The following day

He was completely and utterly on edge by the time breakfast was over and the clock mounted above the door told him that it was 9 a.m. He hadn't been able to eat, which in any given situation spelled trouble, and his stomach was in knots.

There was nothing he wanted more than to get the hell out of bed and start pacing, but nurse Taylor had told him not to and she was keeping an eye on him. So he just sat there and stared at the tiny tv-set mounted high on the opposite wall while it ran some movie he had no sense for.

This was the point in time when he found out whether or not his life had been a complete lie up until now. Some part of him wanted desperately to believe that officer Murphy had told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and the woman who would at some point step through that door would be the mother he remembered. The other part was completely and utterly convinced that he had lost what little sanity he had left or that this was a cruel mind game played by the demon he and Bobby had been chasing.

Whatever the outcome of this insanity would be, he could not wrench his mind away from Sam and where his brother might be. He knew he was diverting his thoughts to his brother because he simply couldn't handle having to face the fact that his mother, long dead, was apparently alive and well and he needed something to focus on apart from the bundle of jittering nerves in the pit of his stomach and that little voice in the back of his head that kept insisting that he had gone completely and helplessly mad.

If she wasn't Mary Winchester, he had no living clue how he was going to respond to her. If she was ... well, the same went for that scenario. Either way, he felt like he was stuck in a dream that could turn into one hell of a humdinger of a nightmare within one split second flat and he couldn't for the life of him explain what had happened to the world in those short hours he had been unconscious.

On that account he missed Sam's analytical mind more than ever. Sam would have been able to wrestle some sense out of this, would have started throwing up scenarios that would explain why this was happening in some way or another, and the fact that Dean couldn't make his mind function on any higher level than repeating the words 'don't panic' over and over again just went to show that he could not function without his brother. He needed Sam's relentless logic to make sense of this mess and without him, he felt utterly and completely lost.

After Sam had gone off to Stanford, he had experienced some of the same, but the fact that he had known where to find his brother if it all went to hell was enough to keep him balanced. Now he had no idea where Sam was, had no living clue what had happened to his brother, and at the same time the world seemed to have gone completely haywire around him.

A subtle knock on the door almost made him jump. He sucked in a breath and held it as the door opened, expecting his mother. Instead Murphy stepped in. "Good morning," she said.

He cleared his throat, nodded once to her because he didn't trust his voice right now, then glanced past her.

"She's not here yet. I just wanted to drop by and see how you were doing this morning," she said.

He stared at her for a second, then shrugged. "Don't know, really. I feel like the carpet's been pulled away under my feet." And that was no lie either.

"I can imagine. It can't be easy to accept all this," she said with a vague smile.

In tune with his confusion, there were a few things that bothered him about this whole deal, things he hadn't really thought about too much. But for some reason they jumped to the forefront of his mind when he saw her. "Uh ... I'm kinda ... wondering here," he said and shifted a little to get more comfortable.

"About?" Murphy asked.

"Well ... how exactly did you ... find out who I am?" He rubbed the back of his neck pensively.

"Through a DNA-profile done on you when you were a baby. Apparently the disease you had back then, whatever it was, warranted extensive testing," she said.

He grimaced, then picked at the gauze pad still covering the gash on his brow. "Aren't DNA-profiles a newer thing?" he asked. There was something here that didn't fit and he again missed Sam's presence and his unfathomable wealth of at times useless knowledge.

"Uh ... not really, no," Murphy countered, her expression revealing her confusion about this question. "We've used DNA-profiles for as long as I've worked with the police and my father worked with it too when he was a cop. It goes back thirty years at least, if not more."

"Huh," he muttered, then shook his head lightly. He was pretty sure that DNA-profiles were a newer thing, but it didn't really matter. It made little difference in the greater scheme of things. "Never mind," he added and tried a tentative smile he was sure failed miserably. He was too damned nervous to pull off any kind of charade right now and he really had no idea if what she said was true or not. Sam knew this kind of crap, but Dean had never really cared to look into it.

"Well, I'll get out of your way then. Just let me know if there's anything I can do," she said, nodded once and left the room again, quietly shutting the door behind her.

For the time being he didn't move, just sat there and stared ahead of himself while a million what-ifs rolled through his mind and made his head hurt. In his opinion there were several options which might come into play here. The first and the one he leaned towards the most was that he'd gone insane, that losing Sam a year ago had sent him on a downward spiral toward insanity and that he had finally arrived there. The second option was that this was a head-trip caused by the demon, one that might end up killing him. Or he would wake up in that pile of rubble and be back to being all alone, which made him wish it would kill him if that was what was going on. The third option – one he had only just thought of – was a bit farfetched in his opinion. Alternate realities wasn't really something he put much stock in, but this could be just that. He grimaced at the thought and pushed it aside. No, he had probably lost it somewhere along the way. But if this was being insane ... well, it beat the cold harshness of sanity any day.

Before he could give it any further thought, there was another knock on the door. It drove away any and all urges to think more about this for now and he focused on the plain white surface of the door, his heart thudding almost painfully away behind his ribs. "Yeah?" he called.

The door opened and his heart jumped into his throat and stopped beating all together. It turned into a quivering mass that nearly suffocated him instead. She definitely looked older, but there was no mistaking who she was. Not for him. Not ever. And he had to keep a solid hold on himself to not start sobbing like a damned baby at the sight of her.

In the beginning, after the fire, he had dreamt about her every night, about the things she had said or done, about how it had felt when she had touched him and held him, about how she had smelled, but after a while these memories had started to fade and he had nearly panicked at the thought of losing her in his mind too. He had clung to her memory much like dad had, had refused to let her go, but even so her memory had faded, oozed away from him, trickled out between his fingers like fine sand no matter how much he had tried to hold on. Seeing her now – even if she wasn't the woman who had burned to death pinned to the ceiling of Sam's nursery twenty-four years ago – rekindled those memories and fueled an age-old dream that had repeated at regular intervals. The dream of having his mother back.

She stepped inside, cautiously, uncertain, her eyes on him, searching his face, taking in everything she could see. She was dressed in a light, flowery dress, her skin was tanned, her blonde hair pulled back in a somewhat unruly ponytail. There were streaks of grey in her hair and her face was more marked than he remembered, crows feet at the corners of her eyes, worry lines on her brow. She had suffered through the loss of a child, had maybe spent years blaming herself for his demise, and it nearly broke his damned heart to see that sorrow on her face. "Uh ... hi," she said, her tone tentative, testing the waters, not sure how to approach him. "I'm Mary Winchester. I'm ... your mother."

He couldn't find his voice, simply did not trust himself enough to speak right now. All he did was stare at her, soak up the way she looked, commit to memory every single line on her face so he would never forget her again.

The heels of her pale shoes clicked on the linoleum of the floor when she moved closer. There was something in her eyes, a blooming kind of hope, that made her look radiant to him. "I know that this must be ... difficult for you. But ..." She paused, just stopped and looked at him. "Do you remember anything from before you ... were taken?"

For the longest of moments all they did was stare at each other. Then he swallowed hard, drew in a deep breath and tried to pull himself together enough to actually open his damned mouth and say something. He had to maintain the charade, to not freak her out with the weirdness of his life and maybe drive her away. Obviously dad was not a hunter in this reality and so probably knew nothing of the life Dean had lived. "Not much," he finally managed. "Smells, sounds mostly. I never knew ..." He stopped and sighed lightly. "I had no idea that Elroy wasn't my father." He hated this, really, hated having to pretend that he didn't remember her or dad. Despite a well-developed imagination, he couldn't for the life of him imagine how he should react if he had really been taken from his parents at the age of six months and had never known them. All he wanted was to throw his arms around her and hug the life out of her. But he couldn't very well do that right away, now could he? She might consider that odd, over the top or something along those lines.

"I need to ask you one question," Mary said. She sounded almost apologetic. "It's ... you probably don't remember. But ... before you d... I mean," she smiled helplessly, but never took her eyes off him. "Before you were taken," she corrected herself. "When I put you to bed at night, I used to say something to you. And I was just ... I was just wondering if you remembered that."

He knew it was a long shot, that a six months old baby probably wouldn't recall what his mother had said to him, but Dean remembered because his mother had actually said that to him until he was four years old. "Angels are watching over me," he said, then cleared his throat because it came out a little rusty.

Her eyes widened and she clutched her hands together in front of her while the tears rose and one trickled down her face. "Oh my god," she whispered, closed the distance to the bed, then stopped again. "It really is you," she added, her voice all choked up.

God, it was hard to keep himself in check, to not reach out for her, to not start bawling, and his restraint came out in the wrong way, made her hesitate to touch him when all he wanted was for her to do just that. Whether she was so desperate to have her child back that she would believe anything or if she could somehow recognize him was beside the point. He knew her and that was enough for him. This close, he could smell her perfume and it was the same she had worn the last time he had seen her alive. That scent had always stuck with him and it nearly broke him. "I remember that ... scent," he rasped, barely able to speak around the lump in his throat.

She quickly wiped away another stray tear, the yearning in her eyes too much to take. "I know you probably don't remember me, but ... oh god," she sniffed.

He couldn't stand it, couldn't stand having to keep her at arm's length when it was so obvious what she wanted right now. He pressed his lips together into a thin line and stopped fighting the tears. "Mom," he whispered.

Generally, she looked like he had given her a gift she had always wanted. She was positively radiant when she reached out for him and he leaned forward, encouraging her to go all the way. She wrapped her arms around him, pulled him close and by the shivers running through her, he knew she was crying. All he could do in turn was wrap his arms around her and just hold on for dear life. If this was insanity, he would enjoy it. Who wanted to be normal when you could have this?

After a moment she let go, pulled back a little and settled down on the edge of the bed. "I'm sorry. I know this must be difficult for you," she tried.

"No, don't apologize. It's ... I just don't ... understand how this could happen." He figured he could win an award for how much he kept a grip on himself right now, but if he fell apart nobody would be the wiser. Nobody here knew him.

She pulled a handkerchief from her shoulder bag and dabbed at her eyes. "Neither do I. But ... it doesn't matter. All that matters is that you're here, now," she said and smiled at him in a way only a mother could smile. "Tell me about yourself. What have you been doing up until now?"

Aw crap. Background story. He would have to step carefully here, would have to remember whatever he told her. "Uh ... not so much," he said. "Mostly just ... drifting around ... ever since Elroy died. Before that ... well, he was a traveling salesman. We moved around a lot." It was an old cover he had used a lot as a child to keep nosy neighbors at bay and it would work just as well now.

"Did he at least treat you well?" she asked and eyed him with growing concern.

He nodded. "Yeah, he was a good dad. A little absentminded at times, I guess, but he only wanted what was best for me."

She brushed her fingertips over his cheek, her movements a little hesitant as if she was afraid he might pull away. "At least he treated you well," she muttered.

Before he could think of anything to say to that, someone cleared their throat at the door. He glanced over and swallowed hard at finding his father standing there. There was concern etched into John's features, and suspicion. His gaze shifted to Mary and his whole demeanor changed. The concern remained, but the suspicion vanished and was replaced by something Dean could only decipher as adoration. "So," he said and stepped inside. "I take it you're convinced this is our Dean?" he asked, this question directed at Mary.

She however never took her eyes off Dean. "I have no doubt," she said with a vague smile. "He looks a bit like uncle Harry too," she added and glanced at him over one shoulder. "Can't you see it?"

John shifted his attention back to Dean and took another step closer. He would be harder to convince, but Dean hoped that mom might manage to sway him. "I guess," he said, unconvinced. "So ... what did he call you, this man that supposedly took you?" he asked.

Dean stared at him for a moment, unable yet again to find his voice. The commando tone was still there, the way he looked at Dean right now reminding him of how dad had looked at him after that incident with the shtriga. But there was something else there too, something vying for dominance. "Uh ... Evan," he said and barely prevented a grimace. "McGillicuddy," he added.

John arched an eyebrow. "That's one hell of a name," he said and stepped up behind Mary to slip a hand onto her shoulder. The movement was almost possessive. "Almost sounds made up, doesn't it?"

If this back story he was fabricating on the fly had been real, he figured he should have been offended, should have jumped to Elroy's defense, but Dean could barely keep a smile at bay. Elroy McGillicuddy was made up. By John, no less. It was maddening to a degree that he didn't know this. Dean had to keep reminding himself that neither of his parents had any clue what he had been through.

"John, be nice," Mary warned. "It's not Dean's ... uh ... I guess you'd rather be called Evan, wouldn't you? I mean, that has been your name for most of your life." She looked uncertain, uneasy even, and Dean could have kicked himself for not keeping his first name. But if the scenario he was building had really happened, chances were that Elroy McGillicuddy wouldn't have known his name. He frowned lightly and rubbed pensively at the bandage on his brow. It was getting harder by the minute to distinguish between what was real and what was made up.

"Uh ... it's okay, really. I kinda feel like my life as ... Evan is over," he said and made a face, hopefully giving off an air of insecurity.

"What do you leave behind apart from an addiction to booze?" John asked, his tone bordering on the brusque.

"John," Mary warned again without looking at him.

"It's okay," Dean countered and met John's eyes dead on. "Nothing. I leave absolutely nothing behind," he added and flinched inwardly. 'Sorry, Sammy,' he thought. He had to gain their trust in some way, had to put them at ease. Once he was out of this hospital, he could start looking for Sam in some way. Unless this was an alternate reality. Then he was pretty much screwed when it came to finding Sam. And it made his heart drop. All the joy he felt over regaining his parents, that was how much it also hurt to know that his brother might be lost to him forever. He wouldn't give up on finding him, and if he had somehow ended up in another reality, he would find a way back to where Sam was. Somehow. He just had to. His primary objective in life was keeping Sam safe. How could he do that if he wasn't even on the same plane of existence as Sam?

"What'd you do to make a living?" John asked.

Dean dropped his gaze. He couldn't tell them that he hunted evil for a living. They would have him committed immediately. The only other option was to stick with the story and probably come off as a slacker. Dad would love that, wouldn't he? "Since Elroy died ... I've been muddling through. Hustling pool, mostly." He didn't dare look up at either of them. Disappointment was the one thing he didn't want to see in their eyes.

"You got an education?" John pressed on.

Mary shifted a little. "John, leave it be for now. He can tell us all about that later, when he's feeling better," she said, her tone suddenly stern when she turned a little to face John. "How about you introduce yourself to him instead of giving him the third degree here?"

Dean chanced a glance up at his father and only barely stop a grin. The man looked like a chastised little kid right now. "Fine," John muttered and backed down.

"This is John Winchester, your father," Mary said. "Don't let him fool you, though. He's not as tough as he acts," she added and smirked lightly.

John grumbled something under his breath and rolled his eyes at her.

She eyed him for a moment longer, then turned back to face Dean. "Do you have somewhere to stay when they release you from the hospital?"

Dean shook his head lightly. "No, nowhere in particular," he said.

Mary glanced up at John, who scrubbed a hand over his mouth and muttered something under his breath again, met her eyes briefly, then cleared his throat. "Well, you can stay with us," he said. "Unless you'd feel uncomfortable about that."

"That way we can get to know each other," Mary added.

He let a moment pass before he responded to that, mainly to not seem too eager at the prospect of having them both around.

"Unless you feel that's too much, of course," Mary said. Her features tightened a little and he suddenly realized where Sam got his 'bitch-face' expression from. It had to be hereditary.

"No, not at all. It'll be ... different. I've never really ... had a home before," he said, stumbling over the words a little.

"Guess that McGillicuddy guy moved around a lot to not rouse suspicion, huh?" John asked and Dean suddenly realized what his attitude was all about. It wasn't so much that John was suspicious of him. He was angry, which probably meant that he too believed that Dean was who the doctors and officer Murphy claimed he was.

"He did move around a lot," Dean agreed. "But ... he didn't act as if he was trying to hide anything. He was more ... I don't know ... sad. Like he was running away from something."

"The law, maybe?" John asked and sighed. "Well, never mind. The doctor says you can leave tomorrow. So we'll drop by and pick you up around noon if you're okay with that," he added.

Dean nodded. "Yeah, sure," he agreed.

"One thing, though," John said. Mary gave him a look that should have stopped him, but he ignored her. "If you're gonna stay with us, you're gonna continue on the detox program."

"No problem. I hadn't intended to go off it," Dean countered.

John nodded, then showed the first vague signs of a smile. "Good," he said. "Come on, Mary. Let's give him some peace. He's got a lot to think about," he added.

She nodded and rose. "We'll see you tomorrow then," she said, leaned in and pecked him on the left cheek while cupping a hand against his right. "I have no words for how happy this makes me," she added quietly.

He briefly grabbed her hand and squeezed it lightly, pressing it against his cheek, then let her go.

She stopped at the door and glanced back at him, that smile on her lips and in her eyes, and he felt that this fantasy had to fall apart at any minute, because there was no way he would be this lucky.

Then they were gone and he was alone again and that was when his mind started running, started kicking up possible scenarios. The thing he wanted to know most of all was whether or not Sam existed in this reality, because he realized right there and then that, whatever this was, it was a different reality than the one he knew. It had to be unless he really was in a padded cell, making this up.

Again he went over the events in his head that had lead up to this and again he could find no real break in the straight razor-sharp line this had been so far. From the moment Sam had vanished in that park in California and until the roof of that building had come down on top of him, things had moved in a straight line. And there was no break he could detect right now. So what the hell did this mean? Why would a demon send him to a different reality where he had nearly everything he'd ever wanted?

The demon he and Bobby had gone up against could quite possibly have been the same one he and Sam had gone up against a year before, but it still didn't make any sense to him. Bobby was most likely dead, buried under a pile of debris in another reality, while he was stuck here, in this world, surrounded by people who had nothing but his best interest at heart. That was not a typical scenario a demon would come up with. Unless there was pain and suffering in store for him.

He again picked idly at the bandage covering the gash on his brow and sent a glance up at the IV still connected to his hand. He was being weaned off the booze and considering that he had this easy a time with it, he figured he hadn't developed alcoholism. He had been on the path of drinking himself into an early grave, yes, but the side-effects of the detox program were so minimal right now that he wasn't even sure there were any. So, maybe he wasn't prone to getting addictions?

Scrubbing a hand over his face, he tried to put some order into his thoughts, to find out what the hell was going on here, but the only thing he could come up with was alternate reality or insanity. Either way, he was stuck here for now and could do nothing about it until he was out of the hospital and able to research this a little more. But where would he go for information? Did Bobby exist in this reality as well? Would he be a hunter? It was impossible to say.

"You look thoughtful."

He jerked and glanced over at the door. Somehow, he had totally missed that nurse Taylor had stepped inside.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you," she said, a smile on her lips.

"You didn't. I was just ..." He trailed off and made a face. "Can I get rid of this thing?" he asked and nodded up at the bag of IV-fluids.

"Sure," she said. "Let me just grab a few things and I'll remove it. I need to check your bandage anyway. How's your head?"

"Better," he said.

She left for a moment only to return with fresh bandages. She removed the IV from the back of his hand and taped a cotton ball onto the hole, then peeled off the gauze pad covering the gash on his brow and eyed the wound there. "Looks much better," she said. "You heal up fast."

"Good genes," he countered and smirked lightly.

She looked pleased at his mood. "I would say so. They're a handsome couple, your parents. Are you okay with this whole thing?"

He gave it a few seconds before responding to give her the impression that he was thinking about it. Then he nodded. "Yeah, I'm okay with it. The man I thought was my father was always very distant. I never really ... developed a relationship with him. It'll be great to have parents who actually care about me."

Nurse Taylor nodded while cleaning the gash. "I'm sure it will be," she agreed. "I'm happy for you."

Whether this was the last vestiges of his sanity isolating him from a harsh world in his mind or an actual alternate reality, things couldn't have worked out better. Except for the absence of his brother. And Sam's absence was the only reason why he would give all this up. If he could find a way to get back to where he had been to find Sam again, he would leave this all behind. But until that time, he would damned well take a little time to enjoy this fantasy or whatever it was.

***