February 26th, 2015

Walker in pink

The Time Traveler's Brother - Chapter One

The first time Old Sam visits, Dean is dying.

He's four years old, and it's two days after Halloween. His tummy is full of candy – Mommy let him eat a little too much after supper, then she gave him a bath with his baby brother sitting up in his little baby bath tub. Sammy can sit up on his own most of the time, and he's getting big and strong but he's still a baby and Dean can't wait till he's big enough to play with.

After bath-time, Mommy dresses him in his cozy flannel pajamas, then lets him help her diaper and dress Sammy and put him to bed before reading him a story. Story-time is Dean's favorite time of day, getting to curl up next to his mom on his parents' big bed as she reads to him, this time from the big book of Grimms' fairy tales. Tonight it's Hansel and Gretel, the classic story of siblings lost in the woods with only each other to rely on, and a menacing old witch to outwit.

Afterwards, Mommy lets Dean say goodnight to his baby brother, just like always. As he leans over the side of the crib to kiss his little brother he feels warm and happy inside, is somehow aware that this is the best thing ever, right here, right now.

"Goodnight, Sam," he says, and Baby Sammy gurgles happily back at him, trusting and content and already watching every move his big brother makes, already easily satisfied as long as Dean is in the room.

It's later, much later, when Dean is awakened by the sound of a voice, speaking urgently next to his ear.

"Wake up, Dean. Dean, wake up."

He's so soundly asleep that for a minute he thinks it's Daddy. But that's not quite right. The voice is familiar, comforting, and his sleep-blurred brain supplies a name that makes no sense because the voice is that of a grown man.

Nevertheless, the name in his head is what finally gets him to open his eyes, finding warm, hazel eyes gazing down into his, and for a split second he's absolutely convinced that the man sitting on the edge of his bed is his brother. Sam.

Then he smells smoke and his eyes widen with fear.

"You need to get up, Dean," the man – Old Sam, as Dean will later call him – is shaking him gently, his face a mask of concern and fatigue, sad and world-weary and wise and much, much older than Dean's baby brother, but somehow Dean knows. He just knows.

"Sam."

Old Sam nods, still frowning.

"Come on, Dean," he says urgently. "You need to get up. Now."

Dean climbs out of bed and opens the door of his room to a confusing scene. There's smoke pouring out of Baby Sammy's room, flickering light like firelight but it's dark and menacing, and Dean can feel his heart speed up. He's wide awake now, and when Daddy comes running out of Baby Sam's room with the baby wrapped in his blanket, Dean knows something terrible has happened.

"Take your brother outside as fast as you can and don't look back! Now, Dean, go!" Daddy orders, shoving the bundle into Dean's arms. Dean does exactly what his father asks, runs outside in his bare feet, stands looking up at the nursery window where the fire is erupting from the ceiling.

"It's okay, Sammy," Dean assures his brother, concentrates on holding tight, not dropping the little wiggling bundle despite the fact that he's shaking violently, as much with cold as with fear.

Then Daddy's running out the front door, sweeping him and Sam into his arms, running across the lawn as the nursery explodes, shattering the window, shattering Dean's life.

Later, after the firemen have dampened the flames, when the EMT has provides them with blankets and they're huddled on the hood of the Impala, Dean barely notices the tall, long-haired stranger standing among the crowd outside on the street, his hazel eyes fixed on the little boy who will one day grow into the man he loves more than life itself.

*

The next week Dean is climbing a chest of drawers to reach the huge, heavy TV set in the apartment where the Red Cross put them after the fire. He can feel the moment the thing starts teetering, realizes the huge heavy TV and the entire chest of drawers is about to fall over on top of him when he's suddenly snatched away by strong arms, crushed against a huge, powerful chest, saved from being smashed to death by a mountain man whose shoulders and back absorb the weight of the furniture like it's nothing.

Daddy comes running when he hears the crash, takes one look at the destruction and grabs Dean, hugging him silently as tears stream down his face.

Dean can smell the alcohol on his father's breath, looks over his shoulder, but Old Sam is gone.

*

Dean's sleeping in the back seat of the car two weeks later when he feels the car swerve, hears tires screeching, hears a deep male voice yell "Dad!" He opens his eyes just as Daddy is jerking awake at the wheel, just in time to see the huge, long-haired man in the passenger seat taking his hand off the wheel and disappear.

Daddy fights to control the car for a minute, then slows down, pulls over to the side of the road and stops the car, turning around in the seat to check on his sleeping sons.

"It's okay, Dad," Dean assures him. "We're okay."

It's a long time later when Dean thinks back to that night, realizes his dad was probably drinking, probably almost fell asleep at the wheel. It's years later when Dean realizes Old Sam probably saved their lives that night.

Again.

*

Dean is five years old the next time Old Sam visits.

It's dark, and Dean is curled up in his baby brother's crib, one hand on the baby's warm little chest, feeling his heart beat under his palm, watching the baby's little mouth work as if he's sucking something in his sleep.

There's a sound like the air shifting in the room – it's a sound Dean forever after associates with Old Sam's presence – and there he is.

Later Dean wonders why he wasn't frightened, but when he thinks back, all he feels about that moment is familiarity, like he's known Old Sam all his life, even though it's only the second or third time Dean's really ever seen him.

Old Sam is sitting in the big chair by the window, his face in shadow, just watching.

"Hey, Dean."

Even his voice is familiar, filling Dean with a sense of home and comfort.

Dean lifts his head, stares at the shadowy figure for a moment, wondering.

"Are you my guardian angel?"

Dean's mother had told him that angels were watching out for him, and Dean had believed her with all his heart and soul, even after she died. Maybe especially after, since Dean knew his mother would watch out for him from Heaven. He still believes it, even though Dad didn't agree when he said so.

"Did Mommy send you?" he asks.

Old Sam snorts, turns his head to look out the window, and now the light falls across his features and Dean can see he's old, receding hairline that's gone grey at the temples, lines on his face, his angular jaw grizzled with a day's growth of greying beard.

But his eyes are sharp and clear when he turns back and looks at the small boy sitting up in the crib next to his sleeping baby brother.

"Nope, not Mom," the old man says softly, nodding at the baby. "I'm him. Fifty-eight years in the future. I'm your brother."

And just like that, Dean knows it's true. He knows Old Sam is telling the truth. He knows that somehow this grizzled old man is, in fact, his little brother, the baby with the soft, damp curls and smooth skin who would someday grow into this sad-eyed, tired old guy in a flannel shirt and jeans.

"Why are you here?" Dean asks, and Old Sam smiles sadly.

"I don't know, Dean," he says softly. "I think it's because you need me."

Dean nods solemnly. It's true; he needs friends. Hasn't had one since Mom died and they left Lawrence, went on the road to find out more about what had happened to her. To get away from whatever killed her.

"Are you gonna stay with us?" Dean asks, and Old Sam shakes his head.

"I don't think so," he says, smiling a little. "I don't think Dad would go for that."

"Why?" Dean asks. "You're family. Daddy says family is the most important thing."

"That's true," Old Sam agrees, nodding. "But I'm already here. That baby is me. Grown-up me can't be here too."

"But..."

"It's okay," Old Sam assures him. "You'll be seeing me again, I promise. I'll always be around as you grow up, whenever you need me. Is that okay with you?"

"Okay," Dean agrees.

"Go to sleep now, Dean," Old Sam nods encouragingly, looking tired and in need of sleep himself. "You're safe now."

So Dean lays down and curls around his brother again, listening to Sammy's baby sucking noises and feeling his chest rise and fall beneath his hand, and soon he's drifting off to sleep, not even aware when Old Sam slips away.

*

It's another week before Dean sees Old Sam again.

This time Old Sam is younger. His hair is long and dark, pushed back from his handsome face, clean-shaven and without wrinkles. He's tall and strong-looking, but he stands hunched over a little, as if hoping he can be invisible, hands in the front pockets of his jeans.

He's the most beautiful thing Dean has ever seen. Dean is struck by that thought without even understanding it, caught staring at the stranger with his brother's eyes, his brother's distinctive beauty marks on his angular jaw.

They're in the playground at Pastor Jim’s school, full of running children and attending adults, but Dean sees Old Sam right away, standing alone at the edge of the yard, staring around with a puzzled frown.

Then his eyes meet Dean's and widen in surprise.

"Hi!" Dean puts his hand up in greeting, feeling shy.

He's already decided the other times were dreams, but now, seeing Old Sam here in broad daylight but different – now he knows for sure.

"Dean?" Old Sam's voice is different. Higher. Younger. Less sure of himself.

Dean nods, and Old Sam looks around, frowning.

"Where is this place?" he asks.

"It's my school," Dean explains.

"Yeah, but – I don't remember this," Old Sam says. "And you're so little."

Dean puffs out his chest, stands as tall as he can.

"I'm five years old," he says indignantly, and Old Sam's face softens a little.

"How do you know me?" Old Sam asks, puzzled. "Have I been here before?"

Dean nods solemnly, not even aware that the question should seem strange.

"Yeah, but you were old," Dean says. "You're my brother, all grown up."

"That's right," Old Sam nods, smiling a little. "So this must be Pastor Jim's school in Blue Earth, at the convent where Dad left us."

Dean nods gravely.

"Dad's on a hunting trip. He'll be back next week."

"I don't remember this place," Old Sam shakes his head a little sadly. "I was only three or four when we left. But you were happy here. The nuns took good care of us."

Dean nods enthusiastically.

"Sister Jo reads me stories," Dean says. "She tucks us in and says our prayers with us."

"Wait – you say prayers? You actually know some prayers?" Old Sam's eyes widen in surprise, and Dean nods again.

"Sister Jo teaches me," he says. "She taught me to say the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, and the Lord's Blessing. She's teaching me that one in Latin too."

Old Sam shakes his head slowly, like he can't quite believe what he's hearing.

"You always told me you never had any religious education," he says with a small smile. "Obviously, you lied."

Dean feels he should protest, but before he has a chance to say anything the air does its little shimmering thing and Old Sam disappears.

**

Old Sam's visits are short at first. He usually appears once a week or so, but he doesn't stay long. Dean looks forward to those moments more than he fully understands. He doesn't really get along with the other kids in his kindergarten class, partly because he's shy, but mostly because he just wants to be at home with his little brother. The convent school is full of misfit kids from broken homes, and nobody really pays that much attention to the quiet green-eyed boy who plays by himself most of the time.

After a few months go by, Dean takes Old Sam's visits for granted. He's almost always there when Dean wakes up shaking and crying from a nightmare – usually involving heat and flames and the smell of burning. Old Sam's mere presence is soothing, and Dean can usually fall back asleep with his baby brother gathered into his arms and Old Sam's soft voice murmuring, "It's all right, Dean. I'm here. You're safe."

Sister Jo and Pastor Jim are good to him, too. Sister Jo never suggests Dean sleep in his own bed. She and Pastor Jim have seen enough tragedy and trauma. They're used to taking in the kids who have lost one or both parents in violent and unexplainable ways; it's sort of what they do. Separating the Winchester brothers, even making them sleep separately, is a cruelty of which neither Sister Jo nor Pastor Jim are capable.

John Winchester stops visiting weekly after the first six months or so; he drops in once every few months, calls a little more often. Once he stays for a week the summer that Dean is six, taking him out back in the field behind the school to teach Dean how to shoot, then leaves again. He misses both his sons' birthdays, so that by the time Dean is eight he's stopped expecting his father to come through the door any minute.

He never stops hoping, though. Dean can't help hoping.

**

Chapter 2:

Three years pass in relative comfort and safety before Dean's life is destroyed again.

The day John Winchester returns for his sons begins like any other. There are morning prayers in the little chapel with the stained glass pictures of Mary and Jesus and the disciples, and Dean's personal favorite, St. Francis carrying a lamb. Dean likes to imagine St. Francis carrying him that way, just holding him with gentle, loving hands, keeping him safe the way Dean keeps Sammy safe.

After breakfast the children do their letters, then listen to Bible stories with Pastor Jim. Dean particularly loves the story of the lions in the Roman Coliseum; he imagines jumping into the ring with the huddling Christians and slaying every lion with his massive silver sword.

Dean is at morning recess, helping Sammy dig and build in the sandbox. The entire school takes recess together, and now that Sammy's old enough for preschool Dean plays with him every day, just teaching him stuff. Then he hears the commotion at the other side of the yard, where the door opens into the schoolyard.

"They're my sons," the familiar voice is insistent, loud, raised in something bordering on anger. "They're mine. It's time to go."

"John, they're happy here."

Pastor Jim's voice, deliberately calm, following the other man into the yard.

"Dean's thriving. His nightmares have stopped, he's sleeping well. He's safe here, John. We're taking care of him and Sammy. There's no reason for you to take them – "

"I have every reason to take them, Jim, and you know it."

It's Dad's voice. John Winchester has come to collect his sons.

Dean looks up, sees his dad, and is immediately flooded with emotions and memories, so that all he can do is watch, fighting back the tears smarting his eyes, as John crosses the play yard toward him. John stops in front of them for a minute, just taking stock of how much they've grown, and Dean can see the tears filming his eyes.

"Dad?"

Dean's standing now, looking up at his father, and Sammy stops his digging because he senses Dean's focus is suddenly elsewhere, and he looks up too. But Sammy doesn't know the tall man with the brooding features and strong jaw, so he looks at Dean instead, waits for his big brother to tell him what's going on.

"Hey, Dean," John says softly, and Dean can't help it. He flings himself against his father, wrapping his arms around his waist and holding on for all he's worth, breathing in the familiar smell of leather and gunpowder and engine oil, all the smells of home.

John smoothes Dean's hair gently with one hand, his other hand flat on Dean's back, holding him close for the first time in almost two years.

"It's okay, son, I've got you," John rumbles in that deep voice that makes Dean's chest swell.

Then he remembers Sammy and pulls back a little, turning to his little brother.

"Sammy, it's Dad," Dean tells him. "This is Dad."

Sammy looks up skeptically at the tall strange man, glances back and forth between him and Dean without recognition.

"Hey, Sammy." John kneels down, so he's almost eye to eye with his youngest, and smiles. "You got big."

Dean moves instinctively so that he's standing behind Sammy, has his hand on his shoulder and his chest pressed against Sammy's back, looking up at their dad, and Sammy seems to sense that Dean has literally got his back on this one, that it's all okay.

"I'm four years old," Sammy says to his father, putting up the fingers to show.

John's smile broadens.

"Yeah, I know, Sam," John murmurs. "I know."

Dean's vaguely aware of Pastor Jim standing a few feet away, a worried frown creasing his brow, but he doesn't interrupt, allows the family reunion to unfold without comment, lets John swoop Sammy up into his arms and take Dean's hand, turn to leave with a set to his jaw that Dean remembers well.

"Thanks for everything, Jim," he says. "I mean it. I don't know how we would've made it this far if it wasn't for you."

"I just wish you could let them stay a little longer," Pastor Jim says. "Let the boys grow a little more. Give them a few more years of stability and safety."

"They'll be safer with me," John nods firmly. "They need family, and I'm all they've got."

As John takes his children out to the parking lot, out to the sleek black muscle car which will be their only home for the next ten years, Dean catches a glimpse of Old Sam, standing next to a lamp post on the other side of the parking lot, hands shoved deep into the front pockets of his jeans, shoulders hunched, expression sad and full of longing at the same time, watching silently as John Winchester loads his sons into the car and drives away.

*

That night they stop at a motel. John puts the boys in one bed while he takes the other, pours a line of salt in front of the door and along the windows, pulls out his journal and sits making notes at the table as he sips from a bottle of beer. Dean reads a bedtime story to Sam and tucks him in, then crawls in beside him because he's too tired to do anything else but sleep.

It's the first of hundreds of nights like it, and Dean only remembers it because he's awakened in the night to a shaking and screaming outside the door that's like nothing he's ever heard. Something is pounding on the door, howling horribly, and the entire room is rocking with the force of the blows, the relentless hammering of something that wants in.

Dad scoops both boys into his arms, stuffs them into the one small closet, and closes the door on them, admonishing them to, "Stay here, no matter what happens!"

Dean sits huddled on the floor with Sammy shivering with terror in his arms, crying softly into his shirt, watching through the slats in the closet door as his father's feet move across the room, out of his line of vision. The howling and shaking continues, louder and more violent, then John Winchester's voice bellows.

"Come and get it, you son-of-a-bitch!"

Dean thinks he hears the front door open, thinks he hears his father's battle cry as someone – or something – charges into the room.

Then it's suddenly silent. The shaking and the howling stop, like they're the soundtrack to a horror movie that's had its plug pulled. All Dean hears is his dad, breathing hard, feet shuffling and crunching on the salty floor, and Sammy's soft sniffling against his shirt.

Dean runs his hand up and down Sammy's back soothingly.

"It's okay, Sammy," he whispers. "Dad got it. It's gone now. It's okay."

He gasps when the door opens anyway, his mind telling him, "It's just Dad!" while his heart is still pumping adrenaline through his veins and telling him to flee. John just stands there for a minute, watching his sons huddle in the corner of the closet – Dean's got his back to the door, shielding Sam's body with his own so he has to look back over his shoulder at his father – and Dean thinks maybe his dad wasn't sure they'd still be there. Like maybe his children would be swept away through a magic tunnel in the closet while he was dealing with the monster at the front door.

Then John is on his knees, pulling both children into his arms, holding them like his life depends on it, shaking pretty badly.

They don't even try to stay out the night. John gathers their meager belongings, tucks both boys into the backseat of the car with blankets and pillows from the motel, leaving behind a mess covered with salt and monster remains.

"Banshee," John mutters as he tucks the blankets around Sam and Dean. "Death omen. The sooner we put some miles between it and us the better."

Dean spoons Sam securely on the bench, tucks his little head under his chin and snuggles into the makeshift bed. But he's too keyed up to sleep. He lies still for awhile, letting the rumble of the Impala's engine soothe him, but he can't relax, can't let go of the feeling of terror that hearing that thing instilled in him. Dean can't help wondering if it'll come after them. finally untangles himself from his brother's sleeping body, sits up so he can look out the back window, then turns around and searches out his dad's eyes in the rearview mirror till John looks back and sighs.

"Sammy asleep?" John asks, and Dean glances at his brother, cuddled warm and safe under the pile of blankets.

He nods, meeting John's eyes in the mirror again.

Without another word, John pulls onto the shoulder of the road, stops the car without turning off the engine.

"Up here now, son," John demands, patting the front seat bench. "We need to talk."

Dean scrambles to obey, pride at his father's attention making his chest warm.

"You're old enough to know about these things now, Dean," John says once they're on the road again, Dean riding shotgun for the first time. "But Sammy's still little. I want you to promise you won't tell him the things I'm about to tell you, okay? Do I have your word?"

"Yes, sir," he answers, speaking clearly and confidently, just like John taught him, knowing it's what John expects. "You have my word."

"Good," John says. "Because a man's word is everything, Dean. Never forget that. Being a man of your word makes you someone people can trust. Someone to be respected. Trust and respect are vital in our line of work, you understand me?"

"Yes, sir," Dean says.

John takes another minute to gather his thoughts, and for a moment Dean thinks he won't say anything more, just leave the lesson at that. But finally John sighs, shakes his head a little and glances at Dean.

"You remember that night, don't you?" John asks, and Dean nods, because he knows instantly what his father means, never stops thinking about it.

"Yes, sir," he says, but his voice cracks a little because he's suddenly fighting back tears.

"Something evil was in our house that night, Dean," John says. "It killed your mother, and it would have killed all of us if we hadn't gotten out in time. I've been hunting it ever since. And in the process, I've learned a lot about evil things. Ghosts, mostly, but wraiths and banshees and even the occasional demon. They're all real, Dean. That's what I need you to understand."

Dean nods again, because really he knew all this before; he just hadn't had it explained to him.

"Why did the thing want to kill Mom?" he asks, feeling braver than usual in the face of his father's sudden openness.

John's face contorts into a grimace of pain, and a single tear escapes and slides down his cheek. Dean doubts he'll get an answer, thinks maybe he's crossed a line. But then John wipes furiously at his eyes, shakes his head a little.

"I don't know for sure, son," he says. "I've been asking myself that question every day since it happened. I have some idea – "

He glances into the backseat, at Sammy's sleeping form, and Dean has the sudden strange thought that everything that's happened is because of Sammy, which doesn't make any sense at all.

"Is something after us, too, Dad?" he asks, trying to keep his voice from rising. "Is something trying to get us?"

John flicks a glance at him, frowning, like Dean's hit the nail on the head and he's not sure what that means. Dean has the distinct impression that his dad knows more than he's letting on, and if Dean could just find the right way to ask, he'd learn something important. Then John's eyes drop and he shakes his head a little, hunches his shoulders, and Dean knows that whatever he says next isn't gonna be whatever he might have said before.

"Nah, nothing like that," John says firmly, apparently deciding Dean's questions come from sheer childish fear, rather than nascent hunter's instinct. "We're good right now. I'm just letting you know because you need to be prepared. You always need to be prepared, Dean. That's what I'm trying to teach you."

"Yes, sir," Dean nods, trying not to show his disappointment.

"And another thing. I know I already said this, but it's important, so I gotta say it again."

John glances in the rearview mirror, and Dean looks back at his sleeping brother, nods at his dad to confirm that Sam is still asleep.

"Sammy doesn't need to know about any of this," John says firmly. "He's too little. Eventually, maybe, but for now he needs as normal a childhood as we can give him. He's – "

John hesitates, and again Dean thinks he's about to say something important, then changes his mind, glances at Dean and frowns a little.

"As far as Sam knows, his mother died in a car accident and his father is a traveling salesman. Are we clear? When he starts asking?"

"Yes, sir," Dean agrees.

"All right, that's enough for now," John announces then, like he's afraid he's already said too much. "You're almost nine years old now, son, and you're already in training to become one of us. You'll make a good soldier someday."

"Yes, sir."

Dean feels his chest swell, lets his dad's praise fill him with confidence and self-assurance, lets the words replace the fear and apprehension in his heart. He wishes he could shake the feeling that there's something his dad isn't telling him, something that could change his life forever.

*

Later, John stops for gas and Dean climbs into the backseat with his brother to sleep. Dean has a sense memory of doing this before, so he knows it's not the first time, but sleeping in the backseat of the car becomes so routine from that moment on that it quickly becomes their new normal. They spend the next few months traveling, driving mostly at night, then stopping in dingy motels in backwater towns so John can catch some shut-eye during the day. The boys are given strict instructions to stay inside and watch TV while John sleeps, but Dean can't resist the urge to explore and stretch his legs a little, and Sam won't be left behind. So they play cowboys and indians in the tall grass behind the motel, build forts with cardboard boxes from the dumpster. In more than one town they find the public library, where Dean quietly "borrows" some bedtime stories.

Old Sam hovers on the edges of Dean's vision, watchful and protective, so Dean knows they're never in any real danger. And he and Sam are always careful to get back to the motel before evening, to be there watching TV and munching vending machine snacks when their dad wakes up, gets them some hamburgers for dinner, then spends an hour poring over road-maps and making phone calls.

As far as Dean can tell, John Winchester has spent the past three-and-a-half years doing this. He seems to know every motel, every small town, as if he's been to each one before. He talks to men named Bobby and Caleb and Bill on the phone, asking about death omens and demon activity. He checks in with Pastor Jim, listens carefully as the priest tells him things that make his face tighten and his eyes close, like he's wishing he could hide from the reality he's facing.

But he can't. He puts the phone down and scrubs a hand over his face, looks up at Dean with a grim set to his jaw.

"Banshees at the convent, right after we left," he says. "Got you kids out of there just in time."

Dean's eyes widen.

"Is Pastor Jim okay?" he asks, hating how small his voice sounds.

John nods.

"Everyone's fine," he says. "Jim and Jo know what to do. And the things weren't after them."

They were after us, Dean thinks, shivers curling up his spine like ice water.

"What's a banshee?" he asks Old Sam the next day when they're out in the field behind the motel, making mud pies with spoons they nicked from the diner and a bottle of water.

Old Sam is squatting down in the dirt with them, and Dean isn't sure how long he's been there. Old Sam looks really old today, his hair almost white, shoulders stooped; even his eyebrows are grey. But his eyes are still sharp and clear, his hands strong and sure as he helps them dig, and when he smiles a little at Dean's question the lines around his eyes crinkle and Dean wants to touch them, see if they're soft like Sammy's skin.

"It's a death omen," Old Sam says. "They appear to herald someone's death."

"But Dad killed it," Dean protests. "So that means nobody dies, right?"

Old Sam nods.

"That's right," he agrees. "Dad's keeping you safe. He's moving you around so things can't find you. Pretty soon you'll settle down for awhile, so you can go to school. But then you'll have to leave again. It's pretty much like that from now on, Dean."

"Why? Why are there things trying to get us? What did we do?"

Old Sam shakes his head, looks a little sad.

"You didn't do anything, Dean," he says. "But you will. Dad and I have to make sure you survive your childhood, that's all."

"Sammy too?" Dean asks. "Will Sammy do something when he grows up too?"

Old Sam nods.

"He'll always have your back, Dean," he promises.

"And I'll always have his," Dean reaches over and ruffles his little brother's hair, then grabs the mud pie he's nibbling on and wipes his mouth. "Yuck, Sam. Not real food, stupid. Don't eat it."

"Not stupid," Sammy lisps, pouting.

But he puts down the mud pie anyway, lets Dean wipe his mouth without protest.

**

At the end of the summer they find a little two-bedroom house in a small town somewhere in Nebraska. John enrolls the boys in the local elementary school – Sammy's small and young for kindergarten, but he knows all his letters and how to spell his name and the teachers are so charmed by the small dark-haired boy that they all agree he should be in their class even if he is nine months shy of his fifth birthday.

Dean tests so well on the school's placement exam that they could easily put him in the third grade class, but he's sullen and sassy so the teachers decide he needs to be kept back to repeat the second grade instead.

Nevertheless, John treats Dean like he's already old enough to be left alone for days at a time, in charge of his little brother, so that John can hunt the things that have destroyed his family and forced the Winchesters into hiding. Dean respects his father's obsession, takes for granted John's constant frenetic movement, believes him when he explains about evil and the things that lurk in the corners of the dark. John tells Dean about monsters and the ways to kill them like they're the secrets of the universe.

Dean comes home to an empty house day after day, fixes Sammy's SpaghettiOs and mac-n-cheese and peanut butter and banana sandwiches alone, after waiting hours for John to come back. Sometimes he does, but rarely until long after the boys are in bed, curled around each other in the dark with the door left ajar and the lights blazing in the other room, Dean on alert for another banshee or worse till he finally hears the key in the lock that signals his dad has returned.

Old Sam rarely visits these days, and Dean somehow understands that he should be grateful for that. It means they're not in any real danger. He knows Old Sam would be there like a shot if they were, so he should be able to relax and focus on doing his school-work, taking care of Sammy, doing what his dad expects.

But the thing is, Dean misses Old Sam. He misses Pastor Jim and Sister Jo and his mother and – even though he's mostly got him back – Dean misses his father, because John is rarely there and he leaves Dean to take care of things he doesn't know how to do. It makes Dean feel inadequate, incapable, a loser. He thinks he should be able to cook Sammy's food, but when he tries to turn on the stove to heat soup he nearly catches the house on fire, and it's only Old Sam's swift intervention that stops another Winchester tragedy from unfolding in flames around them.

Old Sam doesn't scold, though, as Dean's pretty sure his father would do; Old Sam just purses his lips, furrows his brow as he wraps Dean's burnt arm in a wet towel, muttering to himself.

"Damn it, Dean, what the hell were you thinking?"

"I was just trying to fix something hot for supper for Sammy," Dean explains, tears smarting his eyes because his arm hurts. "It's cold so I was trying to make a hot supper for him."

"Just use the goddamn microwave," Old Sam admonishes, then seems to notice there's no such appliance in the room and shakes his head. "Never mind. God, Dean, I don't see how we ever survived."

The tears flow freely down Dean's cheeks then; tears of relief that he didn't actually burn the house down, killing himself and Sammy in the process; tears of shame that he caused so much trouble in the first place.

Old Sam stops wrapping Dean's arm and slips his hand under Dean's chin, tipping his face up so he's looking up into Old Sam's strange, multicolored eyes.

His brother's eyes.

"It's okay, Dean," Old Sam says firmly, his voice soft. "It's not your fault, okay? You're too young to be left alone like this."

He thumbs the tears off Dean's cheeks, helps him take his shirt off – Dean yanks away from him because he's not a baby and he can do that himself, even with a wounded arm – then he lets Old Sam put baking soda paste on the burn to soothe it.

Sammy's whining about being hungry by that time, so Old Sam makes the soup, muttering about "what a pain-in-the-ass I was, just like you always said." He tries to get Dean to eat some soup, but Dean's still hurting, on the inside more than the outside, and he shakes his head stubbornly so Old Sam finally gives up with a sigh.

"Already stubborn as a mule at eight-and-a-half," he notes, but his tone is fond.

*

They finish out the year in Nebraska, but John moves them again just before Dean's ninth birthday, claiming there's a coven of witches at the school and they are not staying anywhere with witches.

Decatur, Illinois is in the exact center of the state, an hour's drive from any other town and three hours south of Chicago. John finds a job in an auto shop and declares they're safe here for awhile because the smell of soy in the air is a natural deterrent to evil, like living under a cloud of salt.

"Deters people, too," Old Sam mutters when he first gets a whiff of their new home.

Dean gets used to the sour smell after awhile and doesn't even notice. He's too proud of the fact that the new school lets him start in the middle of third grade, back where he belongs. They find a rental house on the edge of the university campus, and nosy neighbors take an immediate interest in the handsome single father and his adorable sons, bringing them mysterious casseroles and homemade pies.

Despite John's instinct not to mingle, not to get too close to anyone and not to fit in anywhere, the Winchesters find themselves settling almost comfortably into small-town life, so that by the end of the school-year Dean has actually made a friend or two, hears his name called as he heads out the door for the school bus in the mornings, holding Sammy's hand as they cross the street.

The entire town erupts in garage sales as soon as the warm weather sends them outside, and less than a month after Sammy's fifth birthday John surprises both boys with used bicycles. Dean already learned to ride back at Pastor Jim's, but it's Sammy's first bike and Dean spends a couple of hours in the church parking lot with him, helping him learn to balance on two wheels before he's able to get the hang of it.

The summer is a blur of boyish activity, riding their bikes all over the campus of Millikin University, where they both take swimming lessons, then all over town and out into the wheat-fields where they pretend to hunt each other with sticks for weapons. They bike down to the lake for a swim when the heat of the day drives them there.

They find an old shed which they fill with sticks and rocks and bottle caps, declaring it Fort Winchester, and they spend hours there. Dean takes apart Sammy's bicycle and puts it together again just for the fun of it. Sammy digs in the dirt around the shed for ants and other insects, putting them in a jar with holes punched in the lid "for observation." He always lets them go after, so they don't die. Sammy seems to have a natural affinity for living creatures, and it makes Dean think about St. Francis with the lamb.

They find an old hat and some feathers and Dean declares he's the sheriff and Sammy can be an Indian chief. Then Dean declares he's General MacArthur and Sammy's a Nazi collaborator, so Dean captures Sammy, ties him up and locks him in the shed, at which point Sammy bursts into tears and insists he's not playing anymore so Dean lets him out.

The end of what they will both later remember as one of the best summers of their lives comes when Dean decides they need to bring sheets from home and pretend to be Superman and Batman, tying the sheets around their necks like capes. Everything's fine until Dean climbs up onto the roof of the shed and jumps off, and before Dean can stop him Sammy follows right after, hitting the ground at such an awkward angle Dean knows immediately that he's really hurt, not just pretending. Sammy's face is as white as his sheet, and when Dean runs over to try to help him up he screams bloody murder, sobbing in great hiccuping gasps when Dean touches his arm.

Dean is terrified, more worried than he lets himself think about as he tries to get Sammy to stand up, to walk. But Sammy's in such pain all he can do is cry, gasping "It hurts! It hurts!"

Dean panics, first thinking he can ride into town for help, but Sammy screams so loud at the idea of being left alone that Dean gives up, finally figures out a way to bundle Sammy onto the handle-bars of his bike, holding him there with one arm while he pushes off and steers with the other hand. Dean assures Sammy they'll come back later when Sammy sobs his protest at leaving his beloved bike behind, and in that way they make it to the hospital emergency room, where some nurses immediately take Sammy off for x-rays while another takes Dean aside to call his dad.

John is furious. Dean's never seen his dad so angry. He paces the hospital waiting room like a bull, snorting and huffing, nostrils literally flaring, brow deeply furrowed.

"How could you let this happen, Dean?" he demands. "How could you be so careless? You know we can't be here. Hospitals are deadly. We stay out of them at all cost. You know that."

Dean feels his eyes fill with tears because no, he didn't know. His dad had never said that to him and he'd always thought hospitals were full of people who could help, not hurt.

"Hospitals have databases," John goes on. "They have records. They leave a trail. We're sitting ducks now. It's only a matter of time before we're found. We have to pack up and get out tonight."

And just like that the boys' life is uprooted again.

They take only what they can fit into the car, leaving both bikes behind. Sammy's so doped up on pain-killers he doesn't even realize what's happening as John lays him gently into the backseat of the Impala, tucks blankets and pillows around him, drives through the night to Big Star Lake in Michigan.

Dean wakes up when the car stops in front of an old hunting cabin. It's still dark, and John carries Sammy into the cabin and lays him on the single bed in a corner of the room, Dean following with their duffels as best he can. John lays salt lines, puts groceries on the table, lights a kerosene lamp. He hands Dean his .45, gives him a quick refresher course on loading and unloading it.

"No target practice until I've thoroughly checked out the area," he instructs. "We need to be sure we don't attract attention."

Then he puts his hand on Sammy's head, just a gentle swipe through the soft curls before handing Dean the pain pills with more instructions, and heads out, back to town to locate a phone first, to find out if anything came after them in Decatur.

"I should be back by nightfall," he tells Dean. "But you stay in the house, y'hear? I don't want you leaving this cabin until I've made sure it's safe. Until then, if anything tries to get in here, you know what to do."

Dean nods solemnly.

"Shoot first, ask questions later," Dean repeats the instructions he's been taught, and John nods his approval.

"That's it," he agrees, laying his hand on Dean's shoulder, and Dean looks up at him expectantly, trustingly.

"It's gonna be alright, son," John assures him. "We're just being extra cautious. Extra careful. It's gonna be fine."

Dean nods, fighting back tears again, determined not to cry as he watches his father leave, listens with straining ears until the roar of the Impala fades away in the distance.

"Extra paranoid is more like it," Old Sam mutters from the chair by the table.

Dean's so glad to see his old friend – his grown-up brother – he doesn't pause for a second. Just throws himself into the man's arms and holds on for dear life, tears finally flowing freely down his cheeks, body shaking.

"Hey, hey," Old Sam murmurs reassuringly, big hands rubbing up and down Dean's back, soothing and gentle and achingly familiar. Old Sam even smells right, like Sammy but stronger, with the sharp tang of sweat and old blood and something else that Dean can't put a name to but knows because it smells like home.

Old Sam lets Dean hug him as long as he needs to, as long as it takes for Dean to get himself under control again. When Dean finally pulls back, leaving his hands on Old Sam's shoulders, looking down into his familiar face, he stares daggers at the man, accusing even as he wipes his eyes with the back of his hand.

"Where have you been?" Dean demands. "It's been so long since you came, I thought maybe you weren't coming back."

Old Sam smiles a little sad smile, shakes his shaggy head.

"You didn't need me, Dean," Old Sam says. "You were doing just fine on your own."

"Yeah," Dean agrees, backing away a little so he's not standing right there between Old Sam's knees like a little kid. "We were fine until Sammy – until you broke your arm. Why did you do that? Why did you have to go and spoil everything?"

Old Sam lowers his chin, stares at the floor, and Dean watches the vein pulse in his temple as he clenches his jaw.

Dean knows it's a low blow, blaming Old Sam for something that happened years ago for him, but Dean's still feeling raw after his dad's brow-beating, and the shock of uprooting and leaving their life behind again is still new, still smarts, and he needs to let it out, figures Old Sam can take it, whereas five-year-old Sammy is too little to understand anything anyway. It would be useless and completely unsatisfying to take this out on him. He probably won't even remember any of this.

"I wanted to be just like you, Dean," Old Sam says now, his voice low and quiet, like he's holding back his own emotions. "I wanted to do everything you could do."

"But you were Batman," Dean protests, shifting his feet a little. "Everybody knows Batman can't fly."

"You promised we'd go back for my bike," Old Sam accuses, and Dean stares at him in disbelief.

"Dad made us leave everything behind," Dean reminds him. "My bike too. We can't ever go back there. All your toys and games, our house – I had my own bed! I was in Little League and swimming and nice people brought us food. My teacher. Our class field-trip to Springfield to visit Lincoln's house and his tomb. All of it!"

Dean feels the tears smarting his eyes again, then slip down his cheeks, and he wipes angrily at them, feeling so helpless and alone and somehow like it's all his fault, even while he's trying to blame Sam.

"Dean, you're only nine years old," Old Sam reminds him softly, clearly tamping back his own memories, his own grief. "You're still a little boy."

"I'm almost ten," Dean sniffs indignantly, wiping his nose with his sleeve again. "Almost double-digits."

Old Sam shakes his head. He seems to understand that Dean needs to vent, needs to just grieve for that temporary life in small-town Illinois, just like he grieves for their years in Blue Earth, and the barely-remembered earliest years in Lawrence.

"You're too young to take so much on," Old Sam insists. "This just isn't fair."

"Life ain't fair," Dean says sharply, echoing his dad's words. "You just gotta take what you get and do the best you can with what you got. You gotta be tough."

Old Sam runs his hands through his hair, then swipes them over his face as he huffs out a breath.

"Yeah, that's what you always say," he nods. "I just wish it were different. I wish I could change it."

"Wishing don't make it better," Dean insists, quoting his dad again. "We still need to get the job done, do what needs doing."

Old Sam stares at Dean for another minute, then shakes his head.

"You're hopeless," he says with a small smile. "Not even ten and already sounding like yourself. Like grown-up you. It's downright scary."

Old Sam insists on making breakfast so Dean can lie down with Sammy for awhile and try to get some rest. Dean snuggles in next to his sleeping brother and pulls the blanket up over both of them, carefully avoiding jostling Sammy's arm. The warm cocoon created by their shared body heat soothes him and makes him drowsy, and the sounds and smells of sizzling bacon, of someone else in the room taking care of things, someone Dean trusts, is so comforting he's drifting off before he knows it, is only barely aware of Old Sam leaning over the bed, pressing his lips to Dean's forehead as he smoothes his hair.

When he wakes up the sun is already high in the sky and Old Sam is gone, leaving bacon-and-egg-and-cheese sandwiches on the table. Sammy stirs next to him, moaning in his sleep, and Dean gets up to find the pain pills, feeds them to his brother along with a breakfast sandwich and some juice.

"My bike," Sammy whines, and Dean runs a hand through his hair, kisses his forehead.

"Never mind, Sammy," he says softly. "I'll get you a new one. I promise."

*

The next day, John doesn't come back. They have no way to contact him, explicit instructions to stay put, and a limited food supply, so Dean rations his own supper that night, eating just half of the can of SpaghettiOs since they already ate one for lunch. Sammy's arm aches, so Dean gives him more pain pills with supper, puts away the cards they were playing, and Dean thinks he will be happy never to play another game of Go Fish as long as he lives.

"Read me a story," Sammy begs as Dean tucks him in, placing his cast-covered arm on the outside of the blanket, over his chest.

"No books," Dean shrugs. "When Dad comes back we'll make him drop us off at the library in town so we can get some to read tomorrow night, 'kay?"

"Tell me a story," Sammy demands. "You tell good stories, Dean. Tell me the one about the dragon."

"Yeah, okay, Sammy," Dean nods, grateful to take his mind off his own hunger.

He pushes Sammy over, then slides into the bed next to him, being careful with his broken arm and squeezing in on Sam's left side so he's not pressing on it. Sammy snuggles into his brother, turning his body to he's as close as he can be, laying his head on Dean's shoulder as Dean starts his story.

"Once upon a time, deep in a forest in the ancient mountains of Rekkinbaal, there lived a boy. But he wasn't just an ordinary boy. He was a boy who knew how to slay dragons. He knew he could do this because he dreamed about it, and even though he'd never had to do it for real before, he was absolutely sure he could do it if he had to.

"Only trouble was, he needed a sword. In his dream, he always had this huge, long, silver sword that gleamed in the moonlight and it was at least twice as big as he was but he could always lift it and swing it like it weighed nothing, like it was made just for him.

"One day, his father came home. His father was a humble wood-cutter who had to take long trips sometimes to do wood-cutting jobs far away. He always left his son with plenty of food and water, and he always came back, so the boy never worried about him, but it was also pretty cool when he came home.

"So the wood-cutter came home and told his son about the town he had just visited, which was a two-day walk away. And this town had a dragon problem. Big ol' mean dragon was eating virgins and burning down the houses."

"What's a virgin?" Sammy interrupts, bright-eyed and breathless with enjoyment of the beloved story.

"It's a girl," Dean explains shortly, irritated by the interruptions but determined to be patient.

"So why don't you just say girl?" Sammy demands.

"I don't know, Sammy," Dean huffs out a breath. "Cuz it's a special kind of girl, okay? One that dragons like."

"Oh," Sammy thinks about this, biting his bottom lip, and Dean starts to go on, but Sammy's not done. "What's special about her?"

Dean takes a deep breath, shifts a little so that he's turning toward Sam, lifts his eyebrows at him.

"It doesn't matter," he says. "The girl's not an important part of the story, okay? Now can I go on or are we done?"

"No! Not done!" Sammy shakes his head vigorously. "Go on!"

Dean looks skeptical for another minute, and Sammy gazes up at him, all wide hazel eyes and pink cheeks and tousled hair, and Dean remembers what Old Sam said, how he looked up to Dean and wanted to be just like him.

"Alright then," Dean nods, sits back again to continue the story, letting Sammy snuggle up beside him again. "No more interruptions, okay?"

Sammy nods, slipping his hand into Dean's because the next part's a little scary and he needs the reassurance.

"So the next day, the boy set off toward the town. He didn't really have a plan, but he knew in his gut that it's what he was supposed to do, go fight that dragon, so he set off to do it, thinking he'll figure something out when he gets there.

"That night he camps out in the woods, eats his bread and cheese that he brought from home, and huddles in the blanket he brought cuz he didn't want to build a fire and attract attention."

"He's smart," Sammy nods, and Dean squeezes his fingers.

"The boy nodded off because he was so tired after his long day's hike, and in his sleep he had a dream. An old man wearing a long robe stood in the clearing, the moon shining down on him and making his long hair look white and glowing.

"'I have what you need,' the old man said, and he pulls out from under his robes the long, silver sword from the boy's other dreams. He lays the sword on the ground and the boy can see it shining in the moonlight, almost like it's glowing from the inside.

"The boy wakes up, and there's the sword, just like in his dream, lying on the grass next to him. Only it's smaller than in his dream. It's exactly the right size for him, in fact, so that when he picks it up it feels light and comfortable in his hand. He practices swinging it around for awhile, gets used to the weight of it, till he's sure he can use it right. Then he tucks it into his belt, eats his breakfast of bread and cheese, and heads out toward the town again.

"He can see the smoke from the burning town long before he gets to the top of the hill and looks down at it. The dragon has already burned up half the town, and there are people running around trying to put out the fires and locking up their virgins. Also their gold, because everybody knows dragons love gold. In fact, the townspeople had already tried giving the dragon all the gold they had, trying to bribe the dragon to leave them alone, but it still kept coming back, swooping down out of the sky, making its terrible dragon cry that sounded like a million fingernails on a chalkboard, flapping its terrible dragon wings, all slimy and covered with scales, opening its terrible dragon mouth that smelled like the worst bad breath ever, sending out a long hot column of fire, burning up anything in its path."

Sammy snuggles closer, pressing himself completely along Dean's side, lacing his fingers through Dean's and holding tight.

"The townspeople were a little surprised when the boy asked them where he could find the dragon. They probably thought he was crazy, but the boy begged them to tell, so the townspeople just shook their heads and pointed to the East, which is where the dragon always came from. So the boy set out to find the dragon, taking with him only some more bread and cheese and water and the magic sword. Or at least the boy figured it must be magic because it just showed up out of thin air in the middle of the night.

"He walked about half a day, then stopped to eat, and he decided it was the best bread and cheese he ever ate, especially cuz it was probably his last meal."

"No!" Sammy whispers, his little face tucked into Dean's neck, his whole body curled right into Dean's now, still clinging to his hand.

"The boy hadn't even finished his last meal when he heard a voice.

'"Who are you and what are you doing so close to my cave?'"

"The boy turned and looked over his shoulder and there it was. The dragon. Just sitting there, looking at him with its fiery red eyes and its long snout full of huge, sharp teeth."

"'I'm here to kill you,' the boy answered, moving very slowly so as not to frighten the dragon.

"But the dragon wasn't afraid. It just looked at the boy and threw back its hideous head and laughed.

"'You?' it hissed when it could speak again. 'You think you can kill me?'

"'Oh, I know I can,' the boy said, on his feet now, facing the dragon, not yet pulling his blade out, just waiting for his chance. 'It's what I was made for. I'm a dragon-slayer.'

"And until that very moment, the boy didn't know that was what he was called. He didn't know it before, but now he has a name for what he is, and it feels exactly right. Like he's just known it all along.

"But the dragon is totally not impressed. It laughs again at the boy, shakes its scaly head, and starts to turn away, muttering to itself.

"'Yeah, right,' it scoffs. 'Try coming back in ten years with some armor and a real sword, then we'll talk. You're not even worth smoking. I've got my pride, y'know.'"

"And that's when the boy sees his chance. There on the back of the dragon's head, right under one of its ugly-butt ears, is a chink in its armor, a little naked patch of skin about six inches square, which nobody had probably ever seen before because the dragon never turned its back on an enemy. But the boy posed no threat, or so the dragon thought, so it was just going to walk away, not even waste its time killing the boy.

"Which was its fatal mistake. Because the boy didn't hesitate for a second, just charged forward and jumped onto the dragon's back, driving his blade into that little patch of skin, all the way to the hilt, then holding on tight as the dragon tossed its head and roared, trying to shake the boy off. It roared again as it twisted and turned, trying to reach the boy with its massive sharp claws, turning its head so it could blow flames at the boy. But the boy held on tight, even as the dragon rolled on the ground, trying to squish the boy with his big heavy body. Then the dragon tried to take off, to fly up in the sky, but the boy held on, kept his blade buried deep in the dragon's body as its green blood flowed out and it got weaker and weaker, flapping its wings but unable to take off now, flailing around less and less as it struggled, gasping for breath but only thin streams of smoke coming out now as it kept losing strength. Still the boy held on, twisting the blade until the dragon finally stopped fighting, let out one last rattling, smoky breath though its hideous nostrils, and collapsed, all the fire gone out of its glassy black eyes now, dead, dead, dead."

Sammy takes a deep breath, breathing in Dean's skin, finally loosening his death grip on Dean's hand as he settles back against the pillows beside his brother and lets out a long sigh of relief.

"Afterwards, the boy cuts the dragon's head off and takes it back to show the people in the town so they can see the dragon is really dead. The townspeople want to celebrate. They want to make the boy their king because he saved them. But the boy shakes his head. All he needs is a bath and a little sleep and some more of that incredible bread and cheese stuff, then it's time to go. He can't stay there."

"Why not, Dean?" Sammy asks. "Why doesn't the boy stay? He's a hero. He can have anything he wants now. He can be a king with a crown and a castle and lots and lots of gold. He never has to be hungry or poor or lonely ever again. Why doesn't he stay, Dean?"

"Cuz he's already got a home, Sammy," Dean smiles down into Sammy's upturned face. "He's got a little brother waiting at home, remember?"

"Yeah," Sammy breathes out his relief, his satisfaction, and even though he's heard the story a million times before, he manages to act like it's the first time he's heard it, like it's the best ending to the best story in the whole wide world.

"Maybe someday the boy's little brother can help him," Sammy muses, already growing sleepy and heavy-lidded, the story always doing that to him, always helping him relax into sleep as Dean knows it will. "Maybe they can slay dragons together."

"Maybe," Dean agrees softly, pressing his face into Sammy's hair as his brother slips off to sleep, his little fingers going completely lax in Dean's hand. "Night, Sammy."

Dean breathes deeply, inhaling Sammy's perfect smell into his lungs, lets it fill him up so he's not hungry anymore, so that he wonders how he could ever be hungry again.

Next Chapter -- Back to Masterpost
Walker in pink

The Time Traveler's Brother - Chapter Two

John doesn't say much when he finally shows up a little after noon the next day. He's got fresh provisions, checks Sammy's arm and reminds Dean how to look for infection, gives him more pain killers, although by now Sammy shouldn't be feeling much pain anymore.

So far the cabin seems to be a safe enough place for them to hide out. John called around, found evidence that more banshees had visited the hospital in Decatur, clearly looking for them. But nobody there seemed to have any idea where the Winchesters had gone, so there didn't seem to be any signs that they were followed.

Nevertheless, John wants them to stay put another month, let any rumors and supernatural activity around their disappearance settle down again before moving them. Dean sighs because this place is beautiful, and the weather's still warm enough to give him a place to practice his swimming, but otherwise it's a lonely, isolated place to hide out, and staying here another month will mean they'll be starting school late.

Again.

But John is adamant. Wants both boys to start gaining some skills living outdoors, and figures this is a good opportunity. He teaches them how to build a fire using nothing but kindling and the right kind of rocks. He teaches them to make a fishing pole using a stick and some twine. He shows Dean how to catch wild rabbits and skin them, how to cook one over an open flame. It makes Dean ridiculously proud to watch Sammy eating the cooked rabbit, licking the grease off his fingers and looking up at Dean with a dimpled grin and sparkling eyes.

Dean and John practice shooting, handling, cleaning and repairing their firearms, and John gives Dean his own .45 as an early birthday present. One day he takes the boys into town, lets them check out books at the library, and Dean is so relieved to have some new stories for bedtime he practically cries. Sammy still prefers Dean's original story-telling, but at least now Dean has something to fall back on if he's just feeling too tired or irritable to give Sammy what he wants.

The nights begin to get cold and John chops wood for the stove, keeps it stoked late into the evening, writing in his journal at the table as the boys snuggle in their bed with a book or two, the knights of the round table being Sammy's current favorite, with its beautiful illustrations of gorgeous, long-haired warriors with upturned, sad-wise faces.

"They look like angels," Sammy breathes reverently, and Dean raises a skeptical eyebrow.

"Pretty sure there's no such thing as angels, Sammy," he says. He's already getting a pretty strong idea of the supernatural world that haunts them and follows them around, and as far as he can see none of it is good.

*

When their month by the lake is finally up, John moves them into town, registers them at the local
school, and finds a one-bedroom apartment for them. Sammy finally gets his cast off and Dean finds an old bike next to the dumpster in the back of the building, fixes it up and gives it to Sam, true to his word. The youngest Winchester spends hours riding round and round their new apartment complex, making friends with one or two other children whose parents are gone working most of the day.

Once they're settled with plenty of food in the cupboard John takes off again, and it's up to Dean to get himself and Sammy to school every morning, fix their breakfast and dinner, lock up and salt the doors and windows at night, then stay occupied and safe on the weekends.

They spend a lot of time at the public library, heading there after school when the weather turns cold and staying until closing. One night as they're walking home Dean feels the hair on the back of his neck rise and he glances into a dark alley as they walk by and sees what he thinks is the shadow of a man with glowing red eyes. His heart skips a beat as he keeps walking, holding Sammy's hand even tighter until the younger boy complains.

"Ow, Dean, too tight!"

"Walk faster, Sammy," he hisses into his brother's ear, "but don't run, okay?"

There's a swooshing sound behind them and Dean can't help glancing back, sees something dark and huge with what seem to be wings that are spread almost as wide as the alleyway and at least as tall. The wings spread, beat the air, causing a wind that rushes up behind them, almost lifting them off the ground. There's a flapping sound, and suddenly Dean's running, holding Sammy's hand and practically dragging him along, the single thought in his head that if they can just make it to the apartment, if they can just get in behind the salt lines, they'll be okay.

The flapping and the wind are behind and on both sides of them now, and Dean is fighting to stay ahead of it, not to get cut off because he can feel the thing trying to swoop in ahead of them, to stop them or engulf them and Dean can't let that happen. Can't let it take Sammy.

They almost make it to the corner, and Dean's still hoping if he can just get across the street, they'll be there, when the thing drops down in front of them and darkness falls all around, obliterating the light from the single streetlight, the Gas-n-Sip on the opposite corner.

Dean stops dead, drops into a protective crouch around Sammy, his back to the thing, as time slows down. He's aware of his heart pounding, of Sammy's gasping breaths against his neck, his hands in Sammy's hair and around his trembling little body, holding tight, whispering, "don't look, Sammy, don't look; close your eyes," against Sammy's hot little ear. He can feel the thing closing in, feels the air become denser, heavier, almost too hot to breathe, the flapping too loud in his ears, right next to his cheek. The moment before it touches him he feels a sob tearing out of his throat, right past his lips, into Sammy's ear.

"So sorry, Sammy," he chokes, tears streaming down his cheeks. "Oh no, please, please don't – "

Then there's a scream. It's inhuman and agonizing and right next to his ear so it hurts like anything, nearly shatters his eardrum. But the thing is moving away, darkness suddenly loosening, not so close, the air becoming breathable and lighter again, less confining.

Dean lifts his head, looks back over his shoulder, feels the flapping of wings and the air shifting but it's receding now, screams lessening, darkness receding. Old Sam is standing on the corner, stance wide, hair wild around his face, clutching a short, sharp sword in one hand, the tip tinged red with blood. He's staring up at the night sky, at the sound of wings flapping away into the distance, and he waits until the sound isn't audible anymore before he lowers his face, looks Dean in the eye, lets his arms slacken at his sides, his shoulders slump into their familiar hunch, till he looks almost harmless again, almost human.

Dean pulls back from his protective huddle over his little brother, pulls him to his feet as he stands, turning to face Old Sam. He's still shaking, still clutching Sammy against him with every instinct screaming to protect his little brother, to keep him safe.

"Come on," Old Sam is saying. "Let's get you home. I wounded the thing, but it'll be back. Let's get you safe."

But it doesn't come back, that's the weird thing. Dean barely has time to get Sammy into their rooms, salt the door and windows, doesn't even have time to ask Old Sam what the hell that winged thing was before Old Sam disappears. Which is a good thing, Dean tells himself as he gets ready for bed, flips on the TV for Sam while he fixes them PB&J sandwiches and milk for supper. It means they're safe again.

When John calls the next day, just to check in on them, Dean doesn't even mention the monster attack. It's Saturday, so they're staying home anyway, just watching TV and reading all day, and Dean is lulled by the ordinariness of the weekend schedule into feeling safer and more secure than they probably are. He doesn't want to give John an excuse to move them again, especially since he and Old Sam have the situation under control. Dean's handling it, and that's nothing new, he tells himself. Plus, if they're in imminent danger again, Old Sam will save them.

Dean doesn't realize it, but that moment marks a shift in his understanding of their situation. Everything before that moment was all about the job of looking after his little brother, keeping Sammy safe, following his dad's orders and learning to become just like him. Now, for the first time, it occurs to him that Sammy himself might be at the center of something bigger than just Dean's little lonely life. As soon as the thought hits him – Sammy's special – it feels right, feels like something he's always known. Makes sense of things in ways he doesn't want to think about too deeply. His mother's death. His father's obsessions and indulgent attitude towards his youngest.

Dean means to talk to Old Sam about it the next time he sees him, confront him with this idea that he's a kind of monster-slayer or something. Dean replays in his head the sight of Old Sam on the street corner that night, bloodied blade clutched in his hand, looking menacing and determined and huge.

My brother is a superhero, Dean's memory provides helpfully, and it makes his chest swell with pride.

*

Winter comes early in Michigan, and by Christmas there's over a foot of snow on the ground and the boys are in need of warm coats and boots. Dean's not too proud to accept the donated outerwear offered at a local church, and he learns to stuff extra food from their free school lunches into their backpacks to take home for snacks. For Sammy, he tells himself when the cupboards are getting particularly bare again and their dad still isn't home.

On Christmas Eve, Dean takes Sammy to church so he can see the lights and decorations and listen to the music. They huddle in the back pew, watching the well-dressed families in their Christmas finery, warm and well-fed and full of anticipation. They leave before the service ends, walking hand-in-hand through the quiet, snow-covered streets, back to their lonely, cold apartment where Dean makes them cocoa with lukewarm water from the kitchen tap. The heat went off two days ago and Dean didn't want to tell anyone for fear of drawing unwanted attention, so they huddle together under the blankets in their shared bed, shivering until their bodies create enough heat to let them fall asleep.

When they wake up their dad is back, swooping in like a force of nature, big, over-heated mountain of energy and tension, hustling them into the car as he mutters urgently about the wraiths he sighted just outside town, headed their way.

"Iron, silver, holy water," he lists out loud, checking the trunk for the items he needs to fend off the impending attack, then double-checking to make sure the boys are safely huddled into the backseat before he slips into the driver's seat of the Impala and guns the engine.

Dean can't fall asleep again, so he's wide awake when something appears in the road dead ahead. John swerves the car, narrowly missing the thing, cursing under his breath as he struggles to keep the car on the road. Dean turns and watches out the back window as the creature – shaped like a man but with long claws and teeth – turns to watch them speed away. Dean thinks he catches the eye of the thing, but he can't be sure because its face is a mask of peeling skin and long tendrils of something like hair but heavier, thicker, more like decayed tendons peeling off its head, fall around its cavernous face.

"Was that a wraith?" he finally dares to ask his dad, after enough time has passed and another one hasn't appeared, so he figures they might be safe.

"Yep," John agrees with a grim nod, hands white-knuckled from clutching the steering wheel so tightly. "Eats your brains, if it catches you. Silver kills it."

John can see that Dean is wide awake, unlikely to fall asleep again, so he pulls over, lets Dean climb into the front seat.

It's over an hour before John speaks again, and when he does it's like they've been talking the whole time, or like John's thinking out loud.

"Your mother and I never wanted this life for you boys," he says. "We wanted you both to grow up in a normal, healthy family with a permanent home, school, friends, sports, the whole nine yards."

He takes a deep breath, struggling with his emotions, and Dean knows this because he can see the film of tears in his father's eyes that always appears when he talks about his wife, his Mary, the love of his life and the mother of his children. His dad has always been so cryptic, so closed off about the things he does. Dean always assumed he was hunting evil, protecting him and Sammy and all the unsuspecting people who got in the way of evil things. Or were targeted by them for reasons Dean can't understand.

"Did you know that thing was coming for us tonight?" Dean asks. "Does it have something to do with Mom?"

"No," John shakes his head. "Nothing like that. These things have a kind of feral intelligence, but nothing rational, as far as I can tell. It has one motivation – to feed."

Dean shivers, glances out the window into the darkness, grateful to be safe in the car with his dad again. With Sammy.

"I can tell you one thing, though," John goes on, as if he's not changing the subject, even though he is. "We're not alone in this. And you should know that, Dean, in case anything ever happens to me. There are others. Pastor Jim, Sister Jo, you already know. My buddy Caleb, who you met last year. We're going to visit another man, Bobby Singer, and he's one too. Daniel Elkins. Bill Harvelle. It's all in my journal, and if anything happens to me you'll have that. It tells you everything you'll wanna know. Everything I know."

"Dad – " Dean's feeling panic rising in his chest, listening to his dad talk about not being around, possibly permanently. "Are you – is something after you?"

It makes Dean shake just to say it, but he needs to ask. He needs to know.

John glances over, meets Dean's eye for a moment, and Dean senses there's more to the answer to that question than John's likely to tell him. Again.

John shakes his head and smiles a little.

"You don't need to worry about me, son," John assures him. "I've been tracking and killing these things going on six years now. So far not so much as a scratch on me. I know how to stay one step ahead, always come out on top. Your ol' dad is just about the best there is, Dean. I'm just saying, always be prepared for everything, that's all."

"Yes, sir," Dean nods, but he can't shake the feeling that something bad is lurking, just out of sight out there in the dark, just watching and biding its time until the day that John Winchester isn't there to save them, to come charging in at the last minute to pull their bacon out of the fire.

Because the longer Dean lives, the more certain he is that the evil out there is after someone very close to him, already got his mom, and it's all going to be up to him in the end to save the people he loves.

*

They spend another month on the road, John driving nights, stopping at a motel during the day to rest. It's like that those first few months out of Blue Earth all over again, when they were just moving around a lot. Dean vaguely remembers doing this right after their mother died too, and he can't shake the feeling that they're running from something, like John's got them on the move to shake whatever it is that found them out this time just like he did those other times.

Then they stop at a salvage yard just outside Sioux Falls, South Dakota and John introduces them to Bobby Singer. Bobby looks at the two boys skeptically, grumbles when John announces he needs to leave them with him for a day or two, and turns to leave.

"Dad?"

Dean can't help himself. John's erratic behavior lately has bothered him, and that talk in the car the night they left Blue Star haunts him. He doesn't want to let his dad out of his sight.

"It'll be okay, Dean," John assures his son, laying a heavy hand on his shoulder and smiling sadly, wearily. "I'll be home for your birthday. I promise."

Dean nods, even though he knows John rarely keeps that kind of promise – he's too easily distracted. Christmas, birthdays – not his thing. But Dean puts on a brave face because he knows it's what's expected, understands even at the age of almost-ten that his dad expects him to suck it up and be tough.

John depends on Dean, and that's what matters. Dean can't let his dad down, no matter what.

*

Hanging out at Bobby Singer's place isn't so bad really. Dean and Sam spend their days exploring the salvage yard, and Bobby lets Dean help him take apart and put back together one of the classic cars he's been working on.

"Taught your dad everything he knows about classic cars," he boasts. "He's got a real gem in that Impala. It'll keep running forever, if he takes care of it right."

On January 24th there's a cake on the table with ten candles in it, and a present to open. Sammy's more excited than Dean, demanding, "Open it! Open it!" before Dean's gotten over the shock of seeing the cake and gift in the first place. It's a tool-box, metal lid all shiny red and new, full of wrenches and screwdrivers of various sizes, little metal trays full of washers and screws.

"It's a starter kit," Bobby explains. "Every man needs a tool-box. This here'll get you started. You'll add to it as the years go by, but I wanted you to have one. This way I can add to it every time you have a birthday."

Dean fingers the spark plug gap gauge – Bobby showed him how to use one just the other day so he could change the spark plugs on the old Ford Mustang he's putting together.

"If you finish her before your sixteenth birthday, she's all yours," Bobby promises, and Dean shakes his head because he's just turning ten and sixteen sounds ancient.

***

John's gone so long Bobby finally takes the boys into town and enrolls them in the local school. By the time John returns Dean has finished the fourth grade and Sammy's graduated first grade. John's looking older; his hair is greying at the temples and his two-day beard is scraggly and uneven, grey in places. His eyes are red-rimmed, like he's either been crying or drinking. Maybe both.

When Bobby lets him in John falls to his knees and gathers Sammy into his arms, letting tears flow freely as he holds his youngest against him, fingers of one big hand tangled in Sammy's dark curls.

"Missed you boys," he breathes, his voice breaking as he hugs Sammy against him another minute, burying his face in the boy's abundant hair.

Dean has been washing and bathing Sammy since he was old enough to sit up, knows exactly how his brother's hair smells, and it's all he can think about as he watches his dad holding his brother; it's what he focuses on because otherwise he knows he'll start to cry too.

Finally John releases Sammy and stands up, laying a hand on Dean's shoulder and looking down at him with his trademark weight-of-the-world smile.

"You done good, boy," he says with a little nod. "I'm proud of you both."

He sends them outside while he talks to Bobby, but Dean doesn't go far – wants to stay as close to his dad as he can now that John's back. They sit on the porch and play Go Fish, half-listening to the men inside through the screen-door.

"It goes after kids," John tells Bobby. "I gotta have the boys with me. I can't leave them when that thing is on the loose just one state over."

"It's been almost six months, John," Bobby says, and his voice sounds strained. "Boys are settled in here. Dean's report card came back real good. Kid's a good student."

"I'm more concerned with his skills," John says. "How's his training coming along?"

"I had him working on his marksmanship, if that's what you mean," Bobby nods. "Took him into town a couple times so we could shoot some pool. He's gonna be a crack mechanic, John. He's got a real feel for engines. Knows how to pick every lock in the house. Had him join the town wrestling team – old buddy o' mine's the coach, so I can vouch for the quality of the training there."

"How are his research skills coming along?"

"Yeah, not so stellar," Bobby acknowledges. "And not cuz he ain't smart enough. He just doesn't like to sit still. Unless he's reading to his little brother, which is about the only way I could get him to focus on stuff. If he's got Sammy beside him, he'll read for hours."

"Yeah, well, Sammy don't need the nightmares," John mutters. "It's our job to protect him as long as we can. No need to ruin his childhood before we have to."

"Hear that," Bobby agrees grimly. "Speakin' of which, you do realize your youngest just celebrated his sixth birthday?"

John says nothing for a moment, and Dean imagines his face going dark and threatening, imagines him glaring at Bobby.

"Don't need you tellin' me how to raise my sons, Singer," John growls, and Dean hears the sound of a chair scraping the floor as John stands, then the sound of a bottle thudding onto the table. "We gotta go."

And just like that, they're back on the road.

*/*

When Dean thinks back on that summer of 1989, it's always painful. He's aware for the first time that he should be helping his dad, not staying behind to babysit Sammy. He knows he's too young, still too small to be very useful on a hunt, and he hates himself for it. He knows his dad is out there somewhere, putting himself in enormous danger for their sakes, for the sakes of all the kids this particular monster is after, and Dean wants to help so badly it hurts.

The feeling of uselessness makes him snap at Sammy, makes him wish for the first time that he didn't have a little brother, a little pest who asks endless questions, needs constant attention, has to be fed and bathed and clothed and cared for.

Old Sam listens as Dean complains, rants at him irritably because he can't take it out on his six-year-old brother, who he's just tucked in with a story and a goodnight kiss so that Dean can spend another hour doing dishes and laundry before he can collapse into bed, try not to worry about his dad all night again.

"It's not fair," Old Sam agrees, nodding sagely. "It's too much responsibility for one ten-year-old boy."

"No, you don't get it," Dean slips dishes into the sink after filling it with soapy water, starts methodically washing each dish and dumping them onto the sideboard to air-dry. "Dad's out there – he's out there alone with this thing. Alone. Cuz I'm not big enough to help him. It sucks."

"That's not your fault, Dean," Old Sam protests. "There's plenty of hunters who could help him. Dad doesn't need to hunt alone. He's just a stubborn lone wolf who thinks he has to take care of everything all by himself. Believe me, even when you get old enough and big enough to help him? He still does it. He still goes out alone. This is not your fault."

"No way," Dean wipes his hands on a dishtowel, turns to stare at Old Sam, who is sitting at the table with the glass of water Dean just poured him, looking younger than the last time Dean saw him. "No way he still hunts alone when I'm big enough to help him. That's what he's training me for. So we can be partners."

Old Sam shakes his head.

"That's what I thought when I was little," he says. "I always figured you and Dad were a team. But..."

He hesitates, bites his bottom lip, glances at the bedroom door, always slightly ajar so Dean can hear if Sammy wakes up or cries out in his sleep, so Sammy always has a little light in the room and can fall asleep when Dean's not in the bed with him.

"I probably shouldn't tell you this stuff," Old Sam says. "Your future isn't written yet. I mean, it is but it isn't. And I don't want to tell you something that might change it, because then I might not even be here in the first place, so – "

Old Sam shakes his head, looks up at Dean with a worried frown.

"Forget I said anything," he says. "You and Dad will make a great team. I promise."

*

The next week Dad leaves them alone in Fort Douglas, Wisconsin and the shtriga attacks Sammy while Dean's out playing video games.

It's only the second time Dean has ever seen a monster up close, and he freezes. He gets the gun up, points it at the thing leaning over his sleeping brother, but he can't pull the trigger.

"Out of the way, Dean!" John bursts in the door, doesn't hesitate, just shoves past him and shoots – but the thing is gone, out the window with a crash and a wailing moan that shatters the air and leaves Dean shaking.

John's got Sammy in his arms, running his hands over his little body, checking for injuries, but Sammy's so sleepy and bewildered he just lies limp against his father, barely opening his eyes to glance at Dean, confused by all the fuss and commotion, by the sight of his brother standing in the bedroom doorway holding a sawed-off.

John takes them back to Blue Earth that night, after giving Dean the scolding of his life, leaving Dean feeling so helpless and useless it's all he can do not to cry.

Because now he sees why John will never let him be his hunting partner. Now he understands what Old Sam meant.

It's because of this. Because he can't do a simple thing like watching Sammy and keeping him safe when there's a monster in town.

Dean has let his father down and things will never be the same.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he rails at Old Sam when the man appears beside him the next day.

He's just watched his dad drive off, just been dumped with Pastor Jim and Sister Jo again, like a little kid, like a useless appendage that his dad is grateful to be rid of.

He's already been shedding angry tears about it, here alone in a corner of the kindergarten classroom, a place he knows he can be alone at night and no one will come looking for him after lights out and Sammy's sound asleep in the same little room they shared when they first came to stay here, right after their mom died.

"I needed you!" Dean stamps his foot, stalks up to Old Sam and pushes him, hard.

Old Sam raises his eyebrows, stiffens a little, but otherwise gives no reaction. He's so tall and solid that Dean's hardest push doesn't even phase him. The man is built like a stupid giant tree, and he's just as intractable.

"You said you would always come when I need you!" Dean swipes angrily at the tears sliding down his cheeks. "You could have told me that thing would come for Sammy. If you just warned me about it I would've been there! We wouldn't be here!"

Old Sam is looking around, clearly confused, and he looks even younger than the last time he appeared.

"Where are we?" Old Sam asks, blinking in the gloom. The room is lit only by the hall light coming into it from under the door. It was Dean's first classroom, where Sister Jo was his teacher; she had liked him right away and taken a real interest in him, and this room would forever be a place where Dean felt safe, comforted after the tragedy that had befallen his family.

"It's my old classroom," Dean says now. "You never came here. They kept the babies and little kids in another room."

"Ah," Old Sam nods, then looks closely at Dean. "We're back at Pastor Jim's. After the shtriga attack."

Dean wipes the backs of his hands over his cheeks, trying to erase the tears there.

"You knew," he accuses Old Sam. "You knew this would happen and you didn't tell me. Now Dad's gone after that thing, alone, and I'm stuck here. He doesn't even trust me to look after Sammy anymore. I blew it bad this time, and now he doesn't need me anymore."

Old Sam sighs, shakes his head.

"He still needs you, Dean," he says softly, almost sadly. "He depends on you way more than he should, in fact."

"I made him lose the trail," Dean lets loose with another sob, his chest heaving erratically, tears sliding down his cheeks freely again. "I screwed up the hunt for him. Now he'll never find that thing and more kids will die and it's all my fault."

"Dean, Dad should never have left you in the first place," Old Sam sounds stern, angry. "If anyone is to blame for this, it's him. He left a ten-year-old to look after his six-year-old brother so he could hunt a monster that kills kids. Who does that? And then to blame you for what happened? That is so wrong, Dean, I have to tell you. It's borderline abusive, is what it is."

"Shut up! Dad is not abusive!" Dean slams his palms against Old Sam's chest. It's like slamming them into concrete but he does it again anyway. "He's a hero! And he counts on me and I let him down! I screwed up, not him!"

Dean's pummeling Old Sam's chest now, just letting loose with everything he has, whaling against the solid frame with little effect, sobbing, "My fault! It's my fault!" until Old Sam finally grabs his wrists, pulls him in hard and hugs him tight.

At first Dean struggles, tries to kick and push himself away, sobbing, "No! No! Shut up! I hate you!" but Old Sam tightens his hold, one long arm across Dean's back, his other hand in Dean's hair, holding his head against his chest, murmuring, "Okay, now, Dean. Let it go. It's okay. Hey, it's okay."

Dean sobs his rage and frustration into Old Sam's soft flannel shirt until the material is soaked through and the fight has finally gone out of him, until his body is trembling with exhaustion and grief, and still Old Sam murmurs quietly, gently stroking his hair, then his back as Dean relaxes against him.

"Is he coming back?" Dean asks eventually, and Old Sam's hands still for a moment before taking up their gentle, comforting stroking again.

"Yeah, Dean," Old Sam says. "He'll come back. He always does. You're his whole world after Mom died. Nothing else really matters to him. So yeah. He'll come back."

Dean feels relief flood through him like warm spring air, full of the smell of dark, rich earth and sunshine and sweat-spiced skin. Sam's skin. That same masculine, harder version of the way his brother smells. It's lulling him, overwhelming his senses with the familiar experience of being home, being loved, just like the way being wrapped around Sammy always makes him feel.

Even if he's the one who's being wrapped around this time. Which is when he realizes Old Sam is bending a little, trying to push his nose into Dean's hair, and Dean understands that Old Sam is feeling just what Dean's feeling, that familiar sense memory of home and brother, and it's comforting to him too.

Later, when Dean's curled around his six-year-old brother in their room, he buries his nose in Sam's dark sweat-damp curls and breathes deeply, finds the same rich scent, falls asleep breathing it in.

*

John comes for them just after Christmas. By that time they've been back in Blue Earth for almost six months, and Dean has decidedly mixed feelings about hitting the road again. On the one hand he's deeply relieved that John still wants him, still trusts him enough to give him another shot, still believes in his training and his future as a hunting partner. On the other hand, uprooting them again, especially from this place where they felt safe when they were most vulnerable, these people who cared for them after their mother died and they felt most alone – Dean finds it's harder to leave this time. He wonders for the first time if their father is doing the right thing, keeping them on the move like he does. Wonders – not for the first time and certainly not the last – what it is they're running from.

Sammy cries and clings to Sister Jo, at first flat-out refusing to get into the sleek black car again. Enough time has passed here in Blue Earth for Sammy to make friends, to feel he belongs in this school full of misfit children, all of whom have tragedy in their pasts like Sam and Dean. The heavy warding and protection spells surrounding the grounds have provided a haven they can never have on the road, and it disturbs Dean more than he lets on to tear Sammy away from it.

Nevertheless, he believes John when his father tells him they have to leave, that they've been found again and it's time to move on. And despite the fact that Dean knows exactly how lonely and dull their life on the road can be – will be – he pulls Sammy gently away from Sister Jo, murmurs reassuringly until his brother finally lets go, winds himself around Dean, so that Dean can load him into the backseat of the car, huddles with him there as they watch the school disappear through the rear window.

When Sammy's finally cried himself to sleep, John stops for gas and Dean untangles himself from his brother's body, leaves Sammy sleeping in the backseat so he can ride shotgun, telling himself it's where he belongs. Telling himself he's so lucky to have a dad like John, who protects them and keeps them alive and knows exactly what to do in every situation.

When they reach the motel outside Lincoln where they're gonna spend the day, John makes his calls, confirms what he told them when he picked them up. There were banshees circling the school, arriving just after they left, and even though Pastor Jim and Sister Jo were able to dispatch them fairly easily, it was clear they couldn't go back to Blue Earth for some time.

Again.

They spend five months on the road this time, barely stopping long enough in one place to register for school, much less actually attend. Dean steals textbooks from the classrooms and he and Sammy study in their motel or in the local library, where Dean steals picture books and non-fiction books on dinosaurs and wrestling. Dean practices his wrestling moves on Sammy, whose slight body is too small to be a real sparring partner, but his eagerness to help his big brother makes him an irresistible punching bag. He's a quick study, Dean must admit, making up for his small size by jumping onto Dean's back and squeezing his neck in a chokehold so tenacious Dean almost puts his shoulder out trying to break free.

John takes Dean out into empty fields for target practice, and by the end of the school year Dean is able to shoot an apple off a fence post at thirty yards, every damn time. John takes Dean down to the pool hall so he can practice his game, puts Sammy on a barstool with a Shirley Temple and a crossword puzzle. Sammy develops an interest in chess, and the old men at the chess table are delighted to have an eight-year-old boy as an eager pupil while his older brother shoots pool and plays darts with increasing accuracy and skill.

When summer comes, John takes the boys camping, has them review the survival skills he taught them the previous two summers, then leaves them on their own for a week with only a few cans of food and a lighter along with their camping gear. He gives them a map and a compass and tells them he'll pick them up at the main road fifteen miles away. All they have to do is get there.

It's terrifying at first, knowing they're really and truly alone, without any adults to go to if things don't work out. Without any food to steal if they get desperate. In need of water since their canteens won't last the whole week. Exposed to the elements unless they can get their tent pitched.

And that's not even taking into account the possible supernatural dangers.

"Un-fuckin'-believable," is what Old Sam says when he arrives almost three days later, taking stock of their wild surroundings and meager food supply with a shake of his shaggy head. "What kind of moron does this? Damn it."

"He's just trying to make us figure out how to survive on our own," Dean protests, relieved beyond all reason to see Old Sam pacing angrily in their pathetic little camp. They're not making much progress since Sammy fell and tore a gash in his calf, ripping his only pair of jeans in the process.

Dean used his extra tee-shirt as a bandage and washed the wound with his water supply, but they don't have antiseptic and now Sammy can't walk so Dean has to carry him, along with all the other camping gear.

"Yeah, I can see that's going real well," Old Sam snorts, hands on his hips as he stares down at his brother and his younger self, curled up together on the sleeping bag, eating snack-mix out of plastic bags because it's all they have left.

"I can do this," Dean protests as Old Sam examines the wound on Sammy's leg, making the child moan as he removes the bandage.

"This is gonna become infected," Old Sam announces. "Do you have any whiskey?"

Dean stares at him, and Old Sam shakes his head.

"Of course you don't," he answers himself. He stands up, strips off his jacket and shirts, then rips a piece out of his own tee-shirt to re-bandage the wound.

Dean stares, because Old Sam is huge. He's got enormous muscles, all over. His arms are like tree-trunks and his chest and stomach are totally ripped. He's completely terrifying to look at, almost naked from the waist up, and Dean can't tear his eyes away.

"Water?" Old Sam asks as he squats down next to Dean again.

Dean hands him his canteen, his hands visibly shaking, and Old Sam puts a steadying hand on Dean's arm as he takes the canteen, leaving the cloth on the sleeping bag for a moment.

"It's gonna be okay, Dean," he promises. "I'm gonna carry Sammy. You can bring the gear. Gonna get you guys out of here."

For a moment Dean says nothing, just watches as Old Sam cleans and dresses Sammy's wound. Then he climbs to his feet, stands looking down at both Sams, fists clenching and unclenching unconsciously.

"No," he says firmly, giving his head a little shake.

Both Sams look up, their expressions identical, and it's like seeing double except for the obvious age difference. Even Old Sam looks hesitant, expectant, like he's used to his big brother giving orders, and this is an order. It hits Dean then that Old Sam probably remembers this, remembers being seven and out in the wilderness alone with Dean and having some huge shaggy-haired dude show up out of nowhere to help.

"I need to do this myself," Dean says, summoning every ounce of courage he can. "Dad's counting on me. He needs me to show him I can handle this. I can do this. He's testing me, trying to see how I'll hold up under pressure."

Old Sam shakes his head.

"No, Dean," he says, his jaw clenching as he controls his obvious anger at the situation. "This is just Dad being an asshole. He's not thinking about you at all."

"That's not true!" Dean insists, puffing his chest out deliberately. "He needs me! He needs me to help him hunt for things. That's why he left us out here. If I can do this, then he can trust me again. Then he can let me hunt with him."

"And if you fall down a ravine and slice your leg open, like I did?" Old Sam gestures at his younger self. "How're you gonna get out? Who's gonna help you then?"

"Not gonna happen, Sam," Dean says firmly, widening his stance and clenching his fists until Old Sam looks up, looks right at him, sees his stubborn determination making up for whatever courage he lacks. "I can do this. I'm gonna show Dad I can do it."

Old Sam gazes at him, his brow furrowing as he lets his righteous indignation go, as he begins to accept what Dean is saying. There's a film of tears in his eyes when he finally lowers his head, nods once. He reaches for his over-shirt, slips it on over all that muscle, then absently rubs at his calf.

"You're both gonna need a hospital at the end," he says quietly. "I still have the scar."

The air shimmers as Old Sam disappears, leaving them alone again.

It takes them the full four days, and they're dirty and exhausted and dehydrated by the end of it, and Sammy's leg has swollen and it's oozing something greenish and gross and Sammy's running a fever, but they make it.

Apparently John had some idea of the shape they'd be in; he's already booked them a week's stay at a clinic near Sioux Falls, run by an old marine medic who specializes in treating hunters, and that's how Dean knows he's passed the test. Because his dad lets him recover from his ordeal in a secret bunker known only to people who do what they do, who've all undergone the kind of survival training that Dean has just done. Because that's how Dean joins the special force of men and women who fight evil and protect the world from utter devastation.

That's how Dean finds out he's earned the right to join his dad on the front lines.

Which is why, when he finds the wad of cash in a side pocket inside the jacket Old Sam left on the ground that day, he knows he's going to take his little brother and run.

*/*

"Who are we?"

Dean's standing in Bobby Singer's living room two days later, his mother-of-pearl-handled .45 pointed at Bobby, Sammy on the couch behind him, his bandaged leg elevated, still pale from blood loss and dehydration. His little body has fought off the infection and the wound has been stitched and bandaged properly now, but he's still weak, still needs painkillers and antibiotics and slow re-hydration and sleep. Mostly sleep.

Bobby stares from the gun to Dean's face, clearly weighing his options.

"You think I don't know you, boy?" Bobby tries, but his voice shakes a little and it's pretty obvious he's spooked. "You and Sam are like kin. You've spent more time here than anywhere except Pastor Jim's place, and don't think I don't know it."

"Who. Are. We?" Dean repeats the words with an emphasis on each word, enunciating carefully so there's no possibility of misunderstanding.

Bobby frowns, ignoring the gun pointed at him for the moment in his obvious effort to understand the question, to figure out where Dean is coming from on this.

"You're Dean and Sam Winchester," he says, clearly mystified. "Your mother was Mary Winchester, your father is John Winchester. You're – you're just kids, Dean. You've been through a lot, but you're just ordinary kids, far as I can tell."

Dean holds his aim another moment, absorbing Bobby's words and his facial expression, trying to decide if he's telling the truth.

"Put the gun down, Dean," his father's deep voice booms at him from a shadow in the kitchen.

He only startles a little. In fact, he's proud of himself for not letting on how shocked he is that his dad's already here, probably has been the whole time. John was here while Dean was escaping the clinic with Sammy limping and leaning heavy against him. He was here while Dean was flagging a ride on the highway and talking some drunken teenager into giving them a ride to Bobby's place. John was here while Dean was half-carrying Sammy into Bobby's house and laying him down on the couch so he could turn and pull his gun on the nearest thing to an uncle they have.

He should have known John would beat him here. Now he spares a glance at his father, still holding the gun on Bobby so they both know he means business, knows how to keep the gun steady even when he's being thrown for a loop.

Nothing like that moment with the shtriga back in Fort Douglas. Never like that, ever again.

"Son, I said, put down the gun," John tries again. "I know you have questions. I can see now you're ready for the answers. So put down the gun and we'll talk."

Dean is not going to cry. There is no way in hell that's happening, even when he can feel his eyes fill as he glances at his father again, slowly lowers the gun, puts the safety back on, places it carefully on the table, where he keeps his hand right next to it, knows it's there. Knows he can grab it up and aim again quickly enough if he has to.

John knows too. He nods slowly, glances at Bobby.

"Okay, Dad, I'm listening," Dean says.

John glances over at the couch, where Sammy is sound asleep, his little face relaxed and beatific in rest, framed in curls of dark hair, like something out of a fairy tale, like those pictures of angels they've seen in that book.

"Your brother doesn't need to know what I'm about to tell you, Dean, are we clear? He's not ready for it."

Oh, he's ready to be out in the wilderness with only his eleven-year-old brother to protect him for a week, but not for a little information about who – or what – the hell he is, Dean's mind screams at him, but it's Old Sam's voice he hears in his head. Dean's natural instinct to trust his father overwhelms even his brother's snark, even when his brother is right.

"Your brother is – he's special, Dean," John says carefully, and Bobby lets out a long relieved sigh, mutters, "Thank God," under his breath. Which is how Dean knows he was right – Bobby knew this about them too.

"What do you mean, special?" Dean demands, shooting a reproachful glare at Bobby.

"Sammy has a rare gift," John explains. "A special ability. At least we're pretty sure he does."

"What kind of ability?" Dean asks, but he already knows. He feels the hair on the back of his neck stand up, feels his palms start to sweat because he knows. He knows, but he's not going to tell.

John and Bobby exchange glances, and Dean can see they're weighing how much they should say, how much they can reveal to him.

He's not going to get the whole story, Dean can see that. Not if they can help it.

"We think your brother can shift time," John says quietly, his voice low as though he's afraid Sammy might hear them, even all the way across the room, even though he's sound asleep and dead to the world and only seven-freakin-years-old, for God's sake. "He's a kind of time-traveler."

Dean can't help the scoffing sound he makes. John's words are just that nonsensical, even though he knows they're true. Hearing it said is just beyond absurd, and it makes Dean feel a little hysterical.

"What, you mean like Doctor Who?" he suggests, sounding peevish even to his own ears. "You're sayin' Sammy's a Time Lord?"

John's jaw clenches. He frowns, lowers his eyes, and shakes his head.

"I knew you weren't ready for this," he says.

Bobby puts his hand on John's arm.

"No, he's ready," Bobby says. "Give the boy a chance. You've put him in charge of Sammy, made him his brother's protector. He deserves to know."

Nobody put me in charge of Sammy, Dean thinks wildly. He's always been a part of me. Always will be.

Then he remembers the night his dad put Sammy in his arms to carry out of the house. The night of the fire.

"So you and Uncle Bobby aren't just hunters," Dean suggests. "You're like a special squad of protectors. Like a supernatural secret service."

John lifts his eyes, pride replacing frustration as he hears the words, reads the realization in Dean's face. He nods slowly.

"That's right, Dean," he says quietly. "And you're one of us. It's what all your training is for."

"And this is why things are after us," Dean suggests. "It's why we're always on the run."

John nods, and Dean shakes his head a little.

"I knew it," he says softly. "I knew there was a reason you were moving us all the time."

"Moving targets are harder to hit," John agrees.

"But this thing Sammy can do," Dean frowns. "How do you know for sure he has it? He seems pretty normal to me."

"It's something that doesn't show up until a kid is older," John explains. "Twelve or thirteen, whenever the kids hits adolescence. But we're pretty sure he's got it. It's why he was targeted that night in the nursery. It's why your mother died. She was trying to protect him. They – they go after these special kids when they're young and vulnerable."

"What kinds of things?" Dean asks. "What was the thing that killed Mom?"

John hesitates again, glances at Bobby, sits down on the closest kitchen chair, puts his head in his hands. Dean and Bobby wait patiently for John to collect himself and go on, to scrub his hands down his face and clear the tears from his eyes before he answers.

"We think it was Samael," John says after he's cleared his throat and taken a deep breath. "Sometimes called Azazel. The Angel of Death."

"An angel?" Dean feels his mouth drop open. "Those are real?"

John nods shortly.

"Rare, but real," he says. "This one is an archangel. One of the seven. The lore says Samael was a guardian of Isaac, that he stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son. Then he was a guardian of Esau, Isaac's oldest son. We think he was the first Protector, the origin of the idea of guardian angels."

"But why would a guardian angel kill Mom?" Dean feels his voice rise, hysteria and panic at the borders.

John shakes his head. "We're not sure," John admits. "We think Samael meant to take our Sam, raise him to become a special kind of Protector. There's lore about that, about Samael taking special children and raising them as his own, giving them power and training them to do his work for him. Your mother would've done anything to stop that from happening. She gave her life for Sam that night."

John's eyes fill with tears and he brushes them away furiously.

"Do you think she knew?" Dean asks, his voice breaking as he fights down his own tears. "Do you think she realized what was happening?"

John nods. "Oh, she knew," he says with utter confidence. "She knew because Samael came for her, when she was little. She remembered."

"It came for her?" Dean blinks in confusion. "How – why? Why would it come for Mom? Was she..."

Dean answers his own question, feels the air suck out of his lungs as realization dawns, as he watches the faces of his father and "uncle" confirm his sudden understanding with grim looks.

"Your mother was a time-shifter too," John nods. "It runs in families."

Dean feels like he's been punched, like his insides have just been yanked out and laid bare. It feels impossible, rocks his world to think that his brother – and his mother – are some kind of –

But he knows. He already knows about Sammy. So why does it feel like he's finding out for the first time?

"Mom – " Dean feels like he's choking, like he can't get enough air.

"Your mother loved you, Dean," John reminds him. "Don't ever doubt that. She gave her life defending you and Sammy. She would do it again in a heartbeat if she had the chance. I know it."

"But why didn't she just – if she can travel through time, why didn't she just go back and stop it?" Dean knows, or he thinks he knows, but he still needs to hear his dad say it. Needs his dad to confirm his suspicions.

"Because she was exactly where she was supposed to be," John confirms with a slow nod. "She was protecting the people she loved."

"But she could've traveled back – before it happened – she could've stopped it. She didn't have to die!" Dean's sobbing openly now, hot tears falling steady and wet, rolling off his cheeks and down his neck into his shirt-collar. John shakes his head slowly, sadly, looking at his hands, twiddling his thumbs a little as if he'a tempted to reach for Dean but can't make himself do it.

"It doesn't work that way," John says. "I wish to God it did, but that's not how it works."

He's blinking back tears again, wipes angrily at his face with the back of his hand, clenching his jaw as he looks up at Dean again, stern and commanding.

"Now you know," he says, his voice hard. "You understand what we're up against. You see how important it is to be prepared. The things that come for us – for Sam – have to be stopped. Your training, all the monsters I hunt and kill, all of it – it's all for Sammy, so he can grow up and become who he's meant to be."

Dean's still sobbing, his body heaving and trembling with grief and shock.

"What?" Dean's voice is raw with crying, but he needs to know. "What is Sammy supposed to do, Dad?"

John glances at Bobby, and Bobby nods at him, and again Dean is overwhelmed by the secrecy, the knowledge these men have been withholding from him. From Sam.

"There are stories," John says. "Old stories. That's all they are. They tell us that we're all living in some kind of alternative universe, created back at the time of the angels, the time of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel and the Garden. The stories say that what seems real and always seemed real isn't. And they say that a time-shifter can fix it, put things back the way they were, the way they're supposed to be."

Dean stares, trying to understand, to make sense of what John is saying.

"You mean, all the monsters, all the supernatural things – they're really NOT real after all?" he tries, but the double negative screws with his head and he's already thoroughly confused.

"Oh they're real, all right," John huffs a breath. "They're just not supposed to be real. They're supposed to be pretend. The world isn't supposed to be full of monsters, Dean. It's an accident."

"And you think – " Dean scrunches his brow, thinks hard to keep it straight. "You think Sam can fix it?"

John nods slowly. "We think so, Dean," he says carefully. "We hope so."

Dean shakes his head, trying to clear it.

"You understand now why I had to be so hard on you, Dean," John clarifies, lifting eyes full of pain and determination.

Dean has to look away; if he doesn't he knows he'll never stop sobbing.

"You see what I did," John says. "You understand why I did what I did."

It's like an order, like John's telling Dean what to think, how to feel, trying as he always does to control every aspect of Dean's life. But Dean knows he's keeping his own counsel on this, because he knows what John doesn't, and his instincts are screaming at him to keep his secret, to protect his little brother from this crazy destiny as long as possible. He can't ever tell John about Old Sam. Old Sam belongs to Dean, not Dad. Old Sam has always been Dean's secret, and as long as he stays that way Dean can feel he has at least some control over this crazy thing.

So Dean nods, fighting down the tears and the grief and all the pain so he can show his father that yes, he's on board. Yes, he sees. Yes, he understands why his father did what he did.

Which is why John's hard back-handed slap, straight across his face so that Dean feels nothing but pain and shock at first, then humiliation when he realizes he's been knocked sideways onto the floor, takes him completely by surprise; he never saw the blow coming because he was so wrapped up in the shock of his father's revelation.

"Never," John says, standing over Dean where he lies on the floor, squinting up at his father from the side of his face that isn't hurting and starting to swell. "Never point a gun at another hunter. Not unless you mean to kill him. And if you do, you need to be prepared to die, because most hunters would just as soon kill you as look at you. Are we clear?"

Bobby gives him an ice pack and he beds down on the floor next to Sammy that night, the pain in his face momentarily relieving the pain in his heart, and he wonders briefly if that isn't jut what his father intended. Sometime in the night he feels Sammy's fingers on his face, stroking gently, carefully, and he knows Sammy was awake for that last part with Dad. Dean kisses the little fingertips, then gets up and climbs onto the couch with his brother, snuggling between the back of the sofa and Sammy's body, careful of Sammy's leg and his own cheek, lacing his fingers with Sammy's and spooning his little body tight against Dean's chest, against his heart, where he belongs.

*

"Asshole-bastard-motherfucker!"

Old Sam is there the next morning, in the garage, when Dean goes out to work on his Mustang. He examines Dean's face with gentle, probing fingers, making sure of the bone, checking to confirm that John hasn't broken anything.

"Ow!" Dean complains, pulling away and batting Old Sam's hand irritably. "I'm okay! Just a little sore, is all."

"Dad's such an asshole," Old Sam breathes furiously, his chest heaving with frustration. "You had every right to try to get some answers, after what he put you through on that mountain."

"You coulda jus' tol' me," Dean says, his words a little slurred because his cheek is so swollen.

"I did tell you!" Old Sam protests. "I'm living proof of freaky supernatural power right here in your own family, Dean. What more do you want?"

"You coulda tol' me about Mom," Dean says petulantly.

Old Sam sighs, looks away for a minute, thinking, then nods.

"You're right," he agrees. "I should've told you about Mom. I didn't think it mattered."

"It matters!" Dean raises his voice angrily. "It matters, Sam! 'Course it matters! I find out my Mom's a time– a time – whatever the thing is – and nobody told me? Not even my time-traveling gigantic dork of a brother? What's the matter with you?"

Old Sam takes a long breath, lets it out slowly, shakes his head. He's young today, probably in his early twenties, and he's so good-looking it makes Dean's heart race.

"Okay," Old Sam sighs. "I agree, I probably should've told you. But I only found out myself after I started traveling. Meaning, you never told me, Dean. So what's up with that?"

"I was probably just trying to protect you," Dean reasons, finding it difficult to think straight, as he always does, when he has to imagine his older self making decisions like never telling Sammy about his weird-ass supernatural heritage.Yeah, he can imagine that, all right. In fact, it sounds like a damn good idea, and Dean decides then and there that Sammy doesn't need to know, needs his childhood to last as long as possible.

"I mean, you heard them last night, right?" Dean says, even though he's pretty sure little Sammy didn't hear a thing. "What Dad and Uncle Bobby said. You're supposed to save the world or something. How am I supposed to tell Sammy about that? Huh?"

Old Sam shakes his head. "You don't," he agrees. "I found out on my own. The first time it happened. I looked it up. I researched the hell of out it because you wouldn't tell me a Goddamn thing, Dean."

Dean frowns, ignoring the last part of Sam's accusation because he's suddenly overwhelmed by the first part.

"Oh yeah?" he growls. "When? I mean, how old were you -- how old is Sammy gonna be when he -- the first time he -- "

"Twelve," Old Sam breathes. "I was twelve the first time I traveled."

Five years, Dean thinks. Sammy's got five years to grow up. It's such a relief he wants to cry. Then he thinks back and realizes he's never seen Old Sam that young, which means --

Oh, to hell with it. This just couldn't get any more confusing, and his cheek hurts.

Which is the moment John takes to come striding into the garage, looking around with a frown before he looks at Dean, winces a little when he sees the bruise on his eldest's cheek.

"Who are you talking to?" he asks, and Dean looks over to where Old Sam was standing a moment ago, shrugs.

"Nobody," he answers, the lie slipping off his tongue so easily he doesn't even think about it. "Just thinking out loud, I guess."

"Huh," John nods. "Well, when you're done thinking so loudly, come on out here and lets do some target practice."

"Yes, sir," Dean nods, wiping his hands on the oil cloth he's been holding the entire time and sets it aside so he can follow his dad out into the yard.


PART THREE -- Back to Masterpost
Walker in pink

The Time Traveler's Brother - Chapter Three

Within the week, they're on the road again.

John announces that he's taking them to the Grand Canyon on a family vacation, and it takes all of Dean's will and attention not to refuse. Part of him understands his father's need to make up for how harsh he's been, but most of him is still hurting and angry that his dad put them through that, almost got Sammy killed. He's still reeling from the revelation that his mom wasn't quite human, and neither is his sweet, perfect little brother​, and it haunts his thoughts and dreams so that he can't think straight. It feels like his world has been completely turned on its head.

Because the truth is, Dean was just fine with Old Sam being his protector, his friend, this grown-up supernatural time-traveler who jumps into his life to take care of him and Sammy. It's another thing completely, facing the idea that Sammy will turn into that someday. It completely freaks him out, in fact.

Dean decides it's time to get some more answers.

They're curled up on the couch at a Doubletree Inn in Utah, watching re-runs of "Family Ties" and eating pizza while their dad sleeps in the bedroom, when Dean realizes Old Sam is there, just sitting quietly in the armchair in the corner, watching with them.

"Can I talk to you?" Dean asks, untangling himself from his little brother and heading toward the door, grabbing his coat from the back of the couch.

He doesn't glance back because he knows Old Sam heard him. Dean's already more comfortable than he probably should be with this older version of his little brother, and despite his dad's revelations, he doesn't think of Old Sam as a monster, or a freak. He's just Old Sam, his trusted friend.

Outside, the air is cold and crisp; early fall desert air. Dean heads toward the diner down the street and Old Sam falls into step beside him, giving Dean the distinct impression that this is something very familiar to Old Sam. He glances up at the tall man, notices how young he looks today compared to other times, wonders "when" he came from. Realizes for the first time how weird that is. Thinks about the fact that Old Sam is like an imaginary friend, somebody who comes and goes when he needs him but nobody else can see him.

Except Sammy, of course, who takes Old Sam so much for granted he doesn't even notice him.

It suddenly strikes Dean as weird that none of the adults seem to see Old Sam, including his dad. But that's because Old Sam only appears when Dean's alone. Or if he shows up in a public place, it's always in the background, like across the playground or parking lot or on the other side of the schoolyard.

"How come grown-ups never see you?" Dean asks. "Are you invisible?"

Old Sam smiles, shakes his head.

"No, Dean. I guess it's because they don't notice me."

"You're huge," Dean protests. "How do they not notice you?"

Old Sam shrugs.

"When they do notice me, I move on. You don't see me when that happens, I think. Or I go back. I'm here just for you."

"Yeah," Dean nods. "How does that work exactly? Cuz I don't remember calling for you, or praying for you. You just show up. How do you know to come when you do?"

Old Sam shrugs again.

"I don't know, Dean, it's kind of a mystery to me too."

Dean leads them into the diner, sits down at a booth and lets Old Sam order him a hot chocolate and coffee for himself before he speaks again.

"Where you came from today – am I there? All grown up?"

Old Sam nods.

"And when you go back – do you always go back to the same place you came from?"

Old Sam nods again, takes a sip of his coffee, puts it down.

"I must hate it when you go," Dean speculates. "Old me, I mean. Do I yell at you when you come back?"

Old Sam smiles, ducks his head.

"Sometimes," he agrees. "You hate time travel."

"Do you ever see the future?" Dean asks. "I mean, do you ever go forward in time?"

Old Sam lifts his eyebrows, nods.

"At first," he says. "When it first started, I only went forward. I kept ending up with Old Dean. That's what I call you when I see you in the future."

"Huh," Dean huffs out a breath. "Same here. I always think of you as Old Sam."

Old Sam smiles. "I know," he murmurs.

"So the first time it happened, were you – did it freak you out?" Dean asks. "Did it seem like something – I don't know – like something scary?"

Old Sam shakes his head.

"Not really," he says. "You were there. It felt normal."

"But I must've been surprised to see you all young again," Dean suggests. "I mean, I guess I recognized you – I must've remembered what you looked like when you were little."

"You did," Sam nods. "And you weren't surprised. You seemed a little irritated, but you were doing your best to be patient, I think."

Dean thinks about that for a minute, sips his hot chocolate, smirks a little at the idea of himself as an old guy, still feeling exasperated by his little brother's crazy antics.

"How old was I?" he asks.

"Pretty old, I think," Old Sam says. "Maybe forty or fifty. You didn't seem young at all."

"Yuck," Dean screws up his nose in distaste. "I don't wanna be THAT old. That's older than Dad!"

Old Sam ducks his head again, grinning.

"You're not that bad," he protests softly.

Dean shakes his head, having trouble imagining being old, ever. Of course, he's seen Old Sam when he was old like that – Dean remembers back to the first time Old Sam appeared in his room at Pastor Jim's, how ragged and weary and ancient he seemed.

"Do you ever go back before I was born?" he asks, thinking he knows the answer to that question, and is completely thrown when Old Sam nods.

"Once," Old Sam admits. ""One time I ended up in our old house in Lawrence. With Mom."

Dean stares, shaken to the core. Old Sam met Mom.

"So I – I wasn't there?" Dean asks, struggling to fight back his sudden homesickness. His grief.

"Oh, you were there," Old Sam nods. "You just weren't born yet."

Dean takes that in, frowning, then blushes a little when understanding finally dawns.

Oh. Oh.

"So – how did she seem?" Dean can't help the instant tears that form at the back of his eyes, choke the back of his throat.

"She was good," Old Sam says softly. "Once she got over freaking out that I was there. I had to tell her who I was, and she believed me right away, which was not what I was expecting. Then she told me she was a traveler too. She helped me a lot. Explained things."

Old Sam reaches across the table, squeezes Dean's arm gently.

"She was incredibly excited about you," he says. "Asked me all sorts of questions; what were you like, what did you look like, what were you good at, what kinds of things you liked."

Dean thinks about that for a minute, then pulls his arm away, sudden anxiety gripping his heart in a vise.

"You didn't tell her," he accuses darkly. "You didn't tell her what was going to happen to her."

Old Sam's mouth opens, then closes again as he looks away, shaking his head a little.

"I did, actually," he says, huffing out a breath. "I broke the rule and I told her." He looks up at Dean and his eyes are shining with tears. "How could I not? She was sitting there, in her flowing maternity dress with you in her belly, so beautiful and alive and – how could I not, Dean?"

Dean stares, frowning now. "But then – why did she – I don't understand," he murmurs, half to himself. "Why didn't she stop herself? Why did she go into your nursery that night? Why, Sam?"

Old Sam shakes his head. "I don't know, Dean," he answers, his voice breaking with feeling. "I just know she did it anyway, even after I told her."

Dean's head is spinning with the effort to understand what he's hearing, but it doesn't help. He still can't get his mind around the idea that his time-traveling mother went willingly to her own death. Left him. Died trying to save her baby. Succeeded at that, obviously, since the proof is sitting across the table from him right now, as well as lying on a couch watching TV back in the motel.

It takes Dean a solid minute, but he finally gets it. Or thinks he does.

"So she didn't have her powers anymore," he suggests. "She wasn't able to do what you do anymore."

Old Sam shakes his head. "I think it stopped for her when she became pregnant," he says. "She kind of explained it – having something to do with displacing two souls in time – I guess because you were there too, her body wouldn't do it anymore. Nature or whatever made her that way – whatever made us this way – it wouldn't let her travel after that. Even after you were born. Babies need their mothers, constantly, without having them suddenly disappear in time – or something like that."

Both brothers sit silently for a minute, sipping their drinks, lost in thoughts about their mother and her sacrifice. Dean can't stop the tears rolling down his cheeks, wiping angrily at them with his sleeve. It's all Sam's fault, his brain screams. If Sammy hadn't been born –

If Sammy wasn't in his life Dean would have no life. Somehow, he knows that with every fiber of his being. Not a life he would want to live, anyway.

Dean takes a deep breath, raises his eyes to Old Sam's, sees the sorrow and despair there, and that's all it takes.

"Not your fault," he says brusquely. "She loved you. You were her baby. You're my brother. End of story."

"Okay," Old Sam says in a soft, small voice, like he's a little boy taking the word of his big brother, following his lead on this thing like he always does.

"So – " Dean struggles to get back on track, get the answers he came for. "So you can't tell me what's gonna happen? That's some kind of time traveler's rule or something, right?"

Old Sam's eyes drop to his coffee cup, he tilts his head a little, sets his jaw, and Dean knows he's right.

"Cuz if you tell me about something that hasn't happened yet, I might do something to change it, right?" Dean suggests, recalling the Edith Keeler episode of Star Trek, which seems wildly inappropriate for this moment somehow, since it's a love story, for crap's sake.

Old Sam raises his eyebrows, squirms a little on his bench, then looks up and meets Dean's eyes, his gaze steady and full of compassion.

"You know that's true, Dean," he says quietly. "You're the one who said it to me, the first time I traveled to you in the future."

"I did?" Dean stares. "What did I say exactly?"

Old Sam licks his lips, looks away like he's trying to remember the exact words, and Dean can see that for Old Sam, it's been a few years now since that first time.

"You made me promise," Old Sam says. "You said, 'Sam, you have to promise me, no matter how I beg you, you can't tell me about the future. Promise me, Sam!'"

Old Sam looks up, meets Dean's eyes with a slight smile.

"So I did," he says. "I promised."

"That's why you didn't tell me about the shtriga," Dean says. He shakes his head. "I was so mad at you!"

Old Sam nods. "I know. I'm sorry, Dean. I really wish I could've told you about that so you didn't have to go through it again. When you first told me after we grew up I felt terrible, cuz I knew I could've stopped it – Could've prevented all that suffering – "

He dips his head, his cheeks flush, and Dean realizes he's fighting back strong emotions. Dean watches, fascinated, as Old Sam's eyelashes grow wet against his cheeks, watches as Old Sam struggles to regain his composure.

Dean is hit with the sudden thought that Old Sam is really beautiful. The idea shocks him, makes his cheeks hot and the blood flow hot and low in his belly, and he flicks his eyes away, suddenly uncomfortable and deeply confused. Girls are beautiful, he scolds himself. Mom was beautiful. Boys can't be beautiful. This is my brother.

"Okay, let me get this straight," Dean clenches his jaw, fights back the weird feelings he can't seem to control. "You're a time traveler, but your only usefulness is traveling around in time to visit me. You obviously grew up – I guess I did my job there, keeping you safe and taking care of you so you could grow up, right? Don't answer that, it's obvious."

He's says the last bit because Old Sam is frowning, looking pained, like he knows he's going to be asked questions he can't – or won't – answer. And it makes Dean mad, 'cause he needs the answers, damn it.

"So you travel around, helping me when I might otherwise get myself killed, is that it?" he tries again.

Old Sam hesitates, looks worried, so Dean shakes his head.

"Never mind. That's obvious, too," he says firmly. "The thing I don't understand is, why? Why waste your time travel skills on me?"

Old Sam stares. "You're my brother, Dean," he says, like it means a lot more than that. "We protect each other. I always figured it was this reciprocal thing, you know? Like you raising me, keeping me safe, then me returning the favor."

"But every time you do it, you're changing things," Dean protests, frowning. "I mean, every time you travel back in time to save me from getting hurt or killed, you're changing the past. Changing the outcome. You're breaking your own rules."

"They're your rules, Dean," Old Sam reminds him. "I'd gladly jump in and save you every damn time you're in danger, but that's not how it works. You have to call me first. Or whatever you do that gets me here. You're the one in charge, not me."

"That just doesn't make any sense," Dean insists. "I don't call you. Half the time when you show up it's a complete surprise."

Old Sam stares, frowning a little, and his eyes flick back and forth, like he's thinking and trying to figure things out, before they meet Dean's again, sending a shiver down Dean's spine and across his middle, settling in his belly again.

"Then it's subconscious," Old Sam suggests. "It's something you do without realizing you're doing it."

"Then I'm not in control," Dean shrugs. "It might as well not be me in charge of it at all. Maybe it's all you after all."

Old Sam shakes his head vehemently. "No way," he says. "I've tried. I – there's stuff I can't tell you, but there've been times – there will be times – and I wish I could've been there, and I try to make myself go there, but I just can't. It's all you, Dean. That's all I can say."

Dean's mind spins with the thought of all the future moments when he'll need Old Sam and he won't be there...

But he will be there, if Dean wants him. That's what Old Sam has just explained to him.

"So it's all a big stupid circle," Dean breathes. "Like the chicken and the egg. I keep Sammy safe so he can grow up and travel around protecting me when I'm little."

Old Sam is nodding, looking down at his coffee cup, and Dean realizes he has one last question, the thing that's been nagging him since they started this conversation.

"But here's the thing I don't understand," he says, waiting for Old Sam to meet his eyes again. "Why me? How come I get a time-traveling brother for a guardian? How come you're the supernatural creature in my world? The only one I can't kill?"

Old Sam grins broadly at that, shakes his head. "I don't know, Dean," he chuckles. "Just lucky, I guess."

Dean scoffs, raising his hot chocolate to his lips, letting his eyes slide away out the window, back toward the motel where the younger version of his brother lies sleeping.

"Yeah, I guess," he agrees, huffing out a laugh.

When he looks back, Old Sam is gone.

*//*

Chapter 7:

Later, Dean marks that visit as the first time he realizes he's in love with his brother.

By the time he's twelve he knows he's in trouble. It's confusing and damned uncomfortable. He thinks about Old Sam all the time, about how he looked in the diner with his eyes downcast and tears on his lashes, about the flush in his cheeks and the way his bangs fell across his forehead. When Dean wakes up in a wet spot, fleeting visions of those eyes looking down at him, Sammy's little-boy body asleep and oblivious next to him, he knows things have changed. It's confusing because Sammy's right there in the bed with him when Dean has sex dreams about his older self, and that is so messed up Dean can't even think straight. There is no way in hell Dean's gonna poison his little brother's childhood with his pervy, lustful thoughts, which he can't control, especially when he's sleeping.

As far as he can tell, there's only one thing to do. Dean begins to demand that they sleep separately, that Sam stop holding his hand all the time, that they stop touching so much. Sam's still only seven, and it makes him hurt and angry. Dean pushes Sam away, physically hurts him one night because Sam is crying and needs comfort and Dean will not let him come into his bed.

"But why, Dean?" Sam implores, tears streaming down his cheeks.

"Because you're a big kid now. You need to sleep in your own bed."

"But I wanna sleep with you!" Sam sobs. "I can't sleep if you're not there!"

"Sure you can," Dean insists. "You just gotta give it a try for awhile. It won't happen overnight, but you'll get used to it eventually."

"So I can't ever sleep with you?" Sam gasps. Apparently it hadn't occurred to him until this moment that the separate bed thing might be more than temporary. His eyes grow round as saucers, shock and horror overwhelming his former misery. His small body is shaking now, and he starts hiccuping, taking huge gasping sobs of air. Dean can see he's on the verge of a full-blown panic attack, and that's just it. No way can Dean be responsible for making his little brother have some kind of hyperventilating seizure.

"Oh for Chrissakes, Sammy," Dean spews his exasperation, using one of the swears he's heard in the schoolyard at his middle school. "Never mind. We don't have to start tonight, okay? Move over."

And just like that, the crisis is past and Dean is back in Sam's bed, spooning his small body and pulling up the covers over both of them as Sammy wipes his tears, struggles to stop crying.

"Shhh, it's okay, Sam. It's okay," Dean soothes, rubbing his brother's arms where he's got them crossed in front of him, pulling Sam against his chest and fitting his knees behind his brother's knees like always. And it feels so right, so perfect, as it always does. But there's definitely something new there too, and it makes Dean blush and shift back just enough so that he's not pressing into Sam's little bottom because it just isn't right and he can't explain it to Sam because Sam won't understand, but Dean knows he can't keep sleeping with his brother and that's all there is to it.

He waits, tense and wakeful, until Sam's breathing slows and evens, until his little body is relaxed and deeply asleep. Then Dean untangles himself as carefully as he can, tucks the blankets securely around his brother, and slinks off to his own cold little bed. He gets up ahead of Sam in the morning, so Sam never knows unless he wakes up with a nightmare, and Dean's right there when that happens anyway, just a few inches separating their beds. On the rare nights that John is sleeping in the other bed, the boys still sleep all night together, but Dean gets up early, takes care of his morning wood in the bathroom before either his brother or his father wakes up, and it's all good.

One morning John is awake when Dean comes out of the bathroom. John's lying still in his bed, watching Dean, who can't control the flush that rises in his cheeks. He looks away awkwardly, reaches for his clothes and occupies himself getting dressed, and John says nothing, just gets up and heads into the bathroom for his turn.

But that evening in the car, after Sam has fallen asleep in the backseat, John glances at Dean, who rides almost exclusively in the front passenger seat now.

"You're becoming a man, Dean," John says, his voice low and rumbly. "You know all about that, right?"

Dean feels the flush rising in his cheeks, spreading down his neck and across his chest. He nods shortly, unable to meet John's eyes.

"Yes, sir," he says, the automatic response saving him, for once, from his overwhelming desire to sink through the seat and ooze out through the floorboards.

"A man has needs, Dean. I'm not gonna lie to you; it ain't easy in our line of work, moving around all the time like we do. There's never gonna be enough time for much where girls are concerned. You can't ever get too attached."

"Yes, sir," Dean nods because he's already figured that part out.

"They teach you about being safe? In school, I mean. They teach that stuff in health class like they did when I was in school?" John asks, and the determined set of his jaw is enough to tell Dean that he means business, that he expects Dean to understand exactly what he's talking about without spelling it out.

"Yes, sir," Dean nods again, relieved because it's looking like John's not going to be very explicit after all, and that's just fine with Dean.

"Good," John's nodding too. "I expect you to be responsible and careful, Dean. That's the Winchester Way. Are we clear?"

"Yes, sir."

And just like that, it's over. No lecture about sleeping or not sleeping with Sam, which relieves Dean to no end because it worried him that John could see how close they'd become, that John would force the issue of separate beds. But he doesn't, either because he can't see it for what it is (and Dean isn't exactly sure what it is yet, so he's not sure what he's worried his dad might see) or because he's too busy and distracted to think about it, even if he does see it.

Which is when Old Sam shows up and explains it all to him in no uncertain terms.

"We're soul-mated, Dean," Old Sam says with a little smile that makes his dimples show.

Dean can't stop staring at Old Sam's face because – it's not like he's never seen him before or anything, but suddenly Old Sam looks different. He's younger than Dean has ever seen him, not much older than Dean, really. His face is smooth except for a little acne across his cheeks and chin, and his body is slim and loose-limbed, without all the hard bulking muscle he has when he's older. His hair is shorter than Dean's ever seen it – not even quite making it to the collar of his hoodie, and he looks tan and healthy, like he's been spending time in the sun.

He looks good. Happy.

"Huh?" Dean isn't sure he's heard Old Sam, but he sure as hell wants to see those dimples again.

How did his dweeby little brother grow into something like this – this incredible grown-up boy with long fingers and soft lips and those eyes...

Dean shakes himself, lowers his eyes because Old Sam is full-on grinning at him now, can obviously see how star-struck Dean is, and he suddenly feels like a complete idiot.

"The way you're feeling now?" Old Sam is saying, and damn it his eyes are actually sparkling. "This attraction – it's all perfectly normal. It's who we are. It's what we are to each other."

Dean shifts his feet, shoves his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans, hunches into himself a little, still not looking up.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he mutters.

But he does.

*

The next few times Old Sam visits he's this young man, no more than a teenager. He keeps laughing because he can see the effect he has on Dean and it's obviously really funny to him. Yeah, Dean thinks, it's freakin' hilarious. Dean can't even look at him because every time he does it makes his heart pound and his palms sweat. He stops eating (which is good, because Dad's gone again and there's not much food left in the cupboards). He has trouble sleeping, tosses and turns and finally jerks off in his own bed to visions of dimples and long fingers and sparkling hazel eyes.

Then Katie Shawnessey corners him in the hall outside the boys' locker room and lays one on him.

She's two years older than he is – fourteen – and she's on the cheer team. She's got long strawberry blond hair and blue eyes and legs and breasts and she just pushes him up against the wall and kisses him, full on the mouth, like she's been thinking about it for a while, like she planned it. She doesn't say anything, and when it's done she grins at him and damn it, she's got dimples.

Then she just flounces away, leaving him stunned and pleased and pretty damn hard.

After that, Dean starts getting more attention from Katie's friends, and suddenly it's like he's the new cheer team mascot. They invite him along when they go out for ice-cream, but he has to look after Sammy so he declines. Then they offer to let him bring Sammy along to Katie's house after school so they can practice their cheers and do their homework together. But Dean's the only boy and pretty soon the girls have decided it's more fun to play spin-the-bottle and practice kissing. Dean's lips are sore by the end of it, and he's learned that watching two girls kiss can be pretty hot, but he breathes a sigh of relief when Sammy interrupts, demanding they get home for dinner even though they both know their dad is off on a hunt again.

As they walk home Sammy bumps his shoulder into Dean's arm and Dean pushes him back, then slings an arm around him and pulls him close, nuzzling into his hair and leaving a smacking kiss on the top of his head with his sore lips.

"You'll always be the only girl for me, Sammy," Dean teases, because he can feel his brother's jealousy and knows he saw Dean kissing those girls.

And Sammy grins up at him, not even offended at being called a girl, just pleased to have Dean's full attention again, all to himself.

*

They're in a new school and a new town the next month, but Dean is now fully-armed with the knowledge of his own charm and good looks, so it doesn't surprise him when the older girls keep looking over their shoulders at him, flicking their hair and whispering together, then when they glance back and stare again until one of them gets bold enough to approach him.

Within the week he's charging for kisses behind the coke shack in the baseball field, making enough to take Sammy to the movies that weekend, buy him popcorn and candy and one of those blue slushy things he likes so much.

John keeps them moving every month that spring, so that later on it's a total blur when Dean thinks back. But in each school he gets a fresh start, gets to take advantage of the natural fascination that new kids bring to a boring small town where nothing new ever happens. He gets good at making an entrance, hanging out an extra minute or two after the bell rings so he can walk into class with the assurance that every eye is on him. He deliberately draws every ounce of attention as he moves casually and easily down the aisle to the first available seat, letting his eyes wander over the prettiest girls in the room, letting them feel the full force of his gaze and getting the same response every damn time.

He may be only twelve, but Dean Winchester already knows how to work a room.

None of it matters, of course, which is good in a way, because it's easier. He can practice his style, use his charisma, learn what works and what doesn't, without the pressure of figuring out how to fit in. He starts spending more time in front of the bathroom mirror, practicing his facial expressions, checking out his attributes. When he looks at himself, all he sees is a geeky-looking kid with freckles and pale skin and eyes that are too big for his face. His lips are puffy and his nose is too narrow, but his teeth are straight, and when he smiles his eyes sparkle. One of the smart girls with glasses told him he looks like a young James Dean, and once he's watched Giant and Rebel Without a Cause he decides he can live with that. Dude's pretty cool, with the hair and the leather jacket and the name.

Dean practices the actor's swagger, the way he stands and moves, then he tries out the attitude in the schoolyard and just about gets himself killed. Sure, the girls think he's pretty cute, but the other boys are not amused. He holds his own pretty well for the first few minutes as the gang of boys circles him, looking for a weakness, then awkwardly swing at him, missing every time. He uses his boxing moves, uses his wrestling moves, ducks away and lands a couple of solid punches, sends two boys yelping backwards with their hands over their noses, blood spurting out between their fingers.

But there are too many of them, and eventually they start landing blows, then they manage to tackle him and hold him down while the others can kick and punch viciously. He curls in on himself, tries to protect his face, wonders where the hell Old Sam is when he needs him. In the end it's the teachers who break up the fight, send him home with a seriously pissed-off John, who decides it's time for school to be out anyway and sends the boys on another survival mission, this time in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon. It's easier this time, and they make it without injury or serious mishap, walking out of the wilderness to the logging road where John picks them up. They're hot, tired, and dehydrated, but otherwise in good shape.

Which is when John announces it's time for Dean to start hunting. They drop Sammy off at Bobby's and head out to Litchfield, Connecticut, where a poltergeist is threatening tourists in an old seventeenth-century tavern which has recently been renovated and turned into a bed-and-breakfast.

The job is easier than Dean imagined. They check into the B&B as guests – father and son road-tripping together for the summer is such an obvious cover that Dean is surprised when the bell-boy looks skeptical, lets his eyes linger on Dean's lips a little too long. Which is the first time Dean realizes his looks work on both sexes.

Huh.

A little research at the local public library gives them an idea of what they're hunting, and it's not hard to find the grave of the little girl whose ghost is causing such trouble for the nice, respectable people who just want a quiet place to get away from the city for a weekend. The kind of people Dean can't help despising for their nice, comfortable lives and their assumptions that everything is perfectly normal all the time. It almost makes him feel sorry for the little ghost, who's had two hundred years to roam the earth and is pretty damned pissed off and insane as a result.

Dean's hands are bleeding by the time they finally dig up the grave, salt and burn what's left of the body, then cover the grave again and head back to their room to shower and sleep. John uses the first-aid kit to clean and bandage Dean's palms, assuring him that he'll grow callouses there and it'll get easier.

They find two more hunts that summer, all within a hundred-mile radius of the first one, all involving unhappy spirits or poltergeists. Dean suspects the ghost-hunting is deliberate on John's part. He's easing Dean into hunting, letting him get acclimated and used to the job before they go after anything too corporeal, anything that bleeds and would leave a messy corpse. Not to mention anything that could be twice Dean's size and weight and at least as strong and powerful as a full-grown man. Plenty of time for monster-hunting, John tells him one night when he complains that he'd rather be killing things with guts and gore, something to really sink a blade into.

When they get back to Bobby's place, Sam runs all the way across the salvage yard and straight into his brother, knocking him flat and driving the air out of him.

"Whoa! Hey! Hold on, there, Sam!" Dean fends off the blows that start as soon as Sam is sitting up, straddling Dean's hips so he can pummel him, landing blow after blow.

"You never called!" he's screaming. "You didn't call me! I thought you were dead!"

Dean stops trying to fend off the blows, grabs Sam's wrists and flips him easily so he's under Dean, on his back, struggling and spitting and yelling like a wild animal.

"I'm right here," Dean laughs at Sam's passion, his red face and flashing eyes. Dean laughs because he's embarrassed, because he knows he should've called, because he knew Sam would be going out of his mind worrying about him. But he didn't call. He didn't call because he was with Dad and they were doing the awesome work Dean's being trained for and he was too wrapped up, too focused on the job, to think about how Sam must be feeling, being away from him for the first time in his eight short years of life.

I'm a jerk, Dean thinks. I'm turning into a real bastard.

The crazy thing is, Dean thought about Sam every damn minute they were gone, had wanted to call just to hear his voice, had missed him so much it hurt. But Dad never mentioned Sammy once. Dad never seemed to miss anybody or think about anything else when he was on a hunt, and Dean wants to be like that. Dean wants to be just like his dad so much he can taste it. But being like Dad means not thinking about the effect of your work on the people you love because you're only thinking about the task at hand, not letting thoughts of loved ones get in the way, even though you tell yourself that's what you're doing it for in the first place.

And for Dean, not thinking about Sammy is never a possibility.

"Nothin' to worry about, Sam," he grins as he holds Sam's wrists, keeps him securely pinned. "I'm fine, see? Dad and I are fine."

Sam stops struggling, pants up at Dean, his eyes full of tears, his wrists feeling small and delicate in Dean's grasp.

"Don't ever do that again," Sam says, his voice low and hoarse from screaming. "Never. I mean it, Dean. Don't ever go away like that and not call."

"Oh, what are you, my wife?" Dean taunts, and that's the last straw. Tears overflow Sam's eyes, cascade down his cheeks and into his ears. He's as miserable as Dean's ever seen him, shaking his head and straining to break free, not looking at Dean, turning his head to try to hide the evidence of his suffering.

And Dean just breaks, letting Sam's wrists go so he can gather him up, pull him to sitting so he can wrap his arms around him, fighting back his own tears as Sammy sags against him, wraps him up in his arms and holds on for dear life, sobs stifled in Dean's shirt front.

"God, so emotional, Sam," Dean murmurs into his brother's hair, running his hands up and down his back as he holds him, soothing. "It's okay. It's really okay."

"I hate you! I hate you!" Sam sobs brokenly into Dean's chest, and Dean shushes him, holding him tighter as Sam clings, clenching and unclenching his fists in the back of Dean's shirt.

Dean feels the familiar shimmering of air that heralds the arrival of Old Sam, and Dean looks up over Sammy's shoulder at the tall, gorgeous young man who stands across the yard, watching them. He's not sure what makes him do it, but with Old Sam watching him – those old-soul eyes of his full of sadness and compassion and knowledge of things Dean can only guess at – he's not sure why, but he's suddenly pushing Sammy back, looking into his eyes, making sure Sammy really hears him when Dean says what suddenly seems like the right thing to say.

"I'm sorry, Sam," he says, all sarcasm and bravado gone, replaced by utter sincerity. "I'm really sorry. I should've called. I let you worry, and that was wrong. I promise, I won't do that again. I promise, okay? Never leaving you again."

Sammy nods, sniffles, wipes his nose with the back of his hand, so that Dean has to use his shirt-sleeve to wipe the tears and snot away, gently and patiently because it's Sam and he's hurting and this is so very important.

"Okay," Sam sniffles, raising his eyes to Dean's again, nodding. "Okay. Yeah. Okay, Dean."

Dean looks up, over Sammy's shoulder, but Old Sam is gone.

*

They stay with Bobby until school's about to start, then they're off to Nebraska again for the first part of the school year. A week before Christmas John takes off, and when he's not back on Christmas Eve, Sam's starts asking the hard questions. Only this time, he's read John's journal. He knows.

Not that Dean's done such a bang-up job of hiding things from him. Sam knew something dangerous was happening when John and Dean took off last summer; he got enough out of Bobby to get the idea into his head that his dad's some kind of spy, or maybe a terrorist. Either way, Bobby was only able to shut Sam up by giving him a special protection amulet for Sam to give to his dad.

Only Dad isn't there, and when Dean tries to make it up to Sam for ruining his childhood, for letting him in on the family secrets, by stealing a Christmas tree and presents from a nice house down the block...

"Here, take this," Sam says, handing Dean the wrapped amulet. "I want you to have it."

And Dean is more moved than he will ever admit, opening the newspaper-wrapped little pendant and slipping it over his head, letting it rest where it will for almost twenty years, pretty darn close to his heart.

*//*

Old Sam's visits have been few and far between since Dean's twelfth birthday, and the next year passes pretty much the same. Old Sam appears at a distance once in awhile, watching, but he rarely shows up in private anymore, so that Dean can talk to him. Not that he would if he could. Dean's in the throes of early adolescence, so oversexed and full of want he can barely function. He jerks off all the time, takes up running as a way to ease the constant throb in his groin, gropes and kisses his way through endless after-school adventures with dozens of girls.

John keeps up his training, and he's getting some muscle, finally, his body beginning to fill out and lengthen, so that by the time he's fourteen, Dean is beginning to get noticed for his athleticism as much as his charisma. He makes the wrestling team, the swim team, even the baseball team in the spring, before John moves them and it all goes to hell again. Sammy comes to Dean's practices, tags along on his dates, pretty much never leaves Dean's side. Dean keeps that promise, at least. Sam brings his homework, writes his stories, tries out for the school play, surprising exactly no one when he lands a role as the only grade-school kid in the high school play.

That summer, John takes Dean on some hunts, but this time Dean convinces John to bring Sammy, leaving him in the car while John and Dean go after ghosts, evil spirits, even a black dog. For Dean, the defining moment is taking out a rugaru in Louisiana, plunging his silver blade deep inside the creature's body, giving it a satisfying twist, getting covered in blood and gore in the process. It's not everything it's cracked up to be, this hand-to-hand combat business, Dean decides as he's puking his guts out on the ground next to the Impala while John salts and burns the body. Sammy's comforting hand on his back almost breaks him; he feels raw and torn inside out. He keeps reliving the knife going in, the look of shock on the monster's face, followed by a kind of resigned blankness as death comes, terrible and surreal and miserable.

Dean could swear he heard wings, had a desperate moment when he worried there was another monster at hand, then silence as the rugaru slumped against him, covering him with blood and gore and the smell of death. He doesn't say much on the way back to the motel, and John leaves him alone after the initial compliment, the grunted assent that, "You did good." Dean takes the longest shower of his life, scrubbing and soaping himself until his skin is raw and pink, but he still smells it – the death, the blood, all of the thing's life just pouring out of it all over him.

When he comes out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, Sammy is already asleep in one of the beds, and John is gone, his jacket and keys missing. Old Sam stands leaning against the doorframe, young and healthy, just watching him. He's younger than Dean's ever seen him, probably only a couple of years older than Dean.

"Haven't seen you for a while," Dean comments as he turns his back on his older little brother, rummaging in his duffel for clean underwear.

"I'm right here, Dean," Old Sam reminds him, nodding at the ten-year-old in the bed.

"Yeah, well you never come anymore," Dean pouts, keeping his back turned as he lets the towel fall, steps into his boxers.

The little sound Old Sam makes is something between a gasp and a whimper, cut off mid-stream. Dean glances back over his shoulder and sure enough, Old Sam's face is a delicious shade of red, his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans as he hunches in on himself, looking deliberately away from Dean's ass. It's so comical it actually makes Dean smirk, manages to take the edge off the horror of the last few hours, watching his brother squirm and blush.

"Like what you see, Sammy?" Dean goes for cocky because it feels so much better than anything else he's been feeling recently.

Old Sam bites his bottom lip, still deliberately not looking at him, glancing around the room to get his bearings.

"This is that night in Louisiana," he says. "The night you killed that rugaru."

Old Sam lifts his eyes then, watches Dean as he pulls on his tee-shirt, stalks over to the other bed.

"Yeah," Dean agrees. "That's the one. And unless you're gonna come over here and take my mind off my first kill, I think I'll just try to get some sleep now."

Old Sam's blush deepens and he shakes his head. "You know I can't do that," he says softly.

"Yeah, I figured," Dean nods. "Might mess with the timeline or somethin'. Wouldn't want that."

"It's not that, Dean," Old Sam looks up, fixes his gaze on his brother. "I – I already have someone. I'm in a relationship. With you, Dean. Older you."

"Good to know I waited till you grew up," Dean says dryly. "You're what – sixteen?"

"Yeah," Old Sam breathes. "How did you guess?"

"Cuz you used to come all the time when you were about eighteen, nineteen, and you were taller," Dean says. "More sure of yourself."

Sexier, Dean almost adds, but Old Sam is already blushing harder than he's ever seen him, so he figures he probably shouldn't push it.

"Dad's out getting whiskey," Old Sam changes the subject, licking his lips. "Gonna let you get drunk so you can sleep."

"I know a better way," Dean waggles his eyebrows and Old Sam's face breaks wide open, all his dimples and sparkling eyes just doing their thing.

"You're impossible, you know that?" Old Sam grins, and it's beautiful, just like it always is. "And you're what – fourteen?"

"And a half," Dean confirms, deepening his smirk, delighted by the effect he's having on this gorgeous boy. "Old enough for sin."

"Oh my God, shut up!" Old Sam is laughing now, shifting his feet and rolling his eyes, still blushing furiously.

"You know you want it, Sam," Dean can't help himself. This is too much fun. "Older me may have qualms about seducing his baby brother, but you ain't him, and I ain't your big brother, so..."

"I have to get out of here," Old Sam's eyes are wide, his expression caught between amused disbelief and sheer terror as he fumbles for the door, scrambles out into the night.

But not before Dean catches a glimpse of the bulge in his jeans.

Ha.



Dean gets drunk enough to pass out that night, just like Old Sam promised. The next day he's in bed with his first hang-over, much to John's disgust.

"It wasn't that much, Dean," he keeps saying. "I didn't let you drink that much. Jesus."

He finally leaves, declaring he's got a lead on something and the boys can just stay here for a few days so Dean can recover.

Later, once life has stopped hitting him so hard between the eyes that his head's spinning, Dean thinks back on those days when he and Sammy were holed up in the motel in Louisiana, just being together, as among the happiest days of his life. The motel has a pool, and they swim the days away, then lay out in the sun and swim some more. Sammy turns a beautiful shade of golden brown, but Dean burns, has to take a day out of the sun to recover, then slathers himself in sunscreen before he hits the pool deck again. Eventually, his skin turns reddish-brown, and Sammy laughs with sparkling, star-struck eyes as he watches Dean dive into the pool and come out dripping.

Old Sam is there, too, hovering on the periphery, looking old enough to be their father one day, then close to Dean's age the next. On the third day when he shows up they're playing Yahtzee on a table in the motel lobby, where they spend a lot of time because it's got a big air conditioner and the one in their room is so crappy. Dean waves him over, invites him to join their game, which becomes instantly competitive and intense. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that Old Sam has a good ten years on him, Dean manages to win by the skin of his teeth, owing at least partly to the fact that he had a slight head-start before Old Sam joined the game.

They celebrate by heading out to the diner, where Old Sam pays, and Dean talks him into buying them a six-pack of beer on the way back to the motel, then they sit together on the ratty couch and watch Terminator 2: Judgement Day on HBO. Dean sits between his little brother and Old Sam, sipping his beer and trying not to be too aware of Old Sam's thigh against his, their shoulders pressed together. Old Sam doesn't pull away, and Dean has the distinct impression this is good for him, that he needs this closeness with the younger version of his brother, and it makes him wonder what's going on in Old Sam's time that he should be feeling so needy.

Dean's just tipsy enough (and always horny enough these days) to take a chance and let his hand slip onto Old Sam's thigh, just above his knee, and for a moment or two Old Sam lets him leave it there. But as soon as Dean feels bold enough to finger at the inseam of Old Sam's jeans he feels Old Sam's hand on his, lacing their fingers together and firmly moving Dean's hand back to his own leg, leaving it there with a little pat, all without exchanging a single glance. He tries twice more before the movie ends, and each time Old Sam returns his hand, gently but firmly. The third time Dean can't help the smirk that cracks across his face, turns his head to face Old Sam, who is so close he can see the fine hairs at the end of his eyebrow, imagines leaning up and planting a kiss there, just to see what Old Sam will do.

Old Sam feels Dean looking at him, glances over and realizes how close they are and shakes his head.

"Nope," he says, his voice soft and low. "Uh-uh, Dean. Not happening."

"Oh, come on, Sam," Dean teases, leaning closer, so his lips are almost touching Old Sam's jaw. "Just one kiss. Come on."

"Shhhh!" Sammy hisses from Dean's other side, elbowing him irritably. "Watch the movie!"

Old Sam turns his head just enough to raise an eyebrow at Dean.

"Yeah, Dean, watch the movie," he echoes. He shifts away from Dean a little, and Dean huffs out a sigh and takes another swig of his beer.

"Your loss," he murmurs with a shrug, attempting nonchalance, trying to refocus on the movie. He can feel it the minute Old Sam relaxes against him again, knows with every instinct in his body that Old Sam needs this physical contact like he needs air and water to live. Dean wonders again what's happening in that other time, where Old Sam is from.

When the movie ends Sammy gets ready for bed, and Old Sam is still there, sipping his beer and flipping through John's journal.

"What's up, Sam?" Dean asks finally. "What's going on? Why are you still here?"

Old Sam looks up, his eyes tired and sad, and Dean wants to cuddle him, just take his clothes off and pull him into bed with him like he's a three-year-old again. But of course other things might get in the way of cuddling if they tried that, so Dean can't resist.

"You need a little comfort, little brother? Something happen in your time you wanna tell me about?"

"What?" Old Sam looks surprised, then confused, and he shakes his head, frowning a little. "No. No. Everything's fine."

"Bullshit, Sam," Dean presses, sure now that something is seriously wrong. "Hey, I may still be just a kid, but I'm your brother, and I know you. You got something that's bothering you, you tell me, y'hear?"

Old Sam shakes his head. "Dean, I can't. I – I just can't. It's nothing you can do anything about anyway."

"What is it? Goddamn it, what's going on?"

Which is when Sammy comes back in from the bathroom, and Old Sam turns away, taking a long pull on his beer. Dean glances at his little brother, then at his older little brother. This is so weird, he thinks, but it's a kind of weird he's gotten used to, so he pretty much takes it in stride, which is probably the weirdest thing of all.

"Hey, uh, Sammy?" Dean turns to his little brother, who's crawling into bed with his book – some geeky novel that's probably way too old for him, like Lord of the Rings. Yeah, definitely Lord of the Rings. One of them, anyway.

Sammy looks up expectantly.

"Yeah, uh, Sam and me are just gonna take a little walk," Dean says. "You salt the door after we leave, okay? We'll be back in about an hour."

"Okay," Sammy agrees, and Dean nods at Old Sam, resisting the urge to grab his arm, pull him up, just to make sure he'll come.

But it turns out Old Sam doesn't need any coaxing. He's on his feet and out the door with Dean without hesitating, follows Dean down to the end of the block of rooms and around the corner, where Dean uses all his strength to grab the tall man and push him back up against the wall, managing to knock the air out of him by using the only advantage he's got – the element of surprise.

Old Sam blinks down at him, clearly shaken. Wasn't expecting that, Dean thinks smugly as he tightens his handfuls of Old Sam's shirts and shifts his stance a little so he's right up against the older man, one leg wedged between Old Sam's, holding him there.

"Now you listen to me, Sam Winchester," Dean begins, determined to get what he wants this time. "You saw that movie. The future can change. Things don't have to go down the way you think they do. You hear me? So if something's happened in your time, something bad, you gotta tell me, so we can change it. So I can fix it."

Old Sam is shaking his head, his eyes filling with tears now, his jaw trembling.

"No, no," he gasps. "You can't change it. It already happened. I screwed up. I'm sorry, Dean. I messed up."

He's crying now, tears streaming down his cheeks, and now Dean knows it's the worst thing possible.

"It's Dad, isn't it?" he shakes Old Sam a little, his own voice breaking as the shock and grief hit him. He's so sure he's right suddenly, has a sudden flash of his father's dead body, covered in blood. "Dad's – he's – "

Old Sam shakes his head fiercely.

"No," he chokes out. "Not Dad. Oh God, Dean, I'm so sorry – "

It takes Dean a minute – a full minute – to understand what the hell Old Sam is saying, but when he does, his relief is palpable.

Not Dad. But not Dean either. Nobody dies, cuz Dean's seen the future. Old Sam's been there.

"No way, Sam," he pushes back, releasing Old Sam, who slumps against the wall like he wants to melt into it and disappear. Forever. "No way, man. I've seen you – old you, older than you are now, I'm pretty sure, and you already told me about seeing me when I'm old. I'm there. I get old. You already told me, remember?"

Old Sam nods, swallows, wipes his tears on his sleeve.

"Yeah," he agrees. "I remember. I mean, I don't remember telling you, but I remember seeing you when you're old."

"There, see?" Dean nods, flashing a cocky grin. "I survived. So whatever it is you think just happened to me in your time, I came through all right."

"You definitely died, Dean," Old Sam is saying, hysteria making his voice rise. "You were ripped apart by Hell hounds in front of my eyes."

Dean raises his eyebrows, stares in shock for a moment, then winces.

"Sounds fun," he says, going for sarcasm but hearing his own voice tremble faintly. "Thanks for the heads up. Staying away from Hell hounds when I'm about – how old are you? Twenty-five? Jesus. I don't even make it to thirty, huh?"

"Oh my God, I'm so sorry, Dean!" Old Sam is sobbing again. "Oh fuck!"

"Yeah, nice job having my back there, little brother," Dean snarks, pacing away as he fights down the fear tingling through his veins. Death by Hell hounds does not sound like an easy way to go.

"Oh my God!" Old Sam sinks down the wall till he's sitting on the ground, head in his hands as he lets the tears fall, his massive shoulders shaking with grief.

Dean watches him, arms crossed, still reeling from the idea that in some future twice his life-span away he's going to die a horrible death and Old Sam didn't save him. What does that even mean?

But it's not important now, he tells himself. Now Old Sam is grieving and full of guilt and Dean can help. He takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly, then moves closer to Old Sam so he can touch his head, run his fingers into his soft, shaggy hair.

"It's okay, Sam," he says softly. "I'm here now. It's okay."

Old Sam shifts, turning blindly toward him, wraps his long arms around Dean's knees, and lays his huge head against Dean's thigh, nuzzling into his leg as he sobs. It's awkward and unbalancing, so Dean drops both hands to Old Sam's head, kneading his scalp gently in an effort to comfort the giant man. Of course all he manages is a raging hard-on, the damp warmth of Old Sam's tears seeping through his jeans and turning him on like he's never been turned on before, and the sight of that gorgeous long body curled awkwardly around his legs, all that dark hair almost touching his--

"Hey, Sammy, it's okay," he murmurs, and then adds because he can't help himself, "If you wanna make it up to me with a blow job, I'm right here."

That gets a huffed laugh out of Old Sam, who hugs him tighter for a minute, so he thinks he really will lose his balance, then he raises his head and looks up at Dean, his face streaked with tears and snot, wet strands of dark hair sticking up and stuck to his temples and cheeks, hazel eyes glistening. He's so gorgeous it makes Dean's heart stop, literally stop, so that all he can do is stare, breathless, devastated and undone by the vision of his brother looking up at him with a look of such love and grief it makes him start to shake.

"Come 'ere," Old Sam begs, tugging on Dean's hips to pull him down.

And Dean goes, sliding onto the cold ground next to Old Sam, where he's smaller again, where they're sitting side by side with Old Sam's arms still around him, their bodies turned toward each other.

Dean freezes as Old Sam's big hand cups his face, long thumb smoothing along his cheekbone.

"This is it," he thinks as Old Sam gazes at him silently, and Dean's eyes drop to Old Sam's lips, licking his own absently in anticipation. His heart is pounding now, literally threatening to jump out of his chest, and Old Sam's hand moves down his neck, down to his chest, presses flat over his heart as if he knows – he knows how hard it's beating.

"You're so young, Dean," Old Sam says, his voice soft and reverent. "I barely remember you like this. To me, you were always bigger than me. Stronger. Tougher. Invincible. I was just this little kid, y'know? I always felt small. So helpless and useless. You and Dad had it all together. You guys knew how to do everything. To me, you and Dad were superheroes. I was just some stupid tag-along third wheel."

Dean is so mesmerized by Old Sam's eyes, his lips, his breath on his skin, that he barely registers Old Sam's words, barely hears him because he's rubbing his hand over Dean's chest, like he's feeling for wounds, like he expects Dean's chest to be shredded to the bone and Old Sam's beyond relieved to find it whole and solid beneath his questing hand.

All Dean can think about is Old Sam's hand on his dick.

Okay, he's shallow. Old Sam is clearly suffering, obviously trying to make sense of the past ten years of his life and Dean's moved, he really is, but he just wishes Old Sam would –

To hell with it. Nothin' ventured, as they say...

Dean leans in so fast Old Sam never has a chance. Dean figures it's the right thing to do, because if he didn't initiate this thing between them, well, Old Sam's making it clear he sees himself as a little kid, always looking up to his big brother, following his lead, even when his big brother is a fourteen-year-old kid with a raging hard-on and the kissing experience of someone much, much older. Which is why Dean makes the first move. It's only logical, he figures as he's pressing his lips to Old Sam's – and damn, they feel good, like molten perfection all covered with salty tears and snot and the homey sweat-and-spice scent of brother – soft and firm at the same time, responding of their own accord to Dean's kiss, like they had no other choice, like they would always respond as they were compelled to do.

Dean pulls his brother's firm, fleshy lower lip into his mouth, between his teeth, sucks and worries it for a moment before pulling back to attack the upper lip, softer and with a rough scrape of scruff. He slips his tongue along the seam, parting Old Sam's lips so he can push inside, eliciting a low moan and a huge warm hand cradling the back of his head, Old Sam's slick tongue sliding against Dean's like an old friend.

He's done this before, Dean thinks. For Old Sam, this is familiar. The thought makes Dean crazy with lust, pushes some button that totally short-circuits his brain, and the next thing he knows he's straddling Old Sam's lap, just sitting on him, pushing his hands under his shirt to feel him up like he knows how to do with a girl.

This is nothing like a girl. Old Sam is built. He's hard and firm and angular where a girl is soft and curvy. He's got hair on his face and his chest and he's – he's –

Dean can feel Old Sam's hard-on pressed against him, and it's huge. The man is seriously hung, like a fuckin' horse! And Old Sam's dick is rubbing against Dean's through their jeans and the friction is un-fuckin-believable and he can't help rutting against it frantically, his hands clenching and unclenching in Old Sam's shirt, their mouths moving together but not even really kissing anymore, just breathing hard and hot and Dean's tee-shirt rides up so their bellies press together and the slide of sweaty bare skin and the thought of that huge dick between his legs sends Dean over the edge and he's coming, that white-hot flash behind his eyes the only thing his brain registers as his balls pull tight and he's just done, destroyed, over.

He's vaguely aware that he's thrown his head back, his mouth open on a long silent moan, and Old Sam's mouth is pressed against his throat, gently kissing and licking, one huge hand still on the back of his head, the other holding him upright so he doesn't just collapse into a boneless puddle all over Old Sam's lap. As he comes back to himself Dean sags forward, riding out his aftershocks in a hazy, sweaty glow, face tucked under Old Sam's chin where he can still taste his skin.

Dean could fall asleep here, cuddled against this huge, familiar body that smells like his brother and feels like his hottest wet dream. But Old Sam is nudging him, pushing him away a little so he can get his arms around him and push to his feet at the same time, then he's carrying Dean like he's a little kid, like he's just a sleepy six-year-old and Old Sam is taking him home to bed.

"Come on, Dean, let's get you inside," Old Sam murmurs against his hair, and Dean only protests a little because it feels good to be carried. It's been forever since anybody did, and held like this with his head on Old Sam's shoulder he can almost forget the mess in his jeans, almost imagines he is a six-year-old again.

The room is dark when they get inside, the only sound the low hum of the air-conditioner and Sammy's deep breathing, telling Dean his little brother is soundly sleeping, which is good. Old Sam lays Dean down on the other bed, helps him undress, then disappears into the bathroom and comes back soon with a warm, wet washcloth. It feels so good, just letting Old Sam clean him off, leaving his soiled clothes on the floor, but of course it makes him hard again, and he's naked now and Old Sam is touching him – well, okay, not directly, but the washcloth isn't enough of a barrier for his brain to stop screaming "He's touching my dick!" and that's pretty much all it takes.

"Dean," Old Sam breathes, shaking his head a little at the result of his ministrations. In the dim light from the bathroom Dean can see the little smile turning up the edges of Old Sam's mouth, sees his eyes glitter. Old Sam took the time to wash his face while he was in the bathroom, while Dean was passed out on the bed, and now his hair is wet and slicked back, making the angles of his face seem sharper, stronger. Old Sam looks even less like Dean's baby-faced little brother; he seems almost alien, exotic, and it sends a thrill of fear and anticipation through him.

Dean grabs Old Sam's wrist as he starts to pull away, forces his hand to stay where it is, fisting Dean's dick through the washcloth as Dean stares up into Old Sam's face, mesmerized and trembling with need again. Old Sam seems caught too, unable to pull or look away, and as Dean's lips part, as his breath quickens, as he lets his tongue slip out between them as he works Old Sam's hand on his dick, controlling the pace and the friction, Dean is suddenly struck by the view he's giving Old Sam – the sight of his young, nubile body all naked and flushed and spread out on the bed, shaking with need – staring up at the man he trusts and loves with everything he's got –

And that's all it takes. Again.

"Jesus, Dean," Old Sam breathes as Dean comes all over his hand, Old Sam's hand, all over his belly and chest. Dean's eyes slide closed and he lets his hand fall off Old Sam's onto the bed, feeling soft and sleepy again and barely aware as Old Sam goes back to the bathroom for another washcloth, washes him more carefully this time, avoiding his dick and balls. But when he pulls the covers up over Dean and starts to move away Dean grabs his wrist, opens his eyes to look up at his brother. His lover.

"Stay," he commands softly, and Old Sam hesitates only a minute before giving a deep sigh, pulling back the covers and sliding under them, up against Dean's back where he spoons Dean's body, presses his lips against the nape of Dean's neck.

"Go to sleep, Dean," Old Sam murmurs, breathing against Dean's neck, making his skin tingle. Dean pulls Old Sam's tree-trunk-sized arm around him, tangles their fingers together, scoots back so his bare ass is pushed snug against Old Sam's jean-clad crotch, eliciting a satisfying little gasp from Old Sam who, as far as Dean can tell, hasn't let himself come once.

He wonders about that as he drifts off to sleep, decides it must have something to do with Old Sam's code of ethics on matters involving the seduction of fourteen-year-old brothers, and it makes him smile to imagine Old Sam reasoning to himself that he hasn't really had sex with this young kid if he didn't let himself come.

Ha.

Next Chapter -- Back to Masterpost
Walker in pink

The Time Traveler's Brother - Chapter Four

When Dean wakes up, Old Sam is gone. Dean gets up to use the john, grabs some clean underwear, then climbs into bed with his little brother, tucking his small body against him the way Old Sam held Dean before. He buries his face in Sammy's soft hair, breathing deeply, pushes his lips against the back of his head. The surge of emotion he experiences at that moment surprises him; it's like something has altered between him and Sam, some fundamental line has been crossed, a new level of intimacy forged. He laces his little brother's fingers in his, scoots up tight against Sam's back and whispers, "Love you, Sam," so softly it's like a breath, like a prayer. Sammy's body stiffens for a moment, then he mumbles something completely unintelligible in his sleep, squeezing Dean's fingers and hugging Dean's arm against his chest before he relaxes again, breathing deeply.

The next time Dean wakes up he's painfully hard, so he gets up to take a shower, taking his time, using the memories of last night to wring out two more orgasms before he gets dressed and goes out to find breakfast.

John gets back later that day and takes them on another hunt, this one involving a poltergeist on Long Island. Being so close to New York City is too much for Dean's sex-and-rock-n-roll-addled brain not to take advantage of, and he's on the LIRR as soon as the hunt is done, heading into Manhattan and straight to CBGB's, heart pounding and palms sweating at the thought of standing in the room where some of the greatest rock stars of all time have played.

He's deep in his fantasy of being a permanent part of the rock scene, joining a band and just hitting the road, so that when some girls invite him to join them, then get him so smashed the room starts to spin, he doesn't even hear his dad's voice calling his name at first, not until John is right there, tall and imposing and staring down the club manager, who apologizes profusely as John half drags, half carries Dean out of the club and into the car, where Sammy huddles in the back seat, staring at him with wide eyes.

But even as Dean protests loudly, complains drunkenly and irrationally that he could've taken care of himself, he was doing fine, John should trust him, damn it! he remembers the moment he glanced across the crowded room and saw Old Sam standing there, silent and watchful, his brow furrowed, shaking his head a little like he was seeing a part of Dean that seems too familiar, like this is nothing new.

*

Nothing really changes after that, but Dean later looks back on the next year or so as his wild days, the crazy days of adolescence, when his emotions and hormones get the better of his judgement, when he's almost out of his mind with his own natural urges. It's a nearly-constant fantasy for him these days, becoming a rock star, hitting the road with a group of guys and playing night after night to crowds of adoring fans, mostly gorgeous girls who are willing to do anything to keep his attention. He daydreams all the time, surrounds himself with loud, pounding music, blasting it on his little Sony Walkman. It keeps his mind off the reality of his life, off the feel of his silver knife cutting through skin and muscle and bone, the cry of the dying creatures whose blood spills out all over his hands and his clothes and makes him sick at first, then numb and panicked with his growing inability to feel for the things he kills.

They spend that fall and winter at Bobby Singer's place, where Sam starts the fifth grade and Dean is a freshman in high school. Bobby takes them hunting for game, an experience that leaves Sam reeling from his first kill, and leaves Dean sobbing alone in the garage, unable to shake the look in the dying animal's eyes, triggering as it does for him the guilt that he refuses to feel when he's killing anything supernatural. He makes Bobby take him out again as soon as he can, kills without hesitation this time, without remorse, to show that he can.

"It's okay to feel sad about killing an animal, Dean," Bobby assures him as they're grilling their elk steaks the next night. "The Indians believed you should thank the animal for giving up its life, and your gratitude would appease the gods."

"Native Americans," Sammy corrects from the couch, where he's curled up with a book, as usual these days. "They're called Native Americans, not Indians."

"Okay, Sam, whatever," Dean rolls his eyes.

"I guess killing is killing," he says to Bobby. "It's what we do, either because we gotta eat, or cuz we gotta protect people and make the world a safer place, right?"

Bobby shakes his head slowly.

"Dunno, son," he considers. "I think there's a difference. Animals are innocents. They don't do evil things. They don't deserve to die. Now your average monster exists for one purpose: to feed off of and destroy human lives. We have a responsibility to stop those things. So my point is, an animal giving its life up so you can eat is one thing. Killing monsters that deserve to die, that's something else."

Dean shakes his head. "Killing is killing," he repeats. "Feels the same, in the moment, cuz either way, you're taking a life."

Bobby studies him for a moment, pursing his lips.

"Some people would argue that those monsters we kill, they ain't alive in the first place. They're just existing. Now I don't know anything about souls, but I'd guess they don't have any, or if they do they're black and twisted and evil and really don't count."

"I don't know, Bobby," Dean says, still shaking his head. "When I'm killing something, it sure feels alive while I'm doin' it."

"You know what your dad says," Bobby reminds him. "It's all about your attitude. You gotta think about the monster that killed your loved one. You gotta remind yourself when you're killing a monster, you're saving somebody from going through what you went through. You gotta pretend you're killing the thing that killed your mom, every damn time."

Dean nods, swallows, looks down at the potatoes he's mashing.

"Yeah, I get that," he agrees. "That's what Dad says, and I get that. It's just – in the moment, when I'm sliding that knife in and the thing is just looking at me like it knows it's gonna die and I'm the one doing it..."

"You're putting it out of its misery, son," Bobby says firmly. "That's all it is. Ending its miserable, evil existence. Doing it a favor, really, if you need to feel some sympathy. Doing the right thing."

"Always feels wrong somehow anyway," Dean shakes his head a little. "Like every time I kill something, I'm cutting off a little piece of myself."

Bobby frowns, looks up from his grilling to stare at Dean for a minute.

"You've got the soul of a poet, Dean," he blurts out, then blushes a little and shakes his head, like he can't quite believe he just said that. "Come on, let's get these plates on the table."

And just like that, the philosophy lesson is over.

*

The next year passes pretty much the same. John takes the boys on the road around the end of March, stopping for a month or two at a time so Sammy can go to school. Dean goes too, but his heart's not really in it anymore. The subjects are getting harder, and he hates the remedial classes he gets assigned to, so by the end of the school year he's pretty much stopped going to classes, spends most of his time hanging around auto shops and music stores.

Sometimes John shows up to take them hunting on the weekends, or during school breaks, and sometimes he just shows up to take Dean to the driving range or to help him practice his pool game. That summer he sends Dean to a military training camp for teenage boys, run by an old Marine buddy of John's, and Dean has a chance to go up against Marines and special ops soldiers, improving his hand-to-hand combat skills about five-hundred-percent in the process. He also gets more wilderness training with Sammy, whose marksmanship is improving at an astronomical rate. John tells Sammy he's on the road to being the best sharp-shooter John's ever seen, and John's no slouch in that department himself.

After that night in Louisiana – the night Dean thinks about more than is healthy, probably – Old Sam's visits become random and rare for awhile, like he's deliberately staying away. But when he does appear and they're alone, Dean doesn't hesitate, just pushes the big guy up against whatever wall or table or other surface there is and makes out with him. He tries to do more, but Old Sam isn't having it, won't let him do more than kiss and feel him up. Sometimes he rubs himself off on Old Sam, just comes hard in his jeans. Sometimes it turns into a wrestling match, and then it actually becomes part of Dean's training, which is fucked up in ways he tries not to think about too much.

Because Old Sam is huge, and Dean doesn't seem to be growing fast enough. By the summer of his sixteenth year, Dean faces the fact that he hasn't grown much in almost a year, and he may just be as tall as he's ever gonna get. Which pisses him off, because he's still shorter than his father, and almost a foot shorter than his full-grown younger brother, which seems unbelievably unfair. Especially since the eleven-year-old version of Sam is still a total pipsqueak.

"You're not exactly short, Dean," Old Sam assures him when he complains about it. "And you make up in muscle what you lack in height."

"Wait, so this is it?" Dean stares, more frustrated than he's willing to let Old Sam see. "This is as tall as I'm gonna get?"

"Well, maybe another inch," Old Sam stands close, so he can compare Dean's height to his own, and it's damned humiliating, is what it is.

"But I'm the older brother," Dean protests. "And you – you're a total freak of nature. How are you even possible? My Sammy is like two-feet tall. When does this happen to you? Did you get hexed by some giant-making witch or something?"

Old Sam shakes his head. "Ew, no, Dean. Yuck. I don't know. I just – grew. Kinda late, I guess. College maybe."

"Well, thank God for small favors," Dean mutters. "At least I got a few years when I can still beat the crap outta ya when I need to."

They're back at Bobby's that fall, and it's been about three months since Old Sam last showed up, so Dean's been seeing a lot of girls, and he's even semi-steady with one, which bothers him because he feels like he's cheating. It makes him miss Old Sam more than he should, confuses him because who is it he's cheating on again? That older version of his little brother? Or the little brother who isn't old enough to care yet? All he knows is, whenever he gets back from a particularly hot date with Emily, all he wants to do is jerk off with a pair of his brother's underwear.

Forever.

When Old Sam finally shows up in the garage, Dean drops his oil rag and grabs fistfuls of Old Sam's shirts, pushes him up against the wall and just lays one on him, shoving one leg between Old Sam's and thrusting his hips against Old Sam's thigh as he kisses him. Old Sam holds him steady as Dean plunders his warm, wet mouth, letting Dean just maul him with his tongue, rut against him till he's panting and flushed.

The sound of a wrench hitting the floor makes Dean pull back, glance over reflectively to see Sammy standing in the doorway, staring, his cheeks flushed bright red, eyes round and bright, pink mouth open and curled into an almost-perfect "o". His eyes flicker from Dean to Old Sam, to where Dean has his leg pressed up against Old Sam's crotch, to the floor where the wrench is lying, obviously just dropped in shock when Sammy came through the door and saw Dean and Old Sam going at it.

Dean pulls away from Old Sam, starts to move toward Sammy, instinct to protect, to help his little brother breaking through the sex-crazed fog of his downstairs brain – but Sammy steps back, closing his mouth and shaking his head a little, then turns and runs.

"Sammy, wait! I can explain!"

Dean's urge to run after his brother is only prevented by Old Sam's hand on his arm, by Old Sam's soft, "Don't. I remember this. Just – let him have some space."

Dean hesitates uncertainly, torn between comforting his little brother and trusting his older one, decides he's too dazed and confused to think clearly either way.

"What – what just happened?" he stares after Sammy for a moment, then looks up at Old Sam, frowning.

Old Sam's face softens and his mouth turns up in a little smile, making his dimples show. He's about the same age he was the last time Dean saw him, and the time before that, making Dean think he's still about twenty-five, like he was in the motel in Louisiana, when they –

"It's the first time I realized I was in love with you," Old Sam says shyly, keeping his head down so he's shooting little glances at Dean through his lashes, which are fluttering against his pink cheeks. He's blushing, Dean realizes, and decides right then that it's the cutest thing he's ever seen, even if it shouldn't be because the guy is gigantic and powerful and cute is not something that should ever be used to describe something so big.

"I saw you making out with this guy in the garage and I – I wanted that," Old Sam continues, grinning stupidly. "With you."

"Wait – some guy," Dean clarifies. "You mean you didn't recognize yourself? You didn't realize it was you?"

Old Sam looks up then, stares at him, blinks.

"You never told me, remember?" he says, huffing a breath, vaguely indignant. "Yours and Dad's secret – don't tell Sammy he's a time-traveler. Remember? I had no idea."

Now it's Dean's turn to stare, to think back, to try to make sense of what Old Sam is saying.

"Seriously? All those years? All those times you hung out with us, you never had a clue?"

Old Sam swings his arms wide, shrugs, raises his eyebrows.

"How was I supposed to know? There was this guy who hung around with us, yeah, and I sort of understood that there was some secret about him, because I knew better than to tell Dad when he was there. He was your secret and I was helping you keep it, and I was totally on board with that because you were so happy whenever he was there."

Dean can't stop staring. This is just so crazy.

"I never told you because I just assumed you knew," he says helplessly. "I figured you had some sixth sense or something, being such a special kid 'n all. You seriously never knew?"

"Not till I started traveling," Old Sam shrugs. "Then it became clear real fast. Then this made sense." He sweeps his arm up, gesturing to the space they were both standing in a few moments before, referring to the scene Sammy just walked in on.

"Until then, I was just dealing with finding out my brother was at least not exclusively into girls, which is what I thought before this moment, and trust me, that was a problem for me that I was just starting to face, so this was – a revelation. In a good way."

"Wow," Dean breathes, scrubbing a hand over his face, then widens his stance and puts both hands on his hips. He's vaguely aware that he's still covered in grease, still wearing only a tee-shirt and jeans, and that Old Sam is trying not to stare too hard at his biceps. "Sam – you were only eleven years old!"

Old Sam shrugs. "It took a while to process," he nods. "I didn't understand all the feelings I was having at first, but later, and for sure by my twelfth birthday, I was pretty much a goner. Never looked back. You – you were it for me, from that moment on."

Dean feels a warm rush of affection in his chest, feels it soften his features, making him smile fondly at Old Sam.

"Yeah," he breathes. "Same here, I think." He shakes his head. "Why is this not fucked up, again?"

Old Sam shrugs. "Maybe it is, but it's what we are. It's the bond between us. Later on, through everything that happens, it's the thing that keeps us together. That makes us who we are. It becomes – it's the reason we survive."

Dean considers this, studies the sincerity in Old Sam's face, winks at him.

"We get to have sex?" he asks. "Lots of sex?"

Old Sam blushes, grins ear to ear despite himself, mutters, "Oh my God, Dean, you're such a jerk."

"Come on," Dean coaxes, throwing his arms wide and puffing his chest out. "I'll bet you love me all covered in grease, back there in your future. So what'd'ya say?"

"Dean, you're fifteen years old," Old Sam shakes his head.

"So?" Dean's not one to back down from a challenge, no sir. "How old were you the first time I fucked you? Huh?"

"Oh my God, we are not talking about this," Old Sam blushes harder, if that's even possible, and now his eyes are sparkling.

"Don't have to talk at all," Dean waggles his eyebrows, steps boldly closer, slips his hands around Old Sam's slim waist, under his shirts, grabs his belt loops and yanks Old Sam's body against his, lifts his face to be kissed.

Old Sam hesitates only a moment, his eyes softening, lips parting as he cups Dean's face with both huge hands, accepts the contact of their bodies pressed together like it feels as familiar to him as it does to Dean. As he leans in Dean closes his eyes, feels Old Sam's lips press against his forehead, then his temple, the ball of his cheek, his eyelid, the corner of his mouth, before pressing soft, chaste kisses to Dean's lips. When he pulls back, leans his forehead against Dean's and sighs, Dean lets him, breathing the air between them, pulling his brother's air into his lungs.

"I can't, Dean," Old Sam says finally. "I have to go back. To you."

Dean thinks about this for a minute, then tips his head back so he can look up at Old Sam.

"Not cheating if it's with me," he tries, but he knows Old Sam won't. Not today. He's got that set look to his jaw, that stubborn glint in his eyes, even if they are blown almost black.

Old Sam still has his face in his hands, his thumbs idly caressing Dean's cheekbones. He shakes his head a little, smiling, then leans in to press one more soft kiss to the outer corner of Dean's eye, leaving his lips there for a second too long, flooding Dean's senses with powerful feelings he can't even begin to understand.

Then he's gone, leaving Dean unbalanced and empty, the air unnaturally cold and still.

*

Old Sam visits frequently that fall, always showing up in the garage when Dean is alone, which is new. Dean spends every spare afternoon after school in the garage working on the Mustang, and sometimes Sammy comes with him, curls up in a corner or in the car with a book while Dean works. Then Sam gets a part in the school play and his afternoons are absorbed with play rehearsals. After Old Sam's appearances have become daily for a while Dean stops attacking him every time he shows up, deciding this new pattern must mean something.

Old Sam is just annoyed.

"Why am I here?" he asks when it's the fifth day in a row and he seems to be coming from the same time in the future, so it's a pattern there too.

"I don't know," Dean's under the hood, tightening the brackets on the new engine block he's installed. "Maybe you're stuck."

Old Sam frowns, paces a little, looking around the garage like the answer's on the wall somewhere.

"I mean, I was just here. Everything's fine. You're fine. Why do I keep coming here?"

Dean stands up, lays the wrench down on his work table, wipes his hands on the oil cloth.

"Hell if I know, Sam," he says. "Maybe you're supposed to help me with this car. I got three months to get it running. It's an emergency."

Old Sam shakes his head, still pacing.

"I mean, this was a fairly stable period in our lives, right? We were staying with Bobby, you had this car every day after school to keep you out of trouble, I was – I was in that play, right? The Music Man?"

Dean finds a can of oil, opens it and starts adding it to the engine.

"Yep," he agrees, trying not to watch Old Sam's ass as it passes in and out of his peripheral vision.

"So I don't get it," Old Sam finishes, sweeping his arms up and letting them fall in a giant gesture of confused surrender.

"Maybe you've got it turned around," Dean suggests, finishing the can and tapping out the final drips before tossing the can in the trash.

"What?" Old Sam stares, frowning.

"Well, maybe you're not coming here for me," Dean shrugs, wiping his hands again. "Maybe you're getting away from him. Me. Old me. I'll bet I can be a real dick sometimes."

Old Sam's smile is a little wan, and Dean has a hunch he's not wrong. He leans back against the workbench and looks Old Sam up and down. His brother looks tired, like he's not sleeping well. Like something is really bothering him.

"What's going on in your time?" Dean asks, then shakes his head as Old Sam winces. "No, I know you can't tell me, but – you're older than that time last year, so whatever happened to me, when you thought I was dead? Guess I'm not after all, right?"

Old Sam shifts his feet uncomfortably, looks away with a pained expression.

"Dean, I can't – "

"No, I know, I get it. I'm just saying – you look awful, Sam, like you're not taking very good care of yourself. Like something's wrong. Are we on the outs or something?"

Dean means it as a joke, because he can't imagine ever being apart from Sam, not deliberately. But Old Sam tightens his jaw, looks away, and there are tears in his eyes suddenly, so he knows he's hit the nail on the head. It makes Dean's chest hurt. Makes it hard to breathe.

"Sam?" he prompts, because he needs Old Sam to say it.

Old Sam bites his lip, glances briefly at him, then looks away again, like the sight of Dean is too painful for him, and this is so wrong Dean can't think straight. His head hurts.

"I'm sort of seeing someone," Sam admits finally, choking a little on his words. "Someone else."

It's like all the air in the room is suddenly sucked out, and Dean gasps, clutches his chest, falls writhing to the floor in a mass of broken bones and bleeding limbs –

Or at least, it feels that way. In reality, Dean's still leaning against the work bench, hands grasping the edges for balance, staring at Old Sam in disbelief.

"No." The word punches out of him before he can stop it, but it's out there, so he might as well repeat it. "No, Sam. No. You can't. You – you told me we're soul-mated, remember? You can't. We haven't even – "

"I'm sorry," Old Sam shifts his feet again, has his hands on his hips, like he's steadying himself. "You were gone, all right? I was alone and she – She was there when I was suffering, really missing you – "

"You had me, Sam!" Dean blurts out, pushing himself off the bench, suddenly furious. "You could've come to me. To me! Anytime! I'm all over your damn life, you big jerk-wad. Everywhere!"

Old Sam is shaking his head. "I wasn't traveling," he says desperately. "After that first time – with you – I couldn't get back to you, no matter what I did. I tried! Dean, you have to believe me I tried! I did everything I could think of – I did bad things, things I'm not proud of, things I shouldn't have done, trying to get you back or just to get to you here, in the past. You have to believe me, I tried!"

By the end of his speech Old Sam is trembling, tears sliding down his cheeks, miserable and broken and clearly not happy. Seeing him like this always does something to Dean's insides, turns on that switch that insists he has to fix it, make Sammy better, no matter the cost. And suddenly it just doesn't matter that some future version of himself has Sammy cheating on him. That guy isn't him, and there's no way Dean would would let that happen. He's across the room and pulling Old Sam into his arms before he can stop himself, before he thinks, before his brain can tell him not to.

"Okay, it's okay, I believe you," he murmurs as he wraps his arms around the solid man-mountain, who hunches and shivers and melts into him without a moment's hesitation. "I know I'm not him, and I'm sure he's pissed as hell at you right now, but I believe you, okay? Even if he's too stubborn or whatever to say it, I believe you, Sam."

"Oh God – " Old Sam sobs into Dean's ear, leaning down so he can completely engulf his brother in his arms, hold him tight. "I'm so sorry. I'm just so, so sorry, Dean."

"I know you are," Dean murmurs, rubbing circles on Old Sam's broad back. "It's okay, I promise. It's gonna be okay."

But he's still reeling a few minutes later, when Old Sam has calmed down enough to let Dean kiss him. Old Sam's kisses are dry with despair and sour with sorrow, and he starts breaking down again almost immediately, apologizing against Dean's lips till Dean finally gives up trying to make out with him and just makes him sit down, then goes to get him a bottle of water.

When he gets back, Old Sam is gone.

*

That evening, Dean sits watching Sammy for a long time as he studies, pretending to clean his gun. Eventually Sam feels Dean's eyes on him, looks up.

"What?" Sam demands, but Dean shakes his head, gives a little shrug.

"Nothin'," he says.

But it ain't nothin'. It ain't nothin' to think of Sammy leaving him, to think of Sammy taking up with someone else. A girl, no less. Even if it hasn't happened yet, even if it's still fifteen years in the future, it hurts. It hurts right here, right now, to think that there's something that happens that makes Sammy do that.

"Hey, Sammy, how 'bout you 'n' me go to the movies tomorrow night," Dean offers suddenly, not even really thinking, just saying.

Sam looks up, surprised.

"Tomorrow's Friday," he says, blinking.

"Yeah?" Dean shrugs.

"Well – I mean – usually you go out with – I mean –, " Sammy seems flustered, "Don't you have a date with Emily?"

Dean hesitates, seeing the whole thing from Sammy's point of view for the first time because yeah, he usually does go out with a girl on the weekends. It doesn't really mean anything; it's just part of his routine. He gets a little action, she always seems happy enough, so he doesn't really think about it, but from Sammy's point of view...

"I'd rather go out with you," Dean says. "Besides. It's the new Tarantino movie. Chicks hate that stuff."

"Pulp Fiction?" Sam's suddenly excited. "You can get us into Pulp Fiction?"

"Sure I can," Dean boasts. "I got my fake i.d. right here says I'm eighteen. So what'd'ya say?"

"Hell yeah!"

So the next night they borrow Bobby's truck – and Dean may be three months short of his sixteenth birthday but he's been driving for almost two years and he's got the fake license to prove it – and Dean takes his little brother to the movies, buys him popcorn and those stupid sugary things he likes, brushes shoulders with him as they share the tub of salty stuff and watch the crazy, violent film.

Dean remembers what Old Sam told him, so he's aware of Sammy's shyness when their fingers touch, feels Sammy shift a little in his seat so their arms are pressed together on the armrest from shoulder to wrist. After the movie Dean slings his arm around Sammy's neck, pulls him in close and plants a smacking kiss on the side of his head, then leaves his arm around him for the walk back to the truck. He's aware of Sammy staring at him as he drives, and when he glances over, the look on Sammy's face is one of such open adoration it makes Dean's insides split open and eat themselves. Because honestly, even at eleven, Sammy is gorgeous, and the idea that this boy – his brother – is his – the idea that Sammy belongs to Dean, willingly and completely – it's pretty much the only thing that matters. And Dean would never, ever, do anything to jeopardize that. He can't imagine betraying the trust that Sammy has in him. It's just not in him.

Which is why he takes girls out, and someday Sam may understand that, even if it hurts now, because Dean's protecting him, letting him grow up before Dean claims what's already his.

*//*

"How old were you the first time I – you know. The first time," Dean asks Old Sam when he shows up a few days later, after Dean's had a few minutes to kiss him and feel him up and Old Sam has captured Dean's wrists in his giant paws because he always has to control everything, the little bitch.

Old Sam grins at him, and suddenly the room is brighter, as it always is when Old Sam smiles.

"You mean the first time I kissed you," Old Sam clarifies with a low chuckle.

"No way," Dean shakes his head. "I'm totally the guy in this relationship. Plus I'm older. So when I first kissed you, how old were you?"

"I was fourteen," Old Sam says. "And you were horrified."

Dean stares, trying and failing to imagine a situation in which he would lay one on a fourteen-year-old.

"But there were little moments, even before that," Old Sam goes on, still grinning. "You let me hold your hand sometimes, or lie together in the back seat of the car, when I'm pretty sure you could tell I had a hard-on, but you didn't push me away. You let me kiss your neck sometimes, when we slept together."

"No way," Dean finally finds his voice, shakes his head. "No way was I encouraging you when you were that young. That's just – that's so wrong!"

Old Sam rolls his eyes. "Yeah, whatever. I could be pretty pushy, pretty demanding. It wasn't really your fault."

"Yes, it was, Sam," Dean insists. "I'm the older one. I'm in charge. You – I shouldn't have let that happen."

Old Sam shakes his head. "I was afraid you didn't feel that way toward me," he explains. "You never once let on that you did. I figured you were tolerating my touches, my kisses, because I was your little brother and you were just putting up with me."

"You know how I feel about you," Dean protests, and Old Sam shakes his head sharply.

"Now I do, Dean, but when I was fourteen? You were so careful with me, always. Like I was a fuckin' piece of china or something. Like you were afraid of corrupting me. As if," Old Sam scoffs.

Dean thinks about the little boy who is his brother in this timeline, and he feels immediately the fierce, protective instinct, the overwhelming desire to give Sammy a normal life.

Being in love with your brother is not normal.

"I'm sorry, Sam," Dean says now, looking up at Old Sam with real remorse, feeling tears smarting the backs of his eyes. "I just wanted to keep you safe. I didn't mean to make you feel like a freak."

Old Sam's gaze softens. He runs his thumbs over Dean's cheekbones, then his lips, parting his own lips as he looks at Dean's.

"I'm not the one who needs to hear that," Old Sam says quietly. "For me, that kiss happened twelve years ago."

Dean makes a silent vow that when his fourteen-year-old brother lays one on him, he will not freak out.

"When you were four, you used to tell me you were gonna marry me someday," Dean says. "You remember that?"

Old Sam shakes his head.

"I used to tell you, 'Boys can't marry other boys, Sammy,' but you didn't listen. You were a stubborn little bastard."

Old Sam smiles. "In my time, they can," he says, and when Dean lifts his eyebrows questioningly, Old Sam clarifies. "Gay marriage is legal in most of the country now."

"Huh," Dean's only mildly interested; it never occurred to him, the idea of being married to someone of the same gender. Being married in the first place is a state Dean is fairly sure he will never enter.

"Pretty sure that law still don't include brothers," he comments, and Old Sam shakes his head.

"No, you'd be right about that," he agrees, a little sadly, Dean thinks, which is interesting.

"Hey," he's still standing between Old Sam's thighs, hands on Old Sam's warm waist, playing with the belt loops on his jeans with his thumbs while Old Sam caresses his face.

"Hey," Old Sam leans in, and Dean's afraid he's gonna get more of those tender, adoring kisses Old Sam seems to need to cover his face with, so he surges up and captures Old Sam's lips, plundering his mouth eagerly before he has a chance. Their tongues battle and slide and Dean pushes in tight, up against Old Sam's crotch, seeking friction as his hands slip under Old Sam's shirt, finding warm skin, kneading his back muscles in hard, rhythmic grasps before slipping down to his waist again. As Dean's hand pushes under Old Sam's waistband, palming the curve of his ass under his jeans, Old Sam finally gets one hand between them, flat against Dean's chest, and pushes him back, gently but firmly at first, then harder when Dean responds by shoving his hand deeper into the back of Old Sam's jeans.

"Stop!" Old Sam gasps as he finally manages to tear his mouth from Dean's, pushes him back enough to separate their bodies.

"Why?" Dean demands, stumbling back so their only contact is Old Sam's hand on his chest. He's panting, breathless; his lips feel swollen and he's so hard he could cut diamonds. "Why, Sam? Why do you keep pushing me away?"

"You know why," Old Sam's pupils are blown, the front of his jeans look uncomfortably tight, and Dean knows he's fighting his own urge to give in to this need for Dean that Dean wishes he would just give in to, for God's sake. "I can't do this with you. You're just a kid."

"Oh, like you weren't a kid the first time Old Me fucked you," Dean growls, and he knows he sounds petulant, but Goddamn it, this blue-balls thing with Old Sam is getting old real fast.

Old Sam's face turns red, then almost purple, but he won't look Dean in the eye so Dean knows he's right; he's seen Old Sam at sixteen and he knows Old Sam was already fucking his brother.

"You regretted it," Old Sam blurts out, sounding desperate. "You wouldn't touch me for weeks. It – I pushed too hard and you did something you didn't really want to do. I can't – I can't do that to you."

"Sure you can, Sam," Dean steps back, out of Old Sam's reach, and sweeps his arms out. "I'm right here, right now, giving you my permission. What more do you want? A Goddamn gold-leaf invitation with one of those little stamped reply cards?"

Old Sam keeps shaking his head. "I can't, Dean, it's wrong."

"Oh," Dean feels the snark rising in him, can't resist. "Now you're the one who's holding to the moral high ground. It's not enough, me promising to make sure my little brother doesn't feel like a freak for having the hots for his brother. Now you have to make my decisions for me like I'm a little kid. Like I'm the little brother. Well, news flash, Sam: I never had a childhood. I was never a kid, and I sure ain't one now. So you don't wanna piece of this fine ass, fine. I guess I'll just have to find somebody who does."

Old Sam's eyes widen and he looks like he's been slapped.

"You don't mean that," he says, sudden desperation making his voice rise.

"Why not?" Dean tips his chin up defiantly. Damn Sam and his moral standards anyway. "Seems to me somebody taught me everything I know about guy-on-guy action. I kinda figured it was you, but if you can't dig your way out of whatever high-and-mighty hole you've dug for yourself, I might just have to find somebody who can."

Old Sam's mouth opens, then closes again. He's red as a beet and momentarily speechless with what looks like genuine revulsion.

Good.

"You – you don't know what you're asking," Old Sam protests.

"Pretty sure I do, Sam," Dean shrugs. "And I can promise you, I'd rather it was you, but I ain't gonna wait forever."

"Dean, you're – you're a virgin," Old Sam shakes his head.

"By choice, Sammy, by choice," Dean goes for bravado, knows how it usually works to conceal the anxiety he feels, gnawing away just under the surface. "I got girls lined up for the chance to taste this cherry, I can promise you. And I'm pretty sure there's a guy or two, if I start looking. Haven't had any reason to yet, but if you don't want the job – "

"Damn it, Dean, how can you be so reckless and cocksure about something like this?" Old Sam keeps shaking his head, and Dean can tell his shocked-and-appalled act isn't the whole story because he can see the little grin at the corners of Old Sam's soft lips, can see the evidence if his interest in the idea of deflowering his older brother right there between his legs.

"So what'd'ya say, Sam?" Dean prompts, confidence returning in the face of his brother's obvious discomfort. "You gonna do the right thing here?"

"Damn it, Dean, you – you don't even know how impossible you are," Old Sam huffs, shifting his feet in an obvious effort to ease the tightness in his jeans.

Dean saunters closer, looks up at Old Sam from under his lashes, giving him the full force of the Dean Winchester charm and sex appeal.

"You wanna show me, Sam?" he asks, making his voice purr. "You wanna show me how impossible I am?"

Old Sam actually closes his eyes, buries his face in his hands, then runs them back through his hair, and Dean waits, watching the expression on the older man's beautiful face, watching the effect he's having play out on those gorgeous features.

"Fuck," Old Sam sighs, squares his jaw, finally looks back at Dean as he huffs out another breath. "Okay. Listen. Maybe. But you gotta wait. We gotta wait till you're sixteen. Okay? We wait. God, I can't believe I'm saying this."

He seems so uncomfortable Dean almost gives in, almost gathers him into his arms and tells him to just forget it, he'll be fine waiting till Old Sam is ready, they can do it his way.

It's two months till his sixteenth birthday. Two whole months.

Damn.

"You gonna let me make out with you till then?" Dean asks, like he's still negotiating. Like he hasn't won.

"Okay," Old Sam sighs. "Okay. Whatever. Alright."

"If you're younger next time you come, I'm not letting you off the hook," Dean reminds him, and Old Sam shakes his head.

"I'd remember this, believe me," Old Sam says. "No way am I younger next time you see me."

Wow, Dean thinks. I'm gonna fuck a dude almost twice my age.

Okay then.

He tries to keep the anxiety off of his face as he reaches up to tuck a rebellious strand of hair behind Old Sam's ear.

"Hey," Dean smiles, encouraging, and Old Sam glances up, can't stop the corresponding grin that breaks his face open and pours liquid sunshine all over the room. "It's just me."

"Yeah," Old Sam breathes, lets Dean pull him in for a hug, all that giant warm mountain of brother just sagging against him. Dean holds him, feels his weight and thinks about how long he's been huge like this, senses that Old Sam is used to Dean being the smaller man but he still needs to be held, still needs to fall into his big brother's arms. Probably doesn't do it enough.

They stand like that for several minutes, until Dean can feel Old Sam's weight easing, till he starts to fade and shiver, and no matter how tight Dean holds him, he's finally gone, just sliding away back to the future.

Dean is not getting used to this.

*

It's over two months before Dean sees Old Sam again.

Bobby gives Dean the keys to the Mustang on his sixteenth birthday, just like he promised. Dean takes Sammy out on the car's maiden voyage and they're flying down the highway, and Dean's feeling free and reckless and grateful to be alive, with the music blasting and Sammy smiling at him, and for a wild moment Dean realizes he's happy.

Then all hell breaks loose, of course.

Later, Dean can't even remember what the thing looked like, only that it was huge and dark and had wings and swooped down right in front of the car. Dean slams on the brakes, swerves, and is vaguely aware of feeling the car's tires leave the pavement. The car skids on the gravel on the shoulder of the road as Dean fights for control, almost thinks he's got it. Then the thing swoops in again and this time they're flying, hitting something that slams Dean's head into the steering wheel so that he sees stars, then darkness as the car hits something again, hard. Dean feels the impact in his legs and chest, not even aware that his head has hit the wheel again because he's already out. Just before he loses consciousness Dean thinks about the seat-belts he installed just yesterday, almost as an afterthought.

When he wakes up in the hospital his first thought is for Sammy. He's almost hysterical with fear until the nurses assure him his brother is fine, just a slight concussion and some scratches. The seat-belt did its job, kept Sammy from flying through the windshield when the car went into the ditch.

Dean's injuries are a little more serious. He managed to fracture his skull and both legs, so he'll be hauling himself around on crutches for a few weeks. The car is totaled, needless to say, and John is furious. Dean can hear him in the hall, demanding to talk to his son, but the doctors call security and have him removed because he's already caused a scene in the waiting room, yelling at Bobby for being damn fool enough to give the car to Dean in the first place.

"I gave you one job," John growls at Dean when he finally gets in to visit. "One. Take care of your little brother. And this is how you do it. By taking him out on a drunken joyride and just about getting him killed."

"I'm sorry, Dad," Dean feels himself start to tear up, fights it with everything he can.

He doesn't even bother to argue that he wasn't drunk, that John's the one who does the drinking in the family. Old Sam says it, though. Old Sam is almost as angry as Dad. He's pacing the room, furious, stopping every minute or two to stare at Dean, fighting back his own tears.

"I should've been there to stop this," he says. "I should've made sure you didn't get in that car in the first place. I knew about this accident. I could've stopped it."

"It's not a big deal, Sam," Dean insists. "I'm fine. I'll be walking around again in no time."

"You're more vulnerable than ever now," Old Sam shakes his head. "And it's all my fault."

"Not helpless," Dean says indignantly. "I'm not a baby."

But he's aware he's pretty useless as a protector at the moment, that he won't be doing any hunting for awhile, and that Sammy is at greater risk with Dean out of commission. Not to mention, that thing that flew in front of the car matches the description John has for their old arch-enemy, the Angel of Death with a name like his youngest son's, and that's enough to send John into an obsessive tailspin.

John moves them within the week, installs them back at the cabin in Michigan, leaving them with enough supplies for a month, then he takes off, following up Dean's lead from the night of the accident. The thing that killed their mom may finally be making a move on them, now that Sammy's almost twelve, and John can't wait to go after it. Dean doesn't bother asking about the hunt because he can't go, obviously. He's worse than useless because Sammy has to care for him. He can barely get himself outside to piss, much less stand at a stove long enough to cook, or change his Goddamn pants without help.

Sammy valiantly puts up with his grumpiness, seems to actually enjoy being the caregiver for once, which is so weird for Dean it makes him grouchier than ever. It's bad enough being so helpless that he has to have Sam help him get out of bed. It's another thing entirely for Sam to be so goddamn cheerful about it.

Sammy makes them grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for supper, and Dean can't even lift himself out of his sour mood enough to say thank you. He just wants to get drunk and forget that his dad is out there chasing the Angel of Death without back-up. He rejects Sam's offer to play poker using wood chips after supper.

"Wood chips? Really? Feelin' risky are we, Sammy? Wow, raise those stakes, will ya. Real motivating, thinking about the possibility of winning – oh, hell, I don't know, maybe enough kindling to build me a little campfire to roast my marshmallows? Tempting, Sammy. Seriously tempting."

Then he complains when Sam tries to get his bath water warm enough so he can take a sponge bath. "Don't need a fuckin' sponge bath, damn it! Need a real goddamn shower! Fuckin' cabins in the woods with their crappy primitive plumbing! Fuck this shit! Goddamn it!"

And when Sam helps him into bed, then offers to read to him because there's no goddamn TV or even a decent radio in this crap-shit place. "Aw, you gonna read me a bedtime story, Sammy? Really? Gonna get me a teddy bear to sleep with too?"

Dean knows he's being a bastard, sees Sammy making a real effort, and he appreciates it, really he does. He's just not very good at hiding his feelings sometimes, especially when he's feeling useless and helpless and pissed off about it.

Then Old Sam shows up and things get really weird.

Dean's almost asleep, Sammy curled up next to him, turned away from him because who can blame him? Dean's been such an asshole today it's amazing Sammy can stand to sleep in the same bed at all. But of course it's the only bed, and Sammy still can't sleep unless Dean's right there beside him, even at the considerable age of almost-twelve. He's still little, so he doesn't take up much space, even though Dean's almost six-feet tall now, stretches all the way down the bed and usually likes to sleep on his stomach, which is another cause for complaint because the damn casts – Both legs? Really? – just get in the way of letting him sleep comfortably.

Then the air shifts in that familiar way, but something's wrong. Dean's eyes fly open in the dark cabin and he blinks for a minute, getting his bearings. Sammy's deep breathing is the only sound until Dean hears movement at the end of the bed and feels panic flood his veins like ice water. Then he recognizes the shape of Old Sam, standing there at the foot of the bed, staring down at him.

"Hello, Dean," the familiar voice isn't quite right somehow, like there's something missing. "I'm here to make good on our deal, just like I promised. You still good with that?"

Old Sam's voice is deep, heavy with promise, and it makes Dean's dick twitch, makes all the blood rush to his groin.

But his upstairs brain is setting off alarms. Something's not right.

Dean stares up at Old Sam, but he can't quite make out his face in the gloom, so he can't read his expression, isn't sure whether he's smiling or not. Which is way creepier than it should be.

"Sam? You okay?" Dean tries, keeping his own voice soft so as not to wake Sammy.

Instead of answering, Old Sam crosses around the bed so he's standing next to it, closer, and Dean can almost smell him. Old Sam reaches down, takes hold of the old quilt cover, pulls it back slowly, revealing the stark whiteness of the casts on Dean's legs. Dean's wearing loose boxer shorts and a tee-shirt – his standard bed wear – but he feels oddly exposed, almost naked under Old Sam's gaze.

"Shhhh," Old Sam shushes softly. "Don't wanna wake Sammy."

Okay, now Dean's definitely feeling a little creeped out. He watches as Old Sam sits down on the edge of the bed, starts to lean down like he means to kiss him, slips one warm hand up his chest, over his tee-shirt.

That's when Dean smells him. Or doesn't, which is how he knows.

This is not Sam.

Keeping his movements steady, fast, and fluid, just like Dad taught him, Dean slides his hand quickly under his pillow, then scoots up toward the headboard as he pulls out his gun, trains it on Old Sam – or whatever this is that's trying to pass for Old Sam – and growls menacingly.

"What are you?" he demands, sharp and commanding, and Old Sam backs off immediately, puts his hands up but doesn't stand.

"Whoa, whoa, hey there, Dean, it's me. It's Sam. I swear," he says, and Dean keeps the gun trained on him with one hand as he reaches for the light, switches it on. He's aware of Sammy rolling over next to him, awake and watchful, silently blinking in the sudden light.

Old Sam is wearing black, that's the first wrong thing that Dean notices. His black jeans are tight-fitting, his black button-down shirt is immaculate and form-fitting, rolled up at the elbows to expose his massive forearms and an expensive-looking watch. He's got his hair swept back, and there's a certain sheen to it, like he's got something in it to hold it in place.

"Who are you and what have you done with my brother?" Dean demands.

Old Sam – or whoever this is – shakes his head a little, purses his lips – then disappears.

For a moment Dean keeps the gun trained on the place where the creature sat, still on high alert, half-expecting it to re-materialize.

"What was that?" Sammy asks, and his high anxious voice brings Dean back to himself. He lets out a sigh, didn't even realize until that moment that he was holding his breath. He lowers the gun, flips the safety on and tucks it away under his pillow before he answers.

"I dunno."

"Was it – was he – " Sammy frowns, obviously struggling to make sense of half-remembered moments in his past when this had happened before, when Old Sam had appeared and he was their friend, someone to be trusted.

"Some kind of monster, yeah," Dean nods. "Definitely."

They leave the light on that night, and pretty much every night from then on, the idea that something could just appear in their room while they're sleeping leaving both brothers unsettled and anxious.


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Walker in pink

The Time Traveler's Brother - Chapter Five

It's almost two more months before Old Sam appears again.

Dean's out in the woods, hunting wild game because – well, John didn't make it back and they're stranded here with no car, no phone and their stay at the cabin has become another wilderness training exercise, whether John intended that or not. Luckily, the well hasn't run dry, plus they have the lake, so there's plenty of water. The propane tank ran out a month ago, though, so they've been cooking outside – it's early spring, and the snow is almost gone, and although it gets cold in the cabin at night there are plenty of blankets and as long as they huddle together for warmth –

At least the lights are still working.

With Sammy's help, Dean used the hedge-clippers in the cellar to help remove his casts a week ago. The white, puckered skin of his legs makes them look weak and useless, but the bone seems healed and he can stand without crutches now. He does exercises to force his atrophied muscles to work again, takes long walks in the woods. When the weather warms up a bit he'll go swimming in the lake.

Sam builds traps and they've had rabbit stew for the past month. They found a bag of potatoes in the cellar, even dug up some frozen carrots that had been left in the garden from last year's harvest. The fact that somebody planted them, tended them, then left for the winter is somehow encouraging to Dean. The cabin still gets used occasionally, he tells himself, and maybe whoever used it last year will be back when the weather gets warmer, so they won't have to try to walk out on their own.

Dean's deer-hunting because he's getting a little tired of rabbit. No, scratch that. He's getting a little tired of Sam providing all the food. Getting the casts off was a huge step toward reclaiming his rightful place as the head of this family – well, as the older brother, anyway. The stream leading into the lake is a major draw for large game, so all Dean really has to do is hike up far enough away from the cabin that there are no more cooking smells on the breeze, conceal himself in the underbrush, and wait.

Dean hears a twig break before he sees anything. He raises his gun, holds it steady, waits again. Branches sway as something brushes them and Dean keeps his eyes trained in that direction, still waiting. Something camel-colored moves behind a tree, brushes a branch, and another twig breaks. It's big, Dean's sure of that, and the right color –

The branches part and Old Sam is standing there, across the stream, staring at him. He's dressed as he usually is, in layers of flannel and canvas, baggy jeans and stupidly long, unkempt hair, and Dean is so relieved to see him he almost cries. He looks older, thinner, almost emaciated, like he's been sick, and he watches Dean warily as Dean puts his gun away, shakes his head at him.

"Thought you were a deer," he says as he stands up.

Old Sam takes a step back, puts his hands up like he expects Dean to attack him. He's got this wild-eyed, almost panicked look on his face, confused and frowning and more than a little disoriented.

"Sam? You okay?" Dean's sure this is his Old Sam this time, but something isn't quite right. Again.

"Where am I?" Old Sam asks, still half-turned away, like he means to make a break for it if Dean tries anything.

"It's 1995, Sam," Dean answers. "Blue Star, Michigan. The spring after the car accident. Remember?"

Old Sam's frown deepens, like he's making a serious effort to understand, like he doesn't even recognize Dean, much less hear what he's saying.

"What's going on, Sam? You hit your head or something?"

Dean takes a step closer, puts his hands out like he's approaching a wild animal and doesn't want to startle him. Old Sam twitches, a look of panic flitting across his face, and Dean thinks he might just bolt, take off into the woods at a dead run and never be seen again – Which is crazy scary and Dean doesn't even want to think about when in the future Sam becomes so terrified of his own brother –

At the last moment, Old Sam's face clears, like he suddenly recognizes Dean, and his body language completely changes, relaxes.

"Dean?" he asks hopefully.

"Yeah, buddy, it's me," Dean nods encouragingly. "What's going on with you, huh? You okay?"

Old Sam shakes his head a little, looks around like he's realized where he is for the first time, like he didn't even notice before. Dean steps over the stream, moves right into Old Sam's personal space so he can smell him, takes a deep breath.

Brother. All brother.

He's so relieved he doesn't even stop to think, just grabs Old Sam and pulls him in, wraps his arms around him and buries his face in his neck, gulping in deep breaths of Sam's sweat-soaked, spicy scent.

"Good to see you, buddy," Dean murmurs against Sam's warm skin. "So good. Where you been, huh? Where the hell you been?"

Dean pulls back so he can look up into Old Sam's face; he pushes the hair back from his eyes and leaves his hand there, brushes his thumb across Old Sam's soft, pink lips. Old Sam gazes back at him, eyes glistening with emotion, forehead wrinkled with that familiar compassionate look of his...

Damn, Dean loves this man. Loves him so much it's like he can't even breathe when he's not there, like all his breaths are shallow whispers of the way he breathes when Sam's in his arms like this. He curls his fingers around the back of Old Sam's neck, coaxes him to lean his face down so Dean can kiss those soft lips, so he can run his hand through Sam's silky dark hair as he does it. He slides his tongue into Sam's warm, wet mouth and grinds his hips against Sam's thigh, hearing himself moan low in his throat. Old Sam has his arms completely wrapped around Dean's body, one hand clenched around Dean's shoulder, kneading the muscle, holding him steady as Dean plunders his mouth.

"Been so long, Sam," Dean gasps when he finally pulls back to catch a breath, dragging Sam's scent deep into his lungs. "Missed you so much."

"Right here, Dean," Old Sam murmurs as Dean mouths his jaw. "Always right here."

"Need you," Dean grinds his hips into Sam's leg, so his meaning is clear. "Wanna fuck you, Sam."

Old Sam shivers, slips one huge hand behind Dean's head and turns his face so he can capture Dean's mouth, silences him with a kiss in which Sam takes the lead, holding Dean where he wants him so he can plunge his tongue into Dean's mouth, sucks and nips at his lips until they're sore and swollen. But when Dean works his hand down between their bodies so he can palm Old Sam's dick, Old Sam pulls away, grabbing Dean's biceps so he can hold him at a distance.

"No – I – no," Old Sam gasps. He's breathing hard, face flushed and pupils blown, and Dean could swear he was getting the right signals, so –

"I'm sixteen now," Dean reminds him. "You said – I thought – "

Old Sam grimaces, shakes his head.

"Could we just – I mean, I – It's fuckin' freezing out here, dude," Old Sam hems and haws, finally falling back on the obvious as he pulls his jacket closed, shoves his hands into his armpits, stomps his feet.

Dean raises his eyebrows, steps close again, lowering his eyelids then raising them slowly with a look that usually gets him what he wants.

"Well, I know a way to warm up," he drawls suggestively, slipping his hands under Old Sam's jacket so he can grab his belt loops and pull him in again.

But Old Sam isn't having it. He pulls back, shaking his head, blushing furiously but unable to look at Dean.

"I can't," he says. "I want to – God, Dean, you have to believe I want to – but I – I just can't."

"What now?" Dean demands, throwing his hands up in frustration. "You afraid of knocking me up or something? Cuz I got protection, Sam, I promise."

"Oh my God, Dean," Old Sam protests. "No. That's not it. It's – it's not you, okay?"

Dean frowns, confused and more than a little hurt by Old Sam's rejection.

"So we're back to 'let's just be friends,' Sam? Is that it? Cuz you seemed pretty into it a couple of minutes ago."

Old Sam shakes his head, chewing on his bottom lip in that distracted, pained way he has that pushes all of Dean's protective buttons because something is definitely not right here. It reminds him of something, and now he can't get it out of his head, so he shifts his feet, widening his stance and squaring his shoulders, and just goes ahead and asks the thing.

"Does this have anything to do with what happened last month?"

Old Sam's eyes flick up to Dean's and he stares.

"Last month?" Old Sam echoes, confused.

Now it's Dean's turn to look away, shift uncomfortably. "Yeah, you – Well, not you – definitely not you – when I was – when I had my casts on and you – "

The look of horror that slowly spreads across Old Sam's expressive face is as fascinating as it is terrifying, and Dean can't help staring, clearing his throat nervously.

"Oh my God," Old Sam whispers. "Tell me I didn't – I didn't hurt you, did I, Dean?"

"Wait." Now Dean is completely confused. "So that was you? That thing with the clothes and the hair and the – the smell – That was you?"

Old Sam looks so pained and unhappy that Dean steps closer again, the instinct to protect and comfort overriding even his own embarrassment. Something is seriously wrong, because if that thing on his bed last month was really Sam...

"Sam, you have to explain this to me," Dean goes all commanding big brother because he is really worried now. "I'm sorry about the whole 'I can't tell because it might change the timeline thing,' but this is seriously fucked up, man, so if you don't tell me what the hell happened to you – if something happened that made my little brother turn into a fuckin' zombie..."

"I went to Hell," Old Sam says in a rush, his eyes wide and glittering like he's half-crazed and afraid if he doesn't just burst out and say the thing that needs saying he won't be able to say it at all. "I spent over a year-and-a-half in Hell. Well, my soul did. Now I'm back, but I'm a mess – I can't even remember half the things that happened, and I keep hallucinating – I thought you were a hallucination, at first – and that thing you saw that night? It was me, but without my soul. I don't remember that. Oh God, Dean, please tell me I didn't hurt you!"

"You didn't, okay? You didn't," Dean steps closer, reaches up, slips one hand behind Old Sam's head, the other around his waist, pulls him in and rests their foreheads together, just making contact. Old Sam lets out a long, shaky sigh, nods a little as he closes his eyes, leans into Dean's touch.

"Okay," he sighs, obviously relieved. "Okay."

They stand together like that for a solid minute, maybe more, breathing each other's air, letting the physical contact soothe Old Sam until he stops shaking, until he's calmer.

"So – Hell, huh?" Dean prompts finally, trying to keep his voice light, trying not to let on how terrified he is.

Old Sam hesitates, and Dean's half-afraid he won't say anything more, half-afraid he will. Old Sam nods finally, sighs, and Dean hurts because he can feel how much Sam is hurting, stays still so Sam can say what he needs to say if he needs to because it's Sam, for God's sake, and this horrible thing happened to his beautiful little brother and Dean is beyond appalled, beyond horrified, and he just wants to do what he can to fix it.

"Yeah," Old Sam breathes. "It sucked."

Dean lifts his head, pulling Old Sam's head back so he can look into his face. Old Sam avoids his eyes, but when Dean uses both hands to hold his face, just holding him warm and steady, studying the deep circles under his eyes, the lines on his forehead – the signs of aging and sleeplessness and ill-health that radiate from Old Sam's body like an infection – Old Sam finally lifts his eyes and looks back, tearing up immediately, closing them again and sucking in a shaky breath.

"I'm guessing I wasn't there," Dean says, clenching his teeth in an effort to fight back the anger he's feeling. "I'm guessing I didn't go with you to this Hell place."

Old Sam shakes his head and a great heaving sob wracks his giant body and that's it. That is just it, damn it.

"You were alone," Dean grits out, anger rising like a wave in his chest, making his head hot.

Old Sam lifts his eyes to Dean's, and the misery and suffering mirrored there is like nothing Dean's ever seen – it's worse than the look that doe gave him when he brought her down last fall and he only realized after she was dead that she had a faun, who would of course die without her – it's worse than that because this is Sam, this is the little brother he's supposed to protect and keep safe and somehow his older self really fucked up.

"Not alone," Old Sam says miserably. "It might have been bearable if I was alone."

And just like that, without Old Sam having to say another word, Dean understands.

He's not thinking clearly, not rational anymore, going on pure instinct now as he mutters, "Oh shit. Oh fuck," and pulls Old Sam against him, holding him like he's a four-year-old again, rocking him a little like he's that tiny baby again, pressing his lips against his cheek and his ear, murmuring to him and running his hands up and down his back, into his hair.

"Damn it, Sam, damn it, I'm sorry, buddy. I'm so sorry. Fuck. Oh shit, Sammy, I'm so sorry."

Dean's crying now, overwhelmed by the helplessness of the situation, his inability to go back and fix this terrible thing that happened to Sam, his terror of becoming a man who could have let such a thing happen to his beautiful baby brother, his determination to never let it happen to that loving, tender-hearted boy who is at this moment peeling potatoes and stoking the fire –

"Come on, let's get you back to the cabin, get you warmed up," he urges, because it's the only thing he can do for this damaged, broken version of his brother.

"I – I can't. I – Sammy's there. I don't think – "

"Sammy'll be just fine," Dean insists. "He'll be glad to see you."

Old Sam huffs out a breath, shaking his head dubiously. "I doubt that," he says, but he lets himself be led, lets Dean pull him along, then take the lead so he can follow.

Dean looks back over his shoulder a couple of times to make sure Old Sam is still there, and when he looks the third time and he's not Dean tries not to feel relieved but he can't help it.

There's no way he'll let that happen to Sammy. No way in Hell.

*
When John finally makes it back, he drops them off in a safe house outside Albany, New York so he can take off on his own again, something he's been doing so much of lately that it's more normal than not. Dean's skills as a petty thief have kept them fed and clothed at least half the time over the past two years, and this time is no exception, although getting caught was not part of the plan, and neither was getting sent to a boys home in the Catskills for two months. He doesn't bother explaining to John that the food money he left them wouldn't have lasted anyway, even if he hadn't lost it playing pool. John never leaves them enough. Dean always has to hustle or steal to feed Sammy, who is finally showing signs of growing and Dean is grateful for that, really he is, because he was starting to worry that Old Sam was just a figment of his imagination and not really the older version of his little brother after all.

By the time John picks him up from Sonny's, Sam's twelfth birthday has come and gone. Dean watches his little brother like a hawk, waiting for the signs of confusion and disorientation that he expects to see as soon as Sam starts traveling. But when two months go by and everything still seems fine, Dean begins to relax. He knows the day will come, and he's ready to explain it all to Sam when it does, really he is, but he doesn't mind putting it off as long as possible because why go asking for trouble? And Sammy time-traveling without him – or time-traveling to that older version of himself that he's learned not to trust – isn't something Dean's looking forward to.

Then Sammy travels for the first time, and all Hell breaks loose.

They're in another safe house – this time in Idaho, near a little town that has exactly one high school and two grocery stores – and Dean's shooting hoops in the driveway because the house has a driveway and a basketball hoop and it's so stupidly suburban-perfect he can't help himself.

Suddenly Sammy's there. He stumbles backwards, falls on his ass, and Dean grabs the ball and turns to look down at him, ball wedged between his arm and his hip.

"Kinda graceful there, Sammy," Dean comments, waiting for Sam to get a grip on himself, which he does after the initial shock wears off.

"Damn it, Dean," Sam glares up at his brother, then scrambles to his feet. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Dean lifts his eyebrows, tilts his head.

"Nothin' to tell," he shrugs. "Figured you'd find out when you found out. Figured it was easier that way."

"Easier for who?" Sam demands. "You? 'Cuz I gotta say, it might've helped just a tiny bit to know before I suddenly go hurtling through time, end up in some strange guy's bedroom in the middle of the night!"

Dean frowns. He wasn't expecting that. Old Sam hadn't exactly described his first time that way.

"He touch you?" Dean demands, suddenly furious.

Sam shakes his head. "No," he mutters, his frustration dissipating in the wake of Dean's righteous anger. "He made me hot chocolate and a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich."

"Of course he did," Dean nods, relieved. "He's me."

"He's really grumpy," Sam notes, shaking his head a little. "And old."

"So what's the future like, Sammy?" Dean turns away, going for nonchalant, lines up a shot and shoots, watches the ball swish through the hoop and bounce back to him before he turns to Sam again with a smirk.

Sam's shaking his head, grinning, all dimples and sunshine.

"He said you'd ask. He made me promise not to tell," he says.

"Huh," Dean grunts, purses his lips. "Did you see yourself? Big guy, about ten-feet tall, cries a lot?"

Sam shakes his head. "I wasn't there," he says. "I get the feeling I haven't been there for a long time. Old Dean seemed pretty lonely."

Dean shrugs. "That's probably because Old Sam spends so much time with us, when we were little."

"Yeah, about that – " Sam frowns. "How come you never told me about Old Sam?"

Dean shrugs again. "Nothin' to tell," he says again. "He was our friend. Looked out for us when Dad was gone. Saved our lives more than once."

"Yeah, I remember," Sam frowns, gives his head a little shake like he's clearing it, like he's rearranging his memories to accommodate his new knowledge. "I think I always knew, that's the weird thing. I just didn't think about it. He was more your friend than mine, so I just accepted him. It's been so long since he's been around, I almost forgot about him."

Dean cocks an eyebrow. "I haven't seen the old guy in almost six months," he confides with more than a little unease. "It's starting to bother me, to be honest. He wasn't in very good shape last time."

But Sam is much more concerned with learning how to control his new power, and he's a stubborn little bitch, so there's no telling him it's no use – Dean already knows his little brother can't control it. Sam goes straight to the library, desperate to dig up anything on time-travel, on Samael the Archangel of Death, on prophecies about time-travelers who can alter reality.

Dean tags along, sits in a corner on the floor with his Sony Walkman and his headphones, lets Zeppelin blast his mind off the whole thing. Because, seriously, the idea of his little brother flying around through time without him is making Dean need to kill something. He doesn't give a shit if Sam always ends up with some future version of his big brother. It makes Dean's head hurt because he can't do anything about it, and he hates that. Hates feeling out of control and useless. Stupid.

When the library closes and they finally walk home, Sam won't go to sleep, spends most of the night calling their dad's friends, asking endless questions about protectors and hunters and time-shifters until Dean wants to throw up.

"Come on, Sam, time for bed," Dean says for the fifth time since midnight. "You can't keep calling people in the middle of the night. Nobody will want to talk to you ever again."

"I need answers, Dean," Sam complains. "I have to figure out what's happening to me."

"What's happening to you is that you're exhausting yourself. And me," Dean chastens. "Tomorrow's a school day. Remember school? That place where you always get straight As? Where you're earning a ticket out of this shit-hole life and into something better?"

"I can't think about school right now," Sam shakes his head. "I've got to figure this out."

"Sam, if you don't go to bed right now, I swear I'm gonna spike your cocoa with sleeping pills from now on."

Sam shakes his head, makes a little dismissive noise.

"You wouldn't do that," he mutters.

"Try me," Dean counters sternly.

It isn't easy, not that night nor the nights that follow, for Dean to get Sam to let go of his new toy, but after about a month without getting anywhere, and not another time-traveling incident, Sam finally relents enough to focus on school again, after he makes Dean promise he'll get Sam right away if the older version of himself shows up because he has some questions for the dude.

Yeah, I'll bet you do, Dean thinks as he collapses on the couch after getting Sam registered for school in their new town a month later.

They've moved again, of course. John comes home like a shot when he hears the news about Sam time-traveling, swoops them up and deposits them in a two-bedroom rental house near Grants Pass, Oregon, then takes off again almost immediately. John's looking tired these days; he tells Dean he's on the trail of the thing that killed their mother and he doesn't want it coming anywhere near the boys, so he'll be gone longer than usual this time.

So Dean's in charge. It's the first time he's tried to pass as Sam's guardian, with a fake i.d. that says he's twenty-one and Sam's sole living relative, and it makes him feel old. Tired. He drags a heavy arm over his eyes and sinks further into the couch, telling himself he'll just rest for fifteen minutes, then get up to take care of business, get himself over to the local high school maybe.

The air does that familiar shimmering thing, rousing Dean from the edge of sleep. Old Sam's presence is a balm to Dean's tired nerves, and for several minutes Dean lies still with his eyes closed, just feeling his brother's grown up self in the room with him, and it's such a relief he almost drifts off to sleep, knowing Old Sam is watching out for him.

"Can feel you staring, Sam," he murmurs finally, keeping his eyes closed.

Old Sam huffs out a breath but says nothing.

"Where ya been?" Dean lets his eyes slide open, turns his head to face Old Sam. He's in the armchair, legs akimbo, elbows resting on the chair's arms, looking like he just fell out of the sky and landed there all sprawled out and oversized. His hair is longer than Dean's ever seen it, and he looks scruffy and unwashed, shirt buttoned wrong, eyes bleary and tired.

"You okay?" Dean's fully awake now, on alert because Sam's not well, There's something wrong. Again.

Old Sam shakes his head a little, his eyes glistening with a film of tears, and he smiles so sadly it just about breaks Dean's heart.

"I am now," Sam says, and his voice is so broken, sounding like he hasn't spoken for awhile,

"Sam," Dean sits up, staring, shaking his head. "You look like shit." He leans closer, gets a whiff. "You smell like shit too."

Sam huffs out a short laugh, dimples showing even through all the scruff, and that's the last straw.

"You sick or something, Sam?" Dean asks. "Something bad happen to you?" Again, he thinks but doesn't add because really. This has been an incredibly shitty year for Old Sam, at least from Dean's point of view, and that's just not okay.

Something in Dean's tone sets Old Sam off and suddenly he's crying, huge wet tears running down his face and big heaving sobs wracking his giant body, and Dean's reminded of that time two years ago when Old Sam had a breakdown like this right in front of him, and it was because –

"Jesus, Sam, am I dead again?" Dean guesses wildly.

"Oh God!" Old Sam sobs, trying to wipe his face with his hands, only succeeding in making a bigger mess of his face. "I don't know, Dean! You're just – you're gone! And I don't know where you are – " Old Sam buries his face in his hands and sobs, long, wrenching, body-shaking sobs that go on and on and Dean is so done with this shit.

"Fuck," Dean mutters as he gets up and crosses the room, lays a hand on Old Sam's head, gently petting the greasy strands. "I'm right here, Sam. Right here, okay? I'm okay." Dean knows that's not entirely accurate from Old Sam's point of view, that Old Sam's missing the Dean from his time who apparently keeps leaving inexplicably, which just makes no sense. There is nothing Dean can imagine that would ever make him leave Sam, not willingly.

Then he remembers what Old Sam told him two years ago. About the Hell hounds.

Okay, so not willingly.

Old Sam reacts to Dean's touch like a starving man, reaching up to wrap his long arms around Dean's body, pulling him in so he's caught between Old Sam's legs, almost sitting on his lap. It's an awkward angle, and when Old Sam buries his face against Dean's stomach Dean's aware again of how much bigger Old Sam is, how weird and even a little ridiculous it is to have this giant man trying to cuddle against him like he's a four-year-old boy.

"Come on, Sam, let's get you cleaned up," Dean pats Old Sam's shoulder, his greasy head, doing his best to comfort and quiet him while fighting with his downstairs brain, which is almost painfully on board with being wrapped in Old Sam's arms this way. "I'll make you some soup. Come on."

Old Sam lets himself be led down the hall to the bathroom, where Dean leaves him with a clean towel.

"I'll be right here," he promises when Old Sam seems momentarily panicked at the idea of Dean leaving him alone. "Not going anywhere, okay?"

He finds his largest, baggiest pair of sweatpants and one of Dad's old tee-shirts, lays them on the chair outside the bathroom door where he can already hear the shower running.

Good.

Dean's in the kitchen, finishing the breakfast dishes and stirring the soup, when Old Sam pads in, looking predictably ridiculous in Dean's clothes, tee-shirt stretched tight over his chest and shoulders, sweatpants hugging his ass and thighs, exposing his hairy shins and bare feet. He's washed and scrubbed and his hair is wet and he's heart-breakingly gorgeous and it makes Dean gasp before he can stop himself.

"Hey," Dean tears his eyes away, turns back to the stove, tries not to shiver with anticipation as Old Sam crosses the room, moves up behind him, slips his arms around Dean and presses his face into Dean's neck.

Dean lets out a long sigh, leans back against his huge brother, melts into him a little. He's so horny it almost hurts to be touched like this, and it's hard to think with Old Sam's lips on his skin, just under his ear where he's so sensitive –

He puts the pan down, turns in Old Sam's arms, slips his arms around the big body and tips his face up to be kissed. Old Sam holds his head in one of his giant paws, brushes his fingers along Dean's cheek with the other hand, the gesture both reverent and deeply erotic, and Dean parts his lips, his eyes fall closed, and his entire body trembles with anticipation.

And still Old Sam doesn't kiss him.

"Where's Sam?" he asks softly.

"At school," Dean answers, opening his eyes to look up at Old Sam, makes sure he's conveying his meaning loud and clear. "For hours."

Old Sam nods shortly and his lips part as his eyes drop to Dean's mouth.

"So help me God, Sam, if you tell me I'm young and beautiful I may have to go all Revenge of the Nerds on your ass," Dean threatens.

Old Sam grins, eyes sparkling, dimples and teeth evident, and Dean takes a moment to feel proud of the fact that he always made Sam brush his teeth and now look how strong and white they are!

"Is that a promise?" Dean's brother asks, and Dean rolls his eyes.

"Shut up and kiss me," he orders, and Old Sam does.

Finally. Fuckin' finally, because it's been almost eight months since that time in the woods and Dean is so done waiting for this.

Old Sam tastes like coffee and toothpaste and blood, like he's been chewing on the inside of his mouth recently. His lips are soft and warm and he opens willingly enough for Dean's tongue, deepens the kiss with only the barest resistance, the tiniest of moans, the sound going straight to Dean's dick. He's been hard for a while, aching really, but now he feels Old Sam's hard length pressed against his stomach and he wants it with an intensity he can barely control.

But after last time he doesn't want to scare the big guy off, so he takes his time kissing Old Sam into submission first, stroking up his back and shoulders, re-learning the muscles there, feeling them move beneath his hands before he pushes the edge of the tee-shirt up, finds Old Sam's warm, smooth skin. Old Sam moans as Dean touches him, runs his hands under the tee-shirt and along the waist-band of the ridiculously tight sweatpants. Old Sam's tongue is greedier, more demanding, and he's grinding his hips against Dean now, so Dean feels bold enough to slip his hands down over Old Sam's ass and damn, his ass is perfect. Two tight, rounded melons that fit into Dean's hands like they were meant to be there.

Old Sam growls low in his throat, still holding Dean's head with one hand, moving the other down Dean's back, fingers spread so that when he cups Dean's ass he's shoving his long middle finger into Dean's crack, rubbing through his jeans as he grinds his hips against Dean's. Dean gasps as Old Sam's hand clutches his ass, spreading his ass-cheeks and hauling him up against Old Sam's body so that all Dean can do is spread his legs and wrap them around Old Sam's waist. From this angle he's got a little more leverage, a little more height, so he takes Old Sam's face in his hands and kisses into him, sucking and biting and plunging his tongue as Old Sam grinds and moans and gasps. Dean runs his hand into Old Sam's hair, grabbing a handful and yanking sharply as he bites Old Sam's lip and the big guy shudders, cries out against his mouth. Dean feels Old Sam's body tense up as his orgasm hits him, and Dean deliberately pulls back a little so he can see the look on Old Sam's face as he comes, mouth soft and glistening with spit and a drop of blood where Dean bit him, eyes at half-mast and unseeing, cheeks flushed dusky pink.

It's the most beautiful thing Dean's ever seen, and Old Sam has shown him a lot of beautiful over the years.

"Huh," Old Sam blinks finally, focuses on Dean, sees something in his face that makes Old Sam blush even more and lower his eyes, shifting backwards to let Dean slide to the floor.

"Sorry," he murmurs. "It's been awhile."

"Yeah, I get that," Dean smiles reassuringly as Old Sam takes another step back, licking the blood off his lip – which is so incredibly sexy it's making Dean's legs go all weak and wobbly, makes his dick leak. He's still hard and aching and fighting the urge to palm himself and jerk off right here in front of Old Sam, or beg him for a blow job, which he's pretty sure he could get. He's not exactly sure why he didn't let himself come, except that he's taking care of Old Sam's needs first.

"Hey, why don't you – go clean yourself up," Dean offers, trying to keep his voice steady. "Your clothes are in the washer; they can probably go in the dryer now. I'll finish the soup. Get you fed next."

Taking care of one need at a time.

"Okay," Old Sam agrees, and Dean is struck again by how easily this older version of his brother falls into his role as the younger brother, the child Dean raised. It's Old Sam's comfort zone, his happy place, being Dean's little brother, and somehow that makes Dean so sad he has to stop thinking about it.

*

This time when Old Sam returns from the bathroom he's got the towel wrapped around his waist because his clothes are still damp and Dean's literally got nothing else that could possibly fit him.

Old Sam sitting at the kitchen table, eating chicken noodle soup in a tight tee-shirt and towel is a memory Dean swears he will cherish for-fucking-ever. Dean sits at the table and watches until Old Sam finishes every drop, just like he always does, making sure the kid gets enough to eat, even though the kid has obviously been a full-grown man for several years now.

When he's done Dean lays his hand over Old Sam's, squeezes reassuringly.

"You alright with this, Sam?" he asks, needing to hear Old Sam say it. "Cuz last time I saw you, you'd been through something pretty bad, and you weren't exactly itchin' to dance."

Old Sam frowns, then shakes his head. "Oh my God, Dean," he huffs out a breath in apparent disbelief. "You're the virgin, and you're asking me?"

Dean feels his cheeks grow hot, lowers his eyes but doesn't let Old Sam's hand go.

"Yeah," he admits, clearing his throat. "Yeah, I guess I am."

Old Sam shakes his head again. "What happened to me," he says, his voice low. "What I went through – I don't think about it, okay? It's what you do. You've been in Hell, I've been in Hell, we just don't think about it. That's how we deal. It's the only way we keep going."

Dean stares, searching Old Sam's face for evidence of the horror he's describing, of suffering so intense and prolonged it couldn't possibly be real, couldn't possibly leave this beautiful man without a visible scar, some visual evidence of the torture he's endured.

Suddenly all Dean wants to do is go to bed. Take this huge, suffering brother-man with him. Stay there.

In the bedroom Old Sam lets Dean undress him, remove the towel and tee-shirt and lay him out on the bed, then stands over him as he gets undressed, leaves his clothes folded neatly on the armchair before he climbs into bed, pulls the covers up over both their bodies, lets Old Sam's heat wash over him like the wave of affection and comfort and home that it is.

They lie still and gaze at each other for awhile, on their sides, barely touching, just observing, just basking in the power of being together that is still so new to Dean but also feels completely comfortable, like it's always been. Dean touches the tattoo on Old Sam's chest, looks up into Old Sam's eyes with a questioning gaze, but Old Sam lowers his eyes, flushing a little.

"Never mind," he says softly. "Turns out it doesn't really work that well anyway."

He sounds so defeated, so resigned to the misery of his life, and it just makes Dean's chest hurt in a kind of unconscious sympathy.

"I don't know if I can do this, Sam," Dean hears himself say, although he's not sure what made him say it; he's not even sure what he means until Old Sam smiles a little, touches his cheek.

"Do what, Dean?" he prompts.

"I'm not sure I can let my little brother go into that future," Dean says. "Where you come from."

Old Sam traces Dean's cheek with the tips of his fingers.

"I'm afraid you don't have much choice," he comments. "It's already happened."

"It fuckin' sucks, is what it does," Dean says.

"Yeah, it does," Old Sam agrees. "But it could be worse."

"How?" Dean is genuinely curious, because that just doesn't make sense. "How could it possibly be worse?"

"Well, most of the time, we're together," Old Sam says. "When you're gone, it's worse. Trust me."

"Like right now?" Dean says. "In your time, I'm gone. You're alone. What the hell kind of future is that? You go to Hell, I go to Hell, everybody gets violated and tortured, then we disappear on each other for what – months at a time?"

"Years," Old Sam mutters miserably. "Sometimes it's years."

"Nope," Dean says firmly. "Not letting Sammy go. That's final."

Old Sam slides the pad of his thumb along Dean's lower lip, takes a deep breath, then lets it out slowly, eyes watching his own fingers as he touches and caresses Dean's face. His fingers slide down Dean's neck, touch the leather cord and the little pendant hanging there.

"You kept this," Old Sam murmurs dreamily, like he's talking to someone else, like he's forgotten he's in the past.

"Course I did," Dean frowns. "Always. I never take it off. You know that."

A single tear slides down Old Sam's cheek, making his lashes wet, and he keeps his eyes down, fingering the little brass talisman like it's the key to the universe, like it's the answer to everything.

"I thought you were supposed to be the one that would save us all," Dean says when it's clear Old Sam isn't going to say anything.

Old Sam raises his eyes to Dean's, frowns a little, like he doesn't get Dean's meaning.

"You know, the time-traveler who fixes everything," Dean prompts, fighting down the doubt at the edges of his consciousness. "The prophecy."

Old Sam shakes his head, sad and weary and suddenly looking very old.

"Pretty sure that's just a myth," he says softly, letting the pendant drop back onto Dean's chest, pulling his hand away.

"What are you talking about?" Dean frowns, confused now. "That was supposed to be the whole deal. You were the Great New Hope or something."

Old Sam is shaking his head. "No, Dean, it's not me."

"What do you mean, it's not you?" Dean demands. "It's what Dad's fighting for. Uncle Bobby too. It's why they do what they do."

"Dean, I don't know what they told you, but I am not any kind of savior," Old Sam shakes his head. "Believe me. It's not me. Dad and Bobby did – they do what they do because it's their jobs, not because of me."

Dean stares silently for a moment, trying to remember that night at Bobby's house when Dad explained all this to him, when he felt so sure he understood. When he felt he was part of something important, something that made all their suffering and sacrifice – even Mom's death – meaningful.

"So they got it wrong?" Dean breathes. "It's all for nothing after all?"

Old Sam leans in then, kisses him, slips his hand down Dean's body and pulls him close, so their bodies are flush together from shoulder to hip. The warmth and softness of Sam's skin, the hardness of his muscles and bones floods Dean's senses, makes everything else fade as his downstairs brain goes instantly on-line.

"Not nothing," Old Sam murmurs against his mouth. "Not nothing."

Old Sam's love-making is careful, reverential; he cherishes Dean's body as if he's never had it before, as if he'll never have it again. Whenever Dean tries to increase the pace, get a little wilder the way he suspects Sam likes it, Sam slows him down again, shushes him, soothes the bite marks on his skin with his lips and tongue. He takes his time licking and sucking, then finally opening Dean's body, sensitizing every inch of his skin and giving him the best blow job of his young life. When Old Sam lubes himself up and finally fucks into Dean, first with his fingers, then with his dick, he goes slow and careful, giving Dean what he never knew he needed. It's a revelation to Dean, letting Old Sam take control, so that Dean can relinquish all responsibility, so that Dean can transfer his heavy load to his little brother's broad shoulders and just let it all go. When his orgasm surges through him he's on his back, gazing up through tear-filled eyes as Old Sam thrusts against his prostate, watching Dean's face and going rigid only a moment after Dean, thrusting shallowly as he lowers his forehead to Dean's, kissing his swollen lips as he moans through his aftershocks.

Afterwards, Dean's too fucked out to move, so Old Sam gets up to clean them off, spreads a clean sheet beneath him, then spoons in behind him, kissing the back of his neck until he drifts off to sleep, warm and content and more sore than he cares to think about.

Old Sam visits regularly for awhile, and somehow his timing is nearly perfect for Dean to pull him into bed, and for several months Dean experiences a state of bliss that can only result from being both sexually and emotionally fulfilled, a state of reality that gave rise to the idea of honeymoon, since it's pretty sticky sometimes, although, at least in Dean's case, it has nothing to do with the moon, since Old Sam's visits happen during daylight, while Sammy's in school.

"Purgatory," Old Sam explains when he reveals that Old Dean has finally returned again in his time.

Dean marvels at how linear Old Sam's visits have been lately, although sometimes he arrives at an earlier point in the month than the last time, so this particular visit happens before one in which Dean is able to reveal to Old Sam that his older self is, in fact, in Purgatory this time.

"Not Hell," Dean clarifies. "It's not nearly as bad as Hell. Less raping and torturing, if you can keep from getting caught, which of course I can."

Old Sam's eyes glisten with tears, but his relief is palpable, and their love-making is a little more heated, a little more intense than usual because Old Sam knows he's getting his brother back soon – his older brother – which means his time in the past, with this younger Dean, is coming to an end. Dean tries not to think about how that means he'll be losing Old Sam soon, losing him to that older version of himself. And Dean tries to be happy for the guy when a month goes by and he hasn't shown up. Old Dean getting back from Purgatory is a good thing, he reasons. Something to look forward to.

Yeah, right.


Next Chapter -- Back to Masterpost
Walker in pink

The Time Traveler's Brother - Chapter Six

Dean's seventeenth birthday has come and gone, and he's technically supposed to be a junior in high school, but he's fallen so far behind so many times that he doesn't try to go back, just rides the year out until John comes to pick them up again, depositing them for the summer and most of the next school year at a farm outside Hannibal, Missouri.

The farmhouse is another safe house, used by hunters and protectors in the past so it's well-warded, the fields around it planted with vervain and other herbs used to repel the supernatural. John gives Dean the Impala as an early birthday present, buys himself a monster truck with winnings from a particularly lucky hand of poker in Carver City.

"You know as much as I do about caring for this thing," he tells Dean as he hands him the keys. "She's yours now. Be good to her."

Dean nods solemnly because the fact that this car is now his represents an act of faith and trust that he's never quite sure he's earned from his dad, especially after the accident with the Mustang. But he's more than grateful that he's got wheels, especially since he and Sammy are stranded out here otherwise and that hasn't been so fun in the past. There's a school bus that passes right by the farm, but Dean takes Sammy to school and picks him up every day anyway. It's worth it to see the looks on the other kids' faces, and Dean gets the chance to wink at a couple of high school girls in the process. He even takes one or two of them out, although it makes Sammy so jealous and hormonal he gives up after the first few dates, falls back on his own hand-jobs for relief because it just isn't worth upsetting Sam like it does.

Sam travels off and on, although Dean only knows for sure if he's in the room when it happens. Sam explains that time moves differently in the future, so sometimes when he spends an hour or two with Old Dean in some distant future, when he comes back only a minute or two will have passed. It's a little disorienting, that's all, otherwise it's no big deal, or so he says when Dean glares, furious that he can't stop it from happening. Dean officially hates time travel, at least when it's his little brother doing it.

Old Sam, on the other hand, can just get his sorry ass back through time anytime now. Dean misses Old Sam more than he's willing to admit, even to himself. He doesn't bother telling Sammy what Old Sam told him about not being the special time-traveling superhero that saves the world after all. Dean feels a little guilty for not telling him, but Sammy seems so excited about the whole thing right now, and Dean knows how sad he gets later so he just wants him to have his happiness as long as he can. If Sammy wants to believe he's going to save the world someday, who is Dean to take that belief away from him? Besides, at least from Dean's point of view, there isn't anyone else who could do it, if it's even possible at all. He believes in Sam, always has, so who's to say his Sam, this Sam, isn't the one who finally saves everyone in the end?

That's enough for Dean.

*

Which is why, when the end finally comes, it rocks Dean to the core.

It's late January, just before Dean's eighteenth birthday, and Sammy's at school. It's the middle of a cold, cloud-covered winter day, when the ground is frozen and the sparse trees look like long-fingered skeletal claws against the sky.

Dean's in the house baking bread, filling the house with a smell he vaguely remembers from his earliest childhood, giving himself yet another domestic skill he doesn't really care if John teases him for. John doesn't understand how good smells are everything, how important food is when you've been food-poor most of your life. John's father may have left when he was little, but after his mother remarried the mechanic from Lawrence, Kansas, Dean imagines John's life was fairly stable, comfortable even. John grew up in one house, in one town, where everyone knew him and where he felt secure and cared about by more people than Dean can count. So John can't ever understand, not really, what it's been like for Dean.

Not that it matters. As long as Dean has Sam – and as far as he can tell, he always will – he doesn't really need anything else.

"Dean."

Dean turns, heart leaping because he'd know that voice anywhere. Old Sam is in the kitchen doorway, his hair a disheveled mess, his face pale and drawn, his clothes bedraggled and unkempt. His right arm is bandaged and held in place by an elaborate black sling which is belted to his torso and across his opposite shoulder. It looks awkward and uncomfortable, but it's the look on his face that propels Dean forward, grabbing Sam's good shoulder and his waist to pull him in for a hug.

"What happened this time, Sam?" Dean demands as he releases him a little, keeping contact because he can't not touch Old Sam, not when he's so obviously in need. Again.

"I can't do this anymore," Old Sam declares, his face a mask of grief and horror, worse than anything since that time he came back after Hell. "I can't keep doing this, Dean."

"Sure you can, Sammy," Dean rubs his brother's shoulder. "It's not that bad, remember? Cuz you've got me, right? You've always got me."

"No," Old Sam shakes his head. His eyes are wild, and he looks a little unhinged. "No, you're not there again, Dean. You – Oh God, I just can't do this."

"Hey, hey, come on, Sam, come on now," Dean turns to the kitchen table, still keeping his hand on Old Sam's shoulder, pulls out a chair for him and sits him down, pulling one for himself opposite. "Now listen to me, Sam. You're gonna get through this, whatever it is. Just like you always have. Okay? I promise. It's gonna be okay."

"No, no – fuck, no, Dean, you don't understand," Old Sam's breathing is ragged, he's sweating and his eyes are tearing up. Old Sam closes his eyes for a minute, takes a deep, shuddering breath, tips his chin down to his chest and lets it out. "You died, Dean. You died right in front of me again. Horribly. Bloody."

Fuck.

"Okay," Dean clears his throat, focuses on Sam so he doesn't have to feel the ice water flooding his veins. "Okay, Sam. But I'll be back. I always come back. You can't get rid of me that easy, you know that."

He doesn't get this dying and coming back business. At all. But he knows the drill, knows that somehow, however it happens, he and Sam always end up together again.

"No, no, not this time," Old Sam shakes his head, looking up, straight into Dean's eyes. "You turned into a demon."

Okay, that's a new one.

"Huh," Dean nods, going for rational in the face of the crazy he's hearing. "Okay, well then. Guess I made one too many trips to Hell, huh?"

Old Sam's eyes widen. "It's not funny, Dean!" he protests. "It's a fuckin' disaster! You're alive again, sure, but you're some kind of monster and I can't fix you! Oh God, I am so done with this shit, I can't even tell you."

"Listen to me, Sam," Dean leans forward, puts his hands on Sam's knees to get his full attention. He knows he's still just a kid, just a past self to Old Sam, but he's still the big brother. He can still get Sam to do what he needs him to do.

"We're gonna figure this out, okay? Just like we always have. It's always crazy with us, I see that now, and it just gets crazier. But I know for a fact we are there in the future – your future. Remember? Because my little thirteen-year-old brother is visiting a very old version of myself in that future, and I've seen you old, Sam. Like white-hair-and-wrinkles old. So we survive, okay? Some way, somehow, we survive."

Old Sam is shaking his head, has been since Dean started his little pep talk, and now he gets up, moves in long-legged strides toward the back door, muttering "no no no" under his breath.

"No, Dean, not this time," he says when he's got his hand on the doorknob, turns and looks back at his brother. "This time, I'm gonna change it."

He turns and is out the door before Dean has time to react, before he can interpret the determined set to Old Sam's jaw, the wild-eyed obsession driving him, making him blind and deaf even to Dean.

He's just like Dad.

The thought suddenly hits Dean, terrifies him, gets him up onto his feet and out the door after his brother before he even realizes what he's doing. Outside, the cold hits him like a wall, solid and unyielding. The wind is frigid, even if it's not very strong, and it pierces through Dean's shirts and jeans like they aren't even there. He sucks in a breath, curses himself for not grabbing a coat, then stares around wildly, looking for Old Sam.

It's only a second or two before he sees him, standing in the middle of the empty field behind the house, good arm outstretched, staring up at the sky. It takes Dean a minute to realize he's yelling something; the wind is increasing, so at first it carries the sound away from him, and all Dean can see is Old Sam's mouth moving. That, and the fact that there's a silver knife in his hand. A long one, clutched in his left hand because his right one is immobile.

"Come on, you son of a bitch! Come and get me! Come on!" The wind has shifted, and now Dean can hear Old Sam's voice, can hear the challenge and desperation in his tone.

"Sam!" Dean bellows, starting across the windy field toward his brother, thinking only about getting Old Sam back into the house, knocking some sense into him and warming him up with soup or whiskey or sex. Maybe all of the above.

That's when the air is suddenly filled with the sound of flapping wings, and out of the corner of his eye Dean catches sight of something huge and black and feathery which at first he assumes is a crow, but when he turns to look at it full on it's no longer there. The sound of beating wings gets louder, and then something huge and dark swoops down right over Dean's head. He has only a moment to look up, to grab the gun from the back of his jeans before the thing is right on top of him, moving fast toward Old Sam. There's a smell like decay and dust, and darkness falls all around him, as if night had come on a fluttering mass of feathers and death. Dean has an impression of millions of glittering eyes like stars winking at him from a blanket of rippling blackness. He fires his gun blindly, with no real target, but he must've hit something because he hears a shriek, then he's hit by something hard and he's on the ground with the wind knocked out of him and his consciousness flickering against a throbbing pain in his head.

"Dean!"

He can hear Old Sam bellowing at him, moving closer, but he's barely conscious, something dripping into one eye and the other one swelling shut –

Then Old Sam's yells turn to screams of pain.

"No!"

Dean feels Old Sam's agony like it's part of him, like his own insides are being ripped out, except worse because he can still move, he can still do something to stop the thing that's hurting Old Sam if he can just stay conscious, focus, get his body to move.

Afterwards, when Dean thinks back on those moments, he knows it was only a few minutes. But at the time it feels like an eternity. It feels like it takes him forever to get to his feet, to stagger towards Old Sam and the huge black winged thing hovering over him, ripping at him with teeth and claws and a beak, its million eyes opening and closing amongst its constantly rippling coat of feathers. It sees Dean approaching, starts to spread its massive wings, and Dean has the impression that it means to pick up Old Sam's body in its gigantic talons and carry him off, or what's left of Old Sam after it's done shredding his chest.

"You will die like this one day, Dean Winchester," a thin, raspy voice whispers deep inside his head. "Your brother will watch it happen. And now you know how your brother will die."

Dean's head throbs, the whispery voice inside it making all his senses scream in protest, resist the psychic invasion with every fiber of his being. He can feel it, like it's a physical force inside him, like it's trying to grab his insides and pull them out through his nose.

"No!" he screams, launching himself full-force at the creature, knowing it's a useless gesture, that he's lost his gun and he's bleeding and half-conscious, knowing Old Sam is dying because he can't hear him screaming anymore, just sees the little red pieces of Old Sam in the creature's beak and claws. Dean stumbles, falls to his knees, sobbing, crawling in the dirt now because he can't seem to make his legs work.

Then he sees it. Old Sam's long silver knife is right there, where he must've dropped it when the creature – Samael the Archangel of Death, Dean knows it now, heard the thing whisper its name in his brain – attacked. Dean reaches for the knife, clutches it in both hands, starts to rise to his feet, meaning to make one last running leap. It's only about ten feet, and he should be able to land a blow or two before he's flung aside again.

"Leave my brother alone, you son of a bitch!"

It's a battle cry he's heard before, maybe something his future self has said, maybe something he's heard in a movie or a TV show or just in his own head. But as he's throwing himself forward, thrusting the knife home into one of the creatures eyes and twisting it with every ounce of strength he has, he thinks he feels something tearing, some deep, vibrating weight that's pushing back at first but then just splits open, letting his knife pierce deep – wrenching some primal piece of the universe right out of its fucking comfortable little hole.

Dean can hear the thing shrieking, can feel it moving under him, trying to shake him loose, twisting and turning its hideous body away, maybe landing blows but Dean can't feel them because he's focusing only on putting all his weight into the blade, pinning the creature in place and twisting. He hears it rustle and scream, knows without lifting his head that it's dying. Its movements are getting weaker. The screaming is all in his head now, and then it's silent.

For a solid minute that feels more like an hour, Dean lies still, not daring to let up on his hold, afraid that if he does the thing will leap to life again, go back to its gory work on Old Sam. Then Dean hears the roar of a truck and he lifts his head, momentarily panicked because it's Dad's truck and no way can he let this thing go after Dad too.

He's still so out of it – barely conscious really – that he doesn't even register at first that he's alone. Old Sam and the monster are gone. Vanished. He struggles to his feet, looks around with his one good eye. He's still clutching the silver blade, red blood dripping from it, and there's so much blood on the ground it looks like a fucking army bled out right here, and it's all in one gigantic puddle because the ground is so frozen it can't absorb the stuff.

"Dean!"

John Winchester is stalking toward him across the field, sawed-off in his hands, Sammy at his heels.

"What happened here?" John demands as soon as he's close enough to see the blood, to see that Dean is covered in it, to see that he's still holding a seriously dangerous-looking mini-sword in his hand. "Put the blade down, son. Tell me what happened."

Dean drops the blade, understanding instinctively that John thinks he killed something here and might still be in the killing mood and needs to disarm –

"I think I killed it, Dad," he says, his voice raspy and broken from crying.

Crying? He's been crying, he realizes. Because of Old Sam. Because of what the creature was doing to his brother.

"What did you do, Dean?" John asks, his voice low and steady, soothing.

He still thinks I did something bad, Dean realizes.

He shakes his head. "No, Dad, I killed that thing. The thing that killed Mom. It attacked Sam and I – I just – "

"What are you talking about?" John raises his voice, clearly getting a little freaked out. "Sam's right here. He's fine. What do you mean you killed the thing that killed your mom? What thing?"

Dean swallows, forcing himself to speak calmly, even though he knows he looks like a crazy man with blood all over him and a gash above his eye and he's a little wobbly because he's really hurting all over and it's fuckin' freezing out here –

"Samael, the Archangel of Death," Dean clarifies. "I've seen it before, Dad. I know what it looks like."

"It was here?" John's voice is verging on hysteria now.

"Yeah," Dean nods. "It was after Sam. Old Sam. From-the-future Sam. He – " Dean shakes his head, trying to clear it. "He – " Dean glances at Sam, sees Sam's wide, adoring eyes just staring at him, and he smiles, knowing how ghoulish he must look doing it.

Sam smiles back, blushing a little.

"Old Sam drew it out," Dean says, looking at Sam as he says it, letting his brother anchor him, keep him steady. "He was totally kick-ass brave. Just stood there in the middle of the field and called it. Yelled at it to come and get him."

"No way," Sam says under his breath, rapt, eyes shining, like Dean's telling one of his bedtime stories.

"Oh yeah," Dean nods. "Just called it down so we could fight it. We killed it together," he assures Sam. "I couldn't have done it without him."

John doesn't believe him. He's been tracking this thing for years, tracked it this way just this morning – feared it was coming after his kids, so he high-tailed it here, only to find a field of blood and his oldest son covered in the red stuff – but no body, only Dean's word for it that the thing's dead. John spends the afternoon searching the field, comes up with a single black feather and a couple of pieces of blood-soaked flannel, not from Dean's shirt.

Sam takes Dean inside, helps clean him up, cleans and dresses his wounds, feeds him soup and fresh-baked bread, tries to get him to lie down, get some rest.

"Sammy, don't leave," Dean begs after Sam's finally got him in bed, pain pills starting to take effect so he's drowsy, warm – finally, finally warm again – and it feels so good to have Sam's small hands on him.

Sam looks a little worried, unsure, but he complies easily, slipping fully-clothed into bed next to his brother. Dean wraps an arm around Sam's shoulders and pulls him close, tangles their legs together as Sam lays his head on Dean's chest, snuggles in under Dean's chin. Dean buries his nose in Sam's soft hair and breathes deep, banishing the horror of watching his older brother being torn apart as best he can, letting his little brother's smell – warm and alive and sweaty and real – overwhelm every other sense-memory.

Later, Dean wakes up to the sound of voices in the next room, Sammy gone from the bed. He can hear John's deep voice, talking to someone on the phone, followed by Sam's higher, boyish voice giving short answers. Dean pulls himself out of bed, stumbles to the door, pulling on a pair of jeans and grabbing a flannel shirt because it's cold, cold, cold, and the heat isn't up high enough to take the chill out of Dean's bones today.

It's what he expects when he opens the door. John's on the phone, talking to Caleb, and Sam's on their newly-acquired laptop, bought with money Dean won hustling pool over the summer. Sam's sending e-mails and checking message boards and listservs for signs of supernatural activity.

Sam sees his brother first and his face softens.

"Hey Dean," he calls. "You won't believe this."

John looks up, says his goodbyes to Caleb, immediately dials another number.

Dean crosses the room, pulling his flannel on, hugging himself as he looks over Sam's shoulder at the computer screen.

"We need to get down to the library, search some databases," Sam says. "This is amazing."

"What?" Dean demands, squinting at the words on the screen. Just a lot of messages, posted one after the other.

"This is one of the most active boards," Sam explains. "It's where hunters discuss their latest cases, reach out to other hunters for advice, that kind of thing. It's usually hopping. Right now? And for the past six hours or so? Nothing. Nobody has anything. It's like – "

Sam glances up at Dean, gets all flustered for a minute because Dean's right there leaning over his shoulder. Dean notices, pulls back right away. It's instinct, he thinks. Don't make Sammy uncomfortable. He does it so automatically he only now realizes he's been doing it for awhile.

"So it's like everybody's on vacation?" Dean suggests, and Sammy shakes his head.

"No, it's like there's no supernatural activity," Sam says, focusing again with a slight flush to his cheeks. "It's like everything's disappeared."

"We don't know that for sure," John booms out, putting the phone down. He frowns at Dean. "I still have a few more calls to make. Nothing's definite yet." He heads into the kitchen and the brothers listen as he opens the refrigerator, then pops open a beer.

"I think you did it, Dean," Sam whispers. "I think you stopped it all, when you killed that thing. It was you, after all."

Dean stares, shakes his head. "No way, Sam," he protests. "You were the one. It was always gonna be you."

"Maybe it had to be both of us," Sam suggests. "My time-traveling, your psychic thing."

Dean stares, stunned. "My what? I don't have a – whatever thing. What are you talking about?"

"Old Dean explained it to me. He said Old Sam figured it out. He said the time-traveling thing always complemented a power in a sibling or soul-mate. Since we're – we're both, it's doubly powerful in us. That's why when I travel, I always go to you. You do that. You bring me to you. Like – like an anchor. Without you, I'd go spinning off through time, end up in the middle of the interstate getting run over by a mac truck or something. Or in space."

"But I – I don't even think about it," Dean's shaking his head. "You just show up. It's not like it's something I can control."

Sam nods. "Like my time-traveling," he agrees. "It just happens."

"What's the use of having a magical power you can't control?" Dean feels panic rising in his chest, not liking what he's hearing one bit, damn it.

"Maybe so you can shift reality and banish everything supernatural from the entire universe?" Sam suggests, raising his eyebrows, pursing his lips, and suddenly looking so much like his older self it makes Dean a little queasy.

"And you think – you think our killing that thing did that?" he says slowly. "That's what you think?"

"That's what it looks like," Sam shrugs. "That's sure what it looks like."

Dean sinks into the armchair next to the computer table, sucks in a deep breath.

"Oh, and happy birthday," Sam says, almost as an afterthought, which is when Dean realizes he slept the night through and it's actually morning of the day following the Day Everything Changed, as he would later refer to it in his mind. It's January 24th. Dean's eighteenth birthday.


Epilogue:

In the days and weeks and months that follow, life goes on fairly normally. John doesn't believe Sam's theory at first, so he keeps them moving, follows them around in his monster truck while they drive the car. Being alone in the Impala with Sam is a new experience for Dean, and one that he begins to get used to pretty quickly. They can talk about stuff, or not, listen to the music Dean wants to hear, or not. John still directs their general movements, but they can choose the diners they stop at, the motels where they crash for the night.

On Sam's fourteenth birthday Dean takes him out for pie and ice cream, makes the waitress put a candle in the pie for him, then takes him back to the motel room and lays one on him.

"Figured you've been thinking about it," Dean explains as he pulls away, leaving Sam wide-eyed and slick-lipped. "Didn't want you to think it's all just you."

Sam reaches for Dean, manages to push him back against the door so he can kiss him again, sloppy and inexperienced and unbearably sweet, and Dean lets him because he's the big brother and it's his job to take care of Sam.

After a year without finding a single incident of supernatural activity, John finally – cautiously – admits that Sam might be right. He leaves them in a rental house in Pontiac, Illinois and takes off. They find out later he's remarried and had another family, a young son named Adam and a secret "normal" life where he settles down once he's fairly convinced nothing will come after them.

Dean is more hurt than he will admit, the idea that their dad found something normal he could escape to while he was leaving them in shitty motel rooms without enough food or money. All the wilderness training and hunting exercises, everything Dean went through to become a hunter, to follow in his dad's footsteps, all feels like a lie suddenly. John's second family never knew what he did, never knew about his first family, gets to have him full-time once it's all over, once John's convinced there's no more work to be done. And Dean gets it, that's the sick thing. Even though it's unfair as all hell, he gets it. John grew up normal, had this crazy traumatic event rip his world wide open, suddenly has to care for and protect two small children on his own, does his best but really, who wouldn't want to find normal again if they could? Who wouldn't want to leave all the crazy behind? And Sam and Dean are not normal, of that they're both pretty well convinced. Like their mother, they're a kind of aberration, a freak of nature that any sane person would avoid like the plague. So Dean doesn't blame John. Not really. For Dean, there was never a choice. He was always going to be in this crazy life, apparently; there just wasn't any other way for him.

Sam doesn't time-travel again. They both decide it's because he doesn't need to, that the magic that allowed him to do it in the first place just isn't in this universe anymore. It's such a huge relief to Dean he can hardly stand it. Sam won't leave him. At least, not that way.

For awhile, Dean thinks maybe Sam can get out. Sam's training has been more theoretical, less hands-on. He hasn't had the early trauma, or the brutality and intensity of Dean's hunting experiences to haunt his dreams. Dean's mostly protected him from the bad things. Sam's never had to kill something with his bare hands, and Dean's determined to keep it that way. Sam does well in high school, graduates with honors, wins a full-ride to Stanford, and Dean drives him there, helps him move into his dorm room (one duffel, one bed-in-a-bag charged to a fake card at a local Walmart). Dean finds an apartment, gets a job at a local auto shop, tries to stay out of the way so Sam can have a normal college experience.

It lasts about a month. Then Sam calls, drunk and crying, missing Dean so much he can't study, can't think straight or eat or sleep. Dean makes him stay in the dorm for the rest of that first year, visiting pretty much every night, but that summer Sam moves off-campus into Dean's apartment and things are easier after that. They discover how easy it is to let people think they're a couple; nobody ever asks, since it's pretty obvious, and they don't really look enough alike to make anyone suspect that they're related. It's close to San Francisco, and half that city is gay, and Sam and Dean fit right in, finally find the normal lives they never had growing up. Dean figures he can even forge adoption papers, go through the black market if they ever decide to have kids.

For years after Old Sam's death, Dean mourns him. He wakes up sobbing, images of blood and feathers and fire all crowding together in his nightmares. Sam holds him, soothes him, kisses the tears away, but it takes a long time for Dean to stop sleeping with a gun under his pillow, to resist the urge to salt the doors and windows every night before they go to bed. Old habits, especially the ones learned under extreme stress in childhood and early adulthood, are the hardest to break, and Dean's well into his thirties before he begins to relax, lets go of the terrible fear that Sam's going to die horribly in his arms. But eventually, with Sam's constant reassuring presence and steadfast love, Dean feels the memories begin to fade, doesn't grieve so intensely anymore when he thinks about all of Old Sam's suffering, the horror of his life and death.

"You saved me from that, Dean," Sam reminds him when Dean gets drunk and maudlin and starts going on about how miserable Old Sam was and how Dean wishes he could've done something. "You spared me all that. You did. I'm him, remember? You fixed it so I never have to live that life, I never have to suffer that way. You did that. And I'm grateful, okay? Come here and let me show you how grateful I am."

And when Sam does, when he's deep inside Dean's willing body and Sam is pounding into him, making him forget everything except this moment, this time, being possessed and filled up and devoured by this Sam – it's almost enough to wipe his memory clean, to make him forget that sad, tortured version of Sam who will never exist because he died on a Missouri field that day. When Sam is thirty-one, about the age he must've been when that happened, Dean finds himself lying awake at night, just watching Sam sleep. And when Sam calls him on it, blushing and giving Dean one of his perfect dimpled grins, lighting up the room with it like he always does, Dean just shakes his head.

"I'm imagining you old, Sam, like you were when I first saw you," Dean admits. "Like you were when I was little. Like you will be some day."

"Thanks to you," Sam lifts his eyebrows, reaching up to trace Dean's cheek with his fingertips.

They've already talked about it several times because it never makes sense to Dean that both alternate realities existed simultaneously, that in one Old Sam just went on without Dean for the rest of his long life, dropping in to visit his little-boy brother like some kind of consolation prize for losing his life-long partner. Not to mention the older version of Dean that Sam visited more than once, who was living in some kind of bunker with knives and guns all over the walls, a man whose body was covered in battle scars and whose soul seemed so dark and embittered it makes Sam sad just to think about him. Old Dean welcomed twelve-year-old Sam's visits like he had been waiting for them for a very long time, like they were the only thing he still lived for.

Sam says they were both alternate realities, other ways he and Dean might've ended up if Dean hadn't killed the beast that day. Neither of them ever uses its name, Dean because he can't shake the feeling that Sam was the creature's target all along, its namesake, and Sam doesn't mention it because he doesn't want to upset Dean over what feels to him like such a trivial thing.

"The important thing is, it's gone," he tells Dean. "It doesn't exist here. Like you used to tell me when we were kids. Angels don't exist."

And that's a good thing. Dean's just sure that's a good thing.

Definitely beats the alternative.


THE END


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Walker in pink

The Time Traveler's Brother - MASTERPOST

Title: The Time Traveler’s Brother
Author: amypond45
Pairing: Sam/Dean
Rating: R
Word Count: 55,458
Characters: Sam Winchester, Dean Winchester, John Winchester, Pastor Jim Murphy, Bobby Singer
Warnings: Underage. Sibling incest. Mentions of rape and torture. Spoilers up through 10.01.
Disclaimer: Nothing about Supernatural is mine, everything belongs to its rightful owner. I make no money from the show or this story.
A/N: Written for the 2015 SPN_Kink_Big_Bang. This story is inspired by The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. For her invaluable help and encouragement beta-ing this thing, many thanks to the wonderful smalltrolven

Summary: Dean's life is turned upside down the night his mother dies. But that's also the night a mysterious grown-up version of Dean's brother first appears in his life. While Dean grows up, "Old Sam" is often there, especially when Dean's father isn't, and as Dean learns what the future holds, he begins to question everything his father has taught him about who he is and what he is supposed to become. Can Dean find a way to save his little brother from his own future? This pre-series AU follows Dean from age four to eighteen.

Artwork Masterpost by the amazing winchesterchola here


PART ONE -- PART TWO -- PART THREE -- PART FOUR -- PART FIVE -- PART SIX


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