Learning to walk was a pain in the ass. Especially at Dean’s age. Especially
with a horde of mother hens hovering over every movement.
More and more that was Buffy and Willow, and less Sam, though, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out why. Dean was doing his best to throttle any mannerisms surfacing from Liam, but hell, they were older than most of his
behaviors, ingrained way
There. Ingrained, for fuck’s sake. Sam had no idea how lucky he was that Dean didn’t sound like he’d swallowed a dictionary. He was training himself to rehearse things before he said them, all in the name of not freaking Sammy out, but it’d take time to become habit. Most of the time, he managed. The things tripping him up were subconscious, too deep for him to recognize. He needed Sam around to help remind him of who he was, of who Dean
was, because Buffy and Willow didn’t know him well enough, but every slip-up made Sam back away a little bit more.
And sometimes, he’d look at Sam, and the reaction he throttled was violent hatred, Liam’s vengeful urge to reach over, borrow Dean’s knowledge of combat, and rip Alex apart with his bare hands.
But he wasn’t
Alex. He was Sammy
God. What a mess.
It wasn’t Sam’s fault. He couldn’t help that he and Alex had the same eyes. He couldn’t know that the legendary Sam Winchester Patented Puppy Dog Eyes were a large part of how Alex had manipulated everyone. He’d just looked
innocent, and while that shouldn’t have counted for much in a household of Slayers and witches and Watchers, people who knew how innocent evil could look, it had.
Dean set tonight’s light reading aside. He’d have to remember to put it back on the shelf before everybody woke up. Sammy would have a heart attack if he caught Dean reading books without pictures. For fun.
Dean knew exactly who to blame that on: Liam. God knew he’d
never had the desire to read his way through a recuperation before, even when he was in school and should have been catching up on his homework. And all those books had been in English
. Three months ago, he hadn’t known any German beyond gesundheit
. But no, his—alter ego? that sounded like a good, if comic-bookish, name for Liam—was a language freak. Dean could barely get through a standard exorcism without consulting the book, but Liam? He could probably banish the Pope
to hell. From memory.
He sighed, threw back the blankets, wrestled on his new bathrobe, and pulled himself up, using the walker as a support. He hated the damned thing, but even he had to admit that his legs were still too weak to hold him up without help, and he needed the two-sided support of a walker instead of a slightly more dignified cane. At least at this hour, Sam wasn’t hovering like a second shadow. Hopefully, he was with Kellie, having a good roll in the hay.
Priss stretched, digging her claws into the pillow he’d designated as hers, and hopped down from the bed to accompany him. He’d complain, but it wouldn’t do any good—bloody cat was as—Son of a
bitch, I did
not just use
bloody as a curse word. Christ, Liam, what are you doing to my head?
“You’re as clingy as Sam,” he told her, and put the book into the basket hooked over the top bar. She hopped in on top of it. “Were you a lap dog in your last life?” he asked, and she gave him another happy mrow
. He didn’t understand why Sam didn’t like her; she was as affectionate as a puppy and not as noisy. She wasn’t much like a cat at all, come to think of it.
He returned the book to its shelf, and followed his nose to the kitchen. Willow was baking cookies. Dean didn’t have to look; the batch she was stirring was chocolate chip, the ones in the oven were peanut butter, and the third batch, cooling on racks, was oatmeal. That was the order she always made cookies.
There were no words for how much knowing that freaked him out.
She glanced up at him. “Up late?”
“I—” He stopped, not sure exactly how to word this.
She brushed hair out of her face, getting a smudge of flour on her nose. For a second, he saw her standing in an antique-looking kitchen, swearing about the shortcomings of British grocery stores, and it seemed she was a lot taller than him. Then it was gone, and the kitchen was cozy and modern, and he was taller again. “You okay, Dean?”
He levered himself into a chair, and moved the walker so that Priss couldn’t “accidentally” get into the cookie dough bowl. “Practicing walking,” he lied—well, not exactly lied
, it just wasn’t the only reason why he was in here. “And—”
“Cookie dough?” She held out a spoonful.
Two flashes of memory collided in his head: Willow in that antique kitchen, Mom in the kitchen he remembered so well, both offering raw cookie dough on a spoon. He flinched away, trying to straighten out the mess in his mind.
He accepted the spoon. “It’s—just a memory.” Ha. Just
“Liam’s or yours?”
“Both. I think.” Could he still claim his memories of Mom? Were they really his? “Why do
I have both of them? Why me and—and him?”
“Because I had to use Liam’s memories to make yours,” she answered matter-of-factly, but she didn’t meet his eyes as she stirred more chocolate chips into the dough. “Sam didn’t need memories. He was too young. But you came out of the spell six years old, and six-year-olds remember things. The only way to make them real enough for you to function was to use your—I mean, Liam’s—memories, and overlay them with things I took out of John’s.”
“Is there any way to fix it?”
She gave him a sideways look that both
sets of memories told him meant bad news. “Do you want
to forget Mary?” she asked softly.
” That came out more viciously than he intended.
“That’s why. You’d remember remembering her, if that makes any sense, but the actual memories would be gone. And I don’t know what that would do to you.”
“So....” He absently ate cookie dough. “There’s no way to fix this.”
“Not that won’t hurt you.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that.” He took another taste of the cookie dough, and tried not to flinch at the barrage of conflicting memories. “It’s just—I—” He stopped, wondering if he should even try—but if he didn’t say this to someone.... “Sometimes I look at him, and I don’t see Sam. I see Alex. And—and—”
“I know,” she said, and before he could argue, she went on, “You think Alex didn’t hurt all
of us, Dean? What he did to Buffy— I didn’t see it at first, but when I knew you were Liam, and I looked— I could tell Sam was him. So could Buffy. It’s been hard while you were sick, trying to get to know Sam without letting Alex color things.” She half-smiled. “Buffy’s a little jealous of Kellie, I think. Kellie didn’t have the whole is-he-Alex-or-is-he-Sam thing to deal with. She can just accept him for who he is now.”
“And I can’t anymore.”
“You will. It’ll come together, Dean, you just have to give it some time.” She glanced at him as she started scooping dough onto a cookie sheet. “You eat that just like Liam did,” she said quietly, and turned away suddenly, as if she didn’t want him to see her eyes. The timer dinged, and she opened the oven to take the peanut butter cookies out.
“You take a mouthful, suck the dough off the chips, then hold the chips in your mouth until they melt. Liam….” She smiled. “He wandered into the kitchen sometimes, when I was engaged in—ah—therapeutic baking, and while I finished the cookies, he went on at length about the superiority of his cookie-dough-eating skills.”
Dean swallowed the mouthful of half-melted chocolate chips—not as melted as he’d like, but hey, she’d just told him all about his favorite way to eat raw cookie dough and it kinda freaked him out. “Well, it is the best method for chocolate chip.”
“Stubborn little—” She stopped, and gave him a sheepish smile. “Guess I can’t call you ‘little man’ anymore, huh?”
“Why did you call me that in the first
Willow chuckled. “Because you were the most solemn little guy. Happy, don’t get me wrong, but quiet. Bookish. You were a Giles in the making, which was fine, because you wanted
to be Giles. You idolized that man.”
He snagged another spoonful of dough. “Liam wanted to be a Watcher.”
She nodded, as if she wasn’t a bit surprised. “I started teasing Buffy that you were her little Giles, and that became ‘little man.’” She smiled again, a little sadly. “He tried not to show it, but he was ridiculously pleased with the whole thing. You were a son and a grandson and a nephew all in one.”
“And Alex wasn’t.”
“Alex was....harder to love.”
“I don’t know, Dean.” She slid the cookie sheet into the oven and turned back to him. This time he was sure: there were tears in her eyes. “I don’t have any answers for you. I wish I did. Because that would mean I had answers for me
. For Buffy. For all of us.”