One of the worst things about sleeping in cheap motels or squatting in abandoned or vacant houses was that one could never quite get used to the feel of the mattress that one sank into to meet oblivion every night at the end of an exhausting hunt. And this bed sucked. Dean tossed in his sleep, willing his eyes to remain closed in spite of the discomfort settling into his bones, the cramping seizing up behind his shoulders, and the fuzzy haze that settled like a fog over his mind. He was tired – it felt like he hadn't slept in years – but his mind refused to still.

The hunt had been brutal. Dean still remembered the heart-chilling grunt of pain that had been squashed from Sam's lungs as the Black Dog had tackled him to the ground. It had taken everything Dean had in him to pry the beast off, and that was after he had fired countless silver rounds into the damned thing. It had clung cruelly and tenaciously to life, and to Sam. But in the end Dean had prevailed, had somehow managed to snap the thing's neck, releasing its putrid, dead weight onto his unconscious brother.

Dean listened in the darkness for the sound of his brother's breathing in the next bed, wanting to take solace in the steady, reassuring inhaling and exhaling of breath. Silence met his straining ears. He couldn't hear Sam breathing.

"Sam," Dean whispered. "Sammy, can you hear me?"

Sam did not reply.

Dean's heart caught in his throat. Sam had been injured on the hunt – had blacked out after the initial impact of the ravaging beast – but had regained consciousness shortly thereafter. He had insisted that he didn't need a doctor. Now that Dean could no longer hear the sounds of his brother's snores or even of his breathing, he thought that foregoing the trip to the hospital had been a big mistake.

He opened his eyes.

"What the hell?"

White walls. White walls, white floor, white ceiling, white sheets… Dean rubbed at his eyes, trying to banish what he assumed must be a dream or a nightmare. He wasn't in their motel room at all. He was lying on a single hospital bed that was nailed to the floor, the only bed that was in the room. The only object that was in the room. And he was decidedly and most definitely alone.

"Sam?" Dean called out, confused and mildly panicked. He tore off the sheets and stepped out of bed, noting with mounting trepidation that he was clothed in gray hospital pants and a white t-shirt.

"Ok, what the hell?" Dean muttered.

Had he been injured? Had he somehow remembered the attack wrong? Had the Black Dog turned on him after he shot it? He ran a hand tentatively over his chest, stomach, along the small of his back, over his legs, but there were no tender spots, no cuts or bruises or signs of injuries. He felt his head for any signs of pain, but there were none. How long had he been in the hospital? He tried to clear the fog from his mind, but his thoughts were churning slowly, sluggishly.

"Sam?" Dean called, real panic welling up within him now. If he had himself been attacked, then it meant he hadn't been able to save Sam.

"Sammy!" Dean called again, stepping onto the cold tiled floor and crossing to the door.

Something wasn't right. The door to his room was solid steel and had a tiny window set a little too high for his comfort. When he tried to pull the door open it would not budge. It was locked.

"Ok, seriously, what the hell?" Dean asked angrily. He raked his fingers through his hair in irritation and pounded on the door.

"Hello?" he called. "What's with locking the door?"

He peeked through the window on the door but could only see what looked like a dim, gray corridor beyond. He looked as far to the left and then to right as he could through the window but could see no signs of any doctors or nurses moving around the hallway beyond his room.

"Hello?" he called again. "Hey!" He pounded on the door. "Hey!"

His mind tried telling him where he was, but he buried it deeply in a heap of denial. No. No, he was definitely not there. There had to be some kind of mistake. This could be explained, somehow.

"HEY!" he shouted again, swallowing the burgeoning panic within and pounding on the door again with more urgency. "Open the freakin' door!"

At last he heard footsteps. He peeked through the tiny window and saw a large, heavy-set man who Dean assumed was an orderly of some kind, followed by a middle-aged doctorly-looking man, and then another orderly. Oh God, the welcome wagon.

The first orderly retrieved a key from a ring that hung from his belt and unlocked the door. Dean stepped back a bit as all three men stepped in from the hallway.

"Good morning, Mr. Winchester," the doctor said kindly, softly. "I'm Dr. Walpole. We met last night. Do you remember me?"

Dean's hands went slightly cold at the man's patronizingly calm demeanour, because try as he might, he could not remember having met him. The two orderlies stood flanking him, and Dean tensed reflexively.

"I got here last night?" Dean asked sceptically. It frightened him that he couldn't remember how he'd gotten here. That kind of threw his whole prolonged-hospital stay theory all to hell.

"That's right," Dr. Walpole assured him. Dean noticed that his kindly smile didn't touch his eyes. He repressed a shudder. "Your father had you transferred here. Do you remember being at the other hospital?"

"Dad?" Dean asked. God, it had been months since he'd seen his dad. He and Sam had been looking for so long. "Dad had me transferred? What?"

He was so confused, and the doctor and orderlies were looking at him with shared looks of pity and practiced patience. It made him want to scream.

"Where's Sam?" Dean demanded. "He was injured, and I need to know that he's ok."

The doctor pulled a clipboard from behind his back and ran his cold eyes over whatever documents it held.

"Sam, that's your brother, is it?"

"Yeah, my brother," Dean said. "Where is he?"

"He's fine," Dr. Walpole assured him. "In fact, your father promised last night that he and your brother would be coming by today to see you. Won't that be nice?"

There were bars on the window. Cold crept up his insides and squeezed at his heart with a vicelike grip when Dean realized that there were bars on the window to his room.

Nothing made sense. He tried to suppress the crushing wave of panic washing over him, but the calm centre, that solid rock within himself that he so readily tapped into when he was frightened or upset, seemed to have been crushed by some unseen force. He couldn't make sense of what was happening, where he was, or why he was there, and the feeling of isolation, of being completely lost, was crippling.

Had he been arrested? Had the police somehow caught up with him for the whole St. Louis murder thing? Had he somehow confessed the whole truth about the Shapeshifter and the hunting gig, only to be landed in a mental hospital? It was the only explanation that he could think of to account for what appeared to be his current situation. But then, why couldn't he remember getting here?

"When?" Dean asked, his voice feeling suddenly like sandpaper being scraped over gravel. "When will they be here?"

"Soon," the doctor assured him. "But before they get here, we need you to take your meds, ok?" When Dean made to protest he cut him off. "Let's not have a repetition of what happened last night. Just be a good boy, Dean, and take your meds. Then you can see your dad and your brother. Ok? You see them after you take your meds, not before."

He held out a tiny, waxy paper cup full of many and varied coloured pills.

Dean laughed uncomfortably.

"You gotta be kiddin' me," he said. "I'm not taking those. No way."

"Dean, we've been through this," the doctor warned.

"If I take those, you're all gonna think I'm crazy." He found himself smiling in spite of the helplessness that he felt. "I know, you already think I'm crazy… But I'm not. But those pills? I know what they do. They make patients all twitchy and jerky and paranoid. And dopey."

"If you don't take them, you don't get to see your family today," the doctor assured him.

"But I'm calm," Dean promised, making sure to keep his voice calm in spite of his frustration and fear and confusion. "See? I'm calm. I'm not foaming at the mouth or howling at the moon or hearing voices or anything. I'm just… I just need to see my family."

"As soon as you take your meds."

Dean clenched his fists and forced himself to take a deep, calming breath. He could feel the orderlies' eyes taking in his every move.

"Why am I here?" Dean asked. His fear was giving way to anger and his frustration was building to a breaking point. "You can't just freakin' keep me here for no reason. And you can't make me take that crap if I don't want to."

"The State says that we can," the doctor said coolly.

"The State?" Anger giving way to fear and panic again. "I don't understand…"

"You killed people, Dean. You're dangerous to yourself and to others."

The four walls of the empty room felt like they were closing in. Dean stared dumbly at Dr. Walpole, trying to process his words. You killed people, Dean. You killed people, Dean. You killed people, Dean. He thought if he could just make his mind work, he could remember how he got here. He needed to remember something, anything, about last night. There had been the Black Dog, and Sam had been hurt. He remembered going to sleep in his bed at the motel.

"What day is it?" Dean asked in a whisper.

"It's Tuesday," the doctor replied.

"But what's the date?" Dean pressed. Had time passed while Dean had been in some kind of medicated fog? Had he 'lost time' in some kind of psychotic episode?

"February 9th, 2006."

Fuck. He definitely wasn't losing time, and definitely had not missed the last several months in a drug-induced blur. He was sure that when he'd gone to sleep in the motel it had been February 8th, 2006. Something had gone terribly wrong. Maybe this was just a dream. He pinched himself hard on the arm, trying to wake himself up, but the reddening flesh between his fingers, and the sting his pinching produced felt all too real.

Dean swallowed hard, rubbing his fingers along the insides of his palms and clenching his fists, trying to warm them against the cold that was taking over his body. He needed to think. He needed to have some kind of plan. Whatever was happening to him, he had to keep his head clear so he could figure out a way out of here. And most importantly, he had to talk to his father and brother.

"Have we calmed down?" Dr. Walpole asked tentatively, his patronizing tone earning him a steely green-eyed scowl from his patient.

"I told you I'm calm, assface," Dean said. "I just need to see my dad and my brother."

The doctor shook his head sadly and extended his hands at his sides in an obvious 'my hands are tied' gesture.

"Not until you take your meds. This doesn't have to be hard, Dean. Just take your meds, and then you can see them. They should be arriving shortly. In fact, they're probably here now."

He extended the tiny cup of pills toward Dean.

"Just take your meds, and you can go see them. I promise."

Dean hesitated. He looked at the two orderlies, who were still flanking the doctor protectively, each looking ready to pounce if Dean were to make one wrong move. He thought if he had to he could probably take them both out, but considering where he was, and the types of drugs they had on hand to jab into their more agitated patients to make them docile and slack-jawed, he decided he'd better not risk it.

"I really don't need those," Dean assured all three of them. "Look at me. I'm lucid, I'm… I'm coherent and speaking in complete sentences."

"Dean –" the doctor began.

"I'm not hearing voices or seeing things," Dean pressed. "Please, doc, I just need to talk to my family with a clear head. Those meds will mess me up. I just need to talk to my family with a clear head."

Dr. Walpole shook his head sadly.

"So you can tell them about the ghosts and the demons?" he asked. "You want to be alert and lucid so you can tell your father and your brother about all those creatures that go bump in the night – the ones that you hunt? Is that it?"

So they knew. Somehow they knew, and they obviously, and understandably, didn't believe him. Was this why he had been locked up? Dean felt so cold on the inside his hands began to tremble. But heat was rising in his face. He had to choke back the bile that surged up his throat as a wave of nausea slapped into him. This was what a belly-flop into Hell felt like.

"Please," Dean pleaded softly, unsure now who he was pleading to. "I just… just need to talk to them. Please?"

"I've told you Dean," the doctor said in that same calm, patronizing voice. "You can see them just as soon as you take your meds."

"No."

"You don't want to see them?" He tilted his head to the side, a classic gesture of piqued curiosity. Dean was like some kind of experiment to be observed. He lifted his clipboard and scribbled something down.

"Of course I want to see them," Dean said emphatically. "Just no drugs."

"The drugs are part of your treatment," the doctor said coldly. "You're a danger to yourself and to the people around you. You're a danger to my staff. You need to be sedated so that everyone's safe. So that you're safe, and so that your visitors are safe, and so that the hospital staff are safe. Ok?"

"Please," Dean pleaded. "I don't need to be sedated. I'll be good. I'll be calm. I promise!"

"Dr. Walpole, he's not going to take them," the larger of the two orderlies said soberly.

"Hey why don't you shut the hell up, Tiny?" Dean snapped. "Go find yourself a bedpan to clean or somethin'. No one's talkin' to you."

The doctor sighed heavily and gave a curt nod to the two orderlies, who immediately stepped forward toward Dean. He watched as they stalked toward him, their arms held out at their sides readying to grab at him to restrain him. But Dean had no intention of going down without a fight.

He easily side-stepped the larger man's outstretched arms and struck hard with a jab to the man's gut. A second pair of hands grabbed him from behind, but he spun so fast the man could not hold his grip, giving Dean a chance to strike hard with an upper-cut that shattered the man's nose in a spray of blood and a howl of pain. Dr. Walpole had backed away against the wall, leaving Dean ample room to rush past him and out the door, but he didn't make it very far. The doctor was screaming for help and before Dean had made it three steps beyond the door he saw two more orderlies and a security guard stalking toward him.

"Crap!" Dean muttered harshly, turning to run in the other direction. He made a mad dash down the hall, nearly crashing into a nurse as she rounded the corner with a tray of medication cups like the one Dr. Walpole had been trying to foist onto him.

"Stop!" a voice cried behind him, but Dean kept running.

He knew even as he ran that it was pointless. There wouldn't be a way out of a place like this without having some kind of key card or swipe pass. The exits would all be secured against patients escaping. And there would be more orderlies and more security guards and more doctors coming after him to prevent him leaving, but fear and sheer stupid will kept his feet moving. With each step he denied whatever cruel twist of fate that had landed him here. With each step he told himself 'this isn't real.' With each step he suppressed his feelings of despair and confusion; with each step he clung to his sanity and told himself that this was all a lie, and the life he had left behind somewhere – that was real.

A figure crashed sidelong into him, knocking him to the ground with a grunt as the air was forced from his lungs. Dean kicked with his knee, forcing the person off of him as he rolled to his side and scrambled to his feet. A hand caught him by the ankle, pulling him back and tripping him. Then a body came crashing down on top of him. Then another. He flailed wildly with his arms, catching someone in the jaw with a yelp of pain, until someone managed to pin his arms down. He fought vainly against the weight on top of him, trying to kick out with his legs, but innumerable hands had him pinned to the ground. He counted at least six faces twisted in grunts of extreme exertion as they struggled to hold him in place. If he hadn't been so terrified he might even have felt proud at the difficulty they were having.

"All right now," Dr. Walpole's voice said, patronizing and calm and attempting to be soothing. "Just calm down. Everything's going to be fine."

Dean observed through the sea of heads that Dr. Walpole was approaching, a syringe held aloft in his hand, and something like a satisfactory smirk on his face. The bastard was loving this.

"You sonovabitch!" Dean hissed, redoubling his efforts to get away. "You stay the hell away from me!"

Dr. Walpole smiled and came forward, keeping the syringe within Dean's line of sight. He watched as those steely green eyes opened wide in fear, shock, denial, and horror, and paused to allow his patient to react.

"Everything's going to be fine," he said soothingly. "Shhh."

"No!" Dean cried, watching as the doctor lowered the needle toward his thigh. "No! Nononono!"

It pricked into his skin with a pinch, jabbing into the muscle and sending warm shooting sensations through his flesh as the doctor pressed the plunger, the drugs coursing into him with lightening speed. The effect was almost instant. Dean felt his heart falter for a moment, his breathing changing. The world swam as his body suddenly became very heavy. He felt himself sinking into the floor, his limbs slack and unresponsive to his own commands.

"No," he mumbled, struggling to keep his eyes open.

"Take him back to his room," Dr. Walpole instructed. "Put him in restraints. We're not taking any chances."

Through the fog, and the numbness and the vast chasm between where Dean was and where the rest of the world seemed to be, he felt hands seize him and lift him. He was being dragged down the hall but he could do nothing to fight back. His body refused to move, and his mind was so sluggish he had to struggle to remain conscious. But he knew, even through the dim haze of oblivion, that things were about to get so much worse.

888

The waiting area was very quiet. A clock on the wall ticked loudly and Sam tried to ignore it as he sat, his leg beating out a steady rhythm that was out of time with the ticking on the wall above. Empty chairs in a bleak, gray room with overly bright fluorescent lights were the only company that he and his dad had while they waited. The receptionist down the hall had told them that the doctor would be there to greet them shortly. Then they'd be able to go see Dean.

He didn't want to be here. It was selfish, and cruel, but Sam Winchester did not want to be here. Hospitals always made him feel very anxious, and mental hospitals even more so. At least the last place Dean had been at had felt more like a home than this. This was like a prison – a bleak, sanitized, maximum security prison, with nurses and orderlies instead of correctional officers. And instead of jeers and catcalls and eye-fucks from the inmates, there were sobs, moans, cries of anguish and loss and dire warning that the end of the world was coming, the aliens had invaded, the CIA were poisoning the coffee at Starbucks.

"Something's not right," John Winchester observed uneasily, shifting in his seat. "The doc should have been here almost an hour ago."

"He'll be here Dad," Sam assured him. "He probably got caught up with one of the other patients."

John made a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat.

"Well it's awfully rude to just leave us waiting here," he grumbled. "Some people have lives and jobs and can't sit around all day waiting."

"Shhh," Sam admonished. "Dad, he'll be here soon. Just calm down."

It was always a mistake to tell John Winchester to calm down. The surly ex-marine was used to being the one to call the shots, and he had no patience whatsoever to be told what to do by his youngest son. But Sam knew that he had to be kept in line, and that his anger had to be toned down if they were going to be allowed to see Dean. The doctors were always so insistent that they had to be calm when they talked to Dean, so as not to upset him.

"It's just you came all this way," John complained. "And I took time off work."

He scrubbed a weary hand over his face. It was always like this. Sam watched his dad, watched the pain behind his eyes as he stared ahead through the seat cushion in front of him, watched those angry dark eyes boring into it, as though seeing through it, with a deep sadness welling up behind them. He always got like this when he came to visit Dean. It was like an exercise in torture.

At last the approach of footsteps signalled that the doctor had arrived. John and Sam stood as one, readying themselves to follow, but they could both tell from the doctor's hesitant steps, his hand-wringing, his lack of eye contact, that something was wrong.

"John Winchester?" the doctor asked. "Sam Winchester?"

The doctor, Sam observed, was of medium height with dark, almost black hair, and thick, dark eyebrows. His face was long and slightly drawn, as though it had been stretched to a point at his chin.

"Yeah," John replied curtly. "You're Dr. Walpole, I presume. We're here to see Dean."

"Yes, well, about that…" He coughed uncomfortably. "I'm afraid that won't be possible."

"What?" John demanded sharply.

"There was an incident," the doctor explained. "Your son attacked four of our orderlies – broke a man's nose – and had to be heavily sedated and restrained. He's not fit to see anyone at the moment, I'm afraid. Maybe in a day or two?"

"That's bullshit!" John barked. "I came here to see my boy. I want to see my son. Now."

"I'm afraid that's impossible," the doctor protested mildly.

"What happened?" Sam asked. He laid a firm but reassuring hand on his father's shoulder to try to calm him.

"He attacked four of our orderlies," Dr. Walpole explained again. "We came into his room to give him his medication, and when he refused he had an episode and attacked two of the orderlies that were with me. Then he attempted to escape and attacked two more. His outburst was not only damaging to the staff, it caused an uproar among the patients who heard the struggle."

"Well can we please just see him?" Sam suggested. "We don't have to go in and talk to him. If we could just pass by his room and take a quick look at him? I came all the way from California. And Dad really needs to see him."

John smiled sadly at his son and then looked at the doctor hopefully, expectantly.

"I suppose that would be all right," Dr. Walpole said with a sigh. "I can bring you by his room to get a quick look at him. I understand that after the transfer and everything, you probably just want to see for yourselves that he's adjusting and is ok."

"I just need to see him," John said thickly.

Doctor Walpole led them past the reception area to a large door that could only be opened with a magnetized keycard. It opened with a loud buzz and admitted all three into a long corridor beyond. The same bleak gray paint and stark yellow lights met their eyes, and Sam had to resist the shudder that crept up his spine. He couldn't imagine staying in a place like this, and felt a stab in his heart at the thought of poor Dean being caged here like an animal. No matter what he had done, the reality of this place had to be a nightmare for him.

They passed through another secured door to the same loud buzzing, and then another, until they had reached the wing where Dean was housed. Sam could feel his palms getting sweatier with each step he took. Dean had had to be sedated and restrained. That meant he would be looking in on a vegetable tied to a bed – a vegetable that was his big brother. He choked back the lump in his throat and blinked past the tears misting up his eyes.

Seeing it was somehow worse than imagining it. A heavy steel door with a small window to peek through allowed Sam an unobstructed view into Dean's room. He was lying on a small, single bed, his arms and legs held in thick leather restraints, his head lolling to the side and his eyes staring vacantly ahead. The image that assaulted his eyes was rending his heart: the solid, well-formed muscles of Dean's arms and chest, thighs and calves, such striking proofs of his strength and grace, were now slack, limp, and useless. Those intense green eyes, alight with mischief, passion, fire, anger, love, or any other emotion Sam could conceive of, were dull and lifeless, looking ahead but seeing and registering nothing. The prone figure lying in abject misery before him was a perfect, cruel image of strength beaten down, beauty caged, vitality and fire snuffed out.

Sam stepped aside, suddenly unable to breathe, and allowed his father to wallow in the horrific image through the window in peace. He watched his father's face crumble in grief as he looked in through that window, looked in on the horror-show that had become Dean's life. Doubt, grief, despair, and hopelessness washed over John Winchester's face like different flashing colours of a strobe light. And Sam could do nothing to salve his hurt. It was a pain that could find no release or peace.

"I need to speak with you in private," Dr. Walpole said quietly. "About the next round of treatment for your son."

John coughed past the tears and attempted to collect himself. He drew his sorrowful brown eyes away from the window and nodded his acknowledgment. After what felt like hours they found themselves seated in Dr. Walpole's office.

"I won't lie to you," Dr. Walpole said frankly. "Dean's transition to this facility has not been smooth. He only just arrived last night and he has already had two violent outbursts."

"It's this place," John explained. "Dean doesn't do well in confined spaces. And he really doesn't like bein' alone. If we could just stick around until he wakes up, and go talk to him, I know he'd feel better. The move must have confused him."

"Yes, well," the doctor said. "I have my staff to think about. Their safety is my primary concern at this point. I will not have a repetition of what happened at the Stafford Institute."

"He would never have hurt those people on purpose!" John said, his voice warbled with emotion. "Dean's not a bad kid. He just gets confused… and then he gets scared and he tries to defend himself…"

"Dad…" Sam interrupted, laying a comforting hand on his dad's knee.

"…but he'd never hurt anyone on purpose," John went on. "He's got a big heart. And he thinks he's saving people."

"Yes, I understand that, Mr. Winchester," Dr. Walpole said calmly. "But his delusions are dangerous. People have died – innocent people. And those two Stafford guards."

"He didn't mean it," John insisted, sounding so broken. "If he'd been himself… If he were in his right mind, he never… He'd never hurt anyone."

Dr. Walpole nodded sagely.

"But Dean isn't in his right mind," he said. "And we have to decide how we're going to proceed to make him well again, or at the very least, how to keep the rest of us safe from him. I think that we should resume with the electroshock therapy treatment. According to Dr. Borgstrum's notes, the treatment seemed to be having a very positive effect."

"NO!" John insisted. "Last time you crazy bastards used the electroshock treatment Dean stopped talking for a month. No. No." He shook his head resolutely, desperately.

"I don't need your permission," Dr. Walpole said quietly. "The State has placed your son in my care. I have the authority to choose whatever treatments I think best suit the circumstances. But I would like to decide on a course of action that we can all be comfortable with."

"No electroshock," John said adamantly. "Try something else. More therapy sessions. More counselling. If you had the right doctor talking to him, I know you could get through to him. Maybe a female doctor – he likes women."

Dr. Walpole smirked and suppressed a laugh.

"Yes, well, he does at that," he said, coughing uncomfortably. "And that was something else I wanted to discuss with you. Your son's sexual behaviour…"

John let out an exasperated sigh of irritation.

"That ain't my problem, Doc," he grumbled. "For God's sake, you've got the kid doped up and tied to a bed, and you're gonna try to convince me that him flirting with the nurses is a threat to national security?"

"Mr. Winchester, please," Dr. Walpole admonished. "Dean's sexual appetite is a real matter for concern."

"Why?" Sam asked, a knot forming in his stomach. "Is he dangerous?"

"No," Dr. Walpole admitted. "But we fear he'll have a distracting effect on our female staff members. According to Dr. Borgstrum's notes, as well as eyewitness accounts from Stafford, Dean had somehow managed to have sexual encounters with almost all of the female staff members, including two doctors and one therapist. On two separate occasions he was caught secreted away with a female visitor…"

John snorted with laughter.

"So he's got as much charm in this hell-hole as he had on the outside," John said, a real smile forming on his lips for the first time in weeks. "Doesn't sound like it's hurting anyone."

"We don't encourage sex addiction," Dr. Walpole said seriously. "Your son has a real problem."

"He's lonely," John supplied simply. "So he reaches out in the only way he knows how."

"Is this really a problem, doctor?" Sam asked. "I mean, I can see how you obviously wouldn't like it, but what exactly are we supposed to do about it?"

"He was famous for convincing the nurses to cease giving him his medication," Dr. Walpole intoned darkly. "He escaped twice from the high security wing and once was able to get outside the facility entirely. If one of the security guards hadn't been returning from his lunch hour to see him leaving the building he could still be on the loose right now."

John was trying very hard not to laugh, and Sam was almost inclined to join him. Leave it to Dean to flirt or sleep his way to escape from a mental institution.

"So what do you suggest we do then?" John asked at last.

Dr. Walpole was slow to answer. He watched John tentatively, as if deciding whether or not he should speak. He then looked to Sam to see if he could gauge what his reaction would be.

"I was thinking chemical castration."

888

It was a long, lonely drive back to Palo Alto. Sam's fists tightened on the steering wheel, his knuckles going white from the strain, as he remembered the horrible visit with Dean's doctor. There was something about that Walpole jerk that didn't sit well with Sam. He seemed too cold, too appraising, as though he were more interested in scientific study than he was in helping his patients. Sam thought the man viewed his patients as lab rats, rather than as human beings, and that thought sat like a cold heavy stone in the pit of his stomach. The idea of his brother being in the legal guardianship of someone like that made him want to vomit.

His dad had adamantly and hysterically refused to allow the chemical castration, threatening to call on the powers of every god, government, and news agency he could think of to heap mighty judgment on Dr. Walpole and his staff if they were to ever attempt it.

"Please, not Dean!" he had pleaded. "You can't do that to Dean! It'll kill him!"

Walpole had been very reluctant to abandon that plan of action, but with John's desperate pleading and Sam's rational and well-argued points, they were able to talk him out of it for the time being. They would talk with Dean, they promised, and impress upon him the necessity of him being on his best behaviour. They would get through to Dean and he would behave. They promised.

But talking to Dean had been almost less than useless. When they had arrived two days after their initial visit, it was only to find Dean heavily sedated and barely able to sit up on his own. He had been propped up in a kind of cushy lounge chair, his head leaning heavily to the left side, and he was almost unable to speak. He tried, God love him. When he'd seen Sam and John approach him, his bleary eyes had become instantly dewy with warm, salty tears. He had reached out with a fumbling, trembling hand to grasp at his brother, pulling him close. Sam remembered the desperation of that hug, the quiet moan that escaped Dean as he felt the solid form of his Sammy in his arms, as he took in a deep breath, inhaling the scent of his shampoo and aftershave.

"We missed you the other day, kiddo," John had said kindly.

Dean had attempted a smile. "Assholes," he'd muttered, casting a tired glance over his shoulder to indicate the hospital staff.

Sam had laughed, his insides roiling with pain at Dean's stoicism. It was strange seeing him now, seeing him acting somehow like his old self. It had been obvious to Sam that Dean was struggling for clarity, struggling to both understand and be understood. He had been fighting so hard against the effects of the medication.

"So listen," Sam had said quietly. "You've gotta stay away from the nurses, ok?"

Dean had grinned wickedly, his eyes drooping but still twinkling, though dully.

"I mean it, Dean," Sam had admonished. "Promise us you'll leave the nurses alone. Don't give the doctors more reason to be pissed at you, ok?"

Dean had listened quietly, processing Sam's words, chewing them over in his mind.

"They're going to do something terrible, aren't they?" he'd mumbled. "They told you?"

Sam and John had exchanged worried glances. Should they tell him? Would it throw him into another fit?

"That's just great," Dean had muttered.

The conversation had gone smoothly at first, though Dean had had a real difficult time staying conscious and following what his father and brother were saying to him. They could see him straining to pay attention, straining to process the information as it came to him. But the heavy fog of sedation cast such a shadow over him. He looked like one trying to drag himself back from the dead.

"You gotta get me out of here," he'd said, out of nowhere. "Just listen… just listen, ok? I don't belong in here. Whatever they're saying I did – I didn't do it. You gotta get me out of here."

"Dean," his father had said mildly. "Kiddo—"

"I don't belong in here," Dean had protested, the words tumbling out of his pouty, numb lips. "Sammy, please. Something's happened… I don't know what, but it isn't supposed to be like this."

"It's ok, Dean," Sam had assured him, that fire in his gut twisting again. "You've just got to get better. Take care of yourself in here and don't fight them. They can help you get better."

"They can't help me, Sam!" Dean had insisted. "This place is driving me crazy. I've only been here a coupla days and already I can feel it. I'm not supposed to be here."

"Dean—"

"I can't stay in that room," he'd gone on. "I can't stay in that tiny room, alone… It's killin' me Sam." He'd looked at their dad with pleading anguish in his eyes. "Dad, it's killin' me."

But what could they have done? Dean was dangerous. The only reason that he wasn't in jail serving a sentence for murder was that he was completely mentally unfit. The Stafford Institute had been his home for four years, until those guards had died and he'd been transferred here to a higher-security facility. There was no way that they could convince the doctors that he was sane enough to be released, let alone a Judge, and it would be impossible to break him out. So they had had to endure his desperate pleas for them to help him, had been forced to offer him useless platitudes about how things would get easier, when deep down they both knew that this place was the end of the line for Dean. He'd stay locked away at Golden Brook Asylum until his spirit finally broke and that fire in him went out.

Sam swallowed back the tears, trying to block out the pain, but they came unbidden, tumbling down his cheeks as his own feelings of helplessness threatened to overwhelm him. He couldn't help but think that it was his own decision to go to school that had pushed Dean over the edge. Dean had always been a bit of a loner, choosing to keep to himself (except with the ladies) and really only ever being close with his dad and brother. When Sam went away to go to school, something in Dean had changed. Something snapped. And then he had killed that girl, who he insisted was a demon, and he had been locked away ever since.

He wondered if there was any way he could have known. He thought he should have known. He and his brother had been so close growing up. Their dad so emotionally distant after their mom died, had spent almost all of his time at the garage, pouring himself into his business and all-but ignoring his two sons at home. Dean had taken care of Sam, had given him what little security he could provide, sheltering him from a world that didn't care about the two scared and lonely kids who needed a strong parent around to keep them safe. Dean had done that without complaint. So yes, Sam felt sure he should have noticed something was off. He should have somehow seen that Dean had become delusional, that in his role as protective big brother he had somehow created a fantasy world of demons and werewolves and poltergeists. He should have known and should have done something to help him before everything escalated. Before he turned his back and walked away… Before that poor girl got killed.

But he couldn't undo the past. He couldn't go back and ask Dean all the questions he should have asked four and a half years ago. He couldn't go back to see the cracks forming in his brother's mental health – couldn't stop their steady progression as the person Dean was crumbled away. He could only crouch before the ruin now and pick up the broken pieces.

Sam watched as headlights from oncoming traffic bore into his line of vision, blinked through the brightness, and stared numbly ahead in the afterglow as darkness enveloped the car once again. Soon he'd be home, where he would wrap his arms around Jessica and hold her until the world felt normal again. He so badly wanted to feel her in his arms, to feel her love and support and know that at least with her, things would be ok. Soon he'd be asking her the question – that time-honoured, girl-squealing question – and he knew that meant that he'd have to tell her about Dean. She didn't even know he had a brother, but if he was going to ask her to spend the rest of her life with him, he knew that he'd have to come clean about his family. He'd have to tell her about Dean.