Written for KazCon 2007
K Hanna Korossy
The first time, Sam didn't think twice about it, just figured it was Dean's way of trying to make him feel better.
"You know what Mom dressed you up as your first Halloween?"
They were holed up in a motel outside Kansas to let Sam recuperate from being choked and battered by the poltergeist in their old home. The tension in them, between them, had eased with crossing the state line, pretty much disappearing altogether when Sam had woken up feverish and suffocating the first time. But while the air had cleared, Sam still hurt in body and spirit, and Dean still looked shuttered and worn. So this question, offered with a half-smile that was at least trying, this was good.
Sam smiled back gamely, if a little warily. "No, what?"
If Dean's eyes hadn't been shining with long-lost light, Sam might have chucked a pillow—or something harder—at him. As it was, he just flinched. "Shut up, she did not."
"Oh, dude, she so did. Not like there are a lot of things you can dress up a six-month-old as. It was that or a pumpkin." A tilt of the head, an actual grin on Dean's face now. "Actually, you made a pretty cute clown. For a drooling, bald midget."
The pillow went flying.
But it felt good. Which was, he figured, Dean's intent.
The second time, Sam started rethinking his assumption.
They were finally hitting the road, leaving behind the motel where they'd left Kansas behind, when Dean spoke up. "Dad used to barbeque a lot."
Sam remained tired, but his head was clear, his body mending. Dean had lost that tight look, too, although he still didn't blast his music or smile as easily. It would take time, Sam figured. Because twenty-two years obviously hadn't been enough.
He pricked up at the revelation, though. Glimpses of their past before the fire were rare and shared sparingly like the precious gems they were. Mostly by Dean, despite his meager store; Dad had always seemed to find it too painful. But Sam hung on every word, every little detail. "You're kidding."
"Nope." Dean shook his head, the corner of his mouth pulling up but his eyes on the road. "I think he had the apron and everything. We had a grill in the backyard, and he'd let me stir the coals before he lit them."
Sam gave his brother a long look before answering. "That's…man, I can't even imagine that, Dad in an apron grilling. What did he make?"
Dean shook his head. "Can't remember. I just remember he was happy."
Which was another memory Sam couldn't share. The quiet wistfulness in his brother's voice was what caught his attention, though, and his own softened. "Sounds nice."
Dean just nodded.
They didn't say anything else until they stopped for lunch. They didn't need to.
The third time, he finally got it.
They were in northern Michigan, tracking something Sam suspected was a lost wildcat and Dean thought was a lost wendigo, when Dean glanced over at him. "Mom and Dad used to go all out for Christmas."
The chuckle broke out of Sam before he even thought about it. "Okay, I can see Mom doing that, but Dad? Half the time he forgot when Christmas even was." Dean didn't, and always made sure Sam had a real holiday even if it only meant a newspaper-wrapped gift and a self-procured and decorated "tree." But that was another matter.
"Yeah, well," Dean cocked his head, "maybe it was Mom's influence or something, but yeah, we were the Griswolds back then—big tree in the living room, lights on the house, you name it."
Sam let that image linger a moment, trying to picture it but always interrupted by fire. He sighed and let it go, looking at Dean instead. "You never mentioned any of this before," he said softly.
A quick cut of the eyes to him, a pause. "I didn't remember it before."
Sam nodded, wondering what else Dean had seen as he'd looked around their old house.
It was Dean's own M&M trail, leading away from home.
Duluth: "Mom wore a cross on a necklace. I think it got lost in the fire."
North Dakota: "You were breastfed, too, you know. I think I was scarred for life, seeing that."
Wyoming: "You had this plane clock in your nursery that was cool. It used to be mine. You know, when I didn't know yet that planes were giant tin boxes of death."
Sam learned he could ask questions—gentle ones—but not tease nor ask what had brought the memory out, or Dean spooked and clammed up. It took a while to realize the memories weren't as out-of-the-blue as they seemed. Sam put together the clues like the patient hunter he was: signs in southern Michigan for "the biggest Christmas store in the world," a visit to a small church in Wisconsin to replenish their holy water, the sight of a mom breastfeeding in Minnesota: the prompts were there hours, even days before Dean said anything.
Momentary resentment quickly faded into empathy. Sam couldn't quite begrudge his brother's desire to savor in private at first. It took him a while longer to realize how much he still didn't get it.
He wrote down every shared memory in his journal, but didn't see the pattern until the end.
It was two weeks after Kansas, a simple salt-and-burn in Colorado, flames dancing in front of them, when Dean broke the silence.
"You were so heavy…"
The tone caught Sam's attention before the words, and he turned sharply to look at his brother. Flames reflected in the distant hazel eyes. Sam blinked, felt an unpleasant warmth roll through him. "You didn't drop me," he murmured.
Dean shook his head slowly. "I was scared I would." A huff of bare laughter. "Man, I was so scared. But Dad said to take you outside."
"So you did." And in some ways, he'd never let Sam go.
"I did. Watched your room explode from the front yard."
"Did you…" Sam swallowed. "Did you see…?"
Dean's eyes closed. "No. She was gone by then."
Sam nodded hard, trying to swallow the lump in his throat.
He used to envy his brother his memories, wishing he could remember anything, anythingfrom the six months of his life when he'd had a happy family. Now, Sam wasn't so sure he wasn't the lucky one.
He folded a hand around Dean's shoulder, absorbed his brother's start, and smiled at him. "I think I saw a twenty-four hour diner down the street. You up for some pancakes?"
Dean cleared his throat, glancing around the empty graveyard before meeting Sam's gaze. Love and gratitude softened grief's edges in silence, the only way they usually said these things, and Dean managed a small smile. "Yeah. Sounds good." They turned away, Dean tossing a final look back at the flames as they left together.
Sam just watched his brother, letting the memories—and the blank spaces in between—go.
Dean's trail, it hadn't been leading away from home. It had led to it.The End