Man found dead in dumpster, eyes removed; second body this week!
It's a newspaper headline that would have been grounds for a hunt. Sam and Dean used to throw their duffel bags in the car and drive across the country for less.
Today, it still catches Sam's eye.
But he doesn't tear out the article or make a note. He doesn't do that stuff anymore. He folds the paper instead and slides it back in the rack with the others, where it will stay until one of the bookshop's few customers buys it.
"I'm going to grab us a couple coffees," his boss and only co-worker Carl tells him.
Sam nods from where he's organizing the counter display. "Black, no sugar."
Carl pats him on the shoulder as he passes. "I know. So emo, Winchester."
The bell tinkles over the shop door as he leaves. And when the door swings open again a minute later, Sam looks up and freezes in place.
The customer, a man in his thirties, offers a greeting, but Sam barely notices past the headrush he gets at the vision of Dean. Familiar gait, navy-colored jacket, a shade of stubble.
The man who just entered the bookshop is not Dean, of course. He's just anyone. Generic. He's Dean's height, a similar build, but otherwise he's completely unremarkable. Sam sees this belatedly, after his heart has already started beating wildly in his chest.
It's not Dean. This makes sense, he reminds himself. Because Dean's dead. He died two years ago and there's no way Sam can make that untrue.
While the customer clocks five whole minutes considering which spellcraft manual to buy, Sam swallows past the nausea that's fought its way up his throat.
He smiles tightly when the guy brings a brightly colored photo book to the counter. "This legit?"
Sam flips the book over. "'True sightings of the paranormal,'" he reads out. "Sounds legit to me."
"Great. And I'll take one of these, too." He pulls today's paper from the rack.
Sam scans the book and paper, and puts them in a bag for him.
"Long day?" the man asks.
Sam nods. "Something like that. Fifteen ninety-nine, please. Sign here."
The guy is left handed, Sam notices, not right. He also slides the receipt smoothly into his wallet when Sam hands it back instead of crumpling it into a ball. He's nothing like Dean.
"Have a good one," Sam tells him, and watches him leave.
Twenty-four months out, and Sam still sees his brother everywhere.
Sam lives in one of the many shitty apartments in a quiet neighborhood in Detroit. It's an up and coming area, or so he's been told.
He hadn't meant to settle anywhere near Michigan, hadn't planned to settle at all, really. His plan had been to call on every powerful entity he knew until he got Dean back from the dead or died trying. Most likely the latter.
But the trail ran out in Detroit, after he'd managed to summon Billie the reaper one last time. She'd never been a fan of the Winchesters, she'd made that clear the moment she met them, and this interaction went no different.
"It's over now," she told him. "God saved the earth. The sun didn't die out. You should live your life while you still have breath in your body."
"If the world still exists, it means my brother might still be out there."
For a second, Billie almost looked kind. "Your brother sacrificed himself to save humanity, Sam. You of all people should understand. He's not coming back."
Sam's week long hotel stay turned into three. He didn't know where to turn. And when his last fake card maxed out a month later, his two-dollar coffee order rejected, Sam considered his choices with despair on the cold sidewalk. He ended up ducking into Detroit's number one occult bookstore to think, and when he grabbed a book on the afterlife off the top shelf, Carl had offered him a job on the spot.
"I'm normal-person size," he explained, peering at Sam through his thick-rimmed glasses. "I've been on the lookout for a giant like yourself to help me stock the top shelves. So, whaddaya say?"
The only personal question Carl asked Sam was whether he was more a sandwich or Chinese food type of fellow, because there was a good place for either on this street.
"Both," Sam told him.
"Good," said Carl. "You can start tomorrow."
Now, Sam folds his Friday check up in his pocket and walks back from work, a year and a half since becoming reasonably employed by accident, a year and a half of paying rent on time, still finding ghosts of Dean places he least expects to, shades of his brother Sam can't help but see in every corner of the world.
It's early evening, the chill of late November. Two guys pass on bikes, jumping broken curbs. An elderly woman says encouraging things to her small dog as it drags on the leash. It's frigid in Detroit this time of year and Sam thinks he might feel a few stray drops of rain his neck, so he speeds up his pace. He keeps his head down.
He comes into sight of his crumbling building not long after, and rummages in his pocket for the key ring with two keys on it.
When he reaches his stoop, he jiggles the one belonging to his apartment in the lock for a good half a minute, breath coming out in harsh puffs of air. Sometimes he ends up picking the lock instead — it's honestly faster than trying to jimmy the key into a respectable position.
Just as he begins considering the rusty nail jutting from the door frame as a useful tool in this endeavor, the lock snicks open and he forces the door in with his shoulder, pushing inside out of the cold.
His roommate isn't home. It's immediately clear from the lack of naked ass on the couch. This means the TV's free, and Sam rolls his eyes when he catches himself getting excited about the prospect of passing out to the weather channel for the fourth night in the row. He briefly imagines what the Sam of twenty-sixteen would think of him now.
He's putting his weather channel plan into action, boots still on and remote in hand, when there's a loud bang at the door.
It's sharp like a screen door in a hurricane, and he stops stock still listening to it, knowing there's no one alive to run from anymore. God and Amara have officially left the building, Crowley and Rowena are in the wind, but Sam is cautious anyway.
Ray's face is casual when Sam finally yanks the door open, like he hadn't just been banging the place down. Sam feels warm at the sight of him.
He crosses his arms over his chest. "What are you doing here?"
"Oh, you know." Ray leans against the doorframe. "I was in the area."
"Right. This is a convenient stop on your commute." Ray doesn't work anywhere close to Sam's apartment.
Ray only smiles. "So, good day peddling witchcraft to minors?"
Sam doesn't close the door in his face.
"The Crypt is a respectable establishment, thank you very much," he says, and when Ray laughs, Sam continues, "But now that you mention it, we do carry goth porn mags, and there are a suspicious number of teenagers hanging out in that corner of the store during school hours."
"You're a public menace," Ray informs him.
"Yeah, me and the yogurt place down the street. Those hoodlums hang around there, too."
An ominous creaking comes from upstairs and Ray looks at the ceiling like it might cave in. "Have I mentioned that where you live is reprehensible?"
"Once or twice."
The place is old, it's true. The paint is chipped and the freezer never quite freezes anything. The front door is impossible and one of the cabinets is missing a hinge. The rug is questionable.
But Sam fixed the heater after he moved in. Aside from winning him the dubious honor of being in his weird roommate's good graces, it made the place warm in the quickly icy winter months, cozy even. His place might objectively suck, but the open cupboard is stacked with soup cans and ramen packets, and Sam has made a home where he lines his shoes up every night.
"Not to mention it's super far from my place," Ray points out.
Sam gives him a look, "And you were just in the area."
Ray shrugs and crooks a smile.
They've been doing this thing. They'd met at the liquor store by the whiskey section, and things had continued in that fashion.
Whatever it is, it's not like last time. Not like Amelia, whose life had collided with Sam's mid-tail spin. This time, Sam has all but made his peace with Dean's death. He's learning to live again, not just survive. Ray is smart and quietly funny, and nice above all other things. He shows up again and again with what Sam can only describe as pure tenacity given the way Sam doesn't give back as much as he probably should.
"I thought I'd just drop in with some takeout," Ray says, hoisting a plastic bag full of stacked cartons. "Maybe invite a couple people. Drinks, movie, what have you."
"Come on, Sam."
"You already called everyone, didn't you?"
Sam sighs and steps aside.
"Oh good," Ray nods to the TV. "Looks like you were down to watch something anyway. Hey, you got any beer?"
Sam goes to grab them a couple from the fridge.
And by the time Jack and Lily and Tara show up, Ray's managed to pull a smile out of Sam despite his ruined plans of passing out until work tomorrow, only to drag through daylight and then sleep again.
"There you go," Tara says when Sam opens the door, depositing a six-pack against his chest like an entry fee. "Oh good, Thai food."
Sam busies himself in the kitchen, grabbing extra napkins and some waters. The sink sprays a little when he turns it on, and he makes a note to look into that later.
Jack, an accountant who hates his job more than other accountants Sam has met, toasts from where he's already taken Sam's spot on the couch. "Guys, you're never going to believe it. But I got to date number three!"
Lily shakes her head at Sam, then calls. "Nice. Well, I got dumped. Thanks for reminding me."
"No! Not Snaggletooth Nick!"
Lily sighs, "Come on. It was just the one tooth."
"At least two," Sam says.
"You know what?" She brandishes the first thing she can get her hands on — one of Sam's roommate's naked-lady ladles — and tries to look threatening. She's small but very fierce.
"I'm afraid," Sam says. "Hold me."
Tara calls over to them, "Hey guys, are we going to watch this movie or what?"
"Depends on what we're watching."
"Murder in Manhattan." Lily slips the disc into Sam's thrift-store DVD player. "Critics have nothing but good things to say about it. They think it might be up for Best Actor this year."
"I lost a coin toss," Ray tells him. "I'm sorry, man." He settles next to Sam on the floor. Not too close, but close enough that Sam feels antsy.
"Sam, you gonna back me up on this?" Jack says.
"Yeah, rom-coms aren't really my style. But she won the coin toss, so fair's fair."
The DVD menu appears, featuring sappy music and rose petals that rain down around a sparkly heart.
"You're dead to me," Jack tells Ray over the soft lilting of violins.
Tara tosses a pillow in their general direction. "Shh."
"Dude, I thought you said you'd seen it already."
"Three times," Tara says. "Shut up, I promise it's good."
Ray nudges Sam and laughs, low in his ear. He passes over a carton and Sam digs into hot noodles. His apartment has been invaded by friends and it's not the first time.
The movie begins with a girl in a frilly dress walking home alone at night, the music creepy. The camera catches the look of fear in her eyes when she hears a snap of a twig behind her.
But it's only the love interest. It's obvious from the broad width of his shoulders and his romantic silhouette as he steps out of the shadows to catch her when she trips on a cobblestone.
"My darling, please be careful," he says, steadying her.
When the man tips his hat up to reveal his face, Sam gasps out loud.
He knows the shape of that nose, those freckles and long lashes.
Dean-as-fifties-love-interest bends at the waist to lay a gentle kiss on the woman's gloved hand, and when he stands straight again, it's the same clever smile that Sam sees in his dreams each night.
Dean. Not some fake, or poor facsimile. It's really him.
The movie goes on in a similar fashion. The girl tells her friends about the dashing man she met. Meanwhile, there's a suspicious murder, that Dean is of course the cause of. It is ridiculous. It is surreal. Sam is cemented to the couch, blinking through shock at what should be impossible. He's unable to move his hand from his knee, his feet stuck to the floor boards.
"Chick flick," Ray mutters so only Sam can hear, but Sam can't respond, transfixed by the sight of Dean in HD.
"What is going on?" he mutters.
Someone bats at Sam with a pillow and says, "Shut up, it gets good."
Sam gulps as Dean's mouth draws up into an angelic smirk one moment and a perfect moue the next. The faces around him of the people he's known for over a year now look like the faces of strangers, the world misaligning with his past life.
"When did this movie come out?" Sam asks the room.
"A few months ago."
"Who's that actor?" He thinks his voice might slur a little at the end, he feels very far away from his body.
"He's this new hot star. Dean Smith. I'm surprised you haven't heard of him."
The only spot of light he can see right now is Dean. A moving picture, a ghost. He has a horrible suspicion that this normal, well-adjusted life of his is all a dream, that he's been on the other side of a djinn for some time and Dean's been trying to break through to him in any way he can.
Sam watches the camera pan across Dean's face, a perfect expression of regret twisting up Dean's mouth as he says, "Marriage? But what would your mother think of me? I'm just a poor soldier from Carolina."
Sam feels like he's sinking under. He's had his one brush with sanity before he's dunked under, maybe never to return.
He has no one to call, no one to ask how Dean could possibly be found on film. That first year after the sun didn't go out and the world didn't end, he'd prayed, wailed, and begged the heavens to bring his brother back. But to no response. Cas has been no help. The only reaper he knows would rather see him dead. He has no one to turn to now.
But he has himself, and one of his most charming qualities is his ability to be stubborn in the face of great impossibility. Sam counts the tick-tick of the minute hand on the wall clock, and stares the dark ceiling down until sunlight pinks the rooftops across the street.
At which point he rolls off his bed in one, fluid movement. It feels as though his limbs are losing their years of stiffness, his mind has become alert even though he barely closed his eyes all night.
With a sense of deep foreboding he pulls on his shirt and laces his shoes. He eats breakfast mechanically, to keep up his strength rather than because he feels at all hungry.
Dean died two years ago. Of all the facts in life, Sam is certain of this one. But it's less than twelve hours since Sam saw his brother's face on screen, apparently alive and well. The numbers don't come out right even now that he's trying to add it all up in daylight. Above all things, this is what he needs to find out, before he rushes in headfirst and hunts Dean down in Hollywood or something equally impulsive.
After breakfast he turns to his old friend: research.
Searchtheweb dot com yields nothing on Dean Winchester, but—on a hunch—it does return hundreds of results on actor Dean Smith.
The headlines are scandalous, the pictures the kind that would make Dean leer approvingly. At the very least, that thought is comforting. Sam is distantly horrified as he scrolls through image after image of Dean clad in tight jeans — model-tight — and sometimes in cowboy boots. That smirk is playing across Dean's mouth in every one.
Sam lingers over a photo of Dean in a wet button-down, water running so sensually down his face Sam can imagine reaching out to feel the droplets. As he drinks his coffee, Sam watches the underwear commercial that Dean shot just this July, where Dean does a little dance in soft-looking grey boxer briefs that leave nothing to the imagination.
Sam drags his eyes away from the video with difficulty to click Dean Smith's IMDB page.
Date of Birth: unknown. This now-Hollywood babe rocketed to stardom out of literal nowhere after he was scouted at a club in West Hollywood, purportedly enjoying a glass of his signature whiskey. Details of Smith's pre-actor life is unknown, but it is confirmed that he once worked in the pest control business. He's known to enjoy barbecue, and refers to himself as "your all-around-American guy." Smith is openly bisexual and has been spotted out on the town with numerous up-and-comers, and many seasoned celebrities as well.
The bio is clearly fake, put together through rumor and speculation. It gives Sam nothing.
The possibility that this might not be his real reality occurs to him again, but he can't start thinking like that or he might go crazy. No, unfortunately it's more likely Dean's sudden appearance is part of an elaborate plot by some big bad, meant to draw Sam out and kill off the last of the Winchesters once and for all.
But that plan is a little big-headed, even despite past experience, and Sam can't think of anyone in particular currently out for his head. He and Dean have both left the playing field, names forgotten.
Sam clicks through the links, noting the three movies Dean has in post-production, all of the romantic comedy variety, and one currently is shooting on-location somewhere. The pictures are endless, Dean at movie premieres, award shows.
Sam touches his screen distractedly, zooms on the blankness of Dean's smile, his perfect teeth. If the fact that Dean would never come back from the grave just to be an actor doesn't convince Sam that something is epically wrong with this situation, then the bow ties in those pictures really drive a stake into the coffin.
Sam returns to the bio, and rubs a hand over his face. "Who are you?"
Because it's not Dean. That would be impossible. Sam had his initial shock, but he has to come to terms with the facts. This is Dean's body, yes, but it's another fake. Be it shifter, topa, or some other phantom Sam hasn't met yet, it's not his brother.
Sam sits there in front of his computer for a long while, then closes his computer. "Shit."
He rubs his eyes, trying to think, then jumps up when his alarm goes off, breaking the reverie. "Shit!"
He shoves his feet in his shoes and grabs his phone and keys. He sprints to work.
Sam never went back to the bunker.
It was a place he called home, for a time, and he remembers it sometimes with vague fondness. The kitchen was a strange metal room where Sam usually got stuck on dishes duty after Dean made him dinner. The hall of bedrooms was where he spent a hundred dreamless nights, and where some of his best friends came to stay and then leave. That library, that meticulous labor of love, puts every other library in the contiguous United States to shame.
All those things, though, they were just perks of the situation. The trappings of a settled life. After Dean sacrificed himself, Sam couldn't face returning. He had what he needed, the clothes on his back and a duffel in the trunk. His wallet and his laptop and the necessary information of his life backed up in his email.
He never went back, instead just moved forward. He'd cleared out the impala and locked her up in a storage space in Kansas that cost too much a month, and he'd hotwired a real junker that had been abandoned roadside. He'd spent his life learning to pick up and leave at a moment's notice, and he was good at it.
Things were transient for a while there, back to the way things had been before he and Dean's semi-permanent home, only sans one brother.
In light of the current situation, Sam is thinking maybe it's past time he headed back to Kansas. He needs the bunker's horde of knowledge, needs to get back in the game if he's going to find out what the hell is going on.
"—which is when my husband comes by the office for lunch and you know know what he tells me?" Sam's brought out of his thoughts by an elderly customer's pause as she waits for an answer.
A headshake is enough of a contribution to the long anecdote, and the old lady continues recounting this story to Sam. Sam surreptitiously checks his watch.
"He tells me I have my glasses on top of my head." She wheezes a laugh. "On top of my head, the whole time. Can you imagine?"
Sam shakes his head. "No, ma'am. Can't imagine."
"It was a hoot. You have a nice day."
"You too," Sam mumbles belatedly, five seconds after the shop door's already swung closed, cutting off the hum of traffic.
He glances around the store. Two teenagers are huddled by the magazines, deep in conversation, and the only other customer is a man who must have come in when the old lady left, browsing the cheesy spell manuals. The back of his head through the stacks reminds Sam of the back of Dean's head, and Sam reminds himself to stop trying to find things that aren't there, and looks down at his computer screen. He can't keep doing this. He has to find the thing that's masquerading as his brother.
He takes a closer look at the article on Dean Smith, the imposter, that he's currently mining for details. It's a gossip piece on a bright teen entertainment site, but it might be the key to everything.
He scrolls down past the pictures and quotes and— Bingo. It looks like Dean is currently filming in the midwest, or so sources have said. Good, Sam wasn't looking forward to a drive to LA.
He will have to quit his job as soon as possible, he realizes. In fact, he should do it today. The thought pings some emotion in him, but it's unimportant in the face of recent events. He'll tell Carl this evening, after his shift ends. Not the monster part, of course.
His brother is dead below ground while a monster walks the earth wearing his face. If that isn't understandable grounds for quitting, he doesn't know what is.
Sam will get the Impala out of storage and go, start the task of finding out what the hell is going on. This life was always going to be temporary, he's always known that somewhere deep down where he's honest with himself. He's never managed to stick around anywhere long.
He's distracted thinking these dark thoughts, not paying attention to the clientele, but his instincts are still quick when he hears the crumpling sound of a magazine being mistreated in the back of the store, and he jerks his head up.
"—look at the tits on her—" he hears the taller of the teens mutter.
"—ew, she's old enough to be your mom—" says the second.
"Come on, just do it—"
Sam cranes his neck to see around a bookshelf, in time to catch sight of one of the teens shoving a magazine down the back of his pants. Sam was leaning on his elbows but he stands now as the two of them wander casually to the door, one with an obvious bulge of the hidden magazine sticking up the back of his jacket. The other one begins to whistle unconvincingly.
The tune dies on his lips when he catches sight of Sam standing at his full height behind the desk.
The kid's eyes widen. "Shit!"
"Hey!" Sam calls, a beat too late.
The kid grabs his friend by the jacket and shoves. "Run!"
Sam jumps the desk in a move that would make a gymnast proud.
The bell over the door jangles as the door slams shut and Sam's halfway across the shop when the other customer, the guy who'd been browsing the spellcraft section, flies past him out the door.
Sam sprints off after them out on the sidewalk, rounding a corner just in time to see the customer tackle the kid and hold him by the hair over the concrete like he's threatening to smash his head in if he makes any sort of move.
"Whoa!" Sam hollers as he runs after them. "Take a step back man! This doesn't call for vigilante justice!"
The kid yanks the porno mag from his pants and throws it on the curb. "Take it!" he squeaks. "Take it! That's all I have, I swear." He puts his head down on the wet sidewalk, eyes squeezed shut.
Sam reaches them in time for the guy to shake the kid roughly, like a dog with a rabbit. It's an insurance claim waiting to happen and the small store cannot afford that.
"Jesus, dude." Sam grabs the man by the shoulder.
Then he's staring up at the sky, flipped onto his back in three seconds flat.
"What the hell?"
He's aware of the kid making a break for it, and then reflexes kick in and Sam pushes off the ground and slams the man into the sidewalk to the satisfying sound of a body hitting concrete.
But it's not just anyone under him. It's Dean.
Blood is smeared at the corner of Dean's mouth and on his teeth as sneers at Sam from the gum-worn pavement. Sam is heaving for breath over him like he might never catch his breath.
"Dean," he croaks, and wonders if this is the sort of situation that warrants passing out in shock. He reaches to touch him, but Dean jerks away, like Sam's going to hit him.
"Hey, watch the face. I could have you arrested for assault."
Sam's fingers are sweating into the shoulder of Dean's shirt, a flimsy, cotton, purple plaid thing with fashionable buttons that bring out the green of Dean's eyes, and Sam chokes on a laugh.
Dean shoves Sam off him, glaring. "Watch the goods. I hope you're not some sort of stalker."
Sam's dropped onto his ass on the sidewalk, the humor leaving the situation real quick. "Dean?" He watches helplessly as Dean straightens his shirt.
"Thanks I get for trying to show some common decency," he mutters. "Caught that kid red-handed, then attacked on the street."
"Dean," Sam says, but Dean continues complaining to himself and brushing at the water that's soaked into his jeans. Sam raises his voice. "Will you leave the pants alone and look at me?"
Dean shoots him a look that usually means, god I hope you don't have another concussion. "These were two hundred bucks, dude."
Sam looks at him, really looks. Dean has dark boots on and a pair of grey shades that he slips over his eyes, light glinting off them. And he's tall, taller than Sam remembers him to be, especially from his vantage point here on the ground with the street traffic slowing, gawkers rubbernecking out rolled-down truck windows.
In fact, Sam notices then, there's a small crowd of passersby gathering near them, staring at Dean who seems larger than life. A monster, Sam remembers. He'd forgotten for one awesome minute that this isn't Dean, but now the fact hits him like a suckerpunch.
"Great. Just great," Dean says. "I'm out of here."
"Wha—" Sam says, struggling to his knees. The world tilts as the crowd parts to let his brother's body walk away, leaving Sam with one knee in a puddle, a rude return to reality.
He wants to yell after this version of Dean, this doppelganger, and only just resists the urge. He watches instead, craning his neck to see around people gathering, until Dean's form melts into the mouth of an alleyway.
A man steps directly into Sam's line of sight, drawing his attention. "Mind explaining yourself, son?" He's red in the face as he growls, "You could be arrested for that sort of stalking."
Sam gets to his feet and the guy backs down as Sam's height makes itself known.
"No, Dean Smith punched a kid," a woman tells the guy viciously. "This young man here is a hero for standing up to him."
"Yeah, just because he's famous doesn't mean he can just attack anyone in broad daylight, too!" says another woman.
"Abuse of power!" someone agrees. "Wish I'd gotten his autograph, though."
"Look, he didn't attack anyone, this is all a misunderstanding," Sam tells them. He's uncertain why he's trying to defend him, except through force of long habit.
"But was that actually him? The Dean Smith?"
"Sure looked like 'im."
"It was," swears a young guy in a wistful tone. "I'd recognize those emerald eyes anywhere."
The crowd murmurs to one another, as Sam notices the stolen magazine lying folded on the concrete. He considers it, squinting down at the cover featuring two women in heavy eyeliner french kissing. It's the goth porn.
Feeling sudden determination, Sam says, "Excuse me," to no one in particular. "I need to go have a word."
And suddenly he feels like the world is real again, like he's snapped out of whatever thrall of shock seeing Dean had caused.
"Dean Smith," murmurs someone behind him. "Pinch me."
Sam strides away.
His heart picks up with each step and by the time he's gotten past the considerable crowd, he's jogging. There's hope in his heart suddenly. The feel of Dean's shoulder, the breadth of that goddamn smile— He lets himself believe for one second more that it might be his brother.
But when Sam reaches the alleyway, there's only empty paper cups littering the ground and an overturned trashcan with goop dribbling off its rim. Nothing else. Like a bad dream that continues when you open your eyes, Dean has disappeared.
Sam closes up shop half an hour early, four o'clock and to hell with the consequences. He needs tonight for research and now that he knows Dean is in town and attracting a crowd, finding him should be easy. Sam will wake up bright and early tomorrow to begin the hunt.
His roommate is barely clad, making out with a girl on the threadbare living room rug when Sam gets the door to his apartment open. This is not one of the perks of Sam's living situation.
"Jesus, Greg," he says, shielding his eyes and stepping into the bathroom. He strips off and gets in under the hot spray of the shower.
When he emerges five minutes later, hoping the coast is clear, he finds Greg and the girl sitting upright on the couch instead, clothed now and holding mugs of coffee. He makes a beeline for the fridge, suddenly ravenous.
"I'm Penelope, nice to meet you," the girl calls over to him.
"Um," Sam says. "Sam. You, too."
"He's a guy I found on the street," Greg lies to her. "I've been giving him a place to stay."
"Well that's very charitable," she says, sounding like she doesn't believe him but is humoring him anyway. "Can we play video games now?"
"Hell yes we can."
Sam heats up the leftovers from last night and goes to sit in the one armchair with his laptop. They don't have a kitchen table, the place is too small.
Greg has turned on the TV but pauses instead of switching over to video games, his mouth dropping open.
"YET ANOTHER BRUTAL MURDER IN THE DETROIT METRO AREA." The headline scrolls across the screen. "VICTIM'S EYES COMPLETELY REMOVED AND BODY LEFT IN DUMPSTER."
"Ew," Greg says.
"Wait, wait, wait," Penelope hits his arm. "Keep it on. Look!"
The hum of the news grows louder as Greg turns up the volume. His voice is strange as he asks, "Sam?"
"What's up?" Sam says around a mouthful of broccoli.
Hesitantly, Greg says, "Did you by any chance...beat up renowned actor Dean Smith?"
Sam jerks his head up to see that the news is broadcasting the street outside The Crypt, a headline splashed across the screen reading, "ACTOR VIOLENTLY ASSAULTED," along with a picture of a man who is clearly Sam pressing Dean into the sidewalk in a compromising manner.
"Turn it up," Sam says.
The volume becomes audible just as the newscaster explains, "...just four hours ago, when a man came out of nowhere and tackled Hollywood's rising star Dean Smith to the ground. Dean Smith was the victor, and left the scene immediately. What is more, the quarrel seemed to be over this piece of pornography." The screen fills with a picture of the goth porn magazine, zooming to the two women, their tongues erotically entangled.
"Oh my god," Sam says, chewing his food robotically as the TV flashes a few choice pictures of Dean in tight tank tops and one with him looking coyly at the camera wearing only star-spangled boxers. "This confirms everything," Sam says. "My life is a joke."
"Neither Smith nor his attacker is available for comment," says the reporter. "Smith has not pressed charges...yet. The actor is in town shooting the American movie remake of Korean Drama My Love From the Stars, filming in our little northern slice of paradise until the end of the week, right in the heart of downtown."
Sam lets out an 'aha' so loud Penelope drops the game controller. Now Sam knows where to find him.
Penelope turns down the TV. "Are you ok? Did you really beat him up? And also, was he as good looking in person?"
"This is hilarious," Greg says. "You, obsessed with an actor. Did you at least buy him dinner first? What's his deal anyway?"
"It's a long story," Sam mutters. "I'll tell you when I find out myself."
He stays up until dawn scouring the internet for what little information there is on Dean Smith and watching the handful of movies Dean has been in. His rise to was quick, and Sam has to admit, this monster-posing-as-Dean is a good actor.
Sam will have to kill it, or be killed in the process - there's no other way this can go. Sam feels calmer now, the shock burnt off and his head in the game. It's not Dean. He thinks back on how there had been no flicker of recognition in Dean's eyes. Sam readies himself mentally to methodically slice and strip away layers of deception until he finds out the why and how and what happens next. He knows he should be feeling dread, some sort of unspeakable unease, but his blood is pumping and he feels almost...happy. Driven. He has a clear plan now and it feels good, being back on the hunt.
"Don't beat anyone up, you big bully," Greg calls after him as he heads out the next morning.
"I can't promise that," Sam says, and leaves the suffocating warmth of his apartment.
The Crypt is not far from where the movie is shooting. Sam thinks back on the good times he and Dean shared, and the bad. He passes small homes with scrawny cats sunning themselves on the uneven slats of porches, and then tall buildings where hot dog stands rejoice at the crowds the movie filming has created.
On the street five blocks over, he finds them. It's a zoo of film trucks and frenetic activity, and he jogs closer and crowds up against the caution tape that he's familiar with through a million crime scenes.
He cranes his neck to see if he can spot a familiar face, right along with all the other onlookers. There's a handful of fake pedestrians waiting for their cue, fake trees are being carefully placed amongst the sidewalk's real ones, lights are set up and taken down by burly crew members, and in the middle of it all, Dean, who is patiently sitting while his cheeks are dusted with blush by a makeup artist.
It's a chilling sight, a monster in Dean's skin in broad daylight. But he won't be going anywhere any time soon, so Sam allows himself to relax a little. It's like double vision — having Dean in his line of vision is calming and right, but it's all a lie. Sam fingers the vial of holy water in his jacket pocket alongside his phone and the handle of the small, silver blade, and exhales.
They're filming a sidewalk-argument scene, so Sam gets to hear his brother's voice again. And it's eleven o'clock when the shoot breaks for lunch. Dean ducks out after signing a couple autographs, and to Sam's luck, leaves the set.
Rounding a corner two blocks east, Dean ducks into a place Sam often grabs lunch. It's perfect coincidence. In better days, Sam might assume Dean was leading him there. But now it's pure luck.
Thinking quickly, Sam grabs a half-full styrofoam cup of coffee off an outside table and dumps holy water into it. Then, he lurks.
Dean comes out with a paper bag under one arm. Sam steps out at the right moment and knocks into him.
The collision is needlessly dramatic. Dean trips backwards and hits a lamp post while Sam's coffee goes flying. The lid pops off, the cup flings into the air and does a slow-motion nose dive while the tepid coffee arches and spills down Dean's white shirtfront.
There's no smoking of flesh, Dean doesn't hiss or flinch back in pain. Not a demon then.
Instead, he just stands there in abject rage.
"Oh shit! I am so—" Sam yelps.
Dean's voice quivers as he sees just who he's run into. "You," he says.
Sam makes movements to soak up the coffee with the sleeve of his hoodie, but predictably achieves nothing. "It's soaking through your—" very sheer. "—t-shirt,"
"This shirt was—"
"Five hundred dollars?" Sam guesses.
"—a present," Dean finishes giving Sam an unimpressed look.
"Sorry," Sam repeats. He looks him over, taking in the Rolex and fancy shoes. Dean would laugh if he could see himself now.
"Dude," Dean says. "Who even are you?"
"Great," Dean says, flatly. "That's not what I meant."
Sam knows what he has to do, and he sees the best way to do it.
When he smiles, it feels wrong on his face. "Let me at least make it up to you," he says. "Come on. I have a ton of other shirts at my place."
Dean slides his sunglasses up into his hair just to roll his eyes at him.
Sam rolls his eyes back. "I mean, obviously I have shirts at my place."
Dean thinks about it. "Close?"
"Yeah, super close. Like three blocks." It's a lie, but not a big one.
"Fine. If it'll get you to shut up. I have to get to work in—" Dean checks the watch. "Great, twenty-five short minutes. Where to?"
They take a cab. The ride itself is fine, but then Dean tries to pay with a fifty as they pull up to the curb of Sam's street. The cab driver takes one look at him and goes red and says the ride's on him this time.
Nothing in life is free, not for them. Sam begins to laugh, maybe an edge hysterically, until Dean puts a hand on his shoulder, at which point Sam's skin begins to crawl.
"Bye, Mr. Smith," the cab driver says, and Dean nods like that's a name he's grown up with.
It's unnerving to say the least. They mount the stairs to Sam's apartment, and Sam tries the key first, jiggling the handle.
Dean lets out a low whistle. "You do live here, right? You're not planning on dumping my body in some abandoned building?"
"Dude, I'm not even a fan of your stuff," he says. "No offence." He yanks the nail out of the wall and picks the lock.
Dean mutters, "I'm not even going to ask."
Sam waves to the open door. "After you."
But Dean says, "No, after you. I insist." Want to keep you in my line of sight so you don't go creepy stalker on me, hangs unspoken in the air.
The TV is on when they step inside, buzzing faintly, but the living room is empty. For the first time Sam notices that the apartment smells a lot like spilled beer.
Sam refuses to give Dean the tour, he's not Sam's brother after all and the sooner he can figure out what Dean is, the better. He hustles Dean into his small bedroom, slamming the door behind them in case his roommate is anywhere on the premises.
"So," Dean says, turning in place. He takes in the walls which are rough but scrubbed clean and Sam's modest belongings.
"So," Sam agrees. He points Dean to the line of t-shirts of various blues, greys, and whites, starkly hung in the closet in a regimented line. "Any of those."
While Dean's back is turned, he fingers the blade in his pocket. When Dean has the t-shirt over his head, he decides, he'll be able to see if silver has any effect.
Dean throws him a look, and Sam realizes he's staring as if waiting for Dean, the celebrity, to get naked. Half-naked.
"Oh," Sam says, but Dean shakes his head and strips off his shirt without a word. The fabric is so thin that he's able to ball it into his pocket.
Sam waits. But instead of taking a new shirt, Dean wanders Sam's room. Shirtless. He still has the sculpted features of a minor god and those freckles that dust his shoulders that Sam remembers wanting to lick in his teenage years.
He catches sight of Dean's tattoo as he continues the circuit, the lines of ink ripped by a white scar from where Abaddon had taken his protection from him years back.
"Oh, this?" Dean says, apparently catching the look.
Sam shakes his head. "You don't have to explain anything to me."
Dean snorts, a joke only he thinks is funny. He pauses at the window, looking out at the broken street below. "I wouldn't be able to explain it anyway."
"I don't remember."
"What do you mean?"
Dean continues, turning to him. "I don't remember how any of it happened."
It's said simply. Sam can't think of any reason a monster would deliver this lie, and can't imagine why Dean himself would have said it either.
"The tattoo?" Sam asks. "Or the scar?"
"All of it." Dean looks untroubled. "Don't remember much of anything past, hell, two years ago? Just woke up in a garden one day, and had to make my life up from there."
"A garden?" Sam can't breathe for a moment, hope stirring even though the disappointment is probably going to kill him. "When? Like, what month?"
"Uh," Dean says. "May? Ish? 2016."
It can't be true. And yet. The last time Sam saw his brother was when Dean was on his way to take on Amara, to sacrifice his life.
Sam has taken his hand from the knife in his pocket, has forgotten the plan altogether. "So you're saying you have...what?" He laughs at the thought of it, although it's not at all a funny one. "Amnesia?"
Dean shrugs. "Call it what you want."
It's not what a monster would say.
"I just—" Dean makes a vague gesture. "Woke up. In the garden. Blazing headache, eyes aching. No ID, no car, no nothing."
It fits into place, the details of it. Something had gone down with God and Amara and Dean had never returned. Cas and Billie had told him that Dean was gone, and he'd believed them
Sam, embarrassingly, feels his eyes well up. He shouldn't believe this. But what purpose would lying like this serve? And if it's true...well, the idea is too much to bear.
"Oh yeah?" is all he can say.
Dean stops wandering the room at Sam's bed, a single mattress on the floor.
He drops on one knee and Sam has the impression that he's going to drop to the pillows and sleep. But instead it's to retrieve a worn and comfortable black shirt that Sam has slept with for a number of nights, maybe months. He stands again and tugs it on.
It's one of Dean's own of course. He looks down and tugs on the front. "Huh, it fits."
If the story is true, and somehow Sam thinks it might be, This is Dean. Sam wants to believe that it is.
"Earth to Sam?"
"Here, there's a scratchy tag in that one, let me cut it out." Dean turns and Sam comes up close behind him, pretending the find the tag by his neck but really just laying the silver blade against skin for a few seconds. There's no reaction on Dean's part, just a shiver that runs through him at the proximity.
Sam breathes out.
"Hey, what's all this?" Dean's turned so he's staring directly at the bulletin board over the small desk. The board is pretty much empty — no yellowed scraps of articles ripped from papers, no red string connecting seemingly disconnected murders — there hadn't been any strings to grasp at. It had been squeaky clean, case closed.
The board is empty save one, heartbreaking photo of Dean himself. He's looking away, off frame at something. It's one Sam retrieved from the trunk to take with him before locking all the rest away.
"Uh," Sam flounders.
Dean taps it with a finger, then turns on Sam. "Not a fan, huh?"
Sam blinks. "I can explain."
Dean, regardless of whether he is Sam's brother, is currently a stranger. He spares the bulletin board another pitying glance and says, "Get a life, Sam."
He leaves the room in his old t-shirt, and Sam follows him to the front door at at a reluctant pace, head spinning.
"Dean," he says. "Hold up."
Dean turns, his hand on the knob.
He looks so much like himself right now. And if Sam lets him go, he has a feeling Dean isn't coming back.
If what Dean says is true, then he woke up to a blank slate and had to create himself from there. And now he has a life. No more living at the very edge of humanity where civilization meets desperation, but a new one — one of tall buildings, of paychecks with multiple zeros, and more booze than any person can drink.
Dean still hasn't opened the door.
"Are you happy?" Sam blurts out.
Dean laughs. "What?"
Sam swallows hard, and pushes on past the derisive smirk on Dean's unchanged face. "With your life. As an actor and all that. Are you happy?"
Dean chews his lip, like he might be giving it actual thought before he answers.
"Sure, it's pretty great."
"Just pretty great?"
Dean shrugs. "I've got a job, a shit ton of money. And after waking up with no memory, in thrift store jeans in a hedge with security guards dragging me off private property, I'd say I'm doing really great actually."
"I dunno. I like to imagine whoever I used to be would be proud to see how far I've come," Dean says. "Odds against me and I've built paradise out of nothing."
Sam nods silently.
Dean peers at him. "You okay, man?"
"It's nothing." Sam's heart aches. Happy is all he's ever wanted for Dean.
"Well," Dean says, when it's clear Sam's not going to continue. He gives him a salute. "See you around...Sam."
The click of the door, the buzz of the TV and the silence of Sam's thoughts. Sam leans heavily against the wall, the weight of the world settling on his shoulders.
"Dammit," he whispers. His breath comes out shakily. "God dammit."
He'd left Dean for dead, alone. And without the memories of his previous life, Dean's now able to live freely, to smile without the edge that used to color everything. He's finally been dealt a new hand, and there's no way in hell Sam will take that away from him.
When the door clicks open again, Sam head snaps up. Dean steps inside and Sam grins. For a moment the expression is so Dean's, he's sure that he remembers everything. Maybe seeing Sam broke through and everything came pouring back.
"Sunglasses," Dean says, retrieving them from the bookshelf by the door.
Sam laughs. "Who wears sunglasses in the winter, anyway?"
Dean gives Sam another look, one that's long and considering. One that stops at Sam's mouth.
Before Sam can interpret that look, Dean steps into his space and explains it for him.
A kiss. Dean tugs him forward roughly but his mouth gentles the moment Sam gives back. His hand is firm along the side of Sam's jaw, his mouth parted against Sam's own.
But then Dean pulls back first, smiling. It's not a mean smile, or mocking as Sam would expect from him. It's just he looks untroubled, the smile foreign on his face.
"Wow, ok," Sam says. He is so out of his element. This wasn't a part of his plan when he woke up this morning...but really it wasn't not a part of his plan, so.
Dean quirks an eyebrow. "Just ok?"
"Uh," Sam says aware his face is flushed.
If he fixes Dean's memory, his brother is going to kill him for this.
Dean looks smug. And again, happy.
"You're welcome," Dean says, and when the door clicks shut this time, it doesn't reopen.
Sam stays. He stays there as Dean leaves his apartment to return to the movie set, and the next day and the following, and as Dean leaves the city for more exotic locales.
He stays in Detroit for months and doesn't follow.
Scratch everything else, this is the hardest decision of his life. Dean was dead for years, but the real terror starts now. It's worse than Sam could have imagined.