A/N: I originally posted this story in 2009, during season 4, then removed it because I didn't get it finished (so if you have deja vu reading, it may be that you read it before). I'm currently working on the final chapter and will post it in the next few weeks. The story takes place in season 4, after Heaven and Hell, when Dean is struggling with his recollections of Hell, especially after seeing Alistair, and has revealed to Sam that he wishes "he couldn't feel a damn thing". Sam is best buddies with Ruby and meeting secretly with her to practice using his demon blood enhanced powers. Okay, you're up to date.
Living in the Past
Sam sees the accident through a Starbucks window. And it's kind of surreal. They aren't on the job, they aren't doing anything dangerous, he's just getting coffee, Dean's just getting the paper. He wasn't expecting any drama, and it's a surprising reminder to him that things just happen in everyday life, ready or not.
He's waiting for his name to be called, watching Dean walk toward him across the road, frowning at the newspaper in his hand, shaking his head a little in a way that makes Sam smile and wonder what he's reading. Dean stops at the curb, gives a quick glance each way and there's an SUV double parked on his left that he regards, lingers on the kerb for a moment, waiting to see if it's about to move and when he's satisfied that it isn't, he steps onto the road and drops his head back down to the paper.
He doesn't see the car behind the SUV. Doesn't see the driver impatiently jerk the wheel and put a foot on the gas.
Sam sees it because he's looking from a different angle. There is a sharp, anticipatory moment where he foresees what could occur, that car and brother are on the same trajectory, and he has a flash of panic because he's too far away to warn Dean, too far away to do anything other than silently chant don't step out, don't step out, don't step out. And he has a desperate faith that Dean will see the danger. He'll see it, he'll see it, he'll see it.
But Dean doesn't see it. And the driver doesn't see Dean until the very last minute.
Sam holds his breath through the sharp screech of tyres and the sickening thud that is car hitting man. He lets the air out raggedly, fearing that his brother may be dead, one of those quirks of human nature to immediately assume the worst. But he crushes the thought quickly because the car wasn't going that fast. So Dean is probably fine. Definitely not dead.
Even so, emotion crushes his lungs, uncertainty makes it hard to breathe, and he flattens his hands against the window trying to get a better view, rising up on his toes to try and see past the cars.
There are murmurs in the coffee shop, did you see that? Is that guy okay? and suddenly Sam thinks Why am I still here? Dean is just outside. He curses his slowness, hopes he didn't just lose thirty crucial seconds, and races out the door.
There are already people on the scene, milling around, frustratingly in the way as Sam approaches. He can see between the gaps that Dean's laying on the ground, that he's not moving and it makes him determined to reach his brother NOW. He shoulders a couple of people aside, too roughly and he doesn't care, and crouches down.
Dean is unconscious, but in a deceptively peaceful kind of way. There's no obvious blood, his body isn't twisted or broken, he's breathing fine, he looks fine... except he's not awake. And Sam is mildly relieved, releases a whoosh of air as the tightness in his chest loosens a little.
"Dean? Hey? Can you hear me?" He taps his cheek. "Wake up. Come on."
"What?" Dean groans. His head shifts toward Sam's voice and he instinctively tries to rise, hands press against the tarmac before his eyes are even open.
Sam stops him with a palm to the chest. "Wait a minute. Don't get up yet."
Dean brings an unsteady hand to his face, splays his fingers across his forehead and clamps down hard, like he's concerned about his brain spilling out.
"What happened?" he croaks.
"You tell me," Sam returns, testing awareness. "What happened?"
There's no reply and Sam doesn't know if it's because Dean can't remember or if he's too engaged in trying to chase away the pain in his head. After a few moments Dean's hand leaves his eyes and he looks around, trying to orient himself. When his gaze rests on Sam's face he visibly startles, his eyes widen in surprise, but the look is quickly chased away by a frown. He rolls onto his side and levers himself upward with some groans and sharp breaths.
"No... don't... wait..." Sam's protests are useless, he knows a losing battle, and he grudgingly offers a hand at Dean's back to help him up, leaves it there to keep him steady.
Dean shrugs at the support, muttering, "I'm okay," but it's unconvincing when he's cradling his head in his hands, pressing the heels hard against his brow. He obviously recognises the disparity between words and actions and adds as a concession, "I've been worse."
And Sam can't disagree with that, he's certainly seen Dean worse. Now that he's sitting up there's a gash revealed at the back of his head, trickling blood into the collar, but it doesn't look too deep, it may not even need thread, and that appears to be the total of injuries. Dean's aware enough now that he would be clutching any part that's in pain, and the head seems to be it. Which is an incredibly lucky outcome from an entanglement with a car.
A siren sounds in the distance and Sam wonders if it's for Dean, if someone called an ambulance. And if they did, he wonders if they should wait for it. The injuries seem minor and an ambulance is a complication that requires fake cards, fake insurance - which they could deal with if they had to, but he doesn't think they really have to.
Dean peers sideways at him, from under his hand. It's strangely furtive. Like he's trying to stare at Sam without being caught.
"What?" Sam asks.
"Nothing," Dean returns, with a too casual half shrug, slight wince at the movement. "I just didn't expect to see you."
Sam is puzzled, a little offended. "You got hit by a car. You thought the coffee was more important?"
Dean looks at Sam in confusion, not following. And it confuses Sam because he's not sure which part Dean isn't following.
"It's just..." Dean is hesitant, finishes uncomfortably, "...nice to see you."
Sam gives an amused huff. "Thanks. You ready to move?"
The sooner they get back to the privacy of the motel the better, Sam thinks. But Dean's eyes move to the faces in the small crowd, darting among them, then beyond, looking for something. Sam finds himself doing the same thing, peering into the crowd, not sure why, what might be there, and he feels a little edgy, like maybe there's danger he's missing.
"What it is?" he asks finally, both exasperated and wary.
Dean starts. "No-one," he says quickly, and guiltily drops his gaze. "We going?"
Sam exhales slowly. No-one. Great. He realizes with a sigh that it's going to be one of those kinds of concussion, where Dean acts oddly and speaks in non-sequiturs. Fun for twenty four hours. "Yeah," he sighs and looks around, figuring out the easiest way to navigate through the crowd.
"Did you come with Dad?"
Sam looks sharply at his brother, furrows his brow. He knows he shouldn't try to follow Dean's concussed train of thought but he can't help himself. "When? What are you talking about?"
"Is that how you got here? Did Dad bring you?"
Alarm bells start ringing. Concussion causes confusion, Sam expects that, but Dad's been dead a few years now, and Dean's question exhibits a level of disorientation beyond the normal.
Sam says slowly, "No, Dean, I came with you. We came to this town together. Remember?"
"Right," Dean says with a placating nod, but can't meet Sam's gaze, a worrying bewilderment behind his eyes.
Sam crouches before his brother, looking at him intently, prickling with concern. "Do you know where you are?"
"I'm sitting in the middle of the street," Dean returns, quick wittedness intact. "And people are gawking at me like it's feeding time at the zoo. Do I need to know more?"
There he is Sam thinks wryly, that's the smartass I know. He's fine. But he's aware that the question was avoided, and there's something in the way Dean can't look at him, keeps glancing and fleeing, that isn't right. Something about asking for Dad that he can't gloss over.
"Do you know what town we're in?" Sam persists.
"Christ Sam, my head is killing me, do I really need to pass a geography test?"
Dean doesn't say anything, presses his lips together stubbornly and looks like he's not going to answer. But Sam pushes, "Do you know what state we're in?"
Dean huffs an annoyed breath and gives a small shake of the head. "I don't know," he murmurs, irritated, then thinks about it for a moment and says confidently, "Louisiana."
It's not even close.
"Um, do you have a second guess?" Sam says, and he's willing to cut his brother some slack, they move around a lot, they've only been in the state a few days, it's actually a tough question for someone who's had a knock to the head. But at the same time he's thinking when were we last in Louisiana? He can't even remember.
Dean regards him uncertainly, then presses fingers to his brow, concentrates for a second making a real effort to answer the question correctly, and offers doubtfully, "Colorado?"
Sam shakes his head.
"Are you sure you know where we are?"
Sam's eyebrows draw down indignantly, but he doesn't rise to the bait, doesn't say anything, wanting Dean to sort out the memory block on his own.
"Maybe..." Dean sighs. "Maybe, you should just call Dad and tell him where we are. Man, he's not going to be happy. I was supposed to meet him today. You know how he is about being kept waiting."
Sam's mouth drops open, unsure how to respond to that, quietly hoping that Dean is messing with him, but pretty certain from the expression that he's not.
Dean's face suddenly drains of color. "Let's get out of here," he groans. "Before I entertain the crowd with a display of what I had for breakfast?"
Sam nods mechanically but is starting to think otherwise. The bump on the head has shaken something loose, taking it outside of his expertise. Concussion he can handle, thinking Dad is alive is more complicated, the injury is a little more serious. Now he's hoping the siren nearby is an ambulance that someone has called for Dean, and he thinks they should wait for it to arrive.
Sam slouches in a white plastic chair beside Dean's hospital bed and looks around absently. The doctor has exercised caution in keeping Dean overnight, mildly concerned about the concussion. Sam is a little more concerned about the fact that his brother has amnesia and six years of memories are gone.
He can't believe it. Can't believe that memories could just disappear, or get locked away inside, or whatever the hell happened.
Six years! Dean has taken a giant step back to late 2002. And Sam is trying to get his head around that, around where that puts his brother. Six years ago Sam was at Stanford (which explains why Dean was surprised to see him). Six years ago their father was alive. Six year ago Dean was hunting with Dad, and Sam has no idea what they got up to because he wasn't communicating with either of them at the time.
And there's all the stuff he's missing from the interim. Demons...Death... Deals...Angels...An impending apocalypse for chrissake... Things have changed. A lot has happened. And Dean's suddenly skipped over it, skipped backward, and wiped it clean.
The doctor doesn't seem too concerned. Apparently amnesia isn't uncommon with a head injury and usually resolves itself in a few hours. Which is encouraging. Sam is holding onto that hope with a very firm grip. He can ride out a few hours.
But while the amnesia persists there's an awkwardness between them, because he and Dean are travelling on different wavelengths, interacting under different apprehensions, and Sam isn't sure how to handle that. Come clean about the things that Dean can't remember? Or be cagey, and wait for Dean to remember on his own?
It's an issue.
"You want anything?" Sam asks, breaking the heavy silence. "You want me to get you anything, like food, or coffee or something? There's a cafeteria down the hall."
Dean grimaces. He's been given something to quell the nausea but the thought of food isn't yet welcome. "Nah, I'm good."
Sam scrubs a hand over his face and tries to think of an innocuous conversation to start. There are a lot of topics he doesn't want to get near.
"So..." Dean forces a chuckle. "I feel like I'm working my way through an injury list. Broken bones? Check. Concussions? Check. Amnesia? Cross that off."
"Yeah." Sam tries to return the light heartedness but it really isn't that funny.
"Dad's going to think it's so lame." Dean smiles at the idea of their father's reaction. "I'll bet you ten bucks he accuses me of faking it."
Bet you ten bucks he doesn't, Sam thinks grimly and has to look away. "Yeah, maybe," he answers quietly.
There's a pause before Dean asks, "Did you call him, and tell why I didn't meet him today?"
"You weren't supposed to meet him today," Sam reminds. Even though Dean knows he's missing six years, had it proved with two different newspapers, he's having trouble with the practicality of it, with accepting that his knowledge is outdated.
"Yeah, right, yeah...uh...but did you talk to him? Let him know where we are?" Dean is anxious about John's reaction to being stood up, to not being kept in the loop and although Sam can understand it, it's still frustrating.
Sam's mouth goes dry. He doesn't want to talk about their father, doesn't want to reveal that he died a number of years ago. It's one of the topics, the main topic, he doesn't know how to address. Be cagey? Or tell the truth?
He really doesn't want to drop that bombshell, because, to an extent, he knows how it's going to go down. He's been through it once, his brother's quiet stoic grief masking suppressed rage, and he has no desire to see it played out again from the beginning.
He coughs nervously and says, "No, I haven't been able to reach Dad."
"But you left a message, right?"
Sigh. Grimace. Cringe. "Yeah Dean. I left a message."
Sam hates himself for the deception, but justifies it as a temporary measure. He can't see the point in putting Dean through the agony of fresh grief when in a few hours the dulled memory will return.
During the course of the day Dean dozes on and off and Sam is grateful for it because conversation is hard. He's made the decision to be cagey, about everything, and he thinks it's the right decision, no point causing angst and trauma over things that are past, things that Dean will remember soon enough. But it makes conversation difficult, a bit of a mental challenge, trying not to let slip about topics he wants to avoid.
Conversation could be a lot harder if Dean peppered him with questions, but he doesn't. Dean isn't asking too much, isn't delving too far, just taking what Sam offers and leaving it at that. Which Sam finds amazing. His brother must be as curious as hell about the last six years. But they're both skirting the edges, keeping it shallow and waiting for the memories to kick in.
Every time Dean sleeps Sam has this hope, that when he wakes up the memories will be restored. He doesn't know how it's supposed to work. All he knows about amnesia is what he's seen on tv, someone hits their head, suffers amnesia, hits their head again, miraculously cured. As the day wears on Sam wonders if that might actually work, hitting Dean over the head again. Because it kind of makes sense. If one knock to the head loosens a wire, it seems reasonable that a second knock to the head might fix it. But he's not going to try it. It seems just as plausible that a second knock to the head might jolt another wire loose and send Dean back to being a seven year old or something. Better to just wait it out, and hope that rest will cure it.
"Have you heard from Dad yet?"
It's early in the evening and the hesitation in Dean's voice makes Sam wince because he's hesitant for all the wrong reasons, thinking something along the lines of Dad's pissed, or Dad's giving him the silent treatment, or Dad's expressing his disappointment by not calling back and, Christ, Sam really doesn't want to set him straight. But they are way past 'a few hours', without any breakthrough in memory and Sam's starting to wonder just how long he's prepared to continue lying. He's struggling with the dishonesty. And he can tell that Dean is struggling with it too, finding the deflection and hedging increasingly unsatisfactory.
But he dreads telling the truth. The longer he puts it off the more dreaded it becomes.
He assures himself that the deception is only for a few more hours, that it's the right thing in the circumstances, and answers, "Nah man, I haven't heard from him."
When the clock strikes midnight, over fourteen hours since the accident, Sam makes a decision. If Dean's memory hasn't returned when he next wakes up then caginess is out and honesty is in. His conscience demands it. He can't take the guilt any longer. No more secrets, no more lying, because if fourteen hours later Dean is still missing time, there's no telling when it might return, and he isn't going to lie indefinitely.
He resolves that from hereon he's going to be honest, however difficult and unpleasant that might be. Just thinking about it turns his hands clammy because he knows that means revealing the truth about their father first. And he doesn't want to do it. Of all the things he needs to catch his brother up on, that's going to be the hardest.
He stares at his sleeping brother, trying to figure out the right way to hit Dean with the worst news of his life. And he prays to God, seriously, because he knows there is one, that he won't have to break that news, that the next time Dean wakes up the memories will be restored, and they will all be saved the trauma. But he has to be prepared. And he goes through dozens of different speeches in his head, from the blunt to the long winded, none of which seem satisfactory.
Sam feels the bed shift beneath him, a gentle hand rest on his skull and realises he fell asleep, that his head is on the mattress near Dean's hip. He bristles at his brother's touch, a nervous reaction to Dean being awake. And already, without a word being said, the honesty resolve is wavering.
"Hey," Dean whispers.
"What?" Sam deliberately keep his head down.
"Just seeing if you were awake."
Dean doesn't have his memory back, he would have said so if he did and although Sam still wants to go down the path of honesty, he doesn't particularly want to do it now, dazed with sleep and feeling a little slow. He doesn't move, hoping to give the impression that he's too tired for conversation.
"Have you heard from Dad yet?"
Sam's heart jumps painfully in his chest. Seriously, first question? It's like five in the morning. He's not ready. He needs to work up to it. In all the scenarios he went through in his head he was the one to start the conversation.
So he doesn't answer. Lays still pretending to have fallen back to sleep.
"Hey." Dean shakes his shoulder, not buying the act. "Did Dad call?"
"No," Sam mumbles, and for a second he considers leaving it there.
But he can't. He can't go on with the half truths and misinformation. He lifts his head to look at Dean, gearing up to say the terrible words and the innocent disappointment in his brother's face, the complete lack of anticipation closes Sam's throat, have his eyes filling with tears in raw sympathy. Dean's about to be blindsided.
"What is it?" Dean asks, unfailingly attuned to Sam's moods, even in this altered state, when he hasn't seen Sam in over a year.
Sam isn't composed enough to speak. He swallows a few times trying to clear his throat and watches his brother's expression change, his eyes widen, as he reads Sam's face and puts two and two together. And now Sam has no choice but to deliver the news.
"Dad died nearly three years ago," Sam says thickly. And he's surprised at how upset he feels, he thought he was over the grief. But telling Dean anew makes it seem like it only happened recently, it all feels kind of fresh.
Dean looks at him in disbelief. "He's... gone?"
Sam's focusses on the bedding, away from his brother's horrified expression. "I'm sorry Dean. I'm sorry I didn't say something sooner. I thought it would only be a couple of hours and you'd remember. I shouldn't have strung it out for so long. It just seemed right..."
Dean tunes out. His eyes dart back and forth as he searches for the memories, trying to force them through. If he's going to remember anything it would be this. But there's nothing. Just a frustrating blankness, and he has to ask, "How?"
Sam tries to give an abridged, sanitised version of their father's death. "Aneurysm. He was in the hospital, and the doctors tried to save him, but there was nothing they could do." It's kind of the truth. At the time their Dad died it's what they believed.
But Dean isn't satisfied. He digs for information, wanting to know all the details, and in the end Sam reveals more than he really wants to; the cabin, Dad being possessed, Dean nearly dying and the semi slamming into the car.
He stops short of revealing that their father sacrificed himself to save Dean, or that their father went to Hell. It's enough without that. There are degrees of honesty, and he figures he doesn't have to start at one hundred percent.
When the questions run out and silence descends Dean gets a thousand yard stare, tries to process the news. Sam scrambles for something to say, something to ease the pain, something reassuring.
"It's okay," he says earnestly. "We're okay. We can deal with this. We have dealt with this."
He combs a hand through his hair because it's confusing, what's done and what's still to come, and telling Dean their father's death is okay is grossly inadequate and not nearly true but he can't think of what else to say.
Dean shifts his head slightly, not enough to make eye contact and slides a hand across his mouth. "I should have known," he says, voice sandpapery and deep. "It makes sense." He shakes his head ruefully and gets distant again, entirely inward looking.
The silence is cloying and Sam feels an urgent need to get out, get some fresh air. Exit strategies run through his head. I'll let you have some time to yourself. Let me go get you some water. You should rest, I'll come back later. But he keeps his mouth determinedly shut.
"Did we...uh..." Dean flushes, swipes a thumb under his eye which may or may not head off a tear, Sam can't tell when his brother's head is ducked. "Did we get a chance to say goodbye? I mean, you know, were there any last words?"
Sam swallows. Hello can of worms. Yeah there was something about me becoming the devil's minion, you may have to kill me...
"It all happened pretty fast," he replies hesitantly, not wanting to reveal more but at the same time thinking, I can't deny Dean his last moment with Dad. "You did talk," he adds reluctantly. "Just before he died. But I was out getting coffee so I'm not sure what he said." Oh troublesome honesty.
Dean nods, sinks a little in relief that there was some final words, even if he has no idea what they were.
Sam glimpses in his direction, gauging without being obvious at Dean looking pale and shattered, and he thinks maybe he should have consulted the doctor before hitting his brother with the news. He second guesses himself, and wonders if he should have waited longer, the full twenty four hours, or at least until Dean was over the concussion. He considers calling a nurse, gazes uncertainly for a moment at the call button, but decides there's nothing physically wrong with Dean, it's just rare and unsettling to see him so openly hopeless and lost. He doesn't think there's anything medicine can do for that.
"You alright?" he asks worriedly.
Dean's eyes crinkle in disapproval, and Sam has to concede it's a pretty stupid question.
Sam lets out a tired breath. "This amnesia stuff is temporary. Once you get your memory back you'll be fine, you can get back to being normal."
Yeah, back to "I wish I couldn't feel a damn thing" and drinking to get through the day. It occurs to Sam that his brother is screwed either way, with or without the memories.
Dean knits his eyebrows and looks a little insulted by the platitudes, but doesn't argue. After a moment he says quietly, "I was with Dad yesterday." He pauses, shifts a little in the bed, waiting for Sam to correct him and say it wasn't yesterday. But Sam doesn't say anything, not interested in scoring points. "We finished up this poltergeist thing in Colorado, which wasn't that hard, we joked about how easy it was and how we wished they were all like that." He eyes his left hand. "Although I think I broke my little finger." He bends the pinky up and down a few times, testing the movement. "Looks like it healed up pretty good." He drops the hand to his chest.
Sam doesn't mention the whole bodily rejuvenation thing that happened when Dean returned from hell. Dean's probably going to notice the lack of scars soon enough. It can wait.
"Dad stuck me with the cleaning and drove to Baton Rouge, we had another job, I was going to meet him today." Dean stops, shakes his head. "I saw him yesterday Sam. And you're telling me he died, what, three years ago? That can't be right." He looks at Sam with glistening eyes, full of emotion. "It just doesn't feel right."
Sam swallows. There's not much he can say. He's surprised by how revealing Dean is, how readily he shares his last memories of Dad. He's used to his brother being more circumspect and reserved.
"It's temporary Dean. Just give it a few days and your brain will sort itself out."
"Mmm." Dean doesn't sound convinced.
It's only a few hours later that the doctor advises Dean he can leave. The concussion is fine. The issue of the amnesia is skirted around until the end, when Sam directly questions him about it, and the doctor just shrugs his shoulders, says it's one of those things, there's nothing he can do about it. The memories may yet return, there's no reason why they couldn't, but a time frame is impossible to predict. He suggests Dean try hypnosis, and washes his hands of the problem with a friendly smile.
So Dean leaves the hospital incomplete, with memories that end a year after Sam left for Stanford, and ventures out into a vastly changed world.