This time travel crap was getting old. Dean, Sam and Castiel entered a barn supposedly full of demon foot soldiers. Seconds later they exited the deserted outbuilding to find themselves on a different street in a different town. The barn was gone, replaced with a general store. The year was painted on the battered front of the store – 2016. There was snow on the ground.
Dean groaned inwardly. If what he'd found out from Cas during the overlap was true, the end had come two years before. Sam had said yes to the devil, this world was the result of that. Worse, by this point he and Cas were supposedly lovers. Dean cast a sidelong glance at the stoic, overcoat shrouded angel. He didn't see that piece of information going down well.
They had little choice but to locate themselves and wait it out. No telling when they'd pop back to their own time.
The apartment was above a gas station. They found it quickly enough, everyone in the neighbourhood, shrunken and desolate as it was, seemed to know the Winchesters. So this was the world after Michael finally beat back Lucifer. Broken and desperate but with its hope restored. Dean was almost happy about that. He and Sam would eventually get back to what they did best – saving people, hunting things.
Dean banged on the door and waited. Sam opened it. He looked older, his hair was longer and his face thinner. But it was Sam. The look he gave the three time travellers was priceless.
"What...?" He realised something "Oh God, I forgot. Dean!" he yelled back into the apartment "It's us, that overlap thing, remember?" Inside there was some scuffling, murmured voices. A woman came to the door behind Sam. Tall with red hair and wearing a shirt Dean recognised as his own over jeans and boots. Ruby's knife was stuck through the waistband.
"This time travel shit is getting old." She sighed "Well let 'em in. Suppose we should get the explaining over with."
"Dean?" Sam peered past his future self in astonishment.
"Yes, ok? God he only just stopped staring at me" she jerked a thumb at Future-Sam "Now I gotta deal with it again?"
Sam moved aside and let them in. The inside of the apartment was as dingy as the outside. A single room, no beds, just blankets on the floor. A space heater in the corner was draped in more jeans and plaid shirts. The kitchenette was messy, cluttered with packets and a few crusted pans.
A fully male Castiel was leaning against the wall. Dean blinked in surprise; the angel didn't so much as flinch. Future-Sam nodded at Castiel.
"Maybe you should find out when they're going back?" Castiel inclined his head gravely and left, through the door. Dean shook his head, this was too weird. Something nudged his hand, a bottle of warm beer.
"I know the feeling." The other Dean leant against the wall, one knee bent, gulping a second beer.
"So, D..." Sam cast an awkward glance at his future self. The other Sam shrugged and deferred to his brother.
"D's fine." She smiled briefly "That's where most people get confused."
"How did this happen?" Sam caught Dean's eye and knew his brother was going to kill him if he gave him crap for this.
"I died." D shifted her weight "Body got pretty ripped up, I came back but...uh...well, improvisations were made."
Dean couldn't quite manage a response to that.
The day passed slowly. Castiel took up a place by the door and didn't move. Sam talked aimlessly with himself but the shadow of the apocalypse he'd yet to live through cooled all but the most banal lines of inquiry. Dean couldn't take his eyes off himself. It was him, every motion, even the voice was the same but imperceptibly different. It was too creepy.
God knows how long they would've been stuck there had a call not come in via a passerby. Demons had been spotted out by a nearby lake. Leaving Future-Sam behind, supposedly to wait for the return of Castiel, really to curb awkward questions from Sam about Lucifer. They set out for the lake. The snow that had dusted the town on their arrival had thickened in the intervening time. The lake had a crust of ice on it.
There were four demons and eight dead towns people on the shore. Sometime in the fighting Sam got dragged away, towards the edge of the lake. With one of the demons dispatched and Castiel fighting the other, they seemed to be winning. Dean was about to go after his brother when the fourth demon grabbed him from behind. The guy was stronger than he was, pinning him to the ground and punching him twice in the face.
Dean had nearly reached the knife in his belt when the weight was thrown off of him. D tackled him to the ground and struck his nose hard with a fistful of iron-knuckles.
"Hey!" Dean struggled to his feet.
"Get Sam!" she yelled, hitting the demon again.
Dean took off for the water's edge. Sam was thrashing in the ice crusted shallows. The demon held him under, releasing him only to plunge him under again. Dean hit the demon running and they both struck the water at the same time. Icy needles that shot through his clothes, skin and body within seconds. At last he got the knife free from his belt and plunged it into the demons throat. Pulling Sam from the water they waded for the edge. Shivering uncontrollably they clambered into the truck. Castiel, unruffled after his encounter with the third demon looked at them with concern. D twisted round in the front seat.
"You boys ok?"
Dean was about to answer but fell unconscious before he could form one.
"This is bad"
Future-Sam wasn't in the apartment, the note on the table said he'd gone to help some people the next town over. Something in the woods there was reportedly skinning people.
D tugged Dean's soaking jacket off and threw it to one side. Working on his boots she looked up at Castiel and frowned with impatience.
"He's going to get hypothermia if you leave him." She waved at Sam's prone body, still lying by the door where they'd dragged it. Castiel remained motionless for a second, not awkward but considering. He knelt as gracefully as their current location allowed and started to undo Sam's coat. D finished stripping Dean, tossing a blanket over him without seeming bothered. Castiel reminded himself that D was Dean, so his nakedness didn't matter. Sam's however did. Castiel covered him with a comforter, leaving his underwear in place. Even angels had their limits.
D knelt by the tiny space heater and tried to turn it on, the switch came away and she cursed, jumping up and kicking it sharply.
"Fuck!" Castiel said nothing, waiting for his input to be required. D ran a hand over her face and squeezed her eyes shut.
"Ok" she held up a hand decisively, the cutting gesture he sees Dean using all the time. "You take Sammy, I'll" she quirks a familiar leer "do me."
Castiel just looks at her, blank but for a tiny frown.
"Body heat" D almost yells "They need heat. And no offence Cas but if I" she points at Dean "wake up to find you all snugly I'll brake your frickin neck. So this way's slightly less awkward." She starts to take off her shirt. Castiel follows her reasoning but feels he should somehow avert this.
"You want me to..."
She grins. Dean grins at him. Throws the shirt to the side and starts on her jeans.
"Tie off, angel boy."
It's a challenge, not a serious one. This is something he has to do. But it's the joke, the quirk of a smile on D's...Dean's face. That's what makes him do it. Lying against Sam's back is uncomfortable. No denying that. The floor is hard and the scenario itself is...disturbing. Across the dingy carpet he can see D, lying with her back to Dean. Behind them is the only working radiator. The room smells of burnt dust and the rubber underlay that barely cushions his hip. All this he notices in the first five minutes. The next eight hours pass with fewer observations.
Castiel does not wake up. He dosen't sleep. But he does think, and allows that to overtake the present. When he next connects with his surroundings it's morning. Sam has rolled away from him, coiled in the blanket and sweating lightly. He's fine. Castiel gets up and shrugs on his shirt and dress pants, left carelessly on the floor. Then he notices Dean.
Dean is curled tightly around D, they're both asleep. He doesn't feel jealous or anything approaching that. A mild interest flickers in his mind. That's enough to disturb him. Curiosity in this sense is not something he is prepared to entertain. Want is not something he's comfortable with. Need is altogether further off. But it's there, enough of a mental quirk to be of interest. Later he will probe this feeling as he did the first time he felt doubt.
Later he will try to understand.
D's eyes open and she smiles to see him awake and Sam ok. Then she notices the pressure of Dean's forehead on her shoulder, his arms around her. An unreadable expression passes over her face. An internal war.
"Uh...Cas? little help here."
He looks puzzled. Dean's arms shift and slide lower. D's eyes widen.
"Seriously, Dude. That hand gets any lower you are NOT going to like what happens." She nudges Dean experimentally, he groans and buries his face further against her shoulder. He mumbles something unintelligible. D is the only one that hears "Cas" muttered against her skin. It makes her shiver slightly, casting a glance at Castiel, tieless and jacketless. Frozen in contemplation.
"Cas" ground out with impatience. Familiar but off in a way that Castiel vaguely registers.
He crosses the room, wraps a hand around one of Dean's arms and slowly moves him away from D. She wriggles free and stands up, semi-naked, reaching for his trench coat absently, wrapping the beige fabric around herself. Dean settles back into sleep.
"There's no way this isn't going to be awkward." She sighs and suddenly seems to notice that she's appropriated his coat. It didn't seem strange before but now it does. Dean, even in another body, would never do that. It's simple truth.
She hastily strips it off and tries to hand it to him. She shakes it impatiently when he doesn't take it. She moves forward and presses it to him.
"Will you just, please..." She looks up at him.
For the entire time they've been here she has skilfully avoided eye contact. Dean does it all the time, avoiding questions, truths and even glances that he finds too painful. But that isn't why D has been avoiding his eyes. She just doesn't want him seeing hers, it's because they aren't brown. They're blue. They aren't Dean's.
She steps back, away from him and finds her own shirt on the floor. Castiel can't think of anything to say. She's lied to him, to Sam and Dean as well. But Castiel knows himself and the lie is in all probability a purposeful one. The Sam from this time must be in on it, he'd spot a fake Dean easily, but would support the fiction if it was a helpful one.
"Thank God." Her voice looses Dean's speech patterns and adopts a low drawl that he recognises as his own. "Being Dean was becoming...tiresome."
"Where's Dean?" He finally asks. Direct, voice dry from hours without use.
"Wouldn't I love to know that." She turns back to face him and offers a small smile. "Probably over the state line by now – he goes away a lot now, hunting." She takes a deep breath "He died. He's back" she amends hastily "But he died, after Sam said yes and Lucifer came." She sighs "The end of the world changed things, surprisingly."
"How did he die?"
"Demons." She copies his tone perfectly, raising an eyebrow. "I was with him the night Sam fell to Lucifer. After that it was just one battle after another. It couldn't last." A dark wave crosses her features.
"You brought him back." It's not a question. She doesn't treat it like one.
"You bring him back. Before Michael rises and the world gets handed back to us. You give up everything for Dean." She pauses "Again."
Castiel understands. Fully.
"To Crowley. For Dean's safe return to the world of the living...and for a new vessel." He frowns, she elaborates "You...adopt one for him, the night..." She shrugs "The night he needs it most. But it wouldn't last, Jimmy's the vessel, so you change it. You make it easier for Dean to come to you, once he returns."
Dean stirs on the floor.
"I didn't want to lie to you." She continues, wearily "Sam saw you outside, he panicked and he thought it would be better if..."
"If I were to remain ignorant." She nods.
"Dean already knows what's coming, to some extent." Castiel's eyes widen "But not all of it. You knowing...that's not something I wanted to happen."
His look requests elaboration.
"What I did for Dean. What we do it...it's the first spontaneous thing we've ever done. I didn't have to think, I just did it. Not because I had to, not because I reasoned it out but because I wanted to. I wanted that for you, you deserve that."
He cocks his head to one side. Assimilating this. There's silence.
After a while the brothers wake up and she resumes her act. Playing Dean with an eerie ease which both confuses and interests him. To be able to imitate someone so well, to fit so easily in their skin. It speaks volumes more than she could ever intend.
Castiel doesn't need to ask anymore questions. He's ancient and intelligent and he can fill in the blank spaces. The overlap at the motel is one such piece of filler. He understands.
He doesn't have to ask why he would do such a thing. Because he already knows.
He already would.