Supernatural is not mine.
Holy crap, you guys, I actually finished it! Many thanks to everyone who's stuck with me thus far, and especially to those who've been generous enough to let me know what they think. Especial thanks in this chapter go out to sugarquill4ron, November'sGuest, SilverKitsune1, Ash8, ToritheReviewer, bally2cute, sasha2002, Ashti, carocali, Harrigan, JazzyIrish, MistyEyes, Nana56, PissedOffEskimo, PadfootObsessed329, Onari, mtee1958, Liz Bach and Mellaithwen. You guys rule! Hope you enjoy the end of the story.
But for the Grace, Chapter Thirteen
OK, so everyone thought that, no-one ever wanted to go to a hospital, not even the freakin doctors and nurses or orderlies or whatever that worked there, because hospitals were full of sick people and if you were there, it not only meant that either you were sick or someone you knew was, but it also seriously increased your chances of catching something else, not to mention being thrown up on (and Jesus, this was a psych hospital which meant the chances of having to deal with crazy people were higher than they usually were even in Dean's line of work), and let's not forget, being patronised.
Yeah, definitely let's not forget being patronised, because if the woman behind the goddamn reception desk didn't stop with it pretty soon Dean was going to tell her exactly where she could stick her perfect smile (Jesus, she was one of them, one of the zombies from the goddamn rehab leaflet, Christ they were fucking following him now), and he was pretty sure that would get him thrown out, and he wouldn't be much use to Sam then.
"No, Winchester," Sam was saying, leaning over the desk. "With a W. Yeah."
"I see," the woman said, and her cheeks must have been aching like they'd been for a ten-mile run, she was smiling so goddamn hard. "Now, Mr. Winchester, what makes you think you need to check in here?"
Dean shifted his weight to his back foot, but Sam just straightened up and smiled in that bitter way that made Dean want to put his fist through a wall and said, "I'm crazy. Why else would anyone want to check in here?"
Dean snorted. Ha. Bitch hadn't expected that. And it was true, her smile faltered slightly, and then shifted into a more brittle register. "We don't--" she started, but Sam cut her off.
"Here," he said, handing her a slip of paper. "These are my insurance details and the name and number of my doctor in Nebraska. Have your people give him a call." She stared, and Sam raised his eyebrows at her. "We'll wait over there," he said, gesturing at a screened-off area with a few armchairs and a stack of magazines.
Dean followed Sam to the waiting room or whatever the hell it was (not really a room as such, more like a... what did you call a screened-off area inside a bigger room, anyway? There had to be a name for it, right? More importantly, why the fuck was Dean getting so worked up about it when his brother was about to be committed, for Christ's sake, and maybe that was why, maybe it was because if Dean thought about some dumb shit then he wouldn't have to think about what was actually going on, because Sam said it was OK, he said he would be OK, but that didn't change the fact that he was scared as hell, Dean could tell even if no-one else would be able to, the muscles clenching in his back and his fingers fluttering and fidgeting in his lap and oh yeah, Sam was terrified) and slumped into a chair that was definitely less comfortable than it looked. He thought about saying something, asking Sam if he was OK or whatever, but that would be a freakin joke, because Sam would either say yeah I'm fine, which would be a lie, or fuck, no, I'm not OK, which would be true but there would still be nothing they could do about it. So Dean just sat and opened the first magazine that came to hand, staring at it without seeing it for at least a minute before he registered Sam's smirk and realised he was holding a copy of Cosmopolitan open at an article about how best to please your man in bed.
"Something you're not telling me?" Sam asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Research, Sam," Dean breezed. "Finding out how the female mind works is the best way to getting hands-on experience in how the female body works, you know?" Yeah, that was good, that was a good comeback.
"If you want to know how the female body works, all you've got to do is experiment in the shower," Sam said, and Dean was struck pretty much dumb, because it had been two weeks and Sam had been coming round, being Sam, but sometimes still he would come out with shit like this (and his Sam would never have been able to say something like that without blushing, God) and Dean would feel like he'd been punched in the gut with the differences, with what this Sam's life had done to him.
But should he feel that way, really? I mean, what Sam had said was the sort of thing that Dean would say, and that wasn't the end of the world, the fact that this Sam acted a little more like Dean wasn't a national fucking tragedy, right? Except that Dean didn't want Sam to be like him, all wisecracks and distance and never finding the words to say what needed to be said until it was too late. Dean didn't want that for Sam, he'd never wanted it.
Jesus Christ, he so had to get out of his own head. A fucking crack about him reading a chick mag (which he still had open, he realised, and he shut it sharply, because yeah, maybe he wanted to read what it had to say, a little, but there had to be something about cars or some such shit in the pile, right?) had sent him off into an emo mindfuck that would do Sam proud. Maybe he should just pack it in and start listening to indie music and cutting himself. He bet he would look great in eyeliner. (Jesus, where did that come from?)
After some rummaging, Dean managed to find a copy of Rolling Stone, but he wasn't much in the mood for reading, and it didn't help that Sam's nervous fidgeting was getting more and more pronounced as time passed. Finally (finally) a guy in a white coat appeared in the... whatever the hell the name of the thing they were sitting in was (and Christ, it had to have a name, because it was really fucking inconvenient to have to keep thinking of it this way) and said Sam Winchester?
Sam stood up, and Dean did too, and the doc looked from one to the other in bemusement.
"I'm Sam," said Sam (which was fair enough).
The doctor smiled and held out his hand. "I'm Doctor Marshall," he said. "This way, please."
Sam followed the doctor, and Dean followed Sam. Marshall frowned. "Usually we like to interview prospective patients alone," he said pointedly.
Prospective patients. Jesus, he made it sound like everyone was dying to get in here. Fucking mental institution, Jesus Christ. Dean felt Sam stiffen beside him, and he met the doctor's stare without flinching.
"Not this time," he said.
The doctor's office was pretty damn cushy, if you liked that sort of thing (which Dean didn't), leather chairs and framed certificates on the wall (yeah, that really would have inspired confidence if Dean couldn't've whipped an identical one up in about twenty minutes with a decent printer) and the smell of money. Dean shifted in his chair. He hated the smell of money (unless it was his).
"Sam," the guy – Marshall – leaned forward in his chair in what was probably meant to be a sincere and confidential posture, but really made him look like his stomach hurt, "Doctor Blakefield tells me you were doing well when he discharged you."
Blakefield. Dean filed the name away between James Blunt and Jar Jar Binks in the drawer in his head marked 'people whose asses I'm gonna kick if I ever get the chance' (yeah, OK, so Jar Jar Binks was a fictional character, but Dean was in an alternate dimension for Christ's sake, and if that was possible, anything was, and Jesus that guy was a jackass).
"I was," Sam said, "I was doing... OK. But then recently things kind of got worse."
"Worse?" Marshall asked. "How so?"
"I've been... seeing things. People. Well, one person, to be exact," Sam said.
"Really?" Marshall's pen hovered over his clipboard. "Who is this person?"
Samlet out a rush of air that was kind of a laugh. "He says he's my brother." And was that a flick of his eyes in Dean's direction?
"And do you believe him?"
Sam shrugged. "Not at first, because, you know, I'm an only child and all. But lately... Yeah, I think I do."
Marshall wrote something down, his face neutral. Dean sat on his hands to stop himself fidgeting, because he hadn't thought about it, hadn't thought that Sam might talk about him like he was some kind of mental illness. It made sense, because the best way to lie was to tell as much of the truth as possible, but even so, it was weird.
"How does he explain where he was when you were growing up?" Marshall asked. "Was he adopted?"
"Actually," Sam said, like it was the most natural fucking thing in the world, and was the little bastard enjoying this? "he's from an alternate dimension."
Marshall's pen paused, and his face twitched.
"Yeah, I know," said Sam, "that's what I thought too. But see, it turns out that actually I did have a brother, only he died in a fire when I was a baby, and Dean, he's from a reality where that didn't happen. You know, like with quantum physics."
Marshall managed to collect himself enough to write something down. He cleared his throat, and actually, Dean was kind of enjoying this now, too. "How often do you see this brother?" he asked.
"Oh, all the time," said Sam. "He never fucking leaves me alone. He's here right now, in fact."
Marshall's eyes flicked around the room, then over to Dean, and Dean stared back and shrugged. It was true, he was there.
"And what does he say to you?" Marshall asked. "Does he tell you to do things?"
Sam laughed. "Not so much tell as order. He's a bossy son of a bitch." Dean rolled his eyes, but Sam ignored him, his mouth twitching slightly.
"What kind of things does he want you to do?" the doctor asked.
"Mainly he wants me to help him get back to his reality," Sam said. "See, the version of me that's there is in danger of being kidnapped by demons. Because he's psychic. So mainly he just drags me round the country trying to work out how to do a spell to get him back."
"I see," Marshall said, and Dean wondered if he was writing all this down to mail to network TV as the basis for their next big sci-fi smash. "The alternate version of you is psychic?"
"Yeah," Sam said. "I am, too, actually."
Dean swallowed a snort. His Sam had always wanted to be able to be completely honest with people about who he was, but Dean wasn't sure this was what he had had in mind.
Marshall seemed to think for a bit, and then said, "How do you feel about your brother? Do you get on with him?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "Mostly he's a gigantic pain in the ass." Dean cleared his throat loudly and resisted the urge to punch his brother on the arm. Marshall looked at him.
"Do you have something you'd like to add, Mr...?" he said.
Dean straightened up a little in the chair. "Osbourne. And no, I just had a, you know." He gestured at his throat and made harrumphing noises. The doc nodded and turned back to Sam.
"Would you elaborate?"
Great. Goddamn shrink just asked Sam to elaborate on how I'm a pain in the ass. We're gonna be here all day.
Sam shrugged. "He drags me round with him everywhere, he acts like I'm made of glass, he's always trying to run my life, and he thinks he knows better than me what I want."
Dean sank lower in his seat. Jesus, he pretty much wished he'd taken the doctor up on his offer to stay in the waiting... place. This sucked.
"And how does that make you feel?" the doc asked.
"Annoyed. Frustrated." Sam shot Dean a glance, then looked away. "Safe," he said.
"Dude, this place is swanky," Dean said, bouncing on the bed. "You get a cell all to yourself and everything."
Sam rolled his eyes. They'd given him a cream t-shirt and sweatpants to wear, and taken away his shoes (which meant, at least, that they were on an even footing now, even if Dean had got a few funny looks for wandering around bare-foot), and he looked kind of fragile. He acts like I'm made of glass, that's what Sam had said, and yeah, OK, maybe it was true, but Dean wouldn't do it if Sam didn't break quite so freakin often.
"So this isn't the room Sam's in, then?" Dean asked, examining the door lock. It looked pretty simple.
"No, his room faces the other direction," Sam replied.
"Well then, let's go on a tour," Dean said.
"Dean, they're not going to let you wander round here like you own the place," Sam said. "I'm the crazy one, remember?"
Dean frowned, because the last thing he needed was these idiots convincing Sam that he was delusional again. "Sam, we've been through this. You're not crazy."
Sam rolled his eyes. "I know that. In the context of this insane plan, I am the crazy one, OK? I'll check it out later, when I get a chance."
Dean was about to argue (just for the sake of it, really, because he knew Sam was right, but something had lifted since their conversation the previous day, something dark between them was gone, and it felt good to argue about stupid shit again) when a middle-aged woman came in and said "Sam, we need you for an evaluation." She looked at Dean. "Sam's going to be busy for the rest of the day, settling in. You can come back and visit him in the morning, if you want."
"Yeah, OK, I know when I'm not wanted," Dean said, even though a thrill of nervousness skittered up his spine at the thought of leaving Sam alone in this place. "You got everything?"
Sam nodded. "I'll be OK."
Yeah, I've heard that one before, thought Dean (and seriously, he had, people always said I'm OK just before offing themselves or getting their heads blown off or getting ripped to shreds by freakin zombies, and OK, maybe that was only in the movies and maybe it was pretty unlikely that any of those things were going to happen to Sam in here (well, except the zombie thing, because there was still the reception-desk chick to worry about), but it never hurt to be too careful). "OK, well, make me a macaroni picture, OK?"
Sam scowled. "Fuck you, asshole," he said, but something about the way he said it made Dean grin like an idiot.
Dean sat in the Impala across the street from what he'd come to think of as the Fucking Lunatic Asylum (OK, not that original a name, but Dean wasn't exactly at his best right now) and waited. He'd been waiting pretty much since he'd left the goddamn place that afternoon, and now it was dark and he was so sick of waiting that it was making him feel actually nauseous. They'd prepared too well, which basically meant he'd had fuck all to do all afternoon but reread the words of the spell for the fifteen-hundred-and-seventh time (what? he'd counted) and worry. Because if this got fucked up, it was going to be pretty difficult for them to convince the docs at the Fucking Lunatic Asylum to keep Sam on long enough to give them another chance.
Because if this got fucked up, it might be too late for second chances.
Dean shifted in his seat and glared at his phone, willing it to ring. What the hell was Sam thinking? Even if he'd scoped out the place and worked out that Dean couldn't break in yet because of some situation with night watchmen or whatever, he should have called by now. Dean knew he'd left Sam's phone hidden under the mattress of his shiny new bed, along with all the other stuff they needed, so Sam was basically either being an asshole, or he'd run into trouble. But what the hell kind of trouble could he run into in a place where everyone was locked up for the night?
Dean remembered having this same conversation with himself two weeks before, when he'd woken up in a motel room and found Sam gone. He'd thought it might be Sam being an asshole then, too, and he'd been wrong (well, OK, when he'd finally found him Sam had pretty much been an asshole, but that wasn't totally relevant). He cursed under his breath, stared at the goddamn phone for another minute and a half, chewed his lip, changed the radio station a few times, and finally hauled himself out of the car and shot a glare at the Fucking Lunatic Asylum, where his brother was being tortured by demons in one reality and going to group therapy in another one. God, he hated that freakin place.
OK, well, Sam hadn't called, and Dean wasn't waiting any more. He grabbed the duffle with all the things he'd prepared and slipped across the street into the parking lot. The doors were locked, but that was not going to be a problem. On the other hand, this wasn't breaking into an empty mansion in the wide spaces of the Pacific North-West, this was breaking into a building full of crazy people within shouting distance of the nearest neighbours, and he had to be careful, because there was no way, no way he could fuck this up (except Sam hadn't called, which meant that something was already fucked up, but Dean wasn't going to think too hard about that, because, well, because he wasn't, OK?).
He put his hand in his pocket for his lock-picks, but his fingers snagged on something stiff and slightly sticky, and he pulled out the photo that he'd found under the passenger seat of the Impala back at Jim's. Jesus, had that only been a week ago? It felt like months. He examined the thing for a moment in the dim light filtering down from the streetlights – whatever that crap was that had been smeared all over it was still there, but that was about all he could make out in the dark, and there was no time to be mooning over old photos right now. There was work to be done.
Dean shoved the picture back in his pocket and managed to find the lock-picks. He stood by the door for a while, peering through the windows to see if there was anyone patrolling or whatever (what? It wasn't like he knew what people did in Fucking Lunatic Asylums at night, apart from go crazy or whatever and maybe conduct gross experiements, if TV and his own personal experience were to be believed), but it seemed clear. OK, time to go in.
The lock was no hassle at all, and the place didn't seem to be alarmed, which Dean thought was kind of an oversight when you've got a bunch of psychos up there, but he guessed they were more concerned with keeping people in than they were with keeping them out (oh, and by the way, he did not appreciate the fact that his brain had decided to take this moment to lecture him in Sam's voice on the evils of using the word psycho to describe the mentally ill, Jesus, did no-one have a sense of humour any more? OK, OK, bunch of nutjobs, then). The corridors were dimly lit and annoyingly quiet, but Dean wasn't wearing any shoes (he'd finally decided that taking a single boot back with him to another dimension was more trouble than it was worth), so the noise his footsteps made was almost undetectable. Luckily, that wasn't true of the nurse who Dean would have walked straight into at a junction if he hadn't heard her coming.
He remembered the way to the ward Sam was on without too much trouble, climbing the stairs and hoping that Sam was in his room and not wandering around the corridors doing God knows what. The ward door was more of a challenge than the first, partly because the damn thing was in full view of the security guard slacking off behind his desk, but eventually the guy went off to assist in the crazy doctor's experiments or whatever (come on, a nuthouse that looked like this, there had to be a crazy doctor doing experiments, hell, the zombie chick from earlier was probably the result of one of them), and Dean was able to do his thing and slip through unnoticed.
It got kind of trickier after that, though, because it turned out that when the corridor was dark and all the doors were closed, the ward looked pretty different to how it had in the daytime, and Dean remembered that he had to turn right at the first junction, but after that he was basically kind of screwed. He knew Sam's room was somewhere a few doors down from the turning, but he had no idea if it was two or four or freakin three-point-five, and the damn things didn't even have numbers on them for Christ's sake, how the hell did anyone find their way around in here (well, apart from the fact that probably most people found their way around in daylight, or at least with the lights on). Each door had a little window in it, but that was pretty freakin useless because it was dark on the other side and Dean couldn't see a goddamn thing. Damn. Damn.
OK, he needed to calm down. It was only just midnight, and there was time to do this, there was time, there was no freakin need to freakin panic (and too many freakin uses of the word freakin didn't count as panicking, it was just being expressive). Dean went back to the junction and closed his eyes, trying to remember walking down there with Sam earlier in the day. He'd been tense then, on edge (yeah, and he was totally fucking zen right now), checking out the rooms as they passed, trying to see if there were any threats to Sam, anything that should make him say OK, we're calling this shit off right now.
He started moving down the corridor, his eyes still closed. The first room on the left had had a tired-looking teenage girl sitting on the bed, who hadn't looked up as they passed. The one on the right had been empty. OK. The second on the left had had a guy who just stared, which probably was meant to freak Dean out but he pretty much had just stared back because he was Dean Winchester and he was really goddamn good at staring competitions, even with crazy people (or nutjobs or whatever – what the hell had he decided he was calling them?). The one on the right had had some guy sleeping. OK. The third room on the left had been empty, and the third on the right...
The third on the right. That was it.
Dean peered through the little window, even though he'd already proved to himself that the damn things were useless, because it was a window, so you had to look through it, right? He couldn't make out anything except vague shapes on the other side, though, and he knelt down and pulled out his picks again.
The door opened without a sound, and Dean sent up a silent prayer of thanks to the god of hinges (oh, come on, there had to be someone in charge of hinges up there). There was the bed, and a huddled shape on it, and Dean hoped to God it was Sam as he slid the door shut again, because if he was wrong and he was about to wake up a stranger then he might just find himself in serious trouble.
He padded over to the bed and laid one hand on what he figured was probably the person's shoulder (Jesus Christ, it was dark). "Sam."
No response. Dean's eyes were gradually getting used to the darkness inside the room, though, and he was pretty sure it was Sam now, that hair was pretty much unmistakeable. "Sam," he said again in a loud whisper, and shook Sam's shoulder (and by the way, he was getting kind of tired of shaking Sam awake, it was like being freakin eighteen again). Sam mumbled something, and Dean said, "Yeah, that's right, Sammy, time to get your ass out of bed," and now that he was sure it was Sam he was starting to get pretty pissed off, because what the hell was he doing, they had a plan goddammit and Sam knew that if they fucked up then there were no more chances and all he'd had to do was find the room and call Dean, and instead here he was sleeping.
"Dean?" Sam said, voice blurred with sleep.
"Yeah, it's me," Dean said, thinking he should have known better, thinking that he could trust this Sam just because he looked and sounded like his Sam, after the bar fights and the running away and everything else you'd think he would have been more careful. "Get the hell up."
"'M sorry," Sam said, and started to sit up but then wobbled and sort of slumped over, and Dean only just caught him before he crashed onto the floor. "Sorry, Dean," he muttered again, and he was slurring like he was wasted, and then Dean worked out that something was wrong and felt his anger evaporate instantly.
"Jesus, Sam, what happened?" he asked, kneeling by the bed and holding Sam upright.
"Vision," Sam said, "tried to tell them it was OK, but..." he swayed, and Dean tightened his grip on his shoulders. "They drugged me," he finished.
"Shit," Dean said (and oh yeah, that anger was totally back now times a freakin million, only it wasn't Sam he was angry at any more). "You OK?"
Sam raised a hand to scrub at his face, and missed. "Feel weird," he said.
"Great," Dean muttered. He'd totally forgotten that it was likely Sam would have a vision while he was in the Fucking Lunatic Asylum, and what it would look like to the doctors. Jesus, he'd just left Sam here, in the one place he didn't want to go for Christ's sake, and now look at him. He might as well have put him in a box marked worst nightmare and had done.
"'S OK, Dean," Sam said, fingers pressing against Dean's arm. "I can... handle it. We need to get you home." He leaned heavily on Dean, trying to pull himself up, but Dean pushed him back down firmly.
"No way, Sam. You can't even freakin touch your nose, let alone paint all that shit on my back."
"I can," Sam said, sounding petulant, and went for his nose, poking himself in the eye in the process. "Ow," he said miserably. "Shit."
"Yeah," Dean replied. What the hell were they going to do?
"It'll... it'll wear off in a couple of hours," Sam said, sounding more hopeful than convinced. "It was still... early when they gave it to me."
"OK," Dean said, thinking fast. "I'll stay as long as I can and we'll see how it goes, OK?"
"OK," Sam said, sinking back down onto the bed. "Sorry," he said again.
Dean rubbed his hand over his chin. "Shove over," he said. Since he was stuck here, he might as well get a little rest. Sam shuffled along without complaint, and Dean managed to just about accommodate himself on the narrow strip of bed that was left over after Sam's ginormous frame had taken up most of it. "God," he said, staring at the ceiling. "This is fucked up." And yeah, he was lying on a bed with his drugged recovering-alcoholic not-really brother in a Fucking Lunatic Asylum that looked like even the other nuthouses avoided it because it was too goddamn creepy, but that wasn't actually what he meant, which just went to show how very, very fucked up everything in Dean's life had become.
"You gonna sleep?" Sam asked.
"Nah. For some reason, I'm just not in the mood," Dean said. "Hey, you think anyone ever killed anyone in this room?"
There was a pause that was long enough for Dean to wonder if Sam had fallen asleep again, and then he replied, "What the hell kind of question is that?"
Dean shrugged. "This place is pretty old. And full of nutjobs. That sort of thing's bound to happen, right?"
"Jesus, you're... really Mr. Sensitive, aren't you?" Sam said, sounding like getting the words out was pretty hard going.
"So they tell me," Dean grinned. "So, whaddya think, murder? Or maybe suicide? Maybe in this very bed."
"Goddamn..." Sam muttered, and Dean's grin widened. Not so funny now, are we? Yeah, OK, so maybe it was childish to take advantage of the fact that Sam was drugged to retake his crown as the funny one, but there was fuck-all else to do and if he stopped irritating the shit out of his little brother, he was afraid the reality of their situation was going to come crashing down and then he really would be screwed.
"Murder, definitely murder," he decided.
"There's gonna be... fucking murder," Sam muttered, and Dean thought that's my boy.
At three-thirty in the morning, Sam shoved Dean off the bed. Dean was pretty goddamn surprised – he'd been in the middle of comparing Jennifer Love Hewitt's ass to Sam's, and he totally lost his train of thought – and he stared up at Sam, who was grinning down at him in the darkness.
"Look," said Sam, and touched his nose.
Dean considered, and then nodded. "Time to go."
The room was easy enough to find – all Dean needed to do this time was follow Sam, who seemed to have actually planned ahead enough to count doors and everything, the geek – and by some stroke of crazy good fortune, it was empty. It took them a little while to set up the spell, but eventually Dean was in the middle of the circle and the patterns were painted and everything was ready. Everything except Dean.
He cleared his throat. "Sam, I..."
"Hey," Sam said. "It's OK. Really, Dean, it's OK."
"Right," Dean said, and then remembered something. He rummaged in his pocket and pulled out the photo he'd found earlier. "Here," he said, holding it out. "This is yours. I found it in my... in your car."
Sam took the scrap of card and looked at it curiously. "That's Dad," he said, and then looked up, his brow creasing. "What am I looking at?"
Jesus. Dean swallowed. "That's us," he said. "That's all of us, you and me and Dad and Mom. Haven't you ever seen a picture of Mom?"
Sam shook his head slowly. "Dad said we lost them all in the fire." And Dean realised that almost all the pictures of Mom he'd seen had had Dean in them too, and if Dad in this reality hadn't even told Sam that Dean existed, well... He closed his eyes.
"She was pretty," Sam said, staring at the photo now like it was going to vanish out of his hands any minute.
"Yeah," said Dean, and cleared his throat at the rough sound of his voice. "She was."
"And that's you," Sam said, with a wondering tone. Then he smiled. "Something worth dying for, right Dean?"
Dean shook his head. "Something worth living for." He bit his lip, not knowing what else to say, and then he remembered that he still had Sam's car keys. Relieved at something concrete he could do, he pulled both sets out of his pocket and held out the one with the troll to Sam. To his surprise, Sam reached out and took the other set.
"You keep mine," he said.
Dean frowned. "Dude, there's a troll on it."
Sam stared at the little pink-haired piece of crap for a moment, and then said, "Jess gave it to me."
Shit. There went Dean again with his big goddamn foot wedged in his mouth. He stared at Sam, and Sam grinned suddenly. "Ugly little fucker, isn't it? People are going to think you're an utter loser with that thing attached to your keys."
Dean rolled his eyes. "I can't take this."
"Yeah, you can." Sam shrugged. "I don't need it to remember her. I want you to have it."
And really, what was there that Dean could say to that except OK?
"OK," said Sam. "Now do your freaky thing and get back to your Sam."
"You're my Sam," Dean said, and when Sam frowned, he added, "I just got two of you little geeks now, is all."
Sam started grinning again. "That's beautiful. I think I'm gonna cry."
"Bitch," said Dean.
"Jerk," replied Sam, and Dean thought his face might break from how wide he smiled.
Then he recited the words of the spell, and for a moment nothing happened and he thought shit, shit, I don't have a back-up plan, and then his stomach lurched like he'd just stepped out of a tenth-floor window and the scene in front of his eyes kind of exploded in a burst of colour, there was a shooting pain like his goddamn brain had had enough and decided to push self-destruct, and then he was lying on his back on the floor, the duffle he'd been clinging to lying on top of him and making his ribs creak, gasping and sputtering and thinking no wonder he'd had such a freakin horrible hangover last time.
He didn't think that for long, though, because the room looked the same but Sam wasn't standing just outside the circle any more, in fact there was no circle, but there was still a bed, and it wasn't empty. Jesus. Was it really that simple?
Dean struggled to his feet, and it was Sam in the bed, God, it was really Sam, and he looked like shit even in the darkness, his wrists and ankles secured to the bed frame with soft straps, shit, shit, Sam was restrained, Sam had been lying in this goddamn bed for at least a week now, but Dean didn't have time to think about that because he had to get Sam the hell out of there before anyone realised he was there.
"Sam," he said, starting to unbuckle the strap around Sam's left wrist. "Sam, you OK?"
Sam didn't say anything, and Dean saw that his eyes were open but they weren't looking at him, weren't even looking in his direction, they were following something that Dean couldn't see, moving back and forth in that way that Dean had come to know and loathe, and shit, Dean was back now and wasn't he supposed to be a shield or something, wasn't Sam supposed to stop having visions now that Dean was back?
Apparently, it wasn't that simple. Sam made no response to Dean's pleas, and when Dean shook him by the shoulders it just made his head loll like he was a freakin rag doll.. Tears leaked continually out of the corners of his eyes, and Dean saw that there was a tube attached to the back of his right hand leading to a drip. He growled and pulled it out. "Come on, Sam, work with me here." But Sam just stared, oblivious, and then Dean heard footsteps at a distance outside and he knew it was now or never.
He moved fast, grabbing the gun and whatever else he could carry out of the duffle, then gritted his teeth and hauled Sam up and over his shoulder in a fireman's lift, which sent a sharp pain through his ribs and really didn't help the pounding in his head, but also brought home to him that Sam didn't weigh anywhere near as much as he should and how much weight could you lose in two weeks anyway? Then he was at the door, and it was impossible to pick the lock and hold Sam and the gun at the same time, so he just kicked the damn thing down because at this stage speed was more important than quiet. The door gave on the second kick, and Dean darted out into the corridor (well, OK, he didn't really dart so much as lumbered, but he totally would have darted if he hadn't had a freakin yeti hanging off his back) and turned left long enough to realise that that was the direction the footsteps were coming from and that the guy who was making them had eyes that would have looked black even in full daylight, then he did a sharp one-eighty and started moving as fast as he could, but there was no way in hell—no pun intended—that that was going to be fast enough, because the footsteps were coming up behind him, running now, and he tried to go faster, but something wrapped around his legs and crashed face-first to the ground, Sam flying forward a few feet and landing in a tumble of limbs just ahead of him. Shit. Shit.
Dean flipped, trying to scramble to his feet, but the demon was on top of him, grinning down into his face, and its breath stank of sulphur and Dean was really fucking sick of having demons all up in his shit. "Dude, mouthwash?" he said, working his hand into his pocket and tried to ignore the pain in his ribs.
"So you came back," the demon said. "There's no point fighting for him any more, you know. It's too late. There's nothing left of him."
Dean felt something inside him twist, it had been twisting for a long time but goddamn if it wasn't about to break. "Fuck you," he said, and brought up the flask of holy water he'd grabbed from the duffle, flinging a spray into the demon's eyes. The demon howled and clawed at its face, and it wasn't much but it was enough, it was enough for Dean to crawl out from under it (and goddamn he really wanted to exorcise the son-of-a-bitch right there, but he had no idea if more might be coming and there wasn't time, there wasn't time) and stagger to his feet, grabbing Sam again and making a break for it.
He turned the corner, the door to the ward up ahead, and he paused long enough to lay a sloppy salt line across the width of the corridor, hoping to God it would buy him enough time to get out of the goddamn place.
The ward door was too sturdy to kick down, and the lock was as simple as it was in the other reality but Dean had to put Sam down to pick it, and by the time he hauled him up again, the demon was pacing on the other side of the salt line, its eyes like marbles, and it curled his lips at Dean and said, "You're not going to win this. You've haven't got a chance in hell."
"I'm not the one with the morbid fear of condiments," Dean said (and oh God that was a freakin lame comeback, seriously, condiments?), and ran.
He didn't go down to the front door, because maybe he had a few bad plans in his recent history, but even he wasn't that dumb. Instead, he dodged into the nearest office and felt his stomach lurch in relief when he saw that there were no bars on the window. They were on the second floor, but the drop to the ground wasn't far, and actually, if Sam had been able to stand he probably could have almost made it without dropping at all. As it was, he landed in an ungainly heap on the ground and Dean gritted his teeth and hoped that all this being tossed around wasn't fucking Sammy's head up even more.
They were on the other side of the building from the parking lot, and Dean grabbed Sam (and Jesus, his head was really freakin going for it with the whole all-night rave thing now) and started in that direction, but then he heard voices up ahead, and that was all the cue he needed to turn and stagger the other way. The fact that the Fucking Lunatic Asylum was surrounded by suburbia had pretty much pissed him off back when he was trying to get into it, but now that he was trying to get away it made him thank whatever goddamn power was finally on his side, because there was a poorly-lit street and there was a car (and OK, it was a Honda, but right now Dean could live with that) and Dean was inside and hotwiring the damn thing with Sam slumped in the passenger seat tracking invisible things with his eyes before he even really registered what he was doing, and then the car started and they'd made it, Jesus, they'd made it, Dean was back where he needed to be and Sam was with him and they'd finally made it. If Dean hadn't been so busy heading for the nearest route out of town (and out of goddamn California while he was at it, God, he was more convinced than ever that the whole damn state was evil) he thought maybe he would have broken down and cried like a little girl. As it was, he just breathed, and it felt like he hadn't breathed in years.
They were somewhere in Nevada and the sun was being a little bitch and shining right in Dean's eyes when Sam suddenly jerked and then started screaming and thrashing, and Dean was so startled he almost drove off the road. He pulled over sharply and tried to hold Sam still, but Sam wasn't having any of it, and his endless limbs flailed crazily, narrowly missing Dean.
"Fuck," Dean said. "Sam, Sam! Calm down, it's OK, you're OK." He grabbed Sam and pulled him tightly against himself, wrapping his arms round Sam's chest. "You're OK," he said again, hugging Sam hard, Sam's hair all up in his face and smelling of grease and sweat and brother, and Sam quieted a little, his screams dialling down into heaving sobs. Dean just held him, there by the side of the road with nothing but desert around them, the early morning sun making the shadow of the car stretch out for miles, and Sam shuddered and twitched against him, and he thought Christ. Christ.
Sam drifted between visions and incoherent sobbing for the rest of the day, and Dean drove until his vision was starting to blur and then got them off the road and tried not to remember the demon that had said there's nothing left of him any more. He sat on the bed in the motel room and stared at the wall and wondered what the hell he was going to do now, because for the last two weeks he'd had a goal, he'd had to get back to Sam, to save him, and now he was back, he was back and he didn't know how to save Sam, he didn't know how.
He scrubbed his hands over his face and reached into his pocket for the aspirin he was pretty sure he'd stashed there, and his fingers met something soft. He pulled it out, and it was the goddamn troll, grinning up at him like it had just heard that one about the three nuns and the monkey, and Dean remembered Sam – the other Sam – saying I was drowning, and now I'm not. God, if only it was that simple, if only he could save Sam just by being.
"But it's not, is it?" Dean muttered to the little lump of plastic in his hand (and if he'd thought maybe he was a little crazy for talking to his car, then at this point he probably should have just stayed in the goddamn Fucking Lunatic Asylum). He closed his eyes, and then turned to check on Sam, even though seeing the way his brother's eyes stared at something Dean could never hope to protect him from made him want to throw up.
Except Sam wasn't staring, and he wasn't crying.
He was sleeping.
Sam slept for three days straight, waking up occasionally but apparently still not really aware of Dean's presence. Dean moved them a few hundred miles everyday, but mostly he just slept, too. Turned out sleeping more than a few hours a night actually felt pretty damn good. He made a note to try that one more often.
On the third day, Dean was just heading for the shower when Sam said his name. He turned, and Sam had his eyes open, was looking at Dean, was seeing Dean.
"Dean," he said again.
"Jesus," Dean said, and he stumbled forward, sitting down on the edge of Sam's bed because he wasn't sure his legs would hold him up. "Jesus, Sam." (And that was utterly lame, because when he'd rehearsed this in his head, he'd always said something casual like morning, sunshine or so you decided to wake up, huh?, but all of that shit had just gone right out of his head, and he didn't freakin care).
Sam licked his lips. He still looked like a fucking zombie (and not the smiling kind, either), his skin almost translucent, stretched over his bones and shadowed under his eyes, but he was awake, and, if he was honest with himself, Dean probably didn't look much better (except for the part where he was just naturally better-looking, of course). "Where..." Sam's voice broke, and he cleared his throat. "Where did you go?"
Dean brushed the hair back from Sam's eyes. "That doesn't matter now. I'm back. I'm back now, Sam."
Sam blinked a couple of times. "I thought you'd left me." His voice was hoarse and scratchy.
Dean thought about that morning in Springfield that seemed like it was a hundred years ago now, when he'd woken up to find Sam gone. "Yeah, well, you can't get rid of me that easy." He remembered the other Sam, protected by the essence (or whatever) of his own Dean. Maybe you can't get rid of me at all.
Sam sighed and closed his eyes, curling up on his side facing Dean. "I'm glad you're back," he whispered.
"Yeah," Dean said, and for the first time he was just glad, just glad and not scared or angry or nervous, and it felt good. "Me too."
Sam's breathing evened out, but Dean had one more thing to say. "Sam, where's the car?"
Sam half-opened one eye. "It's your car, man," he slurred. "Where did you leave it?"
Yeah, turned out being just glad didn't last too long. Dean looked down at his bare feet. He'd got his brother back, but he had no shoes, no car, and no clue where to start looking, which pretty much sucked. Looked like life was more or less back to normal, then. "Great, just great," he muttered, but the sun shone through the window of the motel room and Sam was sleeping peacefully beside him, and Dean felt lighter than he had in weeks.
"This paper was only signed two days ago," the doctor said, frowning suspiciously.
Jim was entirely undeterred. "Legal is legal," he said.
The doctor shook his head. "I'd prefer to keep him here," he said. "He has some quite severe delusions, and he had an incident the first day he was here."
"Don't worry, my son," Jim said, using his priest voice. "He'll get all the care he needs with me in Minnesota."
The doctor wasn't happy about it, but there was nothing he could do, and half an hour later Jim got up from his seat in the waiting area as Sam appeared from around the corner. Sam looked tired and pale, worn around the edges, but he smiled when he saw Jim.
"Hi," he said. "Thanks for coming to get me."
Jim smiled back. "Well, I am your next of kin these days," he said, waving the papers he was carrying. "It was the least I could do. You OK?"
Sam shrugged. "Not really. Not yet. But I will be." He turned to the doctor who was standing by, looking on disapprovingly. "Don't worry, doc," he said, his smile turning into a smirk now. "I haven't seen Dean for a couple of days, and I don't think he's coming back. I'm cured!"
The doctor frowned, and Jim raised an eyebrow and took Sam's arm, leading him away because, as funny as it was, it wasn't really fair to tease the poor man. Once in the parking lot, he headed for the Impala where it was parked across the street.
"I thought we'd take your car," he said in reply to Sam's confused look. "Mine's a rental. I'll call them to pick it up."
"OK," Sam said, and then tossed Jim the keys. "I haven't been sleeping much," he explained. "Wouldn't want to wrap it round a tree."
Jim nodded and slid into the driver's seat. The radio came on as he started the engine, and suddenly Metallica was blaring through the car at an ungodly volume.
"Dear Lord," Jim said, reaching for the dial, but Sam got there before him, turning it all the way down but not off. When Jim raised an eyebrow at him, he shrugged.
"I like it," he said.
Jim had made a long career out of reading people, and he decided that now was not the time to put his foot down. "All right, then," he said. "You ready to go?"
Sam faced front, eyes on the road ahead. "Yeah," he said. "We've got work to do."