"You know, Sammy, there's another way," Dean said casually after almost thirty minutes had passed.
Young-Sam's head whipped around and Dean caught a glimpse of the kid's blotchy, tear-streaked face, his watery eyes and red nose.
"What? What other way?"
"You could stay here," Dean said cautiously. "In this time, I mean. Not go back."
Dean waited while young-Sam took that in, glancing over to catch the look of shock that had replaced the sullen misery.
"I'm not even sure we can send you back," Dean went on when young-Sam continued to stare. "My brother's the one who knows a lot about spell-work. It's not exactly something we do every day."
"But – what about Dean?"
Dean felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise again. He pulled his arm back and shifted uncomfortably on the seat.
"What about him?" Dean knew exactly who the kid was talking about, and it wasn't him. Not really.
"I can't leave him alone," young-Sam said.
Dean shrugged. This was the least of his concerns right now. "He'll be fine," he assured the kid. "My brother's with him."
"He doesn't know!" young-Sam said, anxiety clouding his smooth visage like a gathering storm. "He doesn't know your brother. No way he'll figure out who that big dude with the hair really is. He'll think – if I don't go back, he'll think I ran away, and if he never finds me, he'll blame himself. It'll kill him!"
Damn it, Dean thought. Why does this kid have to be too smart for his own good?
"He'll be fine," Dean said again. "Trust me. I know how he thinks."
Which was a lie. Of course Dean would beat himself up if he couldn't find his thirteen-year-old brother. Of course it would kill him, however slowly.
"Please, mister, I can't stay here," young-Sam's voice was pleading, and when Dean glanced at him – yep, those damn puppy-dog eyes of his were in full force. Fuck.
"Sammy, listen to me." Dean squared his shoulders and clenched his jaw. "Nothing bad's gonna happen to you if you stay here, don't you get that? I can keep you safe. You'll grow up, go to college, have that normal life you're so desperate for. I'll make sure of it."
"Not without my brother," young-Sam said. "I can't do it without my brother."
"Yes, you can!" Dean insisted, the response coming so naturally it was if he'd heard it somewhere before.
"Well, I won't," young-Sam insisted. "Not unless you know a way to bring Dean into the future and save him, too."
"That's not gonna happen, Sam," Dean shook his head. "I'm sorry. I don't think there's any way to make that happen. There's rules about time travel, and I'm pretty sure you can't share the same time-stream with yourself. One of you would get canceled out or something." Although he knew that wasn't true from personal experience, he wasn't about to tell young-Sam that.
"Then I have to go back," young-Sam said fiercely. "We have to find a way to send me back."
"How can you want that?" Dean clasped the steering wheel so hard it hurt. "You go back, you know what happens!"
"I don't care!" young-Sam said fiercely. "I need my brother. He needs me. We belong together. Don't you understand that? You, of all people? How can you leave your brother in the past? What the hell's wrong with you?"
"He'll be fine there." Dean took a deep breath. "He'll watch over your Dean. The main thing is, we derail the whole destiny thing. You stay here, that can't happen."
"But it's the past," young-Sam said. "It's already happened."
"Not to you," Dean said. "It hasn't happened to you. If you stay here, it doesn't have to."
Young-Sam shook his head. "Then it'll happen to somebody else," he insisted. "All those other psychic children? If it's not us, then one of them will do it. You're condemning some other poor kids to go through what happened to you and your brother."
"I don't care," Dean growled. "It's not happening to you. End of story."
"But it already has! It happened to you and your brother," young-Sam repeated, and Dean had to hand it to him; he was calmer than Dean expected him to be, like he had switched directions and started on a new strategy. "Keeping me here can't change that. I know you and your brother suffered real bad. What you guys went through...Hell and everything...I can't even imagine how horrible that must have been. But the thing is, you survived! Knowing you and your brother came through all right? That's – that's amazing. Inspiring. It's the kind of story people tell their grandchildren. You're the guys that saved the world!"
"No!" Dean growled, slamming the flat of his hand against the steering wheel. "You don't get it, kid. It wasn't supposed to happen at all. It was all a set-up from the start. The angels, the apocalypse, Lucifer, Hell, even our parents being set up to get married and have us in the first place, all of it. I went back in time twice and forward in time another time to try to stop it, but the fuckin' angels manipulated the whole thing. Well, not this time. This time we've got the chance to stick it to them, and I say we shove it up their feathered asses."
Young-Sam sucked his lower lip between his teeth and lowered his eyes. Dean waited, letting the kid process his words but knowing instinctively that young-Sam was working out a way to get through to Dean, a way to derail his thinking and get what he wanted.
"You know I'm in love with him, right?" young-Sam said finally, his voice low and tight, sounding older than his almost-fourteen years by way too much.
A shock of terror rushed through Dean's veins. He knew exactly what young-Sam was talking about, but there was no way in hell he was going to let him know that. He clutched the steering wheel and shot a quick glance at young-Sam's face, open and vulnerable and fierce, and he couldn't do it. He couldn't pretend with this kid looking at him like that. It wasn't in him.
"Sam –" Dean started, taking a deep breath.
"You and your brother –" Young-Sam couldn't say it, and Dean wasn't about to make him say it. That would be fuckin' wrong, damn it.
"Look, Sam, it doesn't matter, okay? It doesn't matter now because you're going to get that normal life you've been wanting, see? It's all going to be normal from now on."
Young-Sam was silent, and Dean was terrified he'd said the wrong thing, admitted too much, let the kid know too much.
Dean had been in love with his brother, too.
They reached the bunker late that afternoon, after a tense car-ride in which Dean felt like an evil kidnapper and young-Sam was silent and thoughtful. Dean knew the kid was scheming, trying to come up with a plan, and Dean wanted to kick himself for playing his hand so early. Why had he said anything about keeping young-Sam here? They probably weren't going to be able to get him home anyway. The timeline would probably never be fixed no matter how hard they tried, and young-Sam would stay here in the future the way Gavin MacLeod had done for all those years. There hadn't been any need for Dean to tell young-Sam he'd planned it that way.
Dean had fucked up. Again.
"So this is where you live?" Young-Sam couldn't help the little gasp that escaped him when they entered the bunker.
"Home sweet home," Dean nodded, leading the way up the stairs from the garage.
"This place is like a fortress," young-Sam commented as he gazed down dimly lit corridors, eyes glazed with awe.
"It is, kinda," Dean agreed. "I'll give you a tour after supper, if you want."
"All these doors..." young-Sam breathed as they walked down the corridor toward the library. "Do you and your brother live here alone?"
"It's just us," Dean nodded, directing young-Sam to drop his duffel in Room 15, which had become their unofficial guest room since both Mary and Castiel had stayed there recently. Dean was pretty sure older-Sam had remembered to change the sheets before they left for Maine.
"And here's the library," Dean announced as they rounded the corner at the end of the hall. "All the lore on every supernatural creature or event up through the 1950s is right here, somewhere. Sam's catalogued a lot of it so we can look stuff up while we're on the road. He's been adding to it in his spare time, updating it with all the things we've learned on our own."
"Wow," young-Sam breathed as he gazed at the bookshelves, letting his fingers skim along the spines of the books. "So somewhere in here there's a spell to reverse what that skin-walker did?"
"That's the idea," Dean said. "Knock yourself out."
"Where are you going?"
Dean dangled the plastic grocery bags from his fingers. "I'm going to rustle us up some supper."
He took the time to run a load of laundry while he fixed supper, humming along in his head to one of the Pearl Jam tunes they'd heard at the museum the day before. "Even Flow" wasn't a bad song, he decided, although he'd never tell Sam that.
Over a supper of Dean's best homemade burgers and pie – okay, the pie wasn't homemade, but it was one of the best store-bought pies Dean had found locally – young-Sam leafed through ancient manuscripts while Dean checked the local TV listings for re-runs or live-streams of Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman or Star Trek: the Next Generation after glancing distastefully through a dusty pile of books.
It wasn't like he hadn't made an effort. He'd left a perfunctory voice-mail for Castiel, although he was pretty sure the angel no longer had the kind of mojo needed for time-travel. Asking for Rowena's help was another option, but Dean didn't want her anywhere near this vulnerable younger version of his brother, no matter how helpful she might be. The last thing they needed was help from an enemy who would rather see them both disappear into oblivion anyway. Besides, Sam had been the one who had developed the rapport with Rowena, not Dean. Sam could control her better than Dean could ever hope to do, in no small part because of Dean's former relationship with her son. And Dean didn't want to bring up that particular past misadventure in front of young-Sam, no sir.
"Besides our grandfather's spell, I got zilch," Dean announced an hour later, after glancing through a couple of spell-books.
"Same," young-Sam murmured, staring at the spell-book he'd been studying for the past hour. The book was in Latin, so Dean hadn't even bothered with that one. Not that he'd ever looked at most of the books in the library in the first place.
Even as young as he was, the kid seemed to understand Dean's aversion to research. He'd been taking notes, using an old notebook of Sam's he must have found tucked away in the bookcase somewhere. As Dean got up to clear the plates from the table, young-Sam tucked an old note into his pocket.
"So how about we take the night off?" Dean suggested. "I'll give you a tour of the bunker. We can watch Star Trek on Netflix. I'll make us some popcorn. We'll get a fresh start in the morning."
Young-Sam surprised him by agreeing easily, and in retrospect Dean realized he should have suspected something. But he was so relieved by the kid's acquiescence he couldn't help smiling, couldn't prevent the sense of a weight lifted from his shoulders and his heart un-clenching for the first time since they got back to the bunker.
This would be okay. Somehow, this would all work out.
Yet, even as the thought crossed his mind, Dean felt something tugging at the back of his brain, some little shadow reminding him that things never went well for them, that shit always hit the fan, especially when it looked like they might have dodged the bullet this time, like things might turn out all right. Nothing ever worked out for them. Dean was probably being a fool to think they could.
But young-Sam looked so young, so innocent, and Dean wanted to believe that he could be saved this time, that they were really being given a second chance. All Dean had to do was grab that chance and not let go.
"Great," he said, consumed with a hope that he knew better than to feel. "Okay, then. Let's take that tour."
Young-Sam seemed appropriately impressed with the kitchen and laundry-room, the dungeon and shooting range, the upstairs lab and the bathroom with its powerful showers. He stood in the doorway of Dean's room and stared, taking in the few objects that must have been familiar to him since Dean had held onto them since he was a kid. Sam's room was a mess, as usual, but since that's where the TV was, Dean shrugged and started collecting the books and files strewn across Sam's bed so they could sit there. He ignored the pang of guilt at invading his little brother's space without his permission, but young-Sam shook his head and wouldn't cross the threshold. He hovered in the hallway with a shuttered look on his face, like he was feeling spooked.
"Nah, it's okay," he said hesitantly. "It's really late already. I should probably go to bed."
"Dude, seriously?" Dean stood up with a handful of papers and frowned at the kid. "Come on. It's only ten o'clock."
"I know," young-Sam nodded, backing up into the hallway. "I'm just really tired, is all."
"Okay, sure, Sammy," Dean smiled, bemused. "I don't remember you being so eager for bed when you were a kid. You used to want to stay up all night."
Young-Sam shrugged, eyes shifting away shyly as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and hunched his shoulders. The gesture reminded Dean of his Sam so much it made him ache.
"Yeah, okay," Dean stammered, pulling himself together. "You remember where we left your duffel, right?"
Young-Sam nodded, still not looking at him.
"Okay, good. I'll grab your clothes out of the dryer. There are towels in the bathroom. I'll let you do your thing."
Dean laid the papers down on a chair and flipped the light off as he left. It did seem a little cold in Sam's room, now that he thought about it. No wonder young-Sam didn't want to hang out in there. If his older little brother never returned, the room would become a kind of shrine. Dean wasn't sure he'd ever be able to clean it out.
Not thinking about that.
He ignored the shiver that ran up his spine as he retrieved young-Sam's clothes from the laundry-room and folded them neatly, convincing himself yet again that older-Sam would understand if this didn't get fixed and the kid stayed here. Older-Sam would accept Dean's need to protect his younger self.
When he returned to the guest bedroom, it was empty, but he could hear water running, so he guessed young-Sam was in the shower. As he laid the kid's clean clothes on the bed, Dean ignored the strangeness of putting young-Sam to bed where their mother had slept a few weeks before. He didn't think about the fact that if young-Sam stayed here, he would eventually meet Mary. Dean didn't wonder what that would be like for her, whether she would feel any more obligation towards the boy than she had toward her adult sons.
If things went that way, Dean would deal with it. He hadn't yet given up on the initial plan to reverse the spell, he reminded himself; presumably, older-Sam was working on it from his end in the past, although Dean's memories of that time were a little vague.
Feeling restless and unsettled, Dean decided he couldn't go to bed yet and didn't want to watch TV in Sam's room, so he went back to the library to drink and stare at his laptop. The half-empty bottle of Dewar's he found stashed behind the telescope wasn't the best, but it wasn't the worst either. Definitely beat the bathtub tequila he'd resorted to on too many occasions in the past.
He was half-way through "Hot Japanese Anime Girls" on YouTube when he felt a vibration. He paused the video and waited a moment in hazy silence, instinctively fighting down the effects of the alcohol. Then he felt it again.
The call for help was unmistakable, and although he hadn't heard young-Sam cry out like that in a long time, Dean was on his feet in an instant, tearing down the hall with his gun in his hand.
The first thing he noticed was that the guest-room door was open. But he didn't stop to check whether young-Sam was in the room because there was something glowing further down the hall. The door to Sam's room was framed in bright white light, which also poured from the slats in the door, too bright to be natural. Dean could swear he heard a high-pitched whine, almost too high to hear, along with the vibration he had felt earlier.
"Sam!" Dean grabbed at the doorknob, instinctively shielding his eyes with his other arm as he barreled into the room, stumbling a little because the floor was uneven.
A sound like rushing wind filled his ears for a moment before it stopped, sucked away with the light, leaving Dean blinking in near-darkness. He was immediately aware of the smells and sounds of a forest at night, and he realized he wasn't in the bunker anymore. The floor was covered with small stones and twigs, which explained why it wasn't even; it wasn't a floor at all, but rather the ground under tall evergreen trees, opening just ahead of him into a small clearing. Stars shone down and the air was cool and crisp. An owl hooted softly and a breeze rustled the branches around him.
Dean whirled around, expecting to see the door from the bunker into Sam's room, but there was nothing there but more trees. The place was familiar, and Dean recognized the Maine woods where he and Sam had been hunting skin-walkers three nights ago. He tucked his gun into his pocket and only then noticed that he was wearing his coat, as he had been that night, and his head was clear again, as if he hadn't just drunk half-a-bottle of scotch.
Then he heard a sound his heart would always know, a familiar presence his soul would always respond to.
The deep bellow made Dean's pulse quicken, made his palms sweat. He moved instinctively towards the sound, forever attracted like a magnet to that voice.
When the big man himself appeared at the edge of the clearing, Dean's gratitude was like a punch in the gut that made him shake and tear up simultaneously. Sam had been running, and when he saw Dean he stopped short. Relief flooded his features, softening the anxiety that had been there just a moment before.
"Dean!" Sam breathed the word on a sigh this time, long legs carrying him across the clearing in only a couple of powerful strides. Dean moved forward out of his own unconscious compulsion and they slammed together in a pool of moonlight, smashing into each other like tectonic plates, like a cosmic event, like brothers who meant the world to one another.
"It worked! It worked! Oh my God, it actually worked," Sam babbled as he buried his face in the crook of Dean's neck, stooping in that familiar way that Dean understood better than anyone.
"Yeah," Dean agreed, clutching at Sam's back just to hold onto handfuls of his brother, to be sure he was real. "You did it, Sam! You did it."
He fought down the lump in his throat that was choking off his air and making his eyes water, but it was mostly a losing battle. Truth was, Dean's relief at having his older little-brother back was about the most intense feeling he'd ever experienced. How had he ever thought he could live without this? He'd never been able to live without older-Sam, his Sam, in the past. How had he convinced himself he could manage it this time?
"How'd you do it, Sam? How'd you reverse the spell?" Now Dean was babbling and his cheeks were wet and he didn't give a shit because Sam was in his arms again. "How'd you do it, huh?"
"Knew you needed me," Sam croaked brokenly against his ear. "Couldn't let you grow old without me, old man."
When he felt Sam's lips press against his ear, then his cheek, Dean turned his face instinctively toward the kiss, knew it was coming like it was something they always did, especially after a separation. His dick was instantly on board as Sam's lips brushed his, lust joining the cocktail of emotions running through his system as Sam's big hand held Dean's jaw so he could deepen the kiss. Sam's hot tongue and the drag of his soft lips felt so familiar, so good, that Dean let it happen without protest, kissing back as much as he could as Sam plundered his mouth, demanding and needy as always.
As always. Dean's memories were a little hazy, but he was pretty sure this was new. He was pretty sure he'd remember if he'd been kissing his brother on a regular basis.
So why did it feel so familiar?
"Hey, uh, Sammy, wait a minute." It took intense effort to pull away, to tip his head back and look up at Sam with his hand in Sam's shaggy mane, pulling him off by the scruff of the neck like he was some kind of over-eager puppy.
Sam blinked, his eyes blown dark with lust, cheeks flushed, lips slick and swollen with Dean's kiss. Dean wanted more. He couldn't think straight. Why shouldn't he kiss Sam again?
"This isn't – don't get me wrong, it's damn hot and I don't want it to stop but – this isn't the way I remember things."
Sam frowned and shook his head a little. "What things?"
"This," Dean glanced down at Sam's mouth, then back up at his eyes. "Us. Like this. I don't remember it this way."
"What are you talking about?" Sam might be a little sex-drunk right now, but he wasn't stupid. He suddenly seemed to get what Dean was saying; his eyes widened and he took a step back, staring down at Dean's coat, clutching the lapels in his big hands.
"Where did you get this?"
The question was so nonsensical, so out of the blue, that at first Dean didn't understand.
"This jacket," Sam clarified. "You lost this jacket years ago. Where did you find it?"
Dean frowned, looked down at the leather coat that had been his, and their father's before him, for as long as he could remember.
Although he hadn't been wearing it in the bunker, he had been wearing it the night he found that younger Sam in the woods. These woods. Three nights ago.
"Lost it?" Dean was shocked at the mere thought. "You're kidding, right? I'd rather chop my foot off than lose this jacket, and you know it."
"Okay, something's off." Sam lifted a hand in a halting gesture, and Dean just wanted to feel it on his face again, wanted Sam to grab him and do that thing with his tongue...
What the hell? How had that never happened before? Seriously? He and Sam had never? But Dean had thought about it, that's for sure. He'd definitely dreamed about it and jerked off to it. He just never acted on it because...
Well, because Sam needed normal. Incest wasn't normal. Not that Dean cared for himself. He knew he was a freak. But for Sam, Dean had always repressed those desires because he knew how badly Sam wanted a normal life, and because Dean had wanted Sam to have that life with every fiber of his being.
Of course, that was years ago, before things had all gone to hell anyway. What difference did it make now? It was just years of habit, repressing those urges – and Dean knew Sam had them too because he didn't have any qualms about expressing them when he was soulless, did he? – that they had never acted on those feelings.
But Dean had always been ready. He'd always hoped one day Sam would decide that Dean was it for him, just as Sam was it for Dean. Nobody else could ever give them what they needed, not really. Not in any way that mattered.
Sam had kissed him, and Dean had kissed back like his life depended on it, like it was the most normal thing in the world. Like they'd been doing it forever and it was perfectly natural for them, as it should be.
So why wasn't it again?
"Dean, focus." Sam still had Dean's jacket in his hands, shaking him a little, and Dean raised his eyes from Sam's lips with real effort. "Things are different. The time-streams are off. I need you to tell me what you remember."
"We were hunting skin-walkers, right?" Sam prompted. "And then?"
"Uh, right," Dean frowned, blinking up at Sam dazedly. "The skin-walker that did the spell died over there, under that tree. Then the kid showed up."
"The kid?" Sam repeated. "What kid? What are you talking about?"
"He was you, Sam." Dean shrugged. "He was about thirteen, dressed in that hoodie you used to wear all the time, the one from the church yard-sale in Hibbing."
"I remember," Sam said. "Okay, so I didn't just time-travel; I switched places in time with my younger self?"
Dean licked his lips. "That's what I figured, yeah."
"How did you know?" Sam seemed genuinely curious, as if he didn't remember this part.
"You told me your name was Jack Harper, in the past," Dean reminded him. "From that Tom Cruise movie we just watched."
"I did, didn't I?" Sam grinned, dimpling gorgeously. "Well, at least that's the same. I was trying to let you know I was okay. After a week or so I figured you'd be worried sick, and I – I had to see you, even if it was just that younger-you."
"A week?" Dean repeated, shaking his head a little. "It was only three days, man. You were only gone three days."
Sam took a deep breath, backing away from Dean with a little shake of his shaggy head. Dean watched as he scrubbed a hand over his scruffy jaw and blinked tears away.
"No," he said softly, his voice breaking. "It was almost a month for me. I was starting to think I'd never be able to fix it. I went to the bunker, left notes there that I was hoping you would find just so you would know what had happened, how I tried to get back to you. I tried, Dean. I did every spell I could think of, over and over. I tried dozens of new ones. Nothing worked. I don't even know how I did it, finally. I don't even know how I'm here."
"Hey." Dean moved forward out of deepest instinct, wanting to pull his giant brother into his arms and hold him, maybe kiss him again because he seemed okay with that and Dean really wanted it bad. But he settled for grabbing onto Sam's shoulders, giving him a reassuring shake. "Hey, you're here now. That's what matters."
"So – " Sam pulled away, agitated, and Dean could almost see his big brain working overtime to get a handle on the problem. "So what did you do?" he asked. "What did you and little-me do for – three days, was it?"
A stab of guilt made Dean lower his eyes; he couldn't exactly tell Sam how much fun he had, hanging out with that younger version of his brother, not when Sam had been suffering, desperately trying to reverse the spell so he could go home. It just didn't seem right. It made Dean feel like a dick.
"Yeah, uh, so I took the kid back to the bunker," Dean said. "I figured you were working on the problem from your end, and maybe together you two could figure it out. Which seems to be what happened, by the way. If you don't know how you did this, then maybe it was the kid."
Sam frowned. "I didn't even know the kid was here," he said. "I mean, he was missing, in that earlier time, but I knew that. It was that time I ran away. You remember. You and Dad went off on that hunt in Colorado and left me alone in Flagstaff, so I just took off."
"I remember, Sam," Dean growled. "Believe me, I remember."
"Well, I don't," Sam said, running a hand through his hair, one hand on his hip. "I honestly don't. I've got no memory of time-traveling during that little adventure, so if it really happened, I must've gone back at the exact minute that I left, with no memories of it at all."
"Good," Dean barked, although he couldn't deny the little pang of sadness that pierced his heart. He'd secretly hoped the kid would have some residual memories of the time he spent in the future. He'd liked to think young-Sam hadn't totally hated the experience. Not to mention, he'd hoped the kid could stop the future, if he got back to his own time. Maybe young-Sam could fix things.
But maybe it was just as well the younger Sam didn't remember. Finding out he was going to be the vessel of the devil himself couldn't have been fun. Maybe it was better for the kid to have a few more years of his shitty childhood and young-adulthood before things got so crappy.
Besides, there probably wouldn't have been any way to derail the whole thing in the past, so who was Dean fooling? Things never worked out like that for them. For the Winchesters, shit just turned into worse shit, no matter what choices they made. Why should this have been any different?
"Maybe it was both of us," Sam suggested once they'd established the date and time and determined that only a minute had passed in this time-stream since the skin-walker's spell had sent Sam spiraling through time. "Maybe we had to reverse the spell simultaneously, since we were occupying each other's time-streams."
Which didn't make sense, since the time-streams were obviously misaligned. But it was the best theory they come up with, so they left it at that for now.
Dean was grumpier than he should have been about having to re-burn and bury the skin-walkers.
"I did this three days ago," he complained. Nevertheless, he shed his leather jacket and rolled his sleeves up, ignoring his aching shoulders as he shoved the tip of his shovel into the hard spring earth. Working side-by-side with his mountain-sized brother made the work go faster than it had with the little pipsqueak version of Sam, at least. This time, they finished well before dawn and had time to hit the all-night drive-thru at McDonald's before heading back to the motel.
Sam did a double-take when he saw the two beds.
"I swear when we checked in we got a king," he said, and Dean glanced sharply at him. "What? It's a liberal state. Gay marriage is legal here."
"Not what I was thinking," Dean growled, then pushed past Sam to head to the bathroom. "Gonna take a shower."
As he let the warm water wash the grime and smoke from his skin, Dean tried to ignore the memory of Sam's kiss. It'd been so good, being held by Sam's big hands, feeling Sam's long fingers wrapping around the back of his neck, the scratch of his stubble dragging along Dean's lips. Dean had wanted that for so long, it didn't seem real now. This all seemed like some kind of elaborate dream.
When Dean walked out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist, Sam was sitting at the rickety table, scrolling through news reports on his laptop. He took Dean's breath away for a moment, like he always did when Dean watched Sam working, oblivious to Dean's stare.
"Everything the way you remember?" Dean asked.
Sam glanced up at him, gaze going dark as he took in Dean's near-nakedness, making Dean blush and look down as he rifled through his duffle for fresh underwear.
"Yeah," Sam breathed softly. "Just like I remember."
Dean glanced up as Sam's tongue snaked out and licked along his lower lip. Dean felt a shiver go up his spine.
"We should get back to the bunker," Dean said, his voice shakier than he would have liked. "You should take a shower so we can get going."
"Yeah, sure, Dean," Sam climbed to his feet, long legs moving toward him slow, with purpose. "So far, the only difference between timelines is that jacket. And us."
Dean found the boxers, stood holding them as Sam drew near. "Us?"
"Our relationship," Sam clarified. He stood so close Dean could feel his heat.
Dean's heart was pounding, his hands shaking; he was sure Sam could see that, could see the flush in his cheeks and chest. Hell, his ears were probably red, too.
How had Sam's presence never had this effect on him before?
Or had it?
Dean was fairly sure he'd always had the hots for his brother, but he was also pretty sure he'd always done a damned good job of hiding it. Sam had never known. Or had he?
"Please." Dean closed his eyes against the onslaught of emotion, against the overwhelming presence of Sam all around him. "Just don't tell me this started when we were kids. I – I tried so hard to keep you safe, Sam. I never wanted this for you. I wanted you to have a normal life..."
"I know," Sam whispered, brushing the backs of his fingers against Dean's cheek, making Dean shiver. "You were so virtuous. I thought I was a monster for wanting you the way I did."
"No," Dean gasped as Sam's hand slipped behind his neck, tilting his head up. "You were never a monster, Sammy. You were just a kid. Horny, pissed off, a little spoiled, maybe. I was the freak. I was the one who should have known better."
"Eighteen," Sam said as Dean's eyes fluttered open to find Sam gazing down at him, holding his face like it was something infinitely precious, long thumb sweeping over Dean's cheekbone. "I was eighteen. That summer before college. You didn't want to but I begged. I pleaded and threatened to leave because I couldn't stand it anymore, and you gave in. You let me have what I wanted. Then I left for college without you because I felt like I'd forced you to do something you didn't really want. I was a real bitch, Dean. A stupid, selfish kid."
"Not stupid," Dean murmured, heart hammering so hard it was making him light-headed. "Never stupid. You were the smartest kid I knew. Still are. Not a kid now, though."
He was babbling, wanting Sam to kiss him so bad it hurt, wanting to know if it would feel familiar like it did before.
"But that's not how you remember it." Sam frowned.
Dean made a little frustrated sound, completely against his will, and covered for it by dropping the towel and pushing in close, grabbing Sam's hips to yank him flush against Dean's body.
"Shut up and kiss me," he ordered harshly, and Sam did, softly at first, then with greater intent as Dean opened to him, unable to contain the moan that escaped his throat.
If this was how things were between them in this timeline or whatever, then Dean was more than okay with it. He didn't need to second-guess it. It was like the best consolation prize possible for losing younger-Sam, for fucking up the second chance he'd wanted to give that kid.
But he didn't deserve this.
"Sam, we need to talk," Dean gasped as Sam's lips kissed along his jaw to his ear. He slid his hands between their bodies, pushing Sam away with real reluctance.
It wasn't fair to Sam that Dean should keep that second-chance business from him. It flooded him with shame to think that he could just indulge in his lust for his brother when Sam had no idea that he'd almost been left in the past deliberately. If it hadn't been for young-Sam figuring out how to reverse the spell...
Dean knew instinctively that was what must have happened. The kid got back to the bunker and found those notes Sam had left and figured out how to do the spell that would take him back to his brother. Of course he did. That's what Sam did because it was what he always did.
"Okay." Sam cleared his throat as he backed off, worry creasing his big brow,, getting himself under control with obvious reluctance. "Okay, Dean, sure. Anything you want."
Sam lowered his eyes dejectedly, and Dean couldn't have that, couldn't have Sam thinking he was forcing himself on Dean when nothing could be further from the truth.
"No, Sam, that's not it." Dean tried to be reassuring, aware that he was naked and still clutching his boxers in one hand. "Look, just go take a shower and we'll talk, okay? There's things I should tell you before we – you have a right to know what happened while you were gone, and I need a minute to clear my head, okay?"
"Yeah, sure, Dean." Sam blinked, nodding anxiously in that way Dean knew too well.
"Look, it's got nothing to do with this thing between us, okay? That's totally okay with me, believe me." Dean licked his lips, trying to hide his own nervousness. "More than okay, in fact, so don't you worry about that for a minute, you hear me?"
Sam nodded, biting his lower lip but still unable to meet Dean's eyes. "I have something I need to tell you, too," he said, chest heaving, as if he was about to start hyperventilating.
"After your shower," Dean commanded, tamping down on the panic he felt rising in his chest at Sam's words. Great. More confessions. "We'll talk in the car." It was easier that way. They didn't have to look at each other, and Dean could focus on the driving if the conversation got too weird.
Also there were no beds. Which was good, because after Dean told Sam what he needed to tell him, Sam might not want to sleep with him anyway.
Dean tried not to think about how disappointed he would be if that happened.