Jessica was an uncomplicated kind of girl. It was only one of the million things that Sam loved about her.
She didn’t play games to gain his attention, she didn’t see the point of playing coy once they’d decided that they enjoyed each other’s company.
For their first date, Jessica had taken him on a hiking trip up Monte Bello. They’d both been breathless, sweaty and covered in dirt when they reach the top. Didn’t stop either of them from stealing the other’s remaining breathe with a passionate kiss.
To Sam, it felt like the first time he was truly kissing a girl.
Jessica was a painter; it changed the way she saw things, the way she reacted to situations. Through her artist’s filter, the world was deconstructed to its basic shapes and colors, transferred into a two dimensional plane where things seemed to lose their complexity, their ugliness.
Sam needed uncomplicated things in his life.
On their third date, Jessica had offered him flowers; well, it was a potted plant, technically, something to bring a little life to the pathetically small room that Sam had managed to find on campus. Sam fell in love with her right there and then.
Two months after that, they moved in together to a bigger apartment. The plant moved in with them.
“Someone’s at the door.”
Jessica’s sleepy announcement was deceiving.
Of course there was someone at the door. They could both hear the embarrassed brush of knuckles against their front door. At –Sam cast an one-eyed peek at the nightstand watch- seven in the morning. On a Sunday.
What she really meant, in fact, was ‘get up and go tell whoever is there to go AWAY!’
Jessica didn’t play games, but she was still a woman. Talking in between the lines was a genetic predisposition.
Years of being trained by his father and raised as a hunter had taught Sam that sleeping with no clothes on was a liability; ‘always be prepared for the worst’, John Winchester used to say. ‘Something comes for you in the middle of the night and not only are you exposed, you’re also vulnerable’.
As a result, Sam never slept without his shirt and sweatpants. Except on the nights when he had mind-blowing sex with Jessica and the last thought on his blown mind was clothes. Or his father’s words.
He buried his face in his pillow, mentally trying to remember where his shorts had landed the previous night, right before Jessica’s lips had closed around his dick. If he pondered long enough on that matter –the clothes, not the blowjob-, maybe whoever was at the door might grab a fucking clue and give up.
The bed beside him dipped and Sam dragged his face across his pillow, just enough to see the expanse of Jessica’s naked backside as she moved out from beneath the covers.
“Never mind...” she said sleepily, no bite at all in her words. “I’ll get it,” she added, laying a quick kiss on Sam’s stubbled jaw. “Besides,” she whispered, her breath tickling his ear where she leaned across him, pressing the curve of one breast against his arm, “no point in you putting any clothes on now... not with what I have in mind for breakfast.”
The insouciant wink, along with promise of non-food related delights sent a rush of blood down south so fast and with such intensity that Sam lay stunned. It was a couple of seconds for Sam to realize that she had already dressed and was out of the bedroom door. He groaned in frustration before grinning stupidly in anticipating for her return.
On the other side of the wall, Sam could hear rattle of the bolted chain tickling the wood and tensing as Jessica pushed the front door open without releasing it. Whoever it was, it was someone she didn’t recognized.
A stranger. Banging at their door. At seven in the morning. On a Sunday.
Nothing killed a hard-on faster than the foreboding sense that something bad was about to happen, that Jessica was not safe.
Sam was out of bed and at the door before he even remembered to put some clothes on. All he could think of was that he had no guns at the house and that there was no time to get his hands around any of the knives he kept hidden in the apartment.
The kitchen was near enough, maybe he could grab some salt... but how many ghosts came knocking on the door?
The battered face of his own brother was not what Sam had expected to find when he reached the front door. “Dean?”
Said brother face-planting the floor was even less expected.
“So... this is Dean?”
Sam sat back on his heels and ran a hand to push his bangs back. He was sweating buckets, part because he had just hauled his no-feather weight brother from the front door to their couch, part because Sam might have, sort of, kind of given the wrong idea about his family’s status.
“The same Dean who died in that car crash with your father?”
Sam sighed, unable to meet her gaze. Jessica had this remarkable ability to make him feel like shit without harsh words, or even raising her voice. Maybe it was something that only worked on him, Sam imagined. The fact was, it worked.
“It’s kind of complicated, Jess,” Sam whispered from the floor, leaning against their coffee table. Dean was out for the count; puffs of air gently pushed their way out of his parted lips, a soft snoring that had lulled Sam to sleep most all of his life.
It was a shitty thing to do, Sam was aware of that. Both the lying to Jessica and the denying his family bit, but in the long run, Sam had figured it would make things a lot easier.
People stopped asking questions about your family when you implied that they all died horribly years ago. They started avoiding awkward situations that might remind you of what you’ve ‘lost’. They stopped expecting someone to show up at the college events, or for you to leave on Christmas break to spend sometime with the family.
After a while, Sam had even managed to stop feeling bad about ignoring Dean’s phone calls. Then, to suddenly see him standing at his door was... surprising.
Everything that he had struggled so hard to leave behind had come rushing back as soon as he’d laid eyes on his brother.
The constant travel and uprooting.
The blood and pain.
The endless arguments about... everything.
Sam kept expecting their father to burst through the front door, resume their fight right where Sam had left it just before taking the bus to Stanford, grab Dean and disappear again.
Sam missed his brother.
“Is he okay?” Jessica asked, the concern in her voice genuine. There would be harder questions later, about why Sam had lied to her, about what had happened to cause him to cast his family aside so completely. But those could wait. “Should we call 911?”
Sam gave his brother’s still figure a searching look. There were no wounds that he could see, except for the bruised face. Dean’s breathing was regular and calm, his pulse strong and steady. As far as Sam could tell, Dean had just passed out. “He’ll be fine.”
Even though he’d yet to meet her gaze, Sam could feel the confounded look on Jessica’s face.
“He just fainted at our doorstep, Sam,” Jessica reminded him, like the event wasn’t memorable enough for him to recall it five minutes later.
So, maybe, for regular people, passing out was a good reason to call 911. “It’s a blood sugar thing,” Sam easily lied, crossing imaginary fingers for his lie to become the truth. “He probably just drove for too long and forgot to eat, that’s all.”
Which was kind of funny and a particularly bad lie, Sam had to admit. Not when Dean’s stomach was an entity on its own. When it wanted food inside, it turned into a Hulk, making it impossible for Dean –or anyone around him- to forgo feeding it.
Bad lies apart, Sam had to wonder what his brother was truly doing there. The phone calls had eventually stopped, Sam couldn’t even tell how long ago, but he hadn’t been worried. Bad news travel fast and not hearing from either Dean or his dad was as close to peaceful as Sam could get. Besides, he had his studies to focus on.
For Dean to drop by like this, something bad had surely happened. Something that would affect them both.
There was only one thing that Sam could think of.
The deep ache in his chest didn’t surprise him. It had been a slow crescendo ever since his eyes had landed on Dean’s haunted face, until it finally became a deafening cacophony of possibilities on how their father had been killed. It was all Sam could hear.
Jessica’s voice cut into the noise inside his head. Sam looked up to find her holding a glass of water with some white, powdery stuff at the bottom.
“It’s sugary water,” she clarified. “Might help.”
Sam nodded, considered drinking it himself. His heart was pounding against his chest, fearful for what Dean might say when he woke up. A small part of him was wishing Dean kept on sleeping for a couple of hours more.
“Make it a beer and I might take you on your offer,” Dean said, voice raspy, his eyes still closed.
Sam whipped his head back around to stare at his brother. “What the hell happened?” he snapped. The words came out harsher than what he had intended, but it was too late to take them back.
The confused and pained looks that both Dean and Jessica threw him were ridiculously similar. He was being an ass, Sam got that.
Gazing up at Jessica, he touched her leg softly. “Could you bring us an ice pack? For his head?” He hoped his face conveyed both apologies and the promise to make it up to her later.
She nodded, deftly understanding Sam’s need for a few minutes alone with his recently un-deceased brother.
Her eyes locked with his for half a second, long enough to tell him to take it easy, long enough to remind him that, no matter what had happened between him and his brother, they were still family.
Jessica’s eyes were expressive like that.
Sam watched her go, finding his center and calm in the swing of her hips. When he looked back at Dean, his brother had one eye cracked open, watching the same thing.
“Quit ogling my girlfriend,” Sam warned him.
“She’s way too hot for you,” Dean said as he pushed himself to sit on the couch. “Though, now I understand why you don’t even bother to put on clothes to come to the door—oh, man! Did I interrupt something?”
Sam knew his older brother better than he knew himself. Since before he could even remember, Sam had grown used to gauging his own actions through Dean’s.
Sam only got too tired to run one more lap when Dean started to slow his pace to let his little brother win the race; Sam’s broken arm only hurt worse when there were tears in Dean’s eyes; Dean giving up on his education only pushed Sam to work harder on his...
Watching Dean sit on that couch, mouth running nonstop nonsense while his eyes struggled to find some balance, to hide something, made Sam’s guts twist into elaborate knots. “What the hell happen, Dean? Is dad okay? Is he dead? Is that why you’re here?”
Sam had prayed for his brother to look at him like he was crazy and burst out laughing, which meant that John was okay. Or maybe get that pained look, deep into his eyes, the one that came directly from Dean’s soul, which would mean John was gone.
The confused look and the pause that followed Dean’s response were... strange. “Why would dad be dead? Did you hear something?”
“I just thought that—“ Sam tried to explain, even as he heard the panic building up in Dean’s voice as he pulled out his cell.
Dean stopped himself before pressing the call button. Took a deep breath. Closed his eyes.
“What happened to you?” Sam asked softly.
Even though it hurt to admit, and despite the fact that Sam realized that his actions called for nothing more than that, he knew that Dean wouldn’t just drop by to visit him. Sam had pushed him away too severely.
Maybe if they were just a regular family, an uncomplicated family, maybe then it would be unexceptional for an older brother to visit his kid brother at college. Maybe if they were just like most families, Sam would go visit them back when the longing got too painful.
But their mother had been killed by something more than normal, and their father hunted un-normal things for a living.
Sam couldn’t do normal even when he fought every day of his life to just be a normal, regular guy.
If Dean wasn’t there to tell him that their father was dead, then the reasons were much more personal. More terrifying.
“I...” Dean started, his face unmasked for an inkling of a moment. “I got lost.”
Jessica’s soft footsteps of naked feet on the floorboard broke the moment, and just like that the mask was back. A smirk replaced the pain as Dean reached up and took the plastic bag filled with a handful of ice cubes that she offered. Instead of putting it against the angry looking bruise on his forehead, Dean pressed it against the back of his neck and closed his eyes in bliss.
Headache. A bad one.
“Aren’t you going to introduce us?” Dean said with his eyes closed. Getting his walls back up, Sam knew. “Afraid your girl might pick the handsome brother?”
“She already did,” Jessica replied before Sam could say anything. “Although, you might pass as a suitable replacement when you don’t look as half-dead as you do now,” she added, her tone a mix of tease and concern. “What do you guys say to some breakfast?”
Without waiting for their input on the matter, she turned and headed into the kitchen. “It’s Jessica, by the way,” she called out, the sound of a opening fridge punctuating her name.
“I like her,” Dean confessed, his eyes filled with an honest mirth and admiration. “Don’t let this one get away, Sammy.”
“I don’t intend to,” Sam offered in all seriousness. It didn’t really matter to him that he and Jessica had only met a few months before; she was the one, he was sure. The woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
“This is a sweet life you have here, Sam.”
Dean’s voice broke through Sam’s mental future plans. His brother was looking around, catching every detail of Sam and Jessica’s life together from the small pieces and clues they had around the living room. He wasn’t being sarcastic, or even bitter in his observation.
Somehow, Sam had expected sarcasm and bitterness.
Instead, Dean seemed to be genuinely pleased for what Sam had. Even if he sounded sad.
“What happened to you, Dean?” Sam asked one more time. His hand went to the bruising on his brother’s face, fingers moving across marks like he was a sailor mapping the stars on a chart.
He and Dean had grown up in an environment filled with violence; violence had broken their family with the death of his mother, to fight violence with violence was the first thing his father taught him.
Sam had seen his brother hurt a thousand times. A cut here, a broken bone there, the occasional gunshot wound. It would never get old and it would never stop making his heartache.
Somehow, though, seeing Dean hurt and not knowing what had caused it, that hurt all the more. It reminded Sam that he was no longer there to watch his brother’s back.
It made him wonder if his father even bothered doing it himself.
From the kitchen, the smell of fresh bacon sizzling wafted through the room. Dean took a deep breath, closing his eyes in ecstasy.
When he opened them again, he looked poignantly at Sam. “Dude... I know I changed your diapers and all that jazz, but,” he started with a fake horrified look in his face, “... do you mind finding some clothes for Moby Dick over there? I’m starting to develop a complex over here.”
Sam blushed. He couldn’t help himself but to react like a teenager, not because he was naked, but because the whole stressful situation had made him forget that he was naked. “Shit! I’ll be right back!”
His quick escape to the bedroom in search of some pants made him miss the sad smile that graced Dean’s lips as he watched him go. “This is a very good life,” Dean whispered. “Don’t waste it, Sammy.”
Sam’s boxers had ended up hanging from the ceiling lamp, somehow. He jumped twice, trying to reach them before he remembered he had a drawer filled with more. He was in a hurry, all the questions that he wanted to ask his brother jumping inside his head like popcorn.
It hadn’t escaped his notice that twice Dean had avoided answering his questions about what had happened to him. With Dean, Sam had learned, avoidance was a default state. He rarely talked about himself.
“Alright, Dean. Now that I’m all proper and decent, you are gonna tell me eve—“
Sam stopped himself. In the living room there was nothing but an abandoned bag of ice, slowly leaking its melting contents on the couch pillows.
His first instinct was to race to the door, try and catch Dean on the steps. Sam, however, knew there was no point.
It had been a nasty spell cast by an even nastier witch. Witches, according to Caleb. A whole frigging coven of them, he had told Sam over the phone.
Sam hadn’t tried to call his father to find out what was going on with Dean. Odds were John wouldn’t even pick up or hang up as soon as he figured who was on the other side of the line. But he had called everyone else on his phone book.
It was Pastor Jim who had put Sam on Caleb’s track, saying that the older hunter and Dean were planning a job together. Something about a string of missing people in Arizona.
Things had gone south, Caleb had told him. There were more witches than what they expected, they were more powerful than what they’d hoped for and very unwilling to stop murdering people to do their spells. Three dead witches in, Caleb had lost a fight with a cement wall.
Last thing Caleb remembered was Dean fighting the remaining witch, as she spewed words and venom on him. When he woke up next, all the witches were dead and Dean was gone.
Finding Dean was easier than finding out what had happened. All Sam needed to do was look for the first motel on the phone book, just like their father had taught them to do in case they’d ever got separated. The Aloha Inn was just ten minutes from Sam’s place.
The Impala, parked in front of room six was like a red ribbon, urging Sam to the finishing line.
After what he had heard from Caleb and the way Dean had behaved earlier, Sam wanted to barge into Dean’s motel room the same way Dean had barged into his life. But he knew better than that. The whole ‘an eye for an eye’ thing, when dealing with a hunter, would probably result in someone losing an eye... or acquiring a bullet hole.
He knocked on the door. It was a strange and unfamiliar feeling, to be in a motel to visit his brother, rather than staying there with him.
When no one answered, he knocked again. And again.
It wasn’t like Dean to leave the car behind and just go for a walk. Dean didn’t do ‘walks’.
Sam decided to wait by the car. Eventually, Dean would have to come back, if nothing else, to get his car.
Six hours later, and with his stomach roaring, Sam was still waiting.
Suddenly, idea that he might’ve missed some serious wound when he’d checked Dean before and that Dean was passed out inside the room, or unable to come to the door, took root and made Sam’s stomach churn. The image of his brother unconscious or dead just a few feet away was too horrible and strong for Sam to ignore it for more than a couple of seconds.
Picking locks was a bit like ridding bikes. The fingers never really forgot.
The room was dark, darker than outside, where a few neon lights and the one working street lamp cast some light in the night.
“Dean... Dean, are you here? Are you conscious?”
The last thing Sam had expected in answer to his call was the muffled sob he heard. “Dean?”
It didn’t bode well that his voice seemed to unleash the mother load of convulsing sobs, like some over pressured dam bursting.
Sam flicked the lights on, searching the Spartan room for his brother. Guns spilled from the bag on top of the bed cover like black pasta, clothes from the one that had landed on the floor, both looking like someone had frantically gone through them, searching for something.
He found Dean huddled on the floor, in the far corner, with his back pressed against the wall, looking like he wanted to disappear into the ugly wallpaper.
“It’s all gone,” Dean said in a broken voice, breath hitching at each sob. His hand moved across his cheeks, wiping the continuous evidence of his distress. “As soon as I left, everything went away... just gone.”
Sam felt helpless. He had no idea what Dean was talking about or how to smooth the pain in his brother’s voice. He found himself thanking God that there were no guns in the vicinity of his brother as he slid down the wall, mimicking Dean’s position against it. “Dean, please calm down,” Sam tried. “What’s gone? Did you lose something?”
The car was outside and other than what was usually in its trunk, Dean didn’t have much else that he could lose.
Dean’s head nod was neither a confirmation nor a denial. Just a side effect of the weight of whatever was troubling him. When he looked up to meet Sam’s eyes, his own were huge, feverish, like a man on the verge of defeat. “I keep getting lost,” Dean whispered, as if it were some crime that he felt shame in confessing.
Sam frowned. Dean had mentioned that before, back at his place. He’d said he had gotten lost.
Dean never got lost. He knew every main road in every state of the US like most people knew their way around their neighborhood.
Maybe it was the witches’ spell, Sam figured. Maybe it had affected his brother’s memory... “Dean, if this is some kind of spell, I’m sure we can reverse it... somehow. Is it just roads you can’t remember or more?”
Dean was still shaking his head. A sound that was too close to deranged laugh escaped Dean’s lips, leaving Sam puzzled.
“I can remember the roads just fine, Sam,” Dean said. “It’s everything else that just disappears as soon as I’m alone.”
Sam’s heart jumped inside his chest, moved into the vicinity of his throat. He couldn’t form a single word.
“Couldn’t remember who I was, what I was doing inside that car and still, somehow, I ended up at your doorstep,” Dean went on, seeming to have finally found his voice. “I left, and everything just went away again. Who I am keeps going away.”
Despite his racing heart running tracks inside his chest, Sam couldn’t move. How terrifying must it have been for his brother to lose everything like that? To find himself adrift every time there was no one around to remind him of who he was, and all the good he had done, of the honorable person that he was...
Sam’s hand moved from his side to rest against Dean’s chest. Beneath his palm, Sam could feel a racing heart to match his and the jagged edges of the amulet he’d given Dean all those years ago.
Back then, if something like this had happened, Dean wouldn’t have even noticed the effects of the spell. Sam and Dean had been inseparable, two peas in a pod, in perfect synchrony with each other.
Now... somehow those witches must have realized that being alone was Dean’s biggest weakness and had used it against him.
If that was so, Sam knew exactly how to crap all over their spewed spell. He knew how to keep Dean anchored.
His hand closed around Dean’s shirt, trapping cotton and amulet in his grip. “I’m not going anywhere, Dean,” he whispered. “And neither are your memories. I’ll make sure of that.”
Dean didn’t say a word after that. But underneath his closed fist, Sam could feel a heart that was slowly relaxing.