Special thanks to K Hanna Korossy and geminigrl11 for their editing. I own nothing. Reviews craved.

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Chapter 2

Just before dawn, Dean approached the motel cautiously. He had no idea how many people would be in the room with Sam. For that matter, he didn't know if Sam was still even in there. The lights in the room were on, but Dean saw no movement in the window.

He made his way quickly but stealthily across the parking lot, approaching the room from behind the Impala so the car's bulk would keep him mostly hidden from view as he got closer . No one, it seemed, was around to challenge his actions.

Dean drew his blade as he reached the door and edged up to take a closer look. It was cracked open, and no sound came from inside. Taking a chance, Dean shouldered the door all the way open and entered, knife at ready.

The room was empty. Even more disturbing, there was a large scorched patch of ceiling right above the beds. Ceilings and fire were hot-button issues with Winchesters. Dean's mind flashed through all kinds of reasons for it to be there, none of them good. What if the demon had decided it didn't want to bother with Sam anymore….

Dean banished such thoughts from his mind. For whatever reason, Sam was important to the demon. It could have killed Sammy any time if he was merely expendable.

Of course, that still left the scorch marks on the ceiling.

A quick search determined the room was abandoned. Dean did find his car keys and Sam's pocketknife and phone, but that was it.

He pocketed Sam's knife and headed out to the Impala. All of their weapons and supplies were gone. Even Dad's journal was gone. But Dean had a place to start.

He just hoped Charlie Reynolds was still at the same location he was when John Winchester had known him. Either way, Dean was going to find him.

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Sam floated toward consciousness. Whatever they were using on him packed a helluva punch. He stirred, and immediately found himself sitting against a cold wall, confined.

He forced his eyes open and peered into the gloom surrounding him. From what little he could see in the dim light, he was in a small room, not quite a large as the motel room they'd been in, with peeling paint and lots of water damage. There were no windows, and only one door. It appeared to be a cell.

The most troubling part, however, was the fact that he was wrapped in a straightjacket. Sam tried to move, but the jacket was too tight. He strained until it felt like his biceps would tear, then collapsed against the dank wall, exhausted. The drugs were still too strong in his system.

He panted for breath, trying to piece together the situation, but all he could think about was that Dean was gone, and those scorch marks on the ceiling. Terrifyingly, it was starting to seem plausible to him. Sam had been waiting for some indication his powers were going to go darkside, and it seemed as though the time had finally come. The only aspect that wasn't making sense to him was why the room hadn't burned the way the house in Lawrence and the apartment in Palo Alto had.

The fact that Dean seemed to be his victim…that was too much to wrap his brain around. Was Jessica lying to him again? Or had he really murdered his brother during a nightmare? Sam closed his eyes and prayed for the former.

The sound of the door unlocking and opening drew him back to alertness. Jessica walked in, wearing the same loose-fitting shirt and shorts she'd had on when he'd woken up to her in the motel. She glided across the floor and dropped to his level, straddling his waist with her legs.

"Good morning, lover."

He snarled at her, "Don't call me that."

She looked stricken. "Aw, don't be like that. We're going to be close again. Like we were."

"You're not Jessica."

She ran her hands through his hair, grinning with more than a hint of superiority. "But I am. I always was. And now that you've taken care of your brother for us---"

"That's not true!"

Jess cupped his face in her hands. "It really is, Sam."

Another vision of Dean exploded in his mind. Dean pinned to the ceiling helplessly. Dean begging for help. Dean burning alive. Sam grit his teeth against the onslaught of pain that accompanied the images. It was ten times worse than the last few he had experienced. She released him and let him slide down the wall.

"He's ready," Sam heard her say, although she sounded as if she were in a tunnel, or under water.

He vaguely registered another person entering the room. It took a Herculean effort to raise his head and look at the newcomer.

It was Sanford Ellicott. Sam's mind was still reeling from the latest vision, but he was pretty certain what he was seeing was impossible.

"You're---You're dead…," he slurred.

"Don't worry, Samuel, we're going to make you all better," the doctor intoned pleasantly. Sam had a chilling flashback to the last time he saw this man and heard those words.

Sam felt a needle pierce the flesh of his right thigh.

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Charlie Reynolds's base of operations was an abandoned convenience store and gas station about forty-five miles outside of Rockford. The ex-hunter had carefully disguised it so that approaching from any angle but the rear would reveal nothing beyond an old, boarded-up gas station. Dean wasn't sure why no one had ever come along to try to buy the place, but his dad had suspected that Reynolds had connections among the local authorities, and they kept potential developers off his back.

Dean slipped silently in through the front door, placing the picked padlock down near the window and keeping an eye on the door to the back in case old Charlie was waiting for him.

He passed a makeshift work desk and racks full of weapons and hunting supplies that made the back of the Impala look amateurish. Dean drew his blade and advanced into the gloomy, dimly lit building.

Speaking of the Impala…. Just behind the desk were two large boxes, containing everything that was missing from the car and the motel room. Including the journal. Dean snarled quietly. Kidnapping and stealing from a fellow hunter, not to mention helping demons take Sam…Reynolds would be lucky if Dean allowed him to ever leave this shop again.

A muffled noise drew his attention toward the back room. He crept back toward the door, careful to watch behind him as he moved.

He nearly slipped in it. Near the door leading into the back, behind a stack of boxes, was a puddle of skin and goo.

Holy crap, a shapeshifter! Dean pushed down his surprise and cleared his head. Reynolds, before going freelance, had been one of the best at hunting shapeshifters.

Looks like one got the drop on him….

Dean immediately switched tactics. Shapeshifters usually nested underground, and Reynolds's place had the ideal location. A trapdoor in the back led down into a secret storeroom. As if the dozens of guns and blades in this room weren't bad enough, the custom-built basement housed the really illegal stuff. Stuff John Winchester wouldn't even let Dean look at the last time they'd seen Reynolds face-to-face.

He headed back to the boxes that were holding his and Sam's belongings. A few seconds of rummaging got him what he wanted, the 9mm and a clip of silver bullets. Dean turned to head into the other room.

Reynolds stood in the doorway, staring at him in surprise. The surprise faded into a grim smile. "I told her she needed to kill you. But, she didn't listen."

Dean leveled the gun at the unarmed 'shifter, causing it to take a step back. Must not have been expecting to see me….

"I remember you, Dean. Well…Reynolds remembered you. Seems to me that you're a decent guy…for a hunter."

"Got a funny way of showing your admiration."

"Hey," it said, almost casually, "they helped me off Reynolds."

Off Reynolds? So much for keeping the victims alive until the shapeshifter was finished with them.

"'They' who?" Dean asked.

"Let's just say a very persuasive group wanted to get to Sam, and wanted you out of the way for a while. They offered to help me get back at Reynolds, which I badly wanted. The price was helping them nab you and your brother. Not a bad deal. Not like I knew you or anything. It was business."

"Business, huh?" Dean scoffed. "Where's Sam?"

"Oh, no. I know this game, hunter. I tell you that, and then you shoot me."

"You don't tell me, and I'll definitely shoot you. Think about that."

The 'shifter considered him for a moment, obviously weighing its options. Dean knew he could kill it before it could retreat into the back room. He could tell that the 'shifter knew it too. They were stronger and sometimes faster than humans, but they couldn't outrun bullets.

"All right," it finally said, "I know where your brother is. If I tell you, will you let me live?"

"I promise," Dean replied evenly.

"Okay. She took him---"

"Who is 'she'?" Dean asked sharply. He was rapidly losing his patience.

It blinked at him for a moment, as if it wasn't sure what to say. "There are things that I fear more than you, Winchester. I'm not saying any more than I have to."

Dean raised his eyebrows at that. He had a feeling he knew what it was referring to. "Go on. Where'd she take him?"

"An old hospital in town, Roosevelt Asylum. It's been abandoned for a long time."

Roosevelt Asylum? Aw, man. That was the last place he or Sam had wanted to visit on this trip. The hits just keep on coming. Dean brought his attention back to the 'shifter.

"All right. You promised. Can I go?"

Dean shrugged, lowering his gun and backing toward the door slowly. "I did promise."

The 'shifter visibly relaxed, sagging slightly against the doorframe behind it. Dean frowned and snapped his fingers.

"You know what? I just remembered. I pretty much only keep the promises I make to Sam."

Before the 'shifter could react, Dean raised the gun and fired twice…catching the creature in the heart and the head.

"That's for Sammy, and for taking our stuff," he said quietly, stepping closer. He put one more round into the body, just to be safe. "And that's for Charlie."

Dean dragged the two boxes of weaponry outside and heaved it into the backseat. He cast a wary glance back at the old gas station as he moved to the driver's side door. Another place I won't visit again. His list was getting pretty long.

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Sam couldn't remember where he was. The room seemed familiar, but he couldn't place it. Worse, he couldn't remember why he was in that room or how he got there.

He gave up trying and closed his eyes, going back to counting the minutes as they passed. That had helped a little. He knew he'd been sitting there, confined to the straightjacket, for about four hours. He knew that someone, he couldn't remember who, entered the room every hour. He knew that about one minute after they entered, a sharp needle would bite into his right thigh. He knew that about two minutes after that, the burning sensation in his leg would grow unbearable. It usually broke his concentration for a little while. No more than about five minutes, though, by his estimate.

Counting had always been one of his strengths.

Sam also knew that about five minutes after the pain in his leg would stop, Jess would enter the room. He remembered Jess. She was the beautiful, blonde pre-med student he'd met in college and wanted to marry. Unfortunately, her visits were always interrupted. About one minute into them, he'd start seeing things. Some man he thought he knew, burning. It looked as if the man were pinned to the ceiling. But that couldn't be right. He wished he could remember the man's name.

It was almost time for her to enter now. Just a few more seconds.

There it was, the sound of the door unlatching and opening. Sam cracked his eyes open. Sure enough, those shapely legs he remembered were walking toward him. He felt hands grip his head, and he opened his eyes fully, meeting Jess's gaze. She was his lifeline in this place. Wherever he was.

"J-Jess?"

"How are you feeling, Tiger?"

"Weird. I can't remember anything…."

"That's fine. It's part of your treatment."

"Treatment?" Had they had this conversation before?

"Yes, Sam. Try to remember."

He did as he was told and immediately regretted it. When he tried to remember, he was struck with the images of the man burning.

Help me.

Who was it? Why couldn't he remember? It seemed like he should know the poor man.

The pain eased a bit. He felt Jess wiping tears from his face. Sam was ashamed, but the pain in his head was too much. He heard a small sob escape his lips.

"Are you all right, Sam?"

Jess's voice drew his attention. She could always focus his thoughts for him. He trusted her. After all, she was the only thing he could clearly remember.

"Jess, what's wrong with me?" he always asked her, but he couldn't remember if she ever answered.

She seemed to hesitate. "You're in a hospital, Sam. You're sick. But we're making you better."

"W-Why does it hurt so much?"

"It always hurts, baby, but we're going to teach you how to stop it from hurting."

"How?"

"Well, that has to do with your dreams. We'll talk about that later."

She wasn't making any sense. How could---?

A man he didn't recognize appeared in the doorway. Was it the doctor? No. He didn't seem the type. The man spoke to Jess urgently. "We can't get in touch with the others. We think Dean might have escaped."

Jess shushed the man angrily, but Sam was already processing the words.

Dean? Dean…. Dean was….

"My brother! Dean," he exclaimed. He chastised himself for the outburst. He must have sounded like an idiot.

But Jess wasn't paying attention to him; instead, she was glaring at the newcomer in the doorway. Why was she angry?

"W-Where's Dean? Jess, do you know where he is?"

"He's dead, Sam. We talked about this. Don't worry about that right now," she said soothingly. But Sam noticed her emphasis on the word "dead." Why did she sound so mad? Had Dean done something?

He stopped counting altogether. All his thoughts were focused on Dean, trying to hold on to the memory before it slipped away. Whatever the doctor kept injecting him with made thinking next to impossible. All he'd been able to manage for any length of time was the counting, but the memory of Dean was disrupting that now.

"Please, Jess…do you know where Dean is? It's important. I'm not sure why…but it's important."

"Sam, it's all in your mind. Dean's been gone for a long time. He's dead," she replied, a little more urgently.

It didn't make sense to him. Dean was his brother. Sam's thoughts clung to the idea of Dean like a drowning man to a life preserver. Dean wasn't dead. He'd know it. He was certain of that. "N-no. Why are you lying to me?"

Jess frowned and turned her glare back on the man in the hall. "Dammit! Go! Bring the gurney—I guess we're going to have to get more aggressive now."

More aggressive? Sam gazed up at her, trying to understand what she was saying. But his mind kept coming back to Dean.

"Listen to me, Sam. Dean is dead. You need to accept that. You'll never see him again."

He grew angry, which was odd. He was never angry with Jess. They always got along so well. But it was helping overcome the effects of the drug.

Why was she so adamant about Dean? She was wrong. Dean wasn't dead. Surely she knew that.

"No…no! Dean's alive, I know he is. Where is he?"

Two men appeared at the door. One he recognized from a few minutes earlier; the other was new.

Jess sighed. "Well, I guess we're going to have to take more drastic measures. You can be very annoying when you want to be, Sam." She signaled for the two at the door, who promptly came forward and hauled Sam roughly to his feet.

"What's--- What's going on?"

They grabbed his legs and heaved him onto a rickety gurney. Sam strained against them, but the straightjacket and the residual pain in his limbs made it impossible to fight back. He could offer little resistance as they strapped him down.

Jess reappeared at his side. "Relax, kid. We're just going to help you forget Dean. It won't hurt for long."

They rolled him down the decrepit hallway, ignoring him as he strained against the worn leather straps.

"Where are you taking me? Jess?" he asked apprehensively. He was beginning to think this wasn't Jess at all. She'd never seem so cold—so alien—to him before.

She didn't answer.

They entered a different room. There was a single, poorly padded dentist chair in the center of the room and debris everywhere around it. This place is awfully dirty to be a hospital….

The men again took hold of Sam and hauled him off the gurney and onto the uncomfortable chair. After attaching more straps, they went about bringing some kind of equipment over to the bedside. Sam could only watch helplessly as they strapped his head down and started attaching wires to pads along the thick leather strap. When they were done, they stepped out of the room, and the doctor who had been giving him the shots entered. He was carrying several of the syringes with him.

"Jess…."

She stepped up to the chair and stroked his hair, shushing him. "Calm down, Sam. This is going to make you forget, but you'll be better off for it. After this, we'll show you how to stop the pain, I promise."

He was anything but comforted by her words. He didn't want to forget. He couldn't remember much of anything besides her and Dean and his name, anyway.

He heard the doctor speaking quietly to Jess; he didn't sound happy. Sam tried to focus on what they were saying.

"…it might damage him. We were told---"

"We were told to separate him from Dean. Besides, if it goes wrong, it goes wrong. He can possess a vegetable with abilities even easier than if he was all there," Jess hissed back.

"I don't think that's what he want---"

"We're not paying you to think. Now, get this over with."

Were they talking about him? Possessed? Possessed by what?

He was caught totally off guard when the doctor flipped the switch. He heard the hum of electricity, but had no time to react. His head suddenly felt like it was on fire. The pain was unbearable.

Sam clenched his teeth so hard that he tasted blood. The muscles in his upper body seized and pulled against the leather straps until his skin bruised through his clothing. For one terrifying moment, everything went blank…no sound, no vision, no thought. Then Sam came out of it with a gasp, almost as if he were coming up from underwater, his heart thumping loudly in his ears. His head was throbbing with what he was sure was the worst headache he'd ever had.

His vision swam, making him feel nauseated, but he could still see Jess staring at him. Why was she doing this? "…please…."

Jess ignored him and looked at the doctor. "One or two more and I think he'll be ready. But give him the drug again first."

He felt the now-familiar bite of a needle in his leg. The painful burning spread through his veins even faster this time, probably due to how hard his heart was pounding. The added agony was too much, and Sam started to pass out. He welcomed the oblivion that swallowed him.

Just as he began to fade away, he heard gunfire out in the hallway.

He faded back in sometime later. He had to force his eyes open. Everything hurt, and he could feel tears trickling down his face, but he couldn't bring himself to care. When his vision came into focus, Jess was gone, and a very worried-looking face greeted his.

"Next time, you need to read the warning labels on your visions, little brother."

The man's words were lighthearted, but the tone definitely wasn't. Sam lost consciousness again before he could bring himself to ask the man who he was or what he meant.

As he descended into darkness, one thought swirled after him.

Dean.

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Dean briefly looked his younger brother over, but found no obvious—or at least, no external—injuries. He used his knife to cut the leather restraints off Sam's ankles and waist, then removed the wired-up strap that held his head.

Sons of bitches! His anger grew as the sight he had witnessed sank in. Jessica—or rather something that was appearing as Sam's deceased girlfriend—standing over him with a man who at first glance had looked like Sanford Ellicott.

Not the first person Dean was looking forward to seeing in this place. Besides, it wasn't possible, he'd burned Ellicott's bones more than a year earlier.

As it turned out, when the bullets hit the good doctor, his face shifted to something resembling a plain clay sculpture of a face. There was no expression, no real substance to it. It was like a mannequin. Whatever the creature was, it only mimicked faces; it didn't actually take the form.

Dean didn't have much time to think about it, though. The two guards in the hallway had gone down easily when Dean charged in with two guns blazing. But the hail of bullets seemed to have only stunned the two in the room with Sam. The one that looked like Jessica was already stirring; he could see the reddish glow flickering behind her eyelids. Just to be safe, he holstered his first, now-empty gun, and pulled out a flask of holy water.

He dumped the water over "Jessica's" head. The creature released an echoing, unearthly scream and rolled away, grasping its steaming head in pain. Dean turned back and cut away the straightjacket that held Sam's arms.

"Sammy? You with me, man?" he asked urgently, feeling for a pulse. It was strong, but Sam was out for the count. Dean noticed about a half-dozen glass vials of some clear liquid and dropped a few into his pocket. He'd have to find out what they'd been giving Sam.

Seeing no other choice, he hoisted Sam over his shoulder into a fireman's carry and strode toward the open door. Sam was no lightweight, and his height was an even bigger burden, but adrenaline helped make up for a lot.

Dean heard one of the bad guys stirring behind him. A quick glance back revealed that the clay-faced one was trying to get up and was watching them. Dean didn't hesitate. He spared one hand to grab the third gun from his waistband and fired four more rounds into the thing. This time he aimed for the face. It went down again with a scream.

Moving into the hallway, Dean stepped in a puddle of yellowish-green blood that was pooling under one of the guards. He was gratified they weren't human after all. Not that it would have mattered. When he'd entered the asylum and heard Sam screaming---

He shook off the thought and sped down the hallway. It took a few long, tense moments to get Sam's long-limbed and broad-shouldered bulk into the passenger seat. Dean noticed the kid was shivering uncontrollably, so he spared another moment to grab a blanket from one of the boxes in the backseat. He bundled Sam up and raced around the car to get in.

Dean drove like a bat out of hell for two straight days. He switched directions three times and circled back twice to keep anyone, or anything, off his trail. Sam slept through it all. Dean periodically reached over to check for a pulse and tried to coax Sam into drinking something when he stopped for gas. It didn't work very well.

Sam didn't wake up, but he did move around a lot. Dean could tell something was hurting by the way he curled his limbs protectively around himself, but Sam had no visible injuries. Every few hours, he would seem to get close to waking up, but just start rambling about doctors and Jess and how long the treatments would last.

That one was the hardest for Dean, since it was invariably followed by a plea for the pain to stop. Dean couldn't stop what was only going on in Sam's brain, and none of his attempts to wake him up had gotten anything more than a few incoherent grunts and a blank stare through hooded eyes. Eventually, Dean gave up on trying to rouse him and let whatever was in those syringe vials run its course. All he could do was keep Sam warm.

He found Sam whimpered less when Dean moved him into a horizontal position on the seat, arms dangling under the blanket and his head on Dean's leg. He let him lie there, where he at least could hear Sam breathing. Sam seemed to respond to the warmth and wormed his way closer. Dean was reminded of when they were kids and Sam would curl up beside him when they shared a bed.

He considered heading for a hospital, but he couldn't trust anyone right now and wasn't about to voluntarily let himself be separated from Sammy. Not until the situation was a little more secure.

They ended up on the third floor of a cheap motel in downtown Dallas. One of those grimy, ask-no-questions types of places situated over a bar. The bar was looking very attractive to Dean right now, but it would have to wait.

Sam finally woke up as Dean returned to the car after checking them in. It helped a little, since he hadn't been looking forward to lugging Sam's six-foot-four-inch frame upstairs along with the bags. As it was, walking was about all Sam could do, and he collapsed back into unconsciousness as soon as they reached the room. Dean wondered if he had any idea what was going on.

Dropping Sam gently onto one of the beds, Dean tossed the bags onto the other one and rummaged for supplies. He locked the room down, running lines of salt along the door and windows and even around the beds. Using examples from the Key of Solomon, he drew protective runes on the windows with a grease pencil. Then he draped a dream catcher over the headboard and sank onto the bed next to his unconscious brother.

Now that the excitement was over, Dean let his nerves get the best of him and didn't attempt to keep his hands from shaking. He opened his dad's journal and idly flipped through it, reading all the entries about shapeshifters. He found one about a 'shifter his Dad and Joshua had tracked in Atlanta. That one didn't keep its victims alive. That explained Reynolds's killer, but didn't help him much with anything else. All he could do was wait for Sam to wake up…and hope.

Dean didn't have to wait long. About five hours after settling in, he was watching television when he heard Sam moan in his sleep. Glancing down, he placed a hand over the younger man's forehead. His temperature was up but wasn't too bad. Sam responded to the contact, and his eyes blinked open.

Dean moved his hand off Sam's forehead and ran it back through his hair. Sam looked at him as if he thought Dean might disappear at any moment.

"You…are you…Dean? Dean…is that you?"

Dean smiled. It didn't quite seem appropriate, but he tried to look friendly. No need to put Sam on the defensive. "Long time, no see, bro."

Sam frowned, eyes flitting around to see the room. "Jess…?"

Dean crouched down so Sam wouldn't have to move in order to see him and spoke softly. "That wasn't her, Sam. That was just someone pretending."

Sam's gaze wandered until it latched on to the ceiling over the bed. Dean followed it, not sure what Sam was expecting to see. He suddenly remembered the burn marks in the motel in Rockford, and Sam's fearful stare started to make sense. Dean looked back down.

"Nothing's there, little brother, trust me. You just go back to sleep."

Sam did as he was told, for once. He mumbled as his eyelids drifted shut, "Told me…you were dead. Didn't believe…God, Dean, it hurts…."

Dean shushed him gently and brought the blankets up closer to his chin. Sam settled again a moment later. After a few minutes spent making sure he was asleep, Dean pulled out one of the vials he'd snagged at the asylum, then fished his cell phone out of this jacket. He scrolled down the menu and dialed.

"Bobby, it's Dean. Listen, I need you to do something for me…."

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They'd been holed up in Dallas for four days when the return call from Jefferson finally came.

"…but we think he'll be okay once the drug is completely out of his system."

Dean's nerves were calmed somewhat by the confidence in Jefferson's voice. He'd sent one of the drug vials he'd found to Bobby, who'd forwarded it to Jefferson so his medical contacts could take a look.

"Any clue what they were trying to do to him?" he asked. Sam was awake but still wasn't volunteering much. All Dean had found out was that "Jess" had tried to convince Sam that Dean was dead.

Jefferson sighed into the phone. "From what we've been able to find out, these drugs mainly just suppress memories. Kinda like forcing amnesia on someone. They can't remember much of anything. But it's very short-lived. I'd say that they would have to shoot him up at least every few hours, maybe more than that."

Dean grimaced. "Yeah, well…given how many needles and vials I found in that room, I'd say you were right."

"But, Dean, listen, even though this stuff is temporary, it packs a helluva punch. A few shots and Sam would be high as a kite, and incredibly susceptible to suggestion. He's lucky they didn't induce some kind of psychosis."

Psychosis. Anson and Scott Carey sprung to the front of Dean's mind. They'd been driven insane, or close to it, by the yellow-eyed demon. It had turned Anson into a killer. Was that what they'd tried to do to Sam? Jefferson continued before he could ask another question.

"Dean…if this stuff works the way we're thinking it does, in the short term I'd guess they were trying to program him."

"Program? You mean, like brainwash? Mind control?"

"Yeah. You have any idea what they would do that for?"

Yeah, to get me out of the picture, Dean thought grimly, and to make Sam into something he's not. But he couldn't take the conversation any further without telling Jefferson about Sam's abilities. There were still some of John's old friends who didn't know.

"No. I have no idea."

Jefferson hesitated as if he was going to probe further, but he didn't. Hunters were still a tight-lipped bunch, and Dean knew the older man respected and understood that.

"Well, just make sure he eats and sleeps. He should be okay in a week or two. Depends how much of this shit they pumped into him."

"You're sure the memory loss isn't permanent?"

"Yeah. It might take a while, but he should make a complete recovery."

"Thanks, Jefferson. I owe you one."

"I owe you three, so just take one off my tab," the man laughed, and terminated the call.

Dean slid his phone into his pocket and moved out of the shadowy alcove where he'd gone to take the call. He'd been watching Sam during the conversation. His brother was sitting in a corner booth across the room, nursing the bottle of water Dean had brought him when they arrived. No one else was in this side of the bar, most staying at the other end where the jukebox and the prettier waitresses were.

He was glad for the privacy. This was their first trip out in public since Sam had woken up, and the less contact they had with anyone else, the better.

Patsy Cline's "Crazy" floated lazily from the old jukebox. Not Dean's personal choice for music that night, but he tried to just tune it out. He stepped over to the bar and ordered a beer and another bottle of water.

Sam was staring miserably at the tabletop when Dean got back and slid onto the opposite bench. He knew Sam was still in pain: He could tell from the small creases around his eyes. During one of his less coherent moments right after his rescue, Sam had said something about "it" burning through his veins.

But his brother was proud, and Dean knew he would repress his discomfort whenever they were together. It wasn't healthy, but Sam had learned from the best. He placed the new water bottle and another bowl of pretzels in front of the downcast gaze.

"Here. You need to eat some more."

Sam didn't look up. "I asked for a beer."

Dean smiled. He often complained about it, but he knew that when his little brother bitched, it was a sign things were getting back to normal.

"No alcohol while that crap's still in your system. Water's better for you."

Sam grimaced but still didn't look up. "I'm not a child."

"Never said you were," Dean replied quietly. He wasn't going to fight with Sam tonight. He could tell the younger man was looking to vent, to lash out at someone. Anyone.

Sam sighed softly and reached for a pretzel. His appetite was improving, at least. Dean would have laughed had the situation been better. He'd never seen a pretzel eaten so slowly or methodically before. Only Sammy.

"I thought you…she told me you were dead. That I burned you on the ceiling," Sam said abruptly.

Dean looked up at him in surprise, but then simply shrugged. "You didn't."

It was pretty clear to him now. Given the content of some of Sam's ramblings since leaving Rockford and the burn marks on that hotel ceiling, Dean had pieced together what the demon had been doing. She—it—was trying to convince Sam he'd killed me.

Sooner or later, Dean planned on showing her just how unwise letting him live had been.

"How did you know what kind of ammo to use?" Sam blurted. The sudden and unrelated subject changes told Dean exactly how badly scrambled his brother's normally well-ordered mind was.

He played along. No need to point out the jump to Sam. "I didn't know. I loaded the clips with all of 'em. Holy water, iron rounds, silver, salt, regular. Figured I'd be firing enough that some of them would work. Turns out a few of those guys were immune to all of them…but I put enough lead into them to keep them down while I got you out."

Sam nodded, although Dean could tell his attention had wandered somewhere in there. He didn't take offense. At least Sam was talking.

"What was she?"

"You mean the thing playing Jessica?" Sam nodded. "I don't know. She had red eyes. I figure she was some kind of demon. She wasn't Jess, I know that."

Sam looked up sharply at that, and Dean saw a spark of anger in those deep brown eyes. He could only imagine how offensive seeing his fiancée's face on a monster would have been to his brother. Dean could think of no greater insult to Sam.

The subject switched again when Sam turned his eyes back to the water bottle.

"When Andy used that mind control on you…did you feel a…a buzzing in your head?"

Dean snorted. "It felt like my brain was being pulled out through my nose."

"But…anything else?"

He thought about it for a moment, trying to remember the details. "Yeah. There was a buzzing in the beginning. Like a hum or something. Why?"

Sam rubbed his forehead. "I kept feeling something like that. Whenever she was around. I was wondering if maybe she was trying to get into my mind. Might explain why I cracked so fast."

"Cracked? Sam, you didn't crack," Dean retorted, annoyed. "They drugged you. You couldn't help that."

Sam looked up again, with an expression so sad, so pleading, that it made Dean flinch. "Dean…is any of this real?"

It was the third or fourth time Sammy had done that since coming around. Seeing the anguish on his face was gut-wrenching. Dean could tell that whatever they had done to him had seriously messed with his head.

Dean didn't answer right away. He instead reached out and grasped Sam's hand in his own.

"This is real, Sammy. I'm real. And you're gonna be okay, little brother, I promise."

Sam held his gaze for a moment, but then his eyes went back down. He seemed to deflate a little. "Can we go back to the room, Dean? I'm so tired."

"Sure," Dean replied. He helped Sam out of the booth. Sam's coordination was shot to hell, and Dean had to guide him out by the elbow. Sam was limping, too; his right thigh was still sore from all the injections the "doctor" had given him. Dean had cleaned the entry marks but was afraid to give him anything for the pain. Sam would just have to fight through it until they knew it was safe to take some painkillers.

They'd barely survived this round with the demon and its minions. It had been way too close a call for Dean's comfort. He glanced at Sam, who had withdrawn again, and wondered grimly how many "close calls" they had left.

They'd found an elevator in the hotel lobby. It groaned and shuddered as it moved, and Dean was worried the cables would snap any minute, but it beat the stairs and was easier on Sam's wobbly legs. They entered it and started the slow, precarious journey up two floors. Sam sagged against the wall.

"You okay?" Dean asked.

Sam nodded. Dean knew he was lying but said nothing. He watched Sam out of the corner of his eye.

"I wanted it to be true…I wanted all of this to be a delusion," Sam muttered.

Dean said nothing. He'd noticed these slips over the last couple of days. It was like Sam didn't know he was speaking his thoughts aloud. Responding would just send him back into his silent shell.

"…but I never wanted to see you die. She kept showing it to me over and over. I thought it was a vision, but it was her."

Sam suddenly turned to him, signaling another topic swing.

"What did Jefferson say?"

Dean glanced at him, trying hard not to notice how the pained lines around Sam's eyes were deeper now that he was standing up.

"He said you should be fine in a week or two."

"And who is he again?"

Dean sighed but kept the weariness out of his voice when he answered. After all, the memory loss wasn't Sam's fault. "He's a hunter, like us. We can trust him. He said your memory will come back, too, just give it time."

Sam looked away, apparently satisfied with the answer, but the troubled look remained on his face. Dean felt compelled to ask if he was okay again. He hated seeing that look.

Sam beat him to it. "Dean…you're the one who…I mean…Jess is the one who…who died, right? Not you. This is real?"

Dean looked at him. His anger at the demons replaced with the sad knowledge that they'd screwed Sam up badly. He was morbidly surprised, actually. Trying to convince Sam that the love of his life was long-dead was even harder than the aftermath of her actual death. Sam had to go through it all over again.

"Honestly? Sometimes I wish to God that it wasn't, Sammy. I wish none of this had ever happened to you."

The elevator opened but neither of them moved to leave. Sam stared at Dean for a moment before responding. Given everything he'd been through – was still going through – his words surprised Dean a little.

"I'm actually glad that this is the real one…the real…you know, reality, I guess."

"Why's that?"

Sam looked somber, eyes misting over slightly. "Because you're still alive in this one."

Dean was speechless for a moment, overcome by the simple statement. He panicked, and fell back to his more comfortable position. He summoned his bravado and smirked as he moved to help Sam off the elevator and into the hall. "That's beautiful, dude. We should sell that to Hallmark. 'So glad you're not dead' cards. They'd be all the rage."

Sam chuckled, an almost honest-to-God laugh. "Shut up, Dean."

It was music to Dean's ears.

------------

It was easier for now to keep the Jess appearance, especially since it facilitated getting a ride on a dark road at night. She glanced up at the sign through the windshield as the old pickup passed it.

NOW LEAVING ROCKFORD

"Your boyfriend doesn't know what he's missing, if you ask me. Ditching you like that? Tell me where to find him, and I'll kick his ass for you."

She looked over at the young college-age kid who'd so kindly offered her a ride, and noticed with some amusement that he wasn't hiding his physical reaction to her appearance all that well. She was amazed at how the simple act of hiking up her shorts could have such an effect.

"Yeah, he'll be sorry." She smiled back. The horny college boy actually leered at her. She fought the urge to roll her eyes. It was a decidedly human reaction, and she'd be glad to get back to her natural form.

Human males were so pathetically easy. Even little Sammy had reacted to it when she'd rubbed up against him at the motel. She figured they'd have had a lot of fun if Dean hadn't ruined everything.

The thought of Dean Winchester made the skin on her neck crawl. It was still raw from where Dean had splashed the holy water on her.

She planned to skin that little bastard alive the next time they met.

She smiled again. "Can you pull off here? I need to make a call."

The kid frowned at her. "You sure? Cell phones don't get very good reception around here."

"Trust me," she purred, "I have a really good long-distance plan."

"Well, okay…."

The truck rolled to a stop, and she muttered a "thanks" to her helpful stranger. She waited until he smiled back before she sliced his throat open. She held up the golden chalice to his gushing neck and filled it halfway.

She stirred the blood with her finger and uttered a few words in a tongue no human knew anymore. The response came quickly.

"They escaped. I couldn't break Dean's influence over the boy," she said without preamble, although she had a feeling it was unnecessary.

She continued quickly while she could still muster the courage to speak her mind.

"If you'd let me kill the brother first, then I could have---"

"Yes. Yes. I ask forgiveness."

"No, the others are dead. Dean killed the ones we hired, and I finished Annorak myself before I left town."

The memory of the betrayed look on her old friend's smooth, clay-like features still amused her, but she buried her glee and listened for the response. The reply put her on the defensive again.

"I know you didn't want the boy harmed, but it was the only way that I could---"

"Yes. Yes, I understand. I'll wait for you here."

She lowered the chalice and let it rest on the seat beside her. Her master didn't tolerate failure…an attitude she found hypocritical since he hadn't had much success with Sam Winchester either. But she was in no position to voice that opinion.

All that she could do now was wait…and meet her fate stoically.

END