Chapter 3. Memories
A/N: During this chapter, the bits in italics are Dean's visions...you'll know what I mean
Chapter 3. Memories
Dean and Sam exchanged a look, but they didn't have much time to wonder at the lady's cryptic words before she ushered them inside and walked down the hallway. After holding his brother's gaze for a second to quietly ask for confirmation, Sam entered first. His breath catching and as tense as a taut rope, Dean followed.
Somewhere past the staircase rooted on the living room there was a wooden door slightly ajar. Apparently, that was where the woman was headed. The kitchen, Dean knew at once. Unconsciously, he came a bit closer to Sam, almost close enough to brush his shoulder. Although there was nothing specifically familiar about the decor, a dizzying feeling of deja vu crawled in the back of his mind, and he was trying hard to walk without taking his eyes off the woman's back. Luckily for his already shattering sense of self-pride, Sam wasn't paying attention to Dean's face. And if he registered his brother's slight move towards him, he simply took it as natural as he quietly scanned his surroundings with a concentrated frown. Sam was obviously tense too but showed no signs of recognition whatsoever.
Thank God, Dean thought.
Sometimes, when they were little, he had been jealous of Sam, because unlike Dean he would grow up with no memories of the terrible night and the fire that took their mother. Sam would never wake up in the middle of the night remembering how it was to have a mom around; to call for her in tears only to find she wasn't there anymore. Sam would never miss her and wouldn't freak out at the realization he was starting to forget her face. Sam would never grieve for her. For him, it would simply be as if Mom had never existed.
As years passed, though, Dean doubted he had ever been more grateful for anything than for the fact that his brother didn't carry that burden with him. At least one of them —the best of them— would have a chance to make it. Sammy would have a chance to be happy.
And then Jessica died and, with her, that only chance was gone, maybe forever. Dean couldn't say it to Sam, but he had been relieved it had been Jessica who had died instead of his baby brother. It was selfish, and he felt bad about it, but he would never regret it nor apologize for wanting his brother safe no matter the price. And of course, he wouldn't tell Sam either, that after seeing what Jess' death had done to his little brother, and after experiencing what his mom's death had done to his dad and to himself, Dean knew that if he had the chance, he would trade himself for his brother's girlfriend without a second thought.
"Please, this way," the lady announced. "Jenny, dear, you've got visitors!"
She pushed the door open, and Dean's heart skipped a beat when the change in light blinded him. His nostrils became full with the scent of homemade pancakes, and he gasped inwardly at the sound of a woman's voice and a child's giggle.
"Sit down, baby," said Mary, placing a plate of pancakes in front of a three-year old Dean.
He climbed onto the chair with a grin and swayed his short legs in the air while his mom went back and forth between the kitchen and the table.
"Mommy…can I have it with chocolate?" the child innocently asked.
Mary tried to put on a serious face, but she couldn't help but smile.
"Don't you think you had enough chocolate yesterday, young man?" she pointed out. "Beth's mom told me you had three pieces of cake at her party!"
"Two and a half!" Dean protested, as if that little factor was to make a great difference.
Mary chuckled and sighed dramatically as she reached for the chocolate syrup. But instead
of handing it to the eager child who was waving his small hands and looking at the syrup
bottle with sparkling eyes, she poured it herself over the pancakes to make sure it wasn't too much.
"You know what happens to children when they eat too much chocolate, don't you?" Mary commented with a mischievous smile.
Filled with curiosity, little Dean raised his eyes to meet his mother's and shook his head, all the while sporting a mouth full of chocolate syrup.
"Oh, well, they…turn into chocolate cookies!"
"Mommy!" Dean laughed.
"Wait…I think you're already becoming one…" Mary smiled, rubbing his nose on Dean's cheek. "And I'm going to eat you, yummy!"
Dean laughed again as Mary faked an attempt to bite his ear and tickled him playfully. After a loving fight, she pulled him into a warm embrace that was scented with roses and chocolate and then kissed his hair.
"I love you, baby."
"…Sam and Dean, they came about the noises…"
Dean landed back in reality with a jolt and looked around. He felt disoriented by the vanishing reminiscences that had just flashed in front of his eyes, and realized that he had just experienced a memory he didn't even know he kept, let alone was able to relive so vividly. He heard Sam speaking next to him, saying something about bugs. Shit, it was their alibi, and he was supposed to make the introductions. How long had he blacked out? Just a few seconds, he reassured himself, since Sam —with his most perfect mask of charming bug-killer prince— was just getting started with their story.
"Hi, I'm Jennifer."
Dean heard a kind voice to his left, and a blonde woman stood up. A little boy giggled from a playpen in the corner, and a girl slightly older raised her eyes with a curious frown. But of all of them, the black lady's eyes were the most piercing. Had she been staring at him all that time? Feeling naked and vulnerable, Dean fidgeted under her gaze, not liking it at all.
"And these are Richie and Sari. Say hi, kiddos," Jennifer added.
"Hello," the children said at the same time.
Before Dean could react, Jennifer had walked up to them and was holding her hand out. A gust of pancakes and roses enveloped her, and Dean felt his hand trembling as he shook hers.
"Hey," he mumbled. "Nice to meet you."
Jennifer greeted Sam too and then stepped back to turn towards the black woman.
"And you already know Missouri. She's my guardian angel," she said with a devoted smile.
"Oh, sweetie, that's so not true."
"C'mon, you know I mean it."
Spying Dean out of the corner of his eye, Sam smiled politely at the women's chat. His brother was pale and shaky, but Sam knew better than to make a fool of Dean by nudging him back to Earth in a room full of strangers. He knew that sooner of later, Dean's eyes would seek out Sam's. They always did. Well, Sam had to admit that both of them often sought out each other's gazes, if for nothing else than to check on how the other was taking the situation. And now, when it finally happened, Sam gave Dean calm, sincere 'Hey, bro' eye contact. For Dean, that was enough to trigger him back to his normal self.
"So, Ms Lincoln. This bug problem you might have…" the older Winchester cleared his throat and spoke. "Could you explain to us what kind of noises we're talking about? And how long has it been since they started?"
Jennifer mused on the answers to Dean's questions while she served cups of juice to her children. Then, she explained to the brothers that they had been hearing scratches for the last two weeks, but thought that they could have been there earlier. With all the rummaging of moving in, the noises may have gone unnoticed.
"Any other problems?" Sam asked. "Like flickering lights, strange vibrations…"
Jennifer arched an eyebrow, and Dean, having gained back his bearings, cast a chastising look at his too impatient and absolutely lacking in common sense geek brother.
"What Sam here means," he started, slapping Sam's neck mentally. The latter pursed his lips, as if he had physically felt it. "Is that some pests such as rats might mess with the wiring. Or damage wooden partition walls. Have you noticed anything like that?"
"Well, sometimes the lights act funny, but I didn't think… God, do you really think there might be rats?" Jennifer asked in disgust. Missouri smiled at her sympathetically.
"Mommy?" Sari called weakly. "Maybe it's that thing…"
"What thing, baby?"
"The thing in my closet…The fire…"
Again, Sam and Dean shared a look. Sam's eyes were frenzied, but Dean's carried a warning. They had already been too close to slipping up; it would be even weirder now if they showed too much interest in a child's nightmare, especially since Jennifer quickly dismissed it.
But that didn't mean they weren't going to make a mental note of it.
"Well, if you don't mind, we'd like to have a look around. You know, to figure out what it is that we're dealing with," Sam said, trying to sound casual.
Patting her little girl's hair, Jennifer frowned hesitantly.
"See, actually this is not a good time. I was about to take the kids to this family school thing and…I don't think I'd feel comfortable leaving you guys alone. I'm very sorry, but I'm sure you understand…"
"Sure…" Dean answered. What else could he say? Standing beside him, Sam was biting the inner part of his cheek as he racked his brains to find another way.
"Don't worry, Jenny," Missouri providentially intervened. Dean quivered at her voice, because he had almost forgotten she was still there. Almost. "I can stay until they're done."
Not really convinced, Jennifer sucked her bottom lip.
"You don't have to do that, Missouri. I already feel bad enough about how much help you've been giving us since we moved here. This would be too much."
"Don't be silly. I don't mind. Besides, I'm sure they won't take long. Am I right?"
"Of course," Sam quickly stated.
"Then," Missouri concluded, "It's all settled."
"You're sure?" Jennifer insisted.
"Positive. Now hurry yourself up, or you'll be late!"
Jennifer glanced at the kitchen clock and saw Missouri was right, so she acceded almost against her will.
Relieved to leave the kitchen at last, Dean exhaled slowly as they reached the second floor. That Missouri woman was giving him the chills, and he wasn't sure he could hold it together much longer if he stayed around Jennifer either. He wasn't exactly social, but he didn't use to have problems getting along with families. He had even liked that Lucas kid in Wisconsin. However, this time was different; this place was different. This place smelled of roses and pancakes.
Because of that, he had been taking short breaths during the last few minutes.
"Dean?" he heard his brother's voice next to him.
Dean just took out the EMF detector and turned it on. This simple gesture of "let's get to business" was enough to make Sam understand that his older brother didn't want to talk. But then, this signal hardly ever stopped Sam from trying to push Dean into an unwanted conversation. So it came as only a small surprise when, apparently considering they were far enough to keep their conversation unheard by the women on the ground floor, the younger Winchester touched his brother's shoulder.
"Can you tell me what happened to you downstairs?"
Saving himself from the hurt look on Sam's face by focusing on the EMF light bars, Dean clenched his fists and shrugged his brother off unceremoniously. Behind him, Sam grunted something under his breath, and Dean feared his kid brother wasn't going to let it go just yet. And that's when the hunter instinct in him caused him to attack first.
"What happened to me, Sammy? What about you? Flickering lights? Weird vibrations? Are you nuts?" Dean hissed.
Sam hesitated because the defensive maneuver had taken him aback. Sure, it had been a false move, but Dean was overreacting!
"Dude, don't turn it on me," Sam retorted, keeping his voice low.
"Don't turn it on y…?" Dean snorted. "You practically asked Jennifer if a poltergeist had asked her out!"
"That was not…I was trying to…" Sam clicked his tongue. "You know what? Never mind. Whatever you say, man."
"Great," Dean barked.
Sam sighed in defeat and ran a hand through his hair. Considering the conversation over, Dean went ahead to scan the hallway with the EMF detector.
"…And 50! Dean, where are you?" called Mary's voice. "Ready or not…Here I come!"
Bringing one hand up between his eyebrows, Dean halted and leaned against the wall. Unable to stop himself in time, Sam ran into him unintentionally.
"Hey!" Sam exclaimed.
The older Winchester's face was congested; he was panting now and didn't seem too steady on his feet. Sam opened his mouth to say something, but then hesitated, because his recent attempt at showing concern for Dean hadn't ended too well.
"What is it?" Sam finally asked, hoping it would sound less aggressive than 'Are you okay?'
Rubbing his forehead softly, Dean reacted instinctively to Sam's voice and straightened himself a bit before letting his hand fall. Wow. That had been weird, Dean thought, as he struggled to normalize his breath. Fucking madeleines…
"I bet this is Sari's room," Dean muttered.
A bit confused, Sam blinked, and it took a second for him to realize that Dean was talking about the door on the left; the one on which he was leaning.
"How do you know?"
Dean looked into Sam's eyes for a long moment, and then, with a blank face, waved the EMF detector in front of him. The light bars were dancing dangerously close to the red zone.
"Call me an observer."
Sam took a deep breath and glared at the door. His heart was pounding furiously, and he had to make the greatest of efforts not to burst roaring into the room. Instead, he controlled himself, held Dean's eyes, and waited for his directions. Dean puffed out a quick breath and tried his best to ignore the knot in his stomach —not a piece of cake, but something he could do well if the circumstances called for it. Informing his brother that he would be going first by nodding, he carefully pushed the door open.
Sam nodded back and brought his right hand to the back of his jeans where he kept his gun. When Dean disappeared inside the room, he could have sworn his chest was about to explode in anticipation. A moment later, he mimicked his brother and slipped into the room with similar trained movements, a hunter ready for action.
Truth be told, Sam was expecting his "sixth sense" to tickle, to get some kind of vibe…anything. But all he took in was a regular room, with toys scattered around, pastel curtains, and Disney posters on the walls. The racing rhythm of his heart was suddenly the only supernatural phenomenon around, and, weirdly enough, that fierce feeling of normality was disappointing.
"I don't feel anything," Sam muttered.
Dean sighed at Sam's frustration. He wasn't exactly tired of it, but rather was unable to find the mood to play nice comforting games with Sam. What on earth was Sam so impatient to find? And what the hell was he so terrified of? Rubbing his palms over his jeans, Dean realized that he was sweating, and the dull sensation that kept pounding over his eyelids intensified a few notches.
"You're not radar, Sam," he blurted. And then, referring to the walkman-like device in his hands, he added, "This is supposed to be the damn radar."
Sam wet his lips and touched the furniture tentatively.
"Yeah, I know that," he conceded. "Are you getting anything?"
Dean was reaching to open the closet and wasn't turning around to answer, so Sam only had a view of his brother's back and couldn't imagine what his brother was thinking.
"Hide and seek," the elder whispered.
Sam cringed at the hollow sound of his brother's voice.
"I found you!" Mary announced cheerfully.
Buried under a mountain of clothes in what he thought was the best of hiding places, Dean giggled inwardly but didn't move.
"Oh my…I thought my son would be here," Mary mused aloud, trying not to chuckle at the sight of the not so invisible foot of her offspring sticking out from beneath a blanket. "But maybe I was wrong, let's see…"
Pretending she wasn't hearing her child's tittering, Mary little by little took off the garments under which Dean had curled himself up.
"Let's see, maybe under this jacket…Nope. Then, under this parka…"
"Boo!" the child suddenly jumped.
"Ah! You've frightened me!" Mary laughed and pulled little Dean out of the closet.
Dean giggled again and threw his arms around his mommy's neck.
"You didn't see me, right?"
"No! You were very well hidden!"
"Holy crap," Sam whispered.
Startled by his brother's voice next to his ear, Dean gasped and reflexively tightened his grip on the detector. Without Dean being aware of it, Sam had somehow made his way to stand near the closet with him and was now peeking over his shoulder at the EMF readings. The little detector was showing high levels of paranormal activity. Snapped so brusquely out of the memory he had been experiencing, Dean felt lightheaded, and he had to shut his eyes to regain his balance. Nervously, he realized it had happened again. He had blacked out like he had in the kitchen, and it was starting to make him panic. Something was wrong. Those couldn't be normal memories; they were way too real. Something was pulling those images from him and playing them out in front of his eyes just like a fucking slide show. But what? And why? Not knowing made him feel exposed, raped. His throat tightened, and the older Winchester had to blink furiously to hold back the tears that pooled in his eyes. Luckily, Sam wasn't looking at him but at the flickering EMF readings.
"Looks like Sari was right." the younger stated.
"No wonder the poor thing is terrified. Do you really think she saw the fire?"
"I don't know, Sam!" Dean shook his head and ducked around Sam to walk away.
"I know you don't. I'm just asking your opinion."
"I guess it would make sense," Dean commented distractedly.
"What makes you say that?"
"Mommy, let's play again!"
Dean pursed his lips and repressed the need to hold his head with his hands to block the voices. Sam didn't seem to notice anything out of the ordinary, though. Sam was hearing nothing, was seeing nothing. He was just staring anxiously at Dean. For the latter, that could mean only one thing; whatever was coming, it was coming for him and not Sam. At least not yet. Who knew if the situation would stay that way, though? He had to send Sam away and do it now.
"You know what?" Dean said, ignoring Sam's previous question. "I think maybe you should go and have a look at the back rooms. I'll check the front wing."
Sam arched his eyebrows and stole a quick glance around before turning to Dean.
"You wanna split up?"
"No," Dean thought. But he forced out a more sensible answer. "We'll cover more space in less time."
"What, you scared?"
"Bite me," Sam retorted automatically.
"You wish," Dean gave a heartfelt chuckle, and Sam rolled his eyes, but the ghost of a smile loosened his features. "I mean it, dude. We may not have much time before that Missouri woman grows suspicious. We'd better gather as much information as possible before that happens."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, Francis. Go."
Sam held his brother's eyes for a second —a long, excruciating second— but at last he gave in with a light nod and walked to the door.
"Be careful," Dean commanded.
His voice quivered a bit before he could prevent it, but he couldn't tell whether Sam noticed it or not. Most people would interpret his tone of voice as an order, and he only wished Sam would do the same this time, for his own good.
In fact, the younger didn't miss the tremble in his brother's voice but let it pass for the sake of the mission.
"You too," Sam cleared his throat and hesitated. "But Dean…"
"Why did you say that?"
"That it would make sense…that Sari might have seen the fire."
Dean frowned slightly and his Adam's apple wobbled under Sam's gaze, but he didn't answer. At first, Sam thought that maybe he hadn't heard him, or most probably, that he had no intention of replying. But then Dean gave a sad smile and shrugged.
"I guess 'cause this is where it all started. This was your room, Sam."
EMF detector in one hand, holy water in the other, Dean walked cautiously down the corridor with all his senses on alert. Every shadow could be a menace; every sound, a familiar whisper dug out of his mind. But he wasn't going to let anything get into him like that. Hell, he didn't let Sam get into him like that, and this…spirit, demon, ghost or whatever it was wouldn't be more than his brother.
"I'm here, son of a bitch…come on out," Dean mumbled. "You wanted me, right? Come and get me…"
"Now it's my turn, Mommy. I'll count!"
"All right, baby. But don't peek!"
Dean groaned and slumped against the wall when the flash stung him. When he failed to take a breath, fear seemed to take control of him as it had done to the child that had stood frozen in the garden. The child he had been, the child that had yearned with his every conscious and unconscious fiber to get out and go back to the apartment with Sammy. But this time, instead of running away or calling Sam, he struggled to stand up.
"Where the fuck are you?" Dean confronted the empty space. "Stop hiding, you coward motherfucker!"
… and 10! Ready or not, here I come!
The light bars on the EMF detector went crazy and so did the jamming it copied. Dean removed the earphones with a muttered swear and threw them away.
"You want to play? All right!" Dean challenged.
Eyes aflame, the older Winchester glared around and kicked open the next door.
"Mommy! Where are you?"
It was his old room, exactly as it had been before the fire. But the moment Dean blinked, it was gone and replaced by another kid's —Richie's— pictures, toys and drawings. He felt like laughing and crying at the same time.
"I am so gonna kill you…" Dean gave a dangerous laugh. "Do you hear me, bitch? You can't hide forever!"
Dean opened door after door, and every time he found nothing but the empty indifference of a dusty floor with unpackaged boxes, or the reflection of his driven self in a mirror.
"Mommy! I'll find you!"
There was only one room left, and Dean approached it while grinding his teeth. Until now, he hadn't taken personally any hunt other than the ultimate target of the Winchester crusade: his mom's and Jessica's killer. But this job, oh yeah, it was definitely personal, and for the first time in two days, he wished it to be the job as badly as Sam did. So with no hesitation, Dean pushed open the last door and strode firmly inside.
It was his parents' old room, but he already knew that before entering. That, and the fact that he wouldn't be alone. What he didn't expect was to see his mother, standing by the bed, beautiful and beaming, just as he remembered her. The vision was breathtaking, so clear and sharp that it made Dean's eyes hurt. The young man shut them tight and let out a short hysterical laugh.
"I know what you're trying to do," he grumbled with a cracked voice. "But I'm not going to let you mess with my head. I won't let you turn my memories of her against me…I know she's not real."
"Dean?" came Mary's soft voice.
Immediately stepping back to find the wall against his back, Dean shivered and opened his eyes.
"Baby, what is it? You look pale."
Dean shook his head and swallowed. She couldn't be talking to him. It was just another flash. A piece of a memory, he repeated to himself. Just a memory that was more real than all of his other ones. He was focusing on that thought with all his strength when Mary stepped towards him, and he felt his knees giving way.
"You…you're n-not r-real…" Dean stuttered, cursing himself for his stupidity and his weakness. There he was, talking to an imaginary projection of the past that was probably elicited from him by her killer demon. Only that, again, she was answering.
"What do you mean I'm not real? Of course I am," Mary smiled gently and came closer. "Come here."
Dean felt a sob knotted in his chest but refused to let it go.
"Honey?" Mary insisted.
Dean pressed himself closer against the wall. His hunter's determination vanished as a more primal instinct took over, and his brother's name found its way through his tightened throat.
"Sam!" he heard himself crying.
Mary's expression changed, and she gave her son a look that made him feel guilty about--he didn't know what, actually--but it made him ache.
"Why would you call him? We're together at last. The two of us."
Mary reached out to touch him, and when Dean felt her hand on his shoulder something cracked deep inside his soul. His body yielded, and while the room and the world blurred and spun out of control, he couldn't tear his eyes from the mesmerizing face of his mother.
"You found me…" she whispered.
She smelled of roses, and her arms were warm. Her words were the last thing that Dean heard before his world went black.