John felt a projectile smash into the back of his head, and he whirled, aiming his own at center mass on his attacker. The snowball broke and covered Sam's chest with white. Another snowball came whizzing towards him, and John ducked quickly, then raised his hands, shaking his head. "I'm too old for this," he said.
"Come on, Dad!" Sam exclaimed, wheedling.
"Yeah, Mr. Winchester!" cried one of Sam's friends. John hadn't caught his name. Joey or Jimmy or something.
"My old knees aren't up to you guys," John said, grinning.
Dean raised his eyebrows, as if worried that John needed help, and John shook his head, just walking off to sit down where he could watch the fun. They were using some of the alleys of Bobby's yard as cover and having a snowball war. Tiffany had shown up, ostensibly to look for a part for her Nova, but she'd brought another girl and two boys with her. The two boys were apparently friends with Sam, and the two girls were friends with Dean. Shocking, that last bit of intelligence.
Megan shrieked as Dean caught her a blow to the face with a snowball, but she gave as good as she got. Watching them made him feel warm inside, even though his butt was going slowly numb on the car seat he'd selected as a suitable perch.
A sound beside him made him start and he looked over to find that Castiel had appeared next to him on the bench seat. John glanced over at the kids, but no one seemed to have noticed anything. He turned back to Castiel. "You were supposed to come on Wednesday night."
Castiel shrugged. "It was not safe."
"But it is today?"
"Safer," Castiel said, "and necessary." A man of concise words, that angel, John mused. Castiel was gazing across at the snowball fight. "You wish to know why there is interest in your sons from so many quarters."
"You could say that," John said.
Castiel was briefly silent, then he sighed. "I have considered long, and sought revelation, to determine what I could and could not tell you. It has not been easy."
"What do you mean, what you can and can't tell me?" John demanded.
Castiel shrugged very slightly. "There are things no man should know about his future, John Winchester."
"What do you know about my future?"
Castiel shook his head. "I am telling this poorly. Let me begin with Dean's abduction."
"By all means."
"It was not supposed to happen," Castiel said.
John's eyes narrowed. "Zachariah said something like that, too. What's it supposed to mean? Of course it shouldn't have happened, but –"
"No, John, I mean it wasn't supposed to happen. The course of time changed at that moment, and we are none of us where we should be."
John shook his head. "Dean said something about time travel, and the demon raving about it. Is that what you're talking about?"
Castiel grimaced. "I am afraid that this altered time line is a result of actions I took in the year 2008." John blinked at him. A crazy angel was a fearsome prospect. "You see, in that year, I took Dean back in time, to 1973."
John's jaw dropped. "You did what?"
"My memories of the future are occasionally sketchy, but I remember that there were things that happened that he needed to bear witness to."
"What?" John asked, searching his mind for world events of import in 1973.
"The days leading up to the moment you first proposed to Mary Campbell, your death, and the deal she made to bring you back."
John froze. He could not have heard Castiel right. "What are you talking about? I didn't die. Mary's father attacked me, I was knocked out and –"
"That was not Mary's father," Castiel said.
John rolled his eyes. "I knew the man half my life, it was Samuel Campbell."
"It was Samuel Campbell's body, but it was not Samuel Campbell," Castiel said with finality. John was silenced by his certainty. "It was Azazel."
John stared at him in stunned horror. "Azazel?"
Castiel nodded once. "He killed both of her parents and then you, then offered her a deal to bring you back."
John shook his head. It matched what had happened – and Mary's subsequent reactions – better than the facts he'd believed all along had. "What did she trade away?" he asked, a dire realization surfacing in his mind. "She died ten years later, in terrible pain –" His voice broke off at the thought that she might have gone to Hell, a place he couldn't envision as anything but the fire and brimstone of his early church teachings.
Castiel shook his head. "She did not sell her soul to him," he said. "That she died was merely a coincidence."
"But then . . ." A dreadful thought occurred to him. He'd been in the nursery. "Sammy?" he breathed, horrorstruck. Mary couldn't have . . . how could she . . .
Castiel held up a hand. "She did not know that she was offering her child to him. He simply asked for permission to make a visit in ten years' time. Many others were offered the same deal, for various reasons, and all but a very few agreed."
"But what did he do to Sammy?" John asked. "Did Mary stop him?"
"No, she did not," Castiel said. "And I do not know exactly what was done to Sam. I knew . . . I will know in the future, but . . ."
"Cut the crap!" John growled. "You either know or you don't."
"It's not that simple, John. I wish it were."
"So what you're telling me is that when Azazel kidnapped Dean, he changed history. What happened in the real version?"
"Dean and Sam stayed with you until Sam went away to college at eighteen," Castiel said.
John felt a burning sensation in his eyes and blinked back tears. The angel was so sure of himself, so certain. "Is there any way to get that back? To prevent Dean from undergoing all the torture Azazel put him through?"
Castiel was briefly silent, and when he spoke he sounded regretful. "I do not know that you would want to."
"After the hell that demon put my son – my sons – through?" John exclaimed. "Of course I would."
"Hell the place is much worse than the metaphor your kind uses routinely," Castiel said quietly.
John opened his mouth to speak, but then what Castiel had said penetrated his mind. "Hell the place?" he repeated. "It's a real place?"
"It is, and the Dean of the other timeline went there."
John shook his head disbelievingly. "Dean is a good boy, I can't imagine –"
"He did not deserve to go there, John," Castiel said. "He made a deal."
"A deal? With a demon? Why would he do that?"
"To save Sam's life."
John looked up and stared across at his younger son. "Sam nearly died?"
"No," Castiel said. "Sam did die, and Dean brought him back." He shook his head. "This is all moot. Once Azazel's choice was made, this timeline diverged from the other. We are now on our own, moving forward from the past we know."
"Then why do you know what happened in the other one?" John asked. "This doesn't make sense."
"Time is not linear, precisely," Castiel said. "I . . ." He shrugged. "I do not altogether know why I remember the future. I believe, however, that others among the angels do as well."
"But . . . if Azazel was interested in Sammy, if he planned things so that he could visit him when he was born –"
"On his six-month birthday," Castiel put in.
"Okay, if his interest was in Sammy, why did he take Dean?"
"Because he met Dean in 1973," Castiel said. "There was a confrontation, and Dean told him that he was from the future, and that he was the one who killed him in that future time."
John blinked and slumped back, looking over at his elder son. At the moment he was dumping snow down Jeremy's back. "Dean kills him?"
"In that timeline, yes. In this timeline there is no way to tell."
Sammy ran across and rescued Jeremy, and the two younger boys ganged up on Dean with repeated snowball hits. "But what's the point?" he asked, shaking his head. "Why make all these deals? There has to have been a reason."
"There was," Castiel said, and then he paused long enough that John was contemplating giving him a smack to see if he was still awake. "He wishes to bring about the Apocalypse."
John gave Castiel a dubious look. "The Apocalypse? You mean the Apocalypse. Biblical?"
"Is there another?" Castiel asked. John couldn't make up his mind if he was serious or sarcastic. "The Apocalypse, John. Lucifer rising, the Four Horsemen, fire, death, destruction."
John's gaze strayed over to his boys again. "What do my sons have to do with the Apocalypse?" he demanded.
Tilting his head in an almost apologetic manner, Castiel said, "In the other timeline, they begin it."
Anger surged through him and he rose sharply to his feet. "That's impossible!"
"Be seated, John, or they will notice us," Castiel said, his eyes darting towards the snowball fight.
John glanced over at the children and subsided into his seat. "My boys would never –"
"They did not know they were doing it, either of them," Castiel replied, and John blinked. "And in many ways they are very different people in this timeline. In others they are much the same." The angel paused, gazing solemnly at the snowball fight. "You and I, John, we must work together to avert the end of days."
John pressed his palm to his forehead. Of all the things he might have expected Castiel to say, this would not have made the list. "What about the other angels? What does Zachariah want out of this?"
Castiel closed his eyes. "He wants to let the Apocalypse start because he believes that our side will win."
"He what?" John exclaimed.
"I am still trying to make sense of the memories I've kept."
"After six years?"
Castiel made a rueful face. "Occasionally it takes current events to cause some of my memories make sense."
"So, what do we do?"
"First of all, Dean and Sam must stay together. They need each other."
"I don't think that's a problem," John said. "You couldn't pry those boys apart with a crow bar."
"Second, no matter what happens, you must not sell your soul to Hell."
"What?" John exclaimed. "Why the hell would I do that?"
Castiel shook his head. "The point is, if one of the boys dies, you must let him go," he said. "Believe me, the alternatives are much worse."
John stared down at his hands, devastated by that entire idea. "How do I –"
"It takes both of them to start the Apocalypse, John."
"Why are my sons the only ones who can start the Apocalypse?"
"Because they are vessels," Castiel said.
"Vessels? What does that mean?"
Castiel gestured at himself. "This is a vessel," he said. "A man named Jimmy."
"You're possessing some poor bastard?" John asked incredulously.
"He is devout and he prayed for this. It is necessary for an angel to gain permission before he can possess a vessel."
"So why does it matter that Sam and Dean are vessels? What's the issue?"
"They are both capable of hosting extremely powerful angels, and the Apocalypse comes down to a fight between Lucifer and Michael."
"You're saying two angels have to go mano a mano, and they need my son's bodies to do it?" Castiel gave a slight shrug. "Like hell."
"How do we stop it?"
"We kill as many of these evil sons of bitches as we can." Castiel replied. "For that, we'll need the Colt."
John snorted. "Well, that's great, where is the magical demon-killing gun?"
"I do not know."
A notion occurred to John, and he grinned. "I've got an idea of a way to find it, but it will involve me hitting the road." He grimaced. "You'll have to stay here, I suppose. You need to watch the boys."
"For the time being, unless I can find another angel that I can trust."
John nodded. "Well, then, we've got a plan." He looked out at the kids, who were now building a snowman as a team. "And I can trust that you've got their backs."
"You can," Castiel said. He, too, turned to watch the fun. "You know, they never had anything like this in the other timeline."
"A home," Castiel said. "Friends."
"Well, my sons will always have that now." He watched again for a moment, then turned back towards Castiel, but he was gone. John shook his head, rose, and crossed to the snowman. His knees could stand that.
Dear Readers, thank you so much for reading Left Turn of Fate, Book 1 of Highways and Byways. Thank you to everyone who read, but thanks especially to everyone who reviewed. I loved writing this novel, so it means a lot to me to hear how much you enjoyed reading it, and knowing which bits stuck out is particularly nice. Obviously, I love Sam and Dean, so it was a joy to be able to play their brotherhood in a different light.
Still a work in progress: Warning! Bumpy Road Ahead, Book 2 of Highways and Byways, sequel to Left Turn of Fate. Wherein we witness Dean's first birthday party since he turned four, and we discover a hidden danger of Dean's past. Also, wherein Dean Hunter's identity as Dean Winchester is revealed to his teachers and classmates, i.e. everybody finds out that he is the kid who was kidnapped by a psycho. Nothing can go wrong there, right? More Trish, more angels, and the FBI takes an interest. This won't be posted for a while, but it is coming.
Starting Next Week - Quick Preview
Azazel's Plan B, Book 1: Family
Sam balanced two bags of groceries in one arm, a gallon of milk dangling from those fingers, and snaked his key out of his front pocket. After wrangling the door open, he stepped through and kicked it shut behind him, figuring he'd lock it in a minute. He walked across the old rag rug that Jessica had brought from home and went into the kitchen to deposit the grocery bags on the counter. He opened the fridge and put the milk inside, then started rifling through the bags to find the meat and veggies and other things that needed to be refrigerated.
He had to have everything perfect tonight. In his sock drawer a small box awaited the right moment, and he thought the time had come. Nervously contemplating his plans for the evening, he initially took his unease for bachelor jitters, but then he heard a noise coming from the living room.
Dropping into a crouch, he reached up and slipped a knife soundlessly from the wood block, then crept towards the kitchen door. He could hear loud footsteps, almost as if the intruder was announcing himself. "Who's there?" he asked, reaching into his pocket with his free hand and pulling out his cell phone. Silently flipping it open, he dialed three digits and hovered his thumb over the Send button.
"Sam?" The familiar voice brought all of Sam's buried rage to the forefront again. He snapped the phone shut, dropped the knife to his side and stepped around the wall that separated the kitchen from the living room. "What the hell are you doing here?" he demanded, glaring at his father. Dad looked good, not nearly as old as he actually was, and all the anger and rage Sam had felt during their last confrontation came back in a rush, making it hard for him to keep his composure. He locked it down and gazed coldly at his father.
"Nice to see you, too, Sammy," John said, his eyes taking everything in, from the phone to the knife and Sam's casual attire. "Calling the cops, huh? What if I'd been something they couldn't handle?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "It's Sam, and strangely enough, I haven't seen anything supernatural since I left. Why are you here?" Shoving the phone in his pocket, he crossed his arms, careful of the knife.
"We have to talk," John replied.
"What happened to 'if you leave, you'd better stay gone'?" Sam asked bitterly. His father didn't immediately respond. Shaking his head, Sam went back into the kitchen, put the knife away and returned to his groceries. "Look, Dad, I've got things to do. We haven't spoken in three years, why change the pattern now?"
"This is important," John said.
"Right." Sam snorted. "It's important to you, therefore it must be the most earth shattering news of the century. I'm busy, Dad. Having my father show up out of the blue and break into my apartment was not in my plans for today."
"I wanted to talk to you about that," John said, and Sam looked at him dubiously. "That lock is a joke. You can't trust your safety to something that chintzy."
"It came with the apartment," Sam replied shortly.
"Then you should have replaced it."
"Whatever. Is that the important thing you had to talk to me about? Because if so, I've got –"
His father spoke abruptly, breaking into Sam's rant. "Dean is missing."
Three words, simple, direct, and Sam felt them like a punch in the gut.
I will start posting this 6 days from today. I hope you will enjoy it as much as Left Turn of Fate. I will post something to alert folks when I have Bumpy Road ready.