The Long and Winding Road (amypond45) wrote,
The Long and Winding Road
amypond45

TIME WAITS FOR NO ONE - PART TWO

When they stopped just outside Cleveland for the night, it was because Dean was starting to fall asleep at the wheel. Young-Sam had offered to drive more than once, but Dean wouldn't let him. It wasn't just the fact that the kid was so short and looked so young that it wasn't worth the risk of getting pulled over; Sam had known how to drive and had done so in an emergency from the time he was about nine years old. There were times Dean could remember the kid driving him and John to the hospital or back to the motel after a hunt, both older Winchesters out of commission and passed out from blood loss and pain.

No, it wasn't because Dean didn't think the kid could do it. And it wasn't because he was being overly protective of his Baby, either. Even now, Dean let Sam drive if he couldn't, although he didn't like to. No, the reason Dean didn't want this kid to drive had more to do with his pride and stubbornness than anything else. Children should not drive cars, and just because Dad and Dean had let Sam drive when they were incapacitated didn't make it right.

If anything, the age difference now made Dean more acutely aware of how wrong it had been back then. At the time, Dean had tried to do whatever he could to make sure Sam's childhood was as normal as possible, given the life they lived then. But now, looking back, Dean could see just how badly he had failed. Sam never should have been helping with hunts so young, even if all he did was wait in the back seat of the car while Dean and his dad did the dirty work. This little scrap of a kid shouldn't have been anywhere near those monsters, and it made Dean cringe to remember the way he had boasted to Sam about what a superhero their dad was, how awesome it was to help him bring down evil.

Dean had been selling the life to Sam at that age like it was all some kind of amusement park adventure ride, like being in that kind of danger was the ultimate thrill, consequences be damned. Of course, they were trained. Their dad expected them to be prepared, and they sparred and target-practiced until their muscles ached and their fingers blistered.

But they shouldn't have been doing it in the first place, or at least Sam shouldn't have. That was obvious to Dean now as he glanced at the munchkin in the passenger seat, this skinny slip-of-a-kid whose feet barely reached the footwell when he sat back on the bench.

"Dean!"

Dean jerked awake as the car veered dangerously over the centerline, almost into the guardrail. He had her under control almost instantly, brushing young-Sam's hand aside as the kid reached for the wheel...

Jesus. Sammy's hand was tiny, fine-boned and delicate like a bird's. How the hell did he ever learn to handle that .45 of his?

Why did he ever have to?

"When's the last time you got some sleep?" young-Sam asked as Dean shook the cobwebs out of his head and tried to focus on the road.

"I don't know," Dean muttered. "Yesterday, maybe."

"I really think you should let me drive," young-Sam said. "It's dark. Nobody will see."

"No," Dean shook his head. "No way." You're just a kid. None of this should be happening to you. "Okay, you know what? Take a look at that phone of Sam's. In the glovebox. Find us a cheap motel nearby where we can catch a couple hours' sleep."

"Or we could just pull over at a rest area and sleep in the car," young-Sam shrugged. "You still keep blankets in the trunk?"

"Motel," Dean insisted. The truth was, sleeping in the car had lost its appeal years ago, about the time they moved into the bunker. Having his own room with his own bed to stretch out in every night had spoiled him, although he wasn't about to tell young-Sam that.

Within the hour they'd checked into the Locust Grove Motel in Madison. After salting the windows and door, young-Sam flipped on the TV while Dean was in the bathroom. He was propped up on one of the beds when Dean emerged, deep into a documentary about killer whales.

"Okay, short stuff, time for bed," Dean announced as he grabbed the remote and switched off the TV.

"Hey! I was watching that!" young-Sam protested, sounding almost like a normal thirteen-year-old for a moment, which made Dean's heart clench.

"Yeah, well, we need to get up early to hit the road. We're not here on vacation."

Although really, the more Dean thought about it, the more he wondered why they couldn't take a little more time on this road trip? Why were they in such a hurry to get back to the bunker? Sure, it was dangerous traveling with a kid, and Dean really wished he had his mountain-sized brother at his side to back him up against those dangers. But this boy was facing a lifetime of horrors he couldn't even imagine right now, and part of Dean just wanted to keep him here where he could be safe, or at least safer. Part of Dean wished he could give Sam back a little of his childhood, just let him be the kid he never was.

As soon as the thought crossed his mind, Dean felt his heart clench tighter in his chest. Keeping this little pint-sized brother here was impossible, of course, since leaving grown-up Sam in the past wasn't an option. But the need to protect the kid, to prevent things unfolding as they had for the older Sam, was almost overwhelming. It occurred to Dean that this whole thing might be a kind of happy accident. It was like getting a second chance, having the opportunity to fix things. As an adult, Dean could be a much better parent to young-Sam than he'd been able to be the first time around. Without Azazel and the archangels watching over him, young-Sam could grow up almost normally. He could go to school, meet a nice girl, have the normal life Dean had always wanted for him, the life that Sam had once wanted for himself.

"Did you brush your teeth?" Dean couldn't help asking as young-Sam came out of the bathroom, barefoot and wearing one of older-Sam's T-shirts to sleep in.

The kid rolled his eyes and muttered, "Yes, sir," as he climbed into his bed, pulling the covers up to his chin as he snuggled down with his back to Dean.

"Don't call me that," Dean growled, although without much heat. The truth was, this younger version of Dean's brother wasn't much like the kid Dean remembered. That Sam had been moody and uncooperative, snapping at Dean's slightest suggestion. Sam hated being bossed around, and he especially hated being bossed around by Dean.

But this Sam seemed to take Dean's authority for granted. He seemed far more accepting of Dean's lead than Dean remembered. It was as if older-Dean translated easily into father-figure. Brother-Dean was a kid barely eighteen years old, and although Sam looked up to him, he didn't have the same expectations that he had for their father. Apparently in young-Sam's mind, older-Dean reminded him more of their dad than his brother. Young-Sam hadn't yet reached that age when he began rebelling in earnest, that age when he began to understand how their father's absence had affected everything, how it had made their childhood so much more desperate and dangerous than it should have been. Young-Sam was still young enough to trust their dad, even if brother-Dean had already replaced him as Sam's primary parent.

Dean checked the salt lines one more time before he slipped into his own bed and switched out the light, his head filled with thoughts of saving this kid from his own future.

"G'night, Sam," he murmured, eyeing the bundle of blankets with something that almost felt like a lump in his throat.

When the kid shifted under the blankets and mumbled, "G'night," Dean felt hot tears sting his eyes.

He couldn't let this innocent kid end up as Lucifer's meatsuit. No fuckin' way.

**//**//**

"What do you say we do a little sightseeing?" Dean suggested over breakfast the next morning.

"Seriously?" young-Sam gaped. "I thought we were in a rush to get to Kansas."

"Yeah." Dean gave a small shrug. "But I think we can take a couple of hours out of our drive to look at a couple of things."

"Like what?"

Dean smiled, delighted to be sparking the kid's natural curiosity.

"Oh, you'll see," he said mysteriously.

"The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?" young-Sam stared out the car window an hour later as they pulled off the interstate, taking the exit for the museum. "Seriously?"

"Why not?" Dean shrugged. "We've driven through Cleveland a million times and never stopped here."

"That's because it's lame," young-Sam complained. "My brother says 'museums are for dead things.'"

"Your brother's an idiot," Dean said. "This place is awesome."

"It's stupid," young-Sam said. "They didn't even induct Zeppelin until 1995."

"Well, at least they did it once they figured out their mistake," Dean said, then added, "This year, they're inducting Pearl Jam."

"No way!" young-Sam's look of shock was almost funny, and Dean's face split open in a grin he couldn't control if he wanted to.

"Uh-huh," he nodded. "Thought you'd like that. I remember how much you liked all that emo crap when you were a teenager."

Dean could feel young-Sam's eyes on him, studying him. "You're really him," young-Sam said finally. "My brother."

"Thought we already established that," Dean said, frowning.

"Yeah, I know. It's just that you're so old. I keep forgetting."

"Thanks," Dean growled. "And I almost forgot what a little shit you could be."

Young-Sam flushed and lowered his eyes, and Dean felt like an idiot. The kid really didn't think of Dean as his brother, the way Dean did when he looked at young-Sam. It was easy for Dean to keep two versions of Sam in his head at the same time; this kid was familiar, the years easily slipping away whenever Dean looked at him, reminding him of the way he'd treated Sam back then, all the teasing and pranking that had felt normal when they were both kids. But for young-Sam, it was like Dean and young-Sam's brother were two different people.

"Never mind," Dean reached over and ruffled the kid's hair. "We're here. Let's go check it out."

After forking over fifteen dollars to park, Dean insisted that young-Sam pretend to be twelve so he could get in for half price. Young-Sam scowled and Dean ruffled his hair again, hooking his arm around the kid's neck to pull him in for a headlock and a noogie, the sense-memory so strong Dean almost felt seventeen again. Young-Sam relented too easily, though, and Dean quickly remembered himself and let the kid go with a little push, ignoring the niggling sense of wrongness at the back of his brain.

Young-Sam backed away awkwardly, shoving his hands deep into his pockets and hunching his shoulders in a defensive posture Dean knew too well. He refused to meet Dean's eyes, and the feeling of wrongness grew stronger. There didn't seem to be anything Dean could do to make this kid totally accept him as his big brother. Young-Sam couldn't seem to reconcile the teenager he knew with the grown man in front of him, a grown man who was obviously a complete stranger to him, however familiar he might be.

**//**//**

It wasn't until they were back on the road later that Dean understood better why that might be.

"So you and me, in this time, we still hunt," young-Sam asked after almost an hour of silence.

Not that it was quiet in the car; Dean had been blasting Led Zeppelin ever since leaving the museum, just on principle. It really did suck that it took the museum almost ten years before inducting them.

"Yeah," Dean nodded. When young-Sam didn't say anything more, just chewed on his bottom lip and stared out into the rainy afternoon, Dean reached over and turned down the volume on "The Battle of Evermore," as hard as that was to do. "Why do you ask?"

"No reason," young-Sam said with a shrug. "I'm just -- I thought maybe things would be different by now."

"Things are different," Dean said. "You're taller." He threw a grin at young-Sam, who grimaced and shook his head.

"No, I mean I expected – I hoped the future would be better," he said. "I was thinking maybe me and Dean wouldn't have to keep doing what Dad did. Maybe we could leave hunting and do something else, you know? Maybe we could have a better life."

"Yeah, well, the thing is, there is no other life for us," Dean said. "Better or not, this is it."

And soon as he said it, Dean knew it was true. As if there had ever been any doubt. As if he could change that by keeping this kid here in the future, protecting him from all the evil that was headed his way.

Dean knew better. Even if he did manage to keep young-Sam right here next to him for the rest of his life, that didn't change what they were. Once a Winchester, always a Winchester. Evil followed them around like a rabid pit-bull, unshakeable and unavoidable. Putting it down was always going to be their responsibility, in whatever time they lived.

"Believe me, we've tried," he said.

"Really?" Young-Sam's eyes were wide, Dean could tell without even looking, could feel young-Sam's eager curiosity boring into him as Dean stared straight ahead at the road.

"Yeah, really," Dean nodded. "Temporary, every time. Being out, all the way out, just never worked very well."

Young-Sam frowned. "Maybe you didn't try hard enough," he suggested.

"Oh, we tried pretty damn hard," Dean said again. "I probably shouldn't tell you this, but you went to college. I lived with an old girlfriend and her son for a year. It didn't stick."

Dean could feel young-Sam staring at him, taking in what Dean had just told him, processing.

"I'm going to college?" young-Sam gaped. "Without Dean? Dean doesn't come with me?"

"Nope," Dean said, trying to mask his bitterness. Even after all these years, the memory of that separation still hurt like hell. Sam left. There wasn't any other way to describe it.

"But – so that's why it didn't work, then," young-Sam said. "We need to stick together. Dean always says it's me and him against the world. We're better together."

Dean smiled grimly, shaking his head. "It ain't that easy, kid," he said. "Sometimes you need space. Sometimes, you go off on your own, and I'm not very good at letting you go."

Young-Sam's look of confusion was almost comical, and Dean had to struggle to keep from chuckling.

"I would never leave Dean!" young-Sam protested fiercely, and Dean had to hand it to him; he sounded so sincere it almost broke Dean's heart. "I'd never do that. I can't imagine ever, ever doing that."

Then Dean realized why he had been so overcome by the need to keep this kid here with him, where Dean could keep him relatively safe. Young-Sam hadn't yet grown up enough to see himself separate from Dean. The idea of keeping young-Sam safe masked the underlying reality: kids grow up. Even this younger version of Dean's little brother would one day grow up and leave home, leave Dean. Young-Sam might not understand it now, might be horrified by the idea, but it would happen. It had happened, and Dean couldn't stop it from happening again when this kid figured out he didn't need Dean any more. Someday young-Sam would decide he didn't want some strange old man telling him what to do, and he would strike out on his own, as he was meant to do, leaving Dean broken and alone. Again.

Only this time, there wouldn't be a yellow-eyed demon burning Sam's girlfriend on the ceiling of their apartment, driving Sam and Dean together again on a shared quest for vengeance. There wouldn't be angels setting them up for an apocalypse. There wouldn't be a demonic deal that sent Dean to Hell and Sam into the Cage with Lucifer.

This time, there would be young-Sam making his way in the world, probably going to law school and getting married, having kids, maybe grandkids one day. There would be Dean growing old alone. And there would be Dean's brother stranded in the past, with a younger version of Dean, with enough knowledge of younger-Dean's future to make sure he didn't repeat it.

Dean's heart clenched for the fiftieth time in twenty-four hours at the thought of his younger self never finding his little brother. Would Jack-Sam stay with him? Would he tell younger-Dean the truth eventually? Would younger-Dean be able to forgive him for being part of what had happened to his baby brother?

Probably not, Dean realized with a shock. If younger-Dean thought Jack had done something to Sammy, he wouldn't hesitate. He would slit the man's throat, in his sleep if he didn't think he could get the jump on him any other way.

Dean shivered, subconsciously haunted by the ghost of older-Sam, who might have already died in the past without his brother there to explain things to him, with only that vengeful younger version of Dean for company as he bled out.

Yet Dean felt certain that Sam, his Sam, the one younger-Dean knew as Jack, would never let that happen. Jack-Sam would hold onto his secret, never letting younger-Dean know who he was, probably shadowing younger-Dean from a distance for the rest of his life to be sure he didn't kill himself once he realized his little brother was never coming back.

Worse, Jack-Sam would understand why the older Dean had done it, why he'd kept young-Sam with him. Jack-Sam would get it, and he'd deal with it, in his stoic, lonely way. He would never let younger-Dean become a . He would watch over the young man as he hunted, abandoned by his mother, his father, and his little brother. Jack-Sam would make sure younger-Dean didn't get killed on a job. He would follow younger-Dean into the field every single time, watchful and protective, stepping in whenever he thought he could without being noticed, then stepping back again to let younger-Dean think he was still working alone.

And whenever younger-Dean got injured on a hunt, Jack-Sam would be there to make sure he got better, to carry him to the Emergency Room if he had to, or swoop in and lop heads off to prevent younger-Dean from getting backed into a corner in the first place.

Jack-Sam would have younger-Dean's back as long as he could, as long as he was able, and younger-Dean would never know.

But younger-Dean would know. He might not get it at first, why those moments on a hunt when he was sure his number was up just didn't happen, why he woke up in a hospital bed instead, some doctor or nurse explaining that he'd been brought in by an FBI agent or a police officer or EMT guy whose name was Bobby or Charlie or Joe Dee.

It would seem like some fuckin' guardian angel was covering his every move, having his back and watching over him to be sure he didn't get himself killed.

Just like his little brother would have done if he was still around.

And round and round and round we go, Dean thought as he stared out the windshield at the pounding rain, the darkness so complete it was starting to mess with his head, make him think he could see something out there, beyond the watery twin beams of light cast by the headlights. In his half-stunned, even half-asleep state, "Black Dog" blasting on the cassette deck, Dean thought he saw a man in a long, dark coat, standing in the rain by the side of the road, waiting for him.

And there he was. The man had long grey hair that whipped around his face in the rain, making him look older than his fifty-some years, ghostly and skeletal, as though he hadn't had a good meal in a long while. As the headlights swept the man's tall, lean frame, Dean caught a glimpse of his eyes. They were hollow and dark with sorrow, staring at Dean without fear as the car approached, as if he had been waiting for Dean like an old friend, as if he had been looking forward to the moment of impact for years.

"Jesus fuck!"

Dean slammed on the brakes and the car skidded on the wet road as Dean struggled to keep control, to prevent the car from crashing into the guardrail or going over the edge of the highway and into the ditch beyond.

Of course the man disappeared. He probably hadn't even been there in the first place, and all Dean was left with was the echo of a voice in his head, cracked and broken with age and sorrow, but familiar nonetheless.

Come back to me.

"Dean?"

Young-Sam's troubled face was turned up to him, concern creasing his smooth brow as Dean wrestled the car back onto the road. It had been a close call, but nothing Dean couldn't handle. They were lucky there were no other cars on the road at this time of night, though.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Dean lied, his voice a little shakier than he intended. He cleared his throat. "Just thought I saw something is all."

But the voice was Sam's, no mistaking that, no mistaking the words Dean still heard in his head as if the older version of his brother were sitting right there next to him.

Come back to me.

Fuck.

**//**//**

"Okay, that's it," Dean announced as he pulled off the road into the parking lot of the Rodeway Inn in Des Moines. "Time for a little shut-eye."

He didn't want to stop, but Dean's head was doing strange things to him, making him hear voices out of some bad '80s time-travel melodrama, haunting him with images of his brother as an old man. That stupid line from Somewhere in Time wasn't even accurate, since Sam was the one who had time-traveled, not Dean. He was beginning to wonder if he was losing his mind, and it was not a feeling he enjoyed. At all. He needed to forget this was happening for a while. He needed to stop obsessing over all the endless possibilities, all of the maybes and might-bes and could-bes. He needed temporary oblivion.

Luckily, the motel was right next door to a restaurant with a bar. After tucking young-Sam into bed, or at least leaving him with the TV remote and some vending-machine snacks, Dean hit Montana Mike's like there was no tomorrow. Which, if he thought about it hard enough, there might not be. After all, if he succeeded in messing with the timeline sufficiently, wasn't there at least a fifty-fifty chance that one of the apocalypses the Winchesters had averted might not get stopped after all?

Shut up! he scolded himself fiercely, then nearly jumped out of his skin when a voice chuckled low and soft behind him.

"I hope you weren't talking to me," the voice said. "Mind if I join you?"

Dean didn't have to turn to know he'd see the old man from the highway sliding onto the barstool next to him. He could feel cold air coming off the man like a breeze, and he instinctively reached for the saltshaker on the counter next to him.

"I'm not a ghost, Dean," the old man said. "I'm more like a psychic echo."

"Are you saying I made you up?" Dean growled, controlling his panic enough to turn and face the old man. Apparition. Whatever-the-fuck.

"Not exactly." The man shook his head, his long, shaggy hair swinging along his scruffy jaw. His beard was almost completely grey, Dean noted, along with his hair, and his skin was pale; Dean could see the blue in the veins of his wrists as the man folded his large hands on the bar in front of him. Sam's hands, the fingers long and tapered, still beautiful. "I'm real, but only you can see me. I'm a possible future, if you go down the path you're considering."

"You're not real. I made you up," Dean declared, shivering as the cold enveloped him. "Or else I'm losing my mind."

He tossed back his whiskey and signaled the bartender for another. She smiled grimly as she filled Dean's glass, obviously not noticing the old man sitting next to him.

"Tough night?" she asked, sympathetic but noncommittal. She had tattoos up one arm and a small, dainty ring in her left nostril.

"You have no idea," Dean said as he tossed back his drink and set the glass down for another refill. "Better leave the bottle."

"Dean," the old man murmured as the bartender moved on down the bar to other customers, leaving the bottle on the bar.

"You shut up." Dean raised his index finger and waved it at the old man. "I did not ask to be visited by the Ghost of Future Past."

"Dean, you know you can't keep younger-me here." The old man got right to the point, as if Dean hadn't just made a literary reference that would have made his Sam proud. "You have to send him home."

"He is home," Dean growled. "I'm his home."

"No, you're not." The old man shook his head. "He needs to go back to his brother. You can't keep him here."

"Watch me," Dean snapped, tossing back another shot.

"I need to come home, Dean," the old man sighed. "I – I need you."

"That's not what you said when you left for Stanford," Dean growled, turning to face the old man now that he had the courage of Jack Daniels in his veins. "You said, and I quote, 'I don't need you anymore, Dean. I don't need you bossing me around and telling me what to do.'"

"Well, I didn't," future-Sam said. "I wasn't a kid anymore, but you kept treating me like one. I needed you to see that, but you were all caught up in your fantasy of keeping the family together no matter what. You were never going to let me grow up, Dean, and I had to. I had to."

"You should have been a lawyer, Sam. You should have had a wife and kids and a house in the suburbs. You weren't supposed to end up some lonely old man hanging out in bars slowly drinking himself to death."

"Like you," future-Sam noted. "I wasn't supposed to end up like you."

"No!" Dean didn't even care if the bartender was looking at him funny, trying to decide if she should cut him off. "No, you weren't!"

"Well, that's too bad, Dean, because that's just the way it is!" future-Sam snapped. "And after everything we've been through, that's how it's supposed to be. You know it, and I know it, and that kid watching TV in that motel room knows it. We're supposed to be together, Dean. Partners. Fighting the good fight, for as long as we can, as equals. Two guys who've been to Hell and back, who understand each other better than anyone else ever can. That's the way it's supposed to be. That's the only way any of it makes sense."

"The only way it makes sense is if it didn't happen in the first place," Dean insisted. "I've got a chance to make it up to that kid, to make it up to older-him for all the ways I failed him the first time."

"You didn't fail me, Dean," future-Sam said softly.

"The hell I didn't, Sam! You weren't supposed to die at Cold Oak. I was supposed to look out for you, make sure that didn't happen in the first place."

"You couldn't have stopped that," future-Sam said. "The angels had it all rigged from the start."

"Not this time," Dean said. "This time it'll be different, and that's all that matters."

"Dean, are you listening to yourself? You can't change the past. If you don't send that kid back where he belongs, you won't be the guy that saved him. You'll be the guy who couldn't find his little brother when he was a kid. You'll be the bitter alcoholic who lost his thirteen-year-old brother twenty years ago and never forgave himself."

"Doesn't matter," Dean insisted. "If this kid grows up without angels breathing down his neck and a two-hundred-year sentence in Hell waiting for him, none of the rest of it matters."

"It matters to me!" future-Sam huffed angrily. "You ever think about that? Huh? You ever think of the fact that if you don't send that kid back to the past, you're condemning me to a lifetime without you?"

"It's better that way," Dean mumbled into his shot glass.

"Better for who? Did it ever occur to you that little-me might not want to stay here? You're not his brother. He barely knows you."

"He'll adjust!" Dean snapped.

"If I got lost in the future when I was thirteen, I'd want to go home," future-Sam went on, as if he hadn't heard Dean. "I wouldn't want to stay there with some grumpy old geezer just because he says he's my brother." He didn't say, I'd want to get home to my younger, hotter brother, but Dean heard it anyway.

"He doesn't get a choice," Dean said, then shot a guilty glance at future-Sam.

"He gets all the choices, Dean, and you know it," future-Sam reminded him, quoting a young woman they both knew and cared for, whose recent predicament had been nearly as desperate as this one.

Dean felt the hair on the back of his neck rise up.

"He doesn't know what's good for him," Dean insisted. "He doesn't have all the information."

"Are you kidding me? He's me, isn't he? And he's been here almost two days. You think he hasn't figured everything out by now? Think about it. Everything there is to know about us is online, Dean. The Supernatural novels, including all the unpublished parts. What do you think he's doing right now while you're here getting smashed?"

Dean had to admit, he hadn't thought of that.

"He's figuring out how to fix things. How to get back to his brother. Because that's what he does," future-Sam said. "That's what he always does."

Dean shook his head. "He leaves," he said, knowing how pathetic he sounded but not caring anymore, too deep in Jack. "That's what he's good at. That's what he does. He leaves."

"And he comes back," future-Sam said softly, tiredly, like he'd said it a thousand times. "He always comes back."

"No." Dean shook his head. He was dizzy, which is how he knew he was finally getting drunk. "Not this time."

He pulled himself off the barstool with effort, stopping long enough to drop bills on the bar before heading toward the exit. He knew future-Sam was following him because he could feel the cold air at his back, but he didn't speak again. When Dean got to the motel room he fumbled with the key as a body pressed up behind him, a voice blew cold whispers past his ear.

"Don't do this, Dean. Don't leave me there. It's not what I want. You have to fix this so I can come home. I'll go insane without you. Think about what you're doing and help me fix this!"

"I am fixing it," Dean growled as he shoved the key into the lock. As he pushed the door open and stepped over the salt line he felt the cold air behind him fall away. The old man couldn't follow him into the room.

Dean closed the door behind him, then quickly re-salted the door and windows. He was breathing hard, as if he'd been running, and his heart beat too fast in his chest.

The boy was sitting up in the bed furthest from the door, watching TV, just like he was when Dean left him an hour ago. Not researching, not finding out everything there was to know about what had happened in this timeline.

The old man was wrong.

"Hey," Dean nodded at the kid as he headed to the bathroom to get ready for bed. "Ten more minutes, okay? We've got another day's drive tomorrow."

"Yes, sir," young-Sam said, his voice still young and high, not yet changed into the rough, rich tenor he would have one day.

The laptop lay on the dresser next to the bathroom door, and Dean pressed his hand on it as he passed it, just to prove his point.

The case was warm.

**//**//**

Young-Sam was quiet and distant the next morning. He packed his bag and got in the car without looking at Dean, broadcasting a sullenness that was a stark contrast to his previous wide-eyed curiosity. Dean figured he was processing his research from the night before, so Dean didn't pry. Learning you were destined to become Lucifer's vessel and bring on the apocalypse wasn't something most kids would take lightly, and this was Sam, who was obsessive about everything by nature.

"It's not gonna happen," Dean said when they were facing each other over bacon and eggs and oatmeal at Vivian's Diner an hour later.

"What?" young-Sam seemed guarded, like he'd gone back to not trusting Dean again.

"Lucifer, the apocalypse, all that stuff you read about last night," Dean said. "It's not going to happen."

Young-Sam's jaw clenched and he stared down into his oatmeal as if it held the secrets of the universe. "I don't know what you're talking about," he mumbled without looking up.

"Don't lie to me, Sam," Dean snapped. "I know what you were really doing while you pretended to watch TV last night. I'm your brother, remember? I know you."

Young-Sam lifted frightened eyes, making Dean flinch. "So it's true?" he asked. "It all happened like it says in those Supernatural stories? I'm being watched by demons so I can grow up to be possessed by the devil? Dean goes – " Young-Sam swallowed hard, his next words a pinched whisper. "Dean goes to Hell?"

It was Dean's turn to clench his jaw. "Yeah, kid, I'm sorry," he said, fighting the lump in his throat. "That's how it happened. Sorry you had to find out like that."

"So – " Young-Sam blinked rapidly, and Dean could see a film of tears over his hazel eyes. "So you were just planning to wipe my memories before you sent me back? So Dean and I couldn't do anything to stop it?"

"Sam." Dean took a deep breath, fighting back the tears threatening to pour forth from his own eyes at the sight of the kid's obvious distress.

"Or maybe you were just hoping I wouldn't find out, is that it? Is that what you thought? You could just distract me with sight-seeing and ice cream and I wouldn't figure out how to Google our names?"

Young-Sam's last words came out on a choked sob as he gave up the fight with his own emotions and his tears spilled forth.

Naturally, the waitress took that moment to show up to refill Dean's coffee.

"Aw honey, is my oatmeal that bad?" she crooned in a motherly way that immediately put Dean on edge.

"Nah, it's just his time of the month," Dean quipped automatically before realizing how inappropriate the jibe would sound to a stranger.

The waitress frowned, her concern suddenly transforming into something darker.

"Are you all right, son?" she asked young-Sam. "Is this man bothering you?"

"What? No." Young-Sam shook his head, wiping at his face with the palms of his hands. "He's my brother. It's fine."

"Your brother, huh? Seems a little old," the waitress said dubiously.

"We had different mothers," Dean snarked, willing her to leave them alone with his most threatening glare, which she did after another suspicious glance. Without re-filling his coffee cup, Dean noted as he handed young-Sam a couple of paper napkins from the dispenser. Oh well. It was definitely time to get going anyway.

"Come on, Sammy," he said as he pulled out some bills to leave on the table. "Time to go."

BACK TO MASTERPOST | ON TO PART THREE
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