Setting: Arcadia National Park, Early Spring, 2017
Dean looked up from the skin-walker he'd just ganked as a flash of light nearly blinded him.
The flash came from the direction in which his brother had run moments before, in hot pursuit of another skin-walker, which had bolted when it realized it was facing the Winchesters.
They got that a lot these days. Monsters seemed to know about them, seemed more than afraid, and most of the time just tried to run from them. Dean had mixed feelings about stabbing anything in the back, even a blood-sucking monster, and he definitely preferred facing angry, vengeful evil than shirking, cowardly runners. Still, the job was the job, and getting it done was paramount to whatever angsty moments of self-doubt the monsters were experiencing as they faced their imminent demise.
When his vision cleared, Dean didn't hesitate; he dashed in the direction Sam had gone, bellowing his name. The woods were darker and thicker here, and Dean nearly tripped as he staggered into a small clearing where the moon's light revealed a small figure standing alone. A boy, no more than twelve or thirteen, stood silently watching him, his face a mask of false bravado that Dean instantly recognized as thinly-veiled terror.
Recognition hit Dean like a kick in the gut. This was Sam, all right, but not the Sam Dean had been battling monsters with only moments before. This was Sam as he hadn't been for about twenty years, young and small and vulnerable and Dean's responsibility. Dean's little brother in every sense of the word.
"What the hell?" Dean frowned, working the problem as quickly as his adrenaline-pumped brain would allow. He ticked through the possibilities, starting with shapeshifter, djinn-induced hallucination, even the skin-walker itself, maybe taking this form as a way to protect itself.
Nothing clicked or made sense. Instead, every cell in Dean's body screamed Sam!, eclipsing every doubt and protest in Dean's mind, causing him to throw all caution to the wind. Dean knew he probably shouldn't trust his instincts here, but there was no way in hell he could imagine that this kid was evil. It just wasn't in him.
But if this was really Sam, what had happened? A de-aging spell? Time travel?
"Sammy?" Dean tried again.
The kid clearly didn't recognize him. His eyes widened and he took a step back, stance widening as he considered whether to turn and run. Dean knew that was what Sam was thinking because it was what Dean had taught him to do in this situation. If you're alone with something or somebody who's bigger and stronger than you, you run, you hear me, Sammy? You run like hell.
"How do you know my name?" the boy demanded, small voice as brash and bold as he could make it, given that it was still pretty high-pitched. "Where am I?"
"Arcadia National Forest," Dean said, answering the second question first. "My brother's name is Sam. I'm – we were hunting and we got separated."
Dean wasn't sure why he didn't just tell this kid who he was, but the suspicion and fear in young-Sam's eyes warned him to take it slow.
"You're – you're a hunter?" young-Sam asked. Some of the suspicion slipped away from his expression, replaced by the beginnings of trust, and Dean knew he'd made the right choice.
'That's right," Dean said. "Me and my brother were hunting a couple of skin-walkers. Took down one of them right over there." Dean gestured back the way he had come.
Young-Sam nodded, relief softening his features as he found himself in familiar territory.
"Yeah," he said. "The other one's in the woods back there." He gestured behind him, and it occurred to Dean that young-Sam had come running when he heard Dean call his name. Young-Sam's first instinct had been to run to Dean, even though he didn't seem to recognize him at all now that they were face to face.
Maybe my voice sounded familiar, Dean thought. Okay, I can work with that.
"You didn't happen to see my brother back there, did you?" he asked. "Tall dude, long hair, sad eyes?"
Young-Sam shook his head. "No. Nobody. Just the body."
"Huh," Dean nodded, then lifted an eyebrow. "What are you doing out here, Sam? Where're your folks?"
Young-Sam's eyes widened, then his jaw clenched. Dean watched the familiar tells of the kid's's nervousness and agitation, his terror battling with his training, hovering just under the surface.
"I – I'm not sure," young-Sam confessed, and Dean had to restrain himself from chastising the kid, really laying into him for naively letting a stranger know he was alone. "My dad and my brother are around here someplace..."
He lifted terrified eyes to Dean's again, seeming to realize he was giving too much away, and his stance widened, his expression turning fierce, defiant.
"They're on their way," young-Sam said with such obviously false confidence it nearly broke Dean's heart, except that it made him mad as hornets. "They'll be here any minute."
"Right," Dean muttered. He stared at the kid, at his slightly-too-big hand-me-down hoodie over a sloppy T-shirt that Dean recognized as one of his, the rolled-up jeans that had probably been Dean's, too.
If he wasn't so sure this was Sam, his Sam, Dean probably never would've rolled his eyes and shaken his head so sharply.
But he did. Because it was.
"Okay." Dean squared his shoulders and put on his most commanding hunter-in-charge face. "I'm gonna tell you what I think and you're gonna listen, okay? Because I think we both know something weird has just happened, and I don't mean killing skin-walkers."
Young-Sam swallowed and blinked, licked his lips nervously, then nodded.
"Now, we're gonna look for my brother, although I got a bad feeling about that," Dean said, keeping his voice low and steady as much for young-Sam as to hold his own panic at bay. "Then you're gonna help me burn these bodies, you got me? Think you can handle that?"
Young-Sam nodded again.
"Then I'll help you find your family," Dean finished. "Although I'm not gonna lie to you. I got a bad feeling about that, too."
To his credit, young-Sam accepted Dean's proposal with another nod, although Dean half-expected him to bolt as they started their search. Young-Sam watched with a confused frown as Dean made calls to each of his brother's cell phones, leaving voicemails on every one, even though Dean was fairly certain the older Sam wouldn't get the messages. Then Dean and young-Sam scoured the area, yelling Sam's name. It felt strange to call for Sam when the kid was right there next to him, but Dean was determined not to leave a stone unturned.
It turned out to be young-Sam who found the scratchings on the trunk of a tree near the body of the second skin-walker, the one the older Sam must have killed.
"It looks like some kind of symbol," young-Sam said as Dean crouched down beside him to take a look. "And this red paint's still wet."
"It's blood," Dean corrected, clenching his jaw. "Damn it. Why do these things keep happening?"
"What things?" young-Sam asked, his natural curiosity overcoming his earlier fear, which was way cuter than it should have been, from Dean's perspective.
Dean shook his head. "Witches. Spells. Time-travel. That symbol is part of a time-travel spell our grandfather taught us. It looks like our skin-walker was a witch."
"But why would he make a time-travel spell here?" young-Sam asked, eyes wide as he wiped his bloodied fingers on his jeans.
"Maybe he was trying to escape," Dean shrugged. "Travel back through time to someplace safer."
"It didn't work," young-Sam noted as he glanced at the skin-walker's body.
"Or maybe it did," Dean said grimly. He had a sinking feeling that at least some of that blood was his brother's; if so, they wouldn't find the older Sam in these woods, or anywhere else in this timeline. "Damn it."
"You think maybe your brother's traveled back in time?" young-Sam suggested, and it almost made Dean smile. Sam was always a smart kid.
"Yeah, maybe," Dean sighed. "That doesn't explain you, though."
Young-Sam sucked in a breath. "What do you mean?"
Instead of answering, Dean reached down and grabbed the dead skin-walker under the arms.
"Get his legs, will you?" he said. "Let's burn 'em out in the clearing."
It was gruesome work, dragging the bodies into a pile, dousing them with lighter fluid and dropping a lit matchbook on top. Young-Sam did his part, though, not complaining once. He wasn't nearly as moody as Dean remembered, but then as far as young-Sam knew Dean was a total stranger, not a trusted brother he could bitch and moan to. Sam had always been good with strangers, quiet and unnoticeable, keeping to himself to avoid unwanted attention. Dean had drilled that into him at an early age, just as their father had done for Dean. Stay under the radar. Don't get caught. Don't let anyone find out what we really do.
"How long have you been hunting?" young-Sam asked as they stood watching the bodies burn, staying carefully out of the path of the acrid smoke.
"All my life," Dean answered with a shrug. "Mom died when we were kids, then Dad raised us in the life. You?"
"Same," young-Sam said softly. "You ever wish you could get out? Have a normal life?"
Dean could feel the kid looking up at him, so he glanced down, met the gaze of those almond-shaped eyes, glimpsed the fire's reflection flickering there before he looked away again.
"Never," he lied, smooth as you please, just like he always did when Sam was a kid. "This is the job I was born to do, no question. You?"
"I'm getting out someday," young-Sam said with an innocent conviction that nearly broke Dean's heart. "Gonna go to college, maybe become a teacher so I can help kids like my brother."
Dean raised an eyebrow and regarded young-Sam with surprise. "I never knew you wanted to be a teacher."
Young-Sam shrugged and shuffled his feet, hands deep in the pockets of his jacket. "My brother dropped out of school," he said without looking at Dean. "No way that should've happened. He's the smartest guy I know."
Dean fought the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Seems to me his little brother's the smart one," he said.
Young-Sam tipped his face up, eyes narrowed. "I never told you my brother was older."
Dean shut his mouth against the lie on the tip of his tongue and quickly considered his options. It was past time for the truth to come out. The gig would be up soon anyway, since it was becoming pretty clear that they would need help with this situation, and to get that help they would need to drive back to the bunker. In the car. Young-Sam wasn't likely to come with him once he saw the car; the kid would probably think Dean had stolen it, maybe even killed for it, and Dean wasn't in the mood to chase the kid down once he started running.
It was definitely time for the truth.
"Yeah, about that," Dean said, putting on his sternest face again. "You've probably figured out how you got here, am I right?"
Young-Sam's confused frown made Dean's gut clench. Maybe this wouldn't be so easy after all.
"That skin-walker's spell," young-Sam suggested, and Dean nodded.
"That's what I'm thinking," he agreed. "Same thing that took my brother, brought you here."
"But it's a time-travel spell," young-Sam said, his frown deepening as he worked the problem.
"So you think I traveled through time?" young-Sam raised his eyes to Dean. "Like your brother?"
"I'm pretty sure that's what happened, all right," Dean agreed. "Pretty sure you traveled forward in time, as a matter of fact. Into the future."
Young-Sam's eyes widened, and suddenly he looked much younger than his twelve or thirteen years.
"No way!" he breathed. "How do you know? What year is it?"
Dean dug deep into the front pocket of his jeans, pulled out a quarter and handed it to young-Sam. The kid held it up to the firelight so he could read the date and sucked in another breath.
"Later, actually," Dean shrugged. "Try two-thousand-seventeen."
Dean could see the moment the light went on in young-Sam's brain, the moment he did the math and figured out why there was something familiar about Dean, why he trusted the older man more than he should.
And Dean would be talking to him about that, that's for damn sure.
"I – I don't think you told me your name," young-Sam said, turning his sweet, hopeful little face up to Dean with a look of sheer trepidation, like he didn't really want to hear what Dean was about to say.
Dean decided there wasn't really a way to sugarcoat it, so he didn't.
"My name is Dean Winchester. I'm your brother. A lot older than the one you're used to, but there it is."
For a moment, young-Sam looked like was going to cry. He blinked as he stared at Dean, his lips trembling a little.
"No way," he said finally. "You – you're old. You're Dad's age, My – my brother's eighteen and he could kick your ass."
Dean couldn't help the proud smirk that tugged at his lips. He'd forgotten how adorable Sam could be at this age.
"Maybe he could," Dean agreed. "But I'm him – just older and better-looking." He winked, and young-Sam blushed to the roots of his hair, which was so adorable Dean almost felt guilty for making him so uncomfortable.
Then young-Sam frowned, clenching his jaw and narrowing his eyes.
"How do I know you're not a – a shapeshifter?" he suggested. "Or some kind of monster that can read minds? Maybe you're just -- just another skin-walker trying to trick me."
"Good," Dean praised. "Good, good. You're right to be suspicious. Okay, look here." He pulled a silver knife and a vial of holy water from his pockets, moving slowly so as not to startle the kid.
Young-Sam watched with narrowed eyes as Dean ran the tests on himself and waited for the look of suspicion to fade before he wrapped the wound on his arm.
"Huh? Okay? Are we good?" Dean said, wincing a little at the pain. "Good. Now, it'll be light soon, and we need to bury what's left of these bodies, but I need your help. I've got shovels in the car, but I'm gonna have to ask you to trust me from here on out, you got me? I don't wanna have to worry that you might take off on me."
Young-Sam swallowed, eyes wide and frightened again as he let the truth sink in, as he realized how far from home he was.
"After we finish here, I need you to help me figure out how to reverse that spell, 'cause I'm missing my brother, and you're not supposed to be here," Dean went on, recognizing the signs of an imminent panic attack and determined to head it off by talking, soothing the kid with his sheer mastery of the situation. "Think you can do that, Geek-boy? Come with me to do a little research? Huh?"
"You're going to take me to the library?" young-Sam asked.
"Oh, we got something better than the local public library, here in the twenty-first century," Dean smiled. "We got our own library. You're gonna love it."
Young-Sam followed Dean back to his Baby, and the look of surprise and relief on the kid's face when he saw her was classic. Dean wished he could bottle that look, it was so cute.
"Dad just gave this car to Dean," young-Sam breathed as Dean opened the trunk, reached in to pull out the shovels. "She looks exactly the same."
Dean heard the accusation in the kid's voice and smiled wryly. "Yeah, well, just about every part has been replaced at least twice now," he said as he handed one of the shovels to young-Sam. "Can't say the same for me, kid. Sorry. Aging's a bitch."
"Where's Dad?" young-Sam asked as they traipsed back into the woods.
"Do the math, Sammy," Dean snapped, harsher than he intended. "Dad'd be in his sixties by now."
"He didn't make it," young-Sam breathed. "When did he – I mean, how did he – "
"Look, kid, it's probably better you don't know too much about this time, you hear what I'm saying? Let's just focus on getting you back where you belong."
It took them two more hours to complete the grim task of disposing of the bodies, and by the end of it they were both dirty and exhausted. Young-Sam's face was almost black with smoke and grime, and they both smelled like death, but Dean figured it was good for the kid to do something physical to keep his mind off the craziness of his predicament. Just before they walked back to the car, Dean snapped pictures of the tree with the sigil on it, almost forwarded them to Sam before he remembered himself.
It made Dean wild with frustration to leave the site of his brother's disappearance, but without the older Sam's encyclopedic knowledge of spellwork, there was no way they could reverse the spell that had replaced him with this younger version without some serious research. Dean could only hope that the older Sam was working the problem from his end, back in time.
Dean thought about that as he and young Sam trudged back to the car, just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. If Sam had traded places with himself in time, then Dean would remember it, wouldn't he?
"Can I ask, what was the last thing you remember before you showed up here?"
They were in the car, driving toward town, young-Sam busy checking out the contents of the glovebox, making funny little gasps as he studied pictures of himself on the fake IDs he found there.
"I'm 6'4" in this time?" he marveled. "Wow. I'm taller than you!"
"Shut up." Dean grabbed the IDs and shoved them back into the glovebox without taking his eyes off the road. "Leave those alone. They don't belong to you."
But Dean knew the kid had been checking the dates, confirming to himself that Dean's story was true, and Dean respected that. He'd always admired and relied on Sam's thorough, steady manner, his ability to focus on the details when Dean was feeling overwhelmed by the big picture.
It was part of what made them such a good team.
Dean fought the lump in his throat and the stinging at the back of his eyes as young-Sam stared at him, concern transforming his smooth face into a look of compassion.
"Just answer the question," Dean growled, brushing the back of his hand across his eyes. He was just tired, that's all. And hungry. They should probably stop for food soon.
"Uh, okay." Young-Sam squinted into the morning sunlight. "We were in Arizona, and Dad was gone, and I was really pissed at Dean because – at you – I was really pissed at you because you didn't let me come with you and Dad on the werewolf thing in Colorado."
"Of course we didn't," Dean snapped. "You're like ten years old."
"I'm almost fourteen!"
Dean glanced at the kid, frowning. No way this little munchkin was that old. No way, because at fourteen Sam was already hunting, already killing things. And this little guy with his bright eyes and smooth skin was just a baby. Not much more than a toddler.
What had he and Dad been thinking?
"So – you're from 1997?" Dean wracked his brain for memories of that year, and all he could come up with was the terror when he realized Sam was missing. "When we were living in Flagstaff. When – when you ran away from home for two weeks, on my watch? Seriously, Sammy?"
Young-Sam frowned. "Two weeks? No, it's just been a couple of days. There's this old off-season amusement park where I found this dog, and we've just been hanging out together. I figured out how to climb up the ferris wheel and the view is amazing! Plus there's all the food we can eat in the vending machines, and nobody's around so we've got the place to ourselves. It's awesome!"
"You do realize I was sick to death worrying about you, right?" Dean growled. "I thought you were dead! And Dad was gone, so I had to bring in this friend of his to help me find you..."
Dean had a sudden flashback to the tall hunter who helped him look for Sammy that spring, the man who seemed as big as a mountain, with dimples like canyons and warm slanted eyes...
Jack. The guy called himself Jack Harper.
Feeling cold water run up his spine, Dean realized he knew that name. It was the name of the lead character in the movie he and Sam had watched last night at the motel. Oblivion, that was it. Terrible post-apocalyptic sci-fi thing starring Tom Cruise.
It was a private joke between them, Tom Cruise being Sam's first crush. It wasn't true, it was just something Dean had teased him about because it seemed so funny, tiny Tom Cruise next to his giant of a little brother.
That movie was released in 2014.
"I swear I didn't mean to make you worry," young-Sam said, his little face scrunched up with guilt as he shifted uncomfortably on the bench. "I was just so mad at Dad because he wouldn't let me come. And when Dean backs him up it's so unfair! He knows I can handle myself in a fight. I'm so sick of being treated like I can't."
Young-Sam glanced up and seemed to realize he'd reverted to talking about Dean as if he wasn't sitting right next to him.
"I guess I was pretty mad when I left, but I swear I didn't mean to make you and Dad worry about me. I just needed time to cool off a little, that's all."
"Tell that to twenty-years-younger-me when he finds you," Dean snapped.
He didn't tell young-Sam that he'd just found his brother, just realized that the man in his memories was his Sam. It was a relief, knowing Sam was safe in the past, but also a little disorienting. Jack had never revealed his true identity, and Dean hadn't questioned him too deeply because he was so desperate to find Sammy. Jack was a hunter who knew things and Dean trusted him, probably more than he should have. But the guy had seemed so familiar. When Jack told Dean that he had worked with John when Sam and Dean were kids, Dean had assumed the feeling of familiarity was because he had memories of Jack being around when he was small.
Never mind the fact that Jack had been the most attractive man Dean had ever met. Never mind that Jack made Dean's stomach flip and his face grow hot and his dick swell up and Dean had just wanted to be near him, whatever it took. Almost as much as he had wanted to find his little brother.
And afterwards, when Sammy was safe, back where he belonged, and Jack was just – gone – well, Dean would be lying if he said he never thought about Jack again. Fact is, the older hunter was the main character in Dean's jerk-off fantasies for years, until he finally forgot all about him.
When they got to the motel, they took turns showering off the smoke and blood and grime, just like they always did. As Dean came out of the steaming bathroom, young-Sam was staring into his laptop screen, lips parted and eyes narrowed, that look of concentration Dean knew better than the back of his own hand firmly planted on the kid's face.
So much for not letting young-Sam find out about the future.
"Gonna go grab us some coffee," Dean mumbled as he pulled fresh jeans on and yanked a clean T-shirt over his head.
Young-Sam barely nodded, not even glancing up from the screen, and Dean rolled his eyes and locked the door behind him as he slipped out. He'd seen a Walmart on the edge of town and figured he could find a change of clothes for the kid there.
By the time Dean got back, young-Sam had showered and changed into one of the T-shirts he'd found in his older-self's duffel. It was huge and hung almost to his knees. When Dean threw the bag with smaller-sized duds at the kid's feet, young-Sam looked relieved.
"Put your clothes in the bag after you change," Dean instructed. "We'll wash them when we get home. I'm not sitting in the car all day with you smelling like a funeral pyre."
Dean tried not to think about how young-Sam's bony shoulder stuck up out of the huge neck of the T-shirt as he retreated into the bathroom to change. He'd forgotten how self-conscious Sam had been at this age, never dressing in front of Dean anymore like he did when they were younger. He could remember teasing Sam about it because it made the kid blush to high heaven, which reminded Dean what a dick of a big brother he had been in those days.
Of course the air had been crackling between them all the time, and Dean had just been doing what he could to deflect that. The fact that it was easier now, that when Dean looked at this kid he was blessedly free of all the adolescent fucked-up horniness that he couldn't shake in those days, didn't make it better. He'd been a real jerk to the kid, back then. No wonder Sammy ran away.
They stopped at a truck stop diner just outside Manchester, New Hampshire for breakfast. Dean snuck glances at the boy across the table from him, trying to put himself back in that time when his Sam had been this pint-sized pain-in-the-ass, always tagging along, always whining and complaining and mad at him about something.
This boy seemed happier and more care-free than Dean remembered. Now that he'd gotten over his initial fear and suspicion, young Sam seemed far less moody and irritable than the kid in Dean's memories. It was as if, out of his own time and on his own, the kid was naturally easygoing, with a sense of fun and adventure that Dean hadn't noticed back when he had had to worry about his little brother all the time. Away from his family, Sam was a revelation.
"You like being on your own?" Dean asked speculatively as he dug into his plate full of steak and eggs and hash browns.
Young-Sam picked at his own bowl of cereal and fruit and shrugged. "It's all right, I guess."
"Don't you miss your family?"
Young-Sam glanced up and Dean was struck by how sensitive and thoughtful the kid was, even at this young age. He seemed to get what Dean was asking without even trying very hard.
"I miss my brother," young-Sam said. "But lately he's been such a dick. Sorry. I know you're him."
"No, I can see how twenty-years-younger-me could be a dick sometimes," Dean acknowledged. "You wanna talk about it?"
"Not really," young-Sam shrugged, keeping his eyes down as he pushed his food around his bowl. "I mean, we used to be really close, you know? Like, he was always calling me when he and Dad went on hunts. Sometimes we just talked on the phone. For hours."
Dean remembered. Whenever they had left Sam in those days, whether by himself or at Bobby's or Pastor Jim's place, Dean had missed him like a severed limb. Especially when they'd left him by himself. That had always made Dean crazy.
"And when Dad wasn't around, he took me with him everywhere," young-Sam went on. "Even on his dates. We did everything together. He wasn't just my brother; he was my best friend."
"But lately not so much," Dean prompted, and young-Sam looked up, squinting a little against the light in the window behind Dean's head.
"Ever since Dad gave him the car, he's always off with some girl," young-Sam said, his face scrunched up in disgust. "When he comes home he smells like them. It's gross."
It struck Dean now as it had then that Sam was jealous, and with the benefit of hindsight he understood why Sam had seemed so surly and irritable all the time in those days. It didn't help that eighteen-year-old-Dean had teased the hell out of the kid for it. He wished he could explain to young-Sam exactly why he had needed to spend so much time fucking girls and getting drunk back then. He wished he could explain how eighteen-year-old Dean had seen sex in everything, even and maybe especially his perfect, beautiful little brother. He'd felt like such a pervert for that at the time, and he took it out on Sam in ways that were probably perceived as senselessly cruel by thirteen-year-old Sam. Dean wished now that he could explain that to this kid, but he knew better. He could almost hear his thirty-something brother warning him, "Don't mess with the timeline, Dean."
He couldn't explain it to young-Sam, but he could damn well help him feel a little better about it.
"You're not a little kid anymore, Sam," Dean said. "Your big brother can see that, even if he still treats you like a baby sometimes."
Young-Sam looked up in surprise. "My Dean never says stuff like that," he said. "He keeps telling me not to get my panties in a twist and stop being such a girl. It makes me want to punch his lights out!"
Yeah, Dean could remember that. He remembered how red-faced and angry Sam had gotten sometimes when Dean teased him about his obvious jealousy, what a feeling of power it had given Dean to get such a passionate response from his kid brother. It had flooded him with shame at the same time, of course, but that hadn't stopped him.
"Your big brother can't stand to see you growing up," Dean said honestly. "He figures there'll come a day when you won't need him anymore."
"Never," young-Sam said fiercely, shaking his head. "If he thinks that, he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about."
"Yeah, well, he was pretty stupid back then," Dean agreed with a grin. "You growing up made him feel like he was losing you. That, and Dad being gone more and more. Your brother wanted to hit something all the time in those days."
The waitress chose that moment to interrupt them. "More coffee? Some dessert for your boy?"
"No, we're good," Dean answered. "Just the check."
He winked at young-Sam, who blushed and looked uncomfortable, and Dean watched the kid's dimples come out in full force as he lowered his head.
"She thinks I'm your son," young-Sam said with a short laugh that Dean almost recognized.
"That's a first, I gotta say," Dean nodded, still grinning. He couldn't stop. This younger version of Sam made him happier than he could remember feeling for a long, long time. Not for the first time, he had a flashback of Sam at this age, of he and Sam hanging out together, just being brothers, and it felt really good.
"Where are we going?" Sam asked later when they were back in the car, heading west with the sun almost directly overhead.
Dean considered lying, or blind-folding young-Sam so he wouldn't be able to find his way to the bunker in his own timeline, once he went back. He thought about drugging him or getting him shit-faced so he'd sleep through the journey.
Fuck it. The kid was smart and would probably figure it out anyway. They needed the bunker archive to figure out a way to fix things, and once they were there they'd figure out a way to make him forget. Maybe Cas could help.
"Lebanon, Kansas," Dean answered. "The Batcave."
"There's a library there?"
"Like nothing you've ever seen," Dean nodded. "You're gonna be in geek-boy heaven, kid. You just wait till you see it."
"So there's folks there who can help us," young-Sam suggested. "They know about time-travel spells there."
Dean cast a sidelong glance at the kid and tried to control the smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Nah," he answered. "It's just us, Sammy. We're the experts in this universe." No way the kid needed to know about the British Men of Letters, for God's sake. Definitely not opening that can of worms.
"Just us?" young-Sam sucked in a breath. "What about Bobby?"
Dean shook his head.
"Everybody's gone, Sam," Dean said, his voice a little gruffer than he intended due to the lump at the back of his throat. "It's just you and me now."
Which wasn't strictly true, of course, but Dean was damned if he was going to tell this kid that his mother was alive in this timeline, or that their best friend was an angel. Better to keep things on a need-to-know basis, just like always.
At least for now.
"Hey," Dean said later, yanking the kid out of whatever daydreaming reverie was keeping his attention outside the car window. "Put your seatbelt on."
"You're not wearing yours," young-Sam commented as he dug around with one hand wedged under the seat-back until he found the long-unused lap belt and strapped it across his hips.
"Doesn't matter," Dean growled. "You ride in my car, you wear it."
"It's stupid without the shoulder-belt," young-Sam muttered. "You should install shoulder belts if you're really worried about safety."
"Not worried about safety," Dean snapped. "Just worried about you."
That had always been true, of course. Dean had always worried about Sam, even when Dean was a kid himself. But it had been different back then. Dean's sense of time was different when he was young, when he couldn't imagine anything worse than losing Sammy, being separated, his remaining family flying apart.
Now Dean knew there were worse things than being separated, and that knowledge had changed him. If he had it to do over, he would never have allowed Sammy to hunt in the first place.
"I can take care of myself," young-Sam scoffed. "When Dean was my age, Dad took him on hunts all the time."
"Doesn't make it right," Dean grumbled, then reached over and grabbed the gun young-Sam had just found in the glovebox. "Give me that."
"Is that mine?" young-Sam asked, awed.
"No!" Dean barked. "I mean yes. But no. It's future-yours, not 1997-yours, so leave it alone."
"What's this?" young-Sam asked as he pulled out Sam's sleek black smartphone. "Is this a Gameboy?"
"A what?" Dean glanced over as young-Sam figured out how to turn on the phone.
"Whoa! This is cool! Where are the controls? How does it work?" young-Sam turned the phone over and his eyes got wide as he inadvertently touched the screen, which lit up with Sam's signature lock-screen.
"That's Sam's phone." Dean rolled his eyes. "It's got all his geeky stuff on it, so you better leave it alone. He gets pissed when I so much as touch it, so I don't even want to think about how he'll react when he finds out you've been messing with it."
"This is a phone?" young-Sam turned wide eyes on Dean and Dean felt a smile tug on the corners of his mouth.
"Yeah," he nodded. "There's probably some games on it, if you can find them. Music, too. Sam's earbuds are in there somewhere. He puts them in when he gets sick of Seger and Zep. Oh man, he is gonna be so pissed when he gets back."
Somehow the thought of older-Sam returning from the past to find his stuff had been played with by his thirteen-year-old self really tickled Dean's funny bone. He couldn't stop grinning as young-Sam fumbled around in the glovebox until he found the earbuds, staring at them with a frown for all of two seconds until he understood how they worked.
By the time they stopped to eat, young-Sam had figured out Google Maps, Wikipedia, and Pokemon Go, and was deep into Sam's music library of '90's grunge and contemporary alt-rock. He'd also scrolled through several newsfeeds and updated himself on life in the twenty-first century, which Dean couldn't really blame him for. He was Sam, after all.
He'd also hacked into Sam's email and social media accounts, which was a little weird.
"So Future-me is into serial killers and histories of religious reformations, huh?" young-Sam said as they pulled into the diner parking lot. "And who's Jody?"
"None of your business," Dean snapped, reaching for the phone. "Give me that."
He scrolled through Sam's accounts, unable to resist a quick peek. Sam always made such a big deal out of his privacy. He had programmed all his accounts with little messages that popped up whenever Dean tried to hack his phone, every one directed at his "prying big brother" who should keep his nose out of Sam's stuff.
"How did you do that?" Dean asked, impressed despite himself that this kid could so easily break through Sam's defenses.
"I'm him," young-Sam shrugged. "I know how he thinks."
Dean raised an eyebrow, pocketing Sam's cell phone as he climbed out of the car to lead the way into the diner. The kid might be smart, but he was still Dean's little brother.
"So this is the future," young-Sam noted a few minutes later as he gazed around the interior of Stella's Diner with a pinched look that Dean knew too well. The kid was unhappy.
"Well, this place probably didn't exist twenty years ago." Dean shrugged, glancing around at the weary, downtrodden clientele squeezed into booths and onto bar-stools around the room.
"Bet it did," young-Sam muttered, pretending to study his menu.
"What's the matter, kid?" Dean frowned. "Future not shiny enough for you? Feelin' let down because it's not all robots and flying cars?"
"More like losers and broken-down jalopies." young-Sam rolled his eyes. "This place looks exactly like the diner we ate in last week."
"Well, it's not, okay?" Dean frowned, glancing up as a uniformed waitress approached their table. "Stella here, for example. She's not a day over twenty-nine. Am I right?"
The waitress, who couldn't be a day under fifty, flashed a dimpled smile at Dean as she raised her notepad to take their order.
"The name's Penny, honey," she winked. "And I get off at nine, in case you're interested."
Dean shot a smirking glance at young-Sam which would have prompted an eye-roll from his older little brother. Young-Sam just stared at his menu, ignoring the entire exchange, as if Dean and his adult behavior was entirely uninteresting to the kid.
Which, Dean considered, deflating a little as he gave Penny his order, it probably was.