A drizzly, grey twilight was closing in fast when Dean brought the Impala to a stop by the curb opposite Mel's house.
He killed the engine and took a look around, but there wasn't a lot to see, really. Traffic was almost non-existent this far away from a main road, and the street was quiet. A soccer mom cruised by in her cliché neutral-coloured SUV, the oversized vehicle rumbling through the suburban tranquillity like a truck.
Dean watched the SUV shrink into the distance in his side mirror, brow furrowed and unconsciously biting down on his lower lip.
If those psychos are tailing you, they should stick out like a dog's balls around here.
The kind of people that would be hunting them wouldn't exactly blend in among the White Picket Fence Brigade, what with their shiny SUVs and late-model family sedans. He'd seen no sign of anything even remotely shady - and he'd sure as hell been looking - so why couldn't he shake this feeling that someone had eyes on them…?
"You waiting for a written invitation?" Sam piped up from the back seat, interrupting his big brother's train of thought.
Dean muttered something impolite under his breath and the keys jangled as he pulled them from the ignition, but he stayed put. For a long moment, the only sound was the soft patter of rain on the roof and the familiar tick tick tick of the engine as it started to cool.
"You're being paranoid, Dean," Sam went on. He sounded a lot more confident than Dean thought he was probably feeling.
"Yeah, whatever." Paranoid or not, Dean was tempted to shove the keys right back in and take off for Sioux Falls and to hell with Sam's frigging book. There was something grating against those hunter's instincts, telling him to get the hell outta Dodge, but…
But that book's not why he's really here, Dean reminded himself. No way your amnesiac little brother pushed that hard to come and see the psychic witch so he could get his book back. That's not the story he wants to get out of her.
"Let's just get this over with," the older Winchester grumbled, zipping up his jacket all the way to his chin, and shoved open the door. His boots immediately sank almost an inch into the sodden verge, and he hunched his shoulders against the persistent drizzle as he pulled open the Impala's back door.
Sam had as much morphine on board as Dean had been game to give him at the last rest stop, enough to make him pale and unsteady on his feet, but it still obviously hurt him to move. He held his broken left arm close to his body and, being careful not to put any strain through his right hip, reached out with his right hand to pull himself gingerly towards the open door. It made Dean wince just to watch.
That hand's only got a few broken metacarpals, after all, he thought, and sounded sarcastic even to himself. And that's his good hand. It was still swollen and bruised even now, with multiple half-knit broken bones.
Dean reached out to help as Sam struggled out into the rain, but the younger Winchester pushed him away. "It's not that bad," Sam told him, before Dean could open his mouth, but the sentence was almost cut short by a wince as he tried to stand up straight.
"Uh-huh," Dean observed drily, lips pressed together as he watched his baby brother take a couple of deep, slow breaths, bracing himself with a bandaged hand on the Impala's rear quarter panel. Another couple of cars cruised past before he got it together, but eventually, and with an obvious effort, he stood up on his own two feet.
He was trying not to let on, but it was clear to Dean that this hurt like hell. Sam was dead set on this visit, though, so short of drugging and effectively kidnapping him, there wasn't much the older Winchester could do about it. He'd considered doing just that - quite seriously, actually - and if he wasn't so concerned about inadvertently killing his already-over-medicated baby brother, he very well might've gone through with it.
"Sam-" Dean gave it another shot, but once again his baby brother cut him off.
"Which house, Dean?"
Dean shoved the car door shut with a sigh. "Fine, tough guy." He waved a hand at the house directly opposite them, on the other side of the street. "It's the white weatherboard number with all the rose bushes out front."
Sam started wordlessly - and slowly - for the house Dean pointed out, trying not to limp too much. He didn't quite break out in a sweat, but an afternoon spent on the road had evidently set his recovery back. Dean tried not to think about how much of that rough, open road was still in front of them as he locked the Impala and went after him. He was limping noticeably now, obviously in pain, but Dean let his little brother lead him up the path towards the witch's front door.
"So, she's got a bit of a green thumb, this one," Dean observed, making a deliberate effort to change the subject.
A few steps ahead, Sam felt a brief rush of relief. If Dean was going to ignore the metaphorical elephant in the room then he was happy to go along with it. Even if it felt like he was carrying the damn thing on his shoulders, the way a web of hot, stabbing agony shot out from his injured hip every time he took a step.
The younger Winchester gritted his teeth, lifting his eyes from the wet, shiny slate pavers and focusing instead on the plants that lined the path. Just like Dean when he first came this way, Sam was surprised to see the myriad of magical plants sprinkled amongst the roses.
"You're not kidding," he agreed, silently putting a name to each of them as he walked. Concentrating on identifying the plants even helped distract him from the whole new level of pain as he hobbled up the wide wooden steps onto the veranda, where he looked around at all the charms and wards with wide eyes.
"Devil's Shoestring, monkshood, and mayapple in the garden, and cat's-eye shell wind chimes and hoodoo bloodroot charms by the door?" He looked over at Dean, eyebrows raised. This was some serious hoodoo - more than they'd ever seen in one place before.
"Man, you don't know the half of it." Dean stepped past him to knock on the big oak door, but as he did there was the click of a sturdy-sounding lock and it swung open before his knuckles could touch it.
Mel was standing on the other side, dressed in figure-hugging workout clothes with a pleasant rosy flush high on her cheeks and long brown hair tied back into a tail. Her full, pink lips turned up into a smile upon seeing Dean, and widened into a grin when she saw Sam standing beside him.
"You must be Sam!" She stepped forward like she was about to hug the younger Winchester, but stopped herself and reached out to take him by the arm instead.
"Come on in before you catch a cold," she told him firmly, and ushered the younger Winchester inside. Dean followed, taking one last look up and down the dreary street outside before he pulled it securely closed behind them, the tumblers of that sturdy lock sliding home as he did.
The entryway was pleasantly warm and dry after the chilly, overcast afternoon outside, and Sam couldn't help but take a long look around just like Dean had the first time he'd been here. He leaned back against the wall, taking in the antiques, the library of books and all the little protection charms. It was all lit by the warm glow of a small stained glass Tiffany-esque lamp that made intriguing shadows of the nooks and crannies of dark wood and rich wallpaper, and smelled faintly of a rich, floral incense. The place was like a museum of the occult, and if he hadn't been in quite so much pain and on enough morphine that he had to keep blinking away double vision, Sam would have loved to spend a good long time going through it. The shelves full of ancient-looking leather-bound tomes could probably keep him occupied for weeks.
"It's nice to finally see you, Sam," Mel said, and the younger Winchester tore his eyes away from the books to focus on the diminutive brunette. There was a hint of concern in her face, even though she was still smiling at him, and he suddenly got the feeling her deep chocolate eyes were looking directly into his soul.
"This is a lovely moment we're having here, but we kinda haven't got all day - you know, homicidal hunters on our tail and all," Dean interjected. His jacket was obviously damp, but although there were brass coat hooks mounted on the wall behind the front door, he was stubbornly keeping it on. The message was clear: I don't intend to be here any longer than is absolutely necessary.
Mel looked from Dean back to Sam, and gave the younger brother a wink. "You boys going to stay for tea at least?" she asked, smiling brightly.
"I'd love some tea," Sam smiled back, ignoring the death stare Dean gave him. He limped off down the hallway with Mel, and Dean glowered after them.
"There well might be homicidal psychopaths after us, but yeah, by all means - let's stop for a cup of frigging tea," Dean muttered, as he shrugged out of his jacket. He didn't so much hang it up as he tossed it at the wall, but it caught a hook and stayed, and he stalked off down the hallway.
Mel's kitchen table was a cosy square four-seater, made of an anonymous deep golden-brown wood, set in an equally cosy little nook a few steps from the kitchen itself. The kitchen was old, like the house, but sparkling clean and somehow, the stainless-steel appliances didn't detract from the vintage feel. Dean slipped into a chair to Sam's left, while Mel sat opposite the younger Winchester and poured everyone a steaming cup of freshly-made tea from an actual china teapot.
The tea was a wholesome-looking golden-green colour, with a pleasant, vaguely minty aroma, but Dean wouldn't have noticed if it were a bubbling green sludge served in a tiny cauldron. He shifted restlessly, every instinct shouting at him to get back on the road, while his brother and the witch made small talk. He shot a sidelong glance at Sam, sitting stiffly in his chair, obviously in pain but covering it well as he smiled and chatted sociably with Mel. Despite what Sam would have him believe, Dean knew why they were really here.
Well, to be fair, you probably want your book back as well. Dean swirled his tea around in his cup and took an absent sip, eyes on Sam. He could see the wheels turning in the kid's head. He was just looking for the right opportunity to bring it up…
"So, Mel-" Sam started, innocently.
Mel cut him off mid-sentence. "No, Sam," she said, simply, and serenely sipped at her tea.
And there we go. Dean watched on out of the corner of his eye, smiling into his cup. Amateur move, Sammy. What were you thinking, trying to sneak up on a psychic witch…!
Sam looked taken aback. "But, I didn't-"
"And you don't need to," the witch told him, gently. "I don't need to be psychic to know why you had Dean bring you here. I know what you want, and the answer's no."
Although it wasn't a fair fight, considering the morphine haze Sam had to be swimming around in, Dean found it was kind of fun to watch her use her mojo now that she wasn't doing it to him. "Psychic witch, remember?" He elbowed Sam very gently in the arm, but Sam ignored him. He leaned forward with a wince, his bloodshot hazel eyes fixed on Mel's deep brown ones.
"I have to know. I have to know what happened," Sam told her, the frustration starting to show in his voice. Despite the broken bones, his right hand gripped the edge of the table hard enough to make it creak and Mel visibly tensed.
"Sammy..." Dean put what was supposed to be a calming hand on his baby brother's shoulder, but Sam shrugged it off. He kept that intense stare fixed on Mel, who still sat quietly opposite him. Her eyes flicked over to Dean and back to Sam again, but other than that she didn't move a muscle.
Let him get it off his chest, Dean. It's okay.
Dean heard Mel's voice in his head as clear as if she'd spoken out loud. He sat back in his chair, eyes on Mel as she took another sip of tea, trying not to look as disconcerted as he felt. Beside him, Sam closed his eyes for a second and took a long breath. He exhaled slowly, making an obvious effort to get himself under control.
"I'm sorry," Sam sighed, after a moment. Mel gave him an sympathetic little smile over the rim of her teacup, but he didn't smile back.
"God, I don't even know why I can't remember." Sam grimaced and rubbed at a spot between his eyes, like he was getting a headache. "It's like there's this wall up in my head, and I know there's stuff hidden on the other side, but I just can't get to it."
"That's gotta be tough," Mel told him. Her voice was gentle, but Dean saw the intensity in her eyes as she studied Sam. He shifted his weight, suddenly uneasy, and looked away - neither of them said a word, but Dean knew that at this table, the lack of words didn't mean there wasn't a whole lot of information flowing.
"Hey - what just happened?" Dean asked, frowning. He got no response - the only sound was Mel's teacup clinking against the saucer as she set it down. After a long moment's thought, she gave the younger Winchester a nod.
"Okay, Sam," she sighed.
Dean sat bolt upright in his chair, almost knocking over his tea. "Whoa! Not okay!" he protested.
Dean had the actual memories of Hell well-buried, as deep as he could shove them and with as much denial piled on top as he could muster, and as he glared acros the table at her, Mel was suddenly very glad he did. The anger made him an open book, and even though the physical evidence was gone, on the inside he was still a mess of deep, ragged psychic wounds. They were bad enough, and it was an effort for her not to flinch away.
"He's sitting right here, Dean!" Sam shot back, and Mel tore her eyes away from Dean to focus down at her tea. The cup rattled against the saucer as she wrapped her shaking hands around it.
"Sam…" Dean growled. He turned that gaze on his little brother, shifting in his chair to face him, and it was Sam's turn to try not to flinch. There was an intensity there he hadn't expected, and he paused for a beat before he went on.
"I know you think you know something about this, but-" Sam began, but Dean cut him off.
"I do know, Sam! I know that, for whatever reason, you're lucky enough not to remember. I wish…" Dean took a long, deep breath, and when he continued his voice was low and raw. "Sam, I'd give anything not to remember Hell. You don't know how lucky you are."
Sam caught his lower lip between his teeth momentarily. He could see Dean really didn't want him to poke the bear, but...
He turned his attention back to Mel, who was quietly sipping her tea and trying not to get in the middle of their argument. Sam didn't blame her - she didn't know Dean, really, and his big brother could be kind of intimidating when he was mad.
"Why can't I remember?" he asked, gently. "Did I block it out, or did they give me something…?"
Mel looked from Sam back to the older Winchester, but Dean rolled his eyes and sat back in his chair, waving a hand in the air as if to say 'fine, do whatever you want'. He crossed his arms over his chest and just waited, giving Sam one final glare. He didn't say it, but Sam knew what he was thinking: Don't say I didn't warn you.
"Mel?" Sam looked back to the witch, and hoped he knew what he was doing.
"Okay." She took one more sip of tea, and set the cup down with a sigh. "Well, you can't remember because the Djinn wiped your memories," she began, and spent the next few minutes filling the Winchester boys in on Owen and Ray's mental torture tactics.
"I didn't even know Djinn could do that," Dean breathed, when she was done. Despite his initial reservations, Mel was filling in a lot of blanks that had been bothering him, too. That didn't mean he liked what he was hearing - he remembered how vivid a Djinn illusion could be, and the thought of what one of those bastards could've done to his baby brother...
And for how long Sam would have thought it lasted. Dean shuddered. For half a second, he wished he hadn't dealt with Owen and Ray so permanently. They deserved a little extra punishment for this.
"Can you tell me what it made me see?" Sam asked, his voice strained.
Mel shook her head. "That's between you and her."
"Her?" Dean couldn't help but perk up at that. "The body in the pile of pallets? That was the Djinn?"
Mel nodded, but to Dean's great relief, nobody pushed the issue - Mel didn't need to ask, Dean knew, and Sam was too preoccupied with his own thoughts.
"When Dean snapped out of his Djinn-verse, he remembered all of it. Why can't I?" the younger Winchester asked.
Mel just shrugged. "I'm sorry, but I don't have all the answers, Sam," she said, apologetically. Sam just sighed. He was trying not to show it, but he obviously wished she did.
The room stayed silent for a minute, all three of them busy thinking their own thoughts. Outside, twilight was turning into night, and when Mel got up to turn on the lights Sam winced and rubbed at his eyes, stifling a yawn. Mel turned the dimmer switch down as far as it would go, and he gave her a grateful look as she sat back down at the table.
"Hey, hold on a minute," Dean said, suddenly, holding up a hand. "What if they weren't using that Djinn so much as compelling her?"
Sam frowned. "You think they were forcing her to do it?"
Dean nodded, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table. "I mean, it makes sense, right? They get some kind of leverage and the Djinn does what she's told, but when she can't get the info they want she's gotta know they're not just going to let her walk away. Djinn are all about messing with your head, so maybe she puts up that wall so you don't remember it, as a kind of 'screw you' to Owen and Ray." He spread his hands, palms up, and looked at Mel and Sam. "Maybe what they did after got walled off too?"
"That works," Mel agreed, but Sam stayed quiet. He looked down at his broken hands and feet and all the little wounds - and the not-so-little ones - and it all started to make more sense. He furrowed his brow, concentrating, ignoring the building headache. Mel and Dean continued talking, but Sam wasn't paying attention anymore and they soon faded in the background.
He didn't remember his time with the Djinn at all - it was a total blank between when they'd dumped him on the floor of the warehouse up until the few memories of the whip and the stun gun and so on, trying to get information out of him that he didn't have to give in the first place. As far as he could tell the flashbacks were of early Tuesday morning, not too long after they must've given up on the Djinn, when he didn't have a lot of the burns and deep cuts he did now.
The beatings, the whip, the broken hands, the stun gun…
Sam didn't notice his hands shaking, even when it started to rattle his teacup against the saucer.
Jesus, that was the stuff they did when they were trying not to cause too much damage.
Sam looked up, blinking. From the tone of Dean's voice, he was repeating himself. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to see Mel there - at some point, she had evidently got up and come over to stand beside him.
"You need some rest," she told him, giving his shoulder a gentle squeeze.
"Quit while you're ahead, Sammy," Dean agreed. He was trying not to look concerned, but Sam could see the tension around his eyes. "Don't look the gift-Djinn in the mouth."
Sam nodded wearily, stifling another yawn. His eyelids were so heavy they could have been made of lead. He heard someone say something about the spare room, and Mel took him by the elbow to help him up, but sitting in a rigid kitchen chair hadn't done his hip any favours - even with an arm around Mel's shoulders, he couldn't get to his feet. In the end, Dean had to all but lift him out of the chair to get him vertical.
It took the pair of them to get Sam down to hallway to a spare bedroom and, by the time they got there, Dean was all but holding him up. Mel turned on the bedside lamp and pulled back the covers, then Dean set him down on the queen-size bed as gently as he could, barely even getting a pained groan from his exhausted, semi-conscious little brother. He set about getting Sam's shoes off as Mel tucked a soft, downy pillow under his head, then she left them to it and padded down the hall to change out of her workout clothes.
Sam's room was dark when she came back out in her PJs, the door ajar a few inches. Dean was sitting back at the kitchen table, drawing pensive circles in a small puddle of cold, spilled tea in his saucer. She poured him some fresh, steaming tea from the pot, and then one for herself. Dean stayed quiet the whole time, staring into his cup, watching wisps of steam rising from the green-gold liquid.
"He remembers something, doesn't he?" he said, eventually. Mel just nodded, lifting her cup to her lips.
"Awesome," Dean sighed. He closed his eyes and rubbed absently at them with the back of one hand, putting a few more pieces of the puzzle together. He'd noticed Sam was having nightmares, and now he was pretty sure he knew what they were about. The fact that he was remembering things at all wasn't a comforting thought, but if he could remember these little bits, then given a little time he could, in theory, remember more.
"Do you think the Djinn's wall's got holes in it, or he just can't remember much of Owen and Ray because they hit him in the head one too many times?" Dean asked, looking across the table at Mel.
Mel pursed her lips, thinking that over. "I don't know, but I think we'd all rather the latter," she said, slowly. Like Dean, she'd realised that if the Djinn's wall had holes in it, then Sam could remember things from before Owen and Ray. The kind of things those two maniacs had probably either been unwilling or unable to inflict on Sam in the real world.
Dean shuddered. "Yeah, that's a comforting thought," he sighed, stifling a yawn of his own. That was the kind of thing that was going to keep him awake at night.
"I made up the sofa-bed for you," Mel added, as if following on from something Dean had just said out loud, and a brief smile touched his lips as he took a sip of his tea. He didn't usually go in for this herbal stuff, but whatever it was, it was tasty.
"So, uh, when I turned up here on Tuesday…" Dean started to change the subject, then paused. Mel looked across the table at him, smiling sweetly. He felt sure she knew exactly what he was about to say, but apparently had no intention of letting him off the hook.
Dean had another sip of tea and cleared his throat. "I think I, uh, might have been kind of an asshole," he said, apologetically. She still didn't say anything.
"Well, actually, I'm pretty sure I was," he revised. "It's just that it was Sammy, and I had all these worst-case scenarios going through my head, and I couldn't stop thinking that the last time I saw him I told him he should leave, and if I'd been there with him like I should have this never would've happened…" Dean paused for a breath. Mel watched on as he took a couple of deep ones, eyes closed.
"Anyway." Dean put his teacup down with a sigh. "Look, Mel, you saved my baby brother. Without you, I never would've found him in time, and I know I was kind of intense and short with you - I just wanted to say I'm sorry. And thank you."
"It's fine, honey." Mel gave him a warm, genuine smile. "He's your family."
Dean's face broke into a relieved smile, and Mel chuckled. "Bobby warned me when he called that you might be a bit 'intense'. I'm just glad you got there in time," she told him.
Dean huffed a laugh. "Yeah, you and me both."
"Thanks for bringing him by," she added. Even drugged to the eyeballs as he was, she liked the younger Winchester.
"He thought I didn't know why he wanted to come," Dean said, spinning his teacup around and around on the spot with a finger.
"And yet you brought him anyway."
"We should have kept going," Dean said, more seriously. "Every instinct I got is telling me we should be getting as far from this clusterfuck as we possibly can."
"I know you had to leave Columbia pretty quick, but Sam clearly needed the break," Mel observed. Dean inclined his head in a nod of agreement. He couldn't disagree with that.
"I don't suppose you know where they are...?" he asked, after a pause. Mel just shook her head.
"I know a lot of things, Dean, but tracking a group of random hunters that may or may not be following you…" she trailed off, almost apologetic.
Dean gave her a wry little smile. "Well, why should we get a break now, huh?" He got to his feet and stretched out his back with a few audible popping noises - all the stress and tension, plus a full day of driving, and he felt as stiff as a board.
"You've done enough, anyway. Sam did want the book, but he also needed to know what happened. I don't like that he remembers it at all, but I think knowing he only remembered part of it was tearing him up worse than if he could recall every detail." Being a control freak came with the job, and Dean understood that feeling of needing to have all the facts, to know all the angles - whether it was good for you or not.
"You're right. The drugs, the pain, and the uncertainty - it was wearing him down," Mel confirmed, as she got up from the table and went over to a set of three wall-mounted bookshelves near Dean. "He'll feel better once he talks about it, though. He won't want to at first, but you'll convince him to open up."
Dean sniffed, watchingMel get Sam's copy of To Kill A Mockingbird from the top shelf, admiring the way her pyjama bottoms pulled tight around her backside as she reached up.
Yeah, right - like I can make Sam talk. He could feel the sarcasm practically dripping from his ears. I might as well try squeezing some blood from the stones in the garden on my way out. Or maybe, while Hell's freezing over, Luci might just decide to walk back into the Cage-
"Don't sass me," Mel told Dean brusquely, and turned around and slapped the book into his chest.
"Yes, ma'am," Dean replied smartly, but he was smiling. Mel gave him a good-natured shove and went to clean up the tea dishes, wearing a smile of her own.
Um, so... sorry this has been 'in progress' for 3 years. I just enjoy this story *that* much. ;)
Seriously, though - I'mma finish it soon. Honest. :D And Ch 14 is worth staying tuned for, if I do say so myself...