Better Off This Way

Author: Linda Atkinson

Fandom: Supernatural

Rating: FRAO

Pairing: John Winchester/Louis Schafer (YED)

Warnings: implied M/M sex, angst, mental torture.

Summary: Post IMTOD (AU discounts the end of AHBL 2 and Season 4 Ep. 1) John Winchester always thought he knew who he was. When he awakes after the events of IMTOD he finds himself in a mental hospital. His friends, family and husband all try to convince him that the people, places and things he remembers are the product of his illness.

Many thanks to Sioux_Sioux for the wonderful beta on the story.

The blankets were oppressively hot and he sat up, grunting in pain as he dragged the crisp white fabric from over his face. John groaned again looking around. Somehow he had an entirely different picture of what hell should look like. Although from all the times he had been in a hospital John Winchester wasn't really surprised by the idea that his personal hell might be this antiseptic-scented, blandly-decorated place.

Struggling upright he leaned forward trying to get a good look at his surroundings. He was more puzzled than before. The room was clean, neat marbleized tile, pale walls and a large window framed by white curtains. The bed he was lying in was standard hospital issue although the blankets and linens looked more expensive than usual.

There was a table beside the bed bearing a tall bottle of water, condensation slicking the sides, and John wondered if he was strong enough or if he dared to lift the container and pour the water into the tumbler nestled beside the bottle. Finally, thirst won over caution and John shifted in the bed enough to reach the table.

The water was cool, and clear, the sweetest tasting he had had, and that also seemed so out of place for hell that John was struck into stillness. He arm ached and John glanced at the IV pole beside the bed following the length of plastic tubing down from the hanging bags to the cannula embedded in his left arm, just above the sterile white gaze wrapping his wrist. He glanced at the other arm and was surprised to find that his right wrist was similarly wrapped. Was he still in the hospital in Chelsea? Had the demon gone back on their deal? John sat up in a panic.

His movements pulled the white sensor tab over his left breast off and the machine standing sentinel behind the IV pole emitted a shrill beep. John flinched grabbing for the sticky white tab, but it was too late. He could hear footsteps in the hall.

Casting a quick glance around the room John searched for something, anything, that could be used as a weapon. It was too late and the footsteps patted to a halt just at the door. John braced himself for the onslaught of demons then sat back frowning at the sight of a slender elderly woman in crisp white. She cocked her head looking at him, and John grasped the bed rail.

"Did you pull your leads off again, Mr. Winchester?"

"What?" he asked stupidly then glanced down at his chest. She tapped a foot then smiled at him. Walking briskly to his side the woman picked up the discarded disc and inspected it for damage. Apparently satisfied that it was functional she reattached it to his skin with the neat efficiency of a long time professional.

"We mustn't detach our leads. It tends to make the doctors very cranky when they think their patients are dying."

John watched her bustle around the room, fluffing his pillows and moving the table so that it was not so far out of reach. The nurse, and he could only assume she was a nurse, tugged a chart off the end of his bed and read through it.

"Well, I might as well take your vitals. Then we'll see about getting you some lunch."

"What…I don't need." John stuttered to a halt. "Where am I?"

The nurse pulled back a frown crinkling her brow, "You're at Saint Margret's Hospital. Don't you remember, honey?"

"If I remembered I wouldn't have asked, honey," John snapped.

She glanced at him over the chart then snorted.

"That's Sister Agnes to you."

Coughing John felt his cheeks go warm.

"Uh, I'm sorry, Sister. I just thought that I was somewhere else. Why was I transferred from Mercy General?"

The nurse pulled back frowning.

"You have never been in the General Hospital."

John smiled in spite of himself. Her small moue of disgust and the way she virtually spat out the words, General Hospital, amused the hell out of him. Then he cringed at the pun, even if it was only in his head.

"Why is that?"

"Mr. Schafer makes more than enough money to see that his spouse is given the best care, and you should be grateful for that."

John flinched at her words, his spouse. What the hell? Then he sat up. There was movement in the hallway, the soft swish of footfalls on the carpets. A doctor appeared at the door, green scrubs so crisp that John could swear that he could smell the starch. Another man was in the doorway, not as tall as the doctor, sandy hair wearing a neat Armani suit and very tasteful tie. Blue eyes swept to the bed and he broke into a grin.

A flurry of movement brought the man to the bed and John wanted to scream. Then his hands were on John's arm and he leaned in close, making a move as if to kiss John and he erupted into movement.

"Get the hell off me!" John screamed thrashing.

His arm jerked slapping into the bedside table sending the water bottle into the floor. The nurse jumped emitting a shrill little scream as John threw himself at the man.

"Get off of me you bastard."

A hurt look crossed the man's face, and he backed up turning to the doctor in mute supplication. The doctor scurried to John's side grasping his arm.

"Just calm down, John. Please, you're only going to hurt yourself."

Turning to the nurse the doctor barked,

"Get me five ccs of Valium, now."

"Kyle, what's wrong? I thought you said he was getting better."

The doctor, whose name was apparently Kyle Bartlet, forced John's arm to the bed then accepted the needle the nurse thrust at him. There was a cold sting and John fell back gasping weakly. Watching the room through half-closed eyes he snarled at the demon.

"You know what's wrong, you bastard," John snapped, but the drug had kicked in and his voice lacked the heat or venom he wanted to throw at the beast. Turning to the doctor he waved the hand not being held against the bed. "He's not what you think he is. He's a demon, and this is his twisted version of hell."

Doctor Bartlet shook John's arm.

"John…John you have got to calm down. Your blood pressure and your pulse are elevated. You really need to calm down. I thought we talked about this…you told me you were feeling better."

John gasped.

"Feeling better? I'm dead and in hell. How can I feel better?"

Bartlet gasped then cast a quick glance over his shoulder at the man standing at the foot of the bed. Involuntarily John's eyes drifted past the doctor's face to the other man as well. He looked tired, drawn and John hesitated, waiting for his pale cornflower blue eyes to flash yellow. When he merely stood quietly John flinched. This was not a man, not his husband; this was the demon that had destroyed his world. John snarled,

"Get the hell out."

Finally, reluctantly, the other man withdrew from his position at the foot of the bed. He stood waiting patiently at the door while the doctor took John's blood pressure and motioned the nurse over.

"He's still a little thready, stay with him, and see if you can get him to eat something. I need to speak to Mr. Schafer outside."

The nurse nodded then began straightening out the blankets, smoothing them over John's legs. He watched, a little fuzzy from the drugs, noticing her hands turning the material catching a glimpse of the wooden rosary wrapped around her wrist. He reached out stilling her hands, tracing the simple dark brown beads as they twined around her slender arm.

With a pained smile Sister Agnes pulled away.

"Do we feel up to lunch now?"

John chuckled, a low growling sound that made her pause.

"Sure," he said. "Why not? What have you got?"

"I think the cafeteria is serving roasted chicken but I'm sure that, Mr. Schafer…the lovely man that you're married too… would order you something from Sarty's if you want. He seems to cater to you even if you are an ungrateful, spiteful brat."

That startled John into quiet. He watched her suspiciously.

"I'm an ungrateful…spiteful brat. What the hell are you talking about? Your lovely Mr. Schafer is a demon, right out of hell…"

"John!" she snapped then sighed, "You have got to stop this nonsense. You have got to get over these childish delusions."

"Childish delusions? Are you trying to tell me this isn't hell, that I'm not dead?"

"Of course not, this is New York City and you're hungry aren't you?"

She stood back tapping one foot against the floor. He grinned at that nodding.

"Well," she snapped. "The dead don't eat."

"Obviously you don't spend much time around them."

Rolling her eyes the nurse made a stabbing motion at him with her finger.

"Well, what is it? Do you want me to have the orderly bring you up something from the cafeteria or shall I have Mr. Schafer call out for you?"

"Oh why the hell not? Have him order me up a steak and some roasted potatoes. He should know the way I like them if we're really married."

He lay listening to the soft sound of the air conditioning, the swish of the crape soles of her shoes as the nurse walked to the door and ducked outside. He could hear her voice, stern and uncompromising and the soft chuckling of the …thing…in the hallway. John could almost imagine the motion as he heard the soft sounds of a cell phone and the quiet voice of Schafer as he ordered.

"Hi, yeah its Lou Schafer. I want to get something for takeout, and have the driver bring it to Saint Margaret's. Steak, medium rare and honey roasted potatoes. No it's for John, yeah he's…awake. I'll meet them at the front door."

The food arrived, carried not by Lou or the nurse but by an unsmiling orderly who pulled the table close to the bed and settled the green and white bag on the bedside beneath John's hand. He grunted something and John took a peek inside the bag. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting but the heavy-duty black plastic plate covered with a clear dome and white napkin rolled around black flatware were so normal that John paused. Sighing he tugged the paper bag away and placed the plate on the table.

When he pulled the dome away steam curled up briefly burning his fingers. John sat for a minute staring at the plate. When it didn't move, didn't morph into something sick and disgusting he sat for a few minutes more. Actually the food smelled…good. Really good and his stomach rumbled. His hands trembled from the effort but John managed to cut a bite of steak and sat back. Finally he caved in and popped the morsel into his mouth. The meat was cooked perfectly, tender and juicy. Picking up the napkin he managed to spear one of the small potatoes and tasted it, flavored just the way he liked it. John sat back frowning.

Years ago when he had just come home from Vietnam a buddy of his flew in with him. They made it out of Saigon to La Guardia and his friend's parents picked them both up at the airport. John knew his own father couldn't be bothered to make it to New York to pick up his still wounded son. So Joey DelaFonta's parents had.

They had taken both young men, John laughed, boys really, since neither one of them were more than a few months past nineteen, to Sarty's for dinner. John had all but inhaled the steak and potatoes. Joey had died a few months later, in a way so ordinary and pedestrian that it made John's heart hurt just to think of it.

For years after, any time he made it to New York, he did whatever he could to make sure that he had one dinner at Sarty's and always the same one. He closed his eyes, wincing as the flavor of the food brought a tide of memories washing over him. When John looked down again he had eaten all the food on the plate and was idly tapping the fork against the table. There was movement in the doorway and John flinched. He was there.

"Was it okay?"

"What do you care? I don't know what the hell kind of game you're playing but I won't fall into it."

Lou smiled earnestly at him.

"John, I'm not playing. I love you and want what's best for you. I know how much you like Sarty's food. I can't tell you how many times you told me that story about Joey…"

"No!" John screamed. "You don't get to talk about him."

When John woke the next morning Sister Agnes was bustling around the room. Turning quickly she schooled her expression into something neutral before walking over to him.

"So you're up and about, well, awake anyway. Breakfast should be up in a minute. Let me get your vitals before they get here."

He lay still, watching and listening as she checked his blood pressure. She tossed a disgruntled glare in his direction. "Your pressure is elevated. John you need to learn to calm down."

He scoffed, "Of course my pressure is elevated. I'm dead and in hell."

"Nonsense, you need to get over yourself. Louis is working himself ragged…"

"Louis is a demon. He killed my wife and tried to kill my sons. I sold my soul in exchange for Dean's life…" his voice faded as she looked away. Finally, uttering a long sigh the nun patted his arm."

"John I know things have been hard since the accident, but you need to get over this."

"Get over this! He totaled my son's car with a semi."

"You don't have a son, John. And you were never married to anyone named Mary. You've been ill. Since the accident."

"Yeah, the accident where a demon drove an eighteen wheeler into my car."

"John! Your Mercedes is right outside in the parking lot. Louis had it left so that you'd feel more secure. He knows you don't like feeling dependant."

"My Mercedes?"

"Yes," she smiled at him. "Your car is right outside the window, and your keys and wallet are with your personal effects in the drawer."

"So I could just walk right out of here? And no one would try and stop me."

Sister Agnes sighed. "I don't think you should drive, after the incident last weekend. You haven't been well. Mr. Schafer would be heartbroken if you had a ….relapse."

Narrowing his eyes John glanced down at the gauze wrapped around each of his wrists. Sister Agnes followed his line of sight then nervously looked away.

"This incident?"

"John what good does it do to go over it all?" she said, softly, but when Sister Agnes saw the stubborn line of his mouth she relented a little. "Yes, that incident. You cut your own wrists."

Flinching John tugged the tape lose on his left wrist and let the white gauze fall away. Across the underside of his wrist was a neat line of stitches. The skin around the black sutures was bruised and a little swollen. Sinking back against the pillow John closed his eyes.

"I wouldn't do that."

She offered him a gentle pat on the arm.

"You did, and it wasn't the first time. Since the accident you've had a difficult time."

"What accident?"

"Don't you remember? You seemed to be getting better; anyway you and Mr. Schafer were in Los Angeles when the passenger train you were riding in collided with a freight train. That was five years ago and you've had problems with memory loss and delusions since."

"No, that's not true. I am, was…married and had two sons."

"You and Mr. Schafer never adopted children."

"I didn't need too, my wife Mary. We had two sons."

"You have never been married to any one but Mr. Schafer, John, never had children. You and Mr. Schafer have been together for almost thirty years. Why do you persist in this? Sometimes I don't even think that you're even trying to get well."

John glared at her then narrowed his eyes.

"You said my things are in the drawer. I want them."

With a sigh the nun went around the bed and pulled out a drawer in the nightstand. She handed John a large yellow envelope. Watching out of the corner of his eyes he kept her in sight as she moved across the room and out the door. Once the nurse was gone John tore into the envelope dumping the contents on the bed between his thighs. He fished the wallet out. It was simple black leather and John remembered owning one like it, but not at the end. Not when he had died.

Inside the wallet was three hundred dollars in cash, his driver's license and several credit cards. Tucked neatly behind the bills were two small photos both of John and Lou. He flinched at the bright smiling faces of himself, notably younger, and a younger appearing Schafer dressed in dark suits. The photo almost looked like a wedding picture and John swallowed the bile that suddenly rose in his throat.

Dropping the photos on the bed John rifled through the wallet retrieving the license. The address listed was on the Lower East side of Manhattan, not the best neighborhood in New York but certainly far better than anywhere he had ever lived. He was contemplating the address yet again when a noise at the door startled him.

He was there, looking contrite and anxious, and John hated the way his stomach twisted at the sight of him. Finally, he sat back glaring but when he offered no objections to Schafer's presence the man walked slowly inside.

"Are you doing better, honey?"

"Don't call me that. I want a computer."

Schafer blinked as if of all the things that John could ask for he expected that the least. With a shrug Schafer turned.

"I'll get you my laptop out of my car. I can use the PC at home."

Schafer was back again in a few minutes carrying a black mesh case small enough and slim enough to house a nice laptop computer. He offered it to John and when he took it Schafer ran his hand down John's arm, squeezing his fingertips. John froze, but didn't try shaking him off. He wanted the computer badly enough he was willing to put up with the familiarity to get it. When he didn't pull away Schafer smiled a shy and hopeful smile.

John swallowed hard. He felt a moment of disorientation, thinking this might the moment when the demon revealed himself, pulled the illusions down and sent John into the deepest pit of hell. But the moment passed and John was still sitting in his too cool hospital room with a man standing beside his bed.

"I have to go. Visiting hours are almost over and they'll just kick me out if I try to stay. If you want anything else just tell Sister Agnes and she'll call me at home." He paused looking down at John then leaned over brushing a kiss over his bearded cheek. John stiffened clutching the computer to his chest like a shield.

Once the other man was gone John opened the case and pulled out the computer. The battery was full so he didn't have to go to the trouble of finding an outlet although John had decided if he had to he would just unplug his monitor. Let the hospital staff have a little fun. The screen popped up big and bright and uncompromisingly clear.

John's first foray into this supposed life of his was to MapQuest the address on his license. It turned out to be a nice building in a good area, probably condos from the look of it. Nothing really helpful in that, but at least he knew where he supposedly lived. The pictures of the building looked enough like Manhattan that John couldn't find any fault with them.

With a frown he clicked over to a search engine and typed in Louis Schafer. More entries than John was expecting came up and he just clicked the first link. That took him to Amazon and a page showing volumes of books. All written by Lou Schafer. John perused the first few novels. A shudder crawled down his spine. The first book was titled "The Woman in White." Quickly John clicked the preview and a few paragraphs popped up. He scanned the text…On a road in Jericho, California stands and empty house holding only faded memories and something more sinister.

No, John gasped, pressing a hand against his forehead. Last year, and it was only last year, that John had left Dean his journal and coordinates for the hunt in Jericho. But John skimmed through the preview page taking in the details of the hunt that Dean had related to him. It was real; it wasn't a book. John remembered.

Quickly he moved on to the next book, and the next. The titles froze John in his bed, and he squeezed his eyes shut against the mounting agony. Each book bore some dark design, The Vampires, Shadow Demons, The Demon Son. All were books written by Louis Schafer. Hands shaking John pressed the computer closed. Quickly he took a drink of water from the bottle by the bed. They were not just books they were real. Actual cases that he had worked on, that he and Dean had worked on. And that last one, John didn't even want to begin to think about that.

With a growl John tugged the computer forward and typed in a search for Lawrence, Kansas. He almost didn't believe it when the website for the city hall popped up on the screen. John ran down the menu finally selecting street maps. He typed in the address for the house in Lawrence. The house he had only recently seen again.

A picture of the house popped up, under a real estate office site. It seemed that the current residents had left and the house had been repossessed by the bank. John remembered the hunt Sam and Dean had gone on, the spirit at the house. He remembered the anguish filled days he has spent at Missouri Mosley's house watching his boys from afar. Too frightened for them to even see them for just a few minutes.

Perusing the real estate ad John looked carefully at the house. It looked unchanged from the first time he and Mary had ever laid eyes on it. But that was wrong because John knew that the insurance company had made changes in the house design and layout after the fire. He clicked on the ad and ran down the list of amenities. There was nothing about the house being rebuilt in 1983. Nothing about the new room added after the fire, no mention of a fire at all.

Taking a deep breath John went back to the City of Lawrence website, moving past the list of colleges and the cultural sites. Down the menu on the main page to the listing for Lawrence Memorial Gardens. He grunted not wanting to click on the name and yet driven by the desire to find some comforting thing, even if that was the memory of his dead wife. He pulled up a list of gravesites and began searching for locations for the grave of Mary Winchester.

The names were listed alphabetically and John missed it the first time around. When he had gone through the entire directory and had not turned up a listing for Mary Winchester he began searching again. He stopped half-way through the Cs when he reached Mary Campbell.

It couldn't be. But the name stood there in solemn black script along side two other names, Samuel and Deanna Campbell. The date of interment was July 1973 just months before John had returned from Vietnam.

He had never gotten the chance to propose to her, never gotten married. Shaken John set the computer aside, that wasn't right. John knew that Mary and her parents had been in a terrible car accident while he was gone. She had written him of it. But here now, it seemed as if Mary's family had not survived. His head ached and John felt miserable.

If that had changed how much of what John remembered was a lie. Was he wrong? Were his memories just delusions? Shaking his head John picked up the call button and pressed it.

Sister Agnes appeared at the door to the room. Taking a quick look at him she frowned.

"John, dear, are you alright?"

"I have a headache," he said quietly, frowning down at the closed laptop sitting on the bed. The nurse followed his glance then clucked.

"I wish that Mr. Schafer hadn't left that thing for you. You need your rest now. You shouldn't be working."

She bustled around the room then nodded. "I'll get you something for the headache. Mr. Schafer will be dropping by for his usual afternoon visit. Do you want me to tell him you're not well?"

"No," John said quietly. "I'll see him."

She smiled then, and John thought that maybe she was thinking that everything would be all right. But he wasn't so sure. He wasn't certain how long she had been gone when John heard footsteps at the door again. He looked up and Schafer was standing there. He seemed innocuous enough, dark blazer and jeans. He was carrying two tall paper cups of coffee and the scent of dark rich brew wafted in the room. John took the cup almost eagerly.

Lou smiled at him then leaned in for a kiss. John accepted it only because he didn't dare jostle the cup and spill coffee all over the bed. He had a feeling that Sister Agnes would frown on that, besides he hadn't had a cup of coffee since awaking two days ago. Something about the hospital frowning on caffeine.

"How are you feeling, honey?"

John glared down at his cup, but he let it go. "Sister Agnes went to get me something for a headache, but the coffee should do the trick."

"Well, if she asks about it, I'll deny bringing it in. So don't rat me out to the boss." Lou smiled and for the first time John cocked his head. He waited, not sure for what, and then the moment passed.

John cleared his throat taking a gulp of the hot liquid, not even minding the burn on his lips and throat. He glanced up at the other man. Lou settled on the side of the bed, and John let that go too.

"What are you doing?' he asked and Lou cast a quick glance at him. He sipped at his own cup then shrugged.

"I'm going to spend the afternoon in my office then I thought I'd come by and bring you some lunch. My publisher is bitching at me about the deadline for the new book."

"That's not what I meant and you know it."

Now Lou looked angry, his brow furrowed and he stiffened. "Sometimes I honestly don't know what you mean anymore, John."

"This game you're playing. Trying to make me forget…make me think this is not what it really is?"

Lou stood abruptly, scowling. "Not what it is…not that I love you, John, that you're ill? Or whatever delusion you've got cooking in your mind. You were damaged John. I understand that, it is difficult to come back from those kinds of injuries, but this idea that you're dead? Where the hell does that come from?"

"From here," John snapped. His hand grasped the serrated plastic knife still left on the table. He knew it was sharp, sharp enough that he had cut himself with it. Lou gasped cringing back, brining his hand to his mouth. He stared down at the blood droplets forming on the rough uneven gash on his palm. John grunted in surprise. Demons didn't bleed. Lou's tongue raked the injured skin, lapping at the crimson drops. Blood smeared his lips and John retched.

Sister Agnes was standing in the doorway, her face pale, eyes wide with shock. She hurried inside slapping the paper cup containing two blue caplets onto the table then turning to the man standing beside the bed. Lou pulled his hand back.

"It's nothing," he mumbled flushing. The nurse stared at John as if he was the monster.

"He cut you, purposely. I saw it."

"It's nothing Sister, let it be."

"I have to call Doctor Bartlet."

"Not right now, let it go."

The nun frowned shaking her head. "Mr. Schafer, you know that any aggressive behavior has to be reported."

"I'm not some goddamned mad dog," John snapped.

Her head came back and she pressed her lips together. John could almost hear the litany in his head, "Thou shalt not…" But he didn't look away. His chest felt tight and he gasped for air, but in the end it was the nun who backed down.

Lou brushed his uninjured hand over her arm lightly.

"Please just let it go. John didn't mean it. You know he's not feeling well."

"You've made too many excuses for him already," Sister Agnes replied stiffly. "Maybe we wouldn't be here again if you'd stop making excuses for him, and make him grow up."

"Sister, please!"

Lou was begging now and John felt ashamed. Quickly he grasped the other man's hand. Lou stood still watching as John fumbled a Kleenex from the box, pressing it tight against the pale flesh of Lou's palm. John stared as the blood seeped through, stared as the crimson stain spread turning the snowy white to red.

Demons didn't bleed.

And if demons didn't bleed that meant only one thing. But that couldn't be. John felt his head spin; Lou's hand fell out of his numb fingers. It couldn't be, because that meant that Lou was human, and John was wrong. And he couldn't be wrong, his whole world couldn't be wrong, it couldn't be a lie. Lou had to be the lie, that much was certain. Lou had to be the wrong thing here, because then Mary and Dean and Sammy were wrong, and that couldn't be. But if Lou was wrong then Lou was the demon not the truth, but the truth was in the bloody tissue in his hand. Because demons lied, but demons didn't bleed.

"I want to go home," John whispered.

Nodding Lou settled down on the side of the bed again, large warm palm resting on John's arm. John could feel the moisture on his skin, the blood still seeping sluggishly from his wounded palm, the sweat dampening his fingertips.

"I'll ask the doctor if they'll release you.

John closed his eyes because that wasn't what he wanted to hear. It wasn't the answer he was looking for. But it sure as hell seemed as if it was the only answer he was going to get.

John could hear them arguing in the hallway. Talking about him as if he was some errant five year old. Doctor Bartlet's voice was strident, angry. Lou calmer, quieter and John felt a moment of relief that he had an advocate, someone who didn't think he was crazy. Then he blanched. If he believed that then he believed it all, and he couldn't'…not yet.

Lou was back in a minute, smiling. He carefully came to the bed and John looked up at him. "Kyle thinks that you might hurt yourself again, or me. He thinks that you should stay a little bit longer. But I think you can come home. Can you do that for me John, you won't do anything…?"

Embarrassed he picked at the white gauze on John's wrist. "This won't happen if you come home, will it?"

Taking a deep breath John turned Lou's hand over palm up under the harsh overhead fixtures. His fingers traced the flesh colored band-aid on the skin. "Not this either."

Lou smiled, "It's a deal."

John felt his blood run cold. Suddenly he jerked his hand away, chest heaving. Lou looked confused then apologetic. He whispered, "I didn't mean to upset you."

John stared down at the bag in his hand. Then at the Lexus parked in front of the door. The wheelchair glided smoothly to a halt and Lou walked around opening the door for him. "Jerry said he would bring your car home for us. He should be here in a few minutes. Unless you want to drive?"

John shook his head. He had no idea where to go.

The apartment was beautiful, neatly decorated and painfully, spotlessly clean. And clearly inhabited by two men. The furniture was soft, buttery leather but still undeniably masculine. Above the fireplace was a painting, something nondescript, a hunting scene. On the mantle were an antique clock and a brass compass and beside it, in a wooden rack, a Winchester rifle. John cocked an eyebrow at the other man and Lou flushed.

"You know Jerry and his sense of humor."

Lou took John's bag carrying it into the first door on the side hall. John followed him staring down the carpeted length at the porcelain fixtures behind the half closed door to what must have been the apartment's second bathroom. The first would be the master bath in …their… bedroom.

John walked stiffly to the bedroom door. It was clean, no signs of anyone using the room. Lou came up to stand behind him and John cringed when his hand fell on John's shoulder. He turned and the other man smiled apologetically.

"I usually fall asleep on the sofa in the living room, beside my desk when you're not here. I just can't sleep in the bed alone."

John took a shaky step back and Lou moved smoothly past him into the room, setting John's suitcase on the floor. He turned again.

"Look, until you feel a little more… yourself… I'll sleep in the other room."

Frowning John looked down at his wrists. He hated the white bandages, hated what they meant about him. And he was grateful that Lou was being so understanding. Suddenly John hissed out a breath, his head ached again and he felt dizzy. He had nothing to feel grateful about, did he?

Feeling the world slide out from under him John staggered to the bed and sat down hard. The other man was beside him in a minute. Quickly Lou stood walking into the bathroom and returning with a glass of water. John took the glass gulping down the water and the world seemed to right itself again.

The air conditioner kicked on and the rush of air through the return started him for a minute. John just sat there staring at the beige carpeting, hand stroking over the silky smooth of the beige, burgundy and green duvet dressing the bed. Glancing around he took in the contrasts of the room, the bright sunlight at the window, behind the neat beige drapes, the dark wood and the glimmering mirror over the dresser. The framed photographs all over the room, people and places that John was sure he was supposed to remember but he didn't. It all seemed too surreal to him.

Lou stood in the center of the room looking as lost as John felt. And John just kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the light to fade to red, and for hell to open up. And it never did.

The apartment was too quiet and still. John could see a thin thread of light beneath the door to the other bedroom across the hall and knew that Lou was in there. Probably working on his latest book. John didn't have the energy to get out of bed and close the door. Suddenly the lights in the other room flicked off and he lay in the darkness listening to the soft sounds of the other man settling down for the night.

Rolling over John tried to sleep but his nerves jangled causing his legs to twitch and cramp. Flinching he rearranged himself on the bed stroking the soft fabric of the duvet.

Lying here was accomplishing nothing. He couldn't sleep and he didn't want to talk to Lou. Didn't have anything to say. John supposed he could ask questions about their life. Try to find out how he came to be here and why he remembered something else. Or he could go and find answers. Well, nobody could say that John Winchester was a talker but he was a doer.

Quickly John slid out of bed and found his jeans on the floor. His shoes were under a chair beside the window and he sat down lacing them on. Grabbing his duffle and his wallet John hurried out the bedroom door and left the apartment. Lou's friend Jerry had brought John's car over from the hospital earlier and it was parked in his space beside Lou's SUV. Throwing the duffle over the seat into the foot well John slid behind the wheel and cranked the engine. In minutes he was on the freeway, off the island and headed for the Washington Bridge. Once he was out of the city John would decide where to go. He frowned; no, he had already decided where to go. John had traveled to every corner of the lower forty-eight states and he knew the way. John was going home.

By the time the sun came up he was well on the way to Lawrence, Kansas. By eight-fifteen his cell phone was ringing and by nine o'clock John had tossed it into the glove compartment. There was no point in looking at it he knew who was calling.

It was noon two days later when he finally rolled into the parking lot of the Home Depot in Lawrence. From there John drove to the Best Western Motel on the free-way off ramp and rented a room. He hadn't slept much since leaving New York and he hadn't bathed much either. In a way John felt sorry for the poor kid who helped him gather what he needed. He wondered what the boy thought about the half-crazy man asking for tin cutters and a pick and shovel. But it too late to back out now.

Three cups of coffee and an over-cooked burger at Denny's and John was feeling half-way human again. Of course he probably shouldn't have eaten considering what he was thinking about doing, but that was a moot point because nothing was stopping John at this point. He knew where he was going, but he'd wait until sundown. It'd be easier that way. It was always easier that way.

The memorial gardens were poorly lit, and John sighed with relief. At least he would not have to deal with nosy passersby who frowned upon grave desecration. Quickly he pulled the car into a sharp u-turn heading back down the lonely street to a small side road near a house. John had scoped the house out earlier and knew that it was vacant, but hoped that anyone traveling down the main street would just assume that his car belonged in the tiny drive. Although truthfully the Mercedes was too ostentatious for the humble dwelling.

Carefully climbing out of the car he pulled the canvas duffle out of the trunk. The bag was large, bulky and heavy with the gardening tools inside but it all felt so familiar as he began the long walk down the street to the cemetery gates.

He had picked up a good pair of tin shears when John bought the shovel and pick at the Home Depot in downtown Lawrence so getting into the gates was no problem at all. The lock was old, and easy to cut. It dropped to the ground with a dull thud, rolling a few feet away. Quietly John pushed the gate inwards just far enough to slip inside. There was a mausoleum in the center of the newer part of the grounds and he used that as a guide to where he wanted to go. The Campbells were buried in part of the older sections of the cemetery. John hefted the canvas bag onto his shoulder and counted off rows of graves as he walked.

It didn't take him very long, somehow John wished that he had missed the names in the registry, had not found the cemetery just as he remembered it or had gotten lost looking for three graves among hundreds. But here he was standing just under a small oak tree staring down at the huge marble and granite marker centered above three neatly tended plots.

The center grave was Samuel according to the stone and Mary's mother was on his right. That left the third simple grave as hers. The neatly clipped grass was green, lush and glimmering softly with night dew. He hesitated briefly, looking first at the pick in his hands, at the clean white lines of the ash handle untouched by dirt and then back to the ground. The grave was clean, quiet, as peaceful a final resting place as John had ever seen, and he'd seen many of them.

"God, forgive me," he hissed between clenched teeth. The pick swung down cutting a gash into the earth.

Sweat was dripping off John's face when he finally dropped the pick on the ground. He was neck deep in the grave now, clods of deep, rich, red clay clinging to his hair, skin and clothes. His chest ached, panting he leaned against the raw sides of the pit staring down at the dirt smeared wood beneath his feet.

The casket was golden oak, and red earth crumbled off the slightly rounded lid. The intricate carvings of rose petal and leaf were packed with clay, dulling the beauty of the finished wood.

From somewhere near the main entrance of the cemetery a light flickered, a pale golden beacon against the darkness. John flinched. If he was caught by the cops there was no getting out of this. If he was caught desecrating a grave he'd go to jail for sure. Suddenly John was frozen into stillness, if he believed that he was desecrating a grave then he believed that this was all real, that he was in fact, alive. John wasn't sure he wanted to believe, but the evidence was rock solid beneath his feet.

With trembling hands John dropped to his knees brushing the loose soil off the surface of the casket, watching as the rose blossoms were uncovered, looked at the distorted reflection of the moonlight on the glossy wood. The light moved again and his head snapped up. John squinted trying to judge the distance of the approaching figure, hoping he had time to get the casket opened before he was caught.

Deep inside John refused to believe that this box held the remains of Mary Campbell. When Mary had died nothing remained of her body but ash mingled with the remains of household items burned in the fire with her. They had separated out some of the ash, tried to put it into an urn, to tell him it was her. But John knew that they were lying. Not out of malevolence but out of kindness. A kindness John had rejected out of hand. The casket they had buried was empty.

Taking a deep breath John leaned over hands going to the locks on the side of the casket out of long practice. He found the simple latches slipping them aside. It was funny how many times the locks were simply left undone. No one expected to ever see them again.

He had opened enough coffins to know to only unlatch the upper half. Most time people were buried with their insides twisted up in a plastic bag lying at their feet. John really didn't want to see that, not that he hadn't in the past. But this time it was different. The locks clicked open and John reared back lifting the lid.

She was there, and John closed his eyes in anguish. He didn't see much beyond the neat white of bone, a gleam of perfect teeth and a wisp of blond hair. It had been over thirty years after all. But it was the sweater that John knew, beyond a doubt. Pale pink cashmere touched in places by green and gray moss. Mary had worn that sweater their senior year, to the movies once when his father had actually cut him some slack and given him the car. To graduation although John had only seen that in pictures wrapped in lavender pages scented with her perfume. But he knew it; knew the scent and the feel of it under his palm, beneath his fingertips.

Gasping John dropped the lid. The hinges dropped silently not even giving him the satisfaction of hearing the casket close. Scrabbling out of the grave John staggered a few feet away. His stomach heaved and John crawled over to the path to be sick. He continued heaving long after the footsteps of the approaching figure stumbled to a halt. John didn't look up. If it was the cops he'd know it soon enough.

The figure standing behind him stooped down. A flashlight clattered to the ground and John was left staring at the tiny circle of light. Hands descended on his shoulders, broad palms heavy against the tee-shirt and jacket he wore. John could feel the warmth of those hands, the light way they smoothed over the surface of his clothes and rested in the hollow of his collarbone.

"John," the voice was soft, patient. "What are you doing?"

"I needed to see."

"John if Kyle Bartlet ever hears about this. What do you think would have happened if it hadn't been me?"

"How did you know I was here?" John asked flatly. He leaned back brushing off the other man's hands. Lou sighed holding up his cell phone.

"I had the cell company track your GPS." Sinking to the ground Lou squatted across from John avoiding looking at the raw red gash in the ground or the contents of the grave. "Besides I knew there was only one place you'd come. I knew that you'd be here. That you couldn't let it go. Maybe I was wrong in letting them release you from the hospital. Look at what you've done. This is illegal you know."

"I know."

Lou sighed again. "When I had them release you from the hospital you told me you wouldn't do anything to hurt yourself."

"And I haven't," John snarled angrily.

Lou rocked forward grabbing John by the arms.

"You don't think that digging up the grave of your dead high school sweetheart isn't going to hurt you?" He gave John a little shake, just enough to illicit a growl. Lou smiled.

"At least you're reacting. Last time you just stopped talking altogether."

"I don't remember," John said sitting back.

He pulled his legs forward wrapping his arm around his knees. Lou sat regarding him through half-closed eyes.

"I'll help you get the grave filled in. You destroyed the sod so someone is bound to notice it. Just make sure you don't leave anything behind."

"I can do this in my sleep. I've done it before…" John paused. "I guess I haven't."

"Frankly John since the accident you've been a little off, but never anything like this."

"Then why do I remember this all so well? Why do I remember salting and burning bodies, ghosts, demons?"

"Well, you've helped me research every one of my books. You proof read for me too. Since the accident you haven't gone back to work, so you just help me out."

They rose to their feet John watching as Lou began filling in the grave. It took them less time to repack the clay and sod than it had for John to open the grave alone. He stood staring down at the dirt smudged granite marker for a long time. Lou paced a few steps away. Finally, John stepped back.

"I don't understand."

Lou tensed. "Maybe I should have talked to you about this, but we don't talk. I mean not about emotional stuff. It's as much my fault as yours. After the accident you were in a coma for three days. The doctors said you had traumatic brain injury, short term memory loss. That's when you started having delusions. I know you forget things, get them confused… dates and places, people but I never thought you'd forget me or maybe just misplace me."

Shoulders slumped in defeat John cast one last long glance at the red soil of the grave then brushed his hands on his jeans. Picking up the shovel he carefully repacked the bag and followed the other man out to the gates. They closed the gates and Lou picked up the lock tucking it into his pocket. John watched and he blushed.

"No use in leaving your fingerprints behind."

John nodded. "I have a room at the hotel on the highway. I need to get a shower."

"Okay, I'll follow you."

The hotel parking lot was still and silent when both cars pulled in. John drove around the main building to a room along the back facing a large vacant lot, and out of sight of the main street. Lou was out of his car leaning against the side as John climbed out of the Mercedes and locked the door.

He walked to the room, pulling out the keys. Lou followed him inside and sat down at the table staring at John. Flinching John fumbled with his duffle bag pulling out a clean tee-shirt and underwear.

Lou was still sitting at the table when he got out of the bathroom. Finally John sat on the bed facing the other man. He felt his cheeks flush and he sighed.

"I won't go out again tonight," he said quietly.

Lou nodded. Suddenly he shuffled forward squatting down in front of John. Placing his hands on the other man's knees Lou looked up.

"John, we need to talk about this. You're not getting better. I want you to come back to New York with me and see Kyle again. Maybe if we got you back on your meds, you'd start improving."

"I'll think about it. I'm really beat tonight; I don't want to do this right now."

Nodding Lou rose to his feet. "I'm gonna go see if I can get another room…"

John shrugged, "You can stay here."

Smiling Lou dropped onto to the bed beside him.

"You're sure. I don't want to crowd you. I know that you don't remember."

"I guess I didn't want to, but everything I thought was true. I don't know. I'm so confused."

"Its okay, John. I want to help you. Let me help you."

John lay in the bed, unable to sleep. He was exhausted, but his body wouldn't unwind. Maybe the warm body pressed close behind him that kept his nerves afire with unspent energy. The urge to fight or to run was still here even after everything John had seen, but nothing changed the cold hard facts. And one of those facts was that John had seen Mary's body in that golden oak coffin. He had cut Lou's hand and seen him bleed. He had been to the apartment seen everything that he and Lou had collected after a life time together. He couldn't fight the facts any longer.

Lou mumbled in his sleep and John rolled over. The other man was bare-chested skin slick with a thin layer of sweat and John cringed. But he stared down at the face relaxed in sleep. Lou was a little older than John and in the dim light this close up he could see the fine lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth. His skin was fair, pale ivory in the blue light coming in through the windows, but suffused with the glow of blood, warm to the touch. Taking a deep breath John leaned over pressing against the other man's side and Lou shifted as if he was used to the feel of John lying close to him. Shifting John settled down pressed close and Lou raised an arm letting John's head fall onto his chest. John drifted off to sleep lulled by the deep steady rhythm of the other man's heartbeat.

John sat on the stiff examination table in Kyle Bartlet's office. He was cold, but mercifully he was still dressed not wearing the skimpy cotton gown that doctors seemed so fond of torturing their patients with. The door opened and Doctor Bartlet walked in smiling at John.

"So Lou tells me you had a breakthrough over the weekend. How are you doing, John?"

"Okay," John said quietly.

The doctor dropped into his chair rolling across the room. He poked at John a minute then looked at him thoughtfully. Frowning Kyle closed the folder in his hand tossing it haphazardly across the room where it slid across the desk.

"No bullshit, John. How are you doing? If I'm going to let you go home with my best friend I want to be sure you're not going to end up in jail for cutting him up."

John sighed, then a sad smile crawled across his face.

"That's not gonna happen. I think I was confused for a while, but I worked something out for myself. What I thought happened couldn't have happened. It just seemed so real."

"Delusions will do that to you, John. You think things are real that couldn't possibly have happened. Lou told me there was some excitement this weekend. The kind that would have normally had me throw you into Belleview so fast it would make your head spin. But he said it "fixed" things for you so I'm going to let it slide. But believe me; I'm putting my license on the line here for you and mostly for him so that's not going to happen again. Is it, John?"

John shook his head.

"You're willing to go back on your meds?"

John nodded looking down at his hands; Bartlet smiled and pulled a prescription pad out of his coat pocket.

"Pick this up downstairs at the pharmacy; they have your insurance on file. And take it like it's supposed to be taken, no messing around with the dosages, no skipping. This is how we ended up here again. And no more booze, John. I mean it."

It was quiet in the day, and John shuffled nervously around the living room. Lou was gone to his office although, truthfully, John suspected the other man actually didn't do much work there. He always seemed to be writing at the apartment.

With a grunt John flicked on the afternoon news, settling into one of the huge chairs flanking the sofa. His stomach ached incessantly and John wondered if it was from his medication or from stress. Maybe he was just hungry. He shuffled to his feet again and went into the kitchen to make himself a sandwich. Everything seemed so ordinary it was unsettling. Still as he heaped mayo over the roast beef and slapped the bread together John kept waiting, and he could never figure out for what.

They ate dinner that evening with Lou's agent, Jerry, and his wife Tina. She was a short, chubby girl who had never managed to get the Bronx out of her accent and it amused the hell out John. She was cool, a little nervous but almost expectant. And he couldn't help but feel that she was waiting for him to go batshit crazy and start whacking off body parts right at the table. Cringing he kept his head down and listened to the conversations, at their table, and the tables around them. Watched the people floating in and out of the door as if it was the most normal thing in the world that Lou was sitting at the table talking a little too loudly, and drinking a little too much. John drove home that night, and dragged the other man inside, arm thrown haphazardly across his shoulders, breath tickling his ear.

It was a struggle to get Lou into the apartment since he kept listing to one side as John tried to fish the keys out of his pocket and keep the other man upright with one hand pressed against his chest. Lou laughed as if it was uproariously funny but John was just annoyed.

Finally he managed to drag the other man inside propping him against the wall beside the door until he could get it closed and locked. Once they were inside the apartment Lou wrestled John around and wrapped his arms around him.

"I love you, John," Lou sniffled.

John grunted. Great, just what he needed, an overly emotional partner. With a wink Lou sighed.

"I picked you John. I wanted you so bad and I decided to get you any way I had too. You know that don't you? You know how much I want you don't you?"

John shook off his partner's roving hands and grasped him by the elbow marching him across the room to the bedroom door. They had been sleeping together the entire time they drove back from Kansas, this wasn't any different, John decided. Yet deep inside he knew that it made all the difference in the world. If John took Lou into this room, into this bed that meant he was beyond just going with the flow, it meant he believed and accepted.

John hustled the other man into the bedroom, pushing him down across the bed. Lou mumbled sleepily grabbing at John's hands as he quickly and efficiently stripped off Lou's shoes and reached out for the leather belt on his trousers. Lou brushed John's hands off staggering to his feet.

John stepped back watching through heavy-lidded eyes as the older man slipped off his jacket and unbuttoned his shirt. Certain that Lou was going to be able to finish undressing he set about getting his own clothes off. His jeans hit the floor and John flinched as hands settled on his hips. Lou's large, warm palms skimmed over his boxers thumbs working into the waistband.

John wanted to shake him off, step back but something wouldn't let him. Lou sidled up behind John pulling the taller man back until their bodies were pressed close together. John felt warm with his back pressed against the other man's front. He flushed, undeniably aware of the Lou's arousal.

"John, let me love you tonight…"

"I don't know," John whispered. But Lou's hands were moving crawling over his body making him aware of just how much he wanted this.

It had been six months since they had returned from Kansas, and John was beginning to fall into the pattern of their lives. He and Lou were talking, getting along and things were good. Jerry and Tina were constant fixtures in their lives and that seemed to fill an empty space in John. He was beginning to forget just what had made that hole in his life in the first place.

They had just gotten in from dinner with Jerry and his wife once again and Lou looked tired. John pushed him into a chair and wandered to the bar. Lou settled heavily into a chair and winked at John.

"Honey, fix me a drink, would you."

Smiling John moved to the bar and began fixing Lou his drink. Carefully he measured out the gin and tonic then poured a glass of club soda for himself. Doctor Bartlet had told him no alcohol until they could be sure his meds were working correctly, and John had wanted out of the hospital badly enough he had agreed, beside Lou had been so kind and loving John was happy without the booze.

Quickly John placed the gin and tonic on the desk beside his husband's computer then leaned over his shoulder. Lou looked up at him and winked smiling broadly. Suddenly John felt uneasy, but he brushed it off. There was nothing to be scared of this was his Lou, his loving partner. Still when Lou picked up the glass and took a deep gulp of the drink there was a light to his eyes, a golden glow that shook John to the bone.

Swallowing nervously John settled on the sofa arm looking at his reflection in the mirror over the fireplace. Trying for a smile that looked more like a grimace to him he turned and asked,

"What are you writing this time, honey?"

Lou looked pleased, a deep smile creasing his face.

"Oh it's a great story John. I'm sure you're gonna love it."

Rising he moved to stand beside John looking at their reflection together, John taller and dark haired, himself fairer with sandy brown hair and blue eyes. The soft blue shifted going more golden hazel then finally glowing yellow. John gasped dropping his glass in the floor. It rolled a few feet away as club soda dribbled onto the thick Oriental rug.

He bolted upright trying vainly to reach the door, but Lou caught his arm held him tightly, pulling John close to his body. With a wolfish grin Lou patted the other man's arm.

"The only thing I can't decide on is the ending, Johnny. Do we want a happy ending? I mean here's the thing, the whole nine yards. The story so far…there was a man who had a happy home then one day…poof…everything goes up in smoke. And that man, well, he finds out that all the nasty little buggers in fairy tales are real and he takes his sons and runs with them, but the biggest and the badest catches up to him. You following me Johnny?"

With a half strangled moan John nodded, barely breathing. Lou smiled at him leaning in close pressing his chest against John's back letting one hand crawl down the length of his arm.

"Good, then this man, well, he makes the ultimate sacrifice and sells his soul for his sons. Only problem is that those sons are pretty stupid; the evil one gets his ass shanked and the other one is an idiot. So he sells his worthless soul for his brother and he's languishing in the pits of hell right now, Johnny. How ungrateful is that, his poor old dad offs himself, essentially, for his worthless son and the little shit sells his own soul. And the evil one is still in play, just out there for the taking, under the right circumstances."

John's eyes dropped close trying to block out the sight of the man standing beside him, but Lou jerked his arm snarling, "Look at me, darling, this is where you really need to pay attention. This is where the happy ending comes in. I can write it up right now, if you cooperate."

Taking a deep shuddering breath John opened his eyes staring at the other man. Lou's smile seemed too wide, too warm but his eyes flashed to their normal cool blue. He slid his hand around John's chest pulling his body back until they were nestled together.

"Now listen, that ungrateful son can get out of hell, take the tattered remnants of his worthless little soul back to his pewling little body and live to fight another day. Want to know how Johnny?"

John moaned low in his throat and Lou laughed. "I'll take that as a yes. All you have to do is…nothing. Isn't that easy? We go on just as we have; you standing by your man, laying down beside me at night, all that soft sweet lovin' you've come to enjoy so much, all the friends and parties and everything goes on and on now and forever. Just you and me kid. Whadaya say, Johnny? Just you and me kid and the story gets its happy ending."

Slowly John nodded and Lou laughed, leaning in he pressed his cheek against John's head, blowing a soft kiss against his ear. "See, wasn't that easy? Right about now Deano is waking up trying to remember just where the…uh…hell… he's been."

A choked sob broke from John's lips and he shuddered against the rising tide. With a sullen little pout Lou tugged John around pressing his fingertips lightly under the taller man's chin.

"Now buck up, sweetheart." With an amused glint in his eyes Lou leaned up kissing John firmly on the lips. When he pulled back he pressed his forehead to John's and whispered,

"Believe me, dear, you're better off this way."

The End