By the time a week had passed, Dean, Castiel, Charlie and Chuck had spread the word of the escape throughout the patient population. They had decided not to try and explain the exact reasons behind it, namely the true nature of the Balts: that would only lead to suspicion and panic, neither of which they wanted. The vast majority of the patients were ecstatic at the news. Balt's had developed a different atmosphere to the one previous, and they all could feel the mists of dread and danger descending upon them. It went almost without saying that the information relayed was done so under top secrecy, with strict instructions to hide it from the staff. As Crowley had said: once the Balts became suspicious, it was all over. The plan was taking shape, and Dean's innards were trembling with tension and excitement.
Dean and Castiel were eating lunch (tomato soup and bread) in the corner of the canteen, staring out into the garden and chatting, when Lisa marched up to their table. They looked up at her in surprise, and Dean deflated slightly when he saw the stony fury chiselled into her face.
“What's up, Lisa?” he asked casually.
“Come with me,” Lisa gritted out between her teeth, turning to stride away immediately after the words were out.
Dean looked back to Castiel. His face was troubled and he reached out for Dean's sleeve as if not really thinking.
Dean grimaced apologetically at him. “I have to go talk to her at least. This is the first time she's spoken to me in over a week, Cas, it has to be important.”
Castiel did not look convinced.
Dean stood and traipsed over to where Lisa was standing, tapping her foot impatiently. She hadn't left the room, only gone to an empty corner where they wouldn't be overheard. They were still in plain view.
“I can't believe you!” Lisa hissed at him as soon as he was in earshot.
Dean was nonplussed. “Wait, what?”
“What the hell do you think you're doing?” she squeaked.
Dean raised his hands in a placating gesture. “I have no idea what you're talking about,” he enunciated slowly.
“This!” Lisa gestured wildly around the room. “This whole escape shit!”
“Hey, hey, keep your voice down!” Dean told her, casting a glance over his shoulder at the orderlies, who did not look interested in them in the slightest.
“Why should I?” Lisa demanded furiously. “There's no point! We're not going to get further than the foyer, and can you imagine what they'll do to us then?!” She was beginning to sound hysterical.
“Don't you 'Lisa' me, my best friend is dead, which I don't have a hard time believing was something to do with you, and if we have it your way I will never see my son again!”
Dean was flabbergasted. “Wha – you think I...” He couldn't finish the sentence. “I had nothing to do with Meg's death! I would never, ever do anything like that! How can you say that?”
“I'm not saying you did it on purpose, but everything bad that's happened in here always seems to be traceable back to you and that fucking Castiel!”
Dean suddenly felt cold. “Don't you talk about him like that,” he growled.
Lisa snorted derisively. “What? You don't like hearing your whores badmouthed? Welcome to the real world, Dean. Now leave the rest of us out of whatever fantasies you're having and have done with it. There won't be any stupid escape, and you will keep your ass out of trouble until the day you die. I am not risking my rights to see Ben on you. Do you hear me?”
Dean sighed. “Lisa, look. You don't understand.”
“I understand perfectly; you're the one who needs help, with your ridiculous, paranoid fantasies!”
“They're gonna kill us, Lisa!”
“Uh huh. Can you even hear yourself? Who told you that shit, I wonder? Castiel.” Her voice was hard as steel.
Dean could see what she was implying as clearly as the first morning. “Cas ain't manipulating anybody, Lisa,” he said, forcing himself to keep his calm.
“Oh, isn't he?”
“Look at him!” Dean gestured to where the man was sitting, watching them with wide, nervous eyes. “Does he really seem like the manipulative type to you?”
Lisa stared at him, incredulous. “You're joking, right? Why do you think he refuses to talk to anyone apart from you? Why do you think he avoids touching anyone but you? It's to manipulate you, Dean, you and the rest of us! He creates an image – a farce – and doesn't break it for a second, but as soon as you walk in, he's all over you! He wants you to be dependant upon him, Dean, can't you see? He wants you all for himself, wants you to do whatever he hints to you about. He's planted this seed in your mind and now it's growing out of control and destroying your sanity as it goes! Are you blind?!”
Dean felt as if he were carved from ice as he looked at the woman he'd thought he once loved. He barely recognised her. “I can see just fine,” he said. “Cas isn't the one who's trying to manipulate me. You're paranoid, just listen to yourself! The escape's happening,” he told her. “And if you don't run, you'll burn.”
He stormed away.
Castiel found him minutes later in his room, sitting on his bed and staring a hole in the floor. Castiel padded towards him hurriedly, a panicky expression on his face.
“What did she say to you?” he asked desperately.
Dean shook his head wearily. “She – it doesn't matter. She's changed,” he said hoarsely.
Castiel sat beside him and put an arm around Dean's shoulders. “We all have,” he reminded him. “And Meg's death was extremely traumatic for her, you cannot expect her to be her old self.”
Dean sighed heavily. “I know.” He suddenly felt exhausted.
Castiel swallowed and gripped Dean's chin, turning his head so he was looking Castiel in the eyes. He leaned in slowly, his mouth hovering over Dean's, but stopped before any contact was made. Castiel had not yet quite got the hang of initiating a kiss. He always seemed somehow scared that Dean would push him away.
Dean didn't. He sealed their lips
together and breathed Castiel in like a drowning man, arms winding
around his waist and pulling him almost into his lap. He tasted like
Another week went by before Dean and Castiel were called to Crowley's infirmary.
“Boys,” he greeted them. “I've got it.”
They were sat across from the doctor, the desk in between them. Crowley was leaning over it almost to the point of toppling over in his excitement.
Dean shrugged, finding it hard to get worked up about the escape when it was the reason Lisa was shooting him poison dart glances in the halls.
“So what, then?” he asked dully. “How do we kill an angel?”
“Fire,” Dean repeated, slowly waking up. “That's it?”
Crowley's face twisted wryly. “Not quite. I read in a very interesting online manuscript that angels can be trapped in a ring of fire fuelled by holy oil. And if they step over this fire...” A pause.
“They die,” Castiel finished quietly.
“Exactly,” said Crowley, looking pleased with himself.
“So we're going to set a giant ring of fire around the hospital?” Dean asked, a little sceptically.
Crowley scoffed. “Don't be ridiculous, we'd be incinerated,” he sneered. “I'm not intending to just trap them; the fire would have to go out eventually, and as far as I hear, immortal creatures are very good at waiting.”
Dean was getting frustrated. “Get to the fucking point then, dammit!”
That got him a shake of the head and tut. “You shouldn't swear,” Crowley informed him provokingly. “It makes you looks like a fucking idiot. I'm suggesting I soak a room in the staff wing in oil and set it alight. The fire that spreads may be angel-deadly – it may not. But it will cause a lot of panic when their immortal siblings are vapourised trying to put out a tiny house fire. While the confusion's raging, we all get out. Then we set a giant ring of fire around the place.”
Dean leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “That's a damn good plan,” he admitted eventually.
Crowley smirked. “I know, but thank you.”
Castiel was regarding the doctor with his intense blue stare. “We wouldn't have been able to do any of this without you,” he said, voice stronger than usual when talking to others. The gratitude saturated every syllable.
Crowley met his gaze with sly, sharp eyes. “Oh, I know, Thursday,” he said. “Though I am in a generous mood, so I can give you a ten-year extension to pay back the debt.”
Dean grumbled and Castiel elbowed him. “We will never forget this,” he promised gravely.
“That you won't,” the doctor told him. “And I should bloody well hope not, either.”
Tapping his foot irritably, Dean butted in. “So where can we get holy oil?” he asked.
Crowley shrugged. “Probably on the internet. If not, I happen to have an acquaintance in Jerusalem who owes me a favour. Leave it to me, George.”
Dean nodded. “We will.”
He did. Just over a week later, when Dean asked a passing orderly why Crowley was not in his surgery, he was informed that the doctor was taking the morning off to visit his mother. Dean knew for a fact that Crowley would never willingly visit his mother.
Sure enough, later that day when Castiel checked in to see whether he was back, Crowley was sitting behind his desk, filling out paperwork with a smug smile on his face that was not warranted by the mundane forms.
“I've got it,” he said without looking up. “Nehemiah was a wonderful sport; raided the local temple with no questions asked.” He raised his eyes to meet Castiel's. “Where's George?”
Castiel shut the door. “We decided it would be too suspicious to keep visiting you in pairs,” he said.
“Good call,” Crowley approved. “But from now on it'll be too dangerous to visit me at all. Neither of you are ill, and remember: if the Balts smell a rat, we're done. They'll smell a rat if I don't get this work done within the next hour. Go on, beat it and tell George the plan's go.”
“That's what he said?” Dean scoffed disbelievingly. “I don't believe it, that guy's actually enjoying all this. Well, whatever.” He shrugged. “As long as he gets us out, I'm not going to complain.”
Castiel nodded absently, eyes devouring the familiar words of Kevin's book. His book, now.
“Are we going to take him with us?” Castiel asked after a moment, voice subdued.
Dean's eyes blinked open; he'd been dozing. “Hm? Take who?”
Dean's brow furrowed in confusion. “Of course,” he said, surprised. “Why wouldn't we?”
“I am not sure he'd survive in the real world,” Castiel admitted, putting down the book with a sigh.
Dean looked confused. “Well of course he wouldn't. But we're not just going to abandon him, Cas. We'll all go to the police, tell them some bullshit story about lobotomies or whatever and get psychologically reassessed. Some people, like Kevin or Gordon, will be put in a different hospital, and the rest will be rehabilitated.”
Castiel scrutinised him. “You've thought about this.”
Dean shrugged. “Yeah, for a few nights now. It doesn't just end at the escape, and I'm not dumb enough to think any of us would be able to survive if we were thrown into the deep end of life head-first.”
Castiel saw truth in his words. He leaned back in his chair and stared pensively up at the ceiling. “We could live together,” he said, lips curving blissfully. “We could rent a flat and be normal together.”
Castiel thought Dean's laughter may have sounded a bit false, but he couldn't be sure. “Yeah, we'd probably be renting motel rooms for a long time before we could afford a flat, but if it makes you happy...”
“It does,” Castiel said. “The outside world has always scared me; I know nothing about it and it knows nothing about me. But if you were by my side, I don't think I would drown. You would keep me afloat.” He met Dean's eyes and the man shivered.
“Dammit, Cas,” he chuckled a bit breathlessly. “You're making it really damn hard to remember I'm straight.”
Castiel rolled his eyes and got to
his feet. “You are not heterosexual,” he told Dean as he
sank to his knees before him.
Dean strode along the corridor, his heart clawing its way up his windpipe. Naomi had summoned him. It was Monday. One of the few nuggets of information Dean had gleaned from their weekly Wednesday sessions was that Naomi was a creature of habit, and didn't break routine unless there was a good reason.
They know they know they know they know...
His heart lodged itself in his throat, choking him.
He hadn't told Castiel about the summons, delivered by Hester in a bored tone as Dean stepped out of his room to dump his old clothes. He was sure Castiel had smelled a rat during the unusually silent breakfast, but the man hadn't said anything, for which Dean was thankful. There was no reason to make Castiel worry, and worry he would.
Naomi smiled benignly at him as he walked into her office, as if nothing was out of place.
“Mr Winchester,” she greeted, “take a seat.”
Dean sat, eyes roaming around the room like a trapped animal, desperately searching for a clue as to what this was about, why he was here, why now. He found nothing.
Naomi folded her hands primly on the desk. “I am sure you will be pleased to hear that I have decided you are now sufficiently integrated in this establishment,” she said.
Dean blinked. He wondered if he had heard correctly, if she was playing some kind of cruel trick. But there was no trace of malicious intent on Naomi's mask of a face.
“Therefore,” she continued, “we shall no longer need to have our weekly meetings. I have written a final report and Raphael has approved the request.”
A hot tongue of joy curled in Dean's chest. He could scarcely believe his ears, but Naomi's words made him feel weightless, light enough to fly. It had been over a year since his sessions with Naomi had begun, countless weeks of her chipping away at him from the inside. And now it was over.
Or was it? The thought crept into Dean's mind unbidden, unwelcome and unfriendly.
Why had she chosen – of all times – this very moment, when the hospital was in badly-concealed turmoil and restless whispers seeped into every wall? Surely the Balts had noticed. They were proud, yes, and arrogant. They were not stupid.
Dean finally nodded at Naomi and
stood to leave, relief and dread mixing to form a sickly cocktail in
his belly. He left the room.
He had gone straight to Castiel and it had taken the man a mere five minutes to find out what was bothering him. He appeared more calm than Dean had expected.
“They may be trying to disorientate you, put your accustomed schedule into disarray,” he was saying, running a hand through his hair.
“Why would they do that, though?” Dean asked. The relief at the freedom had all but dissipated, and he was now left with an uncomfortable tight feeling in his chest.
Castiel shook his head. “I cannot be certain,” he said, “but whatever their reasons, I am sure they are unsavoury.”
Dean snorted humourlessly. Castiel was doing a wonderful job of soothing him. “Maybe she was telling the truth,” he suggested plaintively. “Maybe she really thinks I'm integrated enough. It's not like either of us were getting much out of the meetings in the first place. She could have been being perfectly truthful.”
“You and I both know you don't believe that, Dean,” Castiel told him, not unsympathetically.
“No, but I'd like to.”
Their fears were confirmed two days later.
Dean looked up from the Monopoly board to see Hester looming over him, her trademark impersonal look fixed firmly over her face.
“Raphael wants to see you,” she said, promptly turning and walking away once the message was delivered.
Dean turned back to his game opponents and met their confused gazes with one of his own. Charlie opened her mouth first.
“What the hell would he want with you?” she asked, letting the dice roll out of her hand.
Dean shook his head. “Who knows?” he said. “I doubt it's good, though.”
“Do you think they've found out about...” Andy waggled his eyebrows meaningfully.
Dean said nothing.
“Should I fetch Castiel?” Charlie asked, making to get out of her armchair.
Dean shook his head quickly. Castiel had chosen to go back to his room rather than play with them, for which Dean was now extremely grateful.
“I'll go now,” he said quietly, hurriedly. “And then you can go tell him, if you like. I'm sure it's not anything big, probably about my meetings with Naomi. It's about the right time, after all.”
They looked at him dubiously.
“If you say so, man,” Andy relented, shrugging.
Garth was not so easily placated. “I dunno, Dean...” he said, face creasing. “This all seems mighty fishy to me.”
“I'll be fine, Garth.”
“And what if you ain't, huh?” Mr Fizzles demanded. “What if you don't come back?”
“Garth, shut up!” Charlie hissed, thumping his shoulder.
“It's not me!” Garth cried, wounded. “Mr Fizzles said it, not me! But still...what if we forget him, like Kevin? What if he comes back as staff or something?”
“Garth. Shut. Up.” Charlie looked incensed, pale and tight-lipped as she was. Her words only made Garth more agitated, sweat beading on his brow as he gripped Dean's shirt with clammy hands and refused to let go.
Andy, for once, was more helpful. “Hey, cool it, man,” he said calmly, gently prising Garth's fists open and slipping Mr Fizzles off his hand. “You two need to just calm down. If they were gonna erase Dean from the fabric of space and time, wouldn't they do it a little more subtly? Dean's been going off alone to Naomi's office for like a year now, and he's always come back just fine. Why should it be different now?”
“It's Raphael...” Garth whined agitatedly.
Andy shrugged. “And? We're not going to forget Dean, are we? Look, his piece is on the board right there. They can't take him away when the evidence's right there in front of us. So, all we have to do is sit here and wait and watch the board until he comes back. Right?”
Garth nodded shakily, calmer now. “Right.”
Dean was amazed. Until then, all he had seen Andy as was an annoying nuisance that had somehow convinced everyone to like him. For the first time since his arrival, Dean saw Andy's understanding of each individual person, how much he knew about them – and how he could use it to help.
Not knowing what to say, he merely nodded and Andy and left the room.
While Andy's words had been successful on Garth, Dean found they could not soothe the roiling in his own stomach. What if they were going to kill him? Was he walking right into the electric chair?
And what if they weren't going to murder him, what then? Would he become a shell, like Kevin, with no memories or thoughts to speak of? Would they all forget him? Would their memories of him be morphed into falsities, leaving all his friends hating him for crimes he never committed? They'd never believe him then, if all they remembered of him was lies. They'd never follow him, never help him, and they would all be left in Balt's to rot or burn: whatever took the angels' fancy.
He wouldn't even have Castiel then, he would hate him just as much as the rest, if not more. The thought was a wire around Dean's heart, drawing tighter and tighter, cutting deeper with every twist of his imagination. But that was it, Dean reminded himself. His imagination was conjuring stories; it was by no means the truth. Raphael couldn't want anything good with him, no, but he might not want to destroy Dean just yet. This was a game to them, and it hadn't lost enough excitement to warrant stopping now.
Dean reached the door to the staff wing and pressed the button. Ellen's voice crackled through to him.
“That you, Dean? I thought your meetings with Naomi had stopped.”
“I'm here to see Raphael,” Dean told her.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“Well, he called me, so I'd be surprised if I didn't.”
“No need to be cheeky, young man.”
The door buzzed open and Dean stepped through. It was not a long walk to Raphael's office, but Dean felt as if hours had passed by the time he reached the solid wooden door.
Raphael Balt, the sign read, Senior Overseer.
Not for the first time, Dean wondered what strings the elusive Michael Balt, owner of the hospital, was pulling.
“Come in,” Raphael's deep voice rumbled.
Dean turned the handle and walked inside.
Raphael was seated at his desk, looking perfectly at ease. “Shut the door and sit,” he said, commanding but not rude.
Dean obeyed, sliding the door into the jamb and perching on the chair opposite Raphael. The man's pitch eyes bored into his with an intensity that gave Dean a headache.
“You are not a stupid man, Dean Winchester,” Raphael began. “I suppose you have guessed why I have summoned you.”
“Enlighten me,” Dean said guardedly.
That made Raphael smile. It was not a pleasant smile. “We know what you and Castiel are doing,” he said. “We know everything. All about this little escape you are planning, all about the...” Raphael grimaced in distaste, “...relations between the two of you. Did you really think you'd get away with it? Do you really believe you mud monkeys are any sort of a match to us?” His tone was mocking, though his smirk was barely perceptible.
Dean bristled even through the fear. “Cas isn't a mud monkey. He's one of you. Your brother.”
Raphael shrugged, and the gesture looked immensely unnatural. “He was, once. But he betrayed us, and a brother he is no more. Michael was fond of him, however, and Gabriel. He has been granted mercy, despite my own misgivings. But now Gabriel is gone and Michael grows ever more distant. What makes you think he would even slightly punish me for ridding our family of a traitor of Castiel's calibre?”
“He's your brother,” Dean repeated disbelievingly. “Forgiving each other is what siblings do!”
“And yet not what your brother did, when you betrayed him.”
Dean's breath froze in his windpipe.
Raphael's smirk grew. “He hated you until his very last breath, you know. Samuel. Doomed from the very beginning, abomination that he was.”
Dean saw red before his brain made him realise what Raphael was doing. “You're not going to make me attack you,” he stated. “I'm not stupid, like you said. Forget Sam; what did Castiel ever do to you that makes it okay for you to torture and kill him?”
“He did not do it to me alone. He betrayed our entire family, and our Father, and all he represents.”
“How?!” Dean demanded.
Raphael tilted his head slightly. “That,” he enunciated, “is none of your concern, human.”
Dean glowered at him, but said no more.
“It actually quite amuses me, how you seem to believe that a rabble of mentally-incompetent asylum patients will be able to overcome us,” Raphael said, as if their exchange had not happened. “You have no resources, no intelligence...and you are highly outnumbered, not even taking into account that you evidently have no idea what you are facing.”
Dean was about to protest, about to inform Raphael's smug face that they did, in fact, know exactly what they were up against, and how to destroy them. Thankfully, however, he caught his mouth before it betrayed him. Raphael was openly smirking at him now, believing Dean was at a loss for words, and it was then that the realisation hit Dean.
He has no idea, he realised disbelievingly. He has absolutely no clue that Crowley's helping us.
Holding back the grin that
threatened to break over his face was almost painful.
Dean sauntered over to Charlie, Garth and Andy, who were still waiting for him by the postponed board game. Before any of them could open their mouths, Dean interrupted.
“Tell everyone,” he said, voice simmering with excitement. “The escape's happening tomorrow.”