exhale, sitting down beside Blaine. "You pretend," he answered. "You've got to divorce yourself from this idea that it's really Kurt acting the way he does when he's not in control."
Blaine frowned in confusion. "Isn't it, though?"
"Oh, no, it is him," Burt agreed. "But you have to make yourself believe that the alters really are separate people, that they're not him. It'll kill you if you don't."
Blaine leaded his head back against the wall behind him. "This is so over my head," he said quietly.
"Blaine, I want you to know that I appreciate you coming." Burt reached over to give Blaine's shoulder a solid clap. "It's good to know you're here for Kurt, even if he's not here himself. Not many of Kurt's friends would do that."
Blaine nodded, coughing lightly. "I'm more surprised that Puck came, honestly," he said, trying to shift the focus away from himself.
"Oh, I asked him to."
Blaine blinked, caught completely off-guard. "What?"
"Well, he did want to come, but I let him on the condition that he'd keep an eye on you."
"On… on me?"
Burt shrugged. "Rachel was going to be focused on Finn, and I didn't want you on your own."
Blaine realized with a jolt that Puck grabbing his hand hadn't been an act of searching for support; instead, he'd been providing it.
He opened his mouth to respond (he didn't know how), but was cut off by the bailiff stepping out of the courtroom to announce that the adjournment was over. The people milling about the hall began to move back through the doors. Burt clapped Blaine's shoulder a second time before rejoining Carole.
Blaine took a deep breath as he filed into the courtroom with the others, sliding back into his seat on the bench. It was a minute or two before Puck sat down again next to him, nudging him in the ribs with his elbow.
"You feeling better, man?"
Blaine nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks."
"The defense calls Dr. Milton Bay to the stand."
Puck twisted in his seat to watch as a white-haired man stood up from the other side of the court and walked up to the witness stand to be sworn in. He didn't know why they needed another doctor to testify, and this one looked like more of a stiff than McManus. Puck didn't like him.
"Dr. Bay, could you list your qualifications?" Summers asked, lacing her fingers together behind her back.
Bay sat back in his chair, clearly comfortable where he was as he draped one leg over the other. "I have a PhD in criminal psychology from Stanford, and I've worked as a criminal and forensic psychologist for almost thirty years."
"I understand you've worked in tandem with the FBI many times to catch several serial killers, rapists, murderers, and other felons with similar histories."
Puck's eyebrows shot up. This guy might've looked like a stiff, but he sounded like a badass. He was on the same side as the guy who'd attacked Kurt, though, so Puck still hated him.
"Did you examine John Truman yourself?"
"Yes, I did."
"And what conclusions did you reach?"
"I found that John's upbringing severely damaged his concept of what is socially acceptable in the field of human interaction, as well as virtually destroying his understanding of right or wrong."
Puck didn't understand the majority of what the doctor had just said, but he got the feeling that they were throwing some kind of pity party.
"As was previously discussed during Natalie Truman's testimony, John's primary abuser was his father, Frank," Summers stated. "Was John open with you about what exactly his father did to him as a child?"
"He wasn't entirely open, no, but I did glean some details from our talk. I believe that the abuse consisted mainly of the brutal beatings John received, but there was also some sexual abuse involved, as well as periods of time where for several days John would be kept locked in a room with no food or other necessities as punishment."
There was no question that Puck hated John Truman and would kick him in the crotch if he was given the chance, but he had a hard time suppressing a shudder. He'd dealt with a few beatings from his own dad as a kid, and so had his mom, but Bill Puckerman was just an asshole; he wasn't a freaking psychopath.
"In your professional opinion, Dr. Bay, do you believe that this abuse is the only reason John has exhibited such criminal behavior?" Summers inquired.
Bay cleared his throat. "It's probably not the only contributing factor, if you really want to take the time to debate nature versus nurture, but I don't believe for a second that John would have hurt anyone if he'd been raised in a healthy environment," he explained, shaking his head. "Besides the crimes he's committed, which are admittedly terrible, he's also displayed several examples of socially constructive and good-hearted behavior."
Yeah, bull, Puck snapped in his head.
"Like what?" asked Summers.
"For instance, I spoke to some of his former employers, and every one of them stated that he was an excellent teacher. Their opinions of him didn't change until I told them why I was asking."
Bay scratched his temple. "According to John, he would attract his father's attention on purpose, specifically to protect his younger sister."
"If John was attempting to protect her, then he must have comprehended that the abuse was detrimental," Summers countered. "Why would he have adopted his father's behavior later on if he understood how damaging it was?"
This was starting to make Puck feel sick, and it was a conscious effort now to not think about his own family or how he'd thrown things at his dad just so that Bill would come after him and not Sarah. The tendons in his neck were rigid.
Bay clasped his hands in his lap. "There have been many studies to determine a cause for that, and what most of this research has found is that in men who display the exact type of behavior John is accused of, there is a noticeable lack of development in the prefrontal cortex."
Great, now the doctor was starting to speak gibberish.
"The prefrontal cortex is the part of the human brain that allows us to control our impulses, differentiate between right and wrong, and among other things, predict the outcomes of our actions," Bay continued. "This part of the brain's most crucial period of growth takes place around adolescence, and the majority of violent criminals report suffering alarming levels of abuse during their childhood. MRIs and brain scans have found that these men have prefrontal cortexes that are generally underdeveloped. They have fewer cells due to the environment in which they grew up, and it's enough to affect their behavior for the worse. The abuse quite literally creates a damaged brain."
Puck swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. He wasn't entirely sure he understood what the doctor was saying, but it was enough to scare him. Problems with impulse control, caring whether something was good or bad, dealing with consequences… Puck had always had problems with this kind of stuff.
Did… did he have brain damage?
"The other felons who took part in these studies… how many of them entered into therapy to change their criminal tendencies?"
"All of them."
"And how many continued their lives without a relapse?"
"The numbers are very low, but not low enough to be rare. These habits are very difficult to change."
"Dr. Bay, is John Truman a pedophile?"
"No, he isn't."
There was a collective pause across the entire courtroom then, accented by a couple of scattered whispers of confusion.
"A pedophile is defined as someone who derives gratification specifically from sexual contact with the pre-pubescent body of a child," Bay went on. "For John Truman, as far as I could tell from my conversations with him, it has nothing to do with the age of his sexual partners, but rather the control he has over them."
Puck was going to vomit the second he was able to walk out of the courtroom.
"Could you elaborate on that?"
"He achieves sexual gratification from physically dominating another person," Bay restated. "It's not about the connection with someone else, as it is with most pedophiles. John spent the majority of his childhood having absolutely zero control over himself or his surroundings, and now the sensation of actually being in control is ingrained as a release in more ways than one. Children just happen to be easier to overpower."
"Thank you; no further questions."
Hiram stood up as Summers returned to her seat. "Dr. Bay, I have just one question," he said. "If John Truman achieves sexual gratification from dominating another person, doesn't that include adults?"
"So there's a good chance that he has more victims than the twenty-seven children we already know he attacked."
"It's possible, yes."
Hiram nodded. "Thank you."
Puck was definitely going to vomit.
Burt shifted nervously in his seat beside Carole as Dr. Bay returned to the audience. Carole squeezed Burt's hand, her thumb soothingly stroking his wrist.
"The defense calls John Truman."
For about three seconds, Burt's heart stopped. The air was tight in his throat as John stood and walked up to the stand, MAN IS BEAST flashing into Burt's vision again for half a moment.
This was it.
"Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"
"Yes, I do."
So help you God is damn right.
Summers stood once again in the middle of the floor. "Mr. Truman, how old are you?"
John's expression was still infuriatingly indifferent. "I'm forty."
"According to the police report, your earliest victim was an eleven-year-old girl in 1990, Brooke Schwartz," Summers said. "How old were you then?"
"I was nineteen," he answered. "Still in college."
Burt was grateful for Carole's firm but calming grip on his wrist; it made him feel grounded, like he was still there. Otherwise he might have given in to his instincts and marched straight up to John Truman and wrenched his neck, punching Ruth Summers in the throat on the way over.
(He still wasn't entirely sure that was a bad idea.)
"And how old were you when your father died?"
"Do you believe that your mental health is unbalanced?"
John shrugged, tugging at a lock of hair behind his ear. "You already had the doctor talk about that."
"I want to know what you believe."
John fidgeted in his seat. He didn't look nervous, merely uncomfortable, like someone in a bathtub with water a little too hot. "No," he said. "Frankly, I don't really give a shit."
"The defendant will refrain from using coarse language in my courtroom," Ackerman cut in.
John rolled his eyes, and Burt shuddered. He'd seen that exact expression on Kurt's face hundreds of times, whenever Truman was awake.
"Is there a problem?" the judge challenged, quirking an eyebrow.
"No, Your Honor," John drawled, sounding bored and slightly irritated.
"What did you think about the kids you targeted?" Summers asked, bringing John's focus back to the examination.
John shrugged again. "Nothing."
"Did you have a type?"
"How did you end up with the kind of access to these kids that would allow you to have sex with them?"
"Their parents let me."
Carole's hand shot up and grabbed Burt's shoulder, forcing him to sit back, and he realized he'd instinctively jolted forward, his body still hell-bent on attacking and, even more, protecting.
"That's a bold statement," said Summers. "What do you mean by that?"
John rubbed the back of his fingers across the stubble on the underside of his jaw, almost in thought. "I didn't look for these kids," he said. "The opportunities presented themselves."
"Is that how you view them? Opportunities?"
"That's what they were."
Burt felt the blood drain from his head, Carole's hand gripping his arm tighter.
"Are you willing to go through rehabilitating psychiatric treatment in order to deal with your past abuse and change these tendencies?"
"Do you want to?"
Summers nodded. "No more questions, Your Honor. John Truman has made it clear that his violent and sexually abusive tendencies have only to do with his own mental illness and is therefore a problem that can be treated through extensive therapy. The defense rests."
Burt rubbed his eyes, trying to get rid of the horrible dizziness stabbing into his eardrums. The blood in his veins was too hot, his stomach too cold, and he didn't think his lungs were functioning properly, but he tried to concentrate as Hiram stood for his cross-examination.
"Mr. Truman, we have records from your own apartment of all twenty-seven children whom you raped or sexually assaulted over the course of the past twenty-two years, ranging in age from two to fourteen," Hiram started, letting his hands hang in his pockets. "Of those twenty-seven, ten attempted suicide. Six succeeded. Eleven have been hospitalized for several-month stretches for depression and other emotional disorders. One developed split personalities in order to cope with what you did to him, and one was your own sister."
Burt sent a quick prayer skyward; the outcome of everything they'd been working for hung on this.
"And I'll leave it to the jury to imagine for themselves just how much damage," Hiram continued, his voice rising slightly, "this has caused in each of their families." He paused for a moment, John staring him down. "Now, perhaps you can explain to me, what the hell justifies criminal acts of this nature?"
John's mouth tugged up in an unfriendly smile. "Better watch your mouth, Counselor. No swearing in this court."
"Answer the question, Mr. Truman," the judge snapped.
"Why are you looking for justification?"
"Let's try another one," Hiram said tightly, changing the subject. He'd drawn himself up to his full height and was facing John down with absolutely no apprehension or reservation, and Burt wanted to jump to his feet and applaud. "Out of almost thirty children, you must have liked some more than others. Did you have favorites?"
"Not really," John said, unperturbed. "I liked Kurt, though."
(Burt's heart stopped.)
"Why is that?"
"He fought me," John explained. "Most kids just lie there and do what you tell them, but it was a few days before Kurt did that."
Burt couldn't repress a grim smile. That's my boy.
"Amy was fun, too," John added. "She was a biter."
Every person in the courtroom jumped at the cry from one of the back rows, all turning to see a young woman on her feet, her face blotchy and red-eyed.
"Alicia!" Her husband leapt to his feet and tried to get her to sit back down, but she pushed him off.
"YOU SICK BASTARD, AMY'S STILL IN PRESCHOOL!" she screamed, her chest heaving.
"Order!" the judge demanded, banging his gavel. "Bailiff, remove her!"
The bailiff moved to push the woman out of the room, but her husband held up a hand to stop him. "Wait, wait—" he stammered. "Sweetie, come on." He wrapped an arm around her back and guided her out of the seats and up the aisle. "I'm so sorry," he said to the judge over his shoulder. "I'm so sorry." She hid her face, shaking, and the doors clunked shut behind them.
Burt let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, turning back to face forward. Carole had her hand over her mouth.
"Please continue, Counselor," Judge Ackerman ordered, huffing.
Hiram glanced at Burt before turning back to John. "Mr. Truman, if you liked some of these kids more than others, then clearly they weren't only objects to you."
John rolled his eyes again. "You never had a favorite toy?"
"Fair point," Hiram acquiesced. "But surely you must have experienced some feeling of hesitation, if our friend Dr. Bay was indeed right and you were only pushed to this by your father's abuse."
"Do you know what people are?"
"I suppose you're going to tell me," Hiram said flatly.
"People are animals," John said. "We're nothing but glorified chimpanzees. None of this matters. Sex is just sex."
Hiram narrowed his eyes. "Your Honor," he said without taking his gaze off John. "I believe the prosecution rests."
"The jury will now retire to the antechamber," Ackerman said, sitting up. "This trial is adjourned until the jury has reached a verdict."
The gavel was brought down with a final solid bang! and – just like that – the fight was over.
The jury was gone for exactly twenty-three minutes.
Kurt woke up slowly, confused and disoriented. It took him almost thirty seconds to realize someone was knocking on the door, and when he did, it only served to make him even more confused. Nobody was supposed to bother him until he came out of the Quiet Room on his own.
He rubbed his eyes, trying to wake himself up. His limbs felt weighted and heavy, his skull stuffed with cotton. Yawning, he finally pulled himself off the bed and went to open the door.
Charlie was standing outside. "Hey, Kurt, how're you feeling?"
Kurt was forced to pause as another yawn delayed his answer. "Tired," he said, raking a hand through his hair. "What's going on?"
"Your dad's here."
Kurt blinked, not sure if he was still half-asleep. "I thought he was in Toledo for the trial."
"That was this morning," Charlie said. "It's almost seven-thirty."
Another layer added to the disorientation, then. Kurt must have been in the deepest sleep he'd achieved in years for the past eight hours or so. And he still felt drained.
"Kurt?" Charlie prompted, trying to get Kurt to focus. "You okay to see him?"
Kurt took a deep breath. "Yeah, absolutely."
"Okay. Come on." Charlie jerked his head in the direction of the ward exit as Kurt stepped out into the common room. "It's not visiting hours so he can't come in here, but you can step out for a couple minutes."
Charlie swiped his ID card through the scanner at the door, pushing it open and allowing Kurt to step through. Burt was standing outside talking to Dr. McManus, but stopped as soon as Kurt walked out.
"Kurt," he breathed. There was no hesitation as he rushed over and pulled Kurt into his arms, hugging him as tightly as he could. Kurt leaned into the embrace, not caring that it was hard to breathe. He felt safe.
"Are – are you okay?" Burt asked softly, his hand on the back of Kurt's head. His voice was strained, like he was trying not to cry.
"I'm fine, Dad," Kurt said into Burt's shoulder.
"He's gone," Burt choked out. "He can't hurt you any more, Kurt. He can't— You're going to be okay."
The air rushed out of Kurt's lungs, leaving his chest empty as he shut his eyes, his fingers digging into his father's back. He could feel Burt's chest shaking.
"You're going to be fine," Burt kept saying, his voice cracked.
A memory darted through Kurt's mind like a camera flash, of being small and held close and carried in Burt's arms from a police station, wrapped in a blanket and still with glass and blood in his hair, with Burt repeating promises over and over.
Maybe this time those promises would hold true.
Kurt didn't know how long they stood there, but it was a long time before Burt lifted his head and turned to ask McManus, "Can I take him home? Please."
McManus didn't reply for a few moments. Kurt's forehead was still resting on Burt's shoulder, but he eventually heard the doctor sigh and say, "I'll pull a few strings."
Burt kept his arm locked around Kurt until they reached the car.