A/N: Based upon a fabulous graphic on tumblr. PM me if you'd like a link, I can't get it to stick in here for some reason!
Downton Asylum is open...
I should say here and now that all references to mental illness are made with only the briefest of glances over wikipedia so if they're wrong I apologise, I meant no offence.
"Are you nervous yet Mr Crawley?"
Matthew glanced sideways at the woman who'd greeted him at the front of house as they walked through the imposing entrance hall. It was stripped bare of course and Matthew could see the shadows on the walls from where furniture had once stood – he could imagine it well enough, pretty and opulent in its day before it had been sold and turned into an institution such as this. He spared the smallest thought for what had become of the former grandeur at Downton Abbey before he registered his guide's words.
"Just Dr Crawley I'm afraid. I'm not quite so skilled that I've become a Mr yet."
"You've been sent to us on the highest recommendation."
"Ah yes," he smiled charmingly at her before immediately ceasing. She didn't strike him as the sort of woman who was easily charmed. "But it was Downton's reputation that drew me here."
Mrs Elsie Hughes eyed him suspiciously. Every time they had a new Doctor or nurse or orderly sent to them there always seemed to be something in their eyes that she didn't like. An air of thinking this was a romantic occupation and the house was filled with tragedy and mystery and would serve easily as the setting for a Victorian novel. Well, she always put a stop to that as soon as possible and Dr Matthew Crawley would just have to learn as everyone else had.
"Be that as it may you'll still be on trial for the time being. This is a very delicate place and it can only be accessible by those who are fully committed to their profession and have no distraction."
She thought about showing him the little cemetery half a mile down the road where those who had been distracted and thus caught off guard by one of the inmates were currently housed but she shelved the idea. She was trying to escape the notion of Victorian melodrama after all and a visit to the churchyard would hardly be effective.
"I'll strive to be worthy, I can assure you."
She nodded brusquely, not quite mollified but quite aware that her hands were somewhat tied. People of Crawley's skill were hardly beating down the doors to come up to the middle of Yorkshire and associate with criminally insane women.
"We'll see. You can leave your luggage in the car for now, it'll be quite safe. I'm afraid I'm a little tied up this afternoon but I've asked one of our orderlies to show you around the house."
She gestured towards the bottom of the staircase and Matthew followed her summons. There were two people at the bottom of the staircase, a man and a woman chatting quite amicably, and his mind immediately began to question which was his guide. The man was tall, dark-haired, pale and carried an air of detachment that was so insolent it could only be forced. He must be an orderly; there was the faintest trace of a smile on his features but Matthew put that down to the man's companion: shorter, light red-hair, almost as pale but not quite and mid-grin at the conversation.
Yes, he thought as he surreptitiously glanced at Mrs Hughes again, they certainly don't appear to have any distractions.
"Dr Crawley, this is Thomas Barrow, our junior nurse."
The man came towards him and reached out a hand that Matthew immediately took.
"You're the new Doc then?"
"Well I'm not assigned to anyone in particular, but Mrs Hughes has been good enough to offer me a position for the foreseeable future."
Thomas nodded along and poked his cheek with his tongue.
"A yes would have done."
Edith laughed and Mrs Hughes didn't feel inclined to step in.
"I'll be free about four this afternoon if you need to see me about anything Dr Crawley."
She swept away and Matthew looked after her for a moment before turning back to Thomas, quite unabashed by the comment.
"She has a formidable reputation in our circles, I didn't imagine she'd be quite so…" He smiled. "I don't quite know how to describe it."
"Scottish?" Edith offered with a small smile.
"Well, austere I suppose."
"She's a bit of a throwback," Thomas sucked the air thoughtfully. "But she's alright and you could 'ave much worse bosses."
"Can we show him around?"
Edith looked jubilant at the idea and Matthew smiled at her enthusiasm. Whatever conversation he had interrupted clearly wasn't that important then and Thomas didn't look as put out at the idea as he had imagined the man he'd drawn her attention away from should.
"I suppose we better 'ad. Downstairs first I think Dr Crawley."
He followed them up along the passageway, paying more attention to the vigilant way Thomas looked around to the chatter from Edith as she talked about the house and its history and pointed out the odd inmate along the way. There was nothing too extraordinary so far: depression, withdrawal, paranoia, nothing to excite his attention, but he was still hopeful and when they reached the large open space that served as a communal room he immediately spotted someone that might be of interest to him.
He nodded discreetly towards the dark-haired woman. She didn't look like anything out of the ordinary and that very fact gave him pause. She was quietly talking to a woman sat in the corner of the room, keeping her rapt with whatever she was saying; there were tears in the back of her jogging bottoms that looked as though they had been randomly slashed at and behind her back her fingers were fiddling with a piece of paper that she was running her thumb of the edge of with frequency.
She finally turned away from the soon forgotten brunette as Edith and Thomas followed his gaze and spotted the woman he was indicating. Eyes flashed at him with interest, with amusement and then realisation before she dismissed him and crossed the room to sit next to another woman her own age, handing over the paper.
"Introverted personality perhaps? She is talking to the others though…is there a reasons she's on her guard?"
Thomas raised his eyebrow.
"A very good one actually."
Edith met Thomas' eye and he saw them share a smirk before his new colleague turned to him properly.
"She's not an inmate. She's on our side."
"Side?" Edith shot at him, with amusement dancing around her words. Thomas rolled his eyes.
"You know what I mean."
"I don't I'm afraid Mr Barrow. You mean to say that woman is an orderly?"
"Worse than that," Thomas looked back at the strange woman once more. "She's one of the senior Doctors."
He boggled at the woman as she met his gaze again, amusement not the only emotions evident in her features and she nodded perceptibly in his direction, acknowledging him without disturbing the woman she was now obviously assessing.
"Well I suppose at least you two look like you've actually come to work here."
Edith's eyes reached her eyebrows at that and even Thomas looked like he might laugh. Matthew looked between them and tried to fathom the joke, before slowly things began to niggle at him.
"One of the damned? Yes, I'm afraid so."
"Sorry, I don't mean to be melodramatic but it's awfully difficult when you're locked into your room every night by a dashing man," she laid her hand casually on Thomas's arm and gave him a simpering look that was ruined by her laughter escaping. "With only novels for company."
Thomas rolled his eyes at her theatrics and reached up to remove her hand, not unkindly Matthew noticed.
"Go on, you're late for your art class."
"Fine. I'll try not to draw you as a still life Mr Barrow."
She nodded politely at Matthew and, still looking rather amused, walked away calmly. Matthew stared after her curiously.
"She finds her incarceration amusing?"
"If she didn't," Thomas started with a wry eyebrow. "She might go mad."
Matthew shot him a sharp look.
"If you'll excuse my phrasing."
"Well what's actually wrong with her?"
"Ah, I see. I take it then that she's in her hypomanic state at the moment?"
"She's been like that for months now, just happy to go along with anything and everything. Not a bit of trouble…you forget sometimes with Edith when she's like this."
Matthew nodded and saw the flicker on the younger man's face.
"I can imagine."
The Doctor he had been observing appeared at his shoulder with unnerving silence.
"Dr Crawley I presume?"
He felt his heart rate beat faster at the sudden arrival of the quick voice and spotted Thomas looking more than a bit amused as he left them to it and wandered amongst the inmates, keeping an eye on them all.
"Yes. And you are?"
"Dr Sarah O'Brien. I'm your liaison for the time you're here."
"Yes," she looked him dead in the eye without the slightest bit of confusion on her features. "I heard you were on your way so I looked into your history," she began to walk down the corridor, gesturing for him to follow her. "You're very impressive aren't you?"
"I like to think I've done well."
"Very well for your age."
"Does my age get me a liaison then?"
"No, the fact you're writing a book gets you a liaison."
"I wasn't aware it was widely known."
"It isn't. But a young lady at your last place of work was good enough to pass the information on to me."
Her lip curled into a smile he might have called cruel if it had lingered for more than a second before she turned to head up the staircase.
"Don't worry though, I've no intention of exposing you. I was intending to help you."
"At best Dr Crawley it'll take you three months to get to know all of the women and longer still to assess their problems and decide which you find the most interesting. And that's even without the ones that you're not likely to meet."
"Some people spend their whole lives in solitary confinement for good reason," she muttered darkly.
"And so you propose to speed this along for me?"
She turned at the top of the staircase again, not speaking until she had opened one of the doors and stood back for him to enter. He looked around the office – clean, neat, organised to the point that a few diagnosis for Dr O'Brien were on the top of his tongue before he quenched them, and above all else, unlived in. Whatever she did here she certainly didn't spend much time in her office.
"I propose to point you in the right direction. Sit down."
He did as he was told, feeling uncomfortably like he was back at school and had been brought in front of the headmistress.
"If you need it of course."
"And what if I don't?"
She leaned back in her seat and observed him critically.
"If you think you've got the lay of the land already the by all means I'll leave you to it, but some of these patients are bloody awkward at best."
Matthew smiled to himself.
"I think I'll be able to diagnose them successfully enough."
Dr O'Brien's face set into something that might have been annoyance but which Matthew couldn't entirely identify.
"Alright then, I tell you what. I'll bring one of the family-" He raised a hand to pause her.
"Can we please call them what they are?"
"No. I'll bring one of them in – my choice – and you can tell me what's wrong with her."
Matthew shook his head and furrowed his brow. What was the matter with this woman – was she under the impression that all this was amusing? He'd gotten the impression from Mrs Hughes that this was a highly serious place of work and he had expected no less, but Thomas Barrow treated the hospital as a social club and Dr O'Brien struck Matthew as the type of woman who enjoyed an uncontrolled experiment.
"That's highly unorthodox."
She rolled her eyes and reached for her telephone, punching in a few number before waiting.
"You're not in the classroom anymore Dr Crawley, this is serious medicine. Mr Carson? Can you bring her up to my office please?...Thank you."
A few minutes later, during which time Dr O'Brien had said nothing about the patient on her way, there was a knock on the door. Instinctively Matthew jumped to his feet.
The door opened to reveal a man in his fifties, dressed quite as casually as O'Brien was but with an air of seriousness about him that immediately made Matthew look upon him favourably. The man nodded politely towards him before stepping aside and gesturing for a young woman to enter.
Matthew shuddered silently.
The woman was, by all out appearances at least, rather beautiful. Long hair was pulled back neatly and clearly well-cared for and the darkness of it set off her pale face rather more dramatically than he thought it would have done if she were on the outside and saw sunlight. She glanced with bored insolence towards him before looking over at Dr O'Brien with much the same expression and taking the seat next to his.
She didn't shuffle away, which was unusual. From a periphery glance Matthew couldn't see any mania or physical signs of depression, however as she settled into her seat she tilted her head to the side and for the first time he spotted an odd scar underneath her ear. It looked almost as though someone had left an indentation of something round and about the size of a two-pence piece but no sooner had he spotted it Mary twisted her head to look at his without any censure or impression that she was the one under scrutiny.
"Is this the new Doctor?"
"This is Dr Crawley, he'll be joining the staff."
The briefest flicker of emotion passed over immobile features and Matthew thought he caught a glimpse of panic.
"Why am I here? He's not my new handler is he?"
She turned her head sharply to where Carson was still standing upright. He met her eyes soothingly and shook his head without saying a word, immediately making her settle and return to the former blankness.
"No Mary," Dr O'Brien, Matthew noticed with interest, had not changed her manner in the slightest. She spoke to the inmates in the same way she spoke to the staff and he wasn't sure whether that was beneficial for them or an indication of how she felt about her colleagues. Or perhaps it was just him?
"Dr Crawley just wanted to meet one of the inmates. And I thought after three months in solitary confinement you might like to see some daylight."
Mary raised a sculpted eyebrow in the other woman's direction but got no response for her silent insolence and instead rolled her eyes and once again returned to neutral.
She's like a car, Matthew pondered. The way she switched from mild emotion to nothingness every time was positively robotic in it's method: somewhere along the way Mary had trained herself to react like this, he decided.
"I may not be your handler but I'd very much like to ask you a few questions if I may?"
She didn't move her head from looking straight in front of her but her eyes flickered in his direction and she sent a questioning look to Dr O'Brien once again and received a short nod for her trouble this time.
"I don't see why not."
Neither O'Brien nor Carson moved a muscle and Matthew resigned himself to only being granted a short time.
"May I ask your age?"
Mary matched his tone.
"You may. As of this year I shall be twenty six."
"And how many years have you been here now?"
"Five," she monotoned, already looking bored.
"Have you been happy here?"
"Happy?" She fixed him with a disbelieving look before turning to O'Brien. "Has he come across Kommandant Hughes yet?"
"Just answer him Mary."
"Ask something else," she snarled in his direction. "I wouldn't know the difference."
He nodded as calmly as he had before.
"Have you ever attacked your handler?"
"What, hurt Mr Carson?" She looked between Matthew and O'Brien with mock-hurt and dramatically wide eyes, her lips curling into a smirk as she settled on the other woman. "What have you been telling him about me Doctor?"
"I haven't told him a thing."
"You seemed agitated when you thought I was replacing him. Is it a strong bond?"
Before Mary could answer O'Brien cut across him.
"You're assessing her Doctor, not the way we look after our inmates."
Mary's lips twisted in amusement.
"Assessing me? Have you run out of textbooks of your own Dr O'Brien? Or are you getting me out the way because the Countess is due a visit?"
The low voice came from behind Matthew and he turned his head, having quite forgotten that Carson was still there. For her part Mary stopped speaking, and gave no indication that she intended to speak again but she turned her head ever so slightly towards Carson, not looking at him, but clearly drawing his attention.
"Doctor, I think it would be wise if I took Mary back to her bedroom."
O'Brien nodded and Mary was on her feet quickly enough, rounding the chair and Matthew thought she was quite gone before she turned back and caught his eye once more, with a curious look about her. He could think of nothing to say so instead nodded vaguely. Carson gently placed a hand on his charge's back and opened the door, but thought better of leaving at the last moment and turned to O'Brien.
"I wondered if Mary might be allowed library books again. Three months is longer than we agreed on I think you'll find."
"Fine," O'Brien nodded them out and they left, Mary having the briefest smiles on her face and looking at no one but the gruff man who was closing the door behind them.
Silence reigned as O'Brien reached for the water glass on her table and dropped two pills that immediately fizzed into it.
"So what's your diagnosis Dr Crawley?"
He sat still for a moment, feeling quite shell-shocked until finally he looked up to meet her eyes. Mary hadn't been extraordinary in any particular way - even Edith, when he came to think about it, had displayed more symptoms - but there was definitely something, even if it was vague. He had to say something though, or else he would fail this test utterly.
"Well, I have an idea but you're the senior here and you've observed her for longer."
"A personality disorder? I can't think of anything that fits exactly off the top of my head." He chanced.
She nodded along with an air of boredom.
"Yes, that's as close as any of us have gotten too. She seems like your classic tyrannical sadist really, but sometimes…well, she's a bit of a funny one. Can't be diagnosed. Most sadists pick on people they don't know, it's about watching other people hurt, nothing else, but Mary has never, to the best of my knowledge, done anything to anyone she doesn't know. And everyone hates their neighbours so it's hardly abnormal."
"So it's always personal?"
"The last one certainly was."
Sarah reached into her drawer and pulled out a folder which she dropped on the table and pushed towards him. Matthew took it eagerly and opened it to be greeted with a picture of another dark-haired woman, this one clearly older.
"Is this her mother?" He glanced at the name. Vera Bates.
"No. Her mother's dead. This is the last woman that died here. Did you see the scar," she pointed at the spot just under her right ear. "On Mary?"
"Yes, it looked quite recent."
"Three months ago she got into a fight with Vera. They were never what you'd call friends, both of them were usually in solitary confinement for the sake of the other inmates and when we let them out we never let them out together but there was a bit of a mix up with that and they ended up in the gardens together. The first thing Vera did was snap a branch the nearest tree and try to shove it through Mary's ear."
Matthew furrowed his brow and looked down at the woman again. Her face was entirely neutral in the photograph but there was an odd glint to her eyes of the sort he'd only ever seen in storms.
"Vera suffered a fall when she was in her early twenties and lost most of her hearing from head trauma. She didn't take it too well and didn't like the thought of other people being able to hear things she couldn't, so she collected ears."
He swallowed and looked down at the fairly average looking woman staring back at him nondescriptly as O'Brien drank her painkiller concoction in one.
"Was it compulsive?"
"Very much so. Hence the attempt on Mary. But we split them up and patched Mary up and she was fine. Vera's handler was convinced that it wasn't the end of it but we couldn't see how anything could occur if we kept them both under observation but it turned out that in the night Mary was talking through the walls."
"To her neighbour?"
"Anna Smith. Extreme paranoia. Mary convinced her that the only way to save herself was to kill Vera. We're not sure when she finally managed to break Anna but about a week after the fight we found Vera…or what was left of her, naked and tied face down in her bed having been suffocated and with little 'M's carved into about thirty places."
Matthew finally tore his eye away from the woman in the picture, closing the file and placing it back on the desk away from him.
"Why are you telling me this? I'm not going to be her handler."
"No, but if you're writing a book about interesting cases I think Mary might be right up your alley."
"I was rather more interested by Cora Levinson-"
"Leave Cora alone."
There was no room for argument in Dr O'Brien's tone and Matthew met her gaze challengingly.
"I understand if you have your personal objections but how is her case anymore sensitive than Mary's? Cora Levinson killed thirteen people-"
"Men. She killed thirteen men. If we keep her in a female environment she's reasonably well-adjusted, but if we put her into direct contact with a man she doesn't know there's more chance of you becoming number fourteen than there is you finishing your book."
"Surely she can't-"
"How old are you Dr Crawley?"
He furrowed his brow once more, feeling quite on the back foot with O'Brien already.
"How old? It's a simple question really, Mary could manage it."
"I'll be thirty this year."
O'Brien nodded pointedly.
"So when Cora Levinson was first caught and convicted you'd have been…ten years old. Did your mother let you read the papers at the time? Or is everything you know from that god-awful book that hack produced?"
He straightened his back, caught out but intrigued.
"No, I don't remember much from the time."
"Do you know why they call her the Countess?"
"Because they found her in a bath of her final victims' blood. Well the last one before…"
"My predecessor," O'Brien shuffled forwards in her seat and took the folder containing the unmarked photograph of Vera Bates and for one dreadful moment Matthew thought she was going to show him an image of Cora's previous attendant.
"You have a choice Dr Crawley, you can have the easier, less interesting cases like Edith, or perhaps you'd be interested in a paranoiac? I still have Anna on solitary confinement but there's a plucky little thing that you might like who convinced fifteen people to join her in a suicide bomb attempt because they believed her conspiracies."
She raised her eyebrow expectantly and the feeling of being given a scolding returned to him again. But this was nonsense! He was a grown man who had been sent here to do a job and senior Doctor or not, he was not going to be dictated to by Sarah O'Brien.
"And if I want someone more interesting?"
"Then you're more than welcome to try your luck with Mary. It's a shame really, had you come a few months ago I would have directed you towards Vera. She was just as…unorthodox, but rather more inclined to be the focus of a book."
O'Brien lifted up the folder to her eye line for a second before an amused look came over her face and she looked to him.
"I suppose she'll have to settle for being a footnote now."
She replaced the folder with a flourish and snapped her desk drawer shut.
"Mary then. Will I become her handler or will Mr Carson carry on?"
"It's best if Carson carries on, she responds best to him and there's no point kicking a wasp's nest after all. I'll find you someone to look after yourself if you like but Mary stays with Carson."
He nodded, quite mollified by the new arrangement. It might not quite be the infamous Countess that he had recently become so fascinated by but Mary's case seemed just as intriguing.
"Is she a killer?"
O'Brien raised an eyebrow and inclined her head with intrigue all over her face.
"Ah, that's the question Dr Crawley. And your guess is as good as mine."
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