Don't You Cry No More
By San Antonio Rose
Ever since he'd first read The Silmarillion, Sam had sometimes wondered what would have happened between Túrin and Nienor if she'd been born by the time Húrin left for the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Now it seemed he was about to find out one possible answer.
Part of him just wished he were the one with total amnesia.
It wasn't the first time a hunt had gone wrong, just the first time it had happened to go so spectacularly upside down and backward since the Apocalypse-that-wasn't. Somehow they'd missed the signs that this latest hunt near Taos was for a dragon rather than a vampire, and even Dean, Tolkien nerd that he was, hadn't realized that the whole part about dragons enspelling people with their gazes was true. Or maybe it was only true for dragons more powerful than the ones they'd run into in Portland. In any case, Dean had apparently made the mistake of looking the thing in the eye, because Sam was in the middle of busting its victims out of their bonds when he heard Dean's machete clatter to the floor and looked around to see him standing like a statue, staring at nothing, his face slack and his eyes vacant, and the dragon about to swipe at Dean with its red-hot hand.
Of course they didn't have the Sword-that-Dean-Broke with them. So of course 'Glaurung' got away.
Sam got the rest of the victims out and went back for Dean. He couldn't get Dean's attention by waving his hand in front of Dean's face, but by putting his arm around Dean's shoulders, Sam was able to lead him as far as the mouth of the cave... where, of course, an electrical storm was starting. At the first flash of lightning, Dean spooked and bolted into the woods, and Sam took off after him, even though Dean was running like an entire pack of hellhounds were on his trail and Sam couldn't keep up.
Somehow finding first Dean's jacket, then his overshirt, didn't surprise Sam at all. Neither did the shredded T-shirt. After all, Nienor had gone feral for a day or two.
It was several hours before Sam finally found Dean passed out on the ground. Dean hadn't managed to rip off his jeans or boots while running, so at least Sam didn't have to worry about how to get him back to the Impala with his dignity intact, but his heart still sank.
And then a cold rain began to fall.
Sam gathered Dean into his arms and ran back to the Impala as fast as he could. Bobby's place was too far away for Sam to hope to make it there before Dean woke up; even pushing the car to her top speed of 120 mph, it would take eight hours, and it was too late and Sam was too exhausted to drive that fast for that long. And since this curse or whatever it was seemed to be taking effect far faster than the original Glaurung's spell on Nienor, he had no way of knowing what state Dean would be in when he came to, and it wouldn't do for him to try to bolt again from a moving vehicle. So once Sam got a shivering Dean bundled into the back seat and swaddled in blankets, he headed back to the motel.
But Dean didn't wake up before they got there and wouldn't wake up after Sam got him back into the room, and the way he kept shivering, Sam couldn't be sure if it was borderline hypothermia or a side effect of the curse. Getting him out of his wet jeans and into a pair of Sam's sweats didn't seem to help any, and Sam knew better than to try to force coffee into Dean while he was still unconscious. But if it was hypothermia, Sam had to get his core warmed first.
There was nothing for it. Sam stripped Dean to his boxers once more, stripped to his shorts himself, and wrapped himself around his icicle of an older brother, hoping against hope that this was the sort of curse that wore off on its own.
But the fact that Dean stopped shivering almost immediately wasn't encouraging.
Sam slept lightly and finally got up before dawn. Dean had warmed up well and slept like a brick, so Sam decided to risk running to the diner down the street to pick up breakfast and to the store for some sanitary supplies, hoping that Dean wouldn't have woken and tried to hide in the closet or something before Sam got back. Wasn't that Nienor's deal when she first woke up from her dash toward Brethil, hiding from the fear that was the only thing she vaguely remembered? And Sam was acutely aware that his size made him inherently scary to skittish things.
For once, though, Sam caught a break and made it back just as Dean was starting to stir. As Sam set the bags on the table, Dean sat up and blinked around the room in confusion—not just how the hell did I get here, but I have absolutely no clue what I'm looking at, but it's kind of awesome anyway. And if Sam's ability to read that difference didn't speak volumes about the kind of life they'd led, he didn't know what would.
"Hey," said Sam gently.
Dean looked at him and brightened in recognition. Sam sat down on the side of the bed, and Dean actually looked relieved. That was a good sign.
"How are you feeling?"
Dean blinked as if Sam had just spoken in Ugaritic.
"Are you hungry?"
That Dammit, Sammy, speak English look got more pronounced, and Sam's heart sank. So he patted Dean's knee and went back to the table, feeling Dean watching him carefully, then brought the cups of coffee and the bag of breakfast burritos back to the bed and offered one of each to Dean. Dean took them cautiously and sniffed them, watched as Sam took a drink of his own coffee and ate a bite of burrito, and followed suit. Then the FOOD! lightbulb went off and Dean downed his burrito in record time.
Well, at least his gross motor skills and his appetite were still intact. They'd have to see about fine motor skills later. But if Dean didn't understand English anymore... they probably were looking at a complete memory wipe.
Of all the things they didn't need.
Dean devoured three burritos and finished his coffee before leaning back against the headboard with a satisfied sigh and patting his stomach in the universal "pleasantly full" gesture. Sam cleared the trash off the bed and sat down beside Dean again, and Dean patted Sam's knee as if to say Thank you.
"So you really don't remember anything?" Sam tried again.
Dean's confused look returned, colored with worry.
"Do you even know who I am?"
The worry and confusion deepened.
"My name is Sam. I'm your brother."
There was a flicker of recognition then—I should know what those sounds mean, but it's escaping me.
"Your name is Dean Winchester."
A more focused stare, shifted down slightly to Sam's lips—Say that again, I almost caught it.
Dean's mouth moved as if he was trying to mimic Sam's movement, but no sound came out.
"Dean," Sam repeated.
"Dean," Dean echoed carefully, eyes locked on Sam's once more.
Sam smiled. "Yes. That's your name."
"Dean," Dean said again, smiling a little. Then he put his hand on his chest and said more confidently, "Dean."
Then Dean pointed at Sam and raised his eyebrows in question. You said something I thought was your name.
Sam put a hand on his own chest. "Sam."
"Sam," Dean repeated as if it didn't quite sound right. "Sammm. Sammmm-y?"
Sam chuckled. "Yeah. You used to call me Sammy."
"Sam. Sammy. Sam." Then he patted Sam's knee again. "Sammy. B-brrr..."
Dean looked away as he tried the word. "Bro-ther. Bro-ther. Brother." I should know what that means—I think it's good. "Brother," he said again, pointing first at Sam, then at himself.
Dean then pointed to himself, then to Sam. "Brother?"
"Yes," Dean repeated with a satisfied nod. "Dean Sam brother. Sam Dean brother. Yes."
Well, at least they had that much straight, although it was doubtful that Dean knew what it meant beyond the fact that they belonged together and that Sam would bring Dean food.
Dean looked thoughtful again. "Dean. Dean W-wi-win..."
It took several tries of sounding it out slowly, but Dean finally got the hang of the most complex word he'd attempted yet. "Dean Winchester," he said then as if another piece of the puzzle had fallen into place. "Sam? Sammy..." He was clearly waiting for Sam's second name.
Dean frowned. "Dean Winchester."
"Sam Winchester. Dean Winchester. Sam Dean brother." Sam could see the wheels turning as Dean processed these connections. "Sam Dean Winchester brother." Then he looked at Sam—Did I get that right?
Dean pointed to himself—"Dean"—then to Sam—"Sammy"—then motioned between them—"Winchester."
"Yes. Winchester is our family name."
"Sam Dean brother. Sam Dean family. Winchester." Dean pondered that information for another moment before nodding again. "Yes."
Great. Now Dean had a whole six words in his vocabulary, six of the words that had been most important for twenty-nine of Dean's thirty-three years, and half of them so far meant only "Sam and Dean as a unit." Awesome. Damn dragons.
"Look," said Sam, "I need to call Bobby. We can pick up with the language lessons when I'm done."
The confused look came back. "Sammy?"
Sam patted Dean's knee and walked over to the other bed while he pulled out his phone. Acutely aware that Dean was both watching his every move and unable to understand a word he said, he blew out a breath and called Bobby.
"Hey, Sam," Bobby said pleasantly as soon as he picked up. "How'd the vamp hunt go?"
"Uh, well... have you ever read The Children of Húrin, Bobby?"
He could almost hear the smile fall off Bobby's face. "Tell me you don't mean what I think you do."
"Dragon-spell. His memory's gone, like, completely—he can feed himself finger food, and I've taught him six words in the last ten minutes, but..."
Bobby swore quietly. "That sword's back in Frisco, ain't it?"
"Yeah. It is. Don't even know if it's been reforged yet, and I don't think Dr. Visyak would let us on her property again anyway."
"All right. Look, I'll call Rufus, see if he knows somebody who can take over for you. You get Dean back here, and we'll see if there's some way to break the spell short of killing the dragon."
"Okay. Thanks, Bobby. We'll see you in a couple of days."
"Be careful, son."
Sam hung up and looked over at Dean, who looked hopelessly lost. Poor guy had probably been trying to follow the conversation and couldn't figure out why Sam was talking to the thing in his hand. Dammit, this was going to be like trying to raise a super-bright kid—or teaching Cas how to be human.
Unfortunately, that train of thought was interrupted by a too-familiar rumble that made Dean frown down at his stomach. Sam cursed and jumped up to pull Dean's covers back, but he couldn't get Dean to his feet before he soiled himself. Dean looked humiliated.
Sam sighed. "It's okay, Dean. Let's get you cleaned up."
He helped Dean into the bathroom, motioned for Dean to drop his boxers, and guided him to sit on the toilet. Then Sam dashed back into the main room and grabbed clean clothes for both of them as well as the bag of adult diapers he'd gotten at the store and dashed back. He set the clean things on the sink and used the plastic grocery bag to scoop up the soiled boxers, wrapping them well and setting them aside to wash at Bobby's; by the time he was done, Dean had just finished emptying both bladder and bowels. Sam pulled him off the toilet and flushed it, which intrigued Dean.
Hopefully toilet training won't take too long this time around, Sam thought wryly.
Ordinarily Sam wouldn't take a simple accident as a cue to help his brother shower, but in this case, with them both still being a bit grungy after the hunt and with shower assistance being inevitable, he decided there was no time like the present. Dean watched quizzically as Sam started to pull off his own clothes, blinking when he caught sight of Sam's tattoo and evidently cataloguing other anatomical similarities. Sam then guided Dean into the tub, and as he closed the shower curtain, he felt Dean gently touch his tattoo.
"Brother," Dean said.
"Yes," Sam replied and turned on the water.
Showering involved a host of new sensations and actions for Dean, from washing hair to using soap. Sam quickly realized that Dean was more likely to want to follow Sam's lead than to have Sam do the work for him, and so he cleaned himself first and then gave Dean the soap and shampoo in the proper order. It took a little doing, of course, but Sam's non-verbal coaching worked, and he could see Dean storing away the information for future reference. But as he helped Dean dry off, he noticed that Dean's eyes kept being drawn to the tattoos, and eventually Dean started rubbing at his own tattoo, tracing the design and feeling out the differences between the colored area and the skin around it.
"Tattoo," Sam finally said.
Dean looked at him. "Tat-too?"
Sam nodded and tapped his own. "Tattoo."
Dean nodded thoughtfully. "Tattoo." Then he pointed to the mole beside Sam's nose. "Tattoo?"
Sam shook his head. "Mole."
"Mole. Tattoo." Dean nodded again, then pointed to the freckles on his shoulders. "Mole?"
Dean laughed, and Sam grinned—it was a funny-sounding word. "Freck-kle. Freckle. Mole, tattoo, freckle." Then he glanced down at his left deltoid, and Sam's heart sank again as Dean ran his fingers over the handprint and frowned. "Tattoo?" he finally asked.
Sam shook his head. "Scar."
"Scar." You look like this is bad, and I have one and you don't. I'm confused.
Sam sighed and turned around to show Dean the mark he still carried from Cold Oak. "Scar," he repeated, pointing to it.
Dean gently ran his fingers along the raised skin. "Scar." Then he found and traced a few other scars that Sam's body had gotten in the Cage before Crowley yanked him out. But "Mole," he declared correctly, putting his finger on another spot.
Sam turned to find Dean grinning at him. "Freckle?"
"That's all you, dude." Sam tapped the ones Dean had been looking at before.
The strange sentence left Dean confused again, but he shook it off and pointed to his tattoo again with a look that said he was going back to a previous topic. "Tattoo."
"Dean Sam tattoo. Dean Sam brother. Tattoo brother?"
Now it was Sam's turn to be confused. He thought he understood what Dean was asking, but with Dean's vocabulary that was now up to all of ten words, he couldn't be sure.
Dean tried again. "Mole, freckle, tattoo, scar." These are all different.
"Brother, family, Winchester, Dean-Sam." These are all the same.
Dean noticed Sam's hesitation but kept going. "Mole, freckle, scar—" then he shook his head as he said "Brother."
Sam shook his head. "No."
"No. Tattoo yes brother?"
That's what Sam had thought Dean meant. "Sometimes."
Dean looked a little frustrated at getting an answer that wasn't yes or no. Sam wasn't sure if that was typical kid or typical Dean... probably both.
Sam sighed and picked up the bag of diapers, pulled one out, and handed it to Dean. Then he grabbed his own boxers and pulled them on. Dean looked annoyed, as if he understood and hated the reason Sam hadn't given him boxers, but he put the diaper on. Then he watched Sam put on his jeans and did likewise, but Sam had to help him with the T-shirt and overshirt.
Only then did Sam realize that Dean's watch had probably come off somewhere in the woods the night before. But there was no way he'd take Dean back toward that dragon's lair, and there was no way he'd leave Dean alone long enough to look for it himself. It wasn't like Dean would be able to use it for a while, either. Dean could grouse at him for losing it when he got his memory back.
If he got his memory back.
"Sammy?" Dean asked, his voice every bit as worried as it had ever been when Dean was in big brother mode.
Sam huffed. "Nothing, Dean. It's okay."
"Sammy?" Something's wrong. Don't shake your head. Explain.
Dean hesitantly put a hand on Sam's shoulder as if to offer comfort... and damn if he didn't look about ready to cry. That in turn made Sam feel like crying.
He settled for pulling Dean into a hug. And Dean hugged back like his life depended on it, and a few hot tears slipped out of both men's eyes.
Once they'd held each other for far longer than Dean would normally allow, Sam broke the embrace and spent ten minutes introducing Dean to the concept of mirrors and another ten showing him how to use a hairdryer and shave with his electric razor. And Dean's delighted laughter both warmed and broke Sam's heart all over again.
After that, Sam had Dean sit on the edge of the tub while he packed up their shaving kits, giving Dean vocabulary words as he seemed to want them until he rubbed his forehead in the classic I'm getting a headache way. By the time Sam had finished packing up the bathroom and gotten Dean socked and shod and jacketed, Dean was definitely looking tired. So Sam quickly shoved the rest of their gear into their duffles, handed one to Dean, and led him out of the room.
Dean got the Ooh, shiny look on his face when he saw the Impala and instinctively put a hand on her hood.
"Car," Sam offered.
"Car," Dean repeated and frowned like it wasn't quite the right word.
"Impala." That's it. "Impala car."
"Yes. Impala Dean-Sam car?"
"Yes. C'mon, we need to get going."
"Yes," Dean nodded once and patted the hood like he'd patted Sam's knee. Then he followed Sam around to deposit his duffle in the trunk.
Sam then led him to the back seat. "You sit back here. It'll be easier for you to sleep while we're on the road."
Dean looked confused, so Sam guided him into the seat. Dean ran a hand over the leather for a moment, then smiled up at Sam, scooted over, and patted the seat. "Sammy."
Sam smiled but shook his head.
Dean blinked, his smile fading. "No?"
"I have to drive, dude. Maybe later."
"Stay here, Dean. I'll be right back."
Feeling terrible, Sam slammed the car door, ran to check out, and ran back before Dean could work himself into a major panic. But Dean's scared face peering at him from the back seat prompted him to slide in beside his brother instead of immediately getting behind the wheel. Dean was so relieved that he pulled Sam into another hug and held on for a good thirty seconds. The poor guy was shaking.
"We need to go," Sam said when Dean finally let go of him.
He pointed to the driver's seat. "I'm gonna sit up there."
"I have to, Dean. Someone has to drive."
"No." Dean was clearly afraid of being left again.
Sam patted his knee, which seemed to help a little, and got out and got back into the driver's seat before Dean could panic again.
Dean relaxed. "Yes."
Sam started the engine, which startled Dean, and let it run for a few seconds to get Dean used to the noise and backed out slowly to get him used to the idea that it moved. Dean grinned, and Sam grinned back. Then he pulled onto the highway and fled toward Sioux Falls.
Dean tried valiantly to stay awake, to take in the scenery as it sped past, but he conked out after only half an hour. That spared Sam the choice between awkward silence and even more awkward conversation, since he wasn't sure Dean was ready to experience radio yet; but it left him alone with his thoughts, which wasn't always a good thing.
In this case, Sam wasn't sure whether to be panicked or jealous or glad. There were so many ways it could have gone worse, to be sure. And better that it happen now rather than six months ago, when RoboSam was still trying to make up his mind if he wanted his soul back or not. RoboSam wouldn't have wanted to be saddled with an amnesiac. RoboSam would have dumped Dean at Bobby's and gone on his merry way, Impala and all.
And that thought made Sam even more heartsick than he already had been.
So, yes, lots of reasons to be glad. And Dean obviously didn't remember RoboSam or demon-blood-addict Sam or snotty Stanford know-it-all Sam, so it wasn't like he still had to prove himself to Dean. All Dean knew at the moment was Sam = brother = good and trustworthy and someone to cling to.
But Sam didn't know what to do beyond the kinds of things he'd done that morning. And he couldn't help wishing their places were reversed, not only because then he wouldn't have to worry about the stupid Wall anymore and because Dean would be able to handle a reset Sam better than Sam could handle a reset Dean, but also because it wasn't fair to Dean to not be able to remember anything, even the good times. Even Dad.
Hell, Dean didn't even remember Mom anymore. That was all kinds of wrong.
Bobby and Rufus were working on a cure, though. Sam had to hold on to that, to the idea that this was temporary, that he'd get Dean back sooner than later. Dean wasn't dead or possessed or soulless or even brain damaged. He just... couldn't remember anything.
Sighing, Sam turned his thoughts back to the case itself, trying desperately to find some sign they missed that should have read dragon rather than vampire. Nothing surfaced. There'd been no pattern to the victims comparable to the case in Portland, no obvious spike in gold thefts, just vague reports of a pasty guy who might or might not have had an Eastern European accent and who seemed to be hanging around with fantasy fans. Even Dean thought it seemed most like the case in... Illinois, was it, when he got temporarily vamped?
Yikes. Another memory best left erased.
Anyway. Not that they'd had a dragon-killing sword even if they'd known they needed it. But Dean had even left his trusty M1911 in the trunk when he'd gotten out the machetes, declaring with a shrug that "I'm not likely to need this." Had it been a coincidence, or foresight, or...
... or was the whole thing a trap orchestrated by the Mother of All to keep the boys sidelined? Or by Raphael, for that matter? After all, it was pretty weird that the dragon would enspell Dean and then try to kill him. Could the manipulation have gone that deep?
About the time Sam was starting to get a headache and to worry that he was in danger of thinking himself into a seizure, he reached a town and noticed that it was getting to be lunchtime. Slowing down didn't seem to disturb Dean, so Sam decided to try his luck at a burger place with a drive-through. And when he'd successfully gotten lunch without incident and without waking Dean, Sam drove around until he found the city park, which was nice enough, and parked within sight of a picnic table. Dean started making vague waking-up noises when the engine shut off, so Sam quickly grabbed the burgers and got out and opened the back door just in time for Dean to stretch and sit up.
"Hey," said Sam.
Dean looked up at him and smiled broadly. "Sammy."
"Are you hungry?"
"Hun-gry?" Dean echoed, frowning slightly. You asked me that before, when you gave me food. What does it mean?
Sam patted his stomach. "Hungry."
"Hungry," Dean repeated thoughtfully, putting a hand on his own stomach... which promptly growled. Dean blinked, and Sam laughed.
"Yes. You're hungry."
Dean smiled sheepishly. "Hungry. Yes."
Sam pointed to the picnic table. "Do you want to sit outside?"
Dean probably didn't understand the question, but he eyed the distance skeptically. "Nnno."
Sam smiled. "Okay. We don't have to." And he slid in beside Dean and set the bag of burgers between them, then reached over the back of the front seat and retrieved the sodas.
Dean was baffled by the straw at first, but once Sam demonstrated how to use it, he managed to get a drink of Coke and laughed delightedly at the carbonation. And even though Sam had ordered him a plain cheeseburger without onions, Dean wolfed it down like it was the best thing he'd ever tasted. Not that he had the vocabulary to really complain yet, but after a lifetime of reading Dean's expressions, Sam could tell that Dean genuinely enjoyed the meal.
After they ate, Sam gathered up the trash and took it to the trash can beside the picnic table, leaving the car door open in case Dean wanted to follow. When he turned back, Dean was hesitating at the edge of the seat, watching Sam nervously.
Sam waited until he'd gotten back to the car to ask, "You want to go for a walk?"
"Sammy?" Dean replied, both confused and anxious.
Sam held out a hand. "C'mon."
Dean looked at Sam's hand, then his face, then around at the open space outside the car—too big, too open, no place to hide from the nameless fear that seemed to stalk him.
"C'mon, Dean. Come with me."
Dean swallowed hard, took Sam's hand, and got out of the car. Sam rewarded him with a brief hug. But Dean wouldn't let go of Sam's hand as Sam closed the door and steered him toward the picnic table, and he flatly refused to go more than a few feet beyond it. So Sam led him slowly in a circle around the car and back to the picnic table, where they watched birds and clouds until Sam got the sense that Dean really couldn't stand being out in the open any longer. Then they went back to the car, and Sam put Dean in shotgun, which seemed to help since he could not only see where they were going but also stay closer to Sam.
They made one final stop on the way out of town, going to a convenience store for sodas and snacks and a restroom break. Dean's separation anxiety was too great for Sam to leave him in the car, so as embarrassing as it would normally be for both of them, he let Dean hold his hand, use him as a shield against eye contact from strangers, and follow him everywhere.
Unfortunately, that included the restroom. Fortunately, that saved Sam from having to explain the concept to Dean later, and it turned out that Dean needed to do likewise and that he'd realized it before the diaper became necessary.
Sam decided to try turning on the radio as they pulled onto the highway once more—and the first song that came on the oldies station was "Shambala" by Three Dog Night. It seemed oddly appropriate, and as soon as Dean got over being startled by the music, he curled up with his head on Sam's thigh and fell fast asleep. Sam chuckled and rested his right hand on Dean's chest, and Dean unconsciously grabbed it and held it until he woke up again an hour later.
They got as far as Sterling, Colorado, before Sam decided it was time to stop for the night. Dean was starting to get antsy and seemed disturbed by the fact that the sun was going down, and they needed to get supper anyway. Sam took Dean with him to check in, and as tightly as Dean was sticking to Sam's side, the clerk didn't even bother asking whether they wanted two beds; she just shot one pitying glance at Mr. Clingy and gave them a king.
Sam hadn't thought about it before, but she was probably right. Dean needed the physical contact of sharing a bed, at least for that night.
Dean relaxed a little once Sam got the duffles and the cooler out of the trunk and relaxed even more once they got into the room. Sam decided to risk ordering a pizza, and although Dean hid in the bathroom while the delivery boy was at the door, Sam only had to call his name once to get him to come out again.
They sat at the table this time, and Sam pulled the top off a beer and handed it to Dean, who smiled and nodded once in thanks. Then Dean took a drink, made a face and shuddered as he swallowed, and pushed the beer away.
"No," he said firmly.
Sam was shocked. Dean loved beer. Yeah, maybe it was an acquired taste, but... did that mean Dean's taste buds had been reset along with everything else?
Setting the problem aside to ponder later and leaving the door open so that Dean could see where he was going, Sam retrieved a Coke from the car, then opened it and handed it to Dean. Dean sniffed at it, recognized the smell from lunch, and nodded. "Yes," he said with a grateful smile, took a drink, and happily dug into the pizza.
Well, his taste for junk food was still more or less the same, though Sam hadn't really tried to offer him anything healthier yet. And he'd taken his coffee black that morning, so the bitterness of the beer probably wasn't the issue. But Dean had confessed to knowing he'd had (probably still had) a post-Hell drinking problem several times over the last few months. Maybe his subconscious still associated the taste of alcohol with his bad and traumatic memories, but his conscious mind processed that association only as one with the darkness and nameless fear that was lurking just behind him.
Sam drank Dean's beer only because it was open. It tasted a lot more bitter to him than usual.
After supper, Dean felt safe enough to explore the room, sniffing at the coffee and the soap and shampoo and prompting Sam to give him another vocabulary lesson. He found the Bible in the nightstand and flipped through it, blinking uncomprehendingly at the marks on the pages. He did the same with the phone book. Then he found the remote and pushed buttons until the TV came on, which scared him. Sam tried to explain the concept to him, but Dean didn't give it more than five minutes before pushing the power button again and sighing in relief when the noisy moving pictures went away.
Oh, well. Baby steps.
The TV scare seemed to have sapped the last of Dean's energy, and he patted the pillows to show that he was ready to go to bed. Sam helped him get his boots off, but Dean undressed himself the rest of the way—though he was not best pleased when Sam insisted that he leave the diaper on. Then he crawled into bed and patted the space beside him.
Sam wasn't really tired yet, but Dean needed him. So he undressed and got into bed with a book. Dean looked at him oddly but dozed fitfully for about half an hour before sitting up and tugging on Sam's arm.
"Sammy," he pleaded.
Sam sighed and set the book aside. "Okay, Dean." Then he switched off the light and lay down.
Shivering, Dean pressed himself against Sam's side and fell asleep with his head on Sam's shoulder. And Sam's heart broke all over again.
Dean woke twice during the night that Sam was aware of. The first time Sam woke up just enough to feel Dean gingerly tracing the lines of his face, exploring the roughness of his stubble and the smoothness of his forehead, and then carding his fingers through Sam's hair to examine its length and texture. Exactly how Sam could sense the curious wonder in Dean's touch without opening his eyes wasn't clear to him, but it really did feel more like an infant exploring a parent's face than anything else, even with Dean's grown-up hands. So Sam let himself drift while Dean studied his face, until at last Dean's hand dropped down to trace the star in Sam's tattoo.
"Brother," Dean whispered, somehow managing to fit even more love and joy and contentment into those two syllables than Sam had ever heard before. Then he snuggled against Sam's chest once more and fell asleep with a happy sigh.
Suddenly Sam wasn't so sure he wanted the spell broken.
The second time was around 4 a.m. Sam woke up enough to realize that Dean wasn't next to him anymore, but before the He's GONE! panic reaction could set in, he heard Dean in the bathroom muttering to himself. Then he listened more closely and heard an unusual rhythm to Dean's inflections:
"Dean, Sam, Winchester, brother, family. Mole, tattoo, freckle, scar. Impala car. Yes. No. Mirror, razzzor. Razor. Soap, sham-poo..."
Holy vocab quiz, Batman! He was practicing! His pronunciation was still a little stilted, but... Sam was stunned. How the hell had he missed the fact that Dean not only learned quickly but actually knew how to study things that mattered?
But wait—why was he up at this hour, and why was he practicing in the bathroom?
The answer to that question came a moment later, when Dean stopped talking briefly... and flushed the toilet.
"Yes!" he exclaimed quietly, then walked out stark naked and rummaged in his duffle until he found a pair of boxers, which he shook out triumphantly and put on. After a satisfied pause, he held up a finger as he remembered something, went back to the bathroom, washed his hands, and came back to bed.
Sam was ridiculously proud of him.
Once both brothers were up and moving again, their second day on the road was fairly similar to the previous day, only with fewer mishaps and misunderstandings. They stopped every couple of hours for restroom breaks, had lunch in another park where Dean got to feed a couple of chipmunks, and spent most of the drive exploring the radio dial. Surprisingly, Dean found most classic rock too hard on his ears and seemed to prefer country.
Somewhere around Plankinton, South Dakota, though, Dean fell asleep again, so Sam turned down the radio and tried not to think too hard about much of anything. Then, when they were about five minutes away from Singer Salvage, Sam called Bobby to give him a heads-up.
"How is he?" Bobby asked.
"Doing okay, considering," Sam replied with a shrug. "He's asleep, and I'm still working on getting him used to walking very far from the Impala, so it might take me a few minutes to get him inside."
"You havin' to teach him to walk?"
"No, it's just—he's scared, Bobby. Of pretty much everything except me and the car. It's like the only thing he can remember is being afraid, and he doesn't even know what he's afraid of."
Bobby swore. "Okay, I'll... I'll meet you out on the porch."
"Sounds good. Thanks, Bobby."
Sam pulled into the salvage yard moments later and drove up to the front of the house before parking. Shutting off the engine didn't rouse Dean, so Sam gently rubbed his upper arm. "Hey, buddy. We're here."
Dean startled a little but quickly realized it was only Sam and let out a tiny sigh of relief before sitting up. Then he blinked around at the junkyard, drinking in the sights. "Car... car car car."
"Yes, there are a lot of cars."
"Cars. Cars." Dean processed the difference. "Car," he said, holding up one finger.
Two fingers. "Cars."
Ten fingers. "Cars."
Well, that was the regular plural sorted out for the moment. "C'mon, dude. Let's go inside."
"Yes," Dean replied a little vaguely, as if he wasn't sure what he was agreeing to but knew it was the right thing to say. Sam's opening the car door helped him understand what was going on, though, and he slid out the driver's door after Sam and took Sam's hand.
Bobby came down off the porch to meet them. "Sam. Dean."
"Yes," said Dean warily, looking up at Sam.
"This is Bobby," Sam explained.
"Bob-by. Bobby." You've said that word before, and it sounded like a good word. Then Dean glanced at Bobby again briefly and back to Sam. "Bobby..."
"S-siiinnnggg-er." That was slower to come out than usual, probably because it was the first velar nasal Dean had attempted. He tried it a few more times before it stopped hanging up on his tongue. "Singer. Bobby Singer. No Winchester."
"F-frrriennnd. Friend." Dean still wasn't sure what that meant, only that it wasn't family.
So Sam hugged Bobby, who was about to have trouble hiding his tears.
Dean hummed thoughtfully as Sam released Bobby. "Bobby no family, yes friend. Yes." And he took a hesitant step forward.
"It's okay, son," Bobby stated gruffly and held out his arms for a hug.
Dean looked again at Sam, who nodded, and then slowly, cautiously, walked up to Bobby and gave him a tentative hug. Bobby hugged him back, and Dean slowly relaxed.
"Bobby yes," Dean finally said, and Sam nearly cried.
Bobby cleared his throat and sniffled, and Dean let go and retreated back to Sam's side. "C'mon inside, boys," said Bobby with slightly forced cheerfulness. "Thought you might be hungry—BLTs good?"
"Sounds great," Sam replied and nodded to Dean.
"Yes," Dean nodded back and took Sam's hand again.
They followed Bobby into the house, and Sam had to make sure Dean didn't stumble on anything as he stared in awe at everything except where he was going. Bobby's house was hardly childproof, and that worried Sam a little; but so far, apart from playing with the remote at the motel the night before, Dean had shown extreme caution in approaching an unknown object, so Sam probably didn't have to worry about Dean accidentally cutting or shooting himself. He'd just be sure to take one of the guns outside to show Dean what it did—after supper, of course.
"Rufus was up in Maine," Bobby reported, "but he's headed to Taos now—havin' to take the scenic route through Frisco, though, so it'll be a few days yet before he gets there."
Sam nodded. "Come up with anything in the lore yet?"
Bobby sighed. "No, not yet. So far it looks like Children of Húrin is the only place anything remotely like this dragon-spell pops up, no sign Tolkien got it from any source other than his own imagination. Makes me wonder about Cloverfield, whether he's tryin' to copy Tolkien or what."
"What's the latest on the Mother of All?"
"Still pretty quiet, all things considered." Bobby waited until Sam got Dean situated at the kitchen table with a sandwich and a soda before he asked, "You think maybe she's behind this?"
Sam shrugged. "It's possible, her or Raphael. The whole thing just feels off to me—I mean, there's no sign that it's not a vampire, and then we get into the 'nest' and find out it's a dragon?"
"Wouldn'ta thought Raphael would be in cahoots with a dragon."
"Wouldn't have thought Zachariah was in cahoots with Lilith."
Bobby shrugged, conceding the point.
Dean evidently picked up on their confusion and concern, or maybe there was some vague echo in his memory of the names being mentioned, because he put down his sandwich and tugged on Sam's sleeve. "Sammy?" he asked, looking a little distressed.
Sam smiled and rubbed Dean's shoulder. "It's okay, Dean." Then he got his own sandwich and soda and sat down beside Dean, who relaxed.
"Rather have a beer, Sam?" Bobby offered.
"Uh, no, thanks, Bobby. Dean's happier if I'm having what he's having."
"Does he want a beer?"
"Tried that last night," Sam replied quietly with a minute shake of the head.
Bobby nodded once slowly in comprehension. "Well, might as well make it unanimous." He got himself a soda and sat down on the other side of Dean with his own sandwich.
Dean grinned. "Bobby!"
Bobby smiled back. "Hey, son."
Dean studied Bobby's face for a moment. "Bobby freckle."
Sam laughed, and Bobby shrugged, amused. "Close enough."
Dean reached over and gently touched the skin beside Bobby's eye.
"That's a wrinkle."
"Wrinkle." Dean nodded once, storing the information. Then he brushed his fingers down across Bobby's cheek.
"Beard," Bobby supplied.
"Beard," Dean repeated carefully before running a hand over his own stubble. Then something clicked and he turned to Sam. "Beard no razor."
Bobby looked impressed, and Sam grinned proudly. "Yes. That's right, Dean."
"Yes!" Dean crowed and went back to munching happily on his BLT.
Bobby gave Dean the grand tour of the house after supper, and at Sam's suggestion, they took a couple of the guns outside and shot some cans. The noise scared Dean back into ultra-cling mode, but he did get the message and refused to touch even the one Bobby was holding. It took several minutes of cuddling on the couch to get him calmed down again, though, and Bobby apologized by giving Dean another hug.
"Bed, Sammy?" Dean finally asked.
"Okay," Sam nodded and led Dean upstairs to the bathroom, where they each got ready for bed. Then Sam led Dean to the bedroom they'd shared as kids.
"Bed?" Dean asked, confused by the two twin beds.
"You sleep over there, Dean," Sam stated and pointed. "That's your bed, and this one's mine."
"No." Dean frowned—Something's off here.
Dean studied the layout of the room for a moment before figuring out what was wrong. Then he pushed Sam's bed against his, crawled across to his bed and got under the covers, and patted the other. "Sammy."
Sam huffed. "Dean."
"Yes," Dean said stubbornly and patted Sam's bed again.
"Sammy." And that was the all-too-familiar You're being an idiot, I'm not taking no for an answer, now shut up and get over here, because I'm the big brother and I said so tone as well as the face.
Bobby chuckled from the hallway. "Some things never change."
Sam rolled his eyes, and Dean laughed. Then Dean patted Sam's bed again. "Sammy!"
Sam huffed again and sat down, and Dean grinned and lay down.
Bobby chuckled again. "Night, boys."
Dean blinked. "Bobby?" Then he sat up partway and looked around the room as if wondering where Bobby would sleep.
"Good night, Bobby," Sam replied and got up to shut the door.
Dean frowned in confusion. "Bobby no?"
Sam turned out the lights and came back to bed and lay down. "No. Bobby has his own room."
Dean didn't understand that, but Sam could see him making deductions anyway. "Bobby no family," he finally concluded.
Dean patted the joined beds. "Brother...s."
"Brothers. Yes. Bobby no brother." That satisfied him, and he lay back down and closed his eyes.
Of course, that made Sam wonder how in the world he was going to explain what happened when a man shared a bed with a woman. But that conversation was probably a long way in the future if it was ever going to be necessary. Either Dean would get his memory back, or he wouldn't... and hell, this Dean didn't even like beer. There was a chance he wouldn't be interested in sex, either, at least not casual sex.
Dean would know how to handle that conversation. Dean was the one who gave him The Talk the first time around because Dad was gone and there was this girl making eyes at Sam during class. And Dean always had known what to do when Sam was a kid.
I don't know if it's being a big brother or what, but to me, you've always been this snot-nosed kid that I've had to keep on the straight and narrow. I think we both know that that's not you anymore.
Suddenly, Sam realized how incredibly selfish it was to be jealous that Dean was the one who'd been reset. Yeah, maybe Sam did have 180 years of Hell lurking behind the Wall, but as long as he didn't pick at it, the Wall would hold just fine (Chesterton's Doctrine of Conditional Joy, anyone?). And maybe he did have all kinds of horrible memories of things he'd done and things that had been done to him even before he'd died the first time. But Dean had remembered Hell, all of it. And he hadn't had a wall to block out those six months with Sam's soulless shell, the day or so he'd been a vampire, the partial truths he'd heard from Veritas, the day he'd had to be Death and failed and came back to find RoboSam about to kill Bobby.
Dean didn't deserve those memories. And he didn't deserve to be saddled with raising Sam all over again.
Yeah, living this way would be hard for both of them. Hell, Dean was trying to navigate in a world in which not only did he not know the language, he didn't have any frame of reference for anything, even his own identity. It was amazing that he was learning as fast as he was and that he wasn't wearing himself out faster with all the mental activity needed—this was total immersion and then some. But if you took Hell years and the Mystery Spot into account, Sam was 209 to Dean's 73. That was more than enough of an age difference for Sam to be able to step up to the plate and be the adult for once.
He could do this. He had to do this, for Dean's sake.
Dean nudged him in the side. "Sammy." You're thinkin' too loud, Sasquatch. Go to sleep.
With a chuckle, Sam rolled over and pulled Dean into a cuddle. Dean smiled and pressed his cheek against Sam's shoulder as if Sam were an overgrown teddy bear.
Oh, yeah. They could do this.
Dean was confused when the routine changed the next morning—Sam made him shower solo, and they didn't leave Bobby's after breakfast—but his nerves had settled enough to be okay with trailing Sam around the house and yard, and by suppertime he'd gotten bold enough to help Bobby with the dishes. After a couple of days, he started following Bobby around the garage and picking up car repair skills that were as much muscle memory as anything. But it was still hard work, trying to learn so much at once, and Sam finally convinced him to slow down some and focus on simple things the way kids did. Introducing him to coloring books helped—and it kept him occupied if Sam and Bobby needed to be in another room doing something Dean wasn't ready to help with. Sam and Bobby, for their part, were still holding out hope that they wouldn't have to re-teach Dean everything, even though he was a fast learner.
But when Rufus finally called back from Taos, his news was all bad. There was no trace of the dragon. And none of his contacts knew of a way to lift the spell.
Bobby took Dean to the park to give Sam the space he needed to break down and cry.
By the time they got back, Sam was just starting the process of forging legal stationery (from the Law Offices of Hungadunga, Hungadunga, Hungadunga & McCormick, since Dewey, Cheatham & Howe was too obvious). Bobby sent Dean upstairs to nap and came into the study to check on Sam.
"What's this for?" Bobby frowned.
"I need to tell Ben," Sam replied. "Dunno what I'm gonna say, but..."
"Hold that thought." Bobby crossed to his safe and pulled out an envelope. "Dean wrote this before he made the deal with Death. Didn't have to send it then, but he left it with me for safe keeping when y'all went back on the road, just in case anything happened."
Sam carefully opened the letter and forced himself not to cry as he glanced over the opening—If you're reading this, I'm dead, and I'm sorry I didn't get back to say goodbye to you and your mom. He hated thinking about what Dean must have been feeling at that point. "Yeah, this... this'll help. Thanks, Bobby."
"Need anything else, son? Drink?"
Sam almost accepted but stopped himself, suddenly remembering scenes from their childhood with Dad passed out drunk on the couch and Dean trying to hold things together for Sam. "No. Thanks. Dean... Dean needs me sober."
Bobby patted his shoulder and left him to write. Sam glanced back over Dean's letter, took a deep breath, and began:
Dean wrote this letter a few months back, after he broke up with your mom, in case he died on a very dangerous hunt. We both survived, though I was kind of messed up for a while. But I'm sending it to you now because a hunt did go wrong. Long story short, Dean's alive and physically fine, but he's lost his memory completely, and it's not likely now that he'll ever get it back.
Dean never told me much about what happened between him and your mom, but I gather that it was at least partly my fault. Nothing I can say or do can make up for that, but I am so, so sorry for taking Dean away from you. He loved you as if you were his own son, and he thought your mom was pretty special, too.
I don't know what we'll do now or whether we'll ever come back to Battle Creek. Maybe once he learns how to talk again, I'll ask him. But since the Dean you knew is probably gone for good, I thought I should let you know.
I'm so sorry, Ben, I can't even find the words.
Then he hit Print and bawled his eyes out again, this time more out of remorse than out of grief.
Just about the time his tears finally subsided, though, what should he hear from the doorway but "Sammy?"
Sam looked up at a sleep-rumpled Dean frowning at him in worry. He hastily swiped at his face with a Kleenex. "Uh. Hey, Dean."
Dean carefully walked around the desk and put a hand on Sam's damp cheek. "Sammy?"
Sam couldn't explain. He didn't want to talk about it, and Dean wouldn't understand him if he tried. So he stood up and hugged Dean. Dean huffed a little in frustration, but he hugged back.
"Hungry, Sam," Dean finally said.
Sam chuckled. "Me, too. Let's go eat."
They'd been at Bobby's for about two weeks when Sam, who was in the kitchen fixing lunch, heard a yelp and a crash from the living room.
"Dean?" said Cas' very confused voice.
Sam ran in to find Cas standing in the middle of the room and staring quizzically at the couch, which was further from the wall than it should have been. Sure enough, Dean was hiding behind it, shaking and wide-eyed. The crash must have been a result of his jumping over the back.
"Sammy," he whispered tremulously as Sam ran a soothing hand over his hair.
"It's okay, Dean. He's a friend."
"No." Friend means Bobby. Friend does not mean stranger who appears out of nowhere!
It took some non-verbal coaxing, but Dean eventually let Sam draw him out from behind the couch. He still plastered himself against Sam's side and hid his face as much as Sam would let him.
"Dean, this is Castiel," Sam said gently.
"Cas-ti-el." The repetition was barely audible.
"You can call him Cas."
"Cas." That seemed to feel a little better. "Cas..."
"Just Cas. He's an angel."
"An-gel." Dean shuddered a little.
Cas was growing increasingly alarmed. "Sam, what happened?"
"Dragon-spell. Erased his memory."
Dean suddenly glanced down at his left shoulder and over at Cas several times, which made Sam wonder if the handprint was reacting to Cas' presence. He'd never mentioned it doing so before... but then again, Pamela had put her hand on it to summon Cas during the séance where he accidentally burned her eyes out, and Sam had a niggling memory of Cas once mentioning that he and Dean had a "more profound bond" than he had with Sam. But that felt like a RoboSam flashback, and Sam knew better than to pursue it right then.
Cas muttered something in Enochian, which got Dean to look at him more directly and frown in confusion. And once Dean made eye contact, Cas evidently did a quick reading of Dean's thoughts, because he looked more disturbed than Sam had ever seen him.
"Not erased," Cas finally said. "Shrouded in impenetrable darkness. No wonder I couldn't reach his dreams..." He shook his head. "I've never encountered magic like this before."
Well, that was discouraging. But evidently Dean heard something in Cas' tone that made him less afraid. "Friend?" he asked Sam quietly with a look that said Are you sure?
"Yes, Dean," Cas replied with a sad smile. "I am your friend."
Dean swallowed hard and peeled himself away from Sam, edging toward Cas with even more caution than he'd shown in approaching Bobby for the first time. Cas sensed what he needed and held out his arms for a hug.
And damned if Dean didn't give him one.
He was still shaking like a leaf, and the hug was twice as tentative as the first one he'd given Bobby, but Cas very gingerly rubbed his back. That seemed to help—must be a residual memory from Jimmy, Sam thought, since the hunters Cas knew never hugged that way, but it was a fatherly gesture. Still, it wasn't many seconds before Dean darted back to half-hide behind Sam.
"You're only the third person he's actually met," Sam explained with a rueful smile, putting an arm around Dean's shoulders and drawing him forward until they were side by side. "So, uh... you don't think..."
Cas shook his head. "I cannot break this spell, Sam. I don't even know what it is. I'm sorry."
Sam nodded. "Woulda called you, but I figured you were busy."
"I have been. The war continues to go badly. I'm not... losing, exactly, but I'm not winning yet, either. And that's why I came. Raphael intends to try again to kill you. But with the sigils in place on your ribs..."
"He can't find us unless he already knows where we are." Sam didn't voice the curse for fear of distressing Dean even further.
"You must find shelter elsewhere. Bobby will probably be safe enough, though even he might do well to leave town for a few days."
Sam's arm tightened around Dean's shoulders. "Cas, where can we go? I'm still wanted for murder in Rhode Island, and who knows where else I crossed the line without my soul. Dean's barely speaking still; he won't understand how to lie about our names. And I can't go poking around in my memory for answers—what if I scratch the Wall?"
Cas thought for a moment, then took a step forward as he came up with something. "If your records were destroyed, could you find a town where you've never been before?"
Sam sighed. "I can try, if you can have someone double-check for me."
Cas nodded. "I will speak to Ash." And he was gone.
"Sammy?" Dean whispered.
Sam just pulled Dean closer and rested his cheek against Dean's head. Dean responded by putting an arm around Sam's back.
Sam wasn't sure how long they'd been standing like that when Cas came back. "It's done. Ash was also able to find out all the places you hunted without your soul." He handed Sam a sheet of paper in Ash's distinctive handwriting. "Tell me where you wish to settle, and I will see that the town is well warded."
Sam looked over the list, thought for a moment, then looked back at Cas. "Y'know, this'll sound silly, but there is one place I've always wanted to go..."
On August 9, 2014, the only people at Camp Chitaqua were campers enjoying their last days of freedom before school started again. There were no Croats near it, or anywhere else, for that matter. Bobby and Rufus were coordinating the ongoing hunt for Mother of All. Cas was still an angel, though he hadn't been in touch with Sam in several months. Sarah Palin was President—Dean had even voted for her, much to Sam's surprise—but according to the media, there were no bombings scheduled for anywhere but North Korea, and even those might be called off if China could get Kim Jong Il to take his meds.
And in Muleshoe, Texas, Dean was sliding on his sunglasses and yelling, "C'mon, Sammy! Wanna get to Clovis and back before it gets too hot!"
"Why?" Sam called from the bedroom. "You got a date?"
"No, I don't want the ice cream to melt."
Sam huffed and came into the kitchen of the 1950s-era house they'd shared for the past two years. "We can get ice cream here in town, Dean."
"Dude, all I'm sayin' is that every place in town is overpriced. Especially when it comes to Blue Bell."
"I know, I know." They'd had the same argument practically once a month all that summer and the summer before. The summer before that, Dean had still been learning to read the names of the flavors.
They'd quit hunting when they moved here back in 2012. Bobby had gotten them hooked up with Social Security Disability Insurance until Dean had re-learned enough to get a job, which he'd landed at a garage, and by that time Sam had impressed enough of the neighbors with his patience in handling Dean that the school hired him as a Special Ed aide. Sam hadn't been able to keep Dean totally in the dark about hunting or their family history, but Dean was happy in Muleshoe, and oddly enough, so was Sam, even though there wasn't much there besides the wildlife refuge and the Mule Memorial. The town was well warded, as Cas had promised, and their house doubly so, and they seldom had need to go anywhere except to the Walmart in Clovis or maybe the mall in Lubbock. That was good for Dean, who never had quite conquered his social anxiety; he could work up to going to one or two ballgames a month during the school year, and he had several on-again-off-again girlfriends who never got further than kissing, but mostly he preferred staying home. And since Dean still didn't like alcohol and Sam still didn't like leaving Dean to go barhopping alone, they'd both been sober and celibate for a record two years.
But both brothers had come to trust each other when one had a foreboding that they needed to stay home (the first times having been only a bad wreck sensed by Dean and a funnel cloud sensed by Sam, but one time was enough for Sam, and Dean gladly returned the respect). Neither of them had felt the call of the road or the need to hunt. And amazingly, Sam hadn't felt the need to scratch the Wall since they arrived.
Dean sighed. "What is with you today, Sam?"
Sam shook his head. "I dunno, dude. Something's just off today. Can't put my finger on it."
Dean looked at him for a moment and slid off his shades. "All right. We can go tomorrow."
"No, Sam, I get it. As long as we go tomorrow early, we'll be fine." He paused, then added with a twinkle, "Unless you were planning to eat the last of the popcorn, too?"
Sam huffed again. "Jerk."
Why Dean had latched onto that particular term of Bobby's endearment, Sam would probably never know. It did hurt a little to know that their banter would never be exactly the same, and Dean's speech might always be a little stilted even though he'd gotten back nearly to native fluency. But at least they were both still around and able to banter. If Dean hadn't recovered... Sam wasn't sure what he'd have done with himself.
"So what," Dean continued, "you wanna do yard work this morning or something? Or is this a 'lock the doors and salt everything including the air vents' kind of day?"
Sam was about to tell Dean not to make fun of him when the phone rang. And since Dean was still skeptical of phones, Sam answered.
But Bobby didn't even give Sam time to say hello. "Better batten down the hatches," he said. "Dragon's just popped up in Roswell. Could be the one that got away from you in Taos."
Sam swore and ran a hand through his hair. "We were just leaving for Clovis—"
"Not anymore," Dean interrupted loudly enough for Bobby to hear.
"—that's just two hours—Bobby, do you think it's headed for us?"
Bobby sighed. "If it's a Glaurung wannabe, it might, but that would require it knowing you're in Muleshoe. And it would require the damn dragon having a death wish, knowing that you're supposed to be Túrin in this little charade."
Sam swore more bitterly.
"Rufus is still tryin' to find someone younger'n we are who can hunt the thing. Dragon hunt last year got us enough blood for a couple of swords; I've been hangin' onto 'em, so I'll head down that way to meet up with whoever Rufus finds."
"Okay. Keep us posted."
"Will do. Take care of yourselves, son."
"Thanks, Bobby." Sam blew out a shaky breath as he hung up.
"What is it?" Dean asked quietly.
"Dragon." Sam shook his head, trying to force down the panic. He didn't want to face this, to lose this Dean, to force him to remember...
Pain flared in the back of his mind, the Wall suddenly inflamed and itching, burning... but he couldn't, he mustn't...
He didn't know what to do... he couldn't... couldn't...
When Sam came to, he was back in bed, and he ached like he hadn't ached in years. And Dean was sitting in a chair beside him... reading Dad's journal, which he'd been content to leave locked in the safe on Sam's advice even after he'd re-learned how to read.
Dean looked up and set the journal aside. "Hey, Sammy. How are you feeling?"
"Achy. And thirsty."
Dean nodded and disappeared into the kitchen, returning moments later with aspirin and water. When Sam had downed both, Dean took the glass back to the kitchen and finally climbed onto his side of the bed with the journal, huddling against the headboard in a way that made him look much smaller than his 6'1" frame ought to look. And he didn't look at Sam. Instead, he stared at the journal.
"Sometimes I wish I remembered him," Dean confessed quietly. "Sometimes... I don't want to."
There was something more than that at work, though, Sam was sure. "Dean, did... did something happen?"
Dean snorted. "Other than you having a s-... s-seizzzure—like to gave me a heart attack—no, not... not really." Sam waited for more, though, and after a moment it came with a sigh. "I talked to Cas."
Sam's stomach flip-flopped. "And?"
"He thinks killing the dragon might kill us both. Didn't know if the Wall flared up because you got so worked up over Bobby's call or if the dragon's actually attacking it, but..." Dean sighed again, turning the journal over and over in his hands.
Sam suddenly sympathized with Dean's annoyance at Cas for having spilled the beans about RoboSam; he'd tried to hide as many details about the Apocalypse-that-wasn't and its aftermath from Dean as he could, and the Wall had never even come up in conversation. "Maybe we can call off the hunt."
Dean shook his head. "No. No, we can't do that. People are dying."
"I don't know if I've got enough muscle memory or whatever to pull this off, but... Bobby's on his way to bring us the swords."
Sam could barely breathe. "Why?"
"'Cause I called him."
Ignoring his muscles' complaints, Sam sat up and pulled Dean into a hug, and Dean let go and cried.
This was their life now. No complaints that hugs and tears were unmanly. No refusals to talk. No fear of displaying weakness to each other. Sam couldn't help wondering if life would have been better if Dad hadn't squashed this side of Dean in favor of the swaggering, smart-mouthed soldier that had emerged far too early in Dean's childhood. Maybe Sam wouldn't have felt so compelled to run away.
When Dean had finally cried himself out, Sam said, "Dean, we don't have to do this."
"We're gonna die anyway, Sam. We might as well go out fighting the damn thing. And if it kills our bodies before it can break our minds... well, then some other hunter won't be killed trying to do the same thing."
That wasn't Dad's training talking. That was all Dean, as selfless and self-sacrificing as he had been in that memory of Mom when Dean was four years old.
Sam sighed. "Okay, then let me..."
"No. We do this together or not at all." Dean licked his lips, a nervous habit that hadn't been erased. "Cas tells me I've watched you die four times now. Obviously, I don't remember any of them. But after that... s-seizure... I don't think I can survive losing you again. I can't do this without you, but I'm sure as hell not letting you do it alone."
For once, the ambiguous 'this' actually worked; Dean probably meant "kill the dragon," but "living without a brother" fit, too.
"Did Cas give you any idea as to why the dragon's come back now?"
"No, but Bobby said he thought it might be the Mother of All tryin' to throw him off track—Cas said he didn't think Raphael's that desperate. Whatever that means."
Sam snorted. "Raphael already tried to kill us twice to get at Cas, and the second time was when we moved here. I, for one, wouldn't put it past him."
"Wait, Raphael... Saint Raphael?"
Right, this Dean didn't know the Ninja Turtles. "Not exactly saintly, at least not in this universe. Let's just say Cas is about the only angel we can trust."
"Mother-of-pearl." That was one non-expletive Dean had picked up somewhere in town. "You believe in multiverse theory?"
Sam shrugged and regretted it. "We've had some glimpses of other universes."
"How'd we get stuck with this one?"
"Tell me about it."
Dean sighed and rubbed Sam's shoulder gently. "Bobby won't be here until tomorrow night—said he had some other stuff to pick up. You should rest."
The statement wasn't as pushy as it would have been two years ago, but just seeing Dean back in overprotective big brother mode at all warmed Sam's heart. "How long was I out?"
"Half an hour, total. Seizure itself didn't last more than a minute, you were barely breathing for two... came around long enough to say 'Dean' and passed out again." Dean paused and sounded absolutely wrecked when he continued. "I didn't know if you were ever gonna wake up again."
"I'm sorry, Dean. For what it's worth, I wasn't deliberately messing with the Wall—hell, I was trying not to scratch."
"Yeah. I mean, it was like... like when Mrs. Henderson's knee acts up. One minute, it's fine, and the next minute she can hardly walk." Mrs. Henderson was one of Dean's regulars at the garage and a retired junior high coach, and Sam suspected she had rheumatoid arthritis on top of an old basketball injury. Since the boys' own injuries hadn't been causing them problems of late, hers was the best example Sam thought Dean could picture.
And Dean did picture it. "Has it ever done that before?"
"Not since we moved here."
"Hm. Maybe Cas was right, then."
"About the dragon attacking it?"
"Didn't think dragons could do that."
"Dude, it wiped out thirty-three years of my life. I don't think messing with the Great Wall of Sam is out of the question."
And there was another flash of the old Dean. Sam had almost forgotten how much he missed the guy.
He was starting to have trouble keeping his eyes open, though, so he lay back down. "I should be okay if you want to run to the store."
"Dean, I'm fine."
Dean snorted in disbelief but said, "Okay, I'll... I'll get us enough to get through the weekend. Anything you want?"
"Maybe some calcium tablets."
"You got it." Dean patted him on the shoulder, but he hadn't left by the time Sam fell deeply asleep.
That night, for the first time since they got comfortable with living in Muleshoe, Dean slept cuddled against Sam like his life depended on it. And really, Sam had to admit, at least their mental health probably did depend on it. When it came to Sam's problems, Dean knew he would feel the tremors right away if another seizure did hit, and Sam had Dean to keep him grounded, keep him from scratching even though the pain from the Wall had eased to the sort of dull itch that came from dry skin or a small bug bite—easy to ignore as long as Sam was focused somewhere else. And Dean did need Sam focused on him, if his own shivers were indicative of the encroaching darkness threatening to catch up with him again.
The next day consisted mainly of "fencing" lessons, though the closest thing they had to swords were the machetes that had been languishing in the trunk with the rest of the arsenal. Sam was still fairly sore, though not as bad as he had been the day before, but Dean had more muscle memory than he'd feared, even after being out of hunting for two years and change, and the exercise helped Sam loosen up a bit. By the time Bobby arrived and took them out for supper, the hunt had started to feel less like a suicide mission... well, less like Detroit and more like Carthage before they knew the Colt wouldn't work. And Sam was kind of glad Dean didn't remember those days anymore.
Bobby did remember, though, and he tried everything to talk the boys out of taking the hunt or at least into waiting another day or two to let Sam recover better. So did Rufus when he turned up around 10 with the coordinates for the dragon's lair. But Dean was having none of it.
"People are dying, Bobby," he argued. "And the longer we wait, the greater the odds are that Sam's gonna have another attack."
Bobby shook his head in disbelief. "How many times do you gotta get yourself killed, boy?"
The question visibly startled Dean, but he replied, "Cas said it'd kill us anyway."
"He don't know that."
"Bobby's right, Dean," Rufus chimed in. "Castiel's been wrong before."
Dean walked up to Rufus and looked him in the eye. "What would you do, Rufus?"
Rufus sighed. "Son, I am old and cranky, and I'm not sure even Bobby'd miss me if I was gone."
"Would, too, y'old coot," Bobby rumbled, but Sam wasn't sure Rufus heard him.
"You boys are young. Hell, you got out. You've got friends here. You've got people who care about you—"
"All of which means nothing if we can't save them," Dean retorted. "Roswell is less than three hours away by car. What's to stop that dragon from deciding Muleshoe would make a good lunch?"
"Now we can sit here and let someone else take the risk, but if someone else dies and I could have prevented it, guess what? That's on me."
Bobby flinched, and Sam knew exactly what he was remembering. "This isn't like Van Nuys, Bobby," he said. "I mean, yeah, there's a chance Cas is wrong. There's also a chance we can kill this thing and walk away intact. But if Cas is right, then... I kind of have to agree with Dean. Better to go down fighting."
Dean turned to Sam with a puzzled frown. "I do somethin' stupid in Van Nuys?"
"Almost," Sam replied with a fond smile. "But we actually survived that one. Barely."
Dean nodded thoughtfully. "I don't want to know, do I?"
Dean nodded again and let it drop.
Bobby and Rufus exchanged a look at that, and Bobby sighed. "Dean... you know I love you like my own."
Dean nodded, the sorrow plain on his face. "I know, Bobby. We love you, too, and I wouldn't want to hurt you for anything. It's not like I want to die. But I don't see any way around this."
And that was so unlike Dean's attitude about saying yes to Michael that Sam could see that Bobby was finally convinced Dean wasn't just suicidal again. Bobby nodded slowly. "Okay, son. We'll do it your way."
Dean walked over to Bobby and hugged him.
But not even Sam could keep Dean's shivers at bay that night.
Next morning, Bobby cooked breakfast while Rufus put the boys through their paces with the swords and shields Bobby had brought. And after breakfast, Bobby and Dean went out to pack the car, and Sam gave Rufus the combination to the safe and showed him where he'd put the wills and power-of-attorney forms he'd drawn up when Dean had learned to write again.
Then Sam sat down and wrote a note to Ben for Bobby to send along with the keys to the Impala, which Ben could pick up from Sioux Falls when he turned 16. If Ben was still determined to hunt, Sam knew Dean would want him to have the car, the arsenal, and Dad's journal—better that he inherit the best than go in half-aware and under-supplied. And one of RoboSam's memories that Sam hadn't had to dig for was of Dean offering him the Impala: Take her. She should be hunting.
Ben would remember and understand. And she would take care of him as long as he could take care of her.
Dean came in just as Sam was finishing and read over his shoulder. "Wait, I've got a kid?"
Sam jumped. "Ah, well, technically, Ben's not..."
"Oh, these are the folks in Battle Creek?"
"Yeah." Sam was relieved that Dean remembered that conversation. He'd offered to take Dean to Lisa's for Christmas in 2012, but Dean had been concerned that he'd ruin their holiday by not being able to remember them. Now Sam was kind of sorry he hadn't insisted.
Dean nodded. "Guess I ought to add a note of my own, huh?"
Sam slid him the notepad and watched as he wrote:
Dear Ben and Lisa,
I wish I could remember you so that I would know the best way to say goodbye. Sam says you meant a lot to me before, and I'm sure that's true. One of the downsides of having amnesia is not knowing who your friends were.
Lisa, if you haven't moved on by now, this is me officially giving you permission. If you're reading this, I'm already dead—I mean, really dead, not... well, whatever the hell you'd call what I've been for the last two years. I don't know whether I could ever have worked up the nerve to walk back into your lives without my memory, but I guess it doesn't matter now. And I'm really sorry for that.
Ben, whatever good things you saw in me, I hope you'll hang onto those memories and let them inspire you. Sam said something about you maybe wanting to hunt because of something that happened once—I'm sorry, I really wish I could remember what it was. You sound like a good kid. It'll probably kill your mom if you do decide to hunt, but I guess the same thing would be true if you joined the Marines. Just make wise, informed decisions about whatever you decide to do with your life. And if you really are my son, you'll know I'm proud of you.
This is depressing. I'll stop now.
Dean's handwriting had changed somewhat when Sam taught him how to write again, though Sam had forgotten that fact until he read the note. But that last line ought to be enough to let Lisa know that this really was Dean's letter.
Sam rubbed Dean's back until he was able to pull himself together and say, "Okay, dude. Let's go."
Sam handed him his shades, handed the house keys to Rufus with a nod of thanks, and followed Dean to the car.
Josh Turner's "Long Black Train" was just finishing as Dean pulled the Impala to a halt at the head of the trail to the dragon's lair that evening, followed by Bobby in his van. They'd spent the day bumming around Roswell and making sure that the dragon hadn't moved on yet, and Bobby had made one last half-hearted attempt to talk them out of it at supper, but Dean had gone quietly stubborn, and now it was time to take the thing down.
"We shoulda brought chain mail," Dean said as he pulled the shields out of the trunk. Sam was buckling on his sword and couldn't tell if he was joking or not.
"Couldn't find any on such short notice," Bobby replied flatly. "You're lucky I managed to find real shields that aren't wood."
And appropriately blazoned, too, Sam noticed. Dean took the one that was sable a pentangle argent, leaving Sam with azure a saltire argent and a sudden desire to whistle "Scotland the Brave." He settled for confessing, "I've always kind of wanted a shield that was or a dancetty sable."
"Do what now?" Dean frowned, looking up from buckling on his sword belt.
"Charlie Brown's shirt."
Dean laughed. "That would be awesome."
Bobby chuckled. "Well, if you make it back, I'll know what to get you for Christmas."
If you make it back. Suddenly Sam was in Carthage again, watching Lucifer dig and not expecting to survive even if the Colt did work.
Dean slammed the trunk shut, startling Sam back to the present. Then he locked it and handed the keys to Bobby. "Look after my girl, Bobby."
Bobby turned them over in his hand sadly. "Sure you don't want me to come with you?"
Dean nodded. "I'm sure."
Bobby tried and failed to think of something to say, so he settled for pulling Dean into a hug. Dean hugged back with all his might.
When he let go, Bobby turned to Sam. "Well, Sam, here we are again."
"Look after your brother."
Sam smiled and hugged Bobby. "You ready, Dean?"
Dean sighed. "Yeah. Yeah, I just..."
Sam hugged him and felt a few of Dean's tears soak into his shirt.
"I don't wanna die, Sammy," Dean breathed in his ear.
"I know, Dean."
"I'm glad you're here."
"You're my brother."
"You're an awesome brother, Sammy."
There were so many things Sam could have said to that, but he settled for, "I love you, too, Dean."
They held each other for a moment longer until Dean pulled himself together and pulled away. "Okay. Let's do this."
Sam handed Dean his shield, slid his own onto his arm, and nodded goodbye to Bobby as they headed up the trail.
Dean was alert from the moment his feet touched the gravel path, and though Sam could tell he was fighting fear as they climbed, apparently a lifetime of hunting was too deeply engrained in Dean to be suppressed by mere amnesia. He started walking more boldly, more like the Dean Sam had always known. And a quarter mile from the point where Rufus said the cave was supposed to be, Dean slowed down and drew his sword.
Sam followed suit and was just about to ask what Dean sensed when he heard giant wings beating overhead as something circled and landed a short distance away. And moments later a male figure walked into view. Sam couldn't see the face, but the form was familiar, and the faint red glow to the right hand was a dead giveaway.
"Ah, the Winchesters," the humanoid dragon purred. "Mother will be pleased."
"Won't make 'teacher's pet' if you're dead, genius," Dean shot back.
Honestly, it was like old times. Sam could almost believe they were actually going to survive this one... until the Wall started itching like a bad case of hives.
The dragon took a swipe at Dean, who dodged, and Sam got in a hit on its arm. It roared in pain and lunged at Sam, driving him backward until he hit a patch of loose gravel and his foot slipped out from under him at a bad angle. Something popped in his knee as he fell, followed by a screaming pain, and the dragon took advantage of the situation to rip away Sam's shield and slice open his left arm and chest.
Sam didn't know which was worse, the pain in his head or the pain from his wounds. It was all he could do to keep his eyes focused as the dragon began to shift into its fully reptilian form to finish him off.
While the dragon was busy with Sam, though, Dean had gotten behind it, and once its form had almost stabilized, he jumped on its back and drove the sword home, missing its heart but still striking deep. The dragon screamed and reared, which flung Dean against the mountainside with bone-crushing force, but that left it open for a killing blow from the underside, and Sam summoned the last of his strength and drove his sword into the dragon's heart. The dragon screamed again and died.
Sam didn't bother trying to retrieve the swords; he was in too much pain. Rather, he pulled himself to his feet and staggered over to check on Dean... who wasn't moving.
"Sammy?" Dean whispered.
"Hey," Sam replied, falling to sort of sit at Dean's side. The Wall was throbbing as badly as the rest of him, and he knew he ought to be trying to stop his own bleeding and do something about his knee, but he needed to see to Dean first.
Dean was barely breathing. "'S bad... back's broken... 'n ribs... not... not gonna..."
Sam didn't even try to stop the tears as he caressed Dean's cheek. But when Dean met his eyes, Sam could somehow tell that the spell was broken and that Dean remembered everything.
Dean smiled weakly. "'Sokay, Sam. Let it go. See you Upstairs." And he breathed his last.
Sam didn't even know how it happened, but as his vision tunneled and darkened, he was vaguely aware that he was starting to seize... he thought he heard Bobby, Cas, Tessa, Death... Dean...
Let it go, Sammy.
And he did.
Sam woke with a start and found himself sitting on the couch in the house in Muleshoe, Dean leaning his head against Sam's shoulder. Had... were they back, or...
"There he is," said Ash from the recliner, and Dean stirred and sat up.
Sam blinked. "Ash?"
Dean chuckled. "Mornin', sleepyhead. Fell asleep waitin' for you to wake up."
"Wait, is this... are you..."
"Real enough to punch you for lettin' me get into country music. Dude, what were you thinking? Hell, what was I thinking?"
Well, that was definitely not a conversation they'd had on Earth. And even if it had been, it wouldn't have been greeted with Ash's hearty laughter. Sam couldn't help laughing with him, and neither could Dean.
Then something occurred to Sam. "Wait, why are you here and not in Faërie?"
Dean chuckled. "Y'know the blessing 'May you be in Heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead'?"
"Tessa got you up here that fast?"
"Huh. Did Cas reap me, too?"
"No, that was Death. Wanted to make sure you got here and stayed here."
Once again, Sam couldn't help laughing.
Ash looked around the living room. "Nice place you got here, man."
Sam grinned. "Yeah, thanks to you."
Ash bowed grandiosely. "Most fun I've had in decades."
Dean nudged Sam. "Looks like this place trumped both the Top Ten lists we had last time, Sammy—came straight here, and so did you. You did good."
Sam's smile turned sheepish. "Thanks, Dean."
"And it looks like you boys are here for good this time," Ash drawled, flipping up the recliner's footrest. "Castiel said he was gonna scatter your remains across time and space—next time Lucifer gets loose, he can't pull you back."
"Cas and Ash carved out this piece of Heaven just for us," Dean added, his eyes dancing happily. "It's off the grid, off the Axis Mundi, everything. Only place it goes is to the Roadhouse. We're done, Sammy."
Sam heaved a sigh of relief. "Mom and Dad?"
"Still no word," Ash replied. "Found Jo and Ellen, but they can't get through—just me and Castiel. They'll meet you at the Roadhouse anytime you like, though. Same with Pamela. And... Jess, too."
"You found Jess?"
"Yeah, man. Wasn't time to tell you last time you were up here."
Sam looked over at Dean. "D-do you..."
Dean laughed. "Dude, you gave up two years of your life for me. Go, have fun. I wanna go down to the wildlife refuge and see if my badger buddy made it in."
Sam gave him a quick hug and turned to Ash. "Let's go."
Ash jumped up with a grin, chalked a sigil on the front door, and opened it to reveal the back room at the Roadhouse.
Sometime later—no telling how much later, but after they'd both gotten settled in and seen scores of old friends at the Roadhouse and gotten used to the Impala being alive up here—Dean finally took Sam out to the wildlife refuge to watch the sandhill cranes, as they'd done many a time in Muleshoe. They settled on the Impala's hood with a cooler full of beers, and she purred as they leaned back against her windshield. Dean petted her absentmindedly until she fell asleep.
"Hard to believe this is Memorex," Sam said at last.
"Real thing wasn't half bad, either, Sammy," Dean replied.
"You remember all of it, then?"
"Yep." He set his bottle down a little too hard, and the Impala honked indignantly. "Sorry, baby."
The Impala grumbled a little and went back to sleep.
Sam hesitated, then sighed. "I gotta ask. How did you know me?"
Dean shook his head. "Honestly, Sammy, I don't know. I knew I knew you, knew I loved you, knew I could trust you... but that's as far as it went."
"Maybe there is something to this whole notion of us... being soulmates."
"Dude, shut up."
"Idjit," Dean retorted with a wink and took a drink of beer.