June 9, 2024.
It's been ten years.
My brain supplies the math without a conscious thought. Sam watches me looking at the paper, watches me lift my eyes to his. I put up both hands, fingers spread wide.
"Yeah," he agrees softly. "It's been ten years."
The waitress brings coffee, takes our order. I glance around the diner, looking for obvious differences, but there's really nothing. The customers look the same -- working class men in flannel and work-boots, a few tough-looking women, a little girl in ponytails. It could be 1954 or 2014. Middle America just doesn't change.
I glance at the newspaper headlines. Conflict in the Middle East, trade talks with China, birthrate crisis in Japan, immigration problems everywhere. Pretty much familiar news.
Chicago Cubs win again.
Well, that's new.
But mostly, same old same old.
The food arrives and Sam digs in. I watch him as he eats, looking for grey hair, age lines in his face, his hands.
I've already looked closer at his face -- last night -- than I probably should; I've already answered my own question.
Sam hasn't aged. He's still young, no signs of middle age anywhere.
I grab the pad and scribble, push the words across the table.
Sam reads, looks up at me, swallows his food. He shakes his head.
"No, Dean," he says. "We don't age. At least as far as I can tell. It took awhile for me to be sure, and I get why you don't age -- you're immortal because of the stupid Mark. But me -- I guess because we're bound by this life-and-death cycle. It puts us outside time or something."
My hand is shaking as I write, and when Sam looks down he doesn't answer right away. I shake the pad under his nose, glare at him.
He sighs, turns away, doesn't look at me when he answers.
"I don't know," he says finally. "Hephaestus made it sound like this would be it. We're stuck this way until -- well, at first I figured it would continue for my natural lifetime. But then when I realized I wasn't getting any older -- and of course you don't get older -- In order to hunt you I have to stay young and strong, obviously, so there's that."
I lean back in the booth, turn away from him to look out at the parking lot. The cars are old, beat up and dusty. A few pick-up trucks. The Impala stands out like a prize stallion in a corral full of cow ponies.
We hit the road again right after breakfast, but this time I'm driving. I'm never gonna not drive this thing again. Sam can navigate, tell us where to go, but that's the way it is from now on.
To his credit, Sam accepts it when I demand the keys, doesn't even argue. Smiles a little, like it makes everything more normal and he likes it that way anyway.
He's the little brother, after all. I'm the boss of this outfit; he can be the brains.
We listen to mullet rock on the car's cassette player and Sam doesn't complain, although I have a pretty good idea he doesn't like mullet rock. I'm still pretty indifferent to it, but it's growing on me. It suits my new image of myself as a bad-ass-mo-fo who lives at least part of every year as a Hell-raising master demon.
When we stop for lunch and gas I find a cassette copy of the Rolling Stones album Let It Bleed in the truck-stop cut-out bin, add it to our collection. Sam rolls his eyes, making me so warm inside I almost throw up in my mouth.
I'm definitely feeling something for this dude. Not just lust, either, thank god.
It's almost dusk when we pull into Lebanon, Kansas. Sam directs me to a little grocery store so we can pick up supplies, then out into the countryside, down a barely-used side road to the nondescript hole-in-the-ground we apparently call home.
It takes me a minute to adjust when we get inside, park the car in the massive garage, then climb the stairs into the living quarters.
"Yeah, we live here," Sam answers the look on my face, moving ahead of me with the grocery bags, leaving me standing in the middle of a huge room with tables and chairs and books. "This is the library. In here's the kitchen."
He returns a minute later, pointing down a long hall.
"Bedrooms are down there. You've got your own room, Dean. Go see if you can find it while I fix us something to eat."
I follow his directions and start opening doors in the hall, peering into dark, dusty rooms. Some have beds, but nothing that look familiar. Finally I open one that has guns mounted on the wall over the bed, a framed photograph of a little boy holding a baby on the bedside table.
The room is clean and neat, bed made, everything in its place. I wonder if that's who I am -- Mister Neat Freak -- or if Sam did this after I left last time.
I think back to Sam's wet towels all over the bathroom floor at the motel, to the books and papers scattered all over the tables in the library.
No, I'm definitely the Felix Unger of this Odd Couple. Sam's Mister Messy.
I sit down on the edge of the bed, look around for anything familiar. I pick up the photograph, stare at it, willing myself to remember being that long-haired four-year-old, awkwardly clutching his baby brother.
I lie down on the bed, cross my arms and my ankles, sink into the crazy foam mattress, imagine lying here listening to music, or waiting for Sam to come to bed.
I check out the bedside table, find headphones and an iPod, put them on and lie down again, turning on the tunes.
More heavy metal. Loud.
Sam sticks his head around the door frame, raises his eyebrows at me, mouths something I can't hear because of the damn music.
I pull off the headphones, squint at him, reach for my writing pad.
–Do I ever listen to anything besides metal?– I scribble.
Sam shakes his head.
"Doesn't mean you have to keep on listening to it, though," Sam says. "I mean, you've got a chance to reinvent yourself here. You can kinda do what you want, seems to me."
He shrugs. "Hell, Dean, if I suddenly woke up without my memories, I can tell you I don't think I'd mind so much. There are a lot of things I wouldn't mind forgetting. You're getting a real opportunity here to improve on your own past. Do it differently. Start fresh."
I think about that as I follow him out to the kitchen, sit down at the table while he serves me pork and beans from a can with a piece of toast and a beer. It makes me smile.
"What?" he demands, frowning a little at his own plate as he sits down with me.
–Not much of a cook, are you?–
"You always did the cooking," Sam sulks, stirring his pork and beans around for a minute before dropping his fork and reaching for his glass of water.
I glance around the kitchen, take in the dirty dishes piled high in the sink, on the counters.
–And the cleaning too, I'm guessing?– I suggest.
"I've been a little busy hunting you down, Dean," Sam snaps. "Then getting you back. Then trying to find a way to break the fuckin' cycle so we don't have to keep going through this forever and ever. So yeah, washing dishes doesn't exactly make it to the top of my to-do list these days."
I nod, dig in to the sad little meal, keeping my eyes on the food.
"We'll start your physical therapy tomorrow," Sam promises. "And the speech exercises. Need to get you talking again."
I nod. Now that we're "home," the future seems like an abstract concept. If I just turn into a demon again in a few months, what's the point?
–I want to know everything,– I write on my pad. –Tell me what I've missed.–
"Tomorrow," Sam promises.
–No, Sam, now.–
Sam huffs out an exasperated breath.
"I can show you everything. All our years of hunting together, all the crazy things that have happened. It's all available on-line, maintained and updated regularly. It's not going anywhere. Just leave it for tomorrow, okay?"
–Our life history is on-line?– I stare at him.
"We're internet-famous," Sam nods. "There were a series of novels written about our lives years back, and this group of fans is still writing about us. Fan fiction, mostly, but some actual reporting of our activities. They monitor and report on things that sound to them like it might be us -- sometimes they're dead on, which is scary."
–People believe this stuff?–
Sam shrugs. "Some do. Not enough to make it a problem. It's just a hobby for these people, I think. They get together sometimes. Supernatural fan conventions."
–Do they know about this demon thing? The Mark of Cain?–
"There've been some rumors. Speculation. Sometimes something you do gets into the local news, and they pick up on it. You're not exactly all shy and reserved when you're in your demon form, Dean."
–I must be easy to track, then.–
"Sometimes," Sam agrees. "You like to tease, I think. And you're way over-confident. Cocky."
He looks down, stirs his beans.
"Sometimes you come after me," he says. "To scare me off."
I'm stunned. What?
–Do I try to kill you?– I write.
This is just so weird.
Sam smiles a funny, wry little smile that pierces right through my chest, into my heart.
"I think you tell yourself you can take me," he says. "But that never ends well for you. I have some kind of special powers where you're concerned. You can't kill me, and if you get too close I always get the upper hand. It's the way this thing is designed."
I shake my head.
–Do I remember?– I ask. –When I'm a demon, do I have my memories back?–
Sam nods, looks away, afraid to meet my eyes.
“Yeah, pretty sure you remember everything. You like to taunt me with shared memories of us. It's part of your nature."
–Cruel bastard.– I comment.
Sam cringes, hunches over and hugs himself briefly, and I fight the urge to touch him, offer comfort.
–I'm sorry, Sam.– I write. –I sound like a real asshole.–
He shakes his head, straightens up in his chair, looks me in the eye.
"It's not you, Dean," he says. "It's not you."
I'm not so sure it isn't more me than I am right now, but I don't say that. I can see how painful this is for him. I can't imagine losing the most important person in my life, the way he has. It's a kind of tragedy I can't imagine experiencing.
He gets up, clears our dishes, directs me to the bathroom.
The plumbing in this place is amazing. I take the longest, hottest shower of my life (or at least that I can remember) then slip on a tee-shirt and boxers. I find an old bathrobe hanging on the back of the bathroom door and put that on with some slippers, head back to the library.
Sam's hunched over a table, reading a dusty book. There's a pile of dusty books next to him, and I reach for the one on top, read the spine. Faber and Faber's Encyclopedia of Ancient Myth Volume 16. I flip the book open and a puff of dust rises up, makes me cough.
Sam looks up at me, his eyes red-rimmed.
He's been crying.
His nose and cheeks are flushed red too, and that's when I notice the whiskey.
I gesture at the bottle, pantomime drinking, and he nods.
"Help yourself," he says, so I do, grabbing a glass from the kitchen, pulling a chair up and settling in it with my pad and pen.
–I don't think I can sleep until I know everything,– I write.
He nods slowly, then pulls his laptop out and hands it to me.
"Knock yourself out," he says softly. "Let me know if you have any questions. I'll be here all night, most likely."
–We're gonna figure out a way to fix this, Sam.– I write. –I promise.–
He reads my words, lifts his eyes to mine. They're full of unshed tears.
"I know, Dean," he says. "You always tell me that."
I get up, take the laptop and my glass of whiskey, head back to my room to read.
Four hours later I'm still reading. This shit is just too crazy. It's not all the crap, all the supernatural monsters and the fighting and killing and the angels and the saving the world from the fuckin' apocalypse that gets to me in the end.
Sam and I dying for each other. Our dad dying for me. Our mother dying for Sam. All our friends -- Bobby, Ellen, Jo, Rufus, Kevin, even Gabriel the archangel. Dying for us.
What's a little unbrotherly love in the face of all that dying?
I carry the laptop back to the library, put it down on the table in front of Sam.
Sam looks up at me, his eyes still red-rimmed, cheeks still flushed. He's finished over half the bottle.
I tap his hand, then put my hand on his shoulder.
–Come on,– I gesture. –Time for bed.–
He face floods with relief, and he lets me haul him to his feet, lead him down the hall to my room. I'm not thinking right now, just going on instinct, my head so full of the story of our lives it's like I'm still inside that world, like this is happening to that other guy. That other Dean.
I close the door, turn toward Sam, slip the bathrobe and tee-shirt off so he's got the idea, stand there waiting for him to make the first move because I have no fuckin' idea how to do this and he does. Well, I've got some idea, just not with him.
He looks so shattered, so desperate and sad and needy, so I smile a little, open my arms to him and give a little shrug. -What the hell, right?-
Suddenly he's right there, his hands on my face, and I get a close-up of his hazel eyes and long eyelashes before he's leaning down to kiss me.
His lips are soft, just the way I imagined. His huge hands holding my head steady are warm and gentle. I put my hands on his hips, just to anchor myself, kiss him back, tentative at first.
But my body knows his, responds to his with such wanton abandon it's goddamn embarrassing. I'm harder than I've ever been, desperate and greedy in two seconds flat, and I don't need memories to know exactly how to touch him to make him moan and beg.
It's rough and hard and needy and over way too soon. We lie naked and sweaty and breathing hard on the bed for awhile, staring at each other silently. He can't stop touching me, and I keep thinking it's his big, strong hands that kill me.
"I'm never gonna stop trying to find a way to save you, Dean," Sam promises, his voice a hoarse whisper. He strokes my face gently, then leans in for another kiss. I taste myself on his tongue and it makes me hard again, so we go another round, slower and not quite as desperate this time.
I fall asleep with his arms around me, spooning me, his lips on the back of my neck. It's the safest place I've ever been, and I know this even without memories. I'm struck again by the irony that this is the man who kills me. My brother. My lover. My murderer.
Gonna figure this out, Sam, I promise him silently as the blackness of sleep pulls me down.
When I wake he's gone. My phone says it's 4:00 a.m. so I lie awake for a minute, thinking he'll be back. When he doesn't return I haul myself out of bed, put on my shorts, bathrobe, and slippers, pad down the hall to the library, where the lights are blazing.
Sam's hunched over the table, reading. He's into the whiskey again, and this time the bottle is almost empty.
I know he can hear me coming up behind him, but I lay my hand on his shoulder carefully, just in case. From what I've been reading, I get the sense that Sam Winchester is one dangerous motherfucker with a hair-trigger temper, and when he's on his game his reflexes are positively lethal.
He tenses just a little when he feels my hand, turns his head but doesn't look up.
"Hey," he says, and I slip my hand into his hair, cup the back of his skull and lean down, place a solid kiss on the side of his head.
He looks up at me with a wan smile as I move around the table and sink into the chair opposite. I pick up the bottle, raise my eyebrows pointedly as I slosh the remaining shot or two.
"Yeah, so I drink," Sam murmurs bitterly. "You can't even remember what a light-weight I used to be."
I stare at him for a minute, torn between the desire to jump his bones again and the desire to haul him up and kick his ass.
Yeah, right. Out-of-shape me, still recovering from a coma, thinking I could take on this weapon of a man the size of a small mountain.
This is how that other Dean must've felt all the time when it came to Sam, I think. The affection for his little brother warring with the constant frustration at what a self-involved pain in the ass he could be.
–You need to drop the whining, dude– I write on my pad. –Everybody's gonna think I'm just fucking you because I feel sorry for you.–
Sam stares at me after reading that.
"Are you?" he challenges. "Was that -- what we just did -- some kind of pity thing?"
He stares a minute while I shrug, smirk a little.
"Goddamn it, Dean," he huffs. "You are such a bastard sometimes. Even when you don't remember what an asshole you used to be. How is that even possible?"
I pick up the bottle again, hold it up next to my face and wiggle it back and forth, waiting for his explanation.
He sighs finally, shaking his head.
"Okay," he resigns himself, even manages a little tired smile. "I get it. I'll stop wallowing. You're right. What am I doing wasting the time I have with you crying into my wine?"
I nod, sit back and put the bottle down, reach for paper and pen.
–How long do I have?–
He looks at the words, flinches.
"About four months, give or take a few days," he answers. "You were in a coma for a little over a month, then two weeks of rehab, so it's been about two months since the last transformation."
He lifts his eyes to mine.
"It's not long enough," he says grimly. "We never have enough time to get anything accomplished. Mostly we waste the time chasing leads, researching, ending up with nothing. And each time, your recovery time is longer, so there's less and less time to get anything done."
I shake my head. Doesn't matter.
–You keep notes?– I write. –You know what we've already tried? You have an idea what we should be looking for this time around?–
"Yeah, I keep notes. You do too. I have all your notebooks – "
I stop him with a sharp gesture, scribble furiously.
–What? You have my notebooks? From the other times?–
He reads, looks up, nods. He's frowning a little.
"Yeah," he says slowly. "But they're not exactly helpful, Dean. You start from scratch each time, so your notes are mostly a lot of rehashing of stuff that's happened before. It always takes you awhile to get up to speed."
He looks away for a minute, like he's thinking, then adds, "Although the period between your physical recovery and your mental recovery is getting shorter," he frowns, thinking again, then shakes his head. "But that doesn't count because your physical recovery is longer each time. At the rate we're going, you'll be spending your whole six months in a coma within -- well, I'd say within the next five years."
I shake my head. –Are you sure?– I write, then scratch it out. Of course he's sure. He's got some kind of super-brain and if he has a mathematical equation worked out to explain why I'm getting exponentially more brain dead, then I trust that.
Which sucks, totally.
So I concentrate on the other thing he just told me.
–Can I see my notebooks?–
Sam blinks at my note, shakes his head.
"Why?" he asks. "They're not gonna tell you anything, just waste your time. There's nothing helpful there."
–I'll be the judge of that,– I write. –They're my notebooks.–
He looks at me with that helpless kicked-puppy gaze of his, and I'm suddenly feeling cornered.
"Why, Dean?" he says again. "It's just you going on about yourself, re-learning who you are, who we are. You never recovering your memories. Never making any sense of things."
–You've read them,– I accuse, and sure enough, he goes red, looks away, tries to avoid my eyes.
–Sam, those are MY notebooks,– I write. –You need to give them to me. NOW.–
He gives one more long sigh, then shrugs.
"They're in the bedside table in your room," he grumbles. "You always ask. You always read them. It never makes any difference."
I get up, stomp past him, cuff him lightly on the back of the head as I pass.
He's got some nerve looking through my private stuff. I would never let him read this journal.
It's been over a week since I wrote in this thing.
It's been a long, hard, depressing-as-hell week since I could stand to open the pages and make the effort to make sense of this crazy, violent, monstrous existence I have to call my life.
After I read those other journals, those documents of other lifetimes, I felt like giving up. Or maybe throwing up. Both. I had to admit, Sam was right. Reading that stuff was a complete waste of my time, and my time is short as it is. Reading my pitiful attempts to make sense of things in other times was just damn discouraging, not to mention demoralizing.
It's enough to make me want to kill myself. Just end it all right now.
Of course, I did that, the third time. After reading the first two journals, I just picked up one of these guns, loaded it, and stuck the barrel in my mouth.
I know because Sam told me the next time around as a way to try to prevent me from reading the damn journals in the first place. And I wrote it down in the fucking journal, of course.
All suicide accomplishes is a speedier transformation into the demon, of course. And since it all happened right here, Sam came running and found a helluva mess.
I look around my room, at the walls and the floor and the bed, imagine them splattered with blood and brains and gore.
So suicide's out.
Not the Winchester Way anyway. Too weak. I gotta be tough and face this thing. That's what the real Dean Winchester would do. Figure out a way to overcome the odds and fix this.
Well, I ain't him, but I can make an effort, for Sam's sake if not for my own.
Cuz who the hell am I really anyway? I'm not the guy who was raised from Hell by an angel.
Who, by the way, died in the first round trying to save me. Gave the last of his grace trying to cure me and fuckin' died.
We are so fucked.
Apparently the rest of our old friends are dead too, according to the journals. Jody Mills, Garth and his werewolf family, even those dorky ghost-chaser guys. Charlie Bradbury may still be alive, but she's been lost in Oz with her girlfriend for the past ten years, so who knows? My old friend from Sonny's Home for Boys died a few years back of cancer, so at least that wasn't my fault.
I've left Ben and Lisa alone, and as far as I know they're still out there somewhere. Thank god for small favors.
Our lives are unbelievably sad and lonely. And now we're caught in this horrible time-loop thing like a bad nightmare version of Groundhog Day. Or that crazy thing that happened to us all those years ago before I went to Hell the first time, where I kept dying every day and then the day reset so poor Sam had to watch me die again.
Sam's the one who has to remember everything, and my death is worse for him now because he has to be the one that kills me. I don't know how he can keep functioning. He drinks like a fish, beats on me when we wrestle, fucks with a terrible desperation and then collapses and cries all over me.
Something's gotta give.
I've been working out, sparring, practicing my moves, target practicing. The first day after I put these journals aside I told Sam I wanted to get back out there, do the hunting thing. Do what I'm obviously trained to do.
He just stared at me, shook his head.
"Dean, you can't hunt," he said. "You've been in a coma. It'll take weeks of training to get you into shape again."
–Okay, so let's start. Now.–
He just stared at me, and I knew what he was thinking. By the time I'm ready to hunt, it'll be time for me to go dark-side again.
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