The coffee jigged into Sam's system just as Dean pulled up in front of the warehouse and turned the wipers off. He took his sweet time, turning off the engine, as if not really wanting to cut the rumbling, metallic sound that Sam privately thought Dean heard as a song.
"I still think we should leave the bodies, someone will find them and--"
"I told you Sam, no evidence is good evidence. We're getting rid of everything, because that fucker Henriksen is looking for something just like this to track us with."
"But the families," said Sam, carrying on, insisting on carrying on, as he got out of the Impala and carefully shut the door. It was an argument that was hours old, but he couldn't let it go. "What about the families? If we destroy the evidence then they won't ever find out what happened, they won't ever have closure."
Dean stepped out of the driver's side and shut the door with some force, something Sam wouldn't have been able to get away with. His brother looked at him over the top of the rain-spattered car. "And that's my problem, how?"
"It's your problem," began Sam, then he realized he was talking to Dean's leather-clad back as Dean walked towards the side door to the warehouse. Sam raced to catch up, like he felt like he'd been doing his whole life, sneakers smashing through the puddles, the light morning rain catching the sides of his face. He swung open the door as Dean let it fall closed. "It's your problem because it's the right thing to do. And easy enough--"
It was like talking to a wall. Dean was all for burning the bodies, burning all the evidence and leaving no trace. His argument had begun before breakfast, as had Sam's counter-argument of leaving the bodies for someone to find so that they could be traced back to their families. As Sam trotted behind Dean through the damp dust of the warehouse, and turning through narrow corridors, he knew that within seconds of him laying out his next logical statement, Dean would play the big brother token. It was a given.
In the darkness, he didn't realize that Dean had stopped, bumping into him, hands flailing, trying to catch purchase on Dean's arms.
"Knock it off," said Dean, snapping, brushing Sam away like an errant moth. "What is that."
He was pointing to the floor where a dark blob curled across the wooden floor. Sam pulled out his mini-flashlight, turned the end, and aimed the light at the floor. For a long minute, they both stared, then Sam glanced around the room, using the flashlight to check everything out. Yes, there were the bodies from last night, still tied up, still screaming in rictus, looking like the leftovers from some spider's supper.
"Sam, here," said Dean. He poked Sam with an elbow and Sam obeyed. Flashed the light on the floor again.
Yes. It was the djinn, and from the darkish puddle around the upper part of his body, he had not died last night. Was still bleeding, perhaps. Sam did not feel sorry for the creature, it had caused enough harm to not deserve pity, but it did surprise him that the blow he thought he'd delivered, a sound, killing blow, hadn't done the trick. He worked his tongue along the inside of his teeth, feeling his jaw muscles pull, and waited the span of heartbeats as he heard Dean draw in a breath.
It wasn't fair, really, this conflict inside of him. On the one hand, the idea that Dean had chosen to come out of the djinn's spell because That Sam and Dean had not gotten along, pulled on something heavy and sweet in Sam's chest. Dean had come back from That Sam for him, this Sam.
On the other hand, whatever had happened to Dean there, and whether that was some confrontation with That Sam or That Mom, he didn't know, but whatever happened to Dean had strung him so tightly, that there was no push to him. No give. No take. He just was. It would take at least a thousand miles of open road, many cups of terrible Stop-n-Sip coffee, and at least a hundred repeats of Zeppelin Four, Side Two (if they could find the cassette), to get Dean even remotely relaxed. Sam hated Zeppelin. But what was worse was that in about two seconds or less, Dean was going to call him out on his sloppy knife-work.
"Get something to poke him with," said Dean, casting his eyes about.
"You poke him," said Sam. "I stabbed him, it's your job to poke him." Not that that was a bright thing to say, it would remind Dean that much sooner how Sam had mucked up a simple stab job. Still, better to get it over with; Sam remembered that there was a Stop-n-Sip on the main highway out of Joliet.
Dean moved away, into the shadows, his boots stirring up the dust on the floor that smelled vaguely like chalk. Sam cast his flashlight around again, saw the boxes, the old typewriters, and rows of chalkboards, all lined up. That explained the smell; the boxes must be filled with chalk. No one used chalkboards anymore, all the schools had moved to white boards.
Just as Dean was coming back with a long ruler in his hand, Sam thought he saw something out of the corner of his eye. It was on the floor, and it was moving. It was the djinn.
Sam stepped towards Dean, towards the djinn, and Dean, somehow not seeing where he was going, where his feet were in the darkness, stepped into the circle of the djinn's body. Sam reached forward to pull him away, the djinn was moving, and reached up, with glassy eyes and both hands to grab their legs. Sam felt the current, like blue fire, zipping up his skin, burning through the air, crackling. His hair, static, eyes on Dean's as the whole warehouse seemed to light up and explode. There was a deep boom, like the echo of a faraway crash of water in a hollow rock. There were Dean's eyes, wide, and green, sparkling. Amazed.
And then there was blackness.
He let his eyes focus as he stared at his shoes. They were slip-on sneakers over a thin pair of socks; he could feel the grind of a very small bit of matter beneath his big toe inside the sock, rice, perhaps. Or a little rock that had made its way in. He contemplated taking off the sneaker to dump out whatever it was, but that thought died before it was born. As did getting up and moving out of the sunlight that was pouring hot and yellow through the window. Right across his legs, his arm. He was covered in thin cotton, pale blue, or maybe it was tan, he couldn't be sure.
Lifting his head, he looked across the room. It wasn't enough to want to focus, there was something in his head keeping him muzzy, kept the room at a distance beyond his capacity to focus. There were figures, moving about, coming and going, shuffling on what sounded like paper slippers, the clink of keys, the buzz of a slightly out of tune radio, and underneath that a song he almost recognized.
A bell sounded, like an off-color chime, and the movement became narrowed and purposeful. The figures were leaving the room. Like white ovals, pale blue ovals, moving away. Through an open doorway.
He leaned forward, pitching himself out of the sunlight and into the dusty shadow of the crooked blinds that hung halfway down. Someone was coming closer, dressed in a white coat; he squinted. It was a woman, she was carrying a clipboard. Busy. Her brown hair coming out of a ponytail, like she'd just come out of the wind. She had dark-rimmed glasses, and as she came closer, she reached out. Touched his shoulder. He leaned back, not sure if he wanted her to touch him or not.
"Come on, Ethan," she said. "We're going to have Group now." She said it like she'd said it to him before, like she expected him to respond as he had in the past. It was in her tone. But he didn't recognize her, didn't know where he was. There was no way he was going to go marching off into who-knew-where.
"I--" he started, but he couldn't figure out what he wanted to say. And his throat felt raw, like someone had run a fork up and down it. For hours.
She gave him a pat. It was a gentle pat, but she was busy, was already turning away, writing something on her clipboard. "Ethan, you're going to have to come to Group now, or I'll have to get an orderly."
"Who's Ethan?" he asked, almost whispering.
This stopped her. She turned to look at him, her body going still, eyes narrowing. "Ethan?"
Curling a hand to his chest, he could smell his own sweat start to prickle along the back of his neck, under his arms. "My name is Dean," he said. "Dean."
Turning fully towards him now, she nodded and wrote something else down. "That's good, you know your name. Is that your real name? Can you remember your last name? Can you remember anything else?"
"Dean," he said, letting the rest of her questions rattle over him unanswered. "Dean."
"And do you know why you're here?" She asked this, and he saw her make a gesture at the door, where a large figure filled the frame.
"I know my first name is Dean," he said, swallowing. "And I--" He had to stop. Something black was rushing at him, right behind his eyes. Flickering with yellow and orange and white. Sam screaming as the flames took him down, something large and heavy, a beam, maybe, falling on him. Landing hard. Dean outside the circle, reaching in. Fire covering him, sucking him in with heat. The screams, so many screams. Sam's. His own. And then silence.
"My brother is dead." He stood up, towering over her, waiting for her to tell him it wasn't true. But by the look on her face, he knew it was.
"That's right, Eth-, I mean, Dean. That's right. Your brother died in a warehouse fire, you told us that. Do you remember?"
He shook his head, feeling a cold ice crawl up his spine. Started to shake, backing away. He wanted to run so bad, his knees were knocking together. The figure in the doorway was coming closer, a big, brawny man with a military-short buzz cut, tattoos on his arms, coming close with purpose, his face betraying no emotion at all.
"You just stay calm, now, Ethan," said the man.
"It's Dean, Greer, he says his name is Dean."
Greer nodded, kept coming closer, spreading his arms like net. "Is he coming to Group, Dr. Logan, or is he going back?"
There was a moment of stillness, as Dean's eyes suddenly sharpened and he recognized the smell, the mild tones of paint on the walls, the faded brown rick-rack pattern on the floor, the thick, old-fashioned doorways, the somber, flickering light, like something out of an old movie. He might not know this place, but he'd been in plenty like it. Where they stuck people who talked funny, or made outrageous claims, had truck with voices. Claimed to be God.
"No," he said. Lifting his chin. "I'm going home." Wherever that was. Since Sam was dead, home was no where.
"Room, I think," said the doctor, as she tapped her pencil against her cheek. As she looked at Dean, there was no malice, but no kindness either. It was an entirely clinical look, surveying the situation, making a call.
Dean took a step back. "No. I want to go home. I'm going."
"Not today, sport," said Greer. His arms were huge as they grabbed at Dean, meaty hands encircling Dean's upper arms the way a man might grab a baseball bat. Hefting the weight. Controlling it.
"No!" said Dean, his voice rising to echo around the now-empty room. The TV was still on, the radio still buzzing, the empty floor, slick, reflecting the lights overhead. As he twisted in Greer's functional grasp, someone else came over. Greer held him like an expert, pressed against the wall, with enough room to breathe, but not enough to wiggle away. Someone rolled up his sleeve, wiped his arm with sharp disinfectant. This felt familiar somehow, and in that short second that he had to think this, he felt the needle go in. He couldn't fight it, the feeling was too thick. And he couldn't cry, though he could close his eyes and collapse against the wall, boneless as Greer released his hold.
The room started to go fuzzy again, and his head, so heavy, sank against his chest.
"That's some amazing progress," he heard the doctor say. "We can start decreasing the Haldol in the morning, and give him Thorazine."
Someone started him walking, but he kept his eyes closed, shuffled along where he was led. The air in the corridor was cold, the noises banked from far away, and behind his eyes, the flicker of fire. Shrieks. Sam. Dying. Dead. Dean couldn't cry, wouldn't cry. He let his body sag. Heard someone ask for something, felt himself being slipped into a chair. Let his head fall where it might. What did it matter. He didn't care. Couldn't care. Didn't have to. Sam was dead and gone forever. The crash into the darkness was a welcome one.
He was walking. He was awake and walking, down a corridor that was chilly, like the other one had been. The walls were pale, with shiny tiles in faded patterns that caught his eye as he walked. There wasn't anything in his sneaker though, but the socks felt scratchy. Like they'd just been washed. The smell of cooked meat wafted out at him, making him open his eyes wider to realize he was following a man, and that there was another man following him. They were all headed towards the smell. This felt familiar, like the shot from before had. His brain didn't care that he was going towards food, but his stomach stood up and growled.
Silver yellow light came in through the windows on one side of the corridor, and he had the feeling it was raining. Where had he been the last time it rained? He couldn't remember.
The line of men walked through a doorway; Dean could see it was a dining hall of sorts, with long tables, and men with trays. All men. Which made sense. If he was in the loony bin--
--he was in the loony bin. He remembered that from yesterday, too. What else was he supposed to remember?
The line of men stopped in front of a lady in a white coat. It was a different lady from yesterday, and she was checking her list and handing each man a little paper cup and a large paper cup. She made each man toss back the contents of the small paper cup, and then let him drink from the large one. This felt familiar too. Dean struggled with why it did, but not too much, there was something safe in those cups. Something that helped keep him safe.
When it was his turn, the lady gave him his little cup. Dean looked down at it. There were three little pills, one white, one yellow, and one purple.
She checked her list. "Dean Doe," she said. "You've graduated to Zoloft, you'll be pleased to know." She said this like she didn't really expect him to respond, like she was talking to herself.
"Zoloft is for pussies," he said, not understanding why.
"Take it anyway, Mr. Doe," she said. He did, and she took the empty cups from his hand to toss them in a tall, round bin at her side. "Don't be making a fuss on me now, it's too early in the day."
Morning, then. It was morning. He was in a dining hall and he was about to have breakfast.
He followed the line of men where it led, taking a tray, waiting his turn. But when he got to the head of the line, he realized he was shaking, and that his arms hurt. Bad. He could hardly hold the tray up. Maybe they wouldn't give him food if he couldn't hold his tray. He tried to say something to the lady behind the counter, waiting, her hair in a net, giving him the hairy eyeball.
Someone pushed up from behind him. It was another orderly, not the one from the day before, but dressed like him, thinner, with dark hair, dark eyes. His skin the color of creamed coffee. In spiffy whites that he suddenly remember Sam wearing. When they went to--
Something clicked in his brain like a door shutting off. He let it.
The orderly took the tray out of Dean's hands, and held it up while the woman put food on it. Then he tipped his dark head in the direction of the tables. Dean followed him, stomach howling now, his mouth completely uninterested.
"We'll sit here, Dean."
Dean sat down. The man's nametag said Rubio. He seemed to know Dean, but Dean had never seen him before.
"I'll help you eat," said Rubio, pouring some sugar in the bowl of oatmeal and stirring it around. "It's hard to get moving when you've been in four-point restraints all night."
Dean's mouth opened as he let Rubio spoon the thin, overly sweet oatmeal in his mouth. No one had ever fed Dean before. Even when he was a baby, no one ever had. His mother had told him that he insisted on feeding himself, so he could shovel it in as fast as possible. His mother who was dead. Father who was dead. Brother Sam--
"Uh--" he said, trying to chug down the food and talk at the same time. His hand flopped up towards Rubio's, jigging the oatmeal on the spoon so that it splatted on the table.
For a moment he froze. This was not good. Spilling food was not good, you could get in trouble for it. Dean remembered that. Remembered something about throwing a bowl of spaghetti at someone, running, getting slammed against the floor. This had been followed by something in a dark room that was definitely not fun.
Rubio looked at him, his thin mouth narrowing even further. "Don't mess with me, boy, just don't. You let me feed you, and the feeling will come back to your arms by lunchtime. You mess with me? And you'll be back in that bed so fast, your head will swim."
Bed. He'd spent the night in bed, spread-eagled, hands and feet tied. Not stretched in any painful way, but held there. Immobile. Still. Someone had come in the darkness to give him another injection, and he'd thankfully slid back into sleep. But his arms and his shoulders would be longer in forgiving him.
He nodded at Rubio, and swallowed another spoonful of oatmeal. It was thin, the way Sam liked it. Thin, and milky, just on the verge of cooling. And sweet. Sam could use so much sugar, it made even Dean's sweet tooth ache. Sam--
"Dean," said Rubio. "You want some bacon?"
Dean shook his head. His stomach was full, his head, starting to ache.
Dean shook his head again. He looked at the tray, with the bowl of grey oatmeal, the pale bacon. Saw the toast. It had a smear of butter; he could eat that. He raised his fingers, and tried to nod towards it.
Dean nodded. Rubio broke the toast in half and brought it to Dean's mouth. The toast was cold and gritty, but it felt comfortable to eat it. He wished there was more butter. And cinnamon and sugar. He wished Sam were there to make fun of him for getting fed by hand like this.
"Hey, Dean," said Rubio, and Dean realized he was bringing his hand up to Dean's face. Wiping something away. "You just let those meds kick in and you'll feel a lot better."
Dean turned his head away. Made himself stop thinking and crying. It wouldn't help. He had to get out of here.
Halfway through the second piece of toast, something inside of him began to flatten out, drawing him towards it like a serene horizon. It was okay like this, it was much easier to sit there and finish chewing his toast, to take a drink of juice from the glass in Rubio's hand. To swing his arms back and forth to get the blood moving like Rubio suggested.
When Rubio got up to take the tray to the counter, Dean followed him, weaving around the tables, not looking at anyone. Keeping his eyes on the back of Rubio's dark head.
"I'll take you to the game room," said Rubio. Dean didn't know where that was, but he followed anyway, walking without picking up his feet, shivering in the coolness of the pale corridor. They passed groups of orderlies with their charges, men all, wearing garments like Dean's, their eyes dull, faces slack. They look like he felt. And that was okay. It was easier than feeling.
When they got to the Day room, Rubio checked the list on the door, and then checked the bracelet on Dean's wrist. "Nope. Says you're for Laundry work therapy. Let's go."
Laundry turned out to be a large, long room, with a bank of high, narrow windows along one side, and lined on three walls with washers and dryers, with a back to back row in the middle. Big ones. Industrial ones. Dean thought about how he knew that, where he'd seen equipment like it, but he couldn't place it. Rubio let him look at the other patients working, loading and unloading the machines that filled the room with a low, moaning din, while he checked the list on the door, and then checked with an orderly, who wore a whistle around his neck.
"Neland," said Rubio, "Dean starts work therapy with you. Today." He waited a minute, as if for Neland to process this.
"What?" Neland was a short, thin man, with thin brown hair and a fussy mouth. He wore an orderly's outfit, like what Rubio and Greer had, but it looked like he both pressed and starched his. Which only made sense, if he worked in a laundry. He narrowed his eyes at Rubio.
"It's what the list said. Both lists, I checked them. Work therapy, and he starts today. But take it slow, they've just started to decrease his meds."
Neland made a sound in his throat as he pursed his lips and looked at Dean. The sound blended in with the hum of the dryers, and for a second, Dean thought he could float away on that sound. It was familiar to him, just as familiar as the hum of rubber tiers on a blue line highway.
"He can fold," said Neland. "How long do I have him for?"
"Lunchtime. After that, I don't know. Depends on the schedule."
Neland hummed again, and Rubio left Dean there, walking out of the room, without looking back. Almost like Dean didn't exist. And Dean almost didn't care. The room was warm, warmer than anyplace else he could remember being, and the hum was comforting.
Neland led Dean through the warm air and the din over to a big metal sink. There was a metal shelf stacked with clean white towels over the sink, and a low shelf beneath with more towels and a bottle of lotion. Neland shoved a bar of soap in his hands. The soap was trailing with melty mucus, but that was okay. It was just soap goo. Neland turned on the water, and pointed at it.
"Wash up. Under your nails too. I won't have black streaks on my sheets and towels."
Dean did as he was told. The water was warm and getting warmer; it felt good on his skin, leaving the rest of him wishing it could get in as well. He used the soap and dried his hands on the towel that Neland handed him. Then he followed the orderly to a long metal table. On the edge of the table someone was dumping a pile of freshly dried towels. They smelled like bleach and heat.
"Fold each towel like this. You see?" Neland demonstrated, first, in half, the long way. Then in half, the short way. "Put them all in the same direction. You get gold stars for every towel you get right. And then some nice person in a hotel will use the towels you've folded. Got that?"
Dean nodded. Looked at the pile. He could do this. It would be sweet and it would be easy. Those gold stars were as good as his.
Up until the time he stopped, he was fine. The folding and the warm towels made him sleepy, and he melted into the task until he heard the bells chime, and Neland blew his whistle for everyone to stop. All of a sudden, the soothing murmur of the washers and dryers came to a thumping halt, filling the air with a bleak, unnatural silence.
The ease that had kept up with him for the morning, now, in the blank whiteness, was filling him. Had been filling him. Scratching at the inside of his brain with insistent hands. But Neland was motioning him out in the corridor with the rest of the men, and Dean started to feel crowded as he pressed his back against the wall.
The line of men began to move, and took Dean with it, his heart hammering, and thoughts of Sam bucking into view, raging and strong. Sam, standing there, arguing about something. About families, and promises. About memories. Dean had shrugged him off, and then the fire had started. Smashing down on Sam, the heat of the flames sweeping Sam's dark hair back from his forehead. Burning him. Killing him. Dean realized he was shaking.
No one noticed; there was no stopping the line of men marching towards food. By the time he arrived at the lunch room, the smell of food was rotten, he didn't want any of it. Then he saw the lady with her pairs of cups, one large, filled with water, and one small. You had to take what was in the cups before you could eat. It was a rule. Dean stood in line, watched her watching him. Still shaking.
"Problems, Dean Doe?" she asked. Dean stared at her teeth, yellowed from coffee, he figured.
"Not hungry," he said, reaching willingly for both cups.
She held them out of reach for a moment. "Is that all?" she asked. "Any strange smells, any headache, any high-pitched sounds?"
Dean frowned at her. Her questions were keeping him from what was in the little cup. Sweet oblivion. "No," he said. "I don't get headaches."
She made a little noise in her throat and handed him the cups. While he swallowed the pills and the water, she wrote something down on the clipboard. "Dr. Logan will ask you the same questions tomorrow. You be honest with her, and that will help you get better. Okay?"
As the man behind him pushed forward, and Dean was pushed into the line to get food, he wondered, for the first time since he could remember, what was wrong with him? And, just as important, where was he? He told his mouth to think about food, told his stomach to be patient. He'd take care of one first and then the other.
The smell of overcooked carrots and limp spinach hit the back of his throat as he held out his tray and let the woman behind the silver-topped counter fill it. Minced steak and brown gravy. A carton of milk. A roll. A little paper tub of frozen butter. Dean looked at the food as he walked to a table, wondering where Rubio was.
He sat alone at a round table with five empty chairs, the tray in front of him, plastic silverware wrapped in a paper napkin. He looked at his hands, the tips of his fingers touching the edge of the tray. The faint, swirly pattern in the cheap plastic, the thin dividers keeping the spinach juice away from the roll. Dean reached for that, cut it opened and buttered it.
Someone stopped next to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Everything okay, Dean?"
Dean looked up. It was Rubio. He had someone with him, someone with eyes as glazed and slack as a dead man's. Dean shook his head. "I'm okay," he said. And thought about that. Was he okay? And if he wasn't, what was wrong with him? Then he nodded at Rubio. "I'm okay." The other guy was worse off than him, it was plain to see; let the other guy get the help.
Rubio and his pal for the day walked away through the maze of tables as Dean bit into his roll. The roll was barely warm, but the texture was good. He washed the bite down with milk, and looked at the grease thickening across the top of the minced steak. It looked like icing on a German chocolate cake, but probably wouldn't taste the same. He stuck his finger in it and brought it to his lips to test. It tasted okay, but it was cold. Sam would have turned up his nose at it for sure. Sam liked his steak rare, the rarer the better. With noodles. And butter. Served up hot, so that the bloody juice coated the noodles. Sam liked--
This made his head hurt. Like someone had just smacked the back of it right where his skull met his spine. He had to duck his head down and catch his breath, feeling the weight of hard spikes going through his eyeballs, like someone had driven him there. Like someone was standing right there, stabbing at him, making him--
There was a commotion at the other end of the dining hall, someone had either tripped or been pushed, and two men in slip on sneakers were going at it, fists flailing, spinach flying. There was a smell of grease in the air, and Dean concentrated on that. On all of that. He couldn't think about Sam, wouldn't, otherwise, he would start coming apart from the inside out. If he could just remember the details about the fire, and why Sam had been standing under a beam that was in flames. And why he hadn't pulled Sam out of the way, when he, Dean, was obviously outside of the range of the fire? What the fuck had he been thinking?
Was it his fault that Sam was dead?
Maybe that was why. Maybe that was why he was in this place, because he was responsible, and Sam was dead, and he couldn't take it. Maybe that was his breaking point.
One of Dad's friends once, maybe it had been Caleb, had said something about that. They'd been taking a breather one weekend, had met up with Caleb that summer he'd been in the camper. They'd sat around the door in Caleb's lawn chairs while the sky had gotten dark. Beers had been passed out, and Dad, probably thinking that Dean wasn't paying attention, had said something about how Dean's training was coming. Caleb had said, "Won't nothing break that kid of yours?" And Dad had looked at Sam. Dean hadn't understood it at the time, but he got it now. Had known it for a while, that Sam was his weak spot. Losing Sam had broken him. Which is how he ended up here.
Or at least why he'd ended up here. He couldn't remember the how. Which was probably a good thing because he was starting to shake again. It was out of his control, his hands were trembling and he tried to stand up and pushed the tray away so he wouldn't knock it off the table. It was as far as his mind got before the room started to turn white and someone turned up the volume, and all he could hear was Sam screaming for him.
Just as Dean tried to clamp his hands over his ears, Greer was there, grabbing his upper arms, holding on tight. Greer's mouth was moving as the room behind him got sparkly and overly bright. Dean felt like he was in an elevator dropping too fast and only Greer's baseball bat grip was holding him in place. Dean didn't struggle, just tried blinking against the lightning now arcing through the air. And the smell. Burning, burning flesh. Flesh that was alive. Sam.
He could almost hear Greer saying his name, recognized it on Greer's lips, but shook his head. Tried to say something, tried not to throw up. Almost failed as he sank against Greer and buried his forehead into Greer's chest. Greer smelled like sweat and worn out Electrashave, it had to be near the end of his shift. The elevator feeling started to go away as Greer started him walking out of the dining hall. He leaned Dean against the first cool wall there was, away from the hot, greasy smell of the dining hall. With Greer's hand on the back of his neck, he bent Dean forward until his head was between his knees.
Dean breathed. Smelled his own sweat, the funk of chemicals mixing with the mist from his skin, from between his legs, from under his arms. Breathed. Swallowed and breathed until Greer pulled him up.
"You got one of two Treatments," Greer was saying. "You pick which one."
Dean could barely remember what Treatment was, but he knew it wasn't any fun.
"I want oatmeal," said Dean.
"What?" asked Greer. Irritated. "Dean, that's not an option."
The bell sounded announcing the end of lunch. Dean looked at Greer as steadily as he could. "I'm okay now."
A line of men started to walk and shuffle past them, pushing them aside in their purposeful, albeit slow, snaky-curved pace. The woman from the lunchroom pushed her cart, tucking her clipboard in amidst the plastic cups as she went. Greer motioned her over. The wheels trundled like squeak toys as she made the cart turn.
"What?" she asked with a snap. "I've got rounds, Greer."
"Hang on," he said, gripping Dean by only one arm now. "Check your list. Was he given Thorazine today?"
"You do realize you're just an orderly here, Greer. Don't you?'
"That's why I'm asking you."
She checked her list with a complete lack of good grace, and Dean felt his stomach rumble.
"Mmmmmmmm," she said. "Yes, Thorazine. It's his first day on that; Dr. Logan's recommend."
"No wonder," said Greer. "Okay, thanks." He waved her along, and she gave him the finger. Greer shook his head.
"This way, Dean."
Dean let himself be led back into the dining room, the greasy smell hitting him smack in the back of the throat. "I can't--" he started.
"Breathe through your mouth."
Greer led him through the silver doors to the back area where the servers were cleaning up and getting ready for the supper shift. There was a long, metal tray of leftover chopped steak with gravy and Dean had to swallow hard. He tried to breathe through his mouth, and could barely concentrate on where Greer told him to stand, feeling the roughness of the walls as he spread his palms out behind him. Greer was talking to someone, his low voice barking out an order. Then he came back with a little metal bowl with a spoon stuck in it.
"Let's go." He grabbed Dean's arm and have him a little shove in the direction of the metal doors. Once they were both through, the gates to the serving area closed behind them, cutting off the greasy smell of the chopped steak. The air was cool and a little dense, but Dean could breathe.
Greer motioned at a table and pointed for Dean to sit down. He put the metal bowl in front of Dean; it had chopped boiled potatoes with salt and pepper. Dean watched the little cube of butter melting as the potatoes steamed up at him.
"Can you eat that?"
Dean lifted the spoon and his mouth started to water. He nodded and blew on a spoonful of potatoes. Took in a mouthful and breathed in cool air to keep his tongue from burning. It was good. It was very good. He nodded at Greer.
"I'm not coddling you, sport," said Greer as he stood there and watched Dean inhale the potatoes. "Some people have that reaction to Thorazine. We'll get you on something else, then you'll be able to eat what's put in front of you."
As Dean finished, Greer looked at him. "Any loud noises, and flashing lights, anything?"
Dean shook his head. "My mouth tastes like metal."
"That's the Thorazine, but then, any sedative might do that. I'll let Dr. Logan know."
"I'm supposed to see her." Dean found himself saying this for some reason. Feeling it, like she had the secret that he wanted to know.
"Not today, Dean," said Greer. "She's a busy lady, that one. You up for laundry?"
Dean nodded now. The laundry had been peaceful, and the work had let him float. It was funny though, because even though he and Sam had done laundry so many times, the folding and the warmth and the din made it easy to keep thoughts of his brother at bay. He wanted that. Like right now.
Greer pulled Dean to his feet and left the bowl on the table. They walked out the doors, and Dean breathed in as deeply as he could. At least his stomach was quiet and the screaming had stopped. He would fold towels for a while. And not think.
Supper was better. He got a little blue pill instead of a purple one, and the water felt cool on this throat. Supper was chicken nuggets and creamed corn. Dean inhaled everything, even though his mouth still tasted like metal a little. Someone else sat at his table and ate while the creamed corn ran down his chin. Rubio walked among the tables, checking; Dean didn't see Greer. The light outside the windows made it look like the sun was setting. The sun set in the west, Dean could see the angles of shadows but not the source of the light, which meant that the windows on this side of the building were probably facing north. It was good to know that. It felt good. He wished he had a second carton of milk. Maybe tomorrow he would ask for one.
The bell announcing the end of supper sounded, and left an echoing buzzing in Dean's head. When everyone else stood up, he stood up. Followed the group of men out the door, took his place in line. He had no idea where they were going, but no one seemed to think that what he was doing was odd.
They ended up in room that someone said was the Day room. It might be the same one that Dean recalled from before, looking at his sneakers and thinking there might have been some rice in his sock. Or it might be a different room, he couldn't really tell. The TV was on, it was an old TV and the picture wobbled across a talk show. Some men took over the couch and started watching. There were checker games on some tables, puzzles on others. At the far end of the room there was a radio; it sounded like baseball. Dean watched a few men pull up some chairs. Other men stood against the wall as if nothing really mattered except the pattern of the floor. One guy was swinging his arm almost gently against the open door frame until an orderly that Dean didn't recognize made him stop.
Dean stood with his back against the wall near the window, watching out of the corner of his eye as the sky grew fully dark, and lights went on across the grounds. He realized that he'd seen some little green leaves on the trees and realized what this meant. Still spring. Early spring. Sill May, which it had been the last time he'd driven in the Impala, with the window wipers going full bore and Sam talking a blue streak. Arguing about families and something else that Dean couldn't remember.
A breath hitched itself in his chest. Where the hell was the Impala?
His hands clenched into fists. He made himself stand still and not start running like he wanted to.
The Impala, the Impala, and Sam and the rain, and the warehouse. Windshield wipers. Putting on the parking brake. Something was wrong, very wrong. Dean felt his lungs pushing against his ribs, saw the orderly in the doorway looking at him. Dean turned to the window. Looked out. Tried to count to one hundred. Tried not to shake. Wanted it to stop. Maybe if he just died, right now, it would.
He could almost see his reflection in the window, and it was one he almost recognized. The outlines were blurry in the condensation building up on the window, but it was him, alright. Not a stranger, then. Just him. Just Dean. Alone.
It was the worst feeling in the world.
He made himself stop. Made himself walk over to the TV and lean against the couch until the men moved over and let him sit down, too. Then he could watch the talk show, and float away on the voices. He would stay in this place forever; there wasn't any point in going anywhere else.
Not with Sam gone.
By the time the talk show was over and the bell rang, Dean's eyelids felt like they could close all the way down to the floor. He stood up and got in line, followed the line down the chilly corridor, and when it stopped, he stopped. An orderly looked over at him, and Dean could tell by the curve of his mouth that he was bored. Either that or annoyed.
He gave Dean a pill in a cup and a little glass of water. Then the orderly pointed, sighing with a dramatic air and Dean looked. On the door was a piece of tape that said Ethan Doe, only the name Ethan had been crossed out with the name Dean written in smaller letters underneath.
For a second, Dean was confused. Doe? His last name wasn't Doe. He didn't know what it was, but it wasn't Doe. His last name was a whole lot longer than Doe. Longer than three letters. There was a metal frame next to the door with a file folder and a clipboard in it. Dean could see his name underneath the scratched-out Ethan on both of them, but not the other name he was thinking of but couldn't remember.
"Some time tonight, Dean," said the orderly.
This must be his room then. Dean put his hand on the knob and opened the door to step across the threshold. As he looked at the long, narrow room with one single bed, the door shut behind him. He heard it lock. He was locked in. But that was okay. He was alone for the first time he could remember. The room held nothing but the bed. The window on the far wall had a grill over it, and there was a doorway with no door to the left through which Dean could see a toilet and a sink and a tub. He didn't know what they were thinking, he could drown himself in that tub if he wanted. It sounded like a pretty good idea. Only he was tired, so maybe tomorrow.
He went into the bathroom and peed, then washed his hands with a little bar of soap and the lukewarm water, wiping them on the one, thin towel. It occurred to him that the towels in the Laundry room were nicer, but then, they were bound for some mysterious hotel somewhere.
Above the sink, beneath the plastic box that shaded a single light bulb, was a sheet of metal that was supposed to be a mirror. He didn't need to look at it to see himself. They were Samless eyes he'd be seeing, and he didn't need to see that. Ever. So he brushed his teeth with the toothbrush and toothpaste that were sitting in a cup.
As he took off his shoes and his socks, he looked at the bed. The pillow looked thin, the sheets scratchy. Was he supposed to sleep in his clothes? Why didn't he know? If he'd been here for any other nights, he couldn't remember them. Couldn't remember any of the rituals he'd gone through today. It was all a blank up to this morning. Then he saw the dresser and pulled out all the drawers until he found what looked like pajamas, and put them on.
Drawing back the blue cover and the white sheet on the bed, he figured maybe it was better to forget.
There was a chime, and the lights went out. Dean hustled into the bed, and pulled the covers up to his chin. Everything felt strange. He let the night get dark and still around him, breathed in the chilly, still air. Thought about the rain, and the open sky, and wondered how long it had been since he'd seen them. Since he'd stepped out of the Impala, walking towards the warehouse, Sam hot on his heels, talking, that mouth of his going as he tried to make his point. About what? Dean would never know. Sam was dead and--
Dean made himself stop. He clamped his mouth shut, and bit down on his lower lip. If he started thinking about Sam now, in the dark, with nothing to distract him, he would lose his mind for sure. Flipping out before had earned him the threat of choosing between one of two Treatments. If Greer hadn't stumbled across the nurse lady with her list of drugs, he would have carried through with one of them, of that Dean was sure.
There must have been something in that last pill he'd been given, which was a good thing, otherwise, he'd be crying into his pillow like a girl even as he thought about it. He knew this because he felt it. Something in the pill kept that impulse at bay, like it was an abstract shape and nothing that had anything to do with him. He'd never taken so many drugs in his life. That he knew of.
The darkness came, and took him with it, walking him down a long corridor banked with shadows.
When he woke in the morning, it was raining again. At least it smelled like rain. And mold. The chill worked its way into his skin and he made himself get out of bed when the door opened. He had a feeling that there would be pulling and pushing and injections if he didn't. In fact, he remembered this, just as the orderly stepped into the room to give him a warning look and to hand him a plastic razor to shave with. He had to get up or there would be shots that would make him dopy and compliant. Not that he wasn't sure that being dopy and compliant wouldn't be more fun than being fuzzy and half-irritated, but he didn't like shots anyway, so. Time to get up and put on his shoes and socks and use the bathroom.
Breakfast followed, with pills, and then the laundry, and then lunch with pills, and then, oddly, work detail outside in the afternoon. The rain had stopped, and he'd been given a thick windbreaker to go outside and pick up branches and debris from the large, green lawn that was almost perfectly flat with trees arranged on it in neat little groups. There was a tall plastic fence around the lawn, and from somewhere, Dean could hear the sound of rushing water.
"Keep moving, Dean," said a voice. Dean turned. It was Greer. He was looking at Dean's feet in the slip-on sneakers that were damp through within moments of stepping onto the grass. "Keep moving, keep warm."
Dean nodded and moved toward the next branch on the lawn. Grabbed it and a little piece of paper from somewhere. Took them over to the container in the center of the lawn, for someone to take away later. The air, though damp, was nice. It was fresh and it moved ceaselessly. But from which direction? The sun was behind the clouds, so he really couldn't tell which way was north. It bothered him, but in a vague kind of way. Rather like he realized he should be more bothered by it than it was.
Picking up the lawn was followed by the sock ritual, where everyone exchanged wet socks for dry, and the smell of wet feet and the crowd of damp bodies in the hallway was starting to get to Dean when an orderly came through and pulled him and seven other men out and took them all to Group. Dean remembered hearing about this the other day, but couldn't remember having been in Group before. It was like someone had taken a slice out of his memory, leaving a black, bottomless hole where that chunk used to be.
Group was held in a little room with nine metal folding chairs and a chalk board that had no chalk but that had, oddly, three erasers. Dean sat in the chair nearest the door, and let himself float while the man in the while lab coat with the clipboard started talking. He was younger man with a snappy bow tie and a headful of choir boy hair that curled around his ears.
"Welcome to Group, everyone," said the man. "Now let's get started. We--"
"Dr. Baylor," said one of the patients, a weedy, thin man with mousy hair who was sitting directly across from Dean. "He's in my seat."
The man was pointing right at Dean. "He's in my seat and he won't move."
Dean sank himself further into the metal seat and gripped the edges. He was sitting by the door and he was going to stay there. Why that was important, he didn't really know, but he was staying put. Mr. Pointy Fingers could just shove it up his ass if he thought Dean Winchester was moving.
He could see Dr. Baylor's lips moving, but there was a ringing in his ears. The name felt awfully familiar and he realized it was his. His full name. And a damn sight longer than three letters. He couldn't let go of the seat now, even if he wanted to move.
"Now, Randy," said Dr. Baylor, "we've talked about this. You were going to work on being more flexible, remember?"
"Yes, but you said to try as hard as I could. I've been flexible all day. I don't see why--"
Dr. Baylor looked at Dean.
Dean shook his head. "Not my job to be flexible."
"Now, that's interesting, Dean. What exactly is your job, would you say?"
Dean thought about this. Thought about what he could remember and where he was and how everyone in the small circle of men was looking at him as though very interested in the answer.
Dean stopped, his mouth open. That wasn't it, obviously. Some of the men were looking at him like they knew the real answer and if Dean didn't speak up soon, they were going to start raising their hands.
"Taking my pills?"
Still not it. He felt himself scrunching in the chair, his shoulders curling in on themselves like someone was pushing on them. Feeling like a searchlight had found him. If this was the result of sticking to his guns, maybe he'd just move next time. Yeah. That's what he'd do.
"Um, getting better?"
"That's right." Dr. Baylor was nodding, though some of the men, Mr. Pointy Fingers included, looked pissed that Dean had gotten it right and was getting the full effect of Dr. Baylor's bright smile. "Everything you do and everything we do is to help you get better. So do you think you would be willing to switch with Randy today? And the next time Group meets, you can sit by the door. Okay, Dean?"
Dean was on his feet before Dr. Baylor was finished, brushing past Randy, who practically yelped with pleasure. Thinking that Baylor's technique was slicker than owl shit, and that he himself actually felt better for having given in. Which didn't feel right at all.
The metal seat of the chair that Randy had been sitting in was warm but the legs wobbled. The back of Dean's neck felt the cool air banking off the window, outside of which the rain was starting again. Dean realized he was glad to be inside, out of the weather. But that didn't feel right either.
"Okay, guys," Dr. Baylor was saying. "Let's talk about how we make decisions and how we decide to follow the rules. Does everyone remember how we talked about rules last time?"
Everyone's hand shot up but Dean's. Dr. Baylor looked around the circle, his eyes lighting on Dean for a brief second, and then he chose the man to Dean's left.
"Carl," said Dr. Baylor, flashing his smile. "You start."
Carl started. Dean stared at his feet and the wiggles in the linoleum and let himself float away.
Dean floated through the next several days. He had Group sometimes, and laundry most days, pills with every meal, and someone always told him where to, showed him how to get there. As long as he looked the orderlies in the eyes and kept his expression steady, the world felt steady, and he got no more injections or threats of injections. Everything was floaty and smooth, and he found he liked it like that. Even the tub in his room was starting to become less and less of an option out. It was good here, and if he was to be Samless, then it didn't matter where he was. Here was as good as anywhere. Better in fact, because he never, ever had to make a decision. Though somewhere, deep inside, he could still hear Sam screaming for him.
The lull of each day, pretty much the same as the one before, took him, and rocked him until he could barely think of a life beyond. Beyond the beige walls, the scarred brown linoleum floor, and the tall, white plastic fence around the damp green lawn dotted with trees. Even the schedule was part of that hypnotic sameness, every minute accounted for, listed, and checked off. He shouldn't like it so much, but he did.
The appointment with Dr. Logan got pushed out a couple of times, but Dean didn't mind very much. After all, what would he say to her? There was nothing to say. Sam was dead and it wouldn't matter if the end of the world came.
Dean had thought he would meet with Dr. Logan in the same little room that Group met in. So he was surprised to be escorted into an office, clean, but piled deep with files and books, so many books that they were double stacked in most of the shelves. The doctor was the same woman he'd told his real name to, pretty enough to look at, in a mild sort of way. Now that he could actually focus a little. She sat looking through a manila folder. She closed it as Dean came and nodded to the orderly who had escorted him there.
"I've got him," she said to the orderly, dismissing him. Then she motioned to the blue padded chair opposite from her. "Have a seat, Dean. Let's talk."
Let's talk. Such a strange thing to say, seeing as how Dean hadn't really been talking except to say yes and no and Zoloft is for pussies. Neither did he care. But she was nice, and it was probably best not to get into trouble, so he said, "Okay."
She looked at him over the top of the desk. "So, Dean, you've been here about three weeks, now making remarkable progress. Any new memories or insights that would help up track down your identity? A last name, maybe?"
His mind rocked backwards at how long he'd been there. He only remembered one of those weeks, and except for the one day when they'd given him Throrazine, it had been pretty okay. Except for missing Sam, but he wasn't going to think about that. As for the name, his real last name, Winchester, that's all he could remember. If he didn't care if he was found, and after all, who was there to find him? And why would he want them to? So, no last name for her.
"No," he said. "Nothing new. Some flashbacks, maybe, of a black car. An-an Impala."
He didn't know why he said that, even if he could remember that much, because, wherever the Impala was, it was far beyond his reach. And anyhow, without Sam in the passenger seat, there was no point in driving it. Anywhere. Though even this sad though melted away without impact.
"Interesting," she said, pulling out a file from one of the stacks on her desk. "Shortly after you were found, we sent in a report to the police, and got a response from the Joliet Car Pound."
She placed two things in front of him. "You were found walking on a deserted blacktop, half a mile from this car, with the keys in the ignition and the car still running. And here's this necklace, you had it around your neck. Do any of these items ring any bells?"
He leaned forward to look. The piece of paper showed a picture of the Impala. She looked dusty, but okay. Then there was a ring of keys that sprawled on the table like a casual acquaintance, tangled in with the leather cord of the charm necklace that Sam had given him one Christmas. The Impala was now as familiar to him as the back of his hand. He wanted to reach out and grab everything there, but clenched his hand in his lap.
"Yeah," he said. "I recognize it. That's the car my dad gave me."
"And your dad's name?"
"John," he said, without thinking.
"The car is registered to a Ronald R. Bon Jovi, which wouldn't happen to be your name, by any chance?"
This made Dean smile. He remembered changing the registration after the botched bank job in Wisconsin. He and Sam had been in some hotel in Sparta, and had decided to do it in Ronald's name, as a sort of eulogy. Sam, putting the paperwork in the envelope, his eyes glinting as he smiled at Dean and licked the envelope shut. He stopped smiling, missing Sam like a part of him had suddenly been ripped away, all over again.
"Anything wrong, Dean?"
His stomach rolled a little bit at the unsettled feeling swamping up through him. Of course, everything was not okay. Everything was wrong. He'd been responsible for Sam dying, and even all those damn pills he was on couldn't keep the jagged memories of the fire and Sam from hitting him square in the head. Only he didn't want her to know that.
She was looking at him with bright earnest eyes, and he had to answer her. Give her something so she would leave him alone.
"Sometimes," he said, swallowing, "I feel sad."
He waited a handful of heartbeats for her to announce that he needed more drugs or to have him hauled away for Treatment, something in a black room where he couldn't move. But she didn't.
"Actually, Dean, it's quite normal to be sad and for you to admit it is very healthy. Remarkably so. It shows a great deal of improvement from when they brought you in. You were alternately catatonic and then violent. For days. Do you remember any of that?"
She looked at him, expectant. So he gave her a response.
"I don't remember, except that day--"
"One week ago," she said, agreeing. She nodded and wrote something down. "And how is work therapy going? Are you liking the laundry or the yard better?"
"Both," he said. Then he ducked his chin like he was admitting a big secret. "But the laundry, mostly."
Dr. Logan made a little noise as she pursed her lips and wrote something else down. When she looked up, she said, "You've been doing so very well, been very responsive to the drugs and the Treatment."
"So--" he stopped to think about it, about what he wanted to say, and whether it would make her mad. "Does that mean I'll be off the drugs soon? If I'm getting better and remembering more?"
"Well, actually no. If things continue the way they have been, we can start decreasing your meds little by little, but we'll have to see. Besides, if we took you off the meds all at once, that could be dangerous. It's hard on the body, and the shock could send you into coma. You could die. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
The look she gave him was a warning: she was in charge and he needed to remember that. "Yes," he said.
Then she said, "I have something I need to ask you but I think you are ready for it."
There wasn't much he could say to that, so he shifted in his seat and nodded. Wondered if the meeting would be over soon.
"However much you've been improving, the young man we brought you in with has not been. Is there anything you can remember that might help us understand why?"
"Yes," said Dr. Logan slowly, flipping pages in the folder. "He was brought in when you were, found along the same road, in the same condition."
He watched her run her fingers down the page, reading as his heart was thumping. He was suddenly sweating down the backs of his arms, hot along the backs of his legs, his neck, even though he felt like he was being swept over by a blast of cold air. Was it Sam? Alive?
"Records state that we talked to you about him, several times," continued Dr. Logan, "but you were unresponsive. Still--" She stopped, and he could hear her mutter under her breath. "Looks like we haven't brought it up since, well, not since last week. That was an oversight on our part."
His mind sheared down the middle. For her, it was just an oversight. To him, it could mean everything, everything. The world could be his, if Sam were alive. If it was Sam.
"Who--?" He couldn't bring himself to finish the question. The guy could be anyone, anyone at all.
"Let's see if this jogs your memory," said Dr. Logan. She looked up. "He's about six four, dark hair, green eyes…"
Dean stood up. "You never told me." He tried to keep his voice even, though he wanted to shout at her. Parts of him felt numb, at war with the scream in his head that had started in his gut and sliced its way up his spine so fast, a white hot pain of brilliance so bright he almost didn't recognize what it was. But it was Sam. He was alive.
"Yes, we did, Dean. We tried several times."
Dean walked to the door and put his hand on the handle. The knob rattled beneath his grip, and for some reason, he couldn't make it stop, couldn't make the clicking noise stop, couldn't figure out if it was his teeth chattering from the cold, or the echoes of metal hitting itself, over and over. And over.
"Dean, calm down."
He was shaking so hard, his knees smacked against the door. His heart was banging against the inside of his chest, it wanted out, he wanted out, he wanted--
"Dean, I'll take you to him, but you need to calm down and listen to me."
Dr. Logan was standing right beside him now, in her white coat, as calm as a flat piece of paper.
"It's Sam," he said, his throat thick. He knew he was baring his teeth and glaring at her even though that was no way to do this, you had to pretend to be something else, not this, someone who could do what he could do. A hunter. That's what he'd been. Something fierce, not this docile jerk he'd been shuffling around as. "It's my brother Sam."
The look in her eyes was curious and not at all worked up. "Now Dean. Are you telling me that your brother is not dead?"
"I want to see him."
Dr. Logan reached back to her desk and Dean realized she'd pushed the panic button. "Dean," she said, stern. "Either your brother is dead and this is not him, or all of your memories are false. Which is it?"
What kind of question was that? His memories were real, as real as breathing. Except they weren't. He didn't know what to tell her. The clicking noise got louder, and there were footsteps coming down the hall. He had to make the clicking noise stop and he had to get his lungs working again, only he wasn't sure which one should come first.
But Dr. Logan was still talking. "If you're deluding yourself, then we might have to increase your meds and your Treatment, so you need to choose, Dean. Is this your brother Sam or just a friend named Sam?"
She was concerned, it was easy to tell; but at the same time, she wasn't going to put up with any crap. She had the keys to all the doors, to get out, he would have to go through her. He made himself let go of the doorknob and wiped his palm on his cotton pants. Then he took a deep breath, and watched as she nodded when Greer came in.
"I don't know," said Dean. Almost whispering. He would be docile for a little while longer, if he had to. If it could get him to Sam. "Honest. If I could just see him, I could figure it out."
This seemed to satisfy her. For the moment. "Fair enough. Now, we'll go see him, Dean, but I need you to be aware, he's in bad shape. We're hoping that seeing you will help him with his memory problem. As for the rest, well, we'll just keep doing what we're doing."
It had to be Sam. Who else could it be?
They went out into the hall. Greer stayed right by Dean's side as Dr. Logan escorted them through two security gates, into another part of the building that Dean had never seen before. The walls were putty grey instead of tan and pink, though the smell of boiled sock and the brown linoleum floor was the same. The nearby shrieks were not the same, nor the utter stillness, no one was in the hall, talking, nor was there any muffled chatter. The orderlies watched them coming, alert and not at all casual.
Dr. Logan stopped them at a chest-high counter where she signed them all in. She was almost ignoring Dean as they walked through another set of doors but Dean had never felt more noticed than he did now.
"Hey, doc," said Greer, pointing toward the source of the shrieks. Two orderlies were struggling with someone who dressed like Dean was, down to the pale cotton clothes and slip-on sneakers. He was tall, with dark hair that stood up in a distinctive mess, the angle of his jaw, the line of his shoulders--
It was Sam, Sam and he was alive. A white shock moved through Dean like a sharp blade, leaving him numb seconds before his whole body lurched forward to run to Sam. Dr. Logan put her hand on his arm, and it was like she had slapped him to make him stop, but Dean let her do it, though part of him was screaming at him why he would let someone keep him from his brother for even a second. It was the drugs in his system, all kinds of drugs, that left him soft.
Sam howled and pulled, trying to wrench his shoulders out of the orderlies' grips. Heaving around like a horse twitching flies off with its tail. Then he got away, and came running down the hall towards them, sneakered feet slapping on the highly polished floor, hands spread wide as if to catch an invisible foe.
"I got him," said Greer, taking a stance, getting ready.
Sam's hair was cut short up over his ears, and his mouth was open like he had some amazing news to tell. For a second, Dean thought that Sam had seen him, was coming for him, but his eyes, as he came closer, reflected not the slightest bit of recognition. They were wide and wild, and it looked like he was about to bolt, and then he saw Dean.
He stood stock still for a minute, looking at Dean, his eyebrows twisting down like Dean was a puzzle he wanted to solve. And in that moment, Greer grabbed his arms in that grip of his and settled Sam against the wall as the two orderlies came close.
Dr. Logan made a motion at them and instead of grabbing Sam again, they stood down, even as Sam pulled and twisted in Greer's grip. Greer held Sam so Dean could look at him. Dean soaked it in, the sight of Sam, as his mouth fell open. This moment, this moment right here was all that mattered, when he knew Sam was alive and if anything else was wrong, Dean could fix that, now that he had this.
Dr. Logan looked at Dean. "Dean, do you recognize this man?"
Recognize Sam? She might as well want to know if he recognized himself. But the more important question was whether Sam knew him. He didn't seem to
"Sam," Dean asked, trying to stuff back the panic rising up inside. Panic wouldn't help. "Sam, do you know me?"
Sam blinked, his eyes dim, mouth twisting in that little frown of his forming between his eyebrows as he tried to focus and failed. "Is that my name?" he asked, not looking at Dean. His voice scratchy from shouting, and Dean shivered at hearing it, soaking it in like a gift.
"Is this your brother?" asked Dr. Logan.
The question brought thoughts of little Sammy sitting at Dean's feet as they watched football, like it was the coolest thing in the world. Dean had been fuming because he had to babysit instead of go out with Roberta, who had to be a "C" cup at least. Sam offering to make pop corn, and Dean doing it himself in a less than gracious manner. Banging the pot on the stove, burning half of the pop corn. Sharing it with Sam, with salt only because they were out of butter. And still Sam seemed happy to be there.
"Is this your brother?" she asked again.
Sam was slack jawed, staring at Dean, agitation growing in his face as Greer held him. More of the fog around Dean's head was breaking away as the memories poured in like someone had opened the sky. He knew everything, remembered everything.
Yes, he wanted to say. His mouth formed to say it. "Yes," he said. "Yes, that's my brother."
There was a hard smacking sound as Sam broke free from Greer and slammed the orderly against the wall, and, moving fast, lunged for Dean, hands and fists and that awful howl of words bubbling from his lips through a thin film of foam, words that were meant to hurt mother fucker I will fuck you my brother is dead don't you say my brother you're not my brother, he's dead and you are dead--but they didn't explain anything. Dean shrank back, wondering if he would have to hurt Sam to stop him, he didn't want to, he wanted to hug Sam and say hello and let's go have a beer, but he might have to--Greer recovered himself and grabbed Sam up in his firm grasp before he even laid a hand on Dean, leaving Dean and sweaty and wide-eyed against the wall.
"This is getting out of hand." Dr. Logan tipped her head at the orderlies, and between them they took Sam's arms and one of them brought out a syringe, and rubbed Sam's skin with a patch of disinfecting cloth before pushing the needle through his skin. "Get him calm, and I'll come by later to check on him."
As the drugs sank into his system, Dean could see the film over Sam's eyes grow thicker, even as he struggled and yelped in the high register of a lost puppy. His eyes were suddenly on Dean, narrowing, trying to focus, trying to figure out what Dean knew that he knew: Dean was his brother, Dean was alive. And so was Sam. But Sam didn't know him, not at all.
Watching Sam go was like watching part of himself being cut out after being suddenly reattached after weeks of thinking Sam was dead. Dean turned and pushed himself into the wall, soaking up the coolness of the wall, not watching, only listening to the scuffled footfalls getting further and further away. He couldn't do this anymore. He wanted to go home.
"So, is that your brother, or not, Dean?"
The only person behind him now was Dr. Logan, and he could feel her standing there, knew she was looking at him. Wanted to throw up and go racing after Sam and yank them both out of this place before anything else happened that was hard.
And he had to think. Made himself think through the layers of the drugs and the echo of Sam's scream in his head. The white spit on Sam's mouth, the glare of his teeth, the collapse of his muscles when he couldn't fight the drugs. The less anyone knew about them, the better. He had to keep secrets, only he couldn't think of which one, which one, the one about his brother. She was asking about his brother. His brother Sam.
"No," said Dean, shaky. He would be the one to get Sam out of there. He would take care of his brother. "But his name is Sam; he's my friend. We were driving together and took a wrong turn. Something happened. That's all I remember."
"I see," said Dr. Logan.
"Don't worry, Dean," said Greer, who had come back on feet so silent, Dean had not heard him. "He'll get some Treatment, that'll settle him down."
Dean turned. Dr. Logan was looking at Greer with that you do realize you're just an orderly expression on her face, but she didn't say anything. Greer kept the peace, so he was valuable.
"Walk Dean and me back to my office, Greer," she said. "And then I got a ping from Neland, something about the laundry room, if you could sort that out."
With a touch, Dr. Logan directed Dean to follow her and he did, God help him, he did. But his muscles felt so slack and he couldn't feel his feet, and his ears were ringing with Sam's screams. Real now, instead of just a memory.
As they went through the myriad of security doors, she looked at him. "Do you need something to help keep you calm, Dean?"
They were almost to her office before Dean could reply. "No," he said. "I'm good." He was the furthest thing from good, but more drugs were the last thing he needed.
Dr. Logan waved Greer away, nodded at the orderly standing by, and took Dean into her office. It was nice to be able to remember having been there before, even though he felt sick as he sat in the chair and faced her. She fiddled with the files on her desk, standing there a minute in her white coat before sitting down and pulling a legal pad and a pen towards her like a security blanket she was just about to wrap around her.
"Due to confidentiality, I cannot, of course, divulge much of Jacob's, I mean, Sam's care to you. But I can tell you this, he's not responding well, even though we've pretty much given him the same course of drugs and therapy we've given you." She paused a minute. "We had to give him additional anti-anxiety meds. It's not going well."
It felt like she was talking to someone else, but she was looking directly at him. Dean made himself nod. Sat on his hands. Felt the blood thumping along the backs of his thighs.
"We're quite worried."
Dean was ready to kill her, the notion of it growing like a faraway hum of an engine, comforting and dangerous at the same time. They'd hurt Sam, they'd messed him up, they'd overdosed him with drugs, kept him in a room, done God knows what else to him--
"The good news is that he responded to you, even if just for a minute. He was still and calm and trying to focus, which was a miracle, given the amount of Haldol in his system and--"
She stood up and paced for a moment behind her desk chair, then she stopped and crossed her arms over her chest and looked at Dean. Behind her dark glasses, her eyes were intent, Dean could almost see the thoughts forming themselves in her brain.
"You, you've been doing well. We're decreasing your meds every day, and you're responding well in Group, and you do well in Work Therapy; you're quite Neland's new favorite these days." This thought made her smile, and Dean made himself not smile back. Who cared about that, when Sam was alive?
"Here's what I think, Dean," she said, sitting down, putting her hands on the desk and clasping them together. "I think you'd be a good influence on Sam. It was only one minute of response time, but it was more than he's shown since he's been here. I think that's significant."
Her words were starting to run together, and he couldn't figure out where she was going with this. Why was she talking to him like he could make sense of any of it? He needed to get to Sam, find out where Sam was, and get them the hell out.
"Other institutions have tried this, and it's worked in a lot of cases, so we're going to try it here. We'll put Sam in with you, and you'll show him how it's done. It'll be twenty-four hours a day, and like a track pony, you can keep him calm, give him someone consistent to relate to. We'll monitor his meds, but you can be Sam's keeper. Think you can handle it?"
Open mouthed, Dean looked at her, feeling like she'd just walloped him upside the head with a two by four.
Dean stood up, something clicking in his head, the words tumbling through, what he wanted to say, sign me up, 24/7, give me my brother, give me Sam,, I'll do it, I'll do it, sign me up, sign me up now--
"I take that as a yes?"
All Dean could do was nod, swallowing over the thickness in his throat, heart pushing against his chest.
"You seem to care for him a great deal, Dean. That'll be good for Sam, and hopefully, we can figure out who you guys are and get you back to the real world, back to your people."
She had other things to say, but his mind was dazed, his concentration broken. He watched her mouth move and thought about Bobby and Jo and Ellen and Ash. About Dad. Sam. People who could get them out of there, if he could contact them, but people he didn't want knowing that he and Sam had ended up in a place like this. Hunters had to be strong, he didn't want anyone knowing Sam had lost his mind. That Dean spent his days in what was essentially cotton pajamas.
Suddenly, Dr. Logan's voice came in like the reception had suddenly gotten very clear. "I will tell you one thing, when he starts talking about the blue man with lightning hands, you shouldn't encourage him. Tell us, let us know about this, because he seems pretty obsessed, and that's not good."
"Obsessed?" Dean felt his question croak in his throat.
"In addition to his ongoing monolog about his brother dying in a warehouse fire, among other things, he keeps talking about this blue man with lightning coming out of his hands. We're working on that, but we can't make any headway, so you're to discourage him from talking about that, okay?"
She gave him a hard stare as if to make sure he was listening.
"And also, if and when his memory starts coming back, you're not to prompt him. It's important that what he's getting back are his own memories, and not yours."
Nodding, Dean stood up as she made that little wave with her hand that meant she was finished.
An orderly opened the door, and escorted Dean down the hall. He knew what was going on, what had happened. The blue man was, of course, the djinn; not for anything was Dean ever going to be able to forget the feel of the cold clasp of his hands, or the jolt of lightning that had sheared up Dean's spine. It was no wonder that Sam was obsessing about it.
For a minute Dean considered that this, the hospital, and him and Sam being there, was a dream given to them by the djinn, but the light wasn't right. The dreamy perfect feeling in the air wasn't there, everything was too stark and real and honest and painful. It seemed to make more sense that what the djinn had done was make them each believe that the other one was dead. It was the perfect trick, the perfect cruelty, because if the djinn could implant dreams, then why not nightmares? It had broke then both, and they'd ended up in a mental institution. But while Dean had come back, Sam was still swimming in his own head, thinking Dean was dead, forgetting huge chunks of who he was. Lost and alone somewhere dark and Deanless.
Well, Dean could fix that.
The orderly led him down the hall to the dining hall for lunch. He stood in line and took the cup of pills and smiling at the lady. He didn't really know what each of the pills was for, except that one of them was no longer Thorazine. He swallowed them and took the water, thinking that they both needed to get out of there, and in order to think clearly about how, he would need to get off the pills. Sam too, whatever he was on.
When they took him up from the Treatment table, he kept his eyes closed, mostly and wished he were somewhere else, only he didn't know where that would be. He could barely stand and didn't want to be touched. His skin was on fire. But the bristle-haired orderly was there making him put on all his clothes. Helping him. And then there was the other orderly, the skinny one with the cold hands. When the cold hands touched him, his skin twitched as though flies were alighting on him. He wished he had a tail to flick them away, could they give him a tail? He was about to open his mouth and ask for that very privilege, only half realizing that it might not be a good idea.
When the orderly tried to make him take a drink of water, he didn't want it, had had enough of water, wasn't thirsty. But the bristle-haired orderly's hand was firm on the back of his neck and he could feel the rim of the plastic cup against his mouth.
"You don't have to open your eyes yet, Sam, but take a sip. You need this."
Sam's muscles bunched at this but there was a warning hand laid on his arm, a cold one and he remembered the last time he'd refused the water. He had shoved and pushed and flung and ended up in restraints and darkness. Dr. Logan had been very disappointed.
"C'mon, Sam, it's just water. You don't realize how thirsty you are."
"Jeezus," said the other orderly. "Just get the tube, I'm off half an hour ago."
"Knock it off, Edgerton," said the first voice. Greer, that's who he was. Sam was so bad with names. "He needs to learn this, you gotta take it slow."
"Oh, he knows how to do that, it's the doing it for his own good part that he doesn't get."
There was a snort from Edgerton and Sam squinted his eyes open. The overhead light slicked like blades but he could see Greer, with his bristle-grey haircut, standing there with the shiny green wall behind him, his eyes grave and still. Looking only at Sam.
"C'mon Sam," Greer said again. "It's water. You want some?"
Maybe he felt thirsty. Maybe. But more than that, he knew that if he drank some stupid water, when he drank it, even a little bit, they would let him out of the room. The Treatment room with its shiny slick green-tiled walls and slanted floor with the drain in the center of the room. The metal tables and black rubber hoses. The ice water.
His mouth opened and Greer brought the plastic cup up and tilted. Sam sputtered as the water rushed over his tongue before he was quite ready but he swallowed it, drinking till the cup was half empty.
"Nice job there," said Greer. "Dr. Logan wants to see you now, okay? That's where we're going."
This was the part he didn't like, even compared to the Treatment and the cold hands of Edgerton and the abrupt dose of water. Dr. Logan liked to talk to him to express her concerns about his issues and about how he should keep taking his pills, about how to be flexible. It was his least favorite thing, those talks. He'd almost rather be tied up in the dark. Almost.
But first he had to pee. A lot. He looked at Greer and thought maybe he should say something about that before it was too late.
"What is it, Sam" Greer had been watching him.
"Uh." It was all Sam could manage. He took a breath and didn't look at Edgerton, who obviously didn't like him. "I gotta--"
"I am out of here," said Edgerton, frowning. "You take him. I'm clocking out."
"I'll take him," said Greer, not watching as Edgerton barreled out the door.
When they were alone, Greer gave Sam a small pat. "Can you make it down the hall? I'd let you use the john in here, but someone puked in there last night and it's not been cleaned yet."
Sam nodded and Greer opened the door into the corridor, where the air was slightly warmer and where the sun streamed through the banks of windows. There was a restroom on the first corner they came to. Sam remembered using it before, remembered Greer standing by the door, waiting as he waited now. He made sure Sam washed his hands when he was through at the urinal, and with a sideways motion of his head, gestured that Sam should move out into the hall.
When they got to Dr. Logan's office, Greer knocked. A woman's voice said "Come in," and Greer waved with his hand. "I'll be right here, Sam," he said.
Greer was the muscle, Sam knew that somehow. He was usually nearby when Sam was with Dr. Logan. Sam had been told a hundred times that aggression was an inappropriate response to the doctor's counseling, but when she was talking to him in that incessant, yappy voice of hers, it was hard to remember that.
The door opened. "Greer, you can join us today."
Which meant that she was worried about him having another outburst. Greet stayed in the office and stood by the door while Sam moved forward and looked at the doctor. She sat behind her desk as usual, looking at him with narrow and critical eyes, her hair in a little bun. And there on the desk was his folder, laid open, notes spilling out, little paper clips glinting like tiny razors.
"Have a seat, Sam."
Sam sat down, doing his best to be good, not thinking about acting out, even thought it might feel good for a minute, it was against the rules, and besides he--
"Sam, are you listening to me?"
Had she been talking?
"You need to pay attention, this is very important. Now, other than your outburst, do you remember the young man in the hallway, the one who says he recognized you and called you Sam?"
She wasn't talking much about the recent episode, but it felt like she was doing a dance he didn't know the steps to. Was she trying to trick him, to trip him? Why was she talking about that guy? What was his name? Dean?
"Dean," said Sam. "I remember."
He steeled himself for her to start going on about Sam's trying to kill Dean.
"Do you remember how you felt right before he said he was your brother?"
He stiffened even further. "That was a mistake, he shouldn't have said that." His voice felt thick in his throat.
"Yes, and he admitted he'd been wrong. But before that. There was a moment there where I felt that some connection had been made. What can you tell me about that?"
For a moment Sam thought about this, about the young man named Dean who said he knew him, who in the space of a second had changed him from Jacob into Sam. Thought about his intense green eyes and how his mouth had been open to say hello like he'd been waiting to say it to Sam all his life. How he'd stood there, looking a little pale against the pale blue hospital clothes but somehow bursting out of them. How he'd leaned towards Sam and something about him there. Expectant. Waiting.
That was when Sam had gotten a flicker of another where and another when, one of the strongest he could remember in forever. Forever being about three weeks. There's been some hotel room, some dusty old place and he'd been saying, "You have to, Dad said so." Only he couldn't see who he was talking to, not even an outline or a shadow. It was like he'd been talking to himself. And then the memory was gone.
That was what the doctor wanted, the story about what had caused the calm before the storm. He didn't want to tell her about the memory because she'd be all over him like crazy. And beside, he felt pretty sure the memory was of his dead brother and she was the last person he wanted to talk to about that anymore. Because it always led to more probing, more questions, more wanting to get inside his head. And that made him want to bite something. Or someone. Biting was definitely against the rules.
He'd forgotten the question.
She gave a sigh of extreme patience and for a second Sam felt bad about being so difficult.
Then, from behind him, Greer said, "He has a hard time collecting his thoughts after Treatment."
"I know that," said Dr. Logan, her glare flicking over them both. "But as you know, Greer, that doesn't mean he shouldn't be asked to try. Now, Sam. What can you tell me about that moment?"
What should he tell her? The truth? Or just a part of it? What did she want from him this time, exactly?
Greer leaned forward and laid a hand on Sam's arm. It wasn't a heavy or painful hand, but it was a warning. Sam squirmed in his seat and looked at the edge of Dr. Logan's desk. Waited for Greer to take his hand away.
"He--he looked like someone I knew," said Sam, able to talk when no one was touching him, his voice feeling croaky and unused. "Like I knew what he was going to say and then I didn't." There, now that was a nice smooth easy lie. Except part of it was true.
"Were you scared?" Dr. Logan asked, leaning forward.
Now that was an interesting question. He'd been confused and then enraged but scared? Not for a second. He shook his head slowly, looking at the doctor from under his bangs.
"No," he said. "I wasn't scared at all. He felt…familiar."
Taking her glasses off with a little smile, Dr. Logan seemed pleased by this.
"This is good news. It's good that you weren't afraid because I have a little experiment that I want you to try."
This did not sound good, not at all. Experiments were painful, but she was still smiling and her mouth was moving so he made himself listen, though it made him feel jittery all over again.
"…good that he knew you, a connection that could work, so what do you think?"
Again he'd missed so much of what she'd been saying but to admit it would irritate her all over again. But how could he find out what she was asking without admitting his ignorance?
"Sam?" The look in her eyes was fading from brightness into a hooded glare. She didn't like him, never had, and Sam was just making it worse. So he did his best.
"Sometimes, experiments are scary." There. That was good. Something honest and true but vague. It would slip right under her radar. And it did.
"That's fine, but you said you weren't scared of Dean, right? Didn't you just say that, Sam?"
"It's very simple. You will go with Dean and share a room with him. You'll join him in his activities and work therapy, and he'll help look after you. You do just what Dean does. Listen to what he tells you. This will be good for both of you."
Share a room with Dean?
"You'll be in group therapy before you know it, Sam. It'll make your Treatment much more productive."
Dean had probably suggested that to her or Greer, maybe. Somehow she'd gotten this idea into her head, just to mess with him. On the other hand, it might be nice not to be alone all the time. Solitary confinement and isolation was wearing very thin.
"Uh," he said. "Okay."
"Okay, I'll share a room with Dean. I'll do what he says."
"Thank you, Sam," she said, sitting back in her chair. "I think this will beneficial for everyone all the way around, because you see--"
There was a knock on the door. Greer opened it and talked to someone, then closed the door.
"The fencing material is in. I told them to take it to the side loading dock, yeah?"
"That's fine, thank you." She paused to make a note on a pad of paper. Then she tapped her pen against if for a minute, and looked at Sam. "So. Dean. It'll help him to have someone to look after. Do you understand how that works?"
Maybe. It sounded familiar, felt like something he should know. So he nodded and rolled his shoulders back in a shrug.
"Helping someone else," Dr. Logan said now, "can take us out of our own troubles, you see? It's a very healthy exercise."
"Uh-huh." He lost most of what she was saying but it was about helping Dean get better. Sam was just the tool she would use to do that. Fine. If it got him out of isolation, fine.
"Very good, Sam." She shut the folder with a little pop. "Greer, put them both in the medium ward. I think it should be alright; keep an eye on them."
"You got it," said Greer, and he touched Sam on the shoulder. Sam looked up. Greer didn't look angry so Sam must have said the right thing. As they left the doctor's office and started walking down the hall, he just wished it didn't all feel so much like a trap.
When Dean got in line to be escorted to his room that night, he was taken down a different hallway and after he stopped to take his pills, the orderly motioned to a new door that had two pockets with two clipboards and two names written on masking tape with a sharpie: Dean Doe; Sam Doe.
He hadn't forgotten about Sam being alive, but as the day had progressed, the meds had continued to kick in, giving the idea the feel of a distant idea. But now he remembered what Dr. Logan had said. She wanted Dean to be a good influence on Sam, to be his caregiver, to look out for him. It was to be an experiment.
As Dean swallowed his water and handed the cup back to be thrown away, he figured it wasn't much of an experiment. He and Sam had spent two years of 24/7 togetherness. Hours spent in the Impala and motel rooms and diners and gas stations from coast to coast. They'd managed, gotten along fine. This would be no different.
The orderly opened the door for him and motioned to the man standing against the wall.
In spite of the drugs numbing him, Dean could feel every muscle in his body move forward, every cell, every part of him wanted to lunge forward and grab Sam in his arms and never, ever let go. Sam would normally love that, though, his body jerked upon seeing Dean and his eyes were wide enough to swallow stars as he stared at Dean, at the orderly, the open door.
"Here's your new roommate, Sam," said the orderly, waving Dean in.
Dean took a step across the threshold, while behind him, the orderly took up his cart and made a motion to get the line going again.
"If you ever say that you're my brother again," said Sam, low in his throat. Growling. "I'll kill you."
"Sam." The orderly stopped, and Dean made himself keep his eyes on his brother, his heart thumping. "You know that behavior like that will only get you more Treatment. This is your new roommate. Be more welcoming or I'll have to let Dr. Logan know you're not being flexible."
There was that word again. Flexible. Like it was the greatest attribute a human could have. And Treatment, which sent a shiver right up the middle of his spine, the memory of cold and dark still at a distance, but getting closer.
The orderly gave Dean a little push, and Dean stepped into the room, listening to the door snicking shut and locking behind him. The room was much the same as his old one, except the light came through the high, narrow window with no grill, and there were two beds instead of one. And Sam was there.
Dean eyed his brother from head to foot, the spinning of his stomach telling the rest of the body what the brain would not believe. Sam was here. Alive. Very much alive. Mixed up in the head and missing chunks of memory, but alive. And except for being a little thin and tense, he seemed physically okay. And that was all that mattered.
But like before, Sam's eyes held no recognition for Dean whatsoever. His body, instead of being relaxed and welcoming, was stiff as he stood with his back against the wall in the narrow space between the two beds. There was a tall, narrow dresser jammed in one corner, and along the other wall was the open doorway to the bathroom. Dean could either go straight towards Sam or he could go left, into the bathroom.
So he did neither. Taking his cue from Sam's hard glare, he eased his way to the bed on his right. He'd be willing to sleep in the other bed, if needed. But someone had to make a move, so he did.
As he sat down, Sam's eyes tracked him. His jaw was starting to jut out in a dangerous way, and Dean would hate to be the cause of Sam coming apart just about now and not because Dean was the only target in sight. He didn't think he could take another scene like the one before, with orderlies charging in and taking his brother away kicking and screaming. For it was his brother, it was Sam, and nobody else, no matter how strange he was acting, no matter how much he didn't know who Dean was. It was Sam. Sam.
He sat fairly still for a minute, then, showing Sam what he was doing, eased off his shoes, pulling on the soft heels with his toes. Then he bent a little bit at the waist and pulled off his socks. Stuffed them in the sneakers. Then he sat up and ran the palms of his hands over the blanket, not liking how damp his palms seemed.
"I'm going to sleep in this bed, if that's okay with you," he said, keeping his voice low. "I'm Dean, by the way."
Sam's mouth narrowed as if Dean had said something fairly rude in polite company. It was an expression Dean was familiar with; it reminded him of the look Sam had sent him when Dean had failed to act in a manner suitable to a young priest, stuffing cocktail weenies in his mouth, trying to make Sam laugh. He didn't let it throw him then and he wasn't going to let it throw him now. If he could just figure out a way to get to Sam, even just a little bit so that Sam would relax, he'd be well on his way to managing this whole thing.
"You're not my brother," said Sam. Firmly.
This struck him almost like a blow. He made himself take a slow breath. Obviously that was a sore point from before, but if anyone knew how to read Sam in a snit it was him. "No," he agreed. "I made a mistake before. But your name is Sam and we were friends, once."
With a little jerk, Sam's body stiffened. "We were?" His voice cracked, and it was then that Dean noticed the dark circles of sweat making large patterns under Sam's arms. Sam was holding it in, holding himself tight, but he wasn't going to last much longer under the scrutiny or the pressure of someone new in the room. It wasn't anger making him stand with his back to the wall, it was fear. Sam was terrified, if not of Dean in particular, than of the change itself. Dean backed off.
"I'm going to use the bathroom," he said, pushing himself off the bed with slow hands.
He made a point of not moving towards Sam at all, but instead headed in a beeline to the bathroom. He flicked the light on, and stood there for a second, listening to the silence in the room beyond, and looking at the doorway that had no door. There was nothing for it, really, so he used the toilet and washed his hands, then took one of the toothbrushes and unwrapped it. The toothpaste was some brand he didn't know, probably some generic brand for institutions; he concentrated on the flat taste of it instead of on Sam, standing in the other room. Doing nothing. Saying nothing. Probably hadn't even moved an inch.
Dean rinsed his mouth and his face, drying it on one of the towels, which were just as thin and scratchy as the ones in the other room. And then he figured that he would act as if, as if Sam was normal, as if Dean and he were friends, as if everything would soon be alright, and they would soon be out of there. He turned off the light and stepped out of the bathroom. Then as he crossed the open threshold, he reached back to turn it on again.
"Sorry, did you need in there? I'll leave the light on for you."
For a minute, Sam just looked at him, like he might if Dean had spoken in a foreign language. But, as he watched Dean turn to the dresser to pull out some p.j.'s, he seemed to nod to himself as he looked at the floor. Then, just as Dean had done, he sat down to pull off his shoes and socks, stuffing the socks inside of the sneakers. Then he slipped past Dean and used the bathroom. Dean could hear him running the water, brushing his teeth as he changed clothes. He got into the bed and moved himself against the wall to make himself appear smaller, so maybe Sam wouldn't be as threatened.
When Sam finally and turned off the light in the bathroom and came out, Dean was ready for the day to be over, grateful for the sleeping pill and the fact that he didn't have to get up and turn off the overhead bulb. He watched Sam changed into his pajamas, letting his neck relax against the pillow. When the chime came, it was just as Sam was sliding into bed, and Dean heard him swear.
"What?" he asked, before realizing that he probably shouldn't ask such a skittish Sam any questions.
"Late," said Sam, sounding rather breathless as Dean listened to him rustling in the sheets. "Supposed to be in bed when the lights go off. It's a rule."
Moving his shoulders against the stiff mattress, Dean shrugged. "Well, you only had one foot on the floor, so I think it's okay."
"You won't tell?"
It was something. It wasn't much but it was something. Maybe Sam had actually heard Dean when he said they were friends, or maybe Dean's slow motions and careful statements had had an effect, Dean didn't know. "Never," he said. "Not in a million years."
There was an odd little silence from Sam, as if he was trying to reason this out, whether the exaggeration was meant to be serious or not. Then he took a breath, but didn't say anything. Dean heard him rolling on his side to face the wall, and Dean finally felt like he'd gotten it right, at least this one thing. And in the morning, he'd figure out everything else.
Sam didn't think he was going to be able to sleep, even with the sleeping pill. The sleeping pill, a long blue and red one, had been explained to him from the very first as being most important, because if he didn't take it, he wouldn't sleep. And if he didn't sleep, he wouldn't get better. That was paramount, of the utmost importance, a rule that he had to follow, no matter what. Well, he'd taken the sleeping pill, and it wasn't working. All the other pills made his body really sleepy, but the sleeping pill? It just made his head buzz. It was hard to relax when everything was buzzing right behind his eyes.
The room felt new and alien, even though the walls looked the same and the smell was pretty much the same. The light through the high window, also keeping him awake, was maybe moonlight, maybe a searchlight, and would anybody be looking for him, would anyone find him? Did anybody even know he was gone? If his brother hadn't been dead--
Unproductive. This was unproductive and wasn't going to help him. He couldn't dwell on that, wasn't supposed to dwell on that. The doctor, the lady one, had said. The guy doctor had said so too. The man with the bristle hair had said something, something Jacob--
He had to stop again and take a big swallow. His name was Sam now. The guy in the other bed, Dean, had said it was and everyone had believed him. It would have felt less weird if it hadn't felt as normal as it had. That guy, that Dean, had looked him in the eye and called him Sam. And the look in his eye was strong and right, and Sam felt it in his gut. So, okay, he was Sam.
Of course, Dean'd said he was Sam's brother as well, which was just wrong and mean to say, everyone knew Sam's brother was dead, that he'd died in some horrible accident, a fire maybe, and that Sam was working through his guilt issues. That's what the doctor called them, anyway. When she came to get him out of Treatment that day, a little lecture had followed, in her office, about his issues, and Sam felt bad about getting out of control, yes, he had. Treatment sucked, no matter how helpful the doctor said it was, Treatment sucked, and it made him feel bad, not good.
Shifting his head on the pillow, he tried to ease the buzzing away, to make it go out of his ears and into the darkness. Sometimes that helped, thinking it away like that. Only when he did, other images came in, of places and events he felt he recognized, but that he couldn't put a name to. Rooms, so many rooms, each one of them different, but the same, in a way. Each one had two beds, and a TV set that was always on, and someone was in the shower, hogging all the hot water. Why would a person live in so many rooms? He could never figure it out.
And then there was the car, some black, sleek thing, the chrome shining as the sun glinted off it, but he could never see who was behind the wheel. He kept trying to see, but that only gave him a headache. But it was better to think about that than the blue man. Or the werewolf. Or the vampire. Or was it vampires? He kept seeing a barn and someone pulling out a long knife, and brown weeds he was hiding in. Or there was a door he was hiding behind, or a pillar. Or he was waiting around a corner. That was the part that scared him most, almost more than the monsters, even. The monsters he could see might mean something else, but what the fuck was he doing going after them? Putting himself in their path? That part was just nuts.
The guy in the other bed shifted. Dean. Sam wasn't very good at names, they wouldn't stick in his head, except for this one, it seemed. The doctor assured him that that would improve with time, if he would keep taking his medicine, and if he kept being cooperative and flexible. Sam believed her. He had to, otherwise he would go insane. For real.
Because he wasn't crazy. The doctors, both the man and the woman, had told him. He had amnesia and he was having trouble with reality, but insane wasn't the word they would use to describe him. He needed to concentrate on the positive, he needed to--
In the other bed, Dean made a little sound, something that sounded like a grunt that turned into a question. Sam wasn't used to sleeping with anyone. Or sharing a room with someone. In his memories, those rooms, hundreds of them, there'd never actually been anyone in the room with him, just the idea that someone was in the shower. As for sleeping, he couldn't remember doing that, beyond three weeks ago. Since then, he remembered every moment, every Treatment, every meal served to him in his room.
Now Dean rolled over, and Sam listened for more sounds that seemed like talking, only Dean was asleep. Sam shifted in his bed, rolling onto his side so he could look across the narrow space between their beds and focus through the darkness at the outline of Dean's shoulder.
Earlier, Dean had said that he wouldn't tell about Sam not quite being in the bed when lights out had come. Maybe he would and maybe he wouldn't. He'd seemed to mean it, but then, so did the orderlies when they threatened him with Treatment if he didn't finish what was on his plate. Meaning it didn't necessarily mean anything nice. Dean might just be waiting for the right moment to turn Sam in, to trip Sam up and make Sam mad so that Sam would get out of control and lose his temper. Then Sam would be in trouble. That's what'd been happening since Sam could remember. Dean was just the next phase of it, something new dreamed up by the hospital to test that he was on his best behavior.
He couldn't do it. He couldn't take it and stay calm, thinking of it, of Dean, who was going to say something to the doctor in the morning, something about not getting undressed fast enough. Dean would say Sam was inflexible last night.
Now Sam was cold, shaking hard enough to click his teeth together, and even though he pulled up the blanket, it was too thin, and the bed was too hard. The buzz in his brain had just turned itself up a notch, to an irritating note high enough to cut through bone. His lungs made hard, choppy motions, his breath coming out in jerky gasps.
He couldn't breathe.
Across the little space between the beds, he heard Dean move again, and he froze. Dean was shifting the pillow around, and then Sam heard another one of those grunts that sounded like a question. Only this time, it sounded like a name as well. Like his name. Like Dean was asking for him. But in his sleep?
Now that was nuts. He huffed at himself under his breath for making up something so stupid. He didn't know this guy and even if this guy knew him, like he said he did, he wouldn't be talking to Sam in his sleep. With a tone that suggested he could tell that Sam was still awake, and couldn't breathe.
Except now he could. He huffed again, felt his lungs relax, heard Dean twist deeper into the pillow. He took a deep breath. Well, a deeper one anyway. His chest hurt a little, felt strained along the sides like he'd been running. But Dean was breathing, nice and slow, like he'd not a trouble in the world. Sam made himself match the pace, the calm, even pace. It was hard at first, but he closed his eyes and tried to ignore the buzzing as he lifted his chest from the inside and then let it fall. Lift and fall, lift and fall.
The room felt quiet now. Although not dark enough for real sleep, it was quiet and cool, and the buzzing sound was fading into the background. His name was Sam. He was going to be flexible. He was going to get better.
His last thought was of Dean's face, those bright green eyes looking right at him and that mouth saying not in a million years. That seemed a long time, and he wondered how Dean could plan on being nice that long.
We were friends, once.
Well, maybe they had been. He just needed to wait, to test the waters and see. It would be hard, but he was going to have to test Dean, to give him something so that he could see what Dean would do. Not telling about being late for bed was one thing. But what would Dean do if Sam told him about the blue man? That would be the real test.
In the morning when he woke up, seconds before the first chime, he looked over and Sam was there. Alive. Asleep. His face was turned a little towards the wall and he was sleeping on his back, which he didn't normally do. Unless he was awake and staring at the ceiling in preparation for blasting Dean with one argument or another. Dean knew he wouldn't even might that conversation or any for that matter. If Sam wanted to talk, Dean would listen.
He felt good, in spite of the lack of response from Sam the night before. He would get a plan together and get them both out of the loony bin. After that, as to where they would go, what did it matter? As long as he and Sam were together, and once they got the Impala back, everywhere was theirs.
The chime sounded and Dean slid out of bed and shuffled his way to the bathroom. Passing by Sam's bed, he resisted the impulse to tweak the big toe on Sam's foot that was just peeking out from under the covers. The bed was that much too short, but that was nothing new, but this Sam might have a different reaction from the Sam he knew and it might get out of control fast, and it was just too early for that.
Dean took a leak and brushed his teeth and was ready at the door when the orderly came by with the disposable razors.
"We need two," Dean said, holding out his hand.
For a second the orderly looked at him and then Dean moved out of the way. He took at look at Sam, who was just sitting up, groggy but glaring.
"Mmmm," said the orderly. "Someone didn't update the list, but I'll give you two and expect to pick up two." He handed Dean two disposable razors then muttered as he wrote something down. "Better get a move on," he said, directing his words at Sam as he turned away. Then he shut the door and was gone.
Sam got up and Dean tried to back out of the way but he hit the edge of the dresser. Sam grabbed one of the razors and marched into the bathroom like he owned it, and had there been a door he would have slammed it.
Dean got his clothes for the day and went back to his bed to get dressed, giving Sam what privacy and space he could. But there was something hard and clenched in his stomach that there hadn't been only seconds before. This was a Sam who didn't know him. That Sam might dislike him, might even hate him, had not been on his list of how things might go. Dean found that his hands were shaking as he did up his cotton pants and slipped on the cotton shirt. He was shivering and he didn't think it was from the cold.
Sam came out of the bathroom fresh shaven, looking very young. Dean knew he was staring but he couldn't help it. He watched as Sam laid the used razor on the dresser where the orderly would find it. His mouth opened and he heard himself asking, almost for levity, anything to break the tension, "You'd think they wouldn't give razors to crazy people, huh?"
"I'm not crazy," said Sam, snapping as he got dressed. "I'm depressed and I have amnesia, but I am not crazy."
He stood up, looking at Dean and Dean knew that look even if Sam didn't know it. It was the look that dared Dean to disagree with him because it was an argument that Dean would lose. Dean gave it up and went into the bathroom to shave as fast as he could.
Dean didn't know if Sam had been given his meals in his room or what, but he was decidedly edgy when an orderly came by to open the door, and they walked out into the corridor to get in line. As they walked, Dean realized that Sam was behind him, close to the wall, almost like he thought he could become invisible if he stayed behind Dean.
Breakfast wasn't much better. As Dean tried to sink into the pattern of his day, still enjoying the shock and the pleasure every time he laid eyes on Sam, Sam was keeping to the wall, and watching the corridor nervously. When they got to the dining hall, he followed Dean as far as the end of the food line, then tried to walk away. Dean had enough.
"We're supposed to stay together, Sam," he said. He didn't want to let Sam out of his sight.
Sam scowled at him. As they stood in line and got their pills, Sam kept scowling, but he carried his tray and walked where Dean walked. Sat down at the table where Dean sat down and started to eat. He was a little twitchy, eyes darting as he seemed to be looking for something or someone. Dean tried hard not to stare. And was gratified to see, out of the corner of his eye, that Sam was picking around the white bits in his scrambled eggs. Just like always.
Suddenly Sam looked up, fingers twisted around his fork. He was white around the mouth and his eyes glittered, unpleasant and dark.
"You're spying on me," Sam said. "You're going to tell on me."
"What?" asked Dean. "What's to tell?" Obviously he could add paranoid to list of what was wrong with Sam. Whatever pills Sam was on, they weren't doing him any good.
Sam stabbed his eggs with his fork and covered his face with his hands. He ran his fingers through his hair like he wanted to rip it out. "I'm supposed to eat everything. Even these." He jabbed at the egg white with his finger.
That made more sense and it was something he could do something about. Dean waved his hand over his own tray and opened his own mouth to explain. But Sam beat him to it.
"When I got meals in my room, I had to eat everything or they would write me up. That's bad; it goes on my record. It means Treatment, it--"
"Hang on a sec. In your old room, right?"
Sam nodded, his head, eyes wide and round as he scanned the room, looking for someone else who might be spying on him.
"Well, you're not in your old room now. We're in the dining hall and look. Look at this bacon." Dean held it up, a grey and wobbling strip of fat. "It looks like undercooked brain. I ain't eating that." He flung the bacon back on the tray and scrunched the paper napkin between his fingers to get the scum off.
"If I don't eat everything," said Sam, slowly and carefully as if he was explaining the situation to someone who was actually crazy. "I'll be down for more Treatment."
Sam was so sure of this that Dean knew it would be a waste of air and energy to try and convince him otherwise. So he tried a different tact.
"Look, now how about this. Eat what you want, and put what you don't want on my tray. I'll be the one to throw food away, not you."
Dean waved Sam off with a fork, liking the familiar feeling of an argument over breakfast, even if it was becoming more apparent that looking out for Sam in this place would be more complicated than what he was used to. "Different dining hall, different ward." At Sam's puzzled look, he added, talking past his food, "Different rules. You see?"
"Why?" asked Sam. "Why would you do that?
Of all the questions Sam might ask, this was easy. And hard. He couldn't say, because we're brothers, or explain what his personal prime directive had been since the age of four. He couldn't say all the things he felt to this Sam, just as he couldn't say them to the other Sam. He just couldn't. So he said, instead, "We look out for each other. Always have."
There was an expression in Sam's eyes now, something that said he wanted to believe Dean very much, but couldn't quite. Whether on purpose or not, this place had done a number on Sam.
"Okay, like last night," said Dean, taking a swig of his milk.
"Yeah. When you weren't all the way in bed when the stupid chime went off."
"Uh," said Sam, wiggling in his chair in a way that told Dean just how nervous he was about that.
"I'm not going to tell anyone, okay? Ever. It's just between you and me."
"What if you get into trouble, what if they find out." It was obvious that Sam thought the place was all-seeing, all-powerful.
"Look. It's stupid. Your foot was on the floor for two seconds. The chime told you to go to bed and you did. You were following the rules and that's what matters. Even if they're stupid rules."
Maybe this made Sam more comfortable, Dean didn't know. But it did shut him up as he started poking at his eggs, nibbling away at the edges, inhaling his milk and toast. Picking at the applesauce. Then he looked at the bacon.
"Underfried brains?" At the edge of his voice was the beginnings of sarcasm.
"Yep," said Dean, smiling. It felt good to smile. It had been a long time.
They ate in silence; Dean kept an unobtrusive eye as Sam picked through his eggs and thought about the other ward where Sam used to be and where he'd apparently been taught to be fearful. To which his response had been anger and almost uncontrollable violence that only got him more medicated and sanctioned for Treatment.
Dean had only been inside a loony bin to question civilians. Otherwise, everything he knew about these kinds of places came from movies and TV. He was starting to think it wouldn't be half of enough.
When Sam finished eating, he caught Dean's eye, which was new. It made Dean feel better, maybe he was doing the right thing if Sam was looking at him with purpose. And without glaring. Then he watched as Sam pushed his tray, along with the cold bacon and picked over eggs, towards him. He looked like he expected Dean to refuse, so Dean made a showing of taking Sam's tray and scraping it on his own until it looked like Sam was the good one and Dean the fussy eater. Then he stood up and motioned towards the counter where you were supposed to leave your dirty dishes.
When Dean tipped the contents of his tray into the garbage, he thought that Sam looked a little nervous, clenching his hands into fists, scanning the dining hall with his eyes in case anyone was watching. But when Greer strolled by doing his usual rounds, Sam seemed to jump out of his skin. He shifted closer to Dean, much closer than he had before, twitching his shoulder like he wanted to move behind Dean to press himself against the wall. As Greer kept walking, Dean could see Sam was sweating, black splotches growing under his arms.
"He ever do anything to you?" Dean asked, thinking Greer was the least likely person to abuse patients, especially in a place like this. But you never knew.
Sam shook his head, but the twitching, slow way he did it could mean a no, Greer never had, or no, Sam couldn't talk about it. Or any of a hundred reasons Dean didn't want to force out of him till he was read.
So he reached out, wanting to touch Sam on the arm, pulling back at the last minute, not wanting Sam to freak out again.
"C'mon, try not to worry about it. Here's the line."
They got into line, single file, though Sam now edged up like he was trying to walk right next to Dean. Dean didn't have the heart to push him back, and nobody called Sam out on it, so it seemed okay, and Sam seemed the better for it. And Dean kept reminding himself that this routine was new for Sam, instead of expecting him to adapt as Sam normally would. He would have to be patient.
Which was fine advice until they got to the laundry room. The second they got there, Sam's whole body tightened up like someone had pulled a string through the top of his head. Dean wouldn't have noticed if he'd not been watching. He had to realize that the confident, people-savvy Sam that he'd know was, if not completely gone, then buried. Dean couldn't figure out if it was the noise or the warmth or the smell of soap and bleach that bothered Sam, all of which seemed comforting to Dean.
As they went through the door, everyone in the room turned to look; Dean gave Sam a little nudge with his shoulder, and stood close by as Neland came over to them.
"Sam Doe," Neland said with a nasty smile. "I'm supposed to give you one more chance. Your only saving grace is that the dryer was only a little dented."
Dean wondered what that was about as Sam hung his head, his fingers pulling at the legs of his cotton pants. Dean made himself count to ten, waited till Neland had his moment/
"Alright," said Neland as he pointed to the sink. "Wash your hands first and then you're folding towels till I say different."
"C'mon," said Dean. He tugged on Sam's shirtsleeve, trying not to mind when Sam jerked his arm out of reach. "We'll wash our hands and fold towels, it'll be easy."
"I know how to fold towels," said Sam, irritated as if Dean had accused him of being slow and special. They washed their hands as Sam stuck out his chin and glared at the soap.
"Okay," said Dean, softly. He dried his hands and led the way to the folding table, noting that for all Sam was snapping, he was following Dean.
Dean nodded his head and turned to the pile of towels. "Okay," he said again. Some things could not be rushed, it seemed, so he started folding towels and watched Sam out of the corner of his eyes as he started folding towels, too. It was familiar, those movements. Sam was not a tosser of towels, he was neat and didn't mind folding them or hanging them up when he was done using them. At least that hadn't changed.
Although instead of going all zen with the towels, every few minutes Sam came to a jerky stop. He would become very still and scan the room, looking for predators, and all the while his fingers would twist in the towel, folding in the wrinkles rather than the other way around. Any second, Neland was going to come over and scold Sam, which would then prove out his fears and probably send him all bat shit. Dean had just gotten Sam back, he didn't want him to get dragged off.
"Sam," he said, leaning up close, but not too close. "What's up?"
For a second Sam only stared at him, white around the mouth again.
"Look," said Dean. He stopped folding towels and turned towards Sam. Felt Sam hesitate before he stepped a little bit away. He was irritated that Sam was afraid of him. "We look after each other, okay? We always have. Even in here." He made himself stop. Only time and a leap of faith would get Sam to open up to him. Just like with a little kid, you couldn't make them like you. He would just have to wait.
Dean dipped his head low below the line of Sam's hunched shoulders so he could look up into Sam's eyes. Sam's mouth worked, and then he tipped his head like he was pointing, something they both had done many times, Dean just hoped he wasn't reading the wrong signal. So Dean looked.
Across the room was a guy who was staring at them. Dean didn't recognize him at all but he seemed to know Sam.
"That's the guy," said Sam, like his throat was clogged with dust. "The one who I--"
"What?" asked Dean. "The one you what?"
Sam's mouth pulled in a frown and his chin wobbled, but he kept his eyes on Dean as though he'd been instructed to always tell the truth, even if it hurt.
"He--he scared me one day. I think I tried to stuff him in the dryer. I put him in there and pushed the button. He--well, that was bad. I got Treatment and now no one likes me. They're scared."
"That guy?" Dean almost laughed out loud. The guy was pretty big: that Sam had gotten him all the way into a dryer, and they were big dryers, was amazing. The guy looked pretty pissed off about it still, and Dean wondered what had set Sam off. Something the guy had said maybe. Even a movement in the wrong direction would have done it, if Sam was on edge at all.
Except now Sam was white like he thought the guy was going to come over and Sam was going to have to decide between getting beat up or stuffing the guy in the dyer again and getting more Treatment. For a second, he wanted to try and convince Sam that the orderlies were watching and that it wasn't going to get that far, but there wasn't enough time for that. So he stepped round Sam and put himself between Sam and the rest of the room.
Before Sam could open his mouth to object, Dean said, "There. Now he'll have to go through me first." Saving that guy from Sam, saving Sam from himself, it was all the same to him.
Sam didn't answer him and they continued that way, folding towels in silence. For the first time he could remember, Dean didn't like laundry duty so very much, and maybe that was because Sam didn't like it.
After lunch, after the pills and the meal of pizza squares and carrot rounds, they got into a line that took them to one of the doors to the outside. They stopped in a group as the orderlies handed out the light jackets, bunching up in the usual muddle until the doors opened, and then they went outside into the bright breezy air that threatened rain.
It would be lawn duty, Dean knew, or something equally simple, but Sam's eyes were huge as they stepped across the threshold and over the sidewalk to get to the grass. His mouth was open as he stared around him, like he'd never been outside before, which maybe wasn't far from the truth, at least as much as Sam could remember. He stuck to Dean like a burr, as if he'd almost forgotten he didn't quite like Dean, because now, Dean was the only familiar thing. Dean got that, he did, and he let Sam stick close, if it made him feel better. Even if it was so close that they were almost tripping over each other.
The orderlies started them working, but instead of picking up trash, they'd collected rocks. Not big ones, just the little ones, picking them up along the wall and in the lawn, and moving them to the wheelbarrow. Once there'd been an old stone wall, deemed too low to be of use to the hospital, and it was being torn down to be replaced by a tall plastic fence. A lot of the big rocks had already been taken away, which left the medium and little rocks scattered along the fence line and dotting the lawn. There was a long gap where the rock wall had been, and below that, the lawn sloped away to the flat brush, and just a little beyond, through the bare trees, Dean could see the river.
Dean was glad it was Greer standing guard there. Had it been anyone else, he would have been tempted to take off running then and there, dragging Sam behind him. But if he took Sam from his meds too quickly, Sam would go into withdrawal, and that would be bad. It would be bad for Dean too. So he couldn't, shouldn't. Greer helped him not do that. He had to find the right time to start the conversation about meds with Sam, though Sam seemed devoted to doing everything the doctors told him. He wanted to get better, believed the hospital was the place for that.
So no running away. In the meantime, they picked up rocks. Even though the rock part was pretty boring, Dean could see the therapy in the work itself. Even the guy he recognized as the one who'd been bashing his arms against the open door seemed soothed by it. There was a rhythm, and he could get inside of that. With Sam by his side, and a bright day, well, everything else he could figure out later.
It felt good to be moving in fresh air, bending and stretching his legs, feeling the breeze, seeing it in Sam's hair, even though Sam seemed distracted by something known only to him. Sam was sticking close, his motions a little jittery, like his body was refusing to be soothed by the rhythm. If they'd just kept at it, it might have worked somehow, but then Sam had to go to the bathroom and when Greer pointed to an orderly to escort him, Sam shook his head.
"I want Dean to take me," he said, his first words since the morning. Dean could see how hard he was concentrating on not saying something weird. "The doctor said if I stayed with Dean--"
Which isn't what the doctor had said at all. But that's how Sam was interpreting it, Dean could see that. Sam looked at Greer and Greer looked back, eyes level, expression neutral.
"Well, Dean?" asked Greer.
It was hard to tell what Greer wanted. "I don't mind taking him," said Dean. It wouldn't be much different than when Sam was little and he'd had to take him; only now Sam was big.
"Talk him through it," said Greer. "Build up his confidence. Okay?"
Build up his confidence? It was the kind of thing Dad used to say, wanting Dean to be there, but not wanting him to hold Sam's hand. It was weird, though, to hear it from another man's lips. He looked at Sam, who had that wide eyed look again, the one that said he had no idea what was coming next.
So Dean tipped his head in the direction of the building, trying to put the most relaxed expression on his face that he could. "Okay, let's go."
"Someone will meet you at the door, and he'll give you three minutes before he takes over. Got that, Dean?"
"Yeah," said Dean. He was fine. Sam was not.
"C'mon, Sam," he said. "I need to go, too. We can go, um, together." It was what girls did, at the movies, or wherever, the whole flock of them standing up to go together, as if they couldn't possibly manage on their own. Or, what was more likely, they couldn't stand to not take advantage to talk their fool heads off away from the men. As if they'd not been talking nonstop already.
Sam followed him across the lawn as the sun and the shadows chased each other across the grass. The pavement was wet, their sneakers squelched when they stepped on it, and Sam was right at his elbow, breathing down Dean's neck, stealing his sunlight.
"Hey, it's okay."
"It's--" he heard Sam lick his lips as they reached the door. The orderly looked at Greer and let them in, pointing the way towards the nearest restroom. When they got to that door, and went in, Sam tried again. "There's too much sky out there, it was like a big blue hand coming down."
Too much sky?
Dean stood in front of a urinal and unzipped his fly. Saw Sam watching him, and paused.
"Hey," Dean said, "pee already."
He didn't mean to hurt Sam's feelings, but it was easy to see that he had. With hunched shoulders, Sam stepped up to the urinal right next to Dean's, ignoring the every-other-one rule like it was written with invisible ink. Which it kind of was. Then he had to listen to Sam pee like a racehorse, feel Sam's elbow as he tucked himself in, feel the heat of Sam's skin as he did it. Feel Sam's eyes on him as he too zipped up. Stumble over Sam's feet as he walked too close as he followed Dean to the row of sinks.
"Hey, Sam," he said, pushing into Sam's ribs with his elbow. "Give a man some breathing room here."
As they started to wash their hands, he could see Sam's eyes reflected in the dull mirror, a real mirror, not a metal one, with a rim of polished metal for safety. Sam held his shoulders tightly in towards his chest, his lower lip pulled into his teeth, and he looked like he couldn't figure out whether to be mad or hurt. It was a tie, each way, and Dean realized he'd done the very wrong thing. Again.
"Hey, I'm sorry," he started, "It's just that I--"
The door opened and in walked the orderly from the door to the outside. "You boys having trouble? Do I need to get Greer?"
"Just finishing up," said Dean, pulling Sam's hands into the hot water. Sam held very still while Dean soaped them and washed them, his fingers twining with Sam's; he could feel the tremble there. They wiped their hands on the paper towels and allowed themselves to be escorted back outside by the scowling orderly. Greer saw them and waved them on, and Dean hoped that the orderly wouldn't tell Greer that they'd been lollygagging.
He touched Sam on the arm, and jerked his chin, walking faster to show Sam how it was done. Sam leaned in, like he was telling Dean a secret.
"It's a very big blue hand and it has lightning bolts in it. Like they're tattooed into his skin."
"Whose skin?" A comment like that to anyone else wouldn't make any sense at all, might sound crazy, but Dean knew what Sam was talking about. He just hoped no one else was listening because this was exactly the thing Sam wasn't supposed to do. The freaky thing was, it meant that Sam was remembering parts of what had happened to them. And if he remembered that, what else was he remembering? Maybe all kinds of things that the hospital had dismissed as being outright crazy. Which made sense; the hunter's lifestyle wasn't exactly sane.
"Whose skin, Sam?"
As they neared Greer, Sam shut his mouth in a firm line, and as Dean glanced over, Sam shook his head. The strain showed in the line of his jaw and the way he eyed Greer like the other man might bite him. But Greer just pointed at the layer of stones, and nodded at them.
"A few more trips, and then it's supper time, okay boys? Everyone warm enough? Bellows, did you rip your pants on purpose?" With powerful strides, Greer was off in Bellows' direction, whoever that was, and once more Dean bemoaned their fate at landing in a well-run place where nothing got past the orderlies and nothing was beneath their notice. Nothing was too small a detail to take care of. The orderlies actually cared. He and Sam were so screwed.
Sam bent to pick up a rock about the size of his palm, his fingers curling around it as he held it out to Dean. "It's like this," he said, breathing out through his mouth. "The hand comes and curls around me like this."
"What hand?" asked Dean, the skin around his skull prickling.
"I'm not supposed to talk about it." Sam snapped his mouth shut, and walked the rock over to the skid where they were being loaded to be dragged away. Dean followed him with only one rock in his hand, getting a good glaring at by the orderly standing by for being so lazy.
"Can you think about it?" asked Dean. If Sam could think about it, then he could remember more and more; that's how he would get better. "And tell me later?"
This made Sam stand still, tripping Dean up with his big feet, hands at his sides, head tilted sideways. "Why?" In his eyes was a wary dullness, like he thought Dean meant to make him talk for his own gain. That when Sam did talk, it would mean more Treatment, because talk about the blue man was what concerned Dr. Logan most. Among other things, which she'd declined to tell Dean about.
He tugged on the sleeve of Sam's jacket and got him to start picking up more rocks by doing it himself. Keeping their hands busy, so it didn't look like they were slackers. So they wouldn't stick out.
"We're roommates, right?" he said, his fingers curling in the grass as he bent forward. "Your blue man, he--he sounds familiar." It wasn't a lie at all, that was the best part. He could feel Sam's neck snap as he looked at Dean and stood up, rocks in each hand, mud falling through his fingers.
"Yeah, look. This is a good place, but sometimes, you gotta talk to someone who's not going to tell you what to think, or what you're thinking is wrong."
"Who--who would do that?" Sam looked around, at the orderlies, tending to their charges, at Greer, who was sending Bellows and his ripped pants inside. Then he looked at Dean.
"That'd be me," said Dean.
As they came inside for the sock ritual, Dean knew that what Sam had been talking about had been the djinn, there was no way the blue man could be anyone else. He wasn't surprised that Dr. Logan felt that the blue man was the source of obsession because it was. The only problem was that the doctor was treating Sam for something she felt was a fantasy, when it wasn't. You couldn't treat amnesia with pills and you couldn't make something that was real go away by drugging it away. Or maybe you could. His experience with antipsychotic drugs was limited and while he knew Sam inside and out, he was way in over his head.
The only thing he knew was that this was real; the djinn had planted false memories, this time bad instead of good, where each had been sure, or in Sam's case, was sure, that the other one had died. It was making Sam crazy; Dean didn't know whether to feel bad that he'd made a recovery from it while Sam had not. Did that mean that Sam loved him more, if he was better and Sam wasn't?
The sock ritual pulled him out of his less than productive thoughts. The doorway and the hallway were jammed as usual, the smell of damp socks and wet feet was strong and close, and the muddle of bodies was chaos. The worst part was Sam, his Sam, who could normally handle strangers better than he could his own family, now, was in a panic.
It had started off slow, Dean realized, and had grown unnoticed. Only when he realized that Sam had pressed his back to the wall to get out of everyone's way and was not moving did it kind of make sense. Sam was trying to avoid trouble and in a narrow space packed with lots of potential sources, he'd gone very still. Lips white. Eyes round and wide and staring. It a New York second, some orderly was going to notice and the experiment would be over before it began. Dean would lose contact with Sam and that would be bad, very bad indeed.
"Sam," he said. He stepped closer. "Sam."
He grabbed two pairs of socks from the orderly who was passing them out.
"Here. Put these on." He handed one of the pairs to Sam, who looked like he could barely hold them. Then Dean moved his body between Sam and the rest of the crowed as much as he could. The look on Sam's face flickered form white-mouth panic to furrow-browed confusion. He looked at Dean almost like he didn't know him.
Dean did what he'd done the night before. He took a deep breath and started messing with his shoes and socks to show Sam how it was done. He took off his sneakers, and then he bent over to pull off his socks. He hoped his acting natural would make Sam feel more comfortable, especially if he wasn't staring at Sam like he realized he was creating a habit of doing. He kept his body close to Sam's, kept it between him and the crowd.
"C'mon, Sam," he said low.
Something must have clicked in Sam's head because he started to copy Dean's movements. He bent low and slipped off his sneakers, then took off his wet socks and put on dry ones, then put his sneakers on again. When Dean allowed himself to look again, the whiteness around Sam's mouth was fading, and by the time the line was forming for supper, Sam was ready. There were beads of sweat along his hairline, but he was ready.
"Stay close, okay?"
This was unnecessary. Sam stuck close like a burr, his elbows bumping Dean's, his breath on Dean's arm. Dean kept himself steady, let Sam stay close, practically rubbing up against him as they walked. Which seemed to help; Sam's panic notched down and they were able to present calm faces to the pill lady.
"Hello, Dean Doe," she said, giving him a little smile. "How's your new friend?" She pointed the end of her pen at Sam. "Sam Doe?"
Without waiting for an answer, she checked the list and handed them each their cup of pills and water to wash it down with.
Dean took a look at Sam's pills again, before Sam tossed them back and swallowed them all with one gulp of water. There'd been more there than Dean had to take, all different colors, and that again was the problem. They were pumping Sam full of crap he didn't need. Hell, they were pumping him full of crap he didn't need. His memory was fine, he knew who he was, didn't need any of it.
It made him want to start running, right then and there, to yank Sam out of line and get them the hell out of there. But he couldn't quit cold turkey, and neither could Sam, not after weeks and weeks on the stuff. He had to stay calm; he took a deep breath and watched Sam take his pills. Just watched, though it was making him tight and strung all over to not do anything. They would have to start weaning themselves off, so that when they found a way out, they could just go, and not worry about it. The hardest part would be taking the time to get Sam to trust him to start doing that, get him to not be so fearful that he did everything the hospital told him to do.
They got their trays and sat down, and Dean felt the weight of the day slam into him. He was used to looking out for Sam, but this went beyond that. He took a breath, and told himself that it wouldn't be long before he got Sam back to himself. In the meantime, he was on duty. He picked up his fork, and looked at Sam to make sure he did the same.
Supper was spaghetti and salad and cottage cheese. Inevitably, there were chunks of tomato in the sauce, which Sam was staring at in dismay.
"Just give 'em to me," said Dean, opening his carton of milk, saying what he'd said a thousand times before. Dad had believed in boys eating what they were given, and since typically this involved ordering food in a restaurant, it meant that you could get want you wanted. And that meant you could tell them to leave the tomatoes or whatever off. Uncle Bobby had known and had taken the time to deal with Sam's finicky palate: no tomatoes, scrambled eggs only, strawberries but not cherries, and so on. Pastor Jim, not so much. The usual result of which had been a battle of wills between Dad and Sam, and a very distressed Pastor Jim, who'd always been totally willing to change or remove the offending dish.
"Seriously," said Dean, pointing with his fork, wanting to avoid putting Sam into another funk it might take him hours to pull out of. "Hand over the tomato shits."
Sam's mouth opened, confusion warring with that gleam of paranoia. "How did you--how did you know I called them that?"
"I told you," said Dean, trying not to sigh with exasperation. "We're friends. Good friends. That's all. Years and years of knowing each other. Now, hand 'em over."
Which Sam did, picking the pieces out one by one, a marmish pout on his mouth. The pile of stewed tomatoes looked totally unappetizing as he flicked them on to Dean's tray and looked at them like that, but Dean wasn't going to say anything to set Sam off. He ate Sam's tomatoes and his own, making sure that Sam ate something of his supper. He wished he had another carton of milk. Wished he knew more about psychology; this was his brother, of course, and that was something, but he was in way over his head.
The supper hour was over and Sam felt like he'd been connected to Dean's hip all day. That wasn't such a bad thing; it was nice to be with someone. But it didn't matter that Dean had been nice, that he'd looked after Sam. The look on his face when Sam had mentioned the blue man had been enough. Sooner or later word would get back to Dr. Logan and that would be all she wrote. Why, Dean was probably scheming even now as to how to get five minutes with the doctor. Just five minutes, and Sam would get sent back to solitary.
"Line, Sam," said Dean. He was getting in line with a bunch of other men, the same men they'd been with pretty much all day, and Sam hurried to do as he was told. Even though these were different orderlies than the one in the other ward, it wouldn't take much for one of the orderlies to get irritated, he felt pretty sure.
The line moved slowly down the hall, which was fine. Sam was tired now with the work therapy, as Dr. Logan had called it, which was really only thinly disguised manual labor. Wasn't it? He remembered reading a book about the rights of patients, only now he couldn't figure out where he'd read it or why, or how he was supposed to apply the information. Here they had no rights, only the obligation to do as they were told.
There was also the edge of anxiety that had followed him around all day. It felt like someone had wound him up inside, and if he'd not been so tired, he would have taken off running.
"Day room, gentlemen," said the orderly.
Everyone piled into the room. Sam stuck close to Dean, not liking the feel of the air or the way the men scattered to the corners of the room without any reason that he could see. Except, if he stood still a minute, he could figure out that there was a TV with a couch in front of it, and he knew what a TV was and why it was, or could be, relaxing. Only all the spots got taken up fast. Then there were the men who went to the tables along the window, and sat down with each other with familiar ease. Sam didn't know anyone. Only Dean.
"Hey," said Dean. "Look, speed puzzles."
He led Sam to one of the tables in the corner by the edge of the window, where the rain spat against the panes an irregular pattern that made his skin itchy. Dean didn't seem to notice this. Instead he sat down and began briskly going through the pile of puzzle boxes.
Sam sat down because he didn't know what else to do. He'd never been allowed in the Day room before. As Dean went through the puzzles, he had a little smile on his face. A nice smile, like he really meant it. And then he looked at Sam with this smile, rather more intensely than he had all day. Sam stiffened in his seat. He didn't know what to do with a smile like that.
"Speed puzzles, like when we were kids," said Dean.
Sam spoke without thinking. "We knew each other when we were kids?" he asked. He kept one eye on the door, because that at any moment Dr. Logan was going to come through it with her clipboard.
"Sure," said Dean. "My dad knew, uh, your dad. Our families were close." He pulled out one of the boxes, the one with the split rail fence and the impossibly blue sky over a field of about a million sunflowers. "Yeah, close."
Dean took the lid of the box and set it on its edge so they could both see it. Then he set the bottom of the box with the puzzle pieces against the lid.
"What's a speed puzzle?" Sam asked. As far as he could figure, looking at the box and the number that said how many pieces there were, the puzzle should take a long time.
"Huh," said Dean. His smile dimmed a little. "I guess you wouldn't remember that. Okay."
He pulled a few piece out and put them in front of Sam. His fingers didn't shake as Sam's would have been had someone been watching. "We, uh, were on the move a lot, our families. Never got to finish many puzzles, or games, even. So, when we had to leave, whoever had the most money, or had the most puzzle pieces, won."
Sam watched as Dean pressed two fingers down on a puzzle piece and moved it towards him.
"That doesn't make sense," Sam said. "How would we know whose puzzle piece was whose?"
This little bit of curiosity earned him another smile. He liked the way the lights flashed in Dean's eyes. It was too bad that those eyes would betray him and he would soon be dragged back to solitary, because really, sooner or later, Dean was going to catch him and was going to turn him in. Then Dr. Logan would be angry because the experiment wasn't an experiment at all. When the trap was sprung, it would give her the perfect excuse. It was exactly what she wanted. Well he, Sam, wasn't going to make her wait. He couldn't stand the anticipation. He would trip the trap and sooner rather than later, and get the Treatment over with.
"You always worked on the outside, I worked on the inside. Like this," said Dean. He pushed one of the puzzle pieces closer to Sam. "That's an edge, that's yours. Here's one for me." He reached into the box and pulled out a piece and put it smack in the center of the table.
Sam leaned forward to look at it. It was a piece made up of pure yellow with only one tiny black dot in the corner. It would be impossible to match up unless you had something obvious to go by. There wasn't. Dean reached into the box again and, glancing at the picture on the lid, moved some more mostly yellow pieces into place. One of the pieces had a slice of blue on it. Dean moved that piece towards the box.
"We'll make this the top, okay?" said Dean, looking at the pieces on the table, and not at Sam.
Sam nodded, feeling a little dizzy as though the game were really moving a billion miles an hour, rather than sedately, which by nature, puzzles did.
It wasn't going to get any easier. He might as well begin.
"So, um," he started. "What I said today. You weren't shocked at all."
"About what?" asked Dean. He flicked a glance up to Sam, and was about to reach for another piece when he stopped and looked at Sam fully. "What?"
"The blue man," said Sam, resigned to do this. "You weren't shocked."
Dean fiddled with one of the pieces, rolling it between his fingers. "Uh, no, not really."
Now Sam was totally confused. Dean's not being shocked was one thing, it was part of the trap. But it almost sounded like he actually knew what Sam was talking about.
"Do you know who the blue man is?" Sam asked.
For a moment, Dean was silent. Then he went still. When he started to talk, he was talking to the table. To his hands.
"Look, I don't want to piss you off or anything, but I can't tell you. Your memory has to come back all on its own. Otherwise, if I tell you, I'll be planting my memories, and they'll get in the way of yours. That's what Dr. Logan said. You see?"
It might be a trap, or it might not, but it certainly wasn't what Sam was expecting. It occurred to him that if their families had spent a lot of time together, then not only did Dean know who he was, but who his brother was. He wasn't sure he could listen to anything about his brother without breaking down and causing a scene, even if Dean were to tell him. Maybe it was best not to ask. And not only that, well, the whole going after monsters thing might not surprise Dean either. Unless it was a trap, a big, complicated trap.
But Sam couldn't help himself. "So, you knew my brother?" he asked. He was surprised at how fast his heart started beating.
Dean looked at him now, looked at him a long time with those green eyes of his going grave and still. It seemed like he was considering what to say, and Sam could almost imagine that he was phrasing his response so as to be as gentle as possible. Part of Sam remembered that this whole conversation was very likely a trap. The other part of him thought about how careful Dean was with him. All the time.
"Yeah, I knew your brother," Dean said at last. He returned to the puzzle, taking a handful of pieces out and dropping them on the table with his fingers. He righted each piece and then picked three of them up and placed them near Sam. "These are edges, too. Get a move on, or you're gonna lose."
Sam looked down at the table, at the three pieces that were his. All of them had an edge that was totally flat. All of them were mostly green, and one of the pieces had a bit of brown that could be dirt or it could be part of the split rail fence. He looked at the box. There was no dirt anywhere to be seen in that pristine, springtime green field. It had to be fence. He lined the pieces up and realized that although they were all edges to the bottom of the puzzle, they did not hook up with one another.
"I need more pieces," he said.
"Here you go," said Dean, just as nice as you please.
If it was a trap, it was a good one. Sam couldn't see the trip spring anywhere.
"So, then," began Sam as he rearranged his puzzle pieces. Dean still wasn't reacting, so Sam knew he had to divulge more of his secrets. "I have these, uh, things in my head. And they are, well, Dr. Logan says they're not normal."
"Uh-huh," said Dean. His hands were busy stirring up the pieces in the box, probably looking for something with a lot of yellow.
"Like--" Sam stopped. His heart was really pounding now. He looked around the room to make sure no one was listening. Except for Dean. "There's this girl vampire, okay?"
"And a zombie that used to be a girl. And a werewolf that was also a girl. Why are they all girls?"
"What are they doing," asked Dean. "Having a three way?"
It was not the answer Sam was expecting.
"No, they're not having a three way, Dean. I'm killing them. One by one, in my memories, I'm killing them." At Dean's silence, the words boiled out of him. "I shot the werewolf in the heart with a silver bullet, I got chased by a zombie through a graveyard. And then there was this wendigo, in the woods, my brother was bait, and I had to get those people out of the mine shaft. I sharpened a machete so I could cut a vampire's head off."
His mouth felt dry as a winter lakebed, panting as he stopped, mouth open, realizing that he'd more than sprung the trap, he'd buried himself. These were things he swore to Dr. Logan that he was no longer thinking about, and there they were all in front of him. Like they'd been lined up like planes waiting to land.
But nothing happened. The noise level in the room went on in the same way, with the buzz of the TV, and the rumble of voices, the squeak of chairs across the floor. Only the silence between them sharpened into something noticeable, with Dean leaning forward in his chair, looking up at Sam through his lashes, so close that Sam could see the freckles along the bridge of his nose. Dean narrowed his eyes as though he were about to tell Sam a secret.
This was not right. This was not how this was supposed to go. Dean was supposed to be totally shocked and appalled and go running to the nearest orderly that Sam was talking not only about the blue man but about killing things that used to be people and weren't real. He was supposed to go ah-ha! and turn Sam the hell in so this appalling feeling of being about to explode from the outside in could just go ahead and happen. Treatment would ensue, the experiment would be over, and he could go back to his nice safe cubbyhole.
"And what? Vampires aren't real, Dean, zombies aren't--" He stopped and pushed the puzzle pieces away with the heel of his hand, hating the scratchy cardboard feel of them, hating the way he suddenly felt hot, like his armpits were filling with sweat. He had to pee really bad. That or throw up.
"Why are you doing this to me? Why don't you just turn me in already?" He pressed his palms against his eyes and leaned his elbows on the table. "I tell you that I go around chasing these things, not that I was being pursued by a monster, but that I was hunting them. Me and my brother and my dad. It was what we did, that's what I remember. You can't just sit there and tell me you believe me. Go call Dr. Logan already."
From behind the darkness of his hands, he could hear Dean pick up a puzzle piece, the edges of it making a scratchy sound on the table top. Then he placed it down with a little click. Sam lowered his hands. Dean was looking at him and not at what he was doing with the puzzle piece.
"And why did you do all that?" asked Dean. Casually, as if asking why Sam had done something ordinary, like open the door.
This was a question Dr. Logan had never asked. Not once. When Sam's mouth would move faster than his brain could keep track of and all his dark secrets would come spilling out like hot salt, she was more interested in what it meant. What it symbolized. What the hidden meaning behind all the hunting and killing of imaginary things was. Not the why of it. Never the why.
"We saved people," said Sam, feeling that in his gut. Knowing that it was true, even if he didn't know why. And realized that if Dean were to turn him in? He could cling to that even as they strapped him to the table. "We saved a lot of people."
"You and your dad and your brother," said Dean. He looked like he wanted to smile. There were sparkles in his eyes.
"They were brave," said Sam, his voice clogging up. He felt like he wanted to cry, and maybe, when he was on the table, tied down and wrapped in ice cold wet sheets, he would let himself. "They were brave, they were fucking maniacs, but they were brave, and I could never be like them, and I hunted even though it scared the crap out of me, and I can't remember what their faces looked like, but I miss them, I miss--"
His voice cracked like someone had flung rocks at it, and he leaned forward and buried his head in his arms, puzzle pieces pushing against his skin, the cold air banking off the windows eating at the air, he could almost picture it, eating away like acid, and the flies with their little bloody feet. "I miss my brother."
Now he was crying, as hard as he tried to stop it, swallowing against it, the heat boiling behind his eyes, and his chest churning as he realized that he couldn't stop. They would come for him now, Dean would get up and call for someone, they would come and carry him off down the hall like he had no bones in his body, dragging him if they had to. Getting the water--
"Everything alright here?" a voice asked. An orderly. Sam didn't know which one.
"Yeah," said Dean. Casual. Sam could hear him scraping the floor with his chair, like he was standing up. "He's just tired. First day of work therapy and all."
"You sure?" asked the voice. "I thought I heard him getting a little agitated. The Day room is supposed to be a peaceful place. You know that, right?"
"Yeah," said Dean again. Then Sam felt a hand in his hair. He thought it was probably Dean's, because it was gentle and warm and moved through his hair like it knew exactly how it grew along the back of his neck. "We were having a race with the puzzle pieces, got a little loud. Sorry about that."
"Just keep it down," said the orderly. Footsteps. Walking off. A scrape of the chair as Dean sat down again.
Sam's heart was hammering and he wanted to explode. He wanted the flies to finish eating his brain. He wanted to stop crying. He wanted his brother. His mouth tasted bad and he realized that his fingers were digging into the table top, that his upper lip tasted like snot. That beside him, outside of the circle of his arms, that Dean was going on with the puzzle. Humming a little, breathing in and out. But attentive, like the second Sam lifted his head, he'd be there, with that smile, that little smile.
Dean was so calm, always. Sam wanted to be more like that. He also didn't want Dean to see the snot coming from his nose, that was just gross. He sniffed a bit and then ducked his head, pulling up the collar of his shirt to wipe his mouth. Used the back of his hand to scrub across his eyes. Felt his chest do a couple of quick jigs as he took in a breath and straightened up in his chair. He watched Dean's chest rise and fall for a couple of breaths and tried to match that. Then he raised his eyes.
There was Dean.
"Okay now?" Dean wasn't smiling, but he was watching Sam, marking the effects of Sam's outburst but there was nothing critical in his expression. Nothing judging in his eyes, no dubious frown. Just the solemn appraisal, and that attentive lean that his body did towards Sam's. It felt comfortable, like they'd done this before. Maybe even most of their lives.
"So," said Sam, "we've known each other a long time, huh?"
"Yeah," said Dean. Eyes going over Sam like they were taking inventory. "A long time."
"And everything I'm telling you, you already know."
"Yeah," said Dean. "I mean, I can't tell you, but yeah."
"And I can tell you about the blue man?"
Sam felt a little empty, but in a good way. Like being tired at the end of a hard day's work, and you couldn't move, didn't want to, but that was okay. You'd done what you were supposed to. It might be that the emptiness would work the same way, if you were tired, you went to sleep. If you were empty, something would come along and fill you up. Maybe something good.
"Am I remembering what really happened, or is it something that's not really true?"
"What do you think?"
Another question that Dr. Logan had never asked, at least not in that way. When she asked it, Sam knew that she wanted to hear something productive, like how he was going to approach the problem of hanging on to false memories, or how he was going to apply himself to being flexible about what the memories meant, especially since they were false. She never meant the question as Dean did now, which was said in such a way that Sam felt fairly certain that Dean honestly wanted to know what he thought. So Sam told him.
"I think that either you are trying to trap me so you can turn me in to Dr. Logan for continuing to think about hunting monsters, or that you are flat out crazy. And that I'm crazy too."
Dean shook his head. "None of the above."
"Don't tell me all my memories are real, Dean. They can't be."
"I'm not telling you anything. I'm just saying, you're not crazy, I'm not crazy. And I'm certainly not going to turn you in. I would never do that to you."
For the first time in a long time, it might be that he'd met someone who wasn't messing with his head, who didn't think he was crazy. Maybe. He still felt that itchy feeling along his skin, still felt the warning bells and that horrible buzzing sound right inside of his ears.
That Dean was nice seemed real enough, that he wasn't going to turn Sam in was a strong possibility. It occurred to him as well that since Dean didn't seem so very shocked about all the supernatural stuff, that he might have been there for some of it. Maybe even sharpened a machete of his own a time or two. But he couldn't ask this of Dean, not with the orderly so close by, not with the threat still so close and dire. Maybe he didn't really want to know.
Dean was still watching him, his eyes on Sam's, his hands on the table near where Sam's fingers were still digging into the table top a little. He looked like he wanted to place his hands on Sam's to make them stop, so Sam obliged him so he wouldn't have to. He uncurled his fingers and reached for the box.
"Hand me some of those," he said.
This was the right thing to say, to do. Sam watched as Dean got him some puzzle pieces, and realized that it made Dean tense when he was worried about Sam, and that it relaxed him to do something for Sam. His shoulders went down, and the line of his jaw eased, and he looked like he might start humming again. Like he cared. Really and truly. Whether Sam should be trusting Dean as much as he had, well maybe it would be okay. Maybe Dean was what would fill the emptiness.
Sam welcomed bedtime like he could never remember doing before. A chime sounded from the corridor and the orderly stood by the Day room door to make sure they all got in line like they were supposed to. It occurred to Sam how time consuming it all was, all the lines and the waiting in them, the slow, stupid way everyone moved. Everyone but Dean. Whereas a lot of the men moved with the speed of crawling turtles, or shuffled their feet along the floor, their shoulders stooped or hunched, Dean moved fast and stood out like a blade. Sam guessed he'd noticed it all during the day, but as night came and the light outside the windows turned to darkness, the lights overhead made everything sharp and harsh, like a spotlight had been thrown on it. On Dean.
Sam walked along the wall. Dean walked alongside him, shoulders back, head up, looking, watching. Staying close to Sam, alert. Sam knew the feeling, he had to be alert all the time in case there was someone nearby who might think he was doing what he shouldn't be doing. Dr. Logan said it was paranoia and she was currently evaluating his meds to determine which one might be causing that, or if he should be getting some additional meds to help with that. Sam didn't want to take any more pills.
Dean, on the other hand, looked alert and aware all the time. Sam didn't think it was paranoia; it was simply how he was. Even the way he stood at their doorway, their doorway, waiting for the orderly to unlock the door and hand them their pills, he was aware and watching but not edgy. Lit up from within. He nodded at the orderly, and popped the pill in his mouth as he walked in the room, not seeming to mind that Sam was almost on his heels, or that the door clanged loudly behind them, the key in the lock loud like someone was ripping through metal.
"Get some water, Sam," said Dean. Like he was a little kid and didn't know that he was supposed to do that.
Sam went into the bathroom and got himself a cup of water. In the polished metal, he could see the outlines of his hair, the color of his skin, maybe even what color his eyes were. In solitary, there were no mirrors not even metal ones. Maybe it was appropriate that with his memory gone, his reflection was fuzzy too. He swallowed the pill and brushed his teeth, and then used the toilet, washing his hands after.
When he walked out of the bathroom, Dean was sitting on his bed, taking off his shoes and socks, changing into his p.j.'s.
"Bathroom hog," said Dean, in a conversational way.
For a second, Sam wondered if Dean was mad, but when Dean looked up at him, the smile was there, and the shine in his eyes, and though Dean looked tired, he seemed happy.
"If I'm a hog, why are you smiling?" asked Sam. He went over to his own bed, still not sure how much to trust Dean.
But his question took the smile from Dean's face as he sat down. For a moment, he was still. His head was bowed like he didn't want to look at Sam, and he pushed his fists against his thighs like he was trying to rub some warmth into his skin.
"I'm smiling because you're okay. Because you're going to be okay." Dean's head was still down when he said this and there was a cadence in his voice, like he was struggling to keep it even and not let it burst into something else. It made Sam feel as though Dean wanted to say something else, to do anything else but sit there, not looking at Sam. "And anyway, you've always been a bathroom hog, so when you get your memory back, you can remember this moment. You hogging the bathroom, and me pitifully waiting."
This was supposed to be a joke and Sam almost smiled. He wanted to be sure of Dean, wanted to feel safer than he did. Because when Dean looked up at him, pretending to frown, it felt pretty good, and very familiar. He thought about saying something back, something snappy, but his brain was giving in to the sleeping pills and couldn't quite manage it. So he sat on his bed and took off his shoes and socks, and said something else. Something quite true that Dr. Logan would applaud, were she here.
"I'm not used to sharing," he said, feeling somewhat shy.
He expected Dean to say something snotty in return, but as Dean kicked his shoes under his bed with the heel of his foot, he actually could see it in Dean's face, what he was thinking. About Sam being in solitary, about Sam being alone. It was only a flicker, but he could see it, that Dean hated the whole idea. That Dean hated being in here, in this place. Locked up like this, even though he liked being with Sam. Then it went away, just as fast. Sam shivered. Knowing someone as well as that was just plain weird.
Dean went into the bathroom, and Sam could hear the water running and Dean spitting into the sink. Sam hurried to get into his own p.j.'s, slipping between the sheets that felt like they'd been in a freezer all day. He'd been warm from all the work and the moving around, but now, lying still even under the covers, it was cold. It'd been much colder in solitary though, so he didn't mind so much. Still, it made him shiver to get warm; he rubbed his feet fast across the sheets to get some friction.
Just as the chime sounded and the lights went out, he heard Dean cross the room and get in the bed. A second later, he heard the sound of feet rubbing the sheets for friction.
"Christ, this place is an ice box," said Dean, muttering.
Sam thought about body heat, remembering something he'd learned, maybe in school. If you put two bodies together, you could generate heat. Like if you were lost in the woods somewhere, and it got dark and you couldn't get home. But it wasn't that cold, they had blankets, and there wasn't any ice or snow. He let the idea go as the buzz in his brain settled into dullness, the meds kicking in just as he thought about getting up to put on his socks. But there was a rule about only wearing designated sleepwear to bed, one of those rules Dr. Logan was so fond of. He'd hate to wake up in the morning with an orderly standing over him, pointing at his sock covered feet.
"Dean," said Sam.
"Uh-huh," said Dean.
Sam could hear it as Dean rolled towards him and settled himself on the pillow. Waiting. Waiting to listen. Sam wondered if his own brother had been like that. So attentive.
"Um, I wanted to say--" He stopped, not really sure of what he wanted to say. He didn't want to bring up the idea again of Dean's being a spy, planted to trap him. Nor did he want to talk about blue men or vampires, it was just too late, and he was too tired. But if Dean was going to be his friend, and maybe he was, then Sam wanted to be nice the way Dean was nice. "I wanted to say thanks, for--showing me the speed puzzles."
It came out all tumbled and rushed. And lame. Not exactly what he was wanting to say. But how could he possibly figure out how to say it short and sweet, to say what he meant, and yet not come across as some emotional wreck? Hey, thanks for not thinking I'm crazy, thanks for believing me, thanks for being calm. Thanks for breathing. How do you thank someone for breathing?
He said it anyway; it was like his mouth was in control of the rest of him. "Thanks for breathing slow. It helped."
There was a small silence that came at him from across the short space between their beds. He heard Dean take a breath. Then Dean said, "Any time."
Whether Dean understood what he meant or not, his voice sounded warm and calm in the darkness. Exactly the way Sam wanted, needed it to sound. He wondered if Dean knew that or if that was just the way he was. Maybe it was a bit of both.
Dean shifted in the other bed, and Sam could hear him breathing. He made himself breath in sync, letting his eyes clothes, not thinking about flies with bloody feet. Not thinking at all. Just breathing. With Dean.
The morning felt rushed, like they were already late for something, and Sam's head ached. He wanted some aspirin and a hot shower, but neither were to be had, even though in his other life before the hospital it seemed it would have been simple, so simple, to get these things and to take ten minutes under the hot water to ease the ache away. But no, as they brushed their teeth, the orderly was at the door already with their razors, and Dean was hopping on one foot to put on his socks, and the chime sounded and they had shave fast and then they had to go. As they got into the line, Sam felt breathless. He stuck close to Dean and tried to breathe slow.
They made their way down the chilly corridor, where the sun was coming through in fits and starts, which meant it was going to be another rainy day. When they got to the dining hall, they waited in another line for pills. Dean went first, being friends with the pill lady, talking to her and pretending he liked her. Oh, maybe he did like her, but Sam didn't think so. He might have been smiling at her, giving her little flashes of his teeth, but it wasn't the way he smiled at Sam at all. No, it was totally different.
Then when it was Sam's turn, Dean waited by his side while the lady gave him his paper cup of pills and his paper cup of water and watched him as he tossed back the pills and washed them down.
"Quite a number you got there, Sam," said Dean. "Jeeze, what is that stuff?"
The pills lady wrote something down on her clipboard, and then said to Dean, "He's got the same as you, except for the yellow one, Flupentixol. He needs extra meds for his anxiety." She looked at Dean like Sam wasn't even there. "Paranoid."
Dean nodded, the skin around his eyes tight, and Sam realized that Dean actually didn't like her very much, but he didn't know why. "Hey," Dean said to her, "aren't we all?"
No, Dean definitely didn't like her. His voice was friendly, but he turned away from her as soon as he was done talking to her, tugging on Sam's sleeve to get him to stay close as they stood in the line for food.
"Huh," said Dean. "Oatmeal." He turned his head to look at Sam as if waiting for something. His hands grabbed two trays and he handed one to Sam.
"Do I like oatmeal?" asked Sam.
"You tell me."
Sam let the lady in the hairnet give him oatmeal and orange slices and some sausage. She slammed this on his tray. He moved along the counter and looked at the cartons of milk and just as he was about to reach for one, Dean took two of them and put them on Sam's tray. He put two on his own tray as well. As they walked to an empty table, close to the wall, Dean said, "Trust me."
They sat down together, close, and Sam scanned the dining hall for Dr. Logan or Dr. Baylor, who would surely be upset about the extra milk. There were a few orderlies wandering around, the bristle-haired guy, Greer, among them, but other than the clatter of plates, and the static of the overhead lights, it was fairly quiet.
Dean started doing something to his oatmeal. He grabbed for the sugar canister and poured the sugar into his bowl. Then he opened a carton of milk and poured that in there as well. Then he stirred everything with a spoon. Sam watched as he ate it slowly, almost sighing to himself. It looked pretty soupy, but then, with all that sugar, it would be sweet as well. Sam made his up the same way, pouring half the carton of milk and giving it a good stir.
"Don't forget the sugar," said Dean, pushing the canister towards him.
Sam poured it on, and then took a bite. It was almost too sweet and thin, watered down and cooled by the milk. But his mouth liked it, and his stomach did too, making an odd, contended gurgle as the oatmeal hit it. He nodded at Dean.
"This is good," he said. He didn't feel as surprised as he felt he probably ought to, but the ritual of it and Dean's satisfied slurping felt like it connected with the part of him that remembered everything he'd forgotten. And that if he could get beyond the buzzing in his brain, he could get there. "Amnesia sucks," he said, taking another bite.
"Yeah," said Dean.
"You have amnesia too, right?"
"Yeah," said Dean again. He took up one of the sausage links with his fingers and started chewing at the end, mouth open. "A little bit."
It sparked in Sam's head like a little explosion, and parts of him warred with being offended, the other parts remembered this too, that his brother used to sit there and chew and talk with his mouth open. Obnoxiously, on purpose, just to piss Sam off. Two worlds colliding in his head, confusing him, and he shoved his oatmeal away.
"Hey," said Dean. "What's wrong? You don't like the oatmeal?"
There he was again, being nice, watching Sam, making sure everything was okay. Trying to fix it when it was not.
"I like the oatmeal just fine," he said. He picked up his spoon and started to pull his bowl towards him. It was stupid to get upset just because he remembered something about his brother. It was good to remember these things. Dr. Logan said so.
Across the dining hall, Sam could see Dr. Baylor come in, clipboard in hand, dressed in his white lab coat. He froze with his spoon just above the bowl.
"What?" asked Dean, following where Sam's eyes were looking.
Dr. Baylor skipped ahead in line and was getting some coffee. Then he stopped to talk to the lady in the hairnet behind the counter.
"You really don't like them do you, the doctors," said Dean.
Sam struggled to pull his attention away. The doctors were there to help him, and Dr. Baylor had a nice smile. Sometimes. But when Sam had an outburst or broke a rule, or the one time when he tried to bite Dr. Baylor, then the smile went away and Sam got into trouble. He preferred to stay as far away from Dr. Baylor as possible.
"Hey," Dean said to Sam. "Hey!" Louder now, to get Sam's attention. "He's gone now, take a deep breath."
Sam looked at him, startled. "I'm fine," he said, his voice smacking of defensiveness. "I'm fine."
Then he looked up, feeling as though he had been running and had just now pulled himself up. "He scares me," said Sam, feeling a little daring for admitting this. Dr. Baylor had so much power and he had none. Neither did Dean.
"Oh?" asked Dean. "Well, me too."
That was a nice thing to say, even if it was a lie because Sam didn't think Dean was afraid of anything. But he was exhausted by being worked up, the coil in his chest wound up and then sprung and then wound up and sprung again all in the space of ten minutes. He struggled to eat his oatmeal and his orange slices, concentrating on not throwing up, or on wanting to run screaming down the hall.
Dean continued to chew with his mouth open, making a mess as he ate his oranges. Then with a contented burp, he finished the milk in one carton and started in on the other. Sam copied him, letting the motion of doing what Dean did soak over him like echoes from a quiet, dark place where nobody shouted or pushed or told him that he was uncooperative as they took off his clothes and soaked him with icy water.
The chime sounded.
"You with me, Sam?" asked Dean.
"I--" Sam stood up as Dean stood up, following him to the counter with their trays to place them in the slot, their silverware in the metal bowl of soapy water. "I have a headache." He didn't want to complain, Dean never complained, and besides, all complaining ever did was get him more Treatment.
They were getting in line to go somewhere else, Sam didn't know where, and Dean reached up to touch the back of his neck. He did it so fast, Sam didn't have time to be startled or pull away. His strong fingers squeezed together and then released. Then again. And by the time he thought of it, thought of smacking Dean to make him stop, Dean's fingers had loosened something in his neck, and his head didn't ache so badly.
"Better?" Dean asked, his hand dropping away. The line started moving down the hall, and Sam realized that he did feel a little better. He thought about Dean's fingers, how warm they'd been, firm, pushing just where they needed to. He realized his mouth was open and that he was staring at Dean, but by that time, they'd arrived at the laundry room, and the roar of the dryers meant that he didn't have to say anything to explain himself.
As they washed their hands, Neland came over with his clipboard and checked them off his list.
"You can load dryers today," he said. "I'll show you." He took them to the huge upright washers that were already turning with soapy grey water sloshing against the glass. One of the dryers was spinning to a stop, and a green light went on.
"When that green light comes on, you can open the washer, but not before. It won't open if the red light's on, anyway. Put the towels in this cart, and then roll the cart to the next dryer that's free. If there are no free dryers, you'll have to wait, you can fold towels. Don't forget to wash your hands."
Then he left them. One of the other patients, Sam didn't recognize him, was loading a washer with towels and soap. He looked pretty competent there doing what was for a mental patient a fairly complicated task. But then, yesterday, they'd been relegated to folding towels only, him and Dean, so maybe this was a step up. A kind of lunatic promotion.
"Looks like we got a raise," said Dean, smirking. Which meant that he'd been thinking along the same lines as Sam. Like he'd known what Sam was thinking. Still, it didn't feel as weird as it might have done, and Sam felt comfortable to be in the warm room, with Dean, the rain falling outside the windows, and the roar of the dryers cutting out the buzz in his head.
They spent the morning loading dryers, pulling the wet, sopping mass of towels from the washers and trundling the carts over to the nearest dryer. The cycle had a rhythm that was comforting, Sam felt the coil in his chest ease as they worked. Being beside Dean, working, was safe, no one was watching him, no one thought he was out of line or inflexible.
When they took a little water break, Dean made sure he drank the whole glass, and then drank one himself, ignoring Neland as he scowled. Maybe he always looked like that. At any rate, Dean didn't seem to be bothered, so Sam didn't let himself be bothered either.
They worked until lunchtime, which in addition to the usual pills, was baloney sandwiches and lukewarm chicken soup. When Sam balked at eating, Dean coaxed him into it, leading the way by eating everything on his tray, showing Sam how it was done. Then, after they turned in their trays, and got into line, Greer came along and took them towards one of the doors that led outside. Everyone got a jacket, and as they went outside, Sam could see why. It had stopped raining, but there was a brisk wind, and the damp air was chilly. He missed the laundry room, and wanted to be back there, but Greer was giving instructions, and Sam made himself pay attention.
"If you see anything that doesn't look like grass, it's a weed. Pull it. Partner up, get a bucket, put the weeds in there" He pointed to a large bin by the fence. "We'll compost them."
Sam looked across the green lawn, with the white fence along the river line and around the edges, and the neat rows of trees along the fence. The skies boiled a fine, filmy grey overhead. He thought he knew what composting was, but realized, as well, that there were chemicals that would kill weeds but not the grass, and that this was yet another example of forced labor. Dr. Logan called it work therapy, but Sam was still pretty sure it was illegal somehow.
As Dean came back from getting a bucket, his pants wet up to his ankles, Sam said, "This is illegal, you realize, all this weed pulling."
Dean just laughed. His cheeks were already pink from the wind, his hair speckled with damp, but he bent and pulled weeds and put them in the bucket and smiled at Sam. It was almost dizzying, really, the lights in his eyes.
"If we see any dandelions, we can make a wish," Dean said.
Sam knew this, had a memory of doing it on a hot summer day, watching the frail seeds float away bravely on the breeze. But what had he made a wish for? He couldn't remember. He spotted one in the grass and even though it was half gone, he pulled it carefully and held it out for Dean.
"What would you wish for?" he asked, handing it over.
Dean took it and blew. The little white seeds pelted away in the breeze to be carried off to who knew where. There weren't probably enough of the seeds to make a real wish, but Dean looked pleased with himself anyhow. "To be out of here," he said.
Sam thought about this. "You have to get better first," he said. Wondering how it would be to be alone in this place without Dean.
"Oh, I will," said Dean.
Across the grass, Greer was coming towards them. "This isn't stand around therapy, gentlemen," he said, waving his hand to demonstrate that everyone else was working but Sam and Dean. "This is work therapy, so get to it."
Just as Sam felt himself tightening up, Greer walked to the wheelbarrow where everyone was to dump their weeds and where one of the patients was shoving something into his mouth. "Bellows, don't eat that!"
Dean looked at Sam and laughed. Sam almost felt himself laughing in return. Almost.
As they walked down the corridor from the Day room, it occurred to Dean that Sam was staring to trust him in spite of the fact that Dean had been the source of him getting a Treatment that could have been avoided, had Dean been smarter. But Sam did seem to trust him. Was looking at him, his face still, with dark green eyes somewhat dulled by the drugs, but aware. Although now, with Greer nearby, leading them down the hallway, and the sound of the chime alerting them to bedtime, Sam wasn't as talkative as he'd been before.
As Dean stopped at the door to their room, he felt Sam slip between him and the wall, hunkering down as if that would help him, and Dean looked up and saw Dr. Logan approaching with Dr. Baylor. Both of them looked calm, but Sam was shaking behind him now, and when Dean looked, Sam's hands were clenched on the legs of his pants so hard that Dean thought he could hear the sound of cloth tearing.
Dean moved his hand, and touched the back of Sam's hand with his fingers, stroking slowly, the way he used to do when Sam and Dad would argue. Dean would reach down and touch Sam's leg, not that it would stop him, but it seemed to bring him back to the reality of the table, in the restaurant or diner or wherever; he couldn't take sides, but it seemed to help when Sam looked like he was about to lose it. Not that it had solved any argument, but Dean needed to do it. And Sam had responded to the touch.
Like he did now. He was still crouched behind Dean, but his breathing was slower. It must be freaking him out pretty badly that there were two doctors at one time.
"Dean, Sam," said Dr. Logan. Then she turned to Greer. "Everything going well?"
Greer nodded, and said, "They've both been much more productive and cooperative since you teamed them up, I'd say."
Dr. Logan looked at Dr. Baylor. "Sam will be in Group, if this keeps up. No talk about the blue man, right Dean?"
Dean nodded. Sam had been too busy for anything but good behavior, the most productive of thoughts, you bet.
"Of course it's too soon to see how our experiment will play out," said Dr. Logan. "But I'd say this is a good start."
Dean nodded again. He wished they would just go away, couldn't they see how they were upsetting Sam?
Dr. Baylor was looking at Sam, his eyes going up to accommodate Sam's height. "Group will be a good experience, I think," he said, his eyes flicking to Dean. "We're learning to be flexible, aren't we, Sam?"
He felt Sam shift behind him, and remembered that Sam hated to be referred to as part of a we; some teacher or social worker must have used it on him long ago with a too-bright smile and with no warmth whatsoever. Dean stepped back on his heel so his hip was brushing against Sam, his hand on Sam's thigh.
"Every day and every way," said Dean, remembering some line from some old movie.
"Very good," said Dr. Logan. She looked so pleased with herself that Dean wanted to smack her. "I think Sam will remember how unproductive his talk about imaginary creatures is, and how it leads to Treatment."
Sam's whole body jerked at that, making him move forward to step on Dean's heel. Dean grit his teeth and pretended it was a smile.
The regular orderly waited a minute as Greer and the doctors walked down the hall, then he gave them their pills to take and unlocked the door. Dean went into the bathroom to get some water.
When he came out, Sam was wedged in the narrow space between the beds. As Dean came closer, Sam pressed himself against the wall like a very large and terrified rabbit. The space was so narrow that he was at an angle. His skin was pale, eyes squinted halfway as though he were in pain. Dean watched as the front of Sam's cotton pants darkened in long, loopy circles, and Dean realized that Sam was pissing himself. The insides of Sam's legs darkened too, as a puddle formed beneath his slip-on sneakers.
Sam's hair was damp against his neck as he shuddered and pressed himself harder into the pale wall, the glare of the lighting fixture making hollow dark spaces of his face. Dean could hear his brother's teeth clicking together as the sharp smell of pee thickened the air. Sam was obviously two seconds away from shitting himself as well.
"Sam," he said, determined not to repeat the cause for another freak out that would result in Sam getting dragged away for more Treatment.
"You were going to tell them," said Sam, the quivers in his voice leaving ghostly echoes in Dean's ears. Sam's eyes flickered between Dean and the wall.
"Hey, Sam," Dean started, but Sam rushed out his words like Dean hadn't said anything.
"No, admit it, you were going to tell them." His mouth was tight, teeth bared.
"I wasn't," said Dean. It felt almost worthless to say this because Sam was rigid suddenly, like he was choking on his tongue, like the memories were bashing against the back of his head sharp enough to blind. Dean knew the feeling. Could see the sheen of sweat Sam left on the wall as he ground his forehead against it. Sam clutched his pant leg and grunted like he wanted to say something about it.
"I didn't tell," said Dean. "And I won't tell. Ever. Not in a million years."
Then Sam looked at him. Eyes dark like somebody had used a cigarette to burn through his skull. His shorn hair stuck up with sweat. Dean wondered why on earth someone had felt it necessary to cut Sam's hair like that. At least they'd not shaved him bald, but it made him look young. So young. Dean stifled the impulse to card his fingers through it to push it off Sam's hot forehead.
As he looked at Sam, Dean realized that the room had gone quiet, and that Sam wasn't looking at him. Was more apt to banging his head against the wall like that guy in the game room, Bellows. It was up to Dean. If Sam wasn't filling the silence with his never-ending stream of opinions, theories, and emo babble, then Dean would have to.
"Look," said Dean, not wanting to think how unnerved he was by Sam's glare, the silence, the lack of words. "I won't tell, I said I wouldn't. You're my roommate, plus you're my--" H was about to say brother but that wasn't fly. Not in here. He didn't want to set Sam off. "My Sam." He finished. Hoping it didn't sound as lame to Sam as it did to him.
To his surprise, Sam's shoulders came down a bit, mouth curled in a confused wriggle. His sneakers squished in the puddle. "I'm your Sam?"
"Uh," said Dean. "It's strange when you put it like that, but yeah, you're my buddy Sam. We're friends. You and I were on a road trip, and something happened."
"Were we friends?" Sam asked.
His mouth opened and he wanted to say it. Badly. But he didn't. Couldn't, or Sam would go off again.
We were more than friends. We were brothers. We knew each other's soul, inside and out. We were all we needed.
It was something he'd never thought before. Not in so many words. He was a little taken aback by the force of it.
"Yeah," he said, swallowing. "Remember, I told you that. We were very good friends. I was, uh…doing an errand for my dad, and asked if you wanted to come. You said yes. So we started driving."
"How did we end up here?"
For being in the loony bin, Sam was still a stickler for details.
Dean shrugged now, taking a step closer. "I don't remember. I'm like you, I've got chunks missing from my head. And they keep changing my meds."
Looking at his feet now, Sam nodded, contemplating the floor as he tapped one of his toes in the puddle of urine.
"I get that way when they change my meds, too," Sam said, as if answering a question. "Sometimes. But I'm going to get better. That's what they said."
"In Group?" Dean asked, trying to imagine the likes of Randy Pointy Fingers dealing with Sam's excitable nature, the flashpaper shifts in behavior.
"I don't have Group," said Sam, his teeth starting to chatter again. "I have Treatment."
It sounded worse when Sam said it like that, with the dark belltones behind his voice.
"And one time after Treatment," said Sam, his voice lowering to a whisper. "I had an accident."
Dean felt part of himself pull away from this. San hadn't had an accident since Dean and Dad had managed to wean him out of training pants.
Sam sniffed, nostrils curling like he could smell himself, his eyes sparking like he was on the verge of tears. "In the morning," he said, "when they bring clean clothes, they're going to know. And that's bad. They didn't like it the last time I did it."
"Um," Dean managed, trying to wrap his mind around it. How the hell he was going to fix this? It was a whole lot more intimate than just living in each other's pockets 24/7. "Um."
Looking up at him through dark lashes, Sam looked far younger than even twelve.
"Here," Dean said, shrugging his shoulders back. He felt the big brother mantle he'd worn so often for so many years, slip over him. "Step out of that, and then take off your shoes."
Sam's expression had drawn together, like he thought Dean was trying to trick him.
"We'll wash everything," he said. "Well, rinse it out at least. In the morning, it might be wrinkled but it won't look like--" He stopped, not wanting to say it out loud. It won't look like you pissed yourself. Like a kid.
"You can do that?" asked Sam, not moving.
Currents of something warm pushed up through Dean's chest. Sam on the ground crying because the chain of the bicycle he'd borrowed from the kid next door had fallen off, and Sam had only been riding for a minute. Whether he was more worried about the kid or not getting his fair share had never been clear. The look on his face, the smile in his eyes as Dean said he could put the chain back on in two seconds or less. And Sam's amazed you can do that?
"Yeah," he said. "C'mon now. Lights go out at some point here, and I don't want to be bumping into walls."
"There's light always coming through the window," said Sam, loftily. "You won't bump into anything."
Not afraid of the dark, then, at least. That was a good thing. Dean waved Sam closer to him, and Sam complied, leaving a narrow trail of pee that shimmered as he walked. "Take those off," he said. "Bathroom, okay? We'll do it in there."
Sam's mouth was tight with worry.
"I promise," said Dean. "It's not a big deal and I really won't tell. I know what they're like when you mess up. I won't let them get you."
Sam nodded, and moved, smelling even stronger as he came closer, and as he did, he looked away. At the floor. At his hands. Anywhere but Dean. Dean knew that if he had been soaked in his own pee, he would have been the same way.
The bathroom was long and narrow, the heavy, old fashioned tub sitting on top of a long pedestal that was probably there so the orderly on duty wouldn't have to stoop if he had to help someone with a bath. Which probably wasn't a bad idea.
Still not looking at Dean, Sam peeled himself out of his clothes. Everything was cotton, and soaked through, except for the stiff t-shirt, which still smelled like Sam's sweat. That was familiar at least. As was the smell of Sam's piss; there'd been plenty of times Dean had been second in the bathroom, or stood side by side with Sam at a public urinal.
Sam put everything in the sink, shoes and all, and turned to Dean, naked as the dawn, eyes still askance, his hair glued to his forehead in short spikes.
"I'm sticky," said Sam, and Dean nodded. Sam's knobby knees were very familiar. He could see the streaks on Sam's thighs, the way his pubic hair was stuck to his skin, trailing across his penis. Dean sighed and looked at the bar of soap, the two thin washcloths and towels. Everything would have to be rinsed out, but he could wipe the floor down once he was done with Sam and no one would be wiser come the morning.
"Okay. I'll run the tub." He felt Sam moving at his side. "Don't get in till I get it right, okay. Remember--" he stopped himself, wanting to tell the story, but not wanting Sam to get all riled up again. When Sam had been four, he'd jumped into the tub before Dean had set the temperature and had run shrieking to Dad, naked, from the bathroom. Only the fact that the water had still been cold, rather than scalding, had saved Dean from landing in deep trouble.
"I like it hot," said Sam. Of course he did. Sam was forever hopping in the shower first, using all the hot water, and never mind that most motels had at least ten rooms, Sam managed to use the hot water for each and every one.
Dean ran the tub full of the hottest water he could manage, which was barely more than warm, but it would have to do. Behind him, Sam shifted from foot to foot. Dean didn't blame him, or tell him to stop. The floor was like ice and there was a current of chill air coming from somewhere. He turned off the taps and tested the water one more time with his hand. Not hot enough to boil spaghetti, like Sam liked it, but warm enough. He shook his hand out.
"In," he said. Like he'd said a thousand times since Sam was little.
Sam got in the tub, sloshing water everywhere, like he always did, and whatever was all torqued up in Dean's chest loosened a little. It was just Sam; he could handle this. He reached for the bar of soap and one of the washcloths and held them out, resting his wrist on the edge of the tub.
Shaking his head, Sam shoved Dean's hand away; the soap flopped in the water. "I can't have the soap," he said.
"Why the hell not?"
"Because I eat it."
Dean's mouth fell open, as Sam continued. "It doesn't taste very good. It bubbles and stings. What I'd really like is chalk to eat, but they won't give me that."
Dean felt his eyebrows flying up to his forehead. Sam used to like to eat weird stuff when he was a kid, anything white. Paper, salt, snow, sugar. Dad had said it would wear off, and it did, eventually. Sam still liked to chew ice, but that was normal.
"Get me the soap, Sam," he said, looking at the curve of Sam's shoulder as he hunched in the water. At the way Sam's damp hair curled against his neck, tucking up beneath his ears. All familiar.
"No, I'm not supposed to touch it."
"I'm not supposed to touch it."
"What're you, three?'
"No," said Sam. "I'm being good so I can get better."
That chin was out, mulish, and there was no moving it. Dean heaved in a breath and reached into the tub, closing his eyes as the side of his hand brushed against Sam's submerged thigh.
"Just--just don't move, okay?"
Sam nodded, and Dean managed to find the soap on the first swipe of his fingers along the bottom of the tub, towards the edge. Then he started scrubbing away, using the soap and the washcloth alternately. He got the back of Sam's neck, his back, anywhere he could see and reach. Everything else, every other part of Sam could just soak itself clean. He made Sam duck his head and rinsed the soap out of his hair. Then he reached for the plug and pulled it.
"Out," he said, just like he had a thousand times since Sam was little.
Sam was obedient, and whether his meds had kicked in or the water had made him sleepy, either was as possible as the other. But it made Sam compliant as Dean rubbed him down with one of the towels. Then he directed his brother to the bed.
"Change into your p.j.'s so you don't get cold." Sam started walking away. "And don't step in the pee."
Dean rinsed out Sam's boxers and pants and the shirt and the sneakers in the tub while the tap ran cold. After wringing everything out, he draped the clothes around the bathroom where hopefully they would dry enough to fool the morning orderly. If they didn't have an obvious odor or stain, then it might work. He'd hate to see Sam in another Treatment session if he could help it.
He took both towels and wiped the floor, on his hands and knees while Sam watched from the bed with big eyes. By the time Dean rinsed those out and spread them on the towel rack, he could hear the warning chime for lights out. He was exhausted, like part of him had been drained away with the heat of the tub, and if he didn't lie down, he was going to fall down. The meds had kicked in long ago, it was a wonder his eyes were still open.
Even though he'd been warned, when the lights went out, he was still startled, standing there at the edge of the bed. He changed into his p.j.'s in the dark and kicked off his shoes and toed them out of the way under the bed. He heard Sam moving.
"I'm cold," said Sam.
It was a voice he knew, just as he realized that Sam was now sitting on his bed. Even though Sam had been taken over by whatever had taken his memory, even though Sam was by turns a scary, dangerous or compliant mental patient, he was still Sam. Still his little brother. Wanting comfort.
"Okay," said Dean. He reached for the blanket from Sam's bed. They could share both blankets and be warmer that way.
He settled in beside Sam, fluffing the blankets over them both, memories of so many nights sharing a bed easing his muscles into a familiar pattern. And, just as familiar, Sam's knee in his side. It was good to lay back and feel Sam beside him, although he felt more numb than grateful; the damn drugs ran a continuous filter over his whole system.
"Scoot," he said. "You're too big to sprawl like that."
Sam complied with a huff. Then in the silence, he turned on his side towards Dean. He seemed to be thinking as he looked at Dean a minute, then he said, "Before I was big, I was little."
Dean turned his head. Sam's eyes were open and shimmering in the light from the high narrow window. "What?"
He watched Sam blink. "Before I was big, I was little," he said. "But then I got too big to hold. My brother said so."
It took Dean a good long minute to figure out what Sam was talking about. It was something about Dean. Sam was talking about him. But what was the memory? When had he said this. Hearing the ache in Sam's voice, it seemed a cold thing to have done, even if it might have been awkward if a sixteen-year old Sam still wanted hugs.
The dark head tipped itself forward on the pillow until it was resting against Dean's shoulder. A little damp, still, tickling him, but that was nothing. He had Sam, if not completely aware, then definitely alive, and sometimes kicking.
Having Sam at his side was as familiar as yesterday, and yet. Yet thinking he was dead for what had felt like forever, coming out of the floundering darkness to find that it wasn't so felt new. Like being born. Over and over, each time he looked at Sam, turning his head in the slanted light from the window.
"I miss him," said Sam, dipped down, his lips moving against Dean's skin. "I can't get over missing him. It's why I can't get better."
Dean felt the shiver move through him. Sam's breath felt like a kiss, and the break and reach of Sam's voice crackled like glass. He would fix this. He could fix this, now that he had Sam. But right now it felt like he'd be trying to pull Sam out of a deep well with no rope.
He had to get them off the drugs and find a way out of there, past the bars on the windows and the locks on the doors. But the window in their room was too narrow to get out of and too high to reach anyway. He'd have to figure out a way to get past all those attentive doctors and orderlies. It figured that the place they'd ended up in wouldn't be one of those slip-shod state-run mental institutions. No. They had to find the only place in the state of Illinois, maybe even the whole country, where the staff had only the best intentions towards the patients. And that included not letting them go until the hospital felt they were ready. It was the worst of all possible worlds.
Sam shifted beside him, as if feeling the tenseness in Dean's body. Dean rolled his shoulders to try and shake it off and circled his arm across Sam.
"Go to sleep, Sam," he said. "We'll figure it out."
There was a heft of Sam's chest and a sigh. "Thanks for helping me," he said, pausing like he wanted to say something else. But all he said was, "Thanks."
In the morning, Dean woke up with a head full of dark dreams about windows too high to get out of. The rain let up, and after breakfast, there was the shuffle of lists and clipboards. Greer led the men on his ward to the side door, where jackets were handed out, and admonishments delivered against doing whatever crazy people weren't supposed to do, but Dean wasn't listening. He was watching Sam zip up his jacket, which was too short in the waist and the arms, but smiling anyway.
Getting to go outside felt good, so much better than being inside. He'd not realized how much he'd miss it if he couldn't have it whenever he wanted it. It was the same in prison, in Green River County, regardless of how short a time they'd been in there, every man wanted outside as soon and as often as possible. Waiting at the door till the bell rang. Like dogs. It wasn't much different here. Except the dogs slobbered a lot more and were very apt to split their pants or drool. Or get lost.
Dean stuck to the wall of the corridor, motioned with his chin for Sam to stick by him, and Sam did. It was a little odd to have Sam so biddable, but for the time being, that's what he needed, a Sam who would do what he wanted and go with him when he asked.
The doors opened, and they all piled out, spreading out onto the damp, green grass, clouds blowing overhead like they had someplace better to be. It was on the edge of chilly, especially in the shade of the building, but the sun was nice. Greer divided the men into groups, putting Sam and Dean in the group near the side of the building, where the fence along the river ran at an angle.
"Rock duty, gentlemen," he said. He pointed to the wheelbarrow sitting near the pale brick wall. "Rocks in the lawn are bad. Rocks in the wheelbarrow are good. Pick up the rocks and put them in the wheelbarrow. And no throwing. First man I catch throwing rocks will be in big bad trouble. Understood?"
"Big bad," said someone, repeating this.
"Rocks?" asked Sam, looking at Dean, his mouth twisting into a frown, his eyes dubious.
With that expression, rock duty, instead of being calm and straightforward, seemed rather silly. He could see it in Sam's face, the argument in that dark head about slave labor and patient rights. He was surprised that Sam hadn't actually launched into his regular schpeel, but then, Sam wasn't all Sam at the moment.
"Just pick 'em up," said Dean, demonstrating. "It's better than being stuck in a room. With--" With windows too high to get out of, but he didn't want to bother Sam with that. "It's good exercise. You'll sleep better."
They stuck together, bending and picking up and carrying rocks to the wheelbarrow, Sam always one step behind him. Or beside him. It was good to breathe fresh air, very good. There was more color in Sam's cheeks now, too, and that was always a good thing.
Along the side of the building, along the very edge of the wall, there was a line of pea gravel over the spot where the building and ground met. That was for drainage, Dean figured, poking at it with the toe of his damp sneaker.
"No, don't take those," said Greer.
Greer pointed at a little rock sitting on top of the gravel. "I don't know if the rocks walk at night, or what, but yeah, that little rock, take that, but leave the gravel, okay?"
Dean bent to pick it up, his heart hammering a little to find Greer so close, wondering how he'd managed to sneak up on Dean so quickly and quietly. Sam had shrunk behind Dean, so Dean was between him and Greer.
"Check all along the wall, you two," said Greer, motioning with his hand. "I'll keep an eye on you, okay, so pick up anything bigger than this." He bent to hold up a little big of pea gravel, making Dean feel like Greer thought he was stupid. "Just keep along there, and pick the bigger stuff up."
"Got it," said Dean.
Greer walked off, his short hair bristling in the sunlight, the damp reaching halfway up his calves.
"C'mon, Sam," said Dean.
Sticking close to the wall meant that they were more out of the wind, especially as they went along the south wall, where the wind was blocked off. The sound of the men talking or yelping or whatever it was that they'd been doing all along, an irritating jagged sound, was blocked off too. With the sun banking off the south wall, the stones and brick absorbing the heat, the air was warm and still. When they were out of range of Greer's sharp eyes, Dean took a minute to lean against the brick. Sam joined him, tipping his head back. Closing his eyes like a cat, dozing.
They were silent for a minute. Dean figured they deserved it.
"You take good care of me," said Sam, in the silence.
Dean flicked his eyes in Sam's direction, the sun a little bright to see Sam's expression clearly, but Sam's head was still back against the wall, and he was calm and quiet. There was a thousand things Dean figured he could say to that, in response to such an outright comment like that, Sam's voice full of affection, nothing hidden behind sarcasm or the duck blind of disinterest.
"Well, I try," said Dean, finally.
He heard Greer shout, and figured they needed to get going, so he braced his heel against the wall and pushed himself forward. Only his heel found something that gave way, something slick that fell away with the slight pressure of his foot. Dean stepped back, and bent down. The something was a window, a narrow window with three panes, painted cream white like the rest of the building. It had blended in, thick with paint, painted a hundred times.
Dean pushed at it with his fingers. It swung in and he could see the room beyond, a storeroom of shelves and boxes. The window swung shut, but didn't lock. Dean pushed it again as Sam hunkered down at his side. He could see into the room to the door, a wooden door with a glass window, with a number painted on backwards: 101. Easy. He stood up as the window swung shut again.
"It's broken," said Sam. "You going to tell Greer?"
"No," said Dean. "And neither are you."
"That's the Sam I know," said Dean, distracting him as they walked back towards Geer, their pockets full of little stones. "Always asking, why, why, why."
"Is that what I do?" Sam asked this, hurrying to keep up with Dean's quick strides,
"It's what you do," said Dean. "You're always asking why."
As they neared the group of patients working, their white and tan and blue outfits stark against the green lawn, Greer was waving with his hands, making the men line up. Behind him, Dean could see the gap in the still-unfinished fence that ran around the property. It was part stone wall, and part cement braces for the new fence, and part air. Still part air. And beyond that, the dip of land that led to the river, and the river that ran--
"Is that good?" asked Sam, looking at him, eyes intent on Dean's.
"The best, Sam," said Dean, thinking about the time of day and the direction of the sun, and figuring that the river probably ran from mostly north to south, wondered which direction Joliet was. He wouldn't need a map, just the location of one town that he knew, because from there, he could figure out which direction they needed to go to get to Joliet where the Impala was. And from there, the open road, just him and Sam. Driving towards Sam's memory.
At lunch, they sat at a table in the corner. Dean managed to grab extra cartons of milk for him and Sam, and he drank one down before even starting on his tuna sandwich and celery sticks. Sam drank his down too, wiping the milk from his mouth with the back of his hand. Then he let out a satisfied burp. When Sam had been little, he'd always had the best burps. Now, being so tall, his burps had real depth, not to mention style. Dean thought that it was a pity he had no burps in him, so they could have a burp war like when they were kids. Dean took a bite of sandwich, swallowing air with it, letting the air do its thing. Then he let out a small burp, nowhere near as elegant as Sam's, making Sam smirk around his bite of celery.
"We worked outside today," said Sam. Watching Dean.
"Huh?" Dean asked. Of course they'd worked outside today, they'd just come in and gone through the damn sock ritual, the hallway barely warmer than the air outside. "Yeah. So?"
"I'm all sweaty." Dean watched Sam shrug and continue eating, as he let the words fall on the air. It took Dean a minute and then he got it, and Sam could see that he got it, because the movement of emotions across his face flickered like light on water, first one and then the other. Wanting something, not wanting it.
"Oh," said Dean.
"I'm really not supposed to touch the soap," Sam said, his elbows on the table as he concentrated on his sandwich.
Dean tucked into his sandwich, his posture echoing Sam's, on the verge of saying something along the lines of we'll see, and then wondered why he would do that. This was something Sam wanted, he had no memory of Dean, and if this made him happy, if a bath, for Christ's sake, made him happy, then why not? This would be for Sam, that was what mattered. He could keep everything circumspect, deal with the fallout later. Now was what mattered. What was good for Sam now was what mattered.
"Okay," he said. Watched Sam smile around his sandwich. Wondered how much hot water he was getting himself into, giving into that smile.
After supper, Greer took them to the Day room. Their puzzle from before had been taken over by three men who were allowed the excessive privilege of wearing loose striped robes over their cotton pants and shirts. Dean tugged on Sam's sleeve, and they managed to grab two spots near the end of the couch. Playing on the TV, there was, of all things, a baseball game. Of course, it was spring, baseball was everywhere. And the Cubs were playing, even better. He'd never been a Cubs fan really, but they were in Illinois somewhere, so, this made sense.
They watched the game a bit, his shoulder rubbing up against Sam's in a comfortable way. Every now and then Sam would bump his knees against Dean's on purpose, and that was just fine. He liked the warmth of Sam's body against his, liked feeling the slight push of Sam's body as he breathed. Thought about thinking that Sam had been dead, wondered how he'd made it through that without drowning himself in the tub, or finding something to slice his wrists. Losing Sam again would bring that on without another second's hesitation, so running away by himself was not an option. He had to take Sam with him or he wouldn't go. Maybe he'd been wrong, maybe he should tell Sam about the plan, let him get used to the idea till all the meds were out of his system.
In the middle of his thoughts, Sam reached over to pat his thigh.
"What are you thinking about?" asked Sam.
"Doors," he said, even though he was really thinking about escape plans. He realized it was too soon to tell Sam what he was thinking about.
"You should think about windows instead," said Sam. He nodded as if quite sure of himself.
"Windows?" he asked. Dean slammed Sam with his shoulder, and mock rolled his eyes. Windows? What that hell could thinking about windows help? Windows were just as bad as doors, they were locked or too high up or had bars across them. Well, except for the one window in the basement. It was wide, wide open, and not so high up that two able-bodied men in desperate need of a way out couldn't access it.
"Yeah," said Sam. Dean could hear the smile in his voice.
The Cubs were losing, but that was nothing new, the men on the couch made good-natured catcalls, and Bellows reached up with his mouth to gnaw on the dial and the knobs till someone came to take him away.
There was a break in the game and the weather channel came on, showing, as Dean expected, a map of Illinois. But, specifically it showed a temperature grid overlaid over the city of Peoria. The dark haired man in the dapper suit spoke brightly about more rain, and the grass growing, and how a wet month promised a bright summer, yadda, yadda. Dean started to zone out, but just then, Bellows howled out something and pointed at the map the weatherman was gesturing to.
"Damnit, he's seen it," said someone.
"He can't see," said someone else. "He's got the eyesight of a bat."
"Get him out of there," came a shout.
Bellows danced and pointed as he was pulled away, a little roughly, but then the game was about to start up again.
"What's he pointing at?" asked Dean.
"Where we are," one of the patients said. "It's the highlight of his day, because he thinks they're pointing him out."
"Which is where?" asked Dean, the air in his throat a little tight.
"Bath," said the guy, looking at him, like he felt sorry for Dean that Dean didn't know this. "Southwest of Peoria about fifty miles. Fifty miles, right Bob?"
Someone grunted yeah, and that must be Bob, but Dean found himself staring at the screen, even though it was now again baseball, and no longer a map of the weather. He knew where they were, he fucking knew where they fucking were. It was such a good feeling, this small, tiny success, that he turned to Sam to share it, and found that Sam was already looking at him. Smiling back, a little puzzled, by the pull of his brow, but he patted Dean's leg with something akin to pride.
"Told you thinking about windows would be better," Sam said. "Windows trumps every time."
"You're so weird," said Dean, his smile reaching inside of him.
"Isn't that why you like me?" Sam pouted a little, looking worried, but maybe, by the whisper of a smile around his mouth, teasing too.
Dean nodded, feeling like a complete goofball doing it, a smiling idiot, and if anyone he knew could see him, they'd say he'd lost his mind. But losing that was nothing compared to finding Sam and sharing some dumb conversation, just like they always had. Getting the feeling that he was getting his brother back. It was like watching Mickey Mantle throw a curveball. Just like that, and just as perfect.
When they were led to their room that night, and dosed with meds to make them sleepy, and when the door was finally shut and locked behind them, Dean took his first deep breath of the day. He watched Sam stumble to one of the beds and sit down on it, back curled forward, hair falling against his temples. Four days of knowing Sam was alive was enough to make Dean feel almost ten feet tall and covered with hair, even though Sam was still thin, and had those damn circles under his eyes. He looked up at Dean and shrugged.
"It was nice being outside again," he said, "but--"
"Didn't you ever go outside before me?" asked Dean, bending forward to take off his shoes and slip them under the other bed. He sat on the bed across from Sam, drawing their knees in a parallel pairs, and tried not to stare, as he seemed to be doing so much of now, staring at Sam, drinking in all the things about Sam he'd taken for granted before.
Sam shrugged, so blank and calm about it that Dean felt a snap of despair.
"I don't know," he said. "The last time I went outside with you was the first time I remember doing it. But I do remember--"
And then, looking away, he shut his mouth, drawing it in that thin line Sam did when he had something to say but didn't want to say it.
"Is this about the ghosts and stuff again?" Dean asked. None of that was even remotely normal, not to mention the blue man with the lightning hands. Maybe Sam needed to talk more about it, and get it out of his system so he wouldn't slip up and go spilling the beans to Dr. Logan about it.
Sam stood up like he'd been ejected from the bed, going into the bathroom to flick on the light, and stood there in the doorway, one hand on the bare doorjamb. Dean got up to go to him, reaching out when he realized that Sam had started to shake, a white line of sweat dappling his upper lip.
"Please don't ask me," he said, his voice cracking, "because if Dr. Logan finds out, she'll--and it'll be more--"
Sam went white, spine curving down, one hand gripping the sink, his other bracing on his knee. The air in the bathroom went close and hard as he slipped down the wall, hugging his knees to his chest, burying his head against the, the dark locks spilling against the pale cotton. Dean could smell Sam's sweat, saw the glisten of skin on his neck.
"They're going to find out I've been talking to you--"
"Sammy," said Dean, bending down, bracing his knees on the cold linoleum. The smell of cleanser mixed with Sam's sweat, and his own, leftover grit from the yard, the waft of the dining hall.
"Don't tell her," said Sam, whispering to his knees. Rocking. "You promised me no more Treatments, you promised. Dean. Please."
Whatever drugs they had Sam on, probably something for what the doctors considered illusions, they weren't helping with the real problem. You couldn't give someone a drug to cure amnesia, and while you could give them something to help them forget, they were trying to make Sam forget the wrong thing. Whatever the Treatments were, that and the drugs, the wrong drugs, were going to make Sam go crazy before they did him any good.
"Hey," said Dean, shifting on his knees. He tucked his head low, and leaned in. "I can keep a secret, you know that. I have, haven't I?"
Hunching in his shoulders, Sam pushed himself away from Dean's voice. As Dean looked at him, he realized that now was the time to try and talk Sam into stopping meds. He was so married to what he felt the hospital could do for him, he was bound to be resistant, but it would be better for him in the long run. He didn't dare try and make them just run off and force Sam, or himself, to quit cold turkey. If they did, they'd be stuck in the middle of nowhere with either or both of them going into shock or having a heart attack.
"Sometimes," said Dean, "the meds make us see things that aren't there, right?"
"'posed to help," said Sam, mumbling into his kneebones.
"Maybe sometimes the meds--" Dean stopped, reaching out to touch Sam with his fingertips. Wanting Sam to look at him. "Sometimes the meds make us think weird things? They do me, right? So what if we stopped taking them, you and me. Just stopped."
"I don't want to think about ghosts," said Sam. "I don't want to think about vampires. Dr. Logan says it's unproductive."
"Maybe," said Dean, "the drugs are getting in the way of the truth. Why don't we stop, and if the ghosts and vampires are still in your head, then we know the drugs aren't helping. Then we can ask for different drugs. Okay?"
Finally Sam tipped up his head, looking from under his lashes at Dean. "That doesn't make any sense."
"Yes, it does. If you are thinking the same thing whether or not you are on the meds, then it means the meds aren't helping. It means we need different meds. We'll tell Dr. Logan that you think so." Dean planned to be far away and gone by the time the meds wore off, with no intention of telling Dr. Logan any damn fool thing like they'd been messing with their meds. Sam didn't have to know, in this way he could protect Sam like he was supposed to. "I mean, we could try it for a couple of days, like an experiment, you know?"
Now Sam was pushing out his lower lip, thinking it through, being stubborn, but thinking it through. "An experiment?" He made it sound like it was something horrible, something to be feared.
"Yeah, like you and me. That's an experiment, right? Dr. Logan wants to see if you being around me will make you better. And she's already liking what she sees. Remember the conversation in the hallway?"
His heart was thumping, and his knees were starting to scream at him, but if he could get Sam to start weaning himself off the meds, then the withdrawal would go slower and not mess him up as much. He pushed away dark visions of him and Sam somewhere on the outskirts of Joliet and him having to call 911 because Sam was going into convulsions. Coma. Dying. No way. Not on his watch.
"What do you say," he said. "Just for a little while. A few days."
Sam was silent for a minute. Dean watched his shoulders relax, and the arms around his knees loosen. "Okay, but just for a few days."
"That's my Sam," said Dean, smiling. This was going to work out just fine, if they could take it step by step. The first of which was cutting off their reliance on the meds. He gave Sam a pat that turned into a long strong down his arm.
"I smell," said Sam, pushing himself up to his feet, to his full height. He looked down at Dean, who was still on his knees. "I can smell me."
"I can smell you too," said Dean, not thinking. But this made Sam smile and something flicker in his eyes like he was remembering similar comments from before. There'd been enough of them, the back and forth, the name calling, the putdowns, the current of joy beneath it all. You're a jerk meant I love you in Winchesterspeak.
Sam held out his hand for Dean, and Dean could see he did this without thinking, pulling Dean to his feet like he'd done hundreds of times before. Like the body remembered what the brain could not.
"If I--" Sam tilted his head and looked at Dean sideways, the bulb in its casing of safety plastic turning his eyes a little dull, the color of sea mud. "If I have a bath, will you hold the soap for me again?" He seemed to lean forward like he wanted something, but didn't know what. Like he was hungry for something. His long fingers twisted in the cotton of his pants.
Touch. Sam loved to be touched, though he would never ask for it. He'd been that way since he was small, sidling up to Dean when they stood in line waiting for a table, wanting to share a bed, not minding when they had to. Wanting his skin to be in contact with Dean's skin till Dean wanted to shake him off with irritation, especially when Sam had gotten his growth spurt. It was like being taken over by a giant glom monster. Not that he had minded, but those had been stiff years between them. Especially since Dean knew he was content when Sam was in the same room. It was enough. Except now, Sam needed more.
He extended his fingers till he could touch the back of Sam's arm, the contact creating a twitch in Sam's skin, like a horse that senses you are near. Sam didn't move away, and Dean spread his fingers to stroke, currying the fine hairs there as his palm circled around. "Okay," he said. "But will you try the experiment with me?"
"How?" Sam had dipped his chin almost to his chest, eyes half closed like he was about to start purring.
"Take half," said Dean. "Every pill they give you, just take half, and spit the rest out later. Then the next day, we'll take half as much as half. Can you do that?"
Now Sam nodded, mouth open a little, thinking it through. His jaw worked around an idea. "Half," he said. Then he looked at Dean. "Half of half of half. Sure."
"Okay," said Dean again. "I'll hold your soap for you, and tomorrow we experiment. But it's our secret."
"Like the ghosts and the vampires," said Sam, taking off his shoes and peeling off his shirt. "Except--" Muffled for a second by the cotton, his voice had that edge of doubt, and had this been any other where or any other when, Dean knew full and well that Sam would be listing the pros and cons of this particular venture, with no hesitating over the fact that this course of action was highly questionable, and madness besides--
"Look, Sam, if it doesn't work, we'll let Dr. Logan know, it'll all be on the up and up, I promise." He leaned forward to start the water full bore, feeling Sam edge closer so their thighs were touching. "We just want to be a little flexible about this, and I think it'll work."
"Maybe," said Sam, watching Dean test the water as the tub filled up. He stripped to bare skin, like he had before, only this time, he was able to hang his clothes on the towel rack, crumpled but dry. Dean caught a glimpse of Sam's ribs, the line of his spine, the hard line of hip leading across dark pubic hair into thigh as Sam got in the tub. There were no bubbles or suds, though the water turned a little grey as Dean grabbed the soap and tucked a washcloth under the water to wet it.
"Can't you touch the soap even a little?" Dean asked, sudsing up the washcloth.
Sam shook his head, chin stubborn as the damp from the bath curled the ends of his hair. Dean figured that this bath thing would only last as long as they were in the hospital; although Sam liked to be touched, Dean had no doubt that if Sam could have predicted that he'd be asking for Dean's help to bathe, he'd have taken his own gun and shot himself in the head with it. As would Dean himself. He would do this now, this intimate thing for Sam, and call it good.
It wasn't too hard anyway, to take the soapy washcloth and against the back of Sam's neck, or along his back and arms. To have him dip forward and use a bit of the soap in his hair and have Sam dip forward to rinse it out. To touch Sam and make sure he was alright. There were some bruises along Sam's ribs, but the marks on his wrists had faded, and there were only a few injection spots on his left arm. Dean took inventory as Sam wasn't looking, and except for being pale and thin, Sam seemed okay. Maybe stopping the meds would make him less pale, certainly a good, bloody steak wouldn't hurt either.
"Wash the rest of you," he said, handing Sam the washcloth.
"I'm not handing you soap, here, just take it."
Sighing as though Dean were being completely inconsiderate, Sam washed between his legs and his toes and behind his knees, sloshing water everywhere. The water was completely grey now; Dean reached forward, taking the washcloth with one hand as he pulled the plug with the other. "Out," he said. "Towel. Dry."
Sam got out of the tub, taking the towel and dripping all along Dean's back as he hung the washcloth, the heat from his skin blazing along Dean's side. "You going to have a bath too?" he asked from behind Dean. Dean could hear the friction of the towel on Sam's skin.
"No, I'm good."
"But you smell."
Dean dipped his head down. Yeah. He smelled. He remembered being helped with a bath sometime shortly before he found out about Sam. Days ago. It was certainly time.
"Huh," he said.
"Do you need some help? I can't hold the soap but--"
"No, I'm good," said Dean, putting the plug back in the drain. "You just go on to bed."
"I can hold a soapy washcloth, I guess," said Sam. "Good as anybody."
Dean watched the tub fill up with water, not saying anything. Body curled forward, Sam was at his side, his towel wrapped around his middle.
"C'mon, Dean huh?"
It was just like when he was ten and wanted big brother to let him come to the park to hang out with the other kids from the motel, kids whose families were passing through, just like theirs. A cheap motel, not the best clientele, but at that point, Dean hadn't cared. There had been the promise of pot from the kid in the Metallica t-shirt just like the one Dean had, and Dean had never smoked pot before.
Sam had been on the verge of whining, and they'd ended up staying home because what was good for him was not good for little brother. The kid in the Metallica t-shirt and the rest of his friends had been picked up by the cops not long after curfew; Dad had told them about it in the morning, and Sam had looked at Dean and not said a word, even though he knew perfectly well those were the kids Dean had been planning on leaving Sam alone for.
The memory flashed by; Sam was good for experiments, and good for not throwing Dean under a bus, but he was not meant to give Dean a bath.
"I'll wash your neck for you," said Sam, cajoling, like he was promising something good as he pulled on his p.j.'s.
"Oh, alright," said Dean, sharp. He turned off the water and stood up to peel off his shirt. He meant to hang it on the rack, but Sam took it, and did this for him. Same with the pants and boxers, Sam was waiting by, like backstage dresser.
Sam wasn't staring, so Dean tried not to mind that he felt crowded as he got into the tub. A bath wasn't like a shower, a shower you stood in all action and manly. A bath you crouched in, all curved in and intimate, and the water barely came to his belly button, his cock bobbing to the top of the water like a piece of kelp. He took the soap and rolled it in the washcloth and handed it to Sam, who knelt down to take it.
Dean barely blinked the damp out of his eyes when he felt the cloth, warm at the back of his neck, sliding across skin like the rasp of a cat's tongue. The water could be a lot warmer, but then, it could be a stranger doing this for him instead of his Sam. Sam used long strokes across Dean's arms and back, behind his ears, across the front of his neck. Every so often he wet the cloth and handed it to Dean to soap up, and then carried on, a little hum under his breath he probably didn't realize he was doing. It settled him, doing this for Dean, touching Dean calmed him, like being touched by Dean did.
"Dip," said Sam and Dean obeyed, bending forward to dunk his hair in the water, his nose touching the surface of the water. Unexpectedly, he felt the curve of Sam's palm against the back of his neck as he scooped water up over Dean's scalp, the heat of fingers, the warmth of Sam's hand, warmer than the water even, making Dean shiver.
"Are you okay?" Sam asked, his voice clear, and Dean nodded. Dr. Logan's experiment was a good one, taking care of Dean was good for Sam. There was strength in his question, in the even strokes of his hand through Dean's hair, and in the fact, that for a second, he took up the soap from the edge of the bath and used it to lather up. A second later he put it back, making a little sound in his throat like he'd forgotten, but it had happened. In spite of all the strictures against it, Sam had picked up the soap. He continued to hum as he washed Dean's hair and pushed his head down to rinse him off.
Then Dean took the washcloth, washing himself between his legs, and his toes, and the backs of his knees, not wanting Sam to take it in his head to do that, while Sam stayed by, his wrists resting on the edge of the tub. The front of his pajama top was splotched dark with water, but there was a new flush to his cheeks and although he looked tired, his eyes sparkled, no longer dull. That was that then. If touching and being touched did this? It was now Dean's turn to be the glom monster, and to hell with what anybody thought about that. That was an awful lot of touching on order, but if it would help Sam, Dean would roll in it. He would become the Master Toucher, would do it at each opportunity.
"I'm done," Dean said, pulling out the plug. The water slid away uncomfortably fast as he got out of the tub, and Sam stood up to grab the towel. Dean let himself be dried off, trying not to pull away as Sam crouched down to rub briskly along the length of Dean's legs. Sam probably felt he was just helping, and never mind that the last person who had given Dean such a nice, friendly rubdown had been one Betty Ann of Duluth, Minnesota, and boy, had she known how to keep a man warm in the dead of winter, towel or no towel.
He looked down. Memories about Betty Ann were exactly the wrong ones to be having when your brother was on his knees in front of you, looking up from making sure each toe was dry. His cock certainly wanted to remember, though.
"Enough, Sam," said Dean, looking away. "I'm dry enough now, thanks."
Sam stood up, smirking a little as he hung the towel over the rack. But he didn't say anything, which was good because Dean didn't have any idea what he would have said. Why do you have an erection? Because you're rubbing me down like that. Like that.
He got dressed in his p.j.'s, and they brushed their teeth. He reached out his hand and turned out the light in the bathroom, following Sam into the main room. He didn't know what time it was but it was late enough so that the bones of his shoulders felt like they were melting. Tomorrow they would start talking half of whatever they were given, but until then, the potency of the sleeping pill was kicking in pretty fiercely.
Two feet from the bed, Sam stopped, bare feet skidding on the cool floor, and Dean bumped into Sam's back. He was about to pull away, but remembering what he'd realized in the bathroom, he leaned into Sam for a minute, petting along the length of his ribs.
"Um," said Sam.
Dean peered over Sam's shoulder as he was looking at the beds. At the two beds. It was obvious what he wanted.
"I get to sleep on the outside," said Dean. Instead of getting the Why? to which he would have to answer, Because I'm older, Sam only nodded, and hustled under the covers, the sheets crackling. He watched with his hands curved around the edges of the sheet as Dean grabbed the pillow and blanket from the other bed. "Now, just don't drool on me, okay?"
Dean spread the blanket over Sam. Then, as Dean got into bed, Sam shifted away, so that he was leaning with his back against the wall. The wall was cold, painted with slick paint, and in less than a minute that cold could push through a man's spine fast enough to hurt.
The chime sounded and the lights went out, and as Dean's eyes adjusted to the near-dark, he moved his hips, and shifted his back. "Move away from the wall, here."
It was dark, and this, taking Sam into his arms, was nothing he'd not done before a hundred times. Yes, Sam had been three, and five, and seven, not a hulking, fully grown going on 24 years old. But it was okay. Sam needed this, and Dean needed to give it to him.
He could feel Sam shiver, and the press of cold feet against his as Sam tucked in closer. He seemed to pause, then took a breath and tucked his head beneath Dean's chin, pressing himself against Dean's ribs. For a moment, he was cold, about to shiver, then his warmth combined with Sam's and started to grow.
Sam liked the feel of Dean's body against his, liked the smell of Dean, the curve of Dean's arm around him. It wasn't just that he was warmer, but he finally felt safe. Dean's breath ruffled the top of his hair, and Sam made himself not wonder why Dean was so nice. Nor why he seemed to trust Sam absolutely. The thing with the broken window. Dean had distracted him a bit, but the point was obvious: No one must know the window was broken. It probably had to do with Dean wanting to get out of the hospital, he didn't like it there. Sam didn't like it either, though he liked being with Dean.
And then there were the pills. Dean's argument had almost made sense, because the pills weren't helping, and hadn't been. The monsters and vampires were still there, even though the pills were supposed to make them go away. But what had convinced Sam in the end to do what Dean asked was the look on Dean's face. He wasn't asking Sam to do it to get back at Dr. Logan, or to cheat somehow. He wanted Sam to do it because it would be better for Sam. That's what his face had said, with those green eyes looking at him, his lips between his teeth as he sucked them back a bit, worried and concerned.
So he'd agreed. He'd take half his pills, and then half of that, and then half of that. Pretty soon he wouldn't be taking any pills at all. Maybe at that point the buzzing sound would go away. Better yet, maybe he'd get his memory back.
Dean shifted beneath him, adjusting his legs around Sam's, turning his head on the pillow. He pulled Sam a little closer for a minute as he did this, and then, when he was still again, he didn't quite let Sam go. That was okay by Sam. It was warmer when he could hear Dean's heartbeat.
"Dean," he said.
"You said we were on a road trip?"
"Yeah, we were." Dean sounded sleepy.
"My brother and I used to take road trips. I remember us sitting in the back of this car, and that my dad sat in the front seat driving."
"Oh?" Now Dean was more awake. He tilted his head until it was resting against Sam's, perhaps to show he was listening.
"The wind was blowing rain against the car. We were driving down a highway as it was getting dark. My brother had just killed a werewolf," he said. Then he waited. Waited for Dean to stiffen up and pull away, or to be shocked or something.
"When was this?" was all Dean asked.
"My brother was sixteen, I don't know how old I was."
"You were twelve," said Dean over a yawn.
"How do you know?"
He could almost hear Dean thinking. "Because, like I told you, our families knew each other for years. That's how I know you."
A thousand questions sprung into Sam's mind, he asked the most important one, though he knew Dean wouldn't tell him.
"Did you know my brother?"
"Do you know his name?"
"What is it?"
Now Dean sighed and pulled away a little, but it was just to move his shoulders. "I can't tell you. Look, we've talked about this. Your memories have to come back on their own and that's all there is to that, so stop asking."
Sam shifted his body till his head was resting firmly on Dean's chest. He listened to the thump thump of Dean's heart, and tried to breathe slowly like Dean was doing. He wanted to do something to make Dean less irritated with him.
"Once," he said slowly, "once, when I was little, my brother carried me on his shoulders and we went to the store on the corner. It wasn't very far, I think we were staying in a motel, but he carried me on his shoulders all the way into the store and pretended I was tall and that he was invisible. We bought Sweet Tarts and Red Vines, but I had to use my hands, and pay for it at the counter. The lady laughed so hard she cried, and she gave us extra candy, and then she pinched my brother's cheek."
Dean seemed to laugh a little at this, there was a humph sound from his chest, and he patted Sam gently. "Yeah?" he asked. "Was it good candy?"
"Yeah. My brother let me eat most of it," said Sam now. "I think I had been crying because my dad was gone. He was gone a lot, but my brother was always there." Something started to choke up in his throat, making his eyes sting. "My brother was always there."
"I did my best," said Dean, soft. Almost as if he didn't realize he was saying it aloud.
That didn't make any sense. "What?" asked Sam.
"Your brother, I mean," said Dean. "He did the best he could, it sounds like."
"He did everything," said Sam. His eyes were closing as hard as he tried keeping them open. Swallowing, he made himself not cry, because that made his breath come short, and that made him feel like he couldn't breathe at all. Like he was dying. "He was the best brother."
There it came, the dark, twisty coil of missing his brother, that choking sensation, like a fist had blocked his throat, like his lungs were being pressed upon by large boulders. He turned away from Dean, twisting into his pillow, trying to muffle the tight whistle in his throat trying to clamp his shaking hands between his knees. He knew the bed was shaking too, but he couldn't help it, couldn't stop it. In a minute, Dean was going to get up and start banging on the door for the orderly, in a minute--
From behind him, Dean moved, and Sam felt Dean's knees behind his, felt Dean's arm come under and around his waist like a warm band, felt Dean's chin press gently on top of his shoulder, along his neck. The heat of Dean's body, cupped around him from behind, eased into him, and then he heard Dean whisper, "Breathe when I breathe, just in and out, like I'm doing."
Then Dean breathed slow and careful and easy, his chest pressing against the back of Sam's ribs, his thighs flush with Sam's thighs, one hand stroking Sam's arm, up and down. Slowly. Slowly. The movement of his chest echoed Dean's, and maybe even his heart was thumping in time with Dean's heart. Little by little the coil eased, and the air in his lungs moved like it was supposed to, and Dean's voice was in his ear.
"That's better. You just sleep now. And in the morning, we'll stop taking these stupid pills, okay?"
Sam nodded. He tried to say something like okay and thank you, but his mouth wouldn't move. It opened like it was trying but then his eyes closed and the night came and he was asleep. With Dean's arms all around him.