"It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality." -Virginia Woolf
Dr. John Lee felt a chill run up his spine as walked through the entrance of Vista Psychiatric Hospital. He hadn't been back to work in over a week—not since Michael Britten had broken into his home and spirited him off to an empty storage locker at gunpoint. The thought of being trapped alone inside the storage unit still made him shudder, and he knew it would be in his best interest to seek help from a colleague soon to treat him for mild post-traumatic stress disorder, but he couldn't think about that right now. In this moment, the only thing that mattered was getting himself in a position to treat Michael Britten. He owed Michael that much.
Lee presented his credentials to the security guard and then took the elevator to the sixth floor, where the office of Dr. Glenn Simmons was located. Simmons had been assigned to the Britten case only yesterday, just after Michael had been transferred from the county jail to Vista's involuntary psych ward, so Lee was optimistic that he would be able to re-assume control of the case without much fuss.
Finding that Simmon's door was already opened a crack, Lee gave a perfunctory knock as he walked into the office.
"Hi, Glenn," he said to the grey-haired man sitting at the desk. "Sorry, if I'm a little early."
"John!" the man replied jovially. He rose from his chair, crossed the room, and grasped Lee's shoulder in a conciliatory manner. "How are you doing? Coping all right? Awful business, this Britten thing. Awful all around."
"Yes," Lee agreed. "It's been a rough week. But I'm back on the job now, so if you're amenable...well, I'd like to take over again as Michael's primary psychiatrist."
Simmons raised an eyebrow and let out a small laugh.
"God, you certainly know how to pick 'em, don't you?" he said grimly. "So, what do you need to know?"
"Just get to me up to speed if you can. What's the situation with Michael now?"
Simmons sat back down and gestured for Lee to take a seat in one of the chairs opposite his desk.
"Well," he began slowly, "they transferred him here yesterday afternoon. We've been conducting a 24-hour observation, and thus far, Britten's done nothing to demonstrate that he's currently capable of communicating or understanding his surroundings. According to the physician at the Los Angeles County Jail, he's been fully catatonic for nearly two days straight."
Lee groaned. This news was far worse than he had feared. Michael had clearly retreated so far into his dream life that he had become completely detached from reality. It would take an aggressive course of treatment now to return him to anything resembling a functional state.
Simmons opened a file on his desk and continued.
"Apparently, before the catatonia set in, he attacked another officer who visited him. A woman named..." he flipped through a few pages until he found the correct information. "...Tricia Harper."
"He attacked Captain Harper?" Lee asked incredulously.
"The report says he accused her of killing his son and tried to strangle her. They had to subdue him with a taser." He scanned the paperwork again. "Later that day, Britten threw a temper tantrum in his cell, screaming and throwing things. When they checked on him again later, the guards found him curled up against the wall, rocking back and forth and staring into space. His IA attorney called for a hearing to have him declared unfit for trial, and then the judge signed off on an immediate, 90-day court ordered hospitalization."
Lee rubbed his temples and sighed. This was all his fault. He should have never let Michael leave his office after their last session, when it became clear that the detective's imagination was running rampant with delusional beliefs. If he had only been more forceful, more cautious, Michael wouldn't have tried to kidnap Hawkins, Bird would still be alive and this whole breakdown could have been avoided.
Sensing Lee's distress, Simmons stopped talking. He took off his glasses and flashed Lee a stern look.
"Are you really sure you want to be involved with this one now, John? Because nobody would judge you for passing it off to somebody else and walking away. I mean, the man abducted you, for chrissake."
Lee shook his head.
"No," he said firmly. "Michael's my patient. I'm responsible for him. Besides, I know his history better than anybody else."
"Well, in that case, I'll transfer all of the paperwork over to you. I was about to recommend that Britten be put on a rigorous course of intravenous benzodiazepines, but if you think differently..."
"No, I think that sounds like the best option for Michael right now. Hopefully the drugs can help to coax him out of this catatonic depression and draw him back into reality."
Hopefully, Lee thought dolefully. Hopefully he would be able to see to it that Michael Britten didn't remain lost in the wilderness of his fantasy world forever.
There wasn't a moment that passed now where Hannah Britten did not feel like crying, yet she seemed to be incapable of producing tears. So many had been spilled already—first for Rex, then for Bird and for Michael—that mustering up any more felt simply impossible. Instead, she resorted to wringing her hands and taking deep, steady breaths to stay calm. Or at least, as close to calm as someone in her position could be.
She looked up at the clock in Dr. Lee's waiting room and sighed. Four minutes until their appointment. Four minutes until she would have to discuss every horrible detail of her husband's mental breakdown. If only the clock would stop—then she could avoid it forever.
"Mrs. Britten?" A soft-spoken, bespectacled man of about 45 approached her with an outstretched hand.
"You must be Dr. Lee," she said in the friendliest voice she could manage. "Please, call me Hannah."
"Hannah, thank you so much for coming in. Please, follow me."
He lead her to his office and offered her some coffee, which she politely declined. A moment of silence fell between them.
"So," Hannah blurted out, finally. "Is this where you and Michael...his appointments?"
"No," Lee replied. "That was at the office I maintain for my private practice. I use this office primarily for the work I do with patients here at the psychiatric hospital."
Psychiatric Hospital. The phrase hit Hannah like a punch to the gut. Michael, her beloved, reliable Michael, had now been locked away in a psychiatric hospital. A place for crazy people. A loony bin.
"I, um...I brought some clothes for him," Hannah said, changing the subject. "Mostly T-shirts and pajama pants...comfortable things, like you said."
"That's great. Thank you," Lee responded. He took the bag Hannah was holding and placed it beside his desk. The conversation hit another lull. Finally, Lee broke the silence.
"So, let's discuss Michael, then, shall we?"
"Yes, I guess we should."
"How much do you know about his condition?"
"Well, his attorney told me that he's become non-responsive. That's he's, um...what do you call it?" She asked.
"Catatonic," Lee said.
"Right. Catatonic. So I guess he'll be held here until he's mentally able to assist with his own defense. Is that right?"
"More or less," Lee stated. He cleared his throat and leaned in towards Hannah. "I want you to know," he started, "that I'm committed to doing everything I can to give Michael the help he needs. We're already starting drug treatments, and I'm very hopeful that we'll be able to bring him around and begin therapy within the next few days."
Hannah bit her lip.
"You know, I just...I-I don't understand," she stammered. "How can you be so devoted to helping him after what he did to you? I mean, He might have killed you."
Lee smiled sadly.
"Hannah, nothing Michael did was enacted with a malicious intent. His paranoid delusions, his hallucinations...they were all caused by a complete psychotic break spurred by his inability to accept his role in Rex's death. He wasn't responsible for his actions. I firmly believe that."
Dr. Lee's mention of Rex set Hannah's teeth on edge. For so long, she had believed that Michael was stronger than she was. That he was immune to the sort of overpowering sense of loss she had felt after Rex died. She had never realized that his blasé attitude stemmed from the pitifully deluded belief that Rex was still alive in some alternate universe they shared together. Sure, Michael had mentioned having vivid dreams about Rex, but it had never occurred to her that he actually believed those dreams were real. That truth hadn't come to light until she had gone to visit him in the ICU after his arrest.
"Don't cry, Hannah," he'd said. "It's a mistake. I promise you. They're setting me up. I'll prove it. I already proved it in the green world. Bird and me, we took the whole organization down. I even sent Rex away to your sister's for the weekend so that he'd be safe when I went after them. Please, Hannah, don't cry."
She took a sharp breath and looked up at Dr. Lee.
"How much did he tell you about this weird alternate reality of his? This 'green world' he believes in?"
"Unfortunately, I'm not at liberty to discuss specifics, but I can tell you that it was definitely the primary focus of our sessions together. I really thought he was finally accepting the reality of Rex's death a few weeks ago, but I'm afraid that when his memory of the accident started to return, the pain was just so great that he couldn't cope with it. That's why he had to invent the conspiracy around Detective Hawkins: To shift blame for the accident away from himself."
"A few weeks ago?"
"He had sort of a meltdown, right around then, you know. I came home one night and found him on the floor, sobbing that Rex was really gone and that it was his fault. It was so out of the blue. I mean, I noticed that he'd been acting strangely, but I just thought it was stress because of Emma and the baby. I didn't think..." her voice trailed off. "I should have called you. I should have said something. I could have stopped this."
"Hannah, there's no way you could have predicted the extent of Michael's breakdown. This is not your fault. I assure you that."
Hannah gave her head a weak shake.
"I know that," she admitted quietly. "Logically, I know. But it's hard not to feel it anyway." She fidgeted with her hands for a minute and then spoke again.
"When can I see him?" she queried. "Can I see him now?"
Dr. Lee frowned.
"I think we should wait a few days," he said gently. "After the drugs have had a chance to take effect."
Hannah nodded. She hated to admit it, but Dr. Lee's answer was a relief. She didn't particularly want to see Michael in the state he was currently in, unable to speak or recognize who she was. A broken man. A silhouette of man.
I see a little silhouetto of a man...
"Well, thanks for your time, Dr. Lee. I'll expect to hear from you in a few days, then."
Dr. Lee stood up to shake Hannah's hand, and then opened the door for her. She felt almost numb as she wandered from his office out to the parking lot, as though somebody had reached inside of her and plucked out everything that could potentially cause a person to feel anything like pain.
Hannah slipped into the front seat of her car and turned on the ignition. She glanced back at the building behind her and took another deep breath.
"Goodbye, Michael," she whispered.
Then she drove away.