Dean was tired. Like, bone deep, where's a bed, must sleep now tired. He and Sam had been on the trail of a demon cell for two days. They'd tracked them to this empty piece of Wyoming last night and were putting together traps and talismans that could keep them in place long enough to exorcise them. Dean knew time was of the essence. The demons could take off at any time, but, man, he just needed to close his eyes for 10 minutes. He looked over at Sam, copying some diagram or something from the laptop to his notebook. It was about 5 p.m, and they'd been at it since yesterday morning. "Sam, let's shut it down for an hour or so." Sam didn't respond or stop his chicken scratch drawing. "Sam."
After a long moment, Sam seemed to realize Dean was talking to him. "Hmm? What?"
Dean laid down on the bed by the door, kicked out his foot at Sam sitting at the table next to him. Connected with one of his knees. "Shut it down for a while. If we're doing this tonight, we need some sleep."
Sam lifted his head. "Yeah. Go ahead. I just want to finish this."
Dean sighed, gazed at the ceiling for a few minutes, tried not to let his eyes shut. "I can't sleep if you're doing that. Just shut it off for an hour or two and we'll pick it up, get something to eat and go toast these bastards."
Sam nodded. "Yeah. Okay. Sorry." He picked up the laptop and grabbed his jacket. "You think, what, two hours, and you'll be ready for a burger?"
Dean stared at him. "Sam, you have to sleep. You're no good out there if you're exhausted."
Sam opened the door. "Dean, sleep. I got this. I'll be ready. See you in a couple of hours." And out the door he went.
Dean closed his eyes. Well, dammit.
Dean woke up coughing. What the hell was that horrible smell? He opened his eyes and his heart gave a hitch. He was outside in the dark, lying on a tarp. A damp, fetid mist oozed around the ground, and he could hear people talking and moving around nearby.
He sat up and looked around. Through the foggy gloom he saw a sort of shanty town set up in what looked to be a corn field. The few spots that weren't taken up by people or tents or boxes or junk showed trampled down corn stalks.
What the fuck?
He got up, walked around the tents and shacks, slipping on the mud and debris that littered the 'trail' between them all. There were mounds of shoes here, a pile of tires there. Everything looked and felt jumbled and chaotic. But, there was also a weariness under it all. He saw two fistfights over what, he didn't know. And no one even turned a head to investigate why these people were going at it. He just walked amongst it all and wondered if this were just an extremely vivid dream. But it felt too much like real life. Like he'd just woken up someplace else, for some reason. It didn't feel like he was imagining any of it. Certainly not the smell.
He came upon a huge, neatly piled stack of newspapers. While he stood there, people were coming up to it and taking stacks away. Looking around at the living quarters, he saw how some of the people were using newspaper as flooring, to insulate from the damp ground.
Dean took one of the papers from the pile, checked the date. March 11, 2019. Huh. Time travel? Again? God, his life was weird. Castiel must be around here someplace. Must be something here he wants me to know. Knowing this was real gave him a little more sense of urgency about the whole thing. He read from the paper:
"President Palin Reassures Nation Worst is Over"
WASHINGTON, DC - President Sarah Palin held another press conference at the White House yesterday, telling reporters that the nation must hold steady. "This thing seems like a dark cloud, coming over us to take our confidence and freedoms, but, it's going to lift and the American people are going to enjoy their freedoms again, as they have become accustomed to, and free speech. And we will get back that sense of can-do spirit that makes this nation a great land. But, we can't let the media tell us, or show us all the bad stuff, only. You media types here today, your job is to tell the American people that this crisis is over."
When a CNN reporter pointed out that the crisis is only getting worse – buildings still burning, rivers still polluted with a mysterious sulfur residue, crops withering despite plentiful rainfall – President Palin waved her hand. "That's just a part of the story. What's important is that we let the American people know that their freedom is safe. That this great land is up to any challenge, if we just work together and don't listen to the naysayers and those who want to take our freedoms and live in negativity."
President Palin did not address the need for housing and sanitation in the many makeshift camps being set up outside the burning cities. Nor did she---
Dean tossed the paper aside. Ok, Dean. Apocalypse is here. Cities are burning, people are dying, and the smell is really bad. What now? His head throbbed and he sort of hoped Sam would amble by. He'd like to see how Sam weathered the whole apocalypse thing. Where was Castiel? What was he supposed to be doing here? Maybe something was going to give him a clue about stopping some of this from happening. He put out his hand as a man and woman passed by. "Excuse me? Who is in charge here?"
The man and woman exchanged looks. "You okay, Mr. Winchester?"
Dean cleared his throat. "Yeah, fine. Can you just tell me where to find ---"
Dean dared to hope. "Bobby Singer?"
The man nodded, spoke slowly, as if Dean were dopey. "Yes, Mr. Bobby Singer. He helps you run this camp?"
Dean felt intense relief at the same time he heard two gunshots go off. He looked out over the camp. The man and woman didn't seem concerned or even flinch when the shots rang out.
Dean raised an eyebrow in question. The man shrugged. "Lots of guns, lots of gunshots."
Dean nodded. "Where's Bobby right now?"
"Should be in North sector, with the other leaders." When Dean just stood there, looking blank, the man pointed. "Over that hill, turn right at the blue Chevy, it's down the hill from there."
Dean walked. He saw another fist fight and an unconscious man just lying in the middle of the path. When he asked the closest woman if she wanted to lend him a hand to see if the guy was okay, she practically snarled at him. "He's no family of mine. You deal with him." And she walked away. Dean felt the guy's pulse. It seemed strong. He groaned a little when Dean moved him off the path and next to a tree. He felt bad just leaving him there, but he had bigger problems at the moment than some passed out random dude.
He found the circle of tents down the hill and walked into the first one. Bobby sat at a table, surrounded by open books and some maps. He glanced up when Dean came in. "There you are. Take a look at this. Patches of grass are growing back in the South east. That's where Castiel took off for. You think he found a way to---" He glanced up at Dean, noticed his mouth hanging open and the blank look on his face. "You okay, Dean?"
Dean cleared his throat. "Um, you lost your eye?"
Bobby rolled his remaining eye. "Yeah, and it's Tuesday, and it's dark. You got any other idiot statements to make? Take a look here."
He moved over, assuming Dean would come around the table. Dean just stood where he was. "Bobby, how'd you lose your eye?"
Bobby focused on Dean again. "Demons attacked my house, November of 2010. You know that." Then he looked closer at Dean. He must look as freaked as he felt, because Bobby's face when from businesslike to concerned. He spoke a little softer. "What is it, Dean?"
Dean took a deep steadying breath. "When I went to sleep about 5:00 tonight, I was in a motel with Sam." Bobby blanched at the mention of Sam, looked down and covered his face with one hand. Dean went on. "It was 2009, and we were looking for a demon cell in Wyoming."
Bobby dropped his hand, looked up at Dean. "Well, sounds like a nice dream."
Dean shook his head. "No, I wasn't dreaming. I was there. I think Castiel sent me here to change something."
Bobby sighed deeply. "Dean, you haven't really slept well these past couple months. I keep tellin' you to get away from here before you crack. Why don't you go rest a while and I'll check on you in the morning. This can wait."
Dean came closer, leaned his hands on the table and looked at Bobby. "I haven't lived through this, yet. I think I'm getting a glimpse of the future."
"Well, I don't think you're going to enjoy the trip. If I were you, I'd go back to your tent and dream of the past. Enjoy your time with Sam while you can. Say 'hi' to him for me, will you?" Then, quietly under his breath, "Still miss that kid." Bobby shifted his chair again, took up a pencil, and started drawing on one of the large white maps.
Dean watched him, his stomach dropping. "Bobby, where's Sam?"
Bobby looked up, and Dean saw such sadness in the old man's eyes.
No. No, no, no. Just. No. Not after everything…
"Tell me where he is."
Bobby dropped his pencil. "Dean, this will all come back to you tomorrow, I'm sure." Bobby pushed his hat back on his head, ran his hands over his face again, then straightened his cap and looked back up at Dean. "Just go to sleep, hmm?"
Dean leaned toward him. "Tell me. Please."
And then Bobby leaned in to look at him, really look at him. His tired eye took in everything about Dean and his face softened. "You don't have the scar. And you've still got the amulet. And you look a lot younger. What the hell is going on?"
Dean wondered briefly what scar he had, and he fingered the amulet around his neck. "I'm me, just from ten years ago. Castiel is behind this, I'm sure. I think I'm supposed to find out something here, something that will help me back in 2009. Maybe we can avoid some of this. I don't know. Just, help me understand everything that's happened."
Bobby watched him a long minute, then relented. "Well, I guess anything's possible. I don't know what you could possibly do ten years ago to change what's gone down. Though, you might consider being a little nicer to your brother, seeing as how he got tore up by demons before you could fix the stupid rift between you."
Dean forgot to breathe. He could barely get the words out. "What? What happened to Sam?"
"Sam's dead." He sat back, avoided Dean's eyes. "A lot of other hunters, too." Dean sat down, just dropped right on the dirt floor of the tent. Bobby must have realized he sounded kind of abrupt. "Sorry. It's strange to think you don't know any of this yet."
He looked around him, picked up a book off the floor. "A recently published copy of 'The War for Earth.' If you want all the grisly details, it's in there." He tossed the book to Dean. "We lost Sam in a fight they called Antietam II. Took place in the Civil War National Park there. Sam knew a bunch of demons were gathering, preparing for something big, so he took a small squad armed with consecrated weapons and attacked." He smiled faintly, with pride, Dean thought. "They waged a damn fine battle. Killed most of the demons before they were wiped out. That battle is credited with changing the tide of the whole war. Took out so many at once, they were discombobulated for a while. Gave some daylight for the rest of us to take out a lot more. It's mostly skirmishes now." He shook off his sadness after a long moment, glanced back up at Dean. "So, maybe that helps. To know Sam's at rest, finally."
Dean told himself to get a grip. This hasn't happened yet. But, Bobby was looking at him with a sort of detached calm. Like, Sam's dying had something to do with Dean. "I don't want him to be at fucking rest, Bobby."
Bobby sighs. "Can't you let him be, Dean? Even now? My God, the kid died still tryin' to prove himself to you. He went after that Demon hoard practically alone--" He stopped when he saw the look on Dean's face.
Sammy's dead? No, it's the future. It hasn't happened. Dean didn't say anything. He couldn't.
Bobby leans forward on the desk, slumps. "Sorry, Dean. I got no call blaming you. You were just trying to lead a way through this mess. It just, it still breaks my heart, if I've got one left to break…"
Dean was almost whispering his words. "Why does it break your heart? What happened with Sam?"
Bobby tapped the map a couple of times. Lined up the books. Fiddled. "You're from 2009, right? Lucifer is out already?" Dean nodded. "Woulda been handy if you came from before that." Dean just looked at him. "Well, if you're from right after Lucifer rose, you're probably livin' with the Sam that's guilty as hell and strung out, trying to kick the demon blood?"
Dean softly said, "Bingo."
"Well, he didn't change much from then to when he died. Oh, he kicked the demon blood pretty soon after. But, he wouldn't let himself off the hook for Lilith and Lucifer." Bobby's one eye lasered in on Dean. "And neither would you. He just kept trying to find ways to make up for the part he played in the whole thing. Kept trying to find ways to win back your trust. He didn't sleep much, didn't eat much, looked like hell for a 27 year-old kid. But, that one was stubborn. Wouldn't listen when I told him he wasn't the only one to blame. Just kept watching you, trying to do the right thing, hoping to have you look at him again 'like a brother instead of a curse,' was the way he put it." And then Bobby's eyes went hard. "And you never did."
"Never did what?"
"Never looked at the kid like a brother. You just told him what to do and he did it. Sent him here and there to go on jobs, but stayed back to coordinate the other hunters. He said you were avoiding him. I thought you were just so damn mad at what he'd done you wanted to punish him a while." Bobby got up, went to a cooler in the corner, took out a beer. Tossed one to Dean. Dean put it on the floor. Nothing was going down the constriction in his throat as he pictured everything Bobby was telling him. Bobby sat back down. "It was winter, early 2012. Lucifer had been out a couple of years. The demons were doing a good job of looking like fanatical terrorists, in whatever country they were running rampage through. Read the book. They didn't really seem to want to conquer governments, they just wanted to destroy life. Any life. Animals, plants, oceans. And, of course, humans."
Dean cleared his throat. None of this had happened yet, but it felt too real. "Did people fight, at least?"
Bobby nodded. "A lot fought. A lot did not a damn thing. Battles broke out with no warning, most of the time. But, Sam, he liked his research, and he figured out a way to track some of higher level demons. He said his 'demon radar' ought to be good for something. So, he kept tabs on where they went, we sent squads out to get them. Same old, right? Except that winter, we discovered something big was being planned. Castiel got wind of a plan to level Washington, DC, take the government and the military out at the same time. Sam tracked them to Antietam. You should know, Dean, Sam was a hell of a strategist. He killed a lot of demons, saved a lot of lives. But, the weight of what he'd done to bring Lucifer out, it never left him.
Anyway, Antietam. We were spread pretty thin by then, but he had that look, 'I'm going and you can't stop me.' So, you sent him with 10 or so hunters, just about all we had at our disposal at the time. He said he would get them all, prove to you that you were right to trust him, or something to that effect. And you looked at him…well, it wasn't a warm, fuzzy moment, and you said, 'do it right, for once. Don't come back 'til they're all dead.' And he left. The battle was the next day. Sam got carved up pretty good, but kept fighting. Took three days before he went down. He'd figured out a way to trap the demons once they left the hosts, and then he could kill them in their natural form. 2,313 of them, it turned out." Bobby held up a hand. "He knew how you felt about the mind-mojo thing and refused to use it. Instead, he'd found some ancient ritual in a lost gospel or something. Anyway, he stayed alive as long as he could, took out as many as he could. We found him a couple days after the whole thing was over. Gave him a proper Winchester send off." His eye lost focus for a long moment, like he was seeing it all again. He glanced back up at Dean. "Anyway, that's the story, pretty much."
Dean couldn't speak. Bobby's coldness made sense. Do it right, for once? Don't come back til they're all dead? What the fuck? Sammy dead on a battle field for 'a couple of days?'
Dean didn't even look at Bobby. He just stood up, walked outside. Bobby didn't follow. Dean was trying to breathe through the shame and horror pulsing through him. The mist was thicker. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Tried to focus on what it was.
And saw Castiel going behind a large tree.
Dean stomped over to him, grabbed his arm to turn him around. "What the hell!?"
Cas turned around, gazed straight at Dean with his usual unnerving intensity. "Dean."
Dean calmed his breathing and tried to sound reasonable. "Is this really the future?"
"And I'm supposed to learn what, here, exactly?"
Castiel barely nodded his head. "There are things here you should understand."
"That I'm a son-of-a-bitch who got his brother killed? Or, you want me to make sure Palin doesn't become president?" Castiel tilted his chin and almost raised an eyebrow. A big reprimand from him.
"Dean, your part in aiding or stopping the apocalypse isn't what you're here to learn. This is not an order from on high. I don't get those anymore, remember?"
Dean nodded. "Yeah. Then, what am I here for?"
Castiel gazed at him and Dean could swear he saw disappointment in his eyes. "I felt it was important for you to see." And he was gone.
Man, I hate when he does that. And why can't he just freakin' tell a guy what 's going on? What's with all the guessing and innuendo? And why couldn't he send Sam on these little time-travel trips, instead of him?
Because Sam was dead. And Dean had apparently sent him to his death, with a cold-hearted quip and an inferiority complex. What the hell was up with that? Dean wouldn't do that. He wouldn't. "Here, Sammy, go up against a bunch of demons, don't take many hunters with you, and stay until the last one's dead." That wasn't him. That was Dad.
And then, he woke up.
Sam was coming in the door of their hotel with a bag from Burger King and two cokes. He saw Dean's eyes were open. "Get some rest?"
Dean just watched him. Could not stop staring.
Sam noticed. "What?"
Dean sat up, reached for his coke. "Nothing."
Sam nodded, like he hadn't expected a real answer. "I think we can get out to the old ranch where these demons are holing up. Take the car most of the way, walk in the rest. If we make the symbol out of stone, get them to cross into it, I think we can hold them all for long enough to exorcise 'em." He tossed the bag of food to Dean. "Ten minutes?"
Dean caught the bag, put it aside. "Sam."
Sam was looking over his notes, opening the book again. "Yeah?"
Sam looked up, nervous. "What? Did I miss something? I thought I'd covered everything. But, I'll look at it again."
Dean sighed. "No, Sam, you didn't miss anything. Put that down."
Sam, clearly confused, waited for Dean to explain.
Dean just looked at him. Pictured the things Bobby had told him. Sam was a hero of the resistance. He'd fought for two years, saved hundreds of people and killed hundreds of demons, and finally been eviscerated by a demon hoard for three days. And Dean couldn't let go of punishing him for being tricked into letting Lucifer out in the first place. Like Sam wouldn't change that if he could. Dean was channeling dad. Sam had screwed up the mission, and now Dean had shut him out. It was the mantra dad had made him swallow his whole life.
But, how could Dean change anything? He couldn't undo Lucifer rising. He couldn't undo the fact that Sam drank demon blood and chose the dark side. The only thing he could change was today, and, hope to God, tomorrow. "Sam, sit down."
Now Sam looked scared. He covered it up, but Dean had seen it flash through his eyes. Man, how did we get here? And for the first time since this mess with the demon blood and demon deals had started, he asked himself what he wanted? Forget the angels and the demons and dad and Chuck and everything else. What did Dean want?
He wanted his little brother back.
He couldn't change anything that had gone down in the past few years, couldn't change the demon deal, leaving Sam alone so the demons could get their hooks into him. Couldn't change that Sam chose to use his powers. Hell, couldn't change that mom had made a deal to save dad and set Sammy up for a baptism of demon blood in the first place. Certainly couldn't change that Lucifer had risen, and he and Sam had both broken a seal to make it happen. So, yeah, that was all a done deal.
But this? This distance with Sam, the guilty, wounded look that Sam wore like an old t-shirt 24/7? Maybe he could change that. He had deliberately not thought about Sam as his little brother while all of this stuff had gone down. He couldn't. It was too painful. It was too hard to remember that sweet kid who had followed him around, had tried to please and fit in, who just wanted to be safe. And reconcile all that with the kid who had lied to him, snuck around with demons and not listened to a word he'd said. But they were the same person. Sam had just gotten lost in his loneliness and misery, still trying to do the right thing, just not knowing how it would all go to hell in the end.
Dean shrugged. "I don't know what to do to fix this." And he felt Sam stiffen next to him. Dean let out a sigh.
Sam shifted. "You want me to go?"
Dean looked at him then. "What?"
"It's too much, huh? Being around me after everything I've done? You want me to, um." And Dean could see Sam fighting his emotions. Sam cleared his throat, sat up straighter. "I should just get my stuff?" He voiced it as a question, even as he shifted to stand up.
Dean grabbed his arm, pulled him back down. "No, asshat. I don't want you to go. Jesus. I want to let go of this whole Lilith thing and just put it to rest."
Sam slumped in on himself. "I don't see how we can do that. I can't undo it, Dean."
"Yeah, Sam, I got that. Neither one of us can undo a damn thing. But, for fuck's sake, are we gonna let this tear us up? Aren't you sick of it? You think I don't see how you tense up when I walk in a room? How you barely look me in the eye? I know I do the same. God, it's so high school, isn't it? We never talk about it or try to sort a damn thing out, we just avoid and deny in true Winchester fashion."
Sam turned and stared at him. They stared at each other for a long moment. Sam seemed to read that Dean really was being sincere. "Who are you and what have you done with my brother?"
And Dean was so relieved to hear the word 'brother' come out of Sam's mouth he almost busted out crying. He gave Sam a small smile instead. "Right here, Sam. Not goin' anywhere, you know?"
Sam watched him, and Dean could practically see him thinking, making up his mind about what Dean was saying. Finally, he smiled. Dean felt like he hadn't seen those dimples in years. Sam gave a short laugh. "So, I jump start the apocalypse, get addicted to demon blood and screw around with a demon, and you're willing to let that go? What's the price?"
"Price? What do you ---"
Sam held on to his smile. Put his hand on Dean's shoulder. "I have to do all your laundry for a year? Wash the car once a week for a decade? Buy you a laptop just for surfing porn? What?"
Dean was still kind of reveling in the hand on his shoulder and the smile Sam was directing at him. It took him a minute to catch up to the 'punishments' Sam was suggesting. It had always been their way, when Sam had done something to piss Dean off. The first thing he offered was laundry, because Dean had always hated doing laundry. The second was the car.
Dean huffed. "A year? Try a decade. And don't mix my whites and colors, bitch."
Sam watched him another long moment. Dean saw his smile wobble, and tears fill his eyes. He clamped his jaw and nodded. Then, he let his head drop to Dean's shoulder. Dean closed his eyes with relief. This wasn't so hard, after all. Being Sam's big brother was what had always come most naturally to him. He'd kind of forgotten for awhile. He let his hand move up Sam's back, then stroked his hair. He might have even pressed his lips to that mop of messy hair.
Sam sighed and Dean felt him grip the back of his t-shirt. Finally, quietly, he heard Sam say, "Thanks, Dean."
Dean answered just as quietly. "Yeah."
That night they came back to the hotel after exorcising the demons in short order. They were both tired, and got ready for bed with no real conversation. Just 'need some more ammo,' and 'alchohol and gauze running low,' as they tended to weapons and wounds. When they had both settled in bed, Sam sighed out a 'Night, Dean,' and fell into immediate sleep. Dean couldn't remember the last time Sam had gone to sleep before him. And Sam wasn't tossing and turning or groaning or anything. Just sleeping quietly. Dean was so relieved and, well, happy. Even in the midst of this coming shitstorm, he could lay there in a crappy motel in Bumfuck, Wyoming, and feel happy. Tonight, his brother had smirked at him, razzed him about his music twice in the car, and stood at his back when the demons attacked. What does it say about my life that that is what makes me happy? But, he didn't care. Right now, he felt hopeful for the first time in forever. They were going to find a way through this. Sam was not going to go down, ripped apart by demons on some Civil War battlefield. And no way was Bobby going to lose an eye. He made a mental note to give Bobby a heads up on the November 2010 demon attack.
He started to drift, actually enjoying the peace he'd found. And then he felt the bed dip. He opened his eyes to see Castiel perched at his feet. They just looked at each other. Dean nodded finally. "Thanks, Cas."
Castiel barely moved, but Dean could see he was satisfied that Dean had learned what Cas had wanted him to learn. Dean had to ask. "Will this change things?"
Castiel tilted his head. "It already has." He glanced at Sam. "He will be a great hero of the resistance. As will you."
Dean settled deeper into his pillow. "As long as we're both there."
Castiel waited until Dean was almost asleep. "Sam's a judge in 2019."
Dean smiled, "God save us."
Castiel paused. "I'll give you a glimpse."
And Dean was suddenly walking through the same cornfield from the nightmare or whatever he'd had before. Only it was daytime. The smell was less intense. The paths were lined with woodchips and the houses and tents looked better kept. He was headed for a large building made of notched logs and surrounded by kiosks of vendors passing out vegetables and shoes, books and coats. It felt more like a town than a hastily put-together refugee camp. Dean walked up the log steps of the building just as two women came out. "Court is running long, but that shouldn't delay the celebration." They walked off, Dean holding the door for them. He didn't know what celebration they were talking about, but at least they still knew what one was. Inside, it was one big room, set up as a traditional court room, with a little fence to keep the lawyers and their clients separated from the public. At the front of the room was a table.
Sam sat at the table in a black t-shirt and jeans. He was reading through some papers, and nodding as someone at one of tables droned on about community rights superceding that of the individual. Dean wasn't really listening.
He was riveted on Sam. He was older, with streaks of gray in his still too-long dark hair. He had lines in his forehead. And when he looked up to say something to the people before him, Dean saw a wicked looking scar that stretched from his jaw, down his neck and into his t-shirt. He looked thin, but okay. He spoke quietly, but with authority. "Jake, you know you can't shoot weapons in town. Period. We all agreed. You owe Margaret for the chicken you shot. You will get your tools and show up to her house every day for two weeks. Margaret, any work he does for you has to be done from 8 – 6 with a break for lunch. That's it. Go home and bring something to the celebration." He banged a hammer onto a little metal plate, winced when it rang out loudly. "Somebody bring me a friggin' wooden hammer tomorrow." He looked up, saw Dean standing against the wall. He smiled and nodded at him, then seemed to notice something different about him. Sam raised an eyebrow, Everything okay?
Dean nodded to him, couldn't help the big, goofy smile he must be wearing. Sam's smile grew wider as he shook his head at him, nodded to the door. I'll be out in a minute. Dean walked outside, still smiling like an idiot.