It takes him a minute to remember where he is -- fuck, who he is -- because the dream still clinging to the edges of his consciousness is unbelievably vivid, like a memory only in bright colors and on a huge screen with Dolby surround-sound.
Then he realizes it's Sam's birthday.
He reaches instinctively across the bed but Sam's not there, just the rumpled sheet and pillow with the indentation of his head still in it. Dean grabs the pillow and buries his face in it, breathing in Sam's familiar smell.
Gone for a run, he figures, rolling over with the pillow still clutched against him, his mind running over the details of the strange dream as he lets himself doze for another minute or two, surrounded by the warmth and security of brother and home.
When he finally stumbles into the kitchen for coffee it's clear he's the last one up.
John Winchester is at the table, sipping coffee and reading the morning paper. He nods at Dean as he comes in, bathrobe loosely tied, slippers shuffling on the stone floor.
"Morning," Dean greets his father.
John grunts, doesn't look up as Dean pours his cup of coffee, heads into the library.
The tall, lanky grey-haired man sitting at the table looks up from his laptop, smiles at Dean from behind his glasses. As he does, his face relaxes into dimples and his hazel eyes sparkle.
Dean puts a hand on his shoulder, squeezes gently as he passes him to take the chair opposite.
"Happy Birthday, Uncle Sam," he greets the older man fondly.
"Thanks, Dean," his uncle smiles back. "Sixty-one and still kicking. Older than I ever expected to be, that's for damn sure."
"Found a case for us?" Dean asks as he takes a sip of his coffee.
"Maybe," Uncle Sam -- Tall Sam, Dean fills in, remembering his dream -- nods at him. "Possible chupacabra attacking cattle at a ranch in Oregon. Ranchers have ruled out coyotes or bears, since the only thing left behind is the skeleton. Consumes the entire cow, right down to the bones."
Dean nods. "It attacking people?"
Uncle Sam shakes his shaggy head. "Not yet, but you know how these things are. They get hungry enough and brave enough, they can be pretty dangerous."
"Okay," Dean nods. "Sammy and I will get on it. We'll start out right after breakfast."
"Start out where?"
The voice behind him is as familiar as his own, and Dean doesn't even look up as his other uncle -- Big Dean, he remembers as he recalls his dream again, enters the room from the direction of the garage, where he spends most of his time when he's home.
"Uncle Sam's found us a job in Oregon," Dean says gruffly. Uncle Dean has never liked him much, he knows that, and he has to admit the feeling is at least partly mutual. But they tolerate each other.
Uncle Dean exchanges a look with his brother as he finds another chair, sits down carefully, sticking his bum leg out in front of him. Dean can tell it pains him, but he's not admitting it, any more than he lets any of his old injuries bother him. At least not in front of his nephew.
"Hey, you two were in my dream last night," Dean announces, mostly because he's impulsive and the damn dream is still haunting him.
"Yeah? What did you dream about?" Uncle Sam asks, raising an eyebrow..
"Sam was a baby," Dean says. "So I guess I must've been about four, and it was just after Mom died. You two rescued us from some attacking demons."
"That's right," Uncle Sam nods. "We did."
"You set us up, took care of us, trained Dad," Dean goes on. "Then you killed that thing that killed Mom."
Uncle Sam and Uncle Dean exchange glances.
"That's right, Dean," Uncle Sam agrees. "That's what happened. Are you remembering some of that?"
Dean shrugs, suddenly uncomfortable.
"I guess I am," he admits warily. "It wasn't exactly a happy time. I was pretty miserable, I think. Missed Mom a lot. Had a lot of nightmares about her death."
"Uh huh," Uncle Sam nods, gazing at him with a steady, sympathetic expression.
Dean takes another sip of his coffee, glances at Uncle Dean, who's frowning, as usual. Uncle Dean has always been grumpy, but in recent years his gloomy attitude has become an entrenched part of his character, so that Dean rarely remembers him smiling or laughing, although he knows he can -- sometimes when Dean walks in on his uncle when he's alone with his brother, there's something of the happier, more contented man lurking just under the surface of his self-loathing and resentment, a resentment he seems to aim specifically at Dean.
Dean clears his throat, realizes he has something important he needs to say, but isn't sure how to say it. Not with the way Uncle Dean is glaring openly at him.
"What is your problem?" he says now, glaring back at Uncle Dean. "Why the hell do you hate me so much?"
Uncle Dean glowers for another second, then his lips turn up in a smirk.
"I think you know the answer to that, Mini-Me," Uncle Dean answers smoothly.
"Yeah, yeah," Dean snaps. "You're me. I get that. And you think I've had it so much easier than you did because you killed that demon for us early on, so we didn't have a lifetime of suffering and misery like you did."
"Oh, you don't know the half of it, pal," Uncle Dean growls, lowering his voice to its most menacing. "You may think you know the supernatural world, but if you'd seen half the things I have it would make your toes curl, permanently."
"Dean -- " Uncle Sam puts his hand on his brother's arm in warning. "It's all done now. Just let it go."
"Shut it, Sam," Uncle Dean shakes his arm free. "Kid needs to know." He points his finger at Dean for emphasis."Your little brother never had to go to Hell with an archangel riding his ass. Your little brother never had a fuckin' demon blood addiction. Your little brother never died in your arms -- "
"Dean!" Uncle Sam protests. "Stop! He knows!"
"Yeah? Good. 'Cuz he needs to understand how goddamn lucky he is, because -- "
"Thank you, all right?" Dean raises his voice to be heard over his uncles' bickering, and they both stop, stare at him.
"I'm grateful. I am." Dean continues. "I know what you did. What you sacrificed. Sam and I can never repay that. You saved Dad, for goddsake! I get it, and I just wish there was some way I could go back and fix it for you like you did for us. I tried, goddamn it, as you well know. I tried to go back. Spell didn't work, but I tried! Sam and I did everything we could to try to fix it. And we ain't done trying, I can promise you that. 'Cuz you guys are family, and there ain't nothin' I wouldn't do for my family."
Uncle Sam has tears in his eyes, and he's nodding, and Uncle Dean stares for another minute, then looks away, muttering crossly.
"What's up with all the yelling?" Dad comes in with his newspaper, glaring at them each in turn, then they all look up as a voice greets them from the doorway.
"What's a guy gotta do to get a cup of coffee around here?"
It's Bobby, hailing them from the top of the bunker's stairs, Sam on his heels, grinning broadly.
"Found him outside," Sam says, clapping Bobby on the shoulder and sending sweat spraying everywhere.
"Happy birthday, Sam," Uncle Dean bellows, brightening immediately at the sight of his favorite nephew.
"Thanks," Sam grins even more broadly, bounds down the stairs two at a time, then strides into the library, where he clasps Uncle Dean's hand, then reaches a hand over to ruffle Uncle Sam's hair.
"Birthday wishes for you, too, Uncle," he says jovially, then reaches his arms out to his brother.
"No way," Dean shakes his head as sweat splatters everywhere. "Shower first, hugs later."
Sam lifts his eyebrows, shrugs.
"Your loss," he agrees cheerfully. "I'll see you in ten." He waves to all assembled, then bounds off toward the showers.
"That kid has too much energy," Bobby grouses, but he's smiling. They're all smiling. Sam does that to people, just by being in the room.
"It's all that college," Dad announces. "The more education you have, the less common sense."
"Thank God for that," Bobby says. "If the kid had common sense too, he'd be pretty-much perfect. And nobody needs to be that perfect."
"I'll be the judge of that, Singer," Dad says, but he's smiling too.
"So did anybody get him a gift?" Bobby asks, then looks around the room at the Winchesters -- all four of them -- who are looking down, looking away, avoiding each other's eyes.
All but Uncle Sam, who says "I did."
"What?" Dean's shocked, and feels more than a little guilty suddenly because he managed to not have a gift for either his Uncle or his brother, and that takes some doing.
Uncle Sam nods. "It's something I had as a kid. Figured he might like it."
Now everybody's staring at him, and Uncle Dean says, "What? Another amulet? Like he needs one of those. Kid goes around oozing luck and happy thoughts. Definitely doesn't need magical protection. The whole universe is on his side, as far as I can tell."
"Not an amulet," Uncle Sam smiles a little. "Something more basic. Something I spent hours playing with when I was little. I think I was hoping it would save me."
They're all curious as hell, but they wait, with typical hunter stoicism, until Sam comes back, clean and dressed in a tee-shirt and jeans, hair still wet and neatly combed back, face flushed.
"What? What did I miss?" he asks, looking expectantly from face to face.
"Uncle Sam got you a present," Dean says, unable to keep the smirk off of his face, the teasing out of his voice.
Sam looks at him, and Dean feels the familiar heat forming a tight knot in his belly. He will always feel it when Sam looks at him, he realizes. It's what Uncle Sam told him when he was a kid, when he first realized he was in love with his brother.
"Don't fight it, Dean," Uncle Sam said then, his gaze serious and solemn. "It's something we can't control. Dean and I have tried, believe me, and it only ends up in lies and betrayal and misery. You two have a chance to do it right. Really love each other. That's what we learned, although it took years of misery to figure it out. Much easier if you just get into the habit of loving and trusting each other from the start. We're soul-mated. God or whatever made us this way. I don't know why, but I do know that fighting it makes it worse. Way worse."
Dean smiles at his brother, shrugs a little, watches as if from a great distance as Uncle Sam hands Dean's brother his gift. His Legacy, he realizes, wondering only after the fact where the hell that thought came from.
Sam unwraps the gift, looking at least five times at his brother, as if Dean knows what the hell it is and must be in on the joke because if not then what the hell --
It's an airplane. An old, battered model airplane that looks like it's definitely seen better days, like it's been in storage for years, covered in dust and only recently wiped off.
And it's amazing.
Sam touches the plastic toy reverently, like it represents something so important he can't even express.
"This -- " he starts, then stops because his face shifts, his eyes fill with tears. He looks up at Uncle Sam, who is gazing at him with such intent, like he's willing him to understand something, waiting for him to get the joke.
"What the hell, Sam?" Uncle Dean barges in, sounding irrationally terrified and more than a little upset. "How did you -- Where the fuck did you get that thing?"
Uncle Sam's looking at his brother now, shaking his head as tears run down his cheeks. He has to take off his glasses, wipes them on his sleeve, just so he can see.
"I found it," he says. "I found it in the storage room. How did it even get there? I can't even -- We were here before, Dean. Even before we were here this time. Do you get it? We were already here."
"I gave you that when you were like -- " Uncle Dean thinks for a minute. "When you were twelve, man. Yeah. You were twelve. You had this fixation with flying, remember? From when you were really little. Always dreaming about flying, and then that time you jumped off the shed and broke your arm -- So I bought that thing with the money that I was supposed to be saving for food while Dad was in Kentucky hunting werewolves -- "
"I remember," Uncle Sam nods, shifts his gaze to his nephew, who's holding the airplane like it's some kind of talisman, something so special he can't even.
He's reading the lettering on the side, worn and rubbed from much handling. Somebody has painted something on the side, and Dean leans in, trying to make it out, fails.
"It says 'Rosebud,'" Sam says with a little smile. He lifts his eyes to Uncle Sam's, smiling broader. "It's a joke."
Uncle Sam shrugs.
"I used to think my life was a joke," he says with just a hint of the old bitterness. "One big fat meaningless cosmic joke, played on me and Dean starting the day I was born."
He looks at Sam, at Dean, at his brother, at Dad, at Bobby, then back at Sam.
"I don't think that anymore," he says with a little smile. "Happy birthday, Sam."
Life goes on pretty normally after Sam's 31st birthday, or at least as normally as it has for the past thirty years or so. Dean's never quite sure what all the differences are, but from what he gets from his uncles -- mostly Uncle Sam -- things in that other timeline were pretty fucked up.
So yeah, he's grateful.
Sometimes he wishes he could go back, fix things from before his mother died, but Uncle Sam has explained that the deal his mother made happened way before his birth, that to go all the way back to 1973 and fix that could change things too radically. They might never have been born. Apparently there were angels involved in bringing John and Mary Winchester together, although in this timeline there's never been a sign of angel interference at all.
That's a good thing, Uncle Sam assures Dean, so he doesn't pry too deeply because really -- angels?! What the fuck?! Hard enough having to deal with the ghosts and monsters and occasional demons he and Sam hunt every day. No reason to bring something crazy like angels into the mix.
It's a relief not to have to mess with the time traveling anyway. For awhile after he found out who his uncles really were and where they came from -- sometime around his twelfth birthday, when they came to stay for a few weeks so Uncle Dean could recover from a really nasty hunting accident which put him out of commission for several months -- Dean wondered why they had never returned to their own time. Uncle Sam explained that they had tried, spent the first few years trying everything they could to reverse the spell that brought them back thirty years in time in the first place. But nothing worked. They were able to make a couple of short trips into the recent past, which they did to set things right there, but the future was forever closed to them. Apparently they had changed the timeline irrevocably, so the spells to take them foreword in time just didn't work anymore. Uncle Sam figured they were probably created by angels in the first place, and since there were no angels now, then yeah.
So the older Winchester brothers spent their time hunting, traveling town to town, coming back to Blue Earth for birthdays and Christmas, calling to check on them pretty regularly. Evil still had them in its crosshairs, and at a certain point it was time to move on, then keep moving for awhile, but by that time Sam was in Kindergarten and not so impossibly little anymore. And the bunker was about the safest home base they could possibly ask for, so eventually they moved back there, finished school. Sam went to college, took his four years away from his family to get his bearings and make sense of his life. Dean and John kept hunting, and one day the older Winchester brothers came home to stay. They were in their fifties by then, and retirement didn't seem so bad as long as they could still be useful in the family business.
Which of course they could, being without compare the best hunters who ever lived, not to mention men of letters with a better knowledge and understanding of the supernatural world than anyone alive.
And when the day comes in 2013 that a door opens in the bunker and Henry Winchester steps through, they're all ready for him, not to mention the evil thing that comes out after him. They dispatch the Knight of Hell in one clean beheading, burning the body and scattering the ashes over a hundred and fifty miles of open prairie land in central Kansas.
Dean still misses his mother sometimes, remembers her soft smile and the way she tucked his hair behind his ear and called him her "love." He fantasizes about finding the right spell that could take him back in time to that moment before she made her deal, aim the colt right between that demon bastard's eyes and pull the trigger. It wouldn't even know what hit him. Would never know Dean Winchester was supposed to kill him in the future, in another timeline. In two other timelines, as a matter of fact. But this time he would get that bastard before it got his mother, or his baby brother. Save his mom. Keep Sammy clean.
But he would need Sam's help to find the spell, and Sam would never agree to tempt fate that way. He would argue that things have turned out pretty well, considering. And they'd be incredibly stupid to try and mess with that.
And knowing what he knows about his uncles' lives in that other timeline, Dean would have to agree.
Still, he thinks about it. Fantasizes about saving the people he loves.
After all, that's what Winchesters do, isn't it?
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