I know the "Homestuck-characters-an-asylum" plotline has been done to death, but I just couldn't resist, and hope that this one manages to separate itself from the dregs and become something different. I may possibly try and add in some RosexKanaya later on, but I've never been much good at writing non-platonic relationships; still, it's worth a shot. Won't know until I try, I guess.
Homestuck is the intellectual property - if intellectual is the right word - of one Andrew Hussie.
The New Hope Mental Institution had a remarkably cheerful outlook for a mental hospital. It did not look at all the way Rose had expected it to. Her love of macabre psychological thrillers had lead her to imagine her mother's silver Mercedes-Benz crawling up a gritty gravel road towards a twisted wrought-iron gate, presumably with the name of the hospital set atop it in ominous black lettering. Behind the gate, she surmised, the hospital would loom oppressively, the equivalent of a large but hollow cement block with graffiti walls, grimy glass, and bars on the windows.
New Hope had none of these things, save for the bars, but these were slim installations on the windows of the upper floors. "Protection" rather than "prison." The hospital had really taken the word asylum to heart in its construction, not in the horror-movie sense but in that it was meant to be a berth for those who needed to escape from the world and into their own mad minds. The whitewashed outer walls and red-tiled roof could be considered homely, even comforting at a stretch. Even safe. But who, Rose wondered, were the people being kept safe? The ones within? Or all of the ordinary, sane people who walked without the walls of the complex?
Now as the car drew nearer she could see past the gate and the main building to a little tangle of smaller structures, possibly storage sheds or living quarters for the hospital employees. There were flowers. They seemed out of place, almost like some sort of disturbing joke. The whole place was a joke. This was no mental hospital, this was some sort of day care for people who spent their days wandering about in the picturesque landscapes of their delusional minds. No criminally insane here, the buildings seemed to say. Just us oddments with psychedelic views of the world. Rose was almost considering ordering her mother to turn the car around and find her a different hospital where she might be taken seriously. But perhaps this was just her stinted view of the world that made her reject the pleasantness of this place. Her expectations had not been met, but most people would have been pleased at the discovery. So instead she leaned against the window and waited as her mother pressed the buzzer by the gate and informed the crackling voice that replied that she was her with the new patient, Rose Lalonde.
She had wanted to drive herself, but her mother had insisted that patients did not submit themselves to mental hospitals, and in any case it wouldn't be fair if Rose did not let her own mother accompany her on this stalwart journey. Rose had grudgingly accepted. She wasn't sure if she would come to regret her decision or not.
As the Mercedes rolled on through the now-open gate, Rose glanced at the wall around the complex and was pleased to see at least something that rang true to her definition of what a mental hospital - asylum, she corrected herself, should be. Chain link fence capped the stacked cement blocks and curved inwards, the edges lines with coils of barbed wire. This place was not nearly as innocent as it seemed. Was anything, really? Her dreams had seemed innocent enough when they first began several months ago, nothing more than a dim reminder of her childhood, when she had been so enthralled by all things eldritch. They had come in the night and evaporated at the first touch of morning, forgotten among the busy tasks of the day.
When the dreams had become nightmares that kept her awake, innocent was what her visits to the doctor were. She complained of insomnia, which was true enough.
The nightmares kept her awake and then began to haunt her again during what little sleep she managed to catch on the bus and in between meetings at her job at Derse Developing. Mr. Noir, the manager of her small group of technical writers, had griped that they were all getting paid far too much for the little work they did, Rose most of all with her little naps that kept cutting into valuable company time. Then later he had suggested sleeping pills, and Rose relayed the request to her doctor, who prescribed them to her for several weeks.
The pills didn't work. If anything they made things worse, trapping her in a drug-induced stupor while eldritch abominations danced through her field of vision with threatening gaits and plucked the very stars from the sky. Innocent was the phone call she made to her mother one night because she couldn't sleep, and whenever she closed her eyes the abominations returned with their boils and tentacles and puckered flesh, whenever she stopped blasting Tchaikovsky into her ears at full volume the voices returned to whisper things into her ears. Not that she admitted any of this to anyone. To admit it would be to accept that she had given up, that she couldn't cope. To accept that she, Rose Lalonde, was afraid.
After complaining about being called at one in the bloody morning, her mother had voiced her own concerns, saying that perhaps Rose was suffering from overwork, it was all the same with those big companies, they never paid attention to all the little people in their employment. Disgruntled as Rose was that her mother had referred to her as a "little person," she had accepted the explanation without argument and called in sick, claiming to have been struck down with some kind of flu. Flu took at least a week to run it's course. Surely that would be enough to make it all better.
Instead, it became worse.
Two days before she had gotten into her mother's car and begun the long drive towards Good Hope she had gone out to shop for groceries. She was reluctant to leave the house - she didn't want anyone seeing her in her frazzled, sleep-deprived state - but one could only survive on bland soup and canned ravioli for so long. So she had gotten on the bus to Downtown, assuring herself it would be just a quick trip and that maybe going out and about would be able to distract her some more. She had already been working constantly on a large project for work, burying herself in lines of code and explanations of what needed to be fixed where and how to get about to doing it. Once she had typed the word "Skaia" instead of "skills" and wondered what it meant.
The bus. Sitting all the way in the back next to an old bag lady with so many headscarves it was almost impossible to see her face. The ends twisted and waved like tentacles, coiled and sprouted strange-no. She was seeing things now. She wouldn't allow herself to see things. She wouldn't allow herself to lose her calm demeanor in the middle of a bus filled with people, some of whom she knew. So when the mutter of the passengers became warped and haunted, the rumble of the bus engines like the sound of behemoths stirring in deep caverns, Rose Lalonde did not scream. Instead, she stuffed her earbuds into her ears and cranked up Waltz of the Flowers at full volume, and closed her eyes, breathing deeply.
Ten seconds later they were open again and she was screaming because the bus was gone and instead she was floating over a vast abyss of darkness in which the only light was a small blue and white speck in the distance.
And after that her eyes were open again and she was lying on the floor of the bus with anxious passangers gathered around her, concerned looks on their faces. She had stood and brushed the whole thing off as a mere nightmare, gotten off the bus and gone about her business, returned home with bags loaded to the brim with fresh vegetables and other produce. As she stuffed a bundle of carrots into the back of the fridge she tried not to think about the low humming that was building in the beck of her mind. As she chopped up a handful of onions and tossed them into the slow-cooker she tried not to remember the old lady on the bus with the moving shawls. She tried and failed.
Finally, she called her mother and told her everything.
And that was how she had come to be here, stepping out of the car with one hand clutching a beaten old suitcase and the other gripping the plastic handle of the door. The weather was pleasent, a light breeze playing through the trees and the sun beaming down from a cloudless sky. Not the proper weather for one's admission to an asylum, Rose though. There should be storm clouds gathered overhead, or at least sitting on the horizon. It should be raining. If she perhaps chose to write a book about all of this when it was over - if it ever was over, but she didn't like to consider that possibility - she would have to change a few of the facts. You couldn't enter an asylum on a sunny day. She supposed it could be considered ironic, which was something, at least.
The inside of the hospital was even cheerier than the outside. There was a fish tank set in the wall. The occupants were all tropical fish of varying degrees of color - either way they looked as though a drunk artist had mixed all the paints on his palette together and splashed them onto the poor creatures. Poor indeed; they were all clustered in a corner blowing nervous bubbles as a troll with a ridiculous amount of hair pressed her face against the glass and made "glub" noises. One of the patients, probably. Harmless enough. If this was the kind of people that this hospital catered to, Rose wasn't too sure how well she would fit in.
Suddenly the girl's glubbing ceased and she began to strike at the glass, yelling something about culling the fish. A nurse who had been hovering nearby swooped in and gently led the girl away, ignoring her protests. She gave an apologetic smile to Rose as she passed, and then vanished through a door at the other end of the lobby. Rose regarded the door with a vague interest, then turned her attentions back to her mother, who was leaning against the front desk and had struck up a lively conversation with the secretary, who was laughing quietly. No surprises there. Her mother had always been an avid conversationalist, a social butterfly, so unlike her daughter who preferred the company of a good book and her pet cat Jaspers to a human being. Rose wished that Jaspers could have accompanied her, but the hospital had a strict no-pets policy. Something about not wanting to be liable for the animal's safety.
The receptionist waved Rose over and she begrudgingly joined her mother at the front desk. The wall behind it was inlaid with silver letters: New Hope Mental Institution - broken minds made whole. Rose wondered exactly who had come up with the cheesy slogan and how long they had been allowed to live after bringing it into being. At least it didn't have an exclamation point at the end.
"Rose Lalonde, yes?" The receptionist pushed forwards a stack of papers that reeked of bureaucracy. Most of the blank spaces had already been filled in with her untidy scrawl, and in the rest Rose recognised her mother's looping letters. "I'll just need you to sign here, and here, and here too if you don't mind. The nurse will be along in a minute or so, why don't you have a seat over there?" The woman indicated a plush green armchair that sat in the corner next to its twin and several plastic ferns. Rose took the pen and signed, wondering whether she should have read the small print first. There was no helping it, though. She was going to be here whether she liked it or not, if not until she was cured then at least until she could convince the doctors she was sane.
She really was.
Her mother gave the papers a once-over and handed them back over the counter with a plastic smile. She pecked Rose on the cheek and bustled out the door. Rose watched as the Mercedes-Benz revved up and vanished into a glittering point on the long road. There was no going back now. No going anywhere for the moment, except for into one of those armchairs. She dragged her suitcase over to the corner and sank down onto the stiff cushions. The leaf of a plastic fern tickled her elbow, but she ignored it, instead thinking about how boring the room actually was, even with the feeble attempts made to spruce it up. The fish tank was all right. She had read somewhere that fish were supposed to instil a sense of calm in people, but the only thing she was feeling now was boredom and a dim regret. The visions and voices were choosing to be inactive today. Perhaps the action of admitting herself to the asylum had driven them away? It was a small hope, but she doubted it was true. The visions had been intense. They wouldn't be driven away by something like this.
Some sort of delirium, perhaps, the dropout psychology student inside of her whispered.
"I'm not delirious," Rose said, only to realise that she had voiced her thought out loud.
"I'm sure you aren't," a voice replied. The tones were calm and even, each word pronounced with utter conviction. Rose blinked and looked up into the smiling face of the nurse. This one was different than the one who had taken the girl at the fish tank away. For one thing, the first nurse had been human. This one was a troll, thin and graceful even in her green hospital uniform, with slim horns that curved into an arc over her head. The one on the right broke the symmetry; it stuck inwards several centimetres. Somehow this irked Rose, though she could not imagine why.
"Yes, quite," she replied, her tone more sarcastic than she had intended. "I know I am not crazy and there's no need to patronise me, Miss...?"
"Maryam. Kanya Maryam. And you are, if all your papers are correct, a Miss Rose Lalonde. I'll be taking you on a quick tour of the institution, introduce you to a few of the other patients, and explain our rules and regulations, and then I'll show you to your room." After seeing the look on Rose's face, she added, "It hasn't got padded walls, if that's what you're thinking. We reserve those for the higher-risk patients, and I will assume that you are not and have no intention of becoming one of those, am I correct? Now come on, lots to see." She smiled, showing delicate fangs, and headed towards the door. Rose grabbed her suitcase and followed, trying to repress her emotions: nervousness, and some excitement. She had always been fascinated by asylums, and even if this one did not match the ones that she had read about in any way shape or form, it was bound to be an interesting experience at the very least.
The hallway beyond was lined with doors bearing plaques carved with the first initial and last name of the resident. "The doctor's offices," Kanaya explained, pointing them out as the passed. Rose only glanced at them, but caught some of the names: J. Egbert and J. Harley. Hadn't there been a Harley at the college she had attended? It was probably just a coincidence; Harley was a common enough name, but how odd to find it again here. "The patients all live on the upper floors, hence the bars on the like to give them a view but we don't want anyone doing anything foolish, like jumping out the window. Not that they could, of course. The windows are all built with bulletproof glass and securely locked."
"I see. And do you have this security because you are worried that someone might escape, or simply because it means you don't have to worry about filling out paperwork if someone dies?" Kanaya laughed.
"Both." Rose didn't think she was joking.
They climbed up two flights of stairs, bypassing the first couple of the upper floors as well as the patients they housed. It was oddly quiet, save for the doctors making their rounds and the sound of singing coming from behind a door near the end of the hall. "You'll be on the fourth floor, so to make things easier I'll only be showing you the patients there. You'll get to speak with some of them later, of course. Every day we let everyone loose in the yard for an hour or so. I go there often myself. It's quite easy to go a bit stir-crazy in here." The comment made Rose smile, if only a little. So everyone in this madhouse was crazy in one way or another, were they? Any more and the irony here would be so thick you could cut it with a knife.
The fourth floor was not quite so quiet as the others. More singing emitted from the door to Rose's left when she exited the stairwell, and the words were often replaced with high-pitched glubbing. Down the hall someone was banging on the wall and shouting unintelligible things, and beyond that was a voice speaking in Russian. The sentences were always built up of eight words, Rose noticed. Always eight. She made a note of these observations and peered in through the window to her left. The troll girl from before was sitting on the bed and throwing plush squids at the wall, a huge grin on her face. Kanaya sidled in next to her. "I saw her downstairs," Rose commented. "At the fish tank."
"Ah, yes. This is Feferi, Piexes. She's got a bit of a hyperactive disorder and some other funny things going on in her brain. We let her downstairs to look at the fish every once in a while to keep her happy, although there are still a few issues with this. No doubt you saw her banging on the glass?" Rose nodded.
"She talked about killing the fish."
"Culling, dear, but yes. Although this one has a bit of a differrent definition for the word - thinks it means to save someone. She wants to let the fish out of their tank, but she doesn't understand that they'll die, poor thing."
"Quite." The pair moved on.
The next room was empty, and Kanaya noted that this would be Rose's while she was here. Rose opened the door and set her suitcase down just inside. No point in lugging the weight around for the rest of the tour. The room was the same as all the others she had seen so far, with a bed in the corner, a small set of shelves, and a closet set into the wall. Someone had placed a small vase on the windowsill with a flower in it, though she could not imagine why. As Kanaya had said, there were long bare covering the window, and a slight distortion spoke of the thickness of the glass. The floor was covered with a stubby brown carpet and a florescent light flickered from the ceiling. "Very practical," she commented, for lack of a better word. "Although I see there is a flower on the windowsill." Kanaya smiled.
"I just put that there because I thought you might like the room brightened up just a little."
"Oh. Thank you, I suppose. I promise not to break the vase and use the pieces to mutilate myself or attack anyone with. Nor will I eat the flower."
"That's good. Shall we move on now?" Rose left the room and the tour continued. There was Karkat, a stubby little troll with the horns to match, who stalked in circles around his room making faces at the walls. When he spotted Rose peering in at him through the window he bared his fangs and stuck his head into the closet. Paranoid schizophrenia, Kanaya told her. Next was Nepeta, who smiled and waved hello, then proceeded to pick apart the fabric of her pillowcase and rip the feathers into shreds, giggling maniacally. She was here because she didn't recognize morality; she had set fire to the neighbor's cat and then thrown it into a swimming pool and watched it drown. Then Sollux, who was bipolar; and Aradia, who had done nothing but sit in the middle of her bed all day and stare at the wall until the lights went out, when she would start shouting and write strange messages all over the walls with a piece of charcoal. Rose noticed the past tense and asked why, if she was now sane, she was still in the hospital. Kanaya gave her a strange look.
"What do you mean, still here?"
"Er...Are all the patients on this floor trolls?" Rose asked instead, changing the subject. She was relieved when Kanaya continued to answer her questions as though nothing strange had happened. Still, she wondered, what had Kanaya meant by that? Of course Aradia was still here; Rose stole a second glance through the window to her room just in case it had been a trick of the light, but the ram-horned troll still stood at the window. She decided not to press the issue any further.
"No, not all," Kanaya told her. "You just happen to be in a section with a lot of them. There are quite a few all over the hospital, actually. We are one of the few institutions who are willing to accept them as patients. Most others are reluctant to do so because we can be a rather violent species. Mental illnesses can only make that worse." Kanaya stopped in front of another door and looked in. "Ah, this one is interesting. He believes he is nuclear physicist who used to work for the government, and every time I stop by he asks me if the parts to build his doomsday machine have arrived. When I tell him there were no packages for him then he tries to ask me out to dinner."
"And do you know why he does this?"
"Not really, no. Now, let me see, there are still a couple more down this way-" Something huge and mutated loomed in the dark, twisting up from a small corner of the ceiling and tearing chunks of wood and plaster out of the wall. The world was suddenly blank and colourless and smelled of plaster dust, a jagged creation of stark shadows and blinding white highlights along the edges of things. Rose could see through the walls, see the asylum residents crouching behind closed doors with fangs and claws and twisted horns. And beyond that the building broke apart and showed her great eldritch things that lay among the stars with the white-and-blue planet sitting in their midst, forever unaware, forever silent. Where was she now? Where was Kanaya? Where-but this was just another dream, wasn't it. Wasn't it? Yes, now she was sure, how could she have let herself go like that, let herself slip up and-oh God, there were the voices now, screaming ancient chants under a bloody sky and-
"Rose!" She opened her eyes, the visions sinking back into the dregs of her mind as quickly as they had come. They vanished like actors behind a velvet curtain, unseen but ready to return at a moment's notice, should their cue come. She felt the wall at her shoulder; she had slumped against it, her fingers digging into the plaster. Kanaya had one hand on her shoulder and was shaking her frantically. The other was wrapped around Rose's wrist. It was unnaturally cold, but what did she know about what temperature trolls normally were?
"It was nothing," Rose lied. "I'm used to it." The tremor in her voice betrayed her, though she doubted that anyone would have believed her in this situation, especially someone who knew of her "condition." Someone like Kanaya. Disbelief and worry was written right across the troll's face as she frowned.
"Don't try that with me, darling. I know that you're lying. We shall finish the tour some other time when you are rested. I'll take you back to your room and fetch a doctor to come and have a look at you." She began to lead Rose back down the hall by the hand, but the girl yanked herself free and straightened, determined to finish the trek herself. Her vision still seemed a little lopsided and the light a tad bright, but she was sure that it was nothing to be worried about. Some rest and she would be fine - if she could rest at all.
As she passed by Aradia's room she couldn't help herself and gave a final glance towards the mysterious occupant.
The girl was gone. Rose stopped and stumbled against the wall. Where had she gone? She had been there not moments before, and this was a hospital. People didn't just vanish like that! She relayed these concerns to Kanaya, who responded to them with the same puzzled look as before.
"Rose," she began cautiously, "That room has been empty for weeks. Are you sure you are all right?"
"What?" She couldn't be hallucinating. She just couldn't. She wasn't crazy, and how was she supposed to prove it to the doctors and to her mother if on her very first day the nurse thought she was seeing things? Aradia had been there when she had first looked, she was certain, but why did Kanaya respond to her queries with such confusion? Aradia had existed, Kanaya had spoken of her herself...but using the past tense. "Had," she had said when mentioning the girl's illness. Had. Whoever this Aradia was, she no longer resided in this hospital.
Rose shuffled into her room and flopped down on the bed. It was hardly quality comfort. The mattress was hard and a loose spring dug into the base of her spine. Kanaya hovered in the doorway, as if she feared that her patient might suddenly have a relapse if she took her eyes off her for a second. Rose rolled her eyes and waved the nurse away. The door closed and there was the soft snik of a key in the lock. So much for trusting her to stay sane and not break out. It was beginning to become a more and more appealing option. Not that there was anything wrong with the place, or Kanaya, for that matter - if anything, Kanaya had been the best thing to happen to her all day - but something about it worried her. Maybe it was the familiar nameplate on the door of the doctor's office; maybe it was the fact that she was seeing girls who were not supposed to be here. Rose signed and stared up at a crack in the ceiling, waiting for the doctor to arrive and seal her fate.