Title: The Boy Made Of Paper
Rating: PG (Language and adult themes)
Summary: Josh used to be someone else, he just has no idea who.
He's staring at the walls again.
The beige wall of his new bedroom has four bold stripes of color on it. There's navy blue, egg yellow, a mint green and a dark red. He's pretty sure he's not partial to the yellow but the other three he's not entirely sure.
It's a little frustrating not knowing what your favorite color is.
Josh knows that he could've lost a lot more essential memories. He woke from an accident in a hospital bed without his name or any idea what had happened to him but he still knew basic things like how to tie his shoes. He could read, more than one language apparently, and write, cook a mean leftover surprise and make most cocktails which had the nurses at the hospital speculating about his previous career.
Essential, day to day things had stayed in his brain but everything else...
Josh sighs, knowing that he's not going to resolve the paint dilemma any time soon. He's been staring at the same four colors for three days now, sleeping on a couch in the small living room because he hasn't put the bed together yet. He can't until the walls are done, just a tiny detail that's stumping him completely. Josh walks through the mostly empty house, trailing his fingers against other beige walls until he hits the fly screen door at the front that he pushes through out into the dying light of the day. The sun is setting, taking with it the oppressive heat of earlier. A light breeze has picked up and Josh turns in its direction for a moment with his eyes closed. He grips the splintered porch railing in his hands and lets his mind drift.
Josh opens his eyes after a little while, surveying the small neighborhood he's found himself in. The house he's in is pretty rundown, a classic fixer-upper with an overgrown lawn in the front and missing roof shingles. The rest of the places on the street are pretty nice though, containing mostly younger families and older people. Josh had liked the quiet and the rent was a song because he'd agreed to do as much work on the house as he was able.
He had callouses on his hands so he figured he'd been pretty handy at some point and he was hoping it would come back to him.
Josh sees kids playing on the front yard opposite and as his eyes settle on them, a boy and girl who look similar in age, their mother appears at her own front door and calls them in for dinner. Josh's gaze drifts but most of the other places stand quiet, all except the house diagonally opposite. There's a young guy, maybe older than Josh by only the barest inch, who's set on his own porch railing with a beer in hand and an cooler at his feet. Josh licks his lips unconsciously because beer is something he actually remembers liking and he's waiting for his fridge which will be delivered next week.
The guy spies him looking and leans down to dip into the cooler that he knocks open with one foot. When he folds upright again he's got a bottle in each hand and he waggles the one in the right. Josh looks about for a second, checking that he is truly the only one outside his house and therefore the recipient of the silent invitation before stepping down off his porch and making his way over. The last light of the day disappears as he crosses the road and the streetlights blink on, throwing Josh's shadow from in front to behind him.
"Uh, hi," Josh says, hesitating when he has a foot on the bottom stair leading up to the guy's house. His hand automatically drifts up to pass over his head, a habit he's picked up when meeting new people. The nurses told him when he was brought in he'd had longer hair but because of the head wound, they'd had to shave most of it off. It's only now growing back in, enough that the ugly scar that curls like a bracket over his ear is barely noticeable but he's still self-conscious about it.
"Hey, new guy right?" the guy hazards, holding his spare beer out, far enough out of Josh's reach that he has to come all the way up the stairs to retrieve it.
"Yeah, Josh," Josh introduces himself. It's still weird to say the name, one given to him barely two months ago. It's never really sat right and if he never remembers anything else, he would like to at least remember that.
Something tightens in the guy's face but is gone just as quickly and he holds out his free hand and says, "Dean."
"You escapin' the family out here, all alone with your cooler full of beer?" Josh asks.
"Nah, on my own," Dean dismisses. "How about you?"
"I just moved in and the house is pretty empty so..." Josh makes a helpless gesture with his beer hand and manages to slop some on his wrist. He grins wryly as he puts his wrist up to his face and licks at the escaped beer and Dean's eyes track the movement.
"Glad to have you then," Dean says. "It's all tykes and geriatrics around here."
"I noticed," Josh says with a nod and looks back out onto the street, leaning a hip against Dean's porch railing which is in much better repair than his own, actually looks almost new. He risks sliding his eyes sideways and looks at Dean's profile. Dean's a broad guy, something about him sunken down right into the earth but he has an almost classically pretty face in contrast. As he watches, Dean tips his head back and drains the last of the bottle he was working on. He then burps long and lustily, throwing out a hand like he's greeting an audience and Josh almost snorts beer through his nose when he laughs.
He can read, but he doesn't remember anything he's actually read so Josh is a little frozen with sheer choice when he stands in the library with his newly issued card.
He's pretty sure he's an avid reader, something about the books making his heart thump in a pleasant way and he supposes in a small way he's lucky. Lots of people would love to get the chance to read their favorite books for the first time again. The librarian eyes him like she's weighing up whether to be suspicious or not but her face melts into a pleasant smile when Josh grins at her. He has the kind of dimples that disarm and one of the nurses had actually stuck her thumb in one and told him to use them for good instead of evil.
He's been lost in the stacks for about two hours, arms loaded down and chin holding a precariously placed book on top of his stack when he hears behind him,
"How'd I know I'd find you here?"
Josh turns carefully and then juggles his pile awkwardly when Dean relieves him of the top couple. "Oh hey," he greets.
"Y'know, this place is a library. You have to leave some books behind for other people."
"Har har," Josh sighs, rolling his eyes and setting his pile down on a nearby table carefully. "I just... can't decide."
Dean leans across and fingers through the stack, pulling a face that Josh can't read. "Pretty eclectic taste you have," Dean notes.
"I'm just not sure what I... like," Josh says, hoping he doesn't sound as lame as he feels to say that. The first couple of people he'd met after the accident, he'd told them about his condition and they'd all started treating him differently, carefully. For some reason, he didn't want Dean to do that so he kept quiet, resigning himself to the fact that Dean was just going to think he was odd.
Dean plucks the library card off the top of Josh's stack and his eyebrows go up. "Josh... Tree?" he asks in that incredulous way that Josh has been getting used to. "That the best they could come up with?"
"Who?" Josh asks, something cold thrilling through him.
Dean just blinks at him and shrugs. "Y'know, your parents?" he says and Josh relaxes. "Joshua Tree," he snorts.
"It's... Josh," Josh reiterates, not knowing why he does or why the argument feels like an old one, familiar like nothing else in his life currently does.
There's something in Dean's face Josh can't read but he's starting to realise that he wants to, wants to know all of Dean's expressions. He feels familiar and Josh has missed that, the novelty of everything being new wearing off very quickly.
"Yeah, of course. Sorry," Dean says.
He tries food warily, like a kid. His taste buds are a minefield of undiscovered pleasurable and disgusting sensations. One thing that took a while to figure out was how he liked his coffee. Josh tried to drink it black, stubbornly believing he would get used to it but eventually he gave in and ended up discovering that loaded with sugar, cream and a dash of hazelnut was the way to go.
He still feels slightly embarrassed when he orders it and he doesn't exactly know why.
"So, if you mind me asking then just tell me to mind my own business," Dean begins. He's helping Josh replace the rotted porch railing because what Josh was hoping was true, he'd replaced his own not too long ago. "What happened to you?"
When Dean asks, he taps at his head, just behind his ear and Josh knows what he's asking about. The hair's still recovering and a clump of it around the scar is coming back white. "Don't know," Josh says with a shrug.
"You don't remember what caused that?" Dean asks but he doesn't sound incredulous like so many people do. He just sounds curious and a little sad.
"I don't remember much," Josh admits and then takes a breath. "I have amnesia."
Josh grimaces, waiting for the look of pity or worse, the laughter which on occasion also happens. Dean doesn't do either of those things. Instead he blows out a breath of his own, raises his eyebrows and says, "Well, that's very Days Of Our Lives of you."
Josh lets out a surprised bark of laughter and jostles Dean with a shoulder. "Shut up."
"Seriously, what kinds of things don't you remember?" Dean asks and again, even though usually Josh shies away from people asking questions, he knows that Dean is only curious and probably wouldn't mind if Josh were to close the subject without explanation. He doesn't feel pressure to lay out his story, just feels like Dean is offering to listen which Josh hasn't had in a long time.
"The doctors didn't know what to make of it. I retained a lot of day to day stuff but I have no idea where I'm from, if I have a family somewhere or even my name," Josh explains.
"Josh isn't your name?" Dean asks and again he has that funny tightness to his face that Josh thinks he really needs to figure out.
"No, not originally."
"Damn curse," Dean mutters and Josh frowns.
"It must... feel like a curse, not knowing who you are," Dean says but he's looking away and for some reason, Josh knows that that isn't what he meant at all. He doesn't really know how to press Dean though so he just shrugs.
"I can't remember what it felt like to know so... " Josh makes a what can I do gesture with his hands.
"No missing person reports?" Dean asks.
"Nup. Maybe no one's missing me," Josh says and hopes his tone doesn't sound as strangled to Dean as it does to his own ears. This was really the only thing that still hurt, how no one had ever come forward to claim him. Josh felt like a stray dog at the pound when he was at the hospital, wagging its tail and looking hopeful every time a new family came through the door, but they were never there for him.
"I'm sure that's not true," Dean says, almost too sharply and Josh eyes him. Dean's gaze darts away but his skin flushes and Josh can't help but smile.
Josh isn't exactly planning to kiss Dean but Dean is standing in his kitchen, he's just opened two beers with his silver ring and passed the first one over and Josh kind of lurches forward, pretty much hitting Dean with his lips.
It's awkward and bad, Dean makes a high-pitched squeak that would be hilarious in any other circumstance and it's also the best thing Josh has ever done. He tries to relax into the kiss so he isn't still pretty much mashing his face into Dean's but Dean is suddenly sliding sideways and away and Josh wonders if he miscalculated horribly.
Josh steps back to allow Dean his escape and then looks at Dean's expression, which is a strange mix of anxious, turned on and horrified all at once. "Sorry I didn't-"
"No, it's really-"
"I wouldn't have-"
"I mean I-"
They both stop talking at once and look at each other for a beat while they set aside their beers. Dean makes a go on gesture with his hand. "I'm sorry, did I really read this wrong?" Josh asks finally.
Dean winces and rubs at the back of his neck. "You just... caught me by surprise is all," Dean says and even though his words are neutral, his tone isn't. Josh has visions of Dean basically disappearing out of his life, of them becoming neighbors only, nodding to each other if they both happen to go out for the paper at the same time and neither of them talking about this ever again.
Josh doesn't like that scenario at all.
"If you're not... I didn't mean to... fuck." Josh sighs, looking at his shoes. "How about we forget this ever happened?" he proposes eventually.
"I don't want to do that," Dean says and Josh looks at him. Dean's face is giving nothing away but he's fidgeting, tearing at the nails of one hand with the fingers of the other. "I... really don't want to do that."
"What's with the..." Josh holds up his hands and flails them while making an exaggerated silent screaming face and Dean rolls his eyes.
"I didn't do that," he snorts.
"Wasn't far off," Josh disagrees.
"It's just... you're not really you, right?"
Josh feels cold all over. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I don't want to..." Dean casts about for a moment, grimacing. "I don't want to take advantage."
Josh blinks for a moment. "Are you kidding me?" he asks, feeling exasperated and wondering whether he should be getting angry.
"I'm not explaining it right. You've just... you're not all there and-"
"Oh, right!" Josh snarls, leaning into Dean's space with his top lip curling up. "You're worried about seducing the poor, unfortunate, mentally deficient boy."
"No!" Dean says, putting his hands up. They skip through the air for a moment like he's not sure what to do with them. "Fuck, I don't... Did you ever stop to think that maybe you might wake up tomorrow remembering who you are and you might not want this?"
Josh tilts away from Dean, studying him for a second. Dean is looking apprehensive and maybe just the tiniest bit hopeful. Josh again starts feeling cold all over, goose-flesh breaking out on his arms and raising the fine hairs on his neck. There is suddenly certainty that Dean knows something, that their initial meeting wasn't by chance. "Why?" Josh asks slowly. "What do you know?"
Dean's face freezes, expression grim. "You don't want to ask me that," he says slowly.
"Dean, I feel like I'm half a person. If you know something than you have to tell me."
"No, I really don't have to."
"You don't?" Josh practically screeches, throwing his arms up in the air.
"No I don't," Dean repeats, tone firming as he speaks. "I'm going to ask you to do something that you have no reason to do and that's to trust me. That deep down, somewhere you... wanted things this way."
"I..." Josh is at a loss. The whole conversation they're having is so far from the land of sane that he can't even fathom it. Nobody chooses to lose themselves this way, to have amnesia.
"I did everything you wanted me to even though I hated it all," Dean continues and then huffs a mirthless laugh. "Well, okay, except one thing. I was supposed to stay away."
Josh retreats until he's up against the fridge, jaunty little magnets poking him in the back. He rubs a hand over his face and then twists both in the bottom of his shirt. Dean is biting his lip and then reaches behind himself. There's a rustle of paper and then an envelope that's mashed and stained bumps gently against Josh's nose.
"I know it's horribly cliche, but you wrote yourself a letter," Dean says. He's stretched across the kitchen, holding the envelope across to Josh without having had to re-invade Josh's space.
"Why does it look like it's been in the trash?" Josh asks, hand drifting up but not taking the envelope just yet.
"Because I threw it out," Dean admits, sounding sheepish. "A couple of times." He waggles the envelope and Josh finally takes it from him. "But you said just in case you or I were going to be hurt, if it was really necessary then I needed to give it to you."
"This is going to tell me who I am?" Josh asks. He holds the envelope up, tilts it from side to side like it could spill its mysteries without Josh having to commit to opening the damn thing. "This is me?"
"I guess so. I don't actually know what it says."
Josh grasps the envelope and it crumples in his fist. It folds down easily, creased and re-creased and he knows that Dean's balled it into a projectile to toss away numerous times. "Does this change everything?" Josh asks. "Does this change us?"
"It only changes what you know. Nothing else."
"I gotta think about this," Josh says and Dean nods, only pausing on his way out of the kitchen long enough to tip his abandoned beer down the sink. "Don't..." Josh starts and Dean hesitates in the doorway. "Just don't disappear, okay?"
"I'm not going anywhere," Dean says.
By the end of the letter, his name is Sam.
Dean comes out onto his porch to find Sam sitting on one of his two beat-up recliners. He sits, hands clenched into fists and resting on his knees which are jigging restlessly up and down. After a long silence, he asks, "You read it?"
Sam looks at him for a beat. He'd written out the note himself again long hand even though deep-down he'd known it wasn't a forgery. He checked because he was starting to realise he was a cautious type, a measure twice and cut once kind of guy. Sam sighs heavily before speaking.
"Apparently I like being cryptic, even when I'm writing a letter to myself."
Dean's lips twitch but the worry doesn't leave his eyes. Sam's left wondering just what Dean thinks would be in the letter, what about them and their past would make him so tightly wound, like he's waiting for Sam to punch his lights out. "I thought maybe reading this would open the flood gates, make me remember but it doesn't say much of anything."
"What's it say about me?" Dean asks, trying to sound casual about it but his voice goes up into an unnaturally high register at the end of his sentence that betrays his concern.
"Just that you're a dumbass who apparently risks his life for me on a regular basis. Who I can trust with my life," Sam says.
Dean frowns. "What about our... relationship?" Dean asks slowly, waving a hand in the air between them.
"Nothing much," Sam says. "I mean, there must've been one if the hot swoopy feeling in my stomach is any indication every time I look at you," Sam adds with a grin but his smile falters when Dean doesn't look happy.
"What, seriously?" he asks.
"I thought the whole trusting you with my life thing was a pretty stellar review," Sam says and reaches forward to put a hand over Dean's fist on his still thump-umping knee. The leg stills under his touch and Dean unclenches his hand and turns it palm-up so their fingers can link together. "There's nothing else to know," Sam dismisses and he's looking at Dean steadily.
Dean kind of lurches forward, grasping Sam's face in his hands and smashing their lips together. It's about as indelicate as their first kiss but this time they get to align properly, gentle down some and turn desperately bad into desperately good. They both nearly topple sideways when Dean leans forward more and break apart, laughing. "So, can I see this letter that says how cool I am?" Dean asks.
"Nope. Burnt it," Sam says and Dean's eyes narrow for a moment before his expression clears and he's smiling again.
"Okay Sammy," he says and yanks Sam onto his feet by their still joined hands. "So, how about we stop giving the neighbors a free show?"