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In the Garden(of memory)

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John Doe

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"Hey, boy. Hey. You okay?"

George leaned closer, peering down at the boy curled up like a pill bug in the doorway of Moe's Deli, blocking traffic. Sal, who owned Moe's, told George that earlier, the guy had actively and vocally resisted moving. Kind of scared the few early risers trying to get into the place. Now they were milling about, along with newcomers dropping in to peer over shoulders to catch the drama.

"Not violent," Sal said, "y'know, very Gandhi and all, but Officer, he's got to go. Y'touch him and he just...whines and...shakes." Sal demonstrated, sort of flailed his arms at George, frowning. "He kicked me inna shins—didn't mean to, I guess, not really, but..." Sal sighed heavily and shrugged.

"Do something, officer, please?" Sal looked more sympathetic than he looked annoyed, so George tried to nudge the guy again, gently. A poke or two to the guy's side and he unrolled, all of a sudden, his arms flailing wildly. George, and everyone looking on, jumped back, but the kid just rolled up again, his arms going from wrapped around his head to wrapped around his gut. He wasn't as young as George had thought at first—looked like there was even a bit of gray sprinkled in the messy, dirt-clotted hair, fine lines radiated out from his tightly shut eyes and framed his down-curved mouth. It was sheer panic that made him boy-like. George couldn't help but feel bad for him. Hell, he was somebody's kid, and in damn crappy shape.

"Hey, guy. I'm Officer Payton. I'm tryin' to help you. You wanna stand up? Or, can you, ah, how about you move over this way a little?"

The guy opened his eyes, just a little, and peered up at George. His eyes drifted over him, taking in the blue uniform, the cap...the gun strapped to his hip. Sudden terror made the—man, definitely not a boy—the man's eyes go wild and round, but instead of curling up again, like George expected, he chewed at his lip for a second, and then nodded. Shuffled to his knees and George reached down, hand out to help. The man scrabbled back, but calmed a bit when George spoke softly, somewhat the way a frightened dog responded to soft, calm tones. George winced...yeah, maybe not the greatest comparison.

"Hey, hey...it's okay, promise. Let me take your hand, okay, help you up?" He did his best to project harmlessness—as harmless as the gun on his hip and his shiny badge would let him.

He felt ridiculously pleased when the guy eventually reached out for George's hand, eyes on him like he was watching out for a sucker punch. He let George pull him to his feet, though. Shuffled forward, slowly, steadily moving out of the doorway and closer to George. The mood of crowd around him had gone from annoyed, irritated, to sympathetic. He heard one or two murmurs of encouragement. Yeah...sure, 'course they were sympathetic now they could see him. The guy was dirty and rumpled, cringing and whining under his breath, but even George could tell he was kinda easy on the eyes. George shook his head, muttered under his breath, "People."

He stepped backward, the guy's hand laying trustingly in his as step by step, he pulled him out of the doorway and onto the sidewalk, away from Moe's. He stopped and turned to the guy, and was shocked at how tall he was. He'd seemed so...small all curled up like a lost puppy in the doorway.

George looked up at him and smiled. He got a shy smile in return."So, big guy, what's your name?"

Simple question, but the guy stopped dead in his tracks. Looked at George like he'd suddenly started speaking Swahili. "Name?"

"Yee-aah, your name? My name's Officer Payton—George. And you're…?"

"I don't know. My name is...George?" The guy looked hopeful. George shook his head and the guy's face fell, his eyes going all liquid and round like those freakin' Disney characters the grandkids were all into. He felt like shit for making the guy look so lost.

"Kid, I'm pretty sure George is not your name. Where you from?" He figured that was kind of a wasted question, but he had to ask.

"I don't know."

I don't know, I don't know. I don't know…. was the response to every question asked and of course, the kid had no ID on him, not a damn thing to help identify him—not even so much as a damn candy wrapper. The guy had gone quieter with each question, drew deeper and deeper into himself. It worried George, all the while he called for help and hoped it was the right thing to do—no, he was sure it was right. The kid, the John Doe, had been living rough, looked like he'd probably roughed it out for days. He was a good-looking kid—hell, the boy was almost pretty—and bound to be worth something to the wrong kind of people, even if he wasn't a tender young thing anymore. He was too damn defenseless to leave on the street, that much George could see.

After the boy had been loaded onto the ambulance, George watched it pull away, siren silent and lights killed, wondered if he should maybe go check up on him, see him get settled. George shook his head. He'd only been with the boy a few hours, but there'd been something about him, something that had touched George….

His radio crackled to life, came with another problem on another corner, and then another and another...things piled up like they do. Life happened. Officer Payton forgot all about the kid until days and days later, and by then he figured too much time had gone by.

George hoped the boy was safe, that his family had found him and taken him home. He sent up a silent prayer for him.

A Spell

He stalked around the perimeter of the room, keeping his eyes trained on her. He watched her as she tried to keep distance between them, sweeping his eyes over her, over the altar she'd set up on the room's desk...

"Why? Why come after me for this? I just take them temporarily, I give them back, eventually." She tried to reason with him, but the hunter just laughed.

"Are you kidding? You're stealing their memories and ransoming them back!"

"In my defense," she said, and couldn't help smirking at the hunter's incredulous expression,"it's not like their companies can't afford it. It's not like I'm holding up some poor old ladies of their life savings."

"It's worse than kidnapping, which, y'know, is *wrong*. You think I'm not going to do what it takes about this shit?"

"Rich people—so I take the memory of some CEO—his minions are happy to pay a little to get them back, five, ten, fifty thousand." She shrugged, took a step closer, and Winchester automatically took a step back. "Once, twice a year; I'm not a greedy person. I live simply."

The hunter cast his eyes around the first-class room and looked back at her, raising an eyebrow. Smug bastard.

"What gives you, Winchester, the right to declare yourself judge, jury—"

"And executioner, don't forget that part," he growled, and centered the gun sight on her.

"Wait, wait—it doesn't have to be this way. I bet I have something you want. A chance at a guilt-free life, right? I can pin-point memories, erase the ones that poison everything. Torture, horror, betrayal—on you, by you. Oh I know, it's no secret what you and yours have done..." She squinted at him, taking a quick read—and gasped quietly. 'Oh, ho. So that's how it goes…'

The hunter frowned. She knew what he'd seen, the way her eyes flashed violet when she did her thing. She grinned wide, the way that put all her pearly-whites on display. Like a snarling dog. "Yeah, all that, but it's not what's really killing you, 'Flowers in the Impala'. I can take all that sick stuff away so you finally get to be normal—whatever you think that is. I don't judge. Much."

Rage and some intense expression washed over his face—guilt, maybe, probably—and then he spit, "Fuck you—" a sneer twisting what she had to admit was a pretty mouth. Just her luck she'd hook a pretty slut in a bar who turns out to be a hunter. A Winchester at that. Fucking witch-hunters, all the same. Damn Roberto, leading this kill-crazy dick her way. Still...he was hot. With his brain scoured clean, he'd make a pretty toy at least.

She made a fist, cracked the vial of herbs she'd palmed skirting around the altar. the glass shards sliced into the tender skin of her palm, giving her just what she needed— the blood to pull the spell ingredients together, and now, the words. Short, elegant, effective. She started off whispering, as fast as she could, trying to keep Winchester from getting just what she was doing, "Dean Winchester. tuae memoriae. Intus inclusas—" and just for fun, she quickly added, "solve, osculo Dilectus!"

She gambled that the spell would take effect before he got wise to what was happening and snapped off a shot.

She lost.

+++

Sam slammed his phone down, winced when the case made a cracking sound as it hit the table. He frowned, checking to make sure he hadn't done any damage—that was the fifth call straight to voicemail. What the hell was Dean doing? He was supposed to have gone to the damn Ambassador, pick up one little parcel, and come the hell back. Roberto might be a dilettante and frankly, a horndog, but Dean was skilled at blowing guys like that off. Not that Sam was worried, he wasn't. Roberto was nothing like Dean's type and kind of a douchebag to boot. No, Sam was just hungry, and annoyed. He'd been promised Dean's special burgers, and now, no Dean—no burgers. Damn it.

Sam wandered down to the garage, picked out the '51 Muntz; it didn't shout, 'Hey, I'm a goddamn classic" all that loudly, and probably no one in Lebanon would get that it was rare as hell. Besides, he liked it. It had a friendly face.

He headed out of town, going for a fairly decent Chinese place Dean had managed to find, and mourned the impossibility of takeout. Wasn't like they could causally say, "Address? Ah, just drop the food at that sealed-up old bunker halfway in the woods, the place that the men who dabbled with magic used to live in? Before they were wiped out by a Knight of Hell—''

In all fairness, he had to admit the trade-off wasn't bad. He missed having food come conveniently hot and delicious to the door, but no rent, no utilities, hot water all the time, privacy…thick mattresses, and no neighbors banging on the walls?

Banging... A quick flash of Dean being a slut with some faceless somebody flicked through his mind. Sam frowned. Here he was, thinking of his idiot brother again. Why the hell was he worried about Dean? Hobag. Probably just managed an extended hook-up – leave it to Dean to score whenever, wherever. He loved Dean, he really did, but sometimes he just couldn't handle the way Dean...he...the way he was blind, and dumb, and, just...took with both hands.

Sam shook his head, counted breaths until he felt somewhat settled. His hands tightened on the steering wheel, tight enough to hurt. Of course, he got how ridiculous it was to get pissed off with his brother because Dean's moral blind spot didn't match up perfectly with his own. He understood—most of the time—that Dean practiced fidelity, not faithfulness...fidelity was something Dean defined by brotherhood, not sex. And in the end, no matter how much it hurt, Sam figured he had no right to demand faithfulness as well, not when Dean would (and had) walk through fire for him.

+++

Next morning, still nothing from Dean. Sam grabbed some food from the meat locker masquerading as their fridge in the kitchen. He killed a few minutes reheating his find—a leftover carton of Happy Family. He tossed the warmed food into a bowl, then picked at it as he wandered around the library before dropping into one the wheeled desk chairs, where he finished working his way through it.

He had to admit that all that irritation was sliding into worry—he was getting just a little anxious. Normally, if Dean decided to spend the whole night away, he sent a text. Mostly a bragging, infantile, crowing about Dean's supposed prowess text, but at least a text. Sam threw the fork into the heavy crockery bowl with enough force to send it skidding over the library table. He tilted his chair back, eyes on the landing at the bunker entrance.

Should he head out and look for Dean? He could take one of the bikes or the car he'd used yesterday,….or maybe ask Cas to look for him. But regular brothers probably didn't get all twisted because they hadn't heard from their brother in what...not even close to forty-eight hours? It was barely six in the morning, and going off all in retrieval mode seemed a bit stalkerish. The ass was probably still sleeping whatever he'd been doing off.

Angry again, Sam reached across the table and pulled his laptop closer. He grabbed an age-yellowed file folder from the closest of the piles lined up across the middle of the table. Since supernatural beasties and what-nots seemed to have gone temporarily to ground, Sam was taking advantage of the extended down-time; he'd set himself the task of trying to catalog a section of the file room that had been oddly jumbled—piles of old books and pamphlets dumped together in a dark, little alcove—totally at odds with how relatively neat the rest of the bunker seemed to be. Poking through them had led Sam to a file box full of handwritten notes, probably someone's non-official, personal project. Most of the notes regarded minor, home-spun witchcraft, but tucked in here and there, he'd found information on minor spells and how to rev them up. Fascinating, if scary, reading.

Sam sighed softly, carefully paging through the age-softened papers. Thought with how often the way their life veered off into oh-my-god land with distressing regularity, some supercharged spells might be just the thing to have in their war bag.

Funny how Life was like an ironic pinball game, he mused. What they'd taken to be unequivocally true from childhood to adulthood had bounced and pinged all over creation. Hell, John Winchester would be rolling in his grave right now if he'd had one. Working with witches and crafting spellwork. Two major nots Dad had always cautioned them against—to the point where Teenage Sam, who'd known everything there was to know, came to the conclusion that the old man had more than a few screws loose. He'd never understood his insistence on avoiding the use of magical paraphernalia when folks like Missouri made it plain that magic and such wasn't always negative….

'Course, now that he was closer to the age Dad had been when he'd died, Sam realized that a lot of his commands where meant to help Sam maintain a low profile—to protect him as long as possible from falling under that evil, yellow eye. They had to be somewhat grateful that the man hadn't gone farther, and locked them up in some supernatural version of a survivalist camp to keep them—or him—safe. Sam shuddered, and flipped open a slim, illustrated pamphlet that was next in the pile.

'The efficacy of rosemarinus officinalis when infused in a tincture of cruorem and saline as a catalyst in the casting of healing spells as an aid to weariness of the mind. Part one. Section a'

"Oooh-kaay," Sam muttered, "that's a catchy little title…."

Chapter Text

Worry


Three silent days later found Sam pacing the war room, giving in to full panic mode now, both hands deep in his hair—yanking at it to keep from screaming. Cas hadn't been much help to alleviate Sam's worry. Nothing had charged Sam's anxiety more than having to listen to Castiel describe in an emotionless monotone (the voice he used whenever he or Dean, but mostly Dean, had gotten on his last nerve) his inability to find Dean.

"Sam, I'm not in peak condition, true, but finding Dean's location is difficult because there are no Dean thoughts to be found, not because it's beyond my scope," Cas said. "I'm also not saying something is wrong with Dean, I'm certain there is not. I may not be able to pick out his thoughts, but I have other ways. Sam, you just need to be patient."

Patient? "Patient—" Sam swept his hand through the air, trying to erase the memory of those fucking, uber-earnest, blue eyes away—knocking a bottle off the table in the process. Following the course of his amazing luck, the damn thing shattered and spread shards explosively.

"Damn it!" He stomped off to the kitchen to get a dustpan and a broom, slowing when he saw mixing bowls on the counter, the bowls that Dean had pulled out before he'd left. His "never tell me the odds" mug was tucked behind the bowls, standing in a dried puddle of coffee….

God, Dean loved his stupid coffee first thing in the morning, had to have it, just like he needed to park his ass behind the wheel of the Impala at least once a day, just like he needed to get off at least once a—

"Fuck, I am an idiot!" Sam wheeled around to the war room—dashed right back to the kitchen for the broom.

"Gotta track the car," he muttered, sweeping up shards of amber glass. "Look for her in lockup. If Dean can't call me or return calls, more than likely he can't get to the car...which has got to be somewhere close to where he was…" Sam refused to even think of any other possibility. First he'd find the car, then make a plan and then...and then.

Then would be handled when he had a solid lead.

Sam dumped the glass shards, headed back to the war room with a cup of tea. He dropped down in one of the wingback chairs against the wall. He stretched out long legs, propped his laptop on his knees. If Dean had parked anywhere near, or in the hotel's lot, by now she would have been towed, for sure. He accessed police tow lots for Wichita, somewhere close to the Ambassador.

It didn't take long to find the car, and a spark of relief swept through him. "There you are, sweetheart, " he crooned, and winced, couldn't help throwing a look over his shoulder despite knowing no one was there. Okay, maybe he wasn't obsessed over her like some he could name but...she kinda was family, after all. One of the few constants in his life.

He was packing a duffle for himself, tossing in a change of clothes for Asshat, when Cas fluttered into being practically at his shoulder, making him fumble the bag and its contents to the floor. "Cas…."

Still furiously believing that Dean was just trying to fuck his way through Wichita, he ended up taking it out on Cas, insisting that he didn't need the angel, that he didn't want to have Cas along. That went about as well as he expected, and Cas dogged his footsteps around the garage bays, demonstrating that he was a master of selective deafness when it came to something he didn't want to hear. Obviously he'd taken lessons from Dean.

"Sam, if Dean is injured, then you need to have what I can dredge up of my grace to heal him—"

"That's in no way as comforting as you seem to think it is," Sam huffed, ignoring Cas rolling his eyes—another lesson from the master—and flung the duffle bag into the back seat of the Muntz he'd taken the other day. When he slid into the driver's side, Cas was already in the passenger seat. Naturally.

Sam groaned. The only way he was going to get rid of Cas was splashing the dash with banishment sigils, and he didn't have the time, or the desire, to spill blood at the moment. "Just...please don't talk, and don't mess with the radio. And don't...stare at me."

+++

They found the car at a private impound lot, towed there after having been abandoned at the very, very nice hotel that he'd sent Dean to, to pick up the package Sam had traded for with weekend-hunter Roberto. The package Sam had sent was so ordinary, just few pairs of spelled handcuffs and magic-imbued rope. It had been a job mostly designed to get Dean out in the car (and out of Sam's hair) for a bit. There was nothing out of the ordinary around the hotel and as far as Sam could tell, not much to attract Dean—a few restaurants, a museum or something, a few bookstores, a couple of cocktail bars. Sam looked down the block and sighed. "Cas, how about you take one side of the street and I'll take the other—maybe Dean's just taking a mini-vacation from, from, from—" Sam choked, tried to hide it with a terribly faked cough.

Cas looked at him with entirely too much sympathy, those eyes just...Dean used to say that Sam unfairly used puppy dog eyes on him, but Sam was pretty sure that Cas in full-on 'I feel your pain' mode had him beat hands down.

"It's going to be okay, Sam. It is." Cas patted Sam's hand, and radiated sympathy.

"Yeah...uh, thanks. Just. Remember to hold your badge right side up, okay—and for god's sake, don't use the agent Beyonce one."

Cas nodded, then held up his wrist, displaying a chunky, old Timex Ironman. "We should synchronize our watches now. Dean told me that was an important feature of any job."

"Synchronize our what—why? No—you know what, don't even tell me." He sent Cas off, and judging by the look in his eyes, he'd disappointed Cas in some way that Dean probably wouldn't have. Whatever. When they found Dean, there'd be plenty of time to parse it then. Right now, he had to concentrate on hunting Dean down.

What Sam thought would be an hour or two of them showing Dean's picture up and down the strip turned into an irritating, then nerve-wracking, and then frightening lack of information. It seemed no one had seen him, except the concierge at the Ambassador, who definitely remembered him, and Roberto, who'd left as soon as the packages had been exchanged. Claimed that Dean had left him whole and well and heading for the bar. No one in the bar remembered him. No one in the garage remembered the car or Dean. None of Dean's ID had been in the car.

Dean had to have met someone or something in that parking garage.

Sam flipped through the cards he'd brought, and finding one that he was sure wasn't maxed, took a room at the Ambassador. He wandered around the floor his brother had been on, but there was nothing to see. There'd been an incident involving someone staying at the hotel who'd taken ill, but from the description, it wasn't Dean—just some guy who'd had a stroke or something. Sam hadn't really paid attention after he found out it wasn't Dean, and the only thing odd about it was that the guy apparently was young to have had a stroke. Sam promptly forgot about it.

They stayed another two days before returning to the bunker, Sam driving the Impala and Cas the Muntz. Sam searched for arrests, and Cas dropped in on and off with no news himself. It took slightly more than a week before Sam started searching for homicides as well. He was beginning to feel like he had when Dean and he were on the search for their dad. Sam called hospitals, morgues, but nothing panned out there, thank you Jesus.

Desperation brought him back to Wichita, back in FBI drag, with more photos in hand. He retraced their original steps, then expanded his search radius, day by day. Nearly three weeks had passed.

He dragged himself, tired, sweating like mad, and thoroughly disgruntled, into a little hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop. He ordered a salad and tea, and force of habit had him flashing a picture of Dean, looking prosperous in the suit he'd worn to pick up his goddamn twice-cursed package. The counter guy squinted, then nodded. "Hunh, y'know, he kinda does look familiar. There was a guy while back...it was weird as hell. Poor guy was maybe retar—challenged, I mean. Dirty, messed up, but - " He frowned at the picture. "Wow...shi – ucks,...I think maybe that might be him. Could be. Gee, he looks good—what the hell happened?"

"Where did he go?" Sam snapped, his hands itching to pull the fucking idiot over the counter by his neck.

"Umm...probably to St. Christopher's, on North street...he was in really bad shape—your partner?"

"Yeah," Sam said. "My partner."

Prelude


"Dude, why do I have do the suit?"

"Stop yelling." Sam pushed open the door to Dean's room, and tossed a tie at Dean. "It's so you won't stick out like an infected wart—the Ambassador hotel is a pretty luxe place. The guy you're meeting up with, Roberto, is more than well off, likes to 'dabble' in the hunt to alleviate the excruciating boredom of being rich as hell, poor guy."

"Great, one of *those* fuckin' idiots. So, what is it I'm picking up from...?" Dean squinted at the card Sam had tucked in his jacket pocket. "Rob...erto...Padilla? That's his name?"

Sam made a mental note to force Dean into getting some readers next time they stocked up on necessities. And tease the living fuck out of him while they did…."Eh, a few minor books, though one sounds like something Bobby used to have. Roberto offered an exchange for a few spelled objects—trust me, nothing that could hurt him," Sam said when Dean wanted to protest. "He's a weekender, but not a complete moron."

"Yeah, all right, but dude, is it worth it? Don't we don't have enough books?" Dean leaned into the sink, glaring at the mirror as he tried to yank his tie into place.

"They're books we can use—recent books, Dean. Well, recent meaning the sixties. What with the MoL wiped out in the fifties, there are blocks of missing knowledge it can't hurt to fill in. Plus, I'm on the look-out for any book that Bobby had in his library."

Dean's eyes shifted a little sideways, his frown deepening—Sam knew the feeling well, an uncomfortable mash-up of grief and guilt. Sam watched Dean fiddle grumpily with the tie for a minute or two more before caving—he pushed him back from the sink, tugged a bit on the tie and Dean narrowed his eyes at him as it magically settled into position.

"Whatever. Why can't you go instead?"

"Because you need to get out, get some sun, feel the road under your tires."

"'Road under my tires', hunh? In other words, I 'm getting on your nerves," Dean laughed. "Okay. Take some ground beef out of the magic freezer, I'll make burgers when I get back."

Burgers, Dean's burgers. Sam nodded, completely unsuccessful at hiding his glee, which only made Dean laugh more. He swung past Sam, reaching out to ruffle his hair. "Yer so fuckin' easy," he crooned. "But that's what I like about you, baby."

He crowded Sam against the doorway, pulled him in by a handful of hair, and licked across his mouth before capturing it in a deep, wet, kiss that promised serious continuation later.

Sam broke the kiss reluctantly. He pushed Dean back with gentle fingertips against his shoulders. He smiled down at Dean, his cheeks gone bright pink, and licked at his damp lips. "Yeah, yeah, screw you. Don't get lost."

"I'll be back soon," Dean said, his hand ghosting over Sam's cheek, smiling softly as he rested a fingertip gently, briefly, in a dimple. "Before you know it."

Chapter Text

Part Two

Lost

Mike sat cross-legged on his bed, back against the wall. He watched the sunlight rise, enchanted by the way it slowly filled the window, how even though it glowed golden like melted butter, the thick, wire-reinforced glass it poured through turned the light watery and slightly gray when it filled the room. He watched with interest as the walls went from a deep, slate-gray to a faint, robins-egg blue. The light tinted the gray blanket rumpled up under his feet a blue-green, it whitened the sheets. Light was fascinating. Mike could spend hours watching the way it moved, how it changed. He'd probably spend whole days watching, if allowed, totally mesmerized by the progress of the sun.

A distant bell rang; he shook himself, suddenly aware that he'd not been aware of time passing. Mike slid off the bed and shuffled into the tiny, green-tiled bathroom attached to his room. He leaned against the sink and stared at the him in the mirror, the endlessly fascinating him. He drew his fingers over his face, staring intensely. This face...he poked gently at his cheeks, pulled his lids wide to stare into his eyes. Nothing there, just...a nice enough shade of green, maybe, but if they were a mirror to the soul, well, then maybe his soul wasn't much to write home about. He pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes, until finally he gave into a breathy chuckle. He looked like a doofball. He looked like...Michael.

Michael Allen. That's who he was—no, that's what he called himself. After the doctors had poked and prodded and finally realized there was nothing he could draw on, nothing left in his pea-soup brain to call upon—dissociative amnesia, they'd labeled it—they'd asked him to pick a name, maybe one that fit who he felt like. He'd felt kinda like...Michael.

Mike.

The name didn't fit in a satisfying way, but it didn't feel like he'd just scooped it out the air, either. When Michael had bubbled up out of the pea-soup in his head that first time, it'd made perfect sense. A nurse had tacked the Allen on when he couldn't come up with a last name. Her grandson, Mike thought she'd said. Yeah, it was good enough. The only other name that'd made any sort of sense to him was Sam, but somehow—he smiled into the mirror like it shared a private joke with him—he couldn't really imagine himself as a Sam. That was a name for someone with...style. Presence. Someone who stepped into a room and filled it, not a zero of a guy who oozed around the edges of it, melting into thin air.

Mike shrugged the slightly gray turn of his thoughts away, and ran a line of toothpaste over the skinny little brush in his hand. He slid the brush between his lips and scrubbed away, humming a song as he did. He liked the song—it had just appeared in his mind one day, spilled out of his mouth unaware. He'd been in the day room when it happened, and one of the old guys—the one that talked to himself and constantly groomed the tufts of wiry gray hair shooting out of the sides of his head—grinned when Mike started humming the song. Told Mike it was Hey Jude, from a time when music was actually music. Maybe. Mike didn't know about music. Didn't know the why of this song, or where it came from, but it had to be something of his, right? It meant something...maybe something important, whatever it was. Well...didn't matter. He brushed and hummed and sort of sprayed foam all over, and didn't care. It was a good song.

Mike leaned over the sink and spit. He carefully rinsed his mouth before he spit and then rinsed again, his eyes going to the archer slit of a window, leaking gray light into the room. His mind thinned and drifted, in no particular direction, while his body completed its hygienic tasks. Muscle memory—convenient.

There was a tap at the door, it opened to Trevor and his cart. He held a morning kit out to Mike: liquid soap, deodorant, shave cream and a razor. He waited while Mike washed and shaved, chatting idly about nothing much at all; ward gossip, the price of gas, and how much he wanted to trade in his old gas guzzler for something sexy. Or at least, efficient. The whole time he talked, Mike focused on the mirror, not meeting Trevor's eyes. It was looking at Trevor that had got him in trouble. He'd seen that Trevor was good-looking, a nice guy—at first. Big, white smiles, always joking, always a friendly pat or hug, until it changed….

There was something wrong with Trevor. It unsettled him. Scared him, maybe. The way his eyes roamed over Mike like he owned him, like he was looking at dinner. Laughed at him like he knew some secret joke. The way he was standing in Mike's doorway now, filling it, crowding Mike into the fog….

He finished, and held the kit out in shaking hands. Trevor grinned, took it back and tossed it on his cart. "Okay. Breakfast time, you ready to get dressed?" he asked and Mike nodded. What else could he say? Trevor waited a few minutes, but when Mike didn't move, he snickered, gave Mike a wink and moved on to the next door.

The minute the door shut, Mike slithered out of his sleep pants, into a pair of jeans that had been washed to a baby-blanket softness, topped it with a dark-gray, long-sleeved t-shirt. He tugged on the sleeves until they almost covered his knuckles. He sat on the edge of his cot and made sure the three little buttons at the neck were fastened. Mike quickly covered his bare feet with a pair of thick socks, brand new. He smiled; for a minute or two he just perched there, flexing his feet, enjoying the warmth, imagining the socks loved his feet the way he loved wearing them. After another stolen minute, Mike stood with a sigh and stepped into a pair of thin-soled sneakers, the type that had no laces.

He shuffled down the hall, past the nurses' station, past the day room and into the small, humid room they had their meals in. No one looked up when Mike stepped in, most of the others were absorbed in their food, or caught up in some story only they knew. He looked for a place to sit alone, stepped around a couple of guys who were working themselves up into a rolling argument over what looked like a too-crisp slice of toast. Mike turned on his heel to quickly walk away when one of them let out a blood-curdling scream. Mike stumbled, felt a quick blaze of...something shoot through him. For a startlingly sharp, crystal moment, the pea-soup clogging his brain lifted, his hands curled into tight fists as he shifted his weight. He inhaled, sharp and deep, ready, completely there.…

Until it happened again, the way it always did; thick, black taffy glugged through his head. He blinked slowly as he sank...deeper and darker and deeper; a drowsy, dull wave of nothingness washed over him. His bones felt tiny, his body felt spread thin. Head down, he shuffled past the outbreak as a couple of orderlies hurried up, zoned in on the trouble brewing.

Something had happened, but he wasn't sure what or when and he didn't give the disturbance much notice. He ignored the screams of outrage, the tears, brittle little fear-soaked yelps, all of his concentration focused in on the chowline. At this moment in time, nothing was important except the possibility of oatmeal, the sunlight trying to peek around the heavy window blinds, and his daily dose of decaf coffee. He sleepwalked through the line, waking finally at the end to find himself holding a tray: oatmeal, a slice of toast, a pat of butter and a tiny plastic bowl of chopped peaches in syrup. He wasn't sure he liked canned peaches. Too slippery, like intestines when you made a fist inside—

"Good morning, Mike, how'd you sleep last night?"

It was William, one of the few staff who didn't make Mike feel a bit on edge. The thickly-built orderly trailed Mike to a not-so-crowded spot. He waited patiently while Mike set his tray on the scarred table, waiting like he really cared about Mike's answer. Mike carefully sat down, managed something like a smile before answering William as he always did. "Good."

It was actually, mostly, true—Mike had stopped mentioning the nightmares he had occasionally, and the weird, twisted thoughts that waited until he was nearly sleeping before ambushing him. In the beginning, his doctors had seized on those thoughts like dogs on a bone. Mike never had understood why, couldn't get how they were significant. Monsters were everyone's childhood bane; everybody had nightmares. Maybe his brain refused to grow out of it, is all. He had to admit, the dreams made him feel...well, uneasy, yeah. In his first few waking moments after one of those dreams, the world felt too sharp, too bright, and he was always afraid that if he took too many steps, or wondered too hard, he'd fall into an endless pit. Mike shivered hard. Falling. The very idea made his stomach twist unpleasantly.

"Mike? Mike, you with us?"

Mike looked up, right into William's dark eyes. He had long, long lashes, dark, curled back at the tips. Gave him a wide-eyed look that Mike liked. He liked that William was big, really big—shoulders a mile wide. When William walked, his steps were slow and steady, and his shoes made big, solid thumps on the floor. William made Mike feel grounded. Safe. He wished he could ask William to hide him from all the stuff he didn't understand.

"You sure you're good?" William asked, laid a hand on Mike's arm. His hand covered Mike's forearm completely, gently pinned it to the tabletop. Felt nice. The thick, brown fingers curled around his arm made Mike aware of how sun-deprived his own was, messy speckles spread everywhere on his flesh, mottled little dots...like blood spatter. Mike frowned and flexed his fingers against the table top, watching the spatters, freckles, shift with the movement. He ignored the push to rub them away. He could see himself doing just that in his mind's eye; his thumb moving over his skin, the way the specks would flake off, drift away like dust, like rust....

He blinked. William had moved, the warmth of his grip fading from Mike's arm.

Rats...He didn't like it when he was ambushed by weirdo thoughts, not in the daylight. They were supposed to be a nighttime thing. They tripped him up; they were stupid, no matter how the doctors tried to convince him having those thoughts were okay, maybe even useful. That there might be clues to who he really was in them. Considering the kind of thoughts they were, he couldn't say the idea sat well with him. He shivered. Bloody, whackjob, scary thoughts.

What...what if he was a serial killer? There was a program he'd watched in the hospital, about a man everyone had liked. A nice guy, a helpful guy who'd had some kind of devil inside him. Mike was fairly certain he didn't have a devil inside him—but would he know if he did? What if he did? The doctors said all kinds of things, trying to help—that it was possible some traumatic event had put his memories in solitary. They might not be gone, they might just...be hiding. Might come back, like all at once, or in dribs and drabs. Or, maybe, possibly...never.

Never….

And if that was the case...Mike wasn't sure that it mattered much. Having a bowl full of pea soup for a brain was obviously only his problem, no one else's. No one had ever come looking for him, had ever called. Either no one cared, or there was no one. Mike shook his head, then looked up at William, whose forehead was wrinkled slightly, lips pursed just a bit as he stared down at Mike in concern.

"I'm good, man, just a little…" Mike held his hand up, flattened it and waggled it from side to side and William smiled.

"Gotcha, a little unsteady. Dr. Brand is meeting with you later on today—you be sure you tell him." William patted him on the shoulder, and Mike felt a warm, little pulse in his chest—a good feeling. Mike grabbed a spoon and dug into the bowl of barely warm oatmeal. He liked oatmeal, he thought, as he chewed and swallowed. That was a memory, maybe. But...he was pretty sure he liked it with a lot, like, a lot of brown sugar and butter. This oatmeal was kind of...pale. No, not pale, plain. No, bland. That was it. That word explained everything about the oatmeal. He smiled and swallowed another mouthful. Now if he could find the word that explained himself, maybe it'd help him get a handle on all of this.

+++

"Mike, tell me about the dream?"

Mike looked up, startled. When had he told the doctor about his dreams? He didn't remember mentioning them again, not after deciding they were a waste of time. But he must have. Dr. Brand was smiling at him. Fingers tapped softly on his desk. The way his head tilted slightly to the side sent sandy-blonde bangs drifting down over his forehead, in a way that never failed to make Mike smile back. Being in the office made him feel...easy, comfortable enough to pull back one of the leather chairs that faced the doc's desk, and collapse into a comfortable sprawl.

Talking to Dr. Brand was mostly okay. Mike liked the doc; his funny, scarecrow self—a little too tall and lot too skinny—his lightning smiles, and the way his longish hair curled around his neck and flicked the tops of his ears. The way real concern warmed his whiskey-colored eyes. Mike had no doubt the doc was one of the real good guys.

"Dream, Mike?"

Mike started. He'd been distracted by a mole, a little brown dot on the doc's chin that always had Mike itching to move it. It felt like it was in the wrong place….

"Dream...unh," Mike repeated, searching for just what it was he'd said, before a few images flickered to the surface. "I'm not sure...thinking about it, well, it was boring, really. I was on the road, driving, and I knew I'd been driving for a long time. I was tired, hungry. I stopped to get gas and food. I stepped out and looked back towards the car, a big, old-fashioned boat. A window was rolled down, and when I looked in, someone asked me to get them water. I knew who it was then, but not now. Weird, hunh?"

Doc just smiled, and asked,"You say you were driving...away from something? Something bad?"

"No. Just...just driving. And no monsters." Mike's reply was firm. He didn't want to hear about bad things. He straightened in the chair, all the good feeling gone, replaced by something tight and hot. He thought that maybe it was anger, but the budding feeling withered too quickly for him to get a handle on; he slumped again, tired and foggy-brained. It wasn't fair to feel that way here, not in a good place.

"Mike? Mike? Hey...do you want to tell me how you're feeling?"

"No. I don't feel anything. I'm just tired." Mike crossed his arms over his chest, dropped his head and did his best to disappear into the chair. Doc looked sympathetic. He smiled, and his whole face seemed to smile—Mike's mouth went dry. He held onto the arms of his chair, because for some truly crazy reason, his hands kept telling him it was okay to go on and touch the doc. Right. He might be crazy, but he wasn't stupid.

"Okay. It could be the new anti-anxiety meds. Give it a week or so to level out."

"Oh, yeah, uhm, okay, Dr. Brand. Understood." Time was up and Mike gratefully rose, shuffled out of the door towards his room.

Mike didn't want to disappoint the doc, but he knew it wasn't the pills messing with him, at least not completely. It was the constant darn struggle that wore him out, trying not to sink so deep inside that he disappeared altogether. Sinking down into the darkness didn't even feel good. It was just...easier to blank out. Easier to give in than to fight. Easier, most days, to get up and move if someone wanted his spot on the day room couch. It was easier to pass over his milk than refuse. It just made more sense.

It was confusing, in a distant sort of way, because there was plenty of evidence that he hadn't always been this person. It was written all over his skin. Staff tried to tell him there could be dozens of reasons why his body looked like a road map of violence. Accidents, getting caught up with bad people—heck, apparently some of the staff had decided that Mike had escaped the clutches of some nefarious slimeballs, like he was some kind of comic book hero.

Mike huffed quietly to himself. He knew better. He traced the shape of bullet holes, stab wounds. The ridges left by skin sewn, and sometimes not very neatly, back up again. Teeth, claws, even flame seemed to have left its traces on him. Mike never questioned that he knew what sort of scars they were, never wondered how he knew that the set of parallel lines on his left thigh were claw marks or the half circle of dimples on his shoulder were left after a vicious bite, the teeth of a—a—

He blinked, swimming back out of the familiar gray fog. Mike knew what the marks were—but not why. He stared, fingertips stroking over scars and dimples, slight, quick breaths giving way to nearly silent wheezing. Blackness nibbled light away from the edges of his eyesight. The familiar, thick blanket of heavy nothingness settled on Mike; he breathed through it, exhaling slow, deep breaths and muddled thoughts, eventually settling into a feeling of vague well-being. Mike floated along on it. This was the feeling he let drive him, what he felt on his good days. On those good days, he shuffled from bed to couch, to bed again, and he did it day after day after day and it was good enough.

+++

Day after day….

 

Mike stepped into the hallway, idly noting the exits as he shuffled towards the day room. Two exits leading to the outside, one door leading to the nurses station, a locked door, a janitor's closet, another locked door, supply room for the ward...he didn't know why he saw these things, he just did.

Mike wanted some water. There was a water fountain near the day room, so he headed there. Trevor saw him coming and smiled. Mike smiled back, not really meaning to—it was an automatic reaction, something learned here; you make brief eye contact, then smile, but not too wide.

Trevor dropped into step behind him, dogging his heels. Mike moved a little to the left, and walked just a bit faster. Too late, he realized that Trevor had two-stepped him right into a dead end, a dark section of hallway with locked doors, then herded Mike through the only open door into an unused, tiny room that had maybe been an office at one time; a small, airless, windowless, box. Filled with him and Trevor.

Mike shuddered and a low, animal sound of fear squeezed out of his throat.

"Hey, now, Michael Allen...you shush." Trevor stepped forward, quietly shutting the door behind himself. Mike heard the lock click, loud in the quiet.

Trevor crowded Mike into a corner of the room, hooked a few fingers into the open collar of Mike's t-shirt and pulled him close. "You know, I don't usually go for them when they get old and kinda beat up like you. But, there's just...something..." Trevor moved his hand, traced around one of Mike's eyes, making his eyelid twitch crazily. "Yeah, there's something about you. 'Bout them eyes, the way you look at me…"

Mike tried to take a step back, eyes darting from side to side, looking for something, anything that would help. There was a part of him that was so scared he couldn't breathe, but another, smaller part that was just plain pissed off. Mike shook with the conflicting emotions. 'Don't you let that fucker,' a voice inside his head snarled, 'don't you let him touch you.'

The last time some asshole thought he could rip a piece off him, he'd been eighteen. He'd left that fucker bleeding out of every hole in his goddamn head, knocked him cold an' left him face-down in a dirty alley. Even so, Dad hadn't let him go off alone for months after, and—

The dark fog hit him—more like a pile driver than the black-taffy-quicksand he was used to. Mike's eyes rolled up; his muscles went loose. He felt the buttons on Trevor's shirt dig into his chest as his knees gave out and he slid down Trevor's body.

"Knew it...knew you'd want this. Slut," Trevor whispered, pushing Mike further down until his knees hit the tile. Mike was lost in his head, wading through thick, smothering darkness. He came to—somewhat—with his cheek resting against the stiff curve of Trevor's hard-on. He blinked, trying his best to bring back that clear, sharp wave of rage, but he was mired in the fog. His brain shut down. He could feel Trevor rock back, feel him pull his pants down, and the thick, cloying smell of him filled Mike's nose. He moaned with the effort of trying to surface, but Trevor apparently took it to mean Mike was into it, pushed his thumb into the cleft of his chin, forcing Mike's mouth open. With the other hand, he pressed his dick against Mike's lower lip until it slid inside. "There you go, made for me, fit's perfect."

Mike's will drifted like smoke. Trevor chuckled, a mean edge to it, as he rocked in deep, deep until Mike gagged, his jaw jumping with the need to vomit. Trevor smacked him. "Hey, you bite me and I'll fuck you up, believe it."

Mike definitely believed him, so did his best not to cause Trevor any pain, even when black flecks swarmed the thick gray fog in his head, leaving him blind and deaf, even when air became a distant memory.

"Oh, shit, fuck, you're good at this, you musta been somebody's best whore out there. Fuck."

Mike swallowed convulsively, instinct making him fight to breathe. Trevor pulled back right before Mike passed out; he came in thick spurts across Mike's face, the heat and wet startling Mike into falling backwards, his ass hitting the floor. He hissed at the sting; come dripping into his eyes, his teeth grazing cuts in his lip. Tears and snot slid down Mike's face, mixing in with the ropy saliva coating his chin. He dragged the back of his hand over the disgusting slime, trying to wipe the evidence away. Trying to hide tears.

"Here," Trevor said, and tossed Mike a pack of tissues. "Clean up, then go sit in the day room."

Mike wiped frantically, cleaning his face and then shuffling out of the door, Trevor's instructions filling the whole of his mind.

After that first time, it was a thing that happened pretty regularly. Mike had no defense against it—the fog came up and Mike was helpless but to fall into it. Sometimes, he spent entire days in the fog, and the little thoughts and bits of nightmare and random good feelings he'd gotten used to disappeared. Mike got even quieter. Even the old guys stopped trying to talk to him, the yellers and biters all drifted away from him as well. He was a fence post, he was a hat-rack. He was a glass of water. He was a prism that sucked in all the sunlight and spit it out black.

+++

Chapter Text

Breathe

Another day. Another aimless, pointless talk.

Dr. Brand tapped his pencil against a sheaf of papers, flicked the edges of them. Mike wondered how his other clients viewed the doc's constant movement; was it distracting to them? Mike liked it—Doc's little tics made Mike feel like the doc was a real person, like he was a guy who really did want to help. Good looking, if kinda skinny—a great guy. A real catch. Mike chuckled quietly, and Dr. Brand looked up at him. He laid down his pencil kind of pointedly, and gave Mike a sunny smile.

"Mike, let's talk about you staying on with us a bit longer, say for another month—if it's something you think might be helpful. My colleagues and I would rather you had some sort of support in place before you leave us. With this extra time, we can arrange something for you, a place to live, help with employment...more therapy. We want to be sure you have the tools to deal with your amnesia. To be prepared to handle any roadblocks, so to speak." Dr. Brand, smiled, shrugged slightly.

Mike nodded, hearing that it was his choice to stay or not...but was it really? It wasn't like there was something waiting for him out there. He knew in some ways, it was safer here inside. Life hadn't been good when he was on the street—at least, he was pretty sure it hadn't been good. Maybe he'd never really know. Inside, though, he could be certain of warmth, his own bed, clean clothes, and decent food—but there was also Trevor, and having to hide from him and not being able to tell anyone, and who would believe him anyway?
Dr. Brand said that this was the seventh day he'd been there, not counting the days he'd spent recovering in a hospital bed. Mike didn't know much, but this life now was something he did know. He'd take a chance and stay. Trevor was just something...it could be a lot worse, he thought, unconsciously stroking one of the many thin, white, scars scattered over his forearm.

+++

Mike was working his way towards a quieter corner of the room, where he could sit quietly and let his thoughts wind down. He pulled his feet up onto the couch cushions and leaned back, wrapped his arms around his legs. This way he felt small, small enough to escape notice. His head dropped to rest on his knees, his shoulders rose, curved in. One of the guys—the one that never stopped walking—wandered past Mike's couch. "Fuckin' turtle-dude," he mumbled, and the fog around Mike shivered slightly, little dashes of gold flickered in the blackness. He laughed, startling himself. Turtle-dude...well, it was a little bit funny. He wouldn't mind being able to shrink down and hide in a nice, thick shell. Turtle himself away from everything.

Someone stepped directly in front of him—he could feel them. There was a feather-light touch on his shoulder and he flinched.

"Mike...what do you say to coming outside and walking a bit?" a voice asked. "You could use a little sun and fresh air."

No, leave me alone, don't touch me, don't talk to me, don't—Mike pressed his lips tight, shook his head no, rubbing his forehead against his knees.

The touch on his shoulder got firmer, there was no twitching that away. He lifted his head, opened his eyes to a face directly in front of him. He flinched back, but settled when she smiled—it was a nice, sympathetic smile, a friendly face, short blonde hair framing round cheeks, and eyes that crinkled up in the corners. Not young, but not old. "Too bad," she said, "because while it may have sounded like a question, it was actually a command. Let's go, buster."

Mike stared, trying to get some sense of her. In the end, he nodded, yes because she...she made him feel okay. Pressure slipped from his shoulder to his elbow as he unfolded and slid off the couch; she guided him from the day room, past the nurses station, to the courtyard doors.

Mike couldn't remember ever stepping through those doors before. He generally came and went as he pleased, which meant he basically slip-slid from bed, to the day room, to the dining hall, to bed, regular as clockwork because that's how he survived. Between hiding from Trevor, and getting treated like a side of beef when he couldn't, Mike's days were full. He didn't have time for light and air and big open spaces….

Bright sunlight slammed into him like a pillow-wrapped hammer. He staggered out onto the sidewalk, his arm sliding out of the woman's grip. Warmth burst over him, warm air stroked his skin. Sun filled his desperate pores with light, and want. He tilted his face upwards, eyes carefully closed. "Oh man," he murmured, reverent, overwhelmed. Pure light, everywhere, not sketched in the narrow square of a wire-reinforced window, or spied distantly through a set of double doors. Everywhere. It was everywhere.

"That's it, Mike, breathe in, breathe out. Let it out, Mike. Breathe out whatever poison's been filling you up lately."

Mike blinked, his eyes finally clearing. The gluey fog that filled them day and night thinned so much he could clearly see William, standing next to the blonde woman. "William," he smiled. "Hello."

Just looking at William, feeling the air—just feeling--made him want to hug the man. Heck, made him want to grab him and dance all over the lawn. A laugh hiccoughed out of him, and William laughed with him.

"Hello, Mike. It's good to see you around." He glanced at the tiny woman standing next to him. "I'm glad you were able to talk him into getting some sun, Betty."

Betty smirked a little wider. "I didn't talk him into it, Will. Mike made his own mind up. He chose a little sunshine today."

He wasn't entirely sure that that was true, but he liked the idea that he chose the sun. He took a deep breath. There was the scent of something warm and sweet in the air. He let his captured breath out, almost saw the fog rolling out with that expelled breath thinning in the bright light, drifting apart with the scent of summer grass and sage….

Mike covered his mouth, hiding the smile he just knew had to be freakishly wide, the way his cheeks ached.

Betty never let up on him after that first day she'd gently forced him outside. She was nice, some kind of therapist of a sort Mike never really understood—"Horticultural therapy—Mike, are you giggling? Stop that."

She directed his good hours, led Mike and a few other patients to help in laying out a garden, described the type of plants being used and how to care for them, explained a bit about designing paths and beds and stopping places in a garden. While outside contractors designed and laid out the bones, Mike and some of the other patients did the grunt work. Mike was fine with that. Digging and moving dirt felt comfortable in a weird way, kept his mind clear—concentrating on shoveling piles of gravel onto soon-to-be pathways, stacking pavers besides a growing patio, digging holes for the bushes that he nestled into them with his own hands—it all kept the fog away.

Mike felt mercifully clear, almost bright, for the first time in what felt like forever.

He walked along the emerging pathways, trowel and pruners in his hands and staring down Trevor whenever he passed him—Mike knew he was laughing at Trevor with his eyes, but he couldn't help it. He was glad, happy even. Trevor hadn't been able to catch Mike truly alone in days. It felt good. He swept the gravel back into the pathways as he walked, and breathed. He smiled down at a short section of rocks edging part of a garden bed. When they'd set them into place, he'd taken a bit of flagstone, and scraped a star in a circle on the bottom of one of them—almost the same thing that was tattooed on his chest. No idea why he'd done it, just that it made him feel...good. Better. Wished more than once that he could put that star on his door...no matter what some of the clients said, the symbol was not evil.It was meant to help him, it was a good thing. That was one of the few things he was certain of.

Mike bent and put his hand over the sun-warmed stone and wished so hard that he knew why it was a good sign. It was important, in the same way Hey Jude was….

ladybug  jdoe1

+++

Mike hunched over a wheelbarrow filled with gallon pots of plants. The sun warmed his back—almost a bit too hot. The speckles that he hated had multiplied under the sun, but he was willing to ignore them in favor of the good feeling being outdoors brought him. He'd lucked out today, and was assigned a bed to plant all by himself. Smiling, he picked up a pot, read the label on it. "Yarrow." His smile dropped away as he stared hard at the label. Something about that name...he set it down and picked up another two pots. Salvia officinalis, sage, with pretty purple flower spikes. Next came a few pots of the biggest, fattest marigolds he'd ever seen—and about the only thing he recognized. Towards the back of the wheelbarrow were plants that looked a little wild and weedy, what with their hairy leaves and tall flower stalks. He picked one up and stroked the leaves curiously. He just didn't get that they wanted the weird things planted, that they'd paid for the darn things—looked to him like stuff that grew on the side of the road. But he tilted the pot in his hand, examining the plant...it had personality. Yeah. It looked tough, like it could take a lot of crap and keep on growing. Alright, he liked it. Rhodiola rosea...whatever that was. He flipped the tag, and the common name was written there.

"Okay, Aaron's rod, we're going to put you along the back of this bed…"

He hummed and sweated and plugged pots into the places they should be. The guys doing other beds wandered off, but he stayed, seeing as how no one came to get him. He wandered over to one of the wheelbarrows and grabbed a no longer cold bottle of water, chugged it down. He felt...okay. No, he felt great. He grabbed up one of the pots of rosemary, intended for a tiny herb garden, pressed his face into its spiky-looking leaves and inhaled. It was...amazing. It smelled like all good things, it made him feel so good, he could hardly contain it. His heart beat a little faster and the world just seemed to spring into being all around him, all bright yellows and greens and blues—birdsong filled his ears and calmed his heart. He knelt in the damp, slightly sticky soil, trowel in his hand and thought what a really great day it was. The kind of day that made him feel alive, worthwhile. Less like a barely visible zero wasting space that real people needed. He dug a hole for the plant, singing as he did, voice low and rough and just for himself. "...and anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain—don't carry the world upon your shoulders…."

+++

Rain had kept them inside that day and between the overcast sky robbing them of sun, and the damp chill in the air, Mike was feeling less than fine. The fog was tip-toeing back, nibbling at his mind, eating at the edges that had been growing steadily sharper since Mike had been placed in charge of the herb garden. His body was jerky as a knot-stringed marionette, his skin felt paper-thin and his bones felt like glass. He headed towards his room, barely able to drag himself though the thickening air.

Mike closed his door and stripped, thinking that a hot shower might help clear his head, or at least make him tired enough to sleep.

His clothes hit the floor, he'd pick them up after. He sighed as he stepped into the shower and flipped the handle. Water, first too cold, but quickly warm enough, rushed over him. Helped melt the black taffy somewhat, and thinking hard about his herbs seemed to help. He rubbed his hands over his body, trying to lather up with his bit of hard, scentless soap. He swept it over his arms, down his chest, until he finally worked up some foam, and rubbed it into his pubic hair. He sighed, carded his fingers through wet curls, cupped his dick. He squeezed it a few times before dropping his hand. He felt a vague sense of frustration for a second or two before losing interest. He rinsed clean and stepped out, pushing water off himself with a thin towel. He felt a little better, yawning as he bent and gathered his clothes. He was tired now, swaying with the need to get in bed and let himself drift off to sleep.

He'd just pulled on his boxers, and was unfolding his pajamas when he heard the soft click of his door opening, shutting. He swung around to come eye-to-eye with his personal monster.

"Well, well, haven't seen you for a while, at least not up close and personal. How about we fix that, hunh? Get down, Michael Allen. On your knees. Now."

Mike was on the floor before he'd made any sense of what was happening, his knees crashing painfully into the damp tiles.

"We have to make this quick, shit, but I can't help it. That mouth. The way those fuckin' gorgeous eyes go all wet and swimming when I'm in you." Trevor pulled himself out, already hard, precome welling up—he squeezed himself, worked a drop of slick out and rubbed it around the tip. His eyes pinned Mike, the grin that exposed all his teeth like a snarling dog, and made goosebumps race over Mike's skin, made him want to throw up.

"Yeah, it's better than any drug, you cryin'. Fuck. Big fuckin' dude like you, folding like a little girl for me..." Trevor stepped forward, grabbed the back of Mike's head. "C'mon, now, open up for Daddy."

Daddy? Mike froze in the act of bending over to suck down Trevor's dick. Something wild seemed to roar up through him, from his gut to his brain—something that flipped switches to on all the fucking way inside of him as it came. He exploded, wide awake and clear as a bell, out of the darkness. He was Mike, he was half-naked and on his fucking knees, freezing-ass cold. Some...pimply-faced kid was staring down at him. Someone who thought he was a damn grown man—Mike snorted. Not hardly.

"Hey, hey...get to it, Michael Allen. Know you're a slut for this."

Mike snorted again. "Don't know who the hell Mike is, motherfucker, but I'm not a slut for any part of you." He surged upright, his forearm connecting with Trevor's throat hard enough to throw him back against the door.

"Hey!" Trevor gagged, tried to shove Mike's arm away. When he couldn't, he scowled, shifted forward.

The biggest part of Mike was well aware that Trevor knew how to take him down without a lot of fuss. Trevor could take Mike with one hand and a q-tip. But this...this thing that had suddenly taken over his brain, whatever the hell it was, shoved Mike out of the way inside his own mind. It knew how to take Trevor down with the maximum amount of damage and proceeded to just that. Let Trevor know how much of a slut Mike wasn't. And loved doing it.

+ + +

Mike staggered into a wall, struggling with the feeling of sliding back into a murky place... gaped down at the man on the floor, moaning and curled over himself.

"Trevor…" Mike whispered, horrified, trying to parse out just what the heck had happened. His heart stuttered; fog swirled wildly, trying to drag him down into the dark. The huddled ball on the floor moaned again, nothing like the guy who'd had Mike terrified nearly into a catatonic husk. Trevor coughed, moaned when a wad of blood hit the floor. He mumbled through swollen lips, "Fug, you bish, my nuds—you fugin' bathard.."

The sound of his voice broke through Mike's fear-frozen brain—he started to run, but only got a few steps in when his brain shut down again. He was semi-aware that he was walking slowly, casually towards the day room, then past it, into the windowless little office that Trevor had taken him to the very first time. But it was okay, because this time he was alone and this time, he locked the door. Shoved a chair under the knob and finally, leaned against the wall, fighting to breathe normally. Mike slid down until his ass hit the floor, his knees propped up...he rested his head against them and let all of it slide away. The fear broke first, letting his pea-soup brain process what happened and what could possibly happen next. "You won't get in trouble, not from anyone else," a soft voice whispered in the back of his head. "Trevor's not stupid, he won't say a word about this."

Mike nodded frantically. He was safe. Probably. Maybe Trevor would leave him alone, finally. Mike stayed there, wide awake until morning, then slipped back into his room. There were a few spots of blood on his floor, mostly it was cleaned—had been cleaned. He figured Trevor did it—covering the attempted attack. Mike slapped both hands over his mouth when he let loose a weird, warbling laugh. He ground them against his mouth until he managed to stop. He wiped up the small, rusty spots still left, and was sitting quietly on the end of the bed when an orderly knocked at the door. He didn't ask, but the guy volunteered the information that Trevor had apparently fallen in one of the public space bathrooms and would not be in that day, maybe not tomorrow. The guy rolled his eyes.

"With any luck, never," he mumbled and Mike was pretty sure he wasn't supposed to hear that.

It was hard to brush his teeth because he couldn't stop grinning.

+++

Chapter Text

cropped bee

Found

Sun beat down on his shoulders, light bouncing off the little bits of white rocks under his feet. The rough edges of the gravel made his fingertips itch, the smooth, cool grass soothed them. It felt good. He was going to cut some of the giant marigolds and maybe a few sprigs of cosmos for the nurses' station, they'd brighten up that desk of theirs. Mike crouched down on the path, twitching a few offending weeds out of the gravel and from around the edges of the beds.

A nurse came hurrying over, called out to him,"Mike, Dr. Brand wants to talk to you."

"Now?" Strange that Doc was wanting him now—couldn't be very much past twelve. He'd just left the dining hall and today's boring excuse for lunch. Therapy with the doc wasn't until two; he had an art therapy class before then that he kind of liked and didn't want to miss. He sighed and rose, wiping his dusty hands off on his thighs. "Okay," he murmured, and followed the nurse inside.

The doc was behind his desk, hands empty and folded. He was probably trying to look calm, but he was agitated, his usually warm eyes dark, tight; his mouth was thinned into a straight, unfriendly line. "Mike...sit, please."

Mike was immediately on edge, if quietly so. He peered at the man over the expanse of his desk. Was there something he could help the doc with? Or...was there something he'd done wrong? "Is...is there a problem?" he asked.

The doc looked startled, and then smiled, some of his usual warmth filling his eyes and Mike relaxed a bit, still cautious but not tipping over into fear. "No—no, Mike, it seems just the opposite. There's a man here who wants to see you. He says...well, he claims to be family. Well, not claim actually, he came with proof that he knows you and says he's been looking for you for a very long time. If you'd like, we can set up a supervised meeting, but only if you want to?"

 

Dr. Brand looked so hopeful that Mike shrugged. Why not, what did it matter? The guy either was, or wasn't, family. Only one way to find out. One way or another, this had to lead to some kind of resolution. A distant whisper deep inside seemed dismayed at how flat his reaction was. He ignored it, and after a few seconds it faded into the familiar black taffy that surged up to fill him, making Mike struggle to stay connected. He swallowed it down, forced his mouth open. "When?" he managed.

Dr. Brand seemed not to notice just how much effort it took Mike to ask. "He's here now. He's been trying to arrange a meeting for a few days, it seems. I think...it'd be good for you to see him now. It's up to you, though."

Mike nodded. "Now is fine."

Mike followed Dr. Brand down the hall. The doc pushed on the unlocked door that opened onto a small room lit by natural light coming from a narrow window high on the rear wall. It held a couch, a coffee table, and two comfortable-looking armchairs. There was a man standing between the chairs, a tall guy, with hair kind of like the doc's, just a bit longer. He was taller than the doc, with wider shoulders. The light picked up a few gray hairs scattered through the chestnut.

The guy lifted his head and stared at Mike. He looked tired, stubble darkening his jaw. His eyes widened, met Mike's, and Mike froze in the doorway. His eyes looked...old, like he'd lived so much longer than his body showed. Mike shuddered. But that two-natured look didn't exactly scare Mike. No, there was something about this giant that made Mike want to get...closer. There was something about him that was familiar, good, like he was...Mike blinked, squinted hard at the guy.

"Are you my Dad?" he blurted.

The guy jerked backwards—hands up, and those eyes went so wide and round it was almost funny. "No! I mean—no. It's me. Sam." The guy—this Sam, squinted right back at Mike, staring at him hard, like he was trying to see past the pea-soup into Mike's brain. His shoulders dropped. His face fell.

"God. You...you don't know me, do you? They told me, but I just couldn't...I just couldn't believe it. This must be what Cas meant...well, never mind that right now." Sam turned to the doc and asked, "Can I take him with me today?" like he thought Mike was an order of lunch-meat or something.

Dr. Brand seemed like he was on Mike's wavelength concerning this guy. He eyeballed him suspiciously, and said, "Well, let's talk in my office, if you don't mind? I'd like to look over those papers one more time before we release Mr. Allen. Or Mr. Winston, I suppose I should say."

The guy nodded, but Mike could see that he was masking impatience, doing his best to be polite. Mike couldn't help but notice that he was also very good-looking, and Mike was glad the guy wasn't his dad, because he'd feel pretty guilty about eye-balling his dad like that. The guy, Sam, seemed to pick up on the fact that Mike just couldn't keep from sneaking looks at various parts of him—wide shoulders, really darn good-looking hands: wide palms, long, thin fingers—Sam blushed, his cheeks and the tip of his nose flushing a dusky kind of pink. Yeah, cute, Mike thought and asked, "Who did you say you were, again?"

"I'm Sam. Your brother. Your little brother." The Sam guy's voice broke on "brother", and that caught Mike's attention.

Brother? Darn...wait, little brother? Mike scoffed. No way—but just like that, he knew the guy was right—no matter what Mike felt like in his head, he was older than this guy with the gray hairs. Okay, maybe there were just one or two hairs, but still...Oh.

Suddenly, he knew this guy Sam was thirty-four. His brother...who liked to read, and tried to eat healthy and who snored and hated doing laundry…no, he was the one who hated doing it, but did it because he was better at it than Sammy—Sam.

Bits and pieces floated together, solidified. Mike knew now, how old he was. Thirty-eight. Now he knew some things about himself. He was Mike, he was thirty-eight years old...and this hot guy Sam was his baby brother?

The guy said. "You're Dean Wi...Winston, and you're my big brother."

"Hunh," Mike said. Because just like that, in the same way he'd suddenly, completely, known he was thirty-eight, he also knew that he was Dean, of course he was. Dean fit like a glove, cozy and tight around him, even if the last name didn't. Now, all he needed to know was who the fuck this Dean Winston guy really was.

Sam—Sam Winston, he guessed, was supposed to be his brother but there was nothing in Dean that recognized him. All Dean knew was that he was tall, really good-looking, and had, despite that odd sense of great age, the kindest eyes he'd ever seen on anyone not William, except maybe the doc. He had that same kind of body movement as William too—steadfast, solid, rooted there in time. Dean shivered. A fleeting almost-thought told him that might not always have been so. Odd. This Sam guy, his brother—he definitely looked like he knew what it was to travel some pretty bad roads.

"What is it, Dean? Do you remember something? Anything?"

Both of them, Doc and brother, looked so damn hopeful that Dean hated to disappoint, but the stuff that just waltzed through his head couldn't be important. "No, just...no, not really." He glanced around the room. "So...no one else wanted to come?"

Sam's face twisted briefly in pain before melting into a small smile. "Sorry, Dean. It's just you and me. We're all we've got."

"Oh," Dean said. He didn't feel surprised. Was this some kind of remembering, that it didn't surprise him they were alone? Besides the first weird impression he'd gotten that Sam was his Dad—and now he felt how ridiculous that was—nothing but the name he'd recovered really seemed familiar. He didn't know this guy, but he certainly didn't mind leaving with him. It didn't really matter much where he was, after all, and he was more or less sure that Sam wasn't going to drive him off to some empty field somewhere to wear Dean's skin while he sauteed his liver over a roaring campfire. Some dormant warmth inside of him flickered slightly. He couldn't see brotherhood, or any kind of relation at all, but it was no surprise that that tall, lean shape made him want to get closer. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do once he got closer, but that didn't matter. He just wanted to be in the same space as this Sam Winston guy.

+++

Dean didn't take long to pack. What he had was pitiful, barely worth bothering with, and he could see Sam's face twist. Guilt, pity?

Dean shook his head. "It's okay, you know, unh, Sam. I didn't have a bad time. Maybe just at first, before I got to the hospital, and I hardly remember that." Dean glanced down at a series of small, straight scars dashed down the inside of each forearm, most of them so old that they were only flat, faintly silverish marks—and certainly not the worst of his body landscape. "I think I'm glad I don't remember."

Sam slid sad eyes from Dean's half-empty bag to his arms; there was that look again...guilt, something. Dean hesitated. Should he really be so ready to go with him? What if this was the guy who'd done this to him? What if he was about to walk off with some nut-job claiming to be related to him?

There was something though, something about Sam, the way his face seemed to soften at the edges whenever he looked at Dean...he just doubted that there was anything in this guy to hurt anyone, certainly not do the sort of things that left their mark all over Dean. He'd ask him, when he thought the guy felt comfortable enough with him, ask him about the star on his chest, and just what the hell it was that had dug its teeth into him and left a permanent mark.

Sam sighed, reached out and gently squeezed Dean's shoulder. "Dean, I'm going to talk to the staff, and I'll meet you near the nurses' station, okay?"

Dean nodded, watched him as he walked away. The long, lean sweep of his back held Dean's attention the way little else had since he woke up again on that sidewalk. He nodded to himself. This Sam walking away...there was something familiar about it. The familiarity settled him a bit. He zipped the duffle shut and shrugged the strap across his shoulder. He turned, looked up at the small window high in the wall. The sun was centered in it, making the walls a clear, robin's egg blue. It did seem like it was the right time to go.

+++

Sam left the doctor's office feeling like he'd found everything and lost it at once. They'd told him Dean had amnesia, but it didn't really register. Or maybe he'd expected some soap opera version of memory-loss, that Dean would wake the moment he saw Sam and rush at him, grab him up and be so damn happy to see him, he wouldn't even care he was hugging Sam in public and with no blood involved. It was a wrench when he'd realized that Dean really had no idea who he was. That blank stare, which was almost worse than the way his eyes had narrowed in confusion—the way he'd asked if Sam was his Dad. Which, okay, yeah, he was getting some gray hairs lately, maybe a few extra lines around his eyes, but Dad? Really?

Sam rubbed a hand over his chin, startled slightly at the rusking sound it made. Okay, with lack of sleep, a few days worth of stubble and a few gray hairs maybe he did look just a little like—

Sam snorted. God, was he really letting his injured ego drive right now?

He got to the nurses station a bit before Dean. He leaned against the counter and watched the way his brother walked towards him. There was no sign of Dean's rolling gait. The way he'd strut along with his shoulders pulled back and his chin held high and defiant. This Dean slouched, his feet never really leaving the ground. Sam wanted to know why he'd lost that bowl-legged stroll along with his memories. He'd have sworn that Dean without his memories would still be pretty much the same obnoxious, annoying, in-your-face kind of guy. This guy...Dean turned and smiled a little when he caught Sam looking. A polite, tentative, twitch of a smile.

Oh...That's it, he thought, why Dean thought Sam was older. If Sam didn't know, he'd think this guy was almost a kid, instead of the nearly forty-year old he was. Everything Dean knew was gone, and it left him new, clean, and...kind of innocent. Sam blinked away the sting behind his eyes. This wasn't sad, this was just...different. And God knows, Winchesters were used to handling different.

"Hey, Dean," he said softly and Dean's frail smile went a bit wider.

Sam caught some motion at Dean's back, and before he could speak up, a tall, heavy-set Black man in scrubs came up and put his hand on Dean's shoulder. Sam felt a bright spark of something sharp at the way Dean seemed to soften under the guy's touch. The way he leaned into it made that familiar knife of jealousy cut through him, long habit made him crush it. Sam had to wonder, though, just who this nurse was to Dean. He threw a sharp glance at the guy, but there was nothing in his face but a mild sort of affection and caring, nothing that said their relationship was anything beyond nurse and patient...Sam swallowed his suspicions and forced himself to relax, and listened in as unobtrusively as possible.

"Hey, Michael—I mean Dean." the man said with a smile."Listen, you take care, okay? I'm really glad your family found you. "

Dean shrank into William's side—but stood almost at once, looking a little more like Dean than he'd had to this point. "Thanks, William." Dean patted the nurse's hand and turned towards Sam. "Ready?"

"Yeah, lets get going. I have something to show you that you might like."

Sam led Dean out of the doors, and Dean turned back, a look of longing in his eyes. Sam felt a hot tremble under his skin. "You, uh, you gonna miss that guy?"

Dean looked back at him, vague surprise making his eyes go round for a moment, before he dropped them, his hand drifted up to try and cover the pink flooding his cheeks. Sam goggled—his brother was actually blushing.

"No, not William, he's a good guy and all, but it's my garden I'm gonna miss. I didn't even get to show you, and now I won't ever see my garden again, will I?"

Sam shook his head. No, no one would ever see "Michael Allen" again, thank god.

They headed down the sidewalk, Dean walking quietly at his side, so still that that alone would have tipped Sam off something was seriously wrong—until halfway across the parking lot, Dean came to a dead stop, staring open-mouthed at the sight of the Impala, freshly washed and gleaming, parked at the shady end of the lot.

Cas had stared at Sam like he was crazy when he stopped to wash the car before tearing down the highway after Dean. "It'll make a difference, you'll see," he'd said then, feeling a bit superior in his knowing that there were things about Dean that Cas would never understand. Now he finally had Dean again, and he was staggered, floored by how thoroughly Dean's memory had been lost; for fucks sake—he'd chosen Michael as a name. So now, all the way to the car, Sam had wondered if seeing it again would mean a damn thing to him, considering how their own reunion had gone down like a lead balloon. But the look of awe-struck wonder on Dean's face warmed him to the bone, wiping out any lingering strange feeling he'd gotten watching Dean and the nurse.

"Gosh, Sam—is that your car, you lucky guy? It's—spectacular!" Dean leaned his whole body towards it without really moving, every inch begging to touch the car.

"Why don't you go take a look," he said and Dean practically flew to the Impala's side. He ran reverent hands over her, from headlight to taillight.

"She's so beautiful," he breathed, one hand on her roof, head turned towards Sam. Those green eyes shone with worshipful awe. "She shines like a diamond." He turned back to her, laying two fingers on the chrome of her door handle.

"Yeah," Sam said, "and she's yours."

"What?" Dean frowned. "I have a car this cool and I don't remember?" He took a moment and then shook his head. "Well, okay, yeah, I got you too, and I don't remember, so I guess it makes some kinda sense."

That...actually made Sam feel a lot better. He swallowed around the hot lump that had suddenly lodged itself in his throat, looked up to catch Dean's eyes.

"I'm so sorry," Dean said. "I knew I didn't know, but it never really set in until I actually saw you. Looking at you makes the soup go away a bit."

Dean caught Sam's confusion and laughed—a soft, breathy chuckle that was weirdly sweet and...young. He couldn't get over how young Dean sounded, even looked. Sam wondered what he meant by soup—his thoughts were interrupted by Dean asking if he could drive.

Sam laughed out loud. "Hell no!" He laughed again at the mischievous gleam in Dean's eye, that half-grin, half-pout that was definitely Dean.

"Thought I'd give it a shot," Dean said. "Can't blame me for trying."

Sam grinned, feeling lighter, hopeful at last. "No, guess not."

+++

The drive back to Lebanon was long, boring, and remarkably uneventful. That bright flash of Dean in the parking lot seemed to have sunk back into the quiet, malleable man he'd first met. Whatever Sam wanted was fine with him. There were moments when Sam was sure Dean might complain but he seemed to suddenly sink down inside himself, sometimes he'd go blank and stay that way for a few long moments. Sam worried, but rushed them on, wanting to get back to the bunker, back home, before too long.

"Hey," Sam said, "Think it's time to refuel, us and Baby. What'dya think?

Dean grinned back at him from the passenger side. "Baby? Is that what you call her?"

"No, that's what you call her, you're the one getting all inappropriate with inanimate objects." Sam teased.

Dean looked surprised and then asked, hesitantly, "So...that's joking right? I mean, Dean's not—I'm not some kind of weirdo—?"

Sam goggled at Dean, and then laughed so hard the car swerved. Dean yelled, and when Sam had them squarely back in the lane again, told Dean, "We have a skewed sense of humor. But I can assure you that you never, ever, ever tried to get handsy with the car—in that way." Dean relaxed and Sam waited a beat and said, "Well, as far as I know." He giggled as Dean flinched, then glared at Sam.

"Not funny, you. I can tell you're the little brother—you're a brat." He looked surprised with himself for a minute before relaxing back against the seat. Sam felt a thick wave of contentment sweep over him. This was going to be okay. It was going to be all right. He looked over at his brother, leaning against the window. It was odd to drive with a brother in the passenger seat who was not hungover, not punctured or bleeding. In fact, Dean looked good. Tanned, freckled, a little underweight, but not too much, hair a little long. The sun was hitting it in a way that brought out blonde highlights, like he used to have as a teen--or when he'd come for Sam way back when. Sun made tight, smooth skin stretched over high cheekbones glow...Dean looked up at the sky and Sam was caught by the clear green shine of his brother's eyes. Such a pure green—hadn't been that bright for ages.

"Hey, Sam?"

Sam startled, even though all the attention it was safe to give had been on Dean for the last few minutes. "Um, yeah...?"

"Thank you, for not forgetting about me."

"Of course, dude, don't even thank me; I could never forget about you. Never."

Dean nodded and smiled, closed his eyes and leaned his head against the window. After a few minutes, Sam heard the light snores—Dean, rocked to sleep by his baby.

+++

Chapter Text

cropped book

Part Three

Restart

Dean pressed back against the aged vinyl seat, the give, the warmth of the vinyl working to ease the stiffness out of his muscles. He sighed, appreciating not having to be so completely on guard—for now, at least. He rolled his head towards the window, quietly watching as the city fell behind them and the land opened up. It was interesting, and yeah, relaxing—but somehow he had a feeling that the best was coming.
And yeah, the minute they passed the last highway sign, Sam's car let out a roar—she leaped forward and the countryside became swiftly changing smears of browns and greens. Dean discovered he loved the feel of the road being eaten up by the tires, the sound of the engine...hell, she sounded happy, content. Dean nodded. This was it, this was definitely where he was supposed to be. He didn't know much about much, but he knew he belonged in this car.

It wasn't long, only a few hours into the drive, before they reached what Sam called 'home', a small, worn-looking town, peppered with signs that proudly proclaimed itself "The Geographic Center of the United States."

They drove down a long, wooded road, through scrub trees and over-grown hedges that blocked sunlight. Sam suddenly bore left around a corner and Dean swore that the air ahead shivered over the road like a heat wave, despite the fact it was noway hot enough for that. Before he could get a good look at the road ahead, the world suddenly dipped like the downward plunge on a roller coaster. He flailed about embarrassingly until his hands hit the dashboard; he gripped on for dear life, a grunt of surprise punched out of him.

The road ahead was visibly brighter. He blinked, trying to clear his vision, and the rest of him hit the dashboard when a brief but intense stab of nausea folded him. Sam glanced over, looking a little puzzled at first, but then nodded, his cheeks pinking a bit. "Oh man, I'm so sorry. Forgot you wouldn't remember the wards...um, I'll explain inside."

"Here we are," Sam said, jerking his head towards the...the castle. Fort. Home?

Inside, Dean guessed, was going to be in the impressive building the car stopped in front of. It looked like it was bursting out of the ground, breaking through dirt and rampant plant growth. It was some weird mash-up of medieval and—and—nineteen-thirties sci-fi. Directly in front of them were stairs that led down to a door set into the hillside. He blinked, trying to pull something forward, to feel some kind of familiarity, but all he got was a vague sense of deja vu, not much more than that. It was kind of encouraging that there was a lot of greenery, on the hillside and around the base of the building. Maybe he'd get to like this place.

They sat there in the car for a long moment, the rumbling engine making the seat vibrate under his legs—again, a vague sense of deja vu prickled at the back of his mind. He wanted to be sure he didn't mess things up, so he did what had worked for him at the hospital—kept quiet, and waited for clues. He glanced over at a deep sigh from the driver's side, and watched as Sam slid out, closed his door carefully, and walked around to the passenger side. He opened Dean's door with a small, lop-sided smile. "Not used to getting the door for you," he murmured.

Dean slid out and stretched, face to the still warm sun, happy to feel fresh air and sunlight on his skin again. He tipped his head down, rolled it left and then right—at the right-side roll he caught Sam looking at him, eyes wide and round, mouth opened just the littlest bit. Dean certainly understood what Sam was feeling. The poor guy; Sam must be just as unsettled by his returned brother as Dean was by having a brother at all. Dean wanted to stare at this stranger himself, find himself in this stranger's eyes, in the shape of his face, the span of his hands—the sound of his voice. His smell.

Dean froze, struggling to balance the sudden cascade of emotion: fear, confusion and maybe some anger...and yeah, some heat. So when the familiar fog rose up to pull him down, he dove into it gratefully. He let Sam guide him, silent, obedient, depending on Sam to steer him in the right direction. He took the bag Sam held out, assumed it must be his, and stepped into the place that Sam told him was home.

The door opened onto a granite-floored entryway that dropped down into open-tread stairs bordered with an ironwork railing. He could see a large, open room at the bottom of the iron steps. It looked like the set of an old movie—lots of leather chairs, tall, leggy ashtrays, and rows and rows of alcoves lined with bookshelves. The room was broken into separate spaces by stone arches and carved columns, each sectioned off with more bookcases, stuffed with books and various objects he couldn't quite make out. Right at the bottom of the stairs, there were a bunch of metal desks, holding stuff that looked like it'd been stolen from Indiana Jones: typewriters, some kind of ham radio kind of set-up... Sam was talking animatedly about digging up some food; tapping buttons, flipping switches as he chattered. Warm, yellow light bloomed, chasing through the room that was easily three times the size of the day room he'd come to think of as home. There was a smell to the place, sort of a dusty, dry-paper smell—not strange, considering the stacks of books lining the walls. There was also the faintest whiff of oranges and maybe...the word tumbled into his head. Cedar. Cedar was good. Surprise made him take a deep breath, underneath the different scents, he caught the familiar smell of industrial polish. He'd gotten to know that scent well, no surprise, considering the floor tiles here were a lot like the hospital's. In fact, the place felt comfortable, familiar...and not. But, that dual feeling was becoming familiar, too. Dean smiled to himself as he looked around—

His jaw dropped at the sight of the huge telescope at farthest end of the room. Sam turned towards Dean and caught him gawping. His eyes crinkled up as he smiled, a sweet, soft sort of smile—he had really deep dimples, Dean noted.

"I know...weird, but kind of cool, right? Hey, let's put your bag up, and get something to eat. You wanna help me put some food together? I'm not too sure what we've got at this point, I was pretty busy hunting you down—" Sam grimaced. "But that's a story for after we eat."

Dean nodded, shouldered his thin, little bag and let Sam guide him down a narrowish hall lined with wooden doors—some labeled with numbers, some with letters—some blank. They were all thick, sturdy-looking doors, set in old-fashioned plaster and tile walls. The stone arches, and granite floors spoke of a building made to withstand—anything. Earthquake, tornado, even something other than natural disasters, he was willing to bet….

That was an odd kind of thought, he mused.

The room Sam let him into was a mash-up of somewhat homey and combat ready. Dean peered around, trying to get some sense of himself from a room that must have started looking more like a monk's cell than a bedroom, until he'd apparently hung guns, and fancy knives and...he looked closer. Pictures. Ah-ha. His fingers twitched with the desire to pick them up and look, but Sam was already urging him back towards the door.

"Let's eat, okay, and then after we'll talk about this thing."

This thing? Alright, Dean thought. He sure hoped that Sam could cook. Right now, with all this talk of eating, he was starving. Sam must really, really like to eat, the way he kept talking about it.

Turned out, Sam wasn't much more than adequate in the kitchen. He turned a couple of cans of tuna into decent sandwiches. Well—the beginning of a decent meal, anyway. Dean poked around in the pantry, found some spices, and diced up what was left of an onion after he'd cut the bad parts off—cutting away the rotten bits, he kept flashing on a pyramidal room within another room that was near by, a room that kept all their food fresh as the day it'd been bought.
Right.

Dean shook his head. More than likely, he was just remembering random bits from those weird dreams; his epic nightmares of monsters and devils, end-times and eyeball-searing, earsplitting, sword carrying warriors from out of the sky.

+++

"Okay, so the first thing you need to know is that we're not Winstons, we're Winchesters. And monsters are real," Sam said.

Dean just stared. Darn it. He knew it was too good to be true. Sure, Sam was handsome, and those sweet eyes—but sadly, he was also bat-shit crazy. He'd given himself into the hands of a psycho. Great. Dude probably wasn't even really his brother—he'd lied about the last name, maybe he'd lied about the whole being brothers thing. After all, would brothers want to touch each other the way he wanted to get his fingers on that boy? And the feeling wasn't even one-sided; he could see how much this Sam guy was fighting not to touch him, too. Well, he wasn't about to freak If Sam was psycho, it didn't matter; Dean had gotten smart on the ward, he knew how to handle that. Plus, he'd learned his lesson as far as looking and touching went. He could ignore Sam's longing little looks, and keep his hands—and eyes—to himself. He'd just broken free of one guy who'd thought Dean belonged to him. He was not going to encourage another one.

Dean was pulling himself out of a steadily darkening memory of a sweet-faced Trevor suddenly turning into a monster, when he realized that Sam was talking about monsters himself.

"Monsters?" Dean repeated, but just to fill the air. Of course, the moment the word left his lips, he was bright, sharp as scissors. Figured that the pea-soup fog would clear out when he didn't really want it to.

Sam was staring at him, bright, green-grey-blue eyes open wide, and his little boy mouth pursed up all pink and sweet. "Dean…?"

"Yeah?" Dean blinked, hard, trying to get himself on track. His head was clear at the moment, and that was a problem. His crystal-bright mind danced around, flinging out remarkably vivid fantasies of Sam, smiling, reaching out for him, their hands locked together, whispering mouth against mouth….

Brother! an outraged part of his mind hissed—I know! another part crowed happily, Home again, home again, take, take, take....

Dean stood abruptly, startling Sam into rearing back from the table. "I have to sleep—now."

"Oh, okay, ah, well, um, let me walk you to your room and then, I guess, we'll talk tomorrow. I mean, we need to talk tomorrow, okay?"

"Yes, but can it be after we bring some groceries back here? You have no food. And coffee. We need coffee. Good coffee." Dean didn't know much of anything about himself, but he was darn sure that good coffee was something he liked—hell, needed. And Sam, if left alone to do food shopping, would return with a jar of instant coffee crystals and some cucumbers. Don't ask me how I know, just do, he told the snide voice hiding in the fog of his brain.

"I might be able to scare up some coffee." Sam gave him a look so fond, Dean blushed a bit. The way his head tilted, and his hair slid across his face a bit, it reminded him of the doc, Dr. Brand, but better. Dean smiled a little to himself. Sam had a mole too—only his was set perfectly in the right spot. He reached out and brushed a fingertip over it, and Sam jumped a bit, before smiling wider, and brushing his fingers over Dean's quickly. He jammed his hands into his pockets, muttered "G'night," and took off down the hall to his own room, Dean presumed.

Dean frowned, took a step after Sam before making himself stop. He wasn't really thrilled with the idea of Sam sleeping so far from him. Probably because he was used to someone on either side of his walls.

"Good night to you too," he whispered, sighed as he flopped on the bed in his weirdly comfortable room. There was a momentary sensation of what the hell, and then his back eased into the wonderful, cushiony embrace of his amazing bed. Every bone settled in, his whole body sighing with the exquisite feeling. He had no idea what was going on with the bed, but he hoped like hell it never stopped feeling like this. Whatever else he was, Dean knew he had to be a genius of comfort—he'd ask Sam about it tomorrow.

Morning came, and with it the smell of food cooking. He was surprised—it didn't smell like tuna. Thank god.

He peed in the toilet he'd found in what he'd thought was a closet, washed his hands and brushed his teeth at the ancient little sink in his room, washed up as best he could, and missed his shower fiercely.

He dressed in yesterday's clothes and wandered out to the kitchen area, his soft-soled shoes shushing across the granite tiled floor. It was a little chilly in the bunker—that's what Sam had called it. The chill was not something he was unfamiliar with, it was always a little chilly in the hospital, except the day room, where they'd always kept it a little too warm, apparently so the smells could really percolate and develop. Dean blushed, and then grinned. That had been a not very nice thought—he should probably feel guilty about that.

Sam was standing at the stove when Dean came into the kitchen, swaying a little, lean hips moving from side to side. Dean paused in the door way, content to watch the movement. Not about to win any dance awards, he thought, but really cute….

Sam swung around, spatula in his hand and his eyes wide with surprise.

"Oh, hey—can't believe I didn't hear you. I'm making pancakes...I think." A thick wad of pancake batter slid off the spatula and hit the floor with a soft splat. Sam looked down at the mess, mumbled, "You usually do this."

"Yeah?" Dean couldn't remember having ever done it before. He took a step or two closer, could smell the cooking pancakes, the raw batter. Something fluttered loose in his head, and he saw a pan sitting on a stove top, a warm weight pressing against his leg and something, a hand, tugging at his shirt. "Whales," he said.

"What…? Like, the place?"

"No, whales. You can make pancakes into whales."

"Oh my god, yes." Sam grinned. "You used to make whale-shaped pancakes for me. You remembered something about me."

"I don't remember more than whale-shaped pancakes," Dean said, nudging Sam out of the way, to grab a dishcloth from the counter. He cleaned up the batter. "I don't...I don't remember you. I mean, I think I do, sometimes, but...."

Sam's face fell, and Dean felt terrible. The guy managed to wrench a smile into shape, shrugged and said, "Doesn't matter. You will. Want bacon with these?"

Dean nodded, and soon he had some very, very crispy bacon and a couple of oddly-shaped blobs of undercooked batter on his plate, all of it drowning in syrup. Dean frowned at the mess swimming on the heavy crockery plate, than remembering the lost expression on Sam's face as he stood at the stove, looked up at him and mustering all the sincerity he could, said, "Thanks, Sam." and as soon as the words were out of Dean's mouth, he did feel the sincerity in them. He really did feel grateful to Sam, for feeding him, for wanting him when he'd been sure no one had cared to look.

Sam smiled—it was beautiful, a smile like an angel, Dean thought. Sweet, and heart-breaking, because there was so much sadness in his eyes. Dean swallowed hard, wishing he knew this guy. Sam and his brother must have been perfect together. The kind of kids who got along like a house on fire, never doubting one another. This Dean guy—no, he—must have been one lucky guy before something turned his brain into a pea-soup.

+++

Chapter Text

salviaDean slept in for a few days, enjoying not having a schedule, until eventually habit won out, and early mornings found him out on the bunker hillside, watching the sun rise. He liked sunrise here, even more than he'd liked watching it glow to life in his little room. Sitting in the thick grass on the bunker's steep hillside, watching the sun make its slow, steady way higher, and surrounded by the sweet/spicy scent of growing things, made him feel safe. It felt like this was where he was supposed to be.

There was also something else he liked about early mornings—he got to watch Sam, his giant little brother, shuffle around the kitchen, making coffee and taking his best stab at making an edible breakfast. It was...well, it was kind of adorable, though Dean got the sense that his other self, his...real self...would puke before he'd admit to something like that. Sam, half-awake, head like a haystack, and the years washed off his face by drowsiness, was too cute not to watch. And every morning, when Sam turned to see him in the doorway, he frowned and handed Dean a coffee, muttering, "Stop laughing at me." Punched Dean with his free hand when Dean swore he wasn't laughing...much.

Dean enjoyed the cup of coffee Sam shoved in his hand each morning. There was nothing like being able to knock back a cup of caffeine-loaded, dark-as-sin coffee. Sam hadn't really explained where the coffee came from—the label had had an antique look, despite the colors being crisp and bright. Sam just said that the bunker pantry was fully-stocked with the necessities of life, then grinned in a way that made Dean almost certain Sam was being a jerk.

Dean worked his way carefully down the steep, weedy backside of the hill, the way easing as the hill gradually flattened out to a more gentle slope. He followed the slope as it curved towards the back of the bunker, past the wide, double doors that led to the bunker garage bays.

This time he kept going instead of turning back, and by the time he finished his coffee, he'd stumbled onto a short stone stairway. He picked his way carefully down the overgrown steps and stopped at a flat piece of land. "Well," he murmured, "this is interesting..."

It looked like a spot he might be able to make a pretty nice garden, if Sam was okay with the idea...level ground, and it seemed to get nice sunlight…he dug his boot into the ground. Soft, black, soil. He could work with this, and it would give him something to do while Sam was doing whatever the heck it was he did all day.

Dean twirled slowly, looking over the little plot, thinking maybe he could shape it into something like the one on the hospital grounds, but as he glanced around, he realized that the bit of land wasn't just flat. It had some definition, a bit of a curve to it. Taking a step forward, he almost tripped over a small block half-buried in the ground, a paving stone maybe. Brushing the grass and weeds away, he found a few more blocks, tilted and also half-buried in the ground, swamped by grass. He yanked and pulled clumps of grass free. Eventually, a shape began to take place.

The little patch of straggly weeds and stone definitely had been a small, circular garden, before roots and vines and grass had over-grown it. Maybe Sam would help him research this part of the bunker, maybe even help restore what it had been, if he had time.

Dean couldn't wait to get his hands dirty again. It'd be nice to feel like he was worth something, doing something he knew he was good at. And Sam, well...Dean blushed slightly when it occurred to him that Sam sweating next to him under a warm sun might be a pretty good thing, too.

"You and your one track mind," he muttered, scolding himself. He rubbed his hands on his thighs, using his pants to wipe green stains off his palms. Curiosity made him lift his hands to his face.

"Mmm..." They smelled really good: earthy, with a hint of spicy scent from the grass. Thin wisps of the usual fog weaved through his head, but he didn't sink, and that was good. He made a conscious effort to keep the fog at bay. This clarity...it felt good. Felt right.

+++

It was full bright by the time he pushed the bunker door open and trotted down the metal stairway.

Sam was sitting at one of the underlit map tables, watching Dean as he walked carefully, quietly as he could. Didn't help any, he must have irritated Sam anyway, by the look on his face. He pushed back in his chair and eyed Dean like he was checking for missing body parts. Plain to see he'd been keeping himself busy waiting for Dean to come back—there was a couple of stacks of moldy-looking files at his elbow, and a couple of coffee cups sitting here and there between them. He finally left off trying to pin Dean with his eyes, gave him a little nod. "Hey, did you have a good walk—you didn't go out to the street, right?"

Dean's first impulse was to snap, "Dude, I'm not three -" but he just shook his head no instead, and shuffled forward, slowing as the fog thickened slightly. Sam had his eyes on him again, then just sighed, his frown shifting into a puzzled smile. Dean smiled back. Any sort of Sam-smile was okay, better than a frown, at least.

"What are you doing, Sam?" he asked, eyeing the piles around him. Sam's face lit up, and he pulled out one of the chairs in invitation for Dean to sit.

"I'm researching—got an idea. So, amnesia doesn't really work the way it seems to have with you. Taking into account that we're Winchesters," Sam laughed a little, a sound without much humor, "I'm guessing—I think—what's really affecting you is a curse, or maybe a spell. I'm not sure which, but we need to know, because curses generally have a certain course they need to run, but spells usually—"Sam broke off at the look Dean couldn't cover in time."—aaaand you think I'm nuts." He huffed. "Yeah. Because we never did talk about what it is we do. Finish talking about it, anyway."

Sam tossed the pen he was holding onto the pile of files, grabbed one of the cups on the table. Took a swig, made a face. "Cold—ugh. That's nasty." He stood, gave Dean a lop-sided smile and a little shrug, like he knew what he was about to say might sound crazy. "Come on, let's take a tour while I try to explain what it means to be a Winchester. This is going to be interesting."

+++

It took Dean the rest of the night and most of morning to understand that Sam was dead serious. That there really were monsters and things that went bump in the night. And tore your head off for a snack, or ate your heart, or drained you dry of blood or sex and….and...cast deadly spells or curses on you. Fucked with you in any number of deadly or stupid ways.

He got all that. But beyond all of it, there was something Sam hadn't said—Sam was a hero. A bona-fide, grade-a, saving people kinda hero.

Dean took it all in, how darn cool it all was, how scary, too, what a life his hero little brother led. Dean lay on his seductive memory foam mattress, letting it remember him as his eyes darted over the plaster and brick walls, taking in the ax, which had a chip on the blade, a knife that had mysterious dark stains on the wooden handle.

"Wow,"he muttered. Propped his head on crossed arms, stared at the ceiling, and thought about what Sam had said.

"Saving people, hunting things. That's what you told me a long time ago, Dean—the first rule of this life of ours, that it was the family business."

Dean's eyes weren't focused on the ceiling anymore, he was thinking of how he'd gone from knowing he was Mike who was maybe a gardener; to Dean, who was definitely a killer of monstrous things. Who didn't remember that about himself.

When he finally drifted off to sleep, he dreamed he drove that big, black shiny car, with Sam at his side, chasing a blood-red sunset. He felt himself grinning, the type of grin that cocky voice that sometimes popped up in his head would approve of. He had one hand on the steering wheel, fingers loop light around the plastic. Sam was angled towards him, long legs taking all the space. Under Dean's palm, the warm curve of Sam's knee felt just right.

He fluttered awake once or twice during the night, but the warm feeling of being home lulled him back into comfortable sleep.

+++

Sam watched from the garage bay doors as Dean dragged a bucket full of implements down the hill—gardening stuff, he guessed, and wondered just where Dean had found them, but not too hard. He'd begun to notice that the bunker tended to somehow have what you wanted when you wanted it, and that was something he refused to think too much about. One of the many reasons Dad had been so against the use of magic was that it had a way of slowly leaking into things, making changes….

He shook his head, strolled down to the edge of the hidden driveway, peered the direction Dean had gone. He pushed his hands in his pockets, leaned against one of the spindly trees lining the drive, and watched Dean—his favorite thing to do, when he could get away with it. He took in how the tense line of Dean's shoulders slowly relaxed as he filled the bucket with fallen branches, litter, and clumps of grass from what looked like a shallow flight of steps.

Dean had been clearly been working hard. Sam could see what looked like maybe a low wall of some sort winding through the clumps of grass and rangy wildflowers. Watching his brother work, he was reminded him of a time way back when they were kids, and Dad had dropped them at Bobby's. He remembered driving the poor guy crazy—two kids with sudden freedom and too much energy. Bobby had handed them a couple of spoons and a gas station give-away pack of seeds, and shoved them outside. He'd let them pick a spot to bury them in —had to be after that sunflower thing. In fact, if he recalled correctly, the seeds Bobby gave them had been sunflowers, too. Teddy Bear sunflowers. Sam grinned. He'd had a real bug about growing things for a little bit. He watched Dean and huffed. Or maybe Dean had been the one all along.

Dean worked slowly but steadily, sweat making his hair separate into dark spikes, sun lighting up his freckles. Sunlight had always been unkind to Dean's skin, but made his eyes glow like gems. His brother always burned a few times before finally going brown; Sam could see his shoulders getting red now, the beginning of a burn along the tips of his ears and his cheeks.

Sam blinked back the sudden sting in his eyes. He fucking missed being able to reach out and run his fingers through Dean's hair, god, missed touching Dean at all. Missed the way Dean would tease him and annoy him, until he was driven to shut him up with a kiss, and then after, the way he'd take Sam apart, reduce him to a quivering mess….Sam swallowed back a soft noise, part moan, part sob. Here was the problem that was killing him. Until Dean was okay again, Sam couldn't—wasn't making a move. Sam wasn't going to do a damn thing to influence him, not this time. Whatever Dean did, or didn't do, would be his choice—his free choice.

Sam settled back against the tree and resigned himself for more self- torture; he watched Dean sweat and gleam under the sun until he couldn't take it anymore, then dragged himself back inside to make some damn lunch.

+++

cropped bee
"So, I, um, watched you this afternoon, and it looked like you weren't making a new garden so much as cleaning up an old one?"

Dean made a small noise of surprised assent, nodding as he slurped up some noodle concoction that Sam had thrown together. He spooned out a few pieces of canned carrot, nibbling them as he waited for Sam to go on.

"That made me think about the MoL. You know these dudes were really anal; they logged every damn thing they did, so I bet that there were probably entries or even layouts for the grounds. They more than knew a lot about magic, those guys were borderline spell-workers, and that meant they'd probably grown their own herbs and stuff—some spells need for the stuff to be fresh, still living. Turns out, I was right."

As troubling as it sounded that things needed to be "still living" to be effective, Dean's interest was definitely piqued. "Yeah?" He pushed his bowl to the side when Sam hefted a map case onto the table. He flipped the top open and slid out a couple of rolls of fragile, yellowing papers. He carefully spread them and weighted the corners with their mugs and bowls.

"These are the plants they grew, and how the garden looked to them."

A few brittle photographs dropped out of the case, along with what looked like maps, and Sam carefully flattened them as well. Dean looked at the slice of the past with fascination. In black and white, there it was—the MoL's garden. It was circular, just as he'd thought, with thin, pale-barked trees here and there, and what looked like a small water feature in the center of it. That was a surprise because he'd seen no sign of that at all. Sam unrolled another large sheet of graph paper. They looked it over, heads close, shoulders almost touching. It felt warm and private, intimate. Sam murmured, "Once, a long time ago—I must have been about five or so—we stayed in a place where the school had a little garden, just a square plot and a single tree for shade. I remember that so vividly. The kindergartners were allowed to plant sunflowers—it's a nearly foolproof plant, those huge seeds so easy to hold for little hands, well, you know..."

Dean smiled, trying to picture this gigantor of a guy being little and cute—a picture jumped up in his mind of a little chipmunk-cheeked kid with bowl-cut hair and a goofy smile. It hit him like a burst of sunlight, warming and brightening him inside.

"Anyway," Sam went on, "We had to leave before the school year was over, I don't know, probably a few weeks after we got there—long enough for that seedling to start looking like a real plant. Dad wouldn't let me dig it up to bring with me, of course, and brat that I was, I cried and whined my face off the whole time outta there. But at the next place we settled in, you got one of those super-sized drink cups, dirt, and a packet of sunflower seeds. I'm not sure if this is a real memory, but in my mind I see that sunflower get pretty big, and I think, maybe, the landlady planted it in a pot she put right by her door…"

Sam looked up to give Dean a smile, and stopped when he caught Dean's sadly wistful look. He sighed. "But you don't remember that, do you?"

Dean shook his head. "Your brother sounds like a nice guy," he said instead.

Sam stood so abruptly his chair nearly toppled, and walked away without a word.

Dean sat staring after him, strangely affronted. The world, which had been steadily growing brighter, shook slightly at the edges. The fog drifted in, reclaiming some of that brightness. After a moment, Dean stood too, pushed the maps together and gently stacked them on a corner of the table. He huffed out a deep breath and wondered what the hell he'd had done to anger Sam so much, when what he'd said replayed loud and clear in his head.

"Oh…" He'd distanced himself from Sam—totally by accident—and sure, Sam probably got that but.

Shoot. The poor guy. Here he was missing his brother, and Dean was acting like he wasn't him. Of course he was Sam's brother. He knew that, but...he was having trouble feeling that. Deep down, he really, really, wanted to be Sam's Dean, but he just wasn't that guy. All he knew when it came to Sam was that he was a nice person, open, caring, and darn it, freakin' sex on legs. Rats. Dean wished that he could touch him the way Sam seemed to want him to. And that was a fudging bit of mess right there, and another reason Dean was reluctant to let himself go.

+++

That evening Sam came to his room, tapping at the door. He was carrying a tray holding a slice of pie and a cup of coffee, and asked Dean if he could come in; he apologized for being a dick and stomping off earlier.

"It's just...God, I feel so selfish saying this but, it upsets me that you don't remember me. I just...I can't understand that you don't, and I get...I know it's not your fault and I know I'm being an asshole. But." He stopped and sighed. Dean took the tray from him, laid it on the desk and reached out and tapped Sam's hand.

"Hey, look at me. Dean stroked his thumb across the back of Sam's hand, feeling veins roll under the slight pressure, tendons flex and Sam's fingers twitch before settling in Dean's hold. "It's okay, I understand. It's a sibling thing, right? You want your big brother to be—well, your big brother, right Sam?"

Well," Sam said, "I guess you could call it that. A sibling thing, sure…" Sam swallowed, hard, and Dean knew enough that now was the time to eat his pie and shut the hell up. "Shit, he—you—you spent so much time taking care of me, making me think the sunlight poured out of my, my…"

"Ass?" Dean suggested softly, just to make Sam laugh.

Sam shook his head, his grin softening to another one of those sad smiles. "I guess, just for a moment, it hit me how much we tended to screw things up, trying to take care of each other at the cost of...of everything. Ourselves included." Sam sighed, a gusty, come-from-the-toes noise. Dean wondered just how bad that kind of behavior made things for them. He looked around his room. It seemed safe, the bunker seemed impervious to any kind of bad thing. Whatever else had gone on in their lives, they must have finally settled, safe and sound, but when he said so to Sam, Sam just shook his head and his smile became a rueful grin.

"Well," he said, "something like that."

Chapter Text


Sam went into town and rented a tiller, because Dean wanted one.

"—be easier to break the ground. I don't know about you, Sam, but I don't want to spend all day shoveling, y'know? Trust me, it's back-breaking, not-much-fun work," he'd said and then frowned when Sam just couldn't hold the giggles back. How was he supposed to explain that digging a mere foot or two into the ground would only be back-breaking work if they were using soup-spoons?

They opened new garden beds; all the while, Dean threw Sam little glances which slowly turned from puzzled, to amused, to fond...Sam grinned back, then. He was having fun. Dean was having fun, and using the tiller was making Sam wish they had gas-powered tools to dig up graves all the time. He mentioned it to Dean who tossed down his shovel, made Sam sit and explain just what the hell he was talking about. By the time Sam finished describing a typical salt-'n-burn, Dean was staring, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, at Sam.

"Holy...wow, what a life," he muttered, and Sam could only agree. It was a hell of a life, indeed.

For the next few days, Dean and he humped roots, rocks, and a stump or two out of the garden, and stacked whatever was salvageable of the bricks and planters off to the side. They found what was left of the water feature—a rusted pump, a granite ball set in what probably had been a bed of river rock—an oddly modern design that fascinated Dean. Sam mentally added a few new items, like tubing and probably a motor, to their garden list.

It was...not a hardship, strangely, or the irritation he'd expected it was going to be. He liked all of it, actually. Sam began to understand how Dean found it exciting, watching the skeleton of a thing begin to flesh out, evolve into something real under their hands. He was growing to enjoy it; it was logical, and beautiful. The garden was meant to be a practical thing, going by the MoL's original plant list, there was little that wasn't meant to be used in spell work, and that meant not all the plants were aesthetically appealing. But most were, and most smelled good. And in keeping with their practical nature, there were places to sit and be quiet in, to meditate—being centered was part of any kind of in-depth spellwork. Dean pointed it out to him; the way the slender aspens were planted in little half circles, with shrubs at their feet screening benches for a feeling of privacy, and how beautiful, how restful those places were. Sam saw that, and the way the paths' twists and curves were designed to emphasize the feeling of unlimited space.

"They call that forced perspective," Sam said, and Dean nodded, then promptly turned away and tuned him out—Sam's eyes went wide for a moment, and he couldn't help but smile—it was such a Dean reaction to being told what he already knew.

He asked Dean's back, which was pointedly turned towards him. "Anything I can do to be useful...get you water? Or a beer?"

Dean turned towards him, the possibility of a smile curling in the corners of his mouth. "That would be great," he said.

"Okay, so...which is it?" Sam asked, and was rewarded with Dean cocking his head, a lift of eyebrow that asked, really? And that hint of a smile blooming into a wide grin.

Sam laughed. "I should have known better than to ask, hunh?"

Dean's laughter followed him back to the garage, sounding better than anything he'd ever heard.

+++

It was a new day, sun flooding across the garden space and lighting it up. The air still held that early morning crispness, and as good as it was to be near Sam, as grateful as he was to him for finding him, Dean treasured these moments on his own. There was something magical about it; when the fog lifted, when his thoughts and feelings were crystal clear and sharp and he felt like a real human being.

Dean lifted a couple of damp pots from his garden cart, marigold and rosemary, ignoring the way potting mix smeared his fingers. Cradling them in his hands, he held the little pots to his face and breathed in deeply. The damp leaves brushed moisture against his skin, tickled his nose. He closed his eyes and soaked up the smell, so fresh and alive, a bit spicy, a bit sweet. Yeah, he was grateful for this garden, yo be with his brother who brought him back home, safe, happy...loved. He didn't take blessings like that lightly. He'd experienced what it was not to have it….

He sighed, dropped the pots back into his cart and pulled it down the path, whistling, relishing the fresh air and sunlight, and the slight breeze ruffling his hair. There was a spot for these little dudes right next to a thick stand of salvia at the curve of the steps. The purple and yellow and dusty green would look good there, right where a stone retaining wall began.

It was great to be outside again, a damn pleasant change after being trapped indoors for the last few days by wind and rain. The bunker had gone damp and cold with the wet weather. The smell of age and a soft, underlying sense of sadness that the place held was more apparent with the gray days. While he'd come to see the bunker as definitely having its good points, weird as it was, it was hard to think of it as an actual home—it just—it wasn't homey. Even his room, despite the personal touches it had that Sam's spartan little cell didn't, didn't say home so much as it said a place to rest between forays.

Dean shivered. Chilling thought. So far, not much had come back to him, nothing solid, but he got the odd feeling sometime, that there was something, someone trailing after him? Something soft, sweet, a presence that bumbled and lurched against his knees, like...He wondered if it was a memory of some sort, maybe of baby Sam? He hoped so, It felt nice. He hoped to get memories like that back, of the great kid Sam had been. He knew it was so because he could see the man he'd grown into. Brave, and kind, and the way he looked at Dean, with so much love, but...with so much sadness too. Dean wasn't stupid. He might not remember much yet, but he had a strong feeling that whatever they'd had had been powerful, but not all of it nice.

That same feeling made him suspect that Sam's Dean was kind of a jerk. That Sam was maybe a little happier now than he'd been before, and if he was right, would it be worth Sam's happiness to get all Dean's memories back? Dean shook his head. Nope, wasn't thinking about that right now. Today was a day to soak up the sun, drive out the damp, and live. He pulled the old tube of plans out of his cart, and unrolled them on a folding garden table Sam had found for him. This stuff, at least, he got. People...Winchesters included, not so much.

+++

"When are you going to let me drive your car, man? I've got some kind of amnesia, dude, I'm not stupid. And I'm of age, right?" He leaned against the roof and grinned at Sam and Sam laughed.

"You think you can bat your eyes at me and get whatever you want?"

"Well, yeah?" Dean smiled, and watched Sam go all soft and gooey at the edges. He rubbed his hands against his legs, just to keep himself from crawling over the hood of the gleaming iron beast to get at the boy. Sam shook his head, and Dean was so blinded by those darn dimples out in full force, he almost missed Sam tossing him the keys.

"Okay, okay. Don't forget about the spell shift when we reach the end of the drive, and remember the other shift before we're out on the main road again."

Dean grinned—he was pretty sure his molars were on display. This amazing car, all that power, and now she was under his hands...he twisted the key, threw her into reverse and backed her down the drive, out to the road. He swung her around, one hand on the wheel, the other across the seat and coincidentally sweeping the ends of Sam's hair with his fingertips.

"Here we go," he said, and was surprised at how deep his voice went, deep and a little rough. This felt like. Like he was fucking born to be right there.

By the time they got to the nursery, he was certain it was the best day ever. He parked, and glanced over at Sam, who had his eyes squeezed tight which Dean took as a total win. Little brothers needed taking down a peg or two every once in a while. He grinned at Sam, punched him in the arm and jumped out of the car. He fished a list of plants Sam said they needed out of his pocket, pulled out a small list of his own. The garden might have been the MoLs once, but it was his now. And since there were benches for sitting—meditating or what the heck ever – then there should be plants for friggin' enjoying just for their color, shape, smell, and screw what they could do in a spell, or whatever it was Sam said they did with 'em.

The kid who worked the counter was nice—great even.

Really helpful, and friendly. Introduced himself as Teddy, and when the dude laughed, he threw his whole body into it, shaggy blond hair flopping over his forehead and showcasing a great pair of bright-blue eyes. He had a slow, deep voice that made his sly little remarks seem even funnier, and Dean found himself laughing a lot. Teddy shadowed Dean all over the yard, loading up a cart with Dean's choices, pointing out bargains and plant combinations that surprised and pleased him. They were shoulder to shoulder, talking about plants, growing things—turned out Teddy had a little garden of his own that might not be strictly...completely...legal. Dean felt like Teddy was a bit of a kindred spirit.

Sam on the other hand, didn't seem much impressed by Teddy, and walked through the aisles mostly by himself, stony-faced and unamused by anything the sales clerk had to say. The closer Teddy got, the unhappier Sam seemed to be. Yeah, it was annoying, what with Sam doing his best to be a buzzkill, but hell, Dean had to smile, too. Sam's bitchy little face reminded him of toddler Sam, and how jealous he'd get of Dean's total attention; yeah, it used to get on his nerves some, but it'd been kind of adorable, too—

"Holy shi-crap…" Dean gasped, and nearly dropped a platycodon grandiflorus he'd been petting. Was that a memory? A true memory—it had to be. That little snippet was just too...full, too deep, not to be real.

He was about to call Sam over, but Teddy brushed against him and dropped something in his pocket. "I think you'll appreciate this. Maybe I'll see you later..."

By the time they got back to the bunker, Dean's plan to talk to Sam about the maybe-memory flopped...Sam seemed kind of cranky, basically blew him off and locked himself in his room with a tower of books, research, he'd said. And in the meantime, Dean found that what Teddy had tucked in his pocket was a joint, a sliver of paper rolled around it. A number was scrawled on it—probably Teddy's cell, because it wasn't the nursery's number. He laughed softly, balled up the bit of paper and tossed it in his waste-basket. Cute.

+++

Dean climbed back up the hill, strolled around until, like always, he ended up in the garden. He settled himself on a low wall he and Sam had recently rebuilt, and lit the joint. Perfect muscle memory, he thought and chuckled. This he knew, he remembered nights smoking, alone, sitting on the hood of...he blinked, and Baby came back to him, that magnificent black car that really, truly, was his. He could see himself—feel himself, really, sitting on her hood, the metal a little chilly with the night air. It was a melancholy feeling, and he knew he was alone, but that it'd been a relatively new thing. Someone was gone, someone he'd valued above all things, and the hell of it all was that he just couldn't see who it was. Dean inhaled, taking in the harsh smoke, holding it for a long moment before letting it out. He closed his eyes, and sank into the memory. It wasn't a bit like sinking into the fog, this was clean and pure despite being laced with heartache. The deeper he drifted, the better idea he had who it was he was missing. There was more to this all this beyond his occasional—okay, his nearly constant desire to get his mitts all over Sam. As if brother or not, his body was fixated on the guy. Worse, there was nothing in him that told him to knock it off, and how the fuck was that right?

Dean inhaled again, let the smoke drift out of his nose, his mouth. He rocked into the steadily growing buzz, the slight sense of melancholy was growing into a lingering sense of needing something, right now. He pressed the heel of his hand against his dick….
Someone was leaning over him, someone with soft hands, and an earthy smell—a good smell. The soft hands ran over his shoulders, down his sides... the hands skating over his bare ribs weren't as soft now, there were rough spots on them...Dean rubbed his own fingers together, felt calluses...he knew those other hands were callused the same way his were. It felt good. He groaned and lifted his hips, the hands moved lower and lower until a thumb was pressed right over his slit, smoothing slick around, perfect pressure...he shivered. Lips trailed over his throat, his chin...centered on his mouth. This...this didn't feel a damn thing like Trevor. This was good, better than touching himself. It felt shivery-hot and good, god, so damn good that he couldn't stop himself from moving, groaning, "You, fuck, love you…"

"I know you do. Gonna come?"

"Yeaaaahh…" Dean breathed out in a low whisper, his eyes closed. He never even noticed that he'd slid off the wall, and was flat on his back in the grass, smell of earth and green things and himself filling his nose...his head rolled back against the grass. A slippery, wash of come filled filled his palm, wetting the hand he hadn't even noticed sliding into his pants. A deep sense of satisfaction swept him, Sam on his mind as he drifted off. He hadn't planned on falling asleep in the grass, but he did.

Dean didn't remember any of it when he woke, with come gluing his boxers to his pubes, and flaking off his hand. And despite having spent the night on the ground, it felt like he'd had the best sleep of his life. Curled up in the fragrant grasses had been as good as being in the embrace of his remembering mattress, maybe a little better. He yawned, hauled himself to his feet.
Dean brushed himself off before letting himself back in the bunker—glad that Sam hadn't come looking for him. He was pretty sure he'd never have lived it down if Sam had found him sprawled out in the grass.

+++

Sam fiddled with the edge of a sheet of paper in front of him, scrawled over with everything he could think of in terms of Dean's condition. At his left hand lay a file, something he'd lifted from the hospital before he'd left with Dean. It didn't help much except to confirm his feeling that there was nothing wrong with Dean physically. The term sprinkled through his file, dissociative amnesia, meant as far as Sam was concerned, "this guy has some kinda brain-trauma-thingy, but we don't know what or why". And sure, trauma was absolutely possible—but what kind of trauma could rob a hunter of himself? What kind of trauma could Dean have suffered to cause it?

No, Sam was certain now that it was a spell, or a curse. He'd know for sure if Cas would show the hell up, but after pointing out Dean, he'd hauled ass to some mysterious somewhere. Sam was also certain the witch who'd cast it was dead, according to a spitting-mad Roberto, who'd at least cleaned up the mess and confirmed that the body was that of a witch—and had managed to weasel more items out of Sam in 'thanks'.

Unfortunately, there ended everything Sam was sure of. A spell should have ended with the death of the witch, but a curse...maybe not. At any rate, a curse as relatively mild as memory loss should have worn off by now. Sam groaned and shoved the file and a pile of books off to one side of his desk. He needed food, and coffee, and a damn change of scenery. He'd see if there was anything left of the chicken Dean had made a few days ago, maybe there was some salad left too. He might as well ask Dean if he wanted anything since he was on his way to the kitchen. Or maybe not. Maybe Dean was gonna go out with his brand-new, shiny friend, Teddy.

Sam blinked. He didn't remember walking this way, but here he was, standing in the hallway in front of Dean's door. Yeah, well, he'd meant to go to the kitchen, so….

There was music coming from behind Dean's door. Sam slowed. Sounded like his brother'd discovered his music collection.

Dean. He wasn't even Dean and he still managed to make Sam feel like a needy, jealous...and shit, that was completely unfair to Dean. Sam was ashamed of himself, he was acting like a jerk, and...and even though it was at most a few hours, he missed Dean. Sam leaned closer...He was singing; oh good, Sam liked when Dean sang, well, at least when he didn't know anyone was listening in. Sam frowned. The music was odd—slow, and old-fashioned. An album left behind by some long ago MoL, probably. Sounded like Dean was really getting in to it, though—definitely not classic rock. Sam pressed his ear against the door and caught a few words, "...body I'm longin' to see...hope that he...out to be...someone to watch over me…" Dean was singing his heart out.

Sam crammed his fist into his mouth. Oh, this was too damn good, this was gold. He bit down harder to keep from laughing out loud. Man, when they broke this thing, spell, whatever it was, and Dean was himself again, Sam was never, ever, going to let him live it down. He should go in there now and let him know—

He imagined himself going in uninvited, a fantasy which went lightning fast from a casual 'Hey, Dean!' to throwing himself on Dean's bed, pulling him close, getting his hands up under his clothes. God, he just wanted to fucking hold him. Touch him. But that wasn't going to happen. Not now. It wouldn't feel right, pushing something on a man who had no idea of the why or how of them. If Dean wanted to come to him, then. Then that was different.

Sam wrapped his arms around himself for a brief moment before pushing himself off the wall. "You can do it, you can push through this, you know you can…" Sam turned down the hall towards the kitchen.

+++

Sam glanced around the file room, chewing on the end of a pencil and kind of shuffling through his thoughts. Okay, so—Dean was definitely afflicted with a spell, had to be, because there were no other effects; Dean wasn't getting worse, he wasn't effecting anyone around him. Sam rolled the chair from side to side, its wheels squeaking against the granite tiles. The shelves behind him, filled to the brim with books and pamphlets and hand-written notes haphazardly crammed into pigeonholes, were mocking him. The piles of notes and files stacked on the table and stacked on the floor near his chair were mocking him. The fucking tiles on the wall were mocking him.

Dean came in, walking in that quiet, not-really-here way he had now. "Hey. So, you've been in here for a few days now. Wondering if maybe you'd like to rediscover the sun?" He was smiling in a way that made Sam's heart stutter.

"Yeah, you know what? You're right. I need air. And sun." his stomach growled. "And food."

Dean grinned. "Food I can take care of, and if you don't mind lugging some stuff out to the garden, then I can take care of the sun and air too. Pretend like...it's a picnic, instead of forced labor."

They were sitting in one of the newly restored meditation spots. The sun was shining through the aspens cast a dappled shade over them, what sun coming through making Dean glow. Sam could tell, though, that Dean's skin was right at that point before he began to burn. He noticed Sam staring and reached into the bucket at his feet, juggling a tube of sunscreen. Sam laughed in surprise—normally Dean would have insisted that he didn't burn before proceeding to fry like bacon in the sun.

"You know, before, you wouldn't wear sunscreen. 'cause that was girly or something—vain, I think is what you meant."

Dean scoffed.

"Oh yeah, you were a hard-head." Sam looked out around the emerging garden. "Still are," Sam smiled. "So, one time, after opening a grave in the daytime, rare as hell, your back was one huge stop sign, red as a tomato. It looked," Sam grimaced. "I had to smear stuff all over you. You barely managed to keep from crying."

Dean was staring at his feet, a small smile on his face. "It did hurt. But your hands felt nice. Cool. You've got a soft touch when you want, Sam."

Sam's heart beat picked up. "What else do you remember about that day? I remember you standing under that bright sun, and feeling bad that you'd burnt, but...also seeing just how bright you seemed. Your hair. Your eyes were glowing. You looked...wild. Untamable…" Sam glanced at Dean and felt heat suffuse his skin. "I...I…"

"Yeah? Untamable?" But Dean wasn't teasing—he looked thoughtful, his eyes on Sam. "you like when I'm wild?"

"I like when you're...when you feel free. Happy."

Dean kicked his feet back and forth. "I get the feeling that doesn't happen much. Nothing that floats up out of the pea-soup is all that happy. Except when it's about you. Tell me about us."

"What's to say? We've always had each others back. We're brothers. And friends."

Dean nodded, but didn't ask for more. After they finished their sandwiches, they went back to work, but Sam caught Dean looking at him, and every time Dean just smiled at him...but the way he smiled, Sam thought, the way he smiled.

Chapter Text

reseed

"Sam…"

A harsh whisper right in his ear, warm breath against his cheek—Sam's eyes flew open and he reared upwards, knocking the pillow aside to sweep his Taurus out. He staggered upright, gun clutched in his hands and kicking at the blankets trying to wrap around his ankles.

"Dude!"

Sam whipped his head around, caught Dean ass-down on the floor, scooting back from the bed like a panicked crab. Sam's hands shook as he dropped them to point the barrel at the floor. Fuck, he almost...he could have shot his brother, for chrisake. He fell back onto the bed. "Goddamn it, man, what the hell…"

No wonder he hadn't woken right away, his body was hard-wired to ignore 'brother encroaching on his person'...tons of childhood pranks gone horribly bad were a sad testament to that. The very thought sent him stroking his hair in a reflexive soothing motion. Fucking Dean...fucking Nair….

"Sorry, Sam," Dean whispered, staring at Sam like he was unsure whether he should come closer or not. Sam turned and shoved his gun back under his pillow.

"Dean, why the hell are you whispering?"

"Because...I don't know…? Anyway, come with me, c'mon, I have to show you something."

The excitement in Dean's voice got Sam off the bed, dragging on his pants and his shoes, while Dean practically vibrated with impatience. He'd just managed to get one of his shirts on before Dean grabbed him by the sleeve, dragged Sam down the hall and out through the garage exit...what Sam was coming to think of as Dean's door.

Once they hit open air, he had to jog to keep up with Dean, chasing after him until they finally ended up in an unfamiliar part of the garden, a section of land that backed up against a few acres of untamed forest: scrub trees, overgrown bushes, vines and weeds.

Sam followed as Dean squeezed through the underbrush, stopping when they came out onto a small clearing—an almost perfect circle of plush, deep-jade moss surrounded by a ring of mushrooms. It looked nice; the moss sprinkled with tiny white and lilac flowers, the rising sun cutting through the trees to light the circle like a stage. Sam was reminded of drawings from books he read as a kid; magical places where knights and their ladies met. A fairy circle, that's what people used to call them. This, though, was just a naturally occurring thing, no magic in it at all. Well, that's if he didn't count Dean.

Dean stood at the edge of the circle, his face glowing with pleasure. He turned to Sam, spread his arms, and said, "I remember you."

Sam's heart stuttered—he choked on a breath, but Dean went on, oblivious.

"I mean, like, I remember something about you. I was looking for native plants I could poach—no, no, I'm kidding, I always check first to be sure they're okay to snag—" totally mistaking the stunned look on Sam's face. "But here I was, walking around, saw this place and then it just. Percolated up in my brainbox. I knew that Da-dad was gone, off hunting somewhere, and it was just you and me. Little you, geez, Sam, so cute. I remember you; how you looked standing in that ring of light, a knocked-kneed little kid in a pair of my old jeans. I'd cut them off at the knees for you. You were so awed...told me how beautiful it was. I was too cool to say it back then, but I thought so too. You said, 'This is a magic circle, Dean. Good things happen here. Look, angels are sending light down to let us know it's magic.'"

Sam snorted bitterly, "Yeah, angels…." but Dean was deep in the memory, smiling at the light filled circle. And it came to Sam, in little bits and pieces. He remembered now, how they'd played there all day; they'd been Peter Pan and his Lost Boys, Robinson Crusoe found his man Friday there, The World’s Finest forged a friendship there.

Sam recalled also, how beautiful Dean had been that afternoon. They'd been too young for more than admiring glances—pure hero worship, but he remembered along with Dean and it was wonderful.

Sam dropped a hand on Dean's shoulder and squeezed, Dean rounded on him and dragged him into a tight hug. "Feels so good to have a bit of you in my head again, Sam."

 

Dean was on his knees, poking around the granite fountain/bubbler-thing they'd fixed. Well, Dean had fixed. Sam had mostly stood by as moral support and bottle holder. Putting bits of things together and making them do things had never been his strong suit.

"Yeah!" Dean crowed, and fist-pumped like a dork when the fountain did some mysterious thing that somehow pleased him—whatever that was. The thing looked no different to Sam than the first time Dean had got it to work. As far as Sam could tell, the water just kind of spit and poured down the sides of a granite ball...okay, so it did sound nice when the water hit the stones.

Sam shook his head, and resigned himself to the fact that as far as the garden and all its stuff went, he was just a spear carrier to Dean's center stage. In the spirit of his role, he grabbed the cart's handle and followed Dean to a tiny, new section of garden. They'd dug out a few squares behind Meditation Row, as Dean called it, and planted tomatoes and a few other low maintenance veggies. Which meant, at the moment, Dean was completely immersed in the lore of tomatoes and eggplant and green peppers, and how to coddle them. Sam jumped, torn out of his mental meandering by a high-pitched, ear-splitting whistle, the kind of whistle they'd used to use to keep track of each other on hunts.

"Finally! C'mere, take a look at this gross-ass bug, Sammy— "

Sam froze. Dean looked up at him from where he was kneeling. His eyes went wide, and Sam wondered what it was in his expression that made Dean look that panicked.

"Oh crap, I'm sorry, Sam," Dean said hurriedly, "Was that the wrong thing to say?"

Sam exhaled deeply. Without realizing, he'd pulled his hair forward—trying to hide behind it the way he'd done as a little kid. He shoved it back off his face like a mature person, and smiled at Dean. "No, actually, that was the perfect thing to say."

Dean looked skeptical, so Sam hopped over the garden square, and sat on the ground next to him. "I guess we, unh, need some background on this...okay. When I hit puberty, I hit it in a big way. Everything sucked and no one could do anything right, least of all you." He stopped and smirked a bit at Dean's incredulous laugh.

"'Cause you were a brat!" Dean chortled, shoving Sam so that he almost tipped over.

"Yeah," Sam agreed. "Anyway, one of the many things that bugged me was being called Sammy. I made everyone stop calling me that, because Sammy was—"

"A chubby twelve year old," Dean murmured.

"Oh." Sam startled, then smiling, he said, "Yeah, exactly, a chubby twelve year old. So, this one time, a long, long time ago—I was maybe twenty-two, twenty-three—we got roped into hunting with this enormous dick, Gordon Walker. He made the mistake of calling me Sammy. Man, that pissed me off, y'know? He didn't know me, that asshole." Dean nodded and Sam went on, "when he called me that, I snapped. Jerked my head at you and said, 'he's the only one gets to call me that.' And you, you dick, you just smirked. Because it was true, 'Sammy' was just for you and no one else."

Dean laughed. "I guess I liked you putting your claim on me, hunh, 'Sammy'?"

Sam blushed. "It wasn't like that," he said.

Dean laughed again and clapped his hand on Sam's arm, left it there. "I'm sure it wasn't, little brother. You're not the possessive type, are you?" Dean winked and stood. He dragged Sam to his feet and headed towards the garage bay door. "C'mon, I feel like cooking today—we got any hamburger?"

+++

It was nice watching Dean work, the way he moved around the kitchen was competent, confident...familiar. Dean was chattering away and almost sounding like Dean, if Dean had always been more concerned with caterpillars in his tomato plants than Baby running a little rough. Sam had noticed the little differences in the way he cooked too. More fresh foods, and the burgers weren't exactly the same as Dean used to make them, but they weren't bad at all. Not at all.

Humming some dead guy song—Sam assumed; it was something he didn't recognize—Dean rummaged through the meat-locker fridge until he came out with two beers. They set the table with MoL crockery, then dumped chips, the rolls, and the stuff Dean gathered together to go on them, in the middle. Dean plated up the burgers, and before he could even grab a chair, Sam had a burger fixed up and was chewing away.

They ate in silence for a few minutes before Dean said, "This is nice, ain't it; dinner, drinks...all we need is a movie."

Sam hastily swallowed, wiped his mouth and said, "Oh, yeah, we can do that too. The laptop's in my room, I can go get it—or we can just watch in there if you like. I've got a few new Marvel movies, some of your action flicks, and those comedies you liked—like." Sam stumbled a bit, but they both ignored it. "We can take all this in with us…" he finished hopefully. He'd really like it if Dean wanted to watch movies with him in bed. It was something he missed a lot. He just never could figure out how to bring it up before...now he'd been presented with a perfect excuse, and he was pretty sure Dean wouldn't mind. It would be really nice—

"So. Dinner in bed, hunh?" Dean asked, and pursed his lips, snickered a bit when Sam almost choked.

Dean was being so...Dean. Somehow managing to be both seductive and annoying. It figured. Flirting, had to be like muscle memory for Dean.

They loaded everything on trays and headed to Sam's room. They argued good-naturedly about what to watch; Dean eventually chose what he considered comedy. They spread out, much as possible, on Sam's bed. They set the tray between them, balanced bottles on the bed, balanced the laptop on their legs. That meant they had to lean in together to see the screen, shoulders touching. Dean cast him a quick, small smile.

Sam hurriedly bit into the burger—it was a big bite, juicy and cheesy. He had to close his eyes, push out all distraction, and just...savor it. It was that good.

"S'okay?" Dean asked, eyebrows raising.

Sam grinned back and nodded. He chewed and swallowed, totally wrapped up in enjoying the burger. It definitely didn't taste like Dean's usual recipe. The burgers had more of a meatloaf texture and flavor...he tasted a little garlic, a hint of sage. Different, yeah, but just as delicious. He caught the grin on Dean's face and laughed a little—that hadn't changed either. Dean never looked happier than when he was feeding someone.

He took another bite, nibbling around the edges of his burger...something flickered at the back of his mind. Some niggling little thing scritch-scratching at the back of his mind, trying to go from an itch to a full-blown thought. He glanced over at Dean, who had his mouth full, and was laughing at whatever was on the screen, spraying bits of hamburger.

Sam wondered again, as he had so many, many times, how on earth was it possible for one man to be so kind of gross and disgusting...and so unbearably hot as well? He shook his head at himself, watching as Dean snorfled hamburger down his shirt while almost choking with laughter at the low-brow antics of The Three Stooges...god help him, Sam thought, he loved the man with all his heart and soul but somethings about his brother he'd never understand.

+++

It was nearly midnight when Sam elbowed Dean, waking him up. "Oh, 's bedtime, already? Sorry for fallin' asleep on ya."

"I was asleep too—believe it or not, the Stooges couldn't keep me up."

"You love The Three Stooges," Dean muttered, before shuffling down the hall towards the kitchen with the remains of their dinner.

They cleaned up, and said good night, but before Sam could head back to his room, Dean threw his arms around him and squeezed tight. "You're the best brother ever, Sammy. Thanks for sitting through the stooges with me. I know you hate them."

"I do," Sam laughed in surprise, leaning into Dean's hug. "But I don't mind watching them with you."

+++

Chapter Text

cropped bookDean was in the kitchen, tapping the thick bottom of his cup against the table. There were yellowed sheets of hand-written notes, along with a few thin pamphlets, scattered across the tabletop. Every so often, he'd take a gulp of coffee, frown, and flip through the pile in front of him. Sam recognized the papers; more garden notes he'd found in those crumbling files boxes – his project. This bunch had caught his attention because they'd been casual compared to the other notes he's found: loose sheets of nondescript paper, comments scribbled in margins and spaces between lines, plants and bugs and weird little objects doodled all along the edges.

Sam made himself comfortable in the doorway; shoulder propped up against the door jamb and his eyes on Dean's lips watching them move just a bit as he read. Sam fell in love with the way Dean smiled as he traced one of the doodles with his finger. Occasionally, his eyebrows would draw tight, and then smooth. Reading had always been a full-body dance for Dean, one that Sam had never been able to resist. He lingered there, keeping still until Dean looked up. He was smiling, like he'd sensed Sam in the hall all along.

"Hello, creeper. What are you doing?"

"Nothing. What are you doing?" Sam pulled himself off the doorway, strolled over to the counter to make himself a cup of coffee. He glanced around the kitchen and aimed sad-eyes at Dean. "Isn't there anything to eat?"

"In the oven, keepin' warm," Dean replied distractedly. He scooted the papers around, finally pulled one out with a thoughtful frown, thumbing the soft edge. "Say, Sam...you know, a bunch of the herbs I'm working with are supposed to go in...spells?" He held out the sheet of paper with a hand-written title scrawled across the top edge, fresh salvia officinalis as opposed to dry in spell work.

"Oh, good, BBQ mac'n'cheese," Sam said, grabbing his plate, and dropping it on the table. It smelled amazing, and he was starving. He'd just loaded up a forkful of gooey, cheesy, amazing-looking mac'n'cheese when he caught Dean's glare.

"What?"—Oh, spells. Right. "Yeah, we talked about that already. 'Working garden, not just a thing of beauty'—or a salad bar; thank you for that, by the way. Heirloom tomatoes are freaking amazing."

Dean waved Sam's thanks off with a little grin before dropping back into serious mode. "A lot of those spell-working plants, they...well, here, look at this."

He dropped the paper and pushed one of the crumbly, little pamphlets across the table. Sam snagged it, paged through it while he chewed. He'd skimmed through two pages before he saw what Dean was talking about. "Oh."

Sam dropped his fork. It hit his plate with a clank, and skittered to the floor. "Oh, shit. Shit damn it, I'm an idiot. I should have...I should have noticed, I mean, I did, but I didn't—" Sam stopped, pushed a deep breath out. He shook his head. "Of course. You were clearer, a lot of times, when you worked in the garden. I should have put two and two together."

Dean nodded, looking vaguely guilty, like that was something he should have known as well. Typical, Sam thought. Try to take the blame when the fault lay with Sam instead.

"So...the other day, that memory you had of us. Have memories been coming back all along?"

"No. No...at least, not so clear as that one about the fairy ring." Dean shrugged. "I get. Feelings. Sometimes it's just a smell, or just a glimpse, like...looking at really faded pictures. That day was different, though. I could see you, and hear you. It was realer, more solid, than any of the others."

"Okay," Sam said. He went to Dean's side of the table, and shoved into the chair beside him. He grabbed a pencil, pulled Dean's notebook from the pile in front of him, and started scribbling. Dean tried to snatch it back, but Sam put his unfairly long arms, as Dean called them, into use and fended him off.

"Hey! That's my personal note book, not a scratch pad."

"Personal note book? What, didja write down all your deepest secrets, an' draw little hearts around 'em? Did Brad ask you to the prom?"

Sam laughed, waited for Dean to laugh too, but he just seemed to shrink a little in his chair.

"No, those are notes for what I want to...they're my designs," he said, his voice trailing off into a barely audible mutter. Dean's reaction knocked Sam right in the ribs. Made his heart stutter...he had the clearest memory of Dad telling him, not exactly unkindly, that whatever hobby he had at the moment might be better put to the side, until Sam had mastered whatever weapon Dad had in mind for him, had dropped minutes off his run, had done a dozen things that young Sam thought proved that the only worth he'd had to Dad was as a soldier….

 

And he'd just treated Dean the same.

 

Who was now quietly pushing the notes and pencils farther away from his spot. Shit. "Man, I'm sorry, I didn't understand. But I promise I won't screw up anything you have in here. Okay? I do get how important this is to you, Dean. Really."

Dean sighed, gave Sam a wobbly smile. "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry for getting loud."

Sam shook his head. "Dude, you have no idea what loud is, if you think that was loud." He peeled a sheet loose carefully and returned the book to Dean, letting his fingertips graze his hand. He wasn't sure, but maybe Dean leaned into the touch a bit... "I wanted to get what we talked about down quickly, so I don't forget. Research, since I'm not really up on small spell work like this, y'know, using common herbs and objects."

Dean nodded, but looked mildly confused, reminding Sam once again that his brother was still in civilian mode, and most of what he tried to tell him was incomprehensible to him. "See, the kind of stuff we've worked with is usually...heavy shit. Blood and bone magic."

Dean tilted his head, shrugged his shoulders. Sam frowned, trying to think of a way to describe it in a way that wouldn't lead to a long lecture on the supernatural that no one wanted. "Okay. Think of it like, um, non-blood spells are derringers, and the usual spells we craft are, are, Desert Eagles. Hell, grenade launchers."

He laughed, but the bitter tone wasn't lost on Dean. He reached across the table and tapped Sam's hand. "Well, that's good, right? Derringer sounds good to me." He chuckled at Sam's breathy 'oh hell yeah' and said, "There's some plants mentioned over and over in this Men of Letters garden layout. Sage is one of the plants I've used a lot around Meditation Row. It smells nice, looks good...and good for cooking with. I've used it quite a bit. Rosemary, too..."

"Shit. Sage is an herb we use a lot, actually. Just never thought of it outside of cleansing rituals, always used it dried. I just have to figure out just what that bitch did. Damn it...without her spell book, we're banging around in the dark." Sam stopped and rubbed at his temples, felt like a monster headache was creeping up on him. He sighed. "Fuck, I feel like the worst newb. If I'd only paid attention—we might be well on the way to fixing the problem, by now. Be hunting, doing things…."

Dean stood, gathered his papers back in order. Tucked the pencil Sam had been using into his journal. Sam watched him fidget around with his stuff, wondered just what was on Dean's mind..Dean tugged Sam's dish over in front of his new seat, got him a new fork before he sat back in his own chair. He seemed to consider his words carefully, before saying, "You know, Sam, I get that I'm a problem. I mean, I can't be of any help to you on your real job. I'm holding you back, and I'm sorry."

"Dean, I don't mean you're a problem, that's not what I meant at all." Sam stared at Dean, and for one desperate moment, wished he had some psychic abilities—because if he did, he'd lodge right into Dean's brain what a problem he was not. Dean sighed softly and nodded and Sam...just let it go. For now. Dean was different, and he was supposed to be happy, damn it.

They went back to eating, and Sam wondered, not for the first time, how no matter what the hell was going on with them, Dean managed to always have his ungodly lack of self-esteem intact.

+++

"If you walk out that door, don't come back!"

Dean wanted to scream; his head was about to blow to bits. This was bad, this shit was worse than bad. Dad and Sam standing toe -toe screaming, and Dean wasn't sure that they weren't about to beat the shit out of each other. And sure enough, as he watched, Dad's right swung back, like he was winding up to clock Sam, who stood stock-still like the stubborn shit he was, jaw thrust forward like he was giving the man a damn target.

Dean scrambled up off the ratty couch, launched himself at Dad. Just about wrapped his whole body around Dad, trapping his arms against his side so he couldn't move. Sam was silent now, tears streaking down his cheeks. Yeah, Dean wasn't dumb enough to think those were tears of sorrow. Not completely. No more than Dean's were.

A million years later, Sam finally moved, and Dean could finally breathe again. Still, he held onto to Dad until Sam threw his duffle on his shoulder and kicked the front door open. He looked at Dean, a look that shook Dean to his core. "Dean," he started—and then stopped.

The door slammed shut again, vibrating in its frame and the closing echoing in their ears like gunshots.

Dean pushed Dad to the side—time to apologize later—and dashed for the door. Stumbled to a stop when Dad shouted, "No! Leave him, let him take off. It's on his head, whatever happens now."

"Dad," Dean gasped, "you don't mean that."

"The fuck I don't. I meant what I said. He goes, let him stay the hell gone—"

Dean woke up, his eyes throbbing, face wet with tears. He rolled to his side and grabbed his pillow, grinding his face into it. Muffled sobs shook him so hard, the bed shook with him.

So...there it was. The other side of remembering. No sun-lit fairy ring here, no tiny Sammy gracing him with a smile like an angel's. Maybe...maybe there was a good reason he'd lost his memories, maybe it was a blessing not remembering that old Dean. That guy...he'd seemed sort of busted up. Dean snorted. Yeah, because god knows he wasn't broken. He dragged himself off the bed, straightened the covers, fluffed and flipped the pillow to the dry side before dropping it back on the bed.

Broken? He'd been a perv's chew toy, he was a bag half-full of nothing much special...he slouched his way into the bathroom, got out his toothpaste and brush. Washed his face, hard, trying to erase any sign of tears.

He stared at himself in the mirror, trying to see what Sam must see. Dean thought that the guy looking back out of the mirror and the guy Dean must have been, were no different to Sam. Sam saw the guy who turned his back on him and had let him go—the one who'd picked Dad and hunting over Sam.

Dean's hands shook so hard he could barely brush his teeth. Dropped his eyes so he didn't have to look at himself anymore.

+++

He could feel Sam's eyes on him as they drove into town. He kept arms folded close to himself, his eyes on the road ahead, and signaled silently that today was not a day for conversation. Sam kept giving him worried glances, and Dean felt bad, he did, but he just kept picturing Sam walking out of that crummy little cottage all alone. The look in his eyes...anger, disgust...Dean felt it. It hit him over and over again in nauseating waves. He'd got to wondering; why had Sam been so angry? Dean got that Sam was pissed at Dad, but why so angry at him? Because you let him go, a thin voice whispered in the back of his mind. You let him down.

Sam managed to hold out for the entire time they picked up a few things they needed from the supermarket. It lasted until he finally broke at lunch, a pretty decent Chinese restaurant Sam drove them to. Dean was surprised that Sam had manged to hold out that long...and somewhat surprised that that was something that he knew about Sam….

"Dean, what's going on? Man, you've been odd all day."

Might as well face it, Dean thought. Sam deserved to know..."I had...I had another 'real' memory. I think."

Sam started, almost dropping his cup of tea. The look that flashed over his face was odd—unease? Guilty? Before Dean could pin it down Sam smiled wide, flashing dimples, and said, "But that's great, Dean! That's terrific. "

"I didn't like this one." Dean shook his head. "You were leaving."

Sam's face fell. "Oh. Yes, probably Stanford. Figures," he muttered.

"Why? Was it real, Sam? Did you leave? Did you walk away from me, from Dad?"

"Yes...but there were reasons, Dean, and I didn't leave you—at least, I didn't think of it like that. I'd hoped, right up to the last minute, that you'd come. You didn't, and back then I thought it meant you just didn't care that much. I didn't think of it as blindsiding you, which now I know is just what it was. I'm sorry."

"No, don't apologize. That's not what I want...why…" Dean stared at the table, tried to order his thoughts. He needed to make it clear to Sam what he was feeling now. "You hated me. Why did you hate me?"

"What? No, no, Dean. God, I didn't hate you! Like I said, I wanted you to come, and I was so disappointed that you didn't you chose Dad over me."

Dean sat back and stared at Sam. "Did I do something to you to make you leave? Hurt you?"

"No, fuck, aren't you listening? It was all on me. Not wanting that life, not wanting Dad to rule over every little bit of me, or you. I just wanted something—more."

"Yeah." Dean nodded. "'Course you did. I get that. Well...well, good thing, I guess, that m' memory startin' to come back…"

Sam nodded too and stared into his curry pork. "Yeah. I need to be helping more on that front. I've not...I'm not working hard enough on it."

"Don't you worry, Sammy. It's okay. Whatever you do, however long it takes...I'm good, you know? I'm good." He worked up a smile for his brother, and reached across the table, and squeezed his hand. "Don't worry."

+++

But it didn't get better. It got...stranger. Shades of Sam, or himself, sometimes Dad, followed him, drifted past him, floated thin and indistinct at the corners of his eyes. Shadows pantomiming a life. He'd see that other Dean yelling at Sam, and Sam sniping back. He'd see the two of them laughing, drinking together, crying together...all the shadows of the life he'd lost.

One morning he woke up in tears, having just burned and scattered Dad's ashes...it hurt like a knife to the gut, like it'd happened just that day, but what his dad died of and why, Dean couldn't remember, only the pain of it. What he did remember of Dad was the man yelling at him, getting in his face and just ripping him to pieces—of himself telling Sam Dad was an ass, but—

He remembered his dad's arms around him, tight, strong, his voice a deep soothing rumble, chest warm against Dean's cheek. His presence like a life boat in stormy seas.

Dad carrying him, chanting over and over, "It's okay, Son, you'll be okay, just a scratch, promise--" both of them slick with blood.

Why was there such a wall of guilt around every memory of the man? Had he done something to Dad? He knew, deep down, he knew he was the reason Dad had died. But how? Why?

His memories were dancing around in his head, and it hurt. There'd been so many bad days, one after the other. He remembered Sam sliding into his bed, holding Sam while he cried. Sam was so in love, but not...in love with someone beautiful and blonde and...and she looked like she loved Sam. They looked so fucking happy.

It was a bad memory. They were all bad memories...weren't there any good ones? Had they grown up and gone right to hell?

+++

Dean knelt to weed out one of the blocks of herbs surrounding Meditation Row. He tweaked out a weed, and pinched some stems back on a fat little sage. He rubbed it between his fingers, smiling and thinking the little sprigs smelled like sunlight would if sunlight had a sme—

fireworks went off under his eyelids—he ground his palms at his eyes reflexively, trying to ease the pain. Opened them to black fog edging his eyesight, but in the center of his vision, clear as can be, he saw Sam, his head snap back. At the same time Dean felt his knuckles scrape along Sam's cheekbone. He felt it; Sam's skin splitting, felt anger so overwhelming it left him breathless and wanting to do it again. This was him, he was doing this. Punching Sam, beating him until blood flew, spattering floors and walls. Warm drops splashing against his lips, chin, not drops—blood, Sam's blood. He was making his brother bleed, hurting him.

Dean gagged—he could hear the thick, meaty slap as his fist rammed into Sam's face, again and again and again. All the different times he'd beat Sam, all smashing into his brain at once.

When he came to, he was face down in the bed, his plants ripped out by the roots and clutched in his fists. He scrambled upright, frantically wiping dirt from his mouth, trying to escape the memories flying around in his head. He was a monster. That must have been...of course, it was why Sam left. But what possessed him to come back? Why would Sam stay with him? How could he even smile at him, what the hell was wrong here that Sam looked at him the way he...oh. No.

Dean could barely hold himself upright. He gasped, gagging up bile, spitting frantically to clear his mouth.

It was obvious now. Sam hadn't come back to him, after all. He'd gone to Stanford and took Sam back. And now, Sam was afraid to leave, that had to be it. Dean's hands shook as he pawed dirt off his face.

He must have not wanted to remember this. How could he have mistaken what was between him and Sam as love, when it was actually...this?

+ + +

For the next few days, he did what he could to avoid Sam; he camped out in his room, and when he wasn't in his room, he threw himself into his garden, turning over new beds—a legitimate reason to make himself scarce, if Sam asked. Not that Sam asked.

Days edged into a week, then a few days more; trimming, pruning—yanking out huge sections of the old garden, anything to give himself time to clear his head, to think—and, yeah. To put off the inevitable.

He'd have to tell Sam that he knew. He'd have to make it clear to Sam that he could leave at any time. The bunker was kind of self sufficient. He could...he could work, odd jobs. He didn't need to remember himself to clean up, or fry-cook, or pump gas. It wasn't like he needed money for rent or utilities. He could live here alone and survive. And Sam would be free, no longer afraid of him and being forced to look out for a brother who was worse than a jailer...or a monster.

He stumbled away from the puddle of vomit he was almost kneeling in, and toppled onto one of the benches.

Was that why...those feelings. Could Sam be—have been—using himself? Dean shook his head. No.

No, there was no way Sam was that scared of him; he refused to believe it. That thought was some, some bit of nightmare rattling around in his head. It made more sense that he was the only one feeling this way, than Sammy using himself to buy safety. He just couldn't see Sam giving up that way. No, didn't make sense.
Maybe it was all in his head. Maybe he was confusing himself with Sam...maybe he couldn't trust what memories were coming back.

"Oh fuck, I'm drivin' myself nuts!"

+++

Sam was at the bottom of the stairs when Dean finally came back to the bunker. "Hey, where the hell have you been? Didn't you bring your phone with you? I told you, keep—Dean?"

"Sam...Sam…" Dean dropped the basket of tomatoes he'd forced himself to gather, tripping over them as he staggered down the steps to Sam, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry." He was holding back tears by sheer willpower. Was managing just fine, until a fucking memory ambushed him out of nowhere—a much young Sam, crying, angry, but also devastated...

Dean didn't even know what or when the damn memory was, but it set him off, had him crying like a jilted prom date.

"What the fuck—" Sam jumped leaped up the stairs, they crashed together in the middle of the staircase. "Oh fuck, what's wrong, what happened—" he patted Dean down frantically, pulling at his clothes, digging his fingers through Dean's hair. "Dean, where are you hurt?"

"No, no, Sam, it was me...I hurt you."

Sam managed to hold him up, and to walk him down the stairs, without toppling them both. "What? What happened?"

"I hurt you, I beat you and, and made you leave me, I mean me an' Dad."

"What the fuck—where is this coming from? You never beat me!" Sam stuttered to a stop. He shook his head, said, "Well, yeah, okay, you beat me—I mean, we fought. Beat me sounds so one-sided, makes me into a wuss or something. We fought. I gave as good as I got. Worse, sometimes. We're brothers, that's what brothers do. They get stupid and pound the shit out of each other. Sometimes because we were mad at each other, sometimes because of you know, curses, stuff like that…"

Dean shook his head. "I did something to you, and now you're afraid to leave. Did I...touch you, force you…"

"Oh god, Dean—no! Let's get, let's get you some water, or a beer, or hell, I think we need something stronger than that."

He pushed Dean into a chair at a library table, and dropped a thick, cut crystal tumbler in front of him. "What, no jelly jars?" Dean mumbled, and Sam laughed way louder than the lame joke called for.

"No, this calls for the top-shelf dead guy stuff all around." Sam poured them a good two fingers of scotch. "Found some high-class booze in the magic pantry this morning—must have been a sign. I think it's just what we need right now."

Dean rolled the glass between his hands, at the moment, more interested in watching the liquid coat the inside than drinking it. He finally took a sip when Sam gulped his back, and made a face. It was...okay. Odd. But it made his chest warm, and that was. It wasn't bad.

"Okay, look, Dean. You never hurt me like that. You didn't abuse me, you didn't scare me or scar me. You did some really stupid shit at times, yeah; I did some really stupid shit, too. But this isn't a contest to see who was the bigger ass. I want you to understand, there's nothing you've done that I haven't forgiven, nothing you've done that...well, was done with any malice in mind, ever."

Dean still looked doubtful, but took a bigger sip of the scotch. "I'm...not sure I can believe that, Sam."

"Dean, I promise you, when you've get bigger pieces of your memory back, you'll see what I mean."

Dean shrugged. "If you say so. So…" Dean blew out a breath and tried to relax. "...where are we are we at with the Fix Dean Again program?"

"First of all dude, we're not 'fixing' you, we're breaking a spell. And as far as that goes, I suck. I've got a list of plants, and a pile of books...I feel lost. If we still had Bobby's books..."

"Bobby." Dean looked thoughtful. "Not Dad, but...I can feel this, this, big warm spot right here." He smiled, and rubbed his fist against his chest. "He was good, hunh? A real good guy." It felt good, that tiny slice of memory. But right on it's heels came a dark wave of sadness. "But he's gone now. He died. For us, I think. Because he loved us."

Sam nodded, and gave Dean another one of those sad little smiles. He lifted his glass and Dean followed suit. "That he did, on both counts. And we loved that old coot right back. Reason why we called him Uncle Bobby when we were snot-nosed little jerks." He leaned close and tapped his glass to Dean's and they both took a drink. Dean blinked back tears, and Sam did too.

Dean coughed. "This stuff is strong, kinda made my eyes water up."

"Yeah, okay," Sam smiled, "we'll go with that."

+++

"Can you tell me some stuff about Bobby?" Dean asked. Sam took note that not once since he'd been back had Dean asked to talk about John. "Hold up," he said and put the scotch away. He came back with a couple of beers. "This is gonna take a while and if we stick with scotch, we'll both be so shit-faced we wont be able to walk."

Dean grinned and made himself comfortable. "Okay, let's hear all about this guy who's—who was obviously cool as hell."

+++

"So, there we were, sitting in Bobby's 'study'—"

Sam hooked his fingers in the air, like Cas making air quotes, and was pleasantly surprised when Dean giggled. He shrugged at Sam's lifted eyebrow. "I don't know man, something about that—it's just funny," he grinned.

Sam smirked and continued, "—that's if a dark, airless room filled with moldering books can be called a study. I was being a little shit again, ignoring the books he'd set aside for me to study and messing around in the stack he'd clearly warned me off of."

"Sammy," Dean said, shaking his head.

"I know, I know," Sam threw his hands up. "I know, trust me. Anyway, I thought I was practically grown, and knew almost as much our old-fart uncle in the tatty Ace Hardware cap. Boy, was I in for a surprise."

Dean sat on the edge of his chair, his eyes glittering with laughter, a grin showing all his teeth. He sparkled, Sam thought. God, so beautiful, he wanted Dean to look like that all the time, he just—

"What happened next?"

"Ah. I accidentally spelled myself to forget my name. If I'd been working the spell the right way, with all it called for, I'd have spelled Bobby, and probably you, into forgetting your names for a little bit. But I screwed up the spell and...holy...fucking...shit. I'm a fucking idiot."

"What?" Dean asked, "Sam, what?"

"I don't need her spell book, we don't need to build up a spell from scratch! It's been here all along, it's been right here—" He pounded the side of his head, trying to think. "There's every possibility the witch just amped up some simple spell, maybe inverted it or...goddamn it, that book I was looking at got toasted with everything else of Bobby's."

Dean elbowed him, nudging Sam out of his little pit of boozy despair. Glanced around the room and looked at Sam—a little bleary and off-center, but he was looking pretty much in Sam's direction. Sam was momentarily distracted by the amusing sight of Dean absolutely hammered by two glasses of scotch and a couple of beers. Dean nudged him again, a lot harder this time. "Ow—'m sorry, what'd you say?"

"Was it an old book? I mean, older, like these?"

Sam nodded slowly..."Yea-ah…?"

"Well, then," Dean said, drawing the words out like he was talking to a toddler, "odds are, it's here, right?"

"Yes, damn it! The MoLs have freakin' everything in here...and kitchen witch spells are my damn busy-work project. Why didn't I think of all this way earlier?"

"Maybe you didn't want to," Dean said mildly. Sam gasped, stricken, and Dean instantly went from blearily amused to concerned—he reached out and scooped Sam's hand up, squeezing gently. "No, no, Sam, I don't mean that in a bad way," he said. "I'm sure that...I think that you were just. Caught up in taking care of me?" He smiled softly and Sam pulled his hand away to cover his face.

"I'm a terrible person," he moaned.

"Nah. Just...um...a bit of a little shit?" Dean laughed at Sam's glare. "It's okay. Really." He put an arm around Sam's shoulders and pulled him close. He whispered into his temple, "I mean it. It's okay."

Dean pressed a kiss there and Sam shuddered. His lips skimmed softly from Sam's temple to his cheek, before pressing a kiss there, a touch soft as butterfly wings. He fluttered another kiss across the arch of Sam's cheekbone. Down to the corner of his mouth, slowly, so Sam could pull away if he wanted, and he should, but god, he didn't want to. Sam pulled the strength from somewhere to turn his head away, nearly groaning at Dean's little sound of disappointment.

"Sammy, don't stop me. I don't know very much right now, besides I'm beginning to think that I was a real asshole, and that I like gardening, maybe too much...and I love you."

"I...Dean, you can't. You don't, not like that, trust me."

"It's not like that? What, are you telling me that I'm wrong? That these thoughts in my head come from out of the blue? That we aren't closer than, than brothers? We are, aren't we? We're more like...we're lovers. We're supposed to be lovers."

"Lovers," Sam laughed, ignoring how much it hurt. He shook his head. "Dean, believe me, that's definitely not something you would have said before—or thought. Look, you deserve the truth, okay. The main feature of this thing we got going on here? We're not anything like exclusive. It's just a matter of...convenience, that's all."

Dean jerked back, a horrified look on his face. "What? What are you sayin'? This...this 'thing'?"

"I'm saying, we get an itch, and we scratch it, simple. When there aren't any willing females, or when we just don't have time and it seems like too much trouble, we, y'know, " and Sam made a rude gesture, grinned a little. "It's easy, we're cool about it, no worries," Sam managed to wrestle himself silent. He felt like vomiting; the shit he was spewing made him ill. And Dean stood, totally sober now, looking like he'd been dipped in ice.

"I'm going to bed. Good night."

"Dean, Dean I—I just—wanted to be truthful. I didn't want to lie about this, okay?"

But Dean was already out of the room, Sam could hear his boots hitting the tile...Dean was probably mad—was definitely mad—but it really was for the best. And at some later date, when all this was wiped away, he'd be proud of Sam that he didn't lie, or try to manipulate things to suit himself.

Sam took a deep breath to steady himself, but he cracked. He had to jump up and run to one of the bathrooms down the hall. He leaned up against one wall, curled over the ache in his middle and smashed his hands against his face so hard it hurt, but it kept the sound in and he could pretend he wasn't crying.

+++