Sam felt old.
He was staring at a map spread over the kitchen table, which divided the country into 13 sections of more or less 3 states per section. Texas and California were split up into more than one piece. New England was condensed.
His tablet was propped up against some lore books. He had his email open and was trying to ignore two gentle reminders from Jo Harvelle that made him feel guilty and one less-than-gentle reminder from Clare Novak that made him feel annoyed.
The other map, the one in the window hidden under his email, was of just Sioux Falls. There was one yellow balloon on it. Blinking but stationary. He minimized his email, checked the map quickly, made sure that the blinking balloon hadn't moved, then hid it again by maximizing his email.
Recently, Jo had recruited some kind of biology genius into what she now called the "Hunter's Resource Association". Her name was Rita and she and Clare were working on creating a way to the use the bio scanners that were becoming common on cellphones to identify the more human-seeming types of monsters, like Djinn and Shifters.
The scanners, as Apple had created them, could record blood pressure and heart rate from touch, and pregnancy and STI's from scanning a light beam over urine. The scanning technology had been around for years and after some kid in Detroit had figured out a way of building the materials that created the beam out of dirt-cheap materials, they had started being mass produced. They were handing the scanner attachments out like condoms on college campuses these days.
Sam had one on his phone. He used it at the gym. Dean had accidently turned the touch analysis feature on when Cas had gotten a new phone a few months ago, only to have the thing wail at him about his high blood pressure. Cas had been on him about his heart ever since.
Jo's goal was to use the ubiquitous tech to identify things that only looked like people. Rita's job was to isolate some kind of biological indicator of demonic possession or a genetic identifier for shifters or djinns. Clare's job was to write an app that hunters could use, as well find ways to hack into bank accounts and then hide the intrusion in order to subsidize the already under-the-table research grant Jo had found a way to capitalize on.
Sam had been assigned the task of working out a plan to implement the tech into the field so that it could be trouble shot.
It felt like an honorary assignment. Jo ran everything, Clare made her ideas work and together the two of them recruited whatever talent lay outside of their own considerable knowledge bases. Sam and Castiel had become little more than dispatchers, and while their experience was respected, neither of them had been hunting in 20 years, and any request for their opinions based on field experience were understood as requests to get the opinion of someone who was actually still in the field.
Sam could still shoot. If he'd needed to, he would still hunt. In fact, there had been a ghost issue down in Mitchell a few months ago and he'd tried to get Dean to go hunt it with him. Sort of a guy's weekend.
He had fought like hell to keep his body in peak condition. He was the only guy on the block without a paunch, but he was losing ground year by year. His hair wasn't really salt and pepper, but those salt strands were making themselves known. The rock hard muscles of his twenties had developed what Chelsea had affectionately referred to as a "protective layer". This would have made him feel older, but Dean had developed a ring of fat around his middle that he could not work off.
Dean had instantly shut down Sam's ghost hunting weekend idea. He had a husband and a son, and he needed hobbies that didn't challenge his ability to go home to them in one piece.
Cas was oddly unchanged. His hair was grayer. The creases around his eyes just a little deeper, but he was still slimly built.
None of them were Hunters anymore. Dean was out altogether. Sam assigned cases that he or Jo found to the guys who were still out there. He and Cas researched here and there, when Hunters couldn't find answers in the database of lore that they'd built. Sometimes he and Cas would be bent over lore books while Dean helped the kids with their homework. He'd put in his time, and he was done.
Sam was an administrator, now. A stay-at-home-Dad for daughters who had gotten old enough to watch themselves. An assignment-giver for the people who actually saved the world.
And on any other day he would have been perfectly happy- hell, thrilled- with that fact.
He would have just cherry picked a few of his most active and most intelligent hunters, set up a rendezvous for the tech to be delivered and mandated that a report be made to him once they had results so that Rita, Jo, and Clare had experiments to troubleshoot with. He would have cautioned Jo, again, about her dedication to finding proof that the government knew about monsters in the hope that she could work out some kind of deal that let them maintain the autonomy that they'd always worked under, while still being able to obtain funding to really make everything that Jo had worked so hard on for years blossom.
But right now- he just felt guilty. And annoyed.
And old .
Jo, Clare, and their whole group of prodigies were grown women now. Jo was married with toddlers of her own. Clare had an equally brilliant live in girlfriend who maintained and updated the Lore library that Sam and Cas had created.
And just in case Sam hadn't gone gray enough- Sophie: his first born, his baby, his little girl- was refusing to be any of those things in favor of being stubbornly sixteen years old, and adamantly out on her first day with her first boyfriend.
Which is why he was secretly monitoring her location on the tablet.
In his defense: he hadn't turned on the GPS in her phone.
He had promised Chelsea that he wouldn't. He had promised Bobby that he wouldn't. He had promised Cas that he wouldn't. He had lectured Dean about trust after Dean had turned it on because he had overheard Sophie telling Cas about this boy she really liked a couple weeks ago. And then Sam had promised himself that he would turn it back off.
But he hadn't.
So, while Chelsea was in Minneapolis helping her parents pack up the house because they were downsizing to a place with fewer stairs and things to trip over, and the twins were sleeping over at a friends, Sam was technically making the world safer from monsters, but mostly keeping a strict on eye on his daughter's location against the time.
Right now, she was in the movie theater, exactly where, sweating slightly, her date Timothy had said they were going.
The movie they were going to end at nine. Sophie had negotiated her curfew to 10:30.
Sam's argument that a teenager could get into a lot of trouble in an hour and a half had been thrown out of the impromptu mother-daughter court that had been set up in his living room after eleven year old Lizzie's rebuttal of "Oh my god, Dad, you can't make her come straight home," had swayed the judge, who unsurprisingly, had turned out to be just Chelsea, not Chelsea and himself. In retrospect, he might have had more ground to stand on if he had not started his curfew negotiation at 8:00 on the dot and made himself seem unreasonable.
He retuned to his papers.
Karlsbad was better with tech than anyone else was, but he worked mainly on the east coast, which was almost entirely ghost hunts. Clare and Rita's newest invention was not ghost tech, but Karlsbad's know-how with computers still made him useful and Jo had mentioned that she wanted someone to get Rita some ectoplasm to experiment with.
He put Karlsbad on the list. He had five prototypes to assign and he'd told Jo that he would get the list to her yesterday.
There was a knock at the front door. Sam leaned over so he could see the front door. Dean was standing there, holding up a brown paper sack that clearly sheathed a liquor bottle. Sam went over to unlock the door and let Dean in.
"Hey," Dean greeted him. Sam took the bag from Dean and pulled the bottle out, unsurprised to see Jack Daniel's.
He scoffed. "Really? How old are we?"
"Old enough to see the first born ride off with some pimply, scrawny little fucker with god knows what going through his head, Sammy."
"Sophie," Sam sighed. "Sophie knows what's going through his head."
"Right." Dean pulled a very fake smile. "Still.'
"Don't you have your own kid to worry about?"
"It's different with a boy," Dean sighed. "Besides, she might not be mine, but there were a lot of years in there where I thought she was the closest I'd ever get to a kid of my own. And this is just the beginning. First Sophie and this boy. Then the twins and Matthew. Sophie goes off to college and gets up to god knows what. Then the rest of them do and we're all sitting around adjusting out dentures and learning to play bridge. This is the end of the era of innocence. Cas sent me over to commiserate with you."
Dean grabbed the bottle back from Sam and pushed him toward the living room while he went into the kitchen.
"Cas doesn't want to commiserate with us?"
"Cas thinks that we're being unreasonable and that Sophie is perfectly capable of making good decisions and taking care of herself. I think he really sent me over here because I was driving him nuts."
"You are a mother hen," Sam shrugged.
"It's been said."
Sam cast a look at his table, sighed, grabbed the tablet, brought the map window back to the front and settled into the couch. In the kitchen, glasses clinked.
"So, what's his name?" Dean asked.
"You meet him?"
"Yeah, he came to the door."
"Well. That's on the up-and-up," Dean said. "What did you think of him?"
"He was… polite. Shook my hand. Looked me in the eye. He called me Mr. Winchester."
Dean sucked in a breath through his teeth. "Ouch." He handed Sam a tumbler of whiskey.
"He brought her flowers," Sam sighed, remembering the tight clenched wad of tulips, dandelions and yard-violets that Timothy had nervously handed to Sophie on his arrival. "He seems like a decent kid."
"Still wanted to shoot him though, right?" Dean asked.
"Yep." It wasn't enlightened, or educated but it was true. Sam didn't need teenage boys anywhere near any of his daughters and he still had a lot of guns in the house.
"Apparently she told Cas all about him. Cas likes the sound of him."
"Well… Cas married you. That's not encouraging," Sam replied tonelessly.
Dean dropped into the big armchair, twisted the cap off his O'Doules and tossed it on the coffee table with a clatter. "You leave her GPS on?"
Sam sighed and dropped his head back onto the couch. "Yes."
Dean chuckled triumphantly. "Attaboy."
"I don't know how you managed to not just get a phone away from a teenager, but turn on a psychic one's GPS without her noticing."
"Distance. Timing. Cunning," Dean replied. "The rest of us have adapted."
Sam downed his whiskey and leaned forward to refill his glass. For reasons that he had theories about, but preferred not to dwell on, Sophie couldn't read his mind. She had gotten powerful. Scary powerful, really. Most psychics could read intentions, feelings, Sophie could pick out words and plans. More than once, when she was little, she'd gotten frustrated with her younger sisters or her young cousin being loud and fussy, and had simply reached out grabbed their arm and calmed them. Missouri had hypothesized that she might actually have the ability to control other people's emotions, but a lot of discussions about privacy and autonomy and free will had stopped her from, as far as any of them knew, fully experimenting with that part of her abilities. She'd never been able to do it to anyone older than her.
She had trouble reading Cas's mind, because he thought so much differently than the rest of them and she couldn't read his thoughts because they weren't really in English in the way that everyone else's were. But she could still pick up his mood, images, and his generally what he was thinking about.
She couldn't even get that from Sam. Maybe it was the demon blood. Maybe it was Ruby's tutelage all those years ago. Sam tried not to think about it. Sophie obviously found this fact frustrating, which was understandable: she had been able to see into people's minds her whole life. It was as normal a sense to her as hearing or sight was to the rest of her family. Sam was, essentially, invisible to her. Which had its pros and cons, like anything else. She liked to study with him because she couldn't just pick the answer out of her head like she could with Chelsea or Dean. But as she became a teenager Sam found himself at odds with his oldest daughter more and more.
Chelsea kept assuring him that this was perfectly normal.
Dean reached out and plucked the tablet off the counter. "Still at the theater, huh?"
"Yep, movies out at nine, she's due home at ten thirty."
"What the hell are they going to do until ten thirty?"
"That's what I said."
Dean kicked back a little further in his chair and took another gulp from his non-alcoholic beer. He pulled the conversation back around to Sam's assignment from Jo. Nodded politely while Sam explained the idea behind the scanners. Agreed with Sam that Jo's plan to try and get conditional government funding for her organization was balls-to-the-wall crazy. They talked about how badly Dean wanted to take Matthew and Cas on a road trip. He especially wanted to take Cas back to Yellowstone.
Nine o'clock ticked closer and closer. Their conversation petered out as they both watched the little yellow balloon that indicated where Sophie and Timothy were. It was 9:15 before it left the theater, slowly moving out toward what must have been Timothy's car.
From the there the balloon moved quickly to the corner of 5th and Waterside.
"There's a Dairy Queen there," Sam said. Dean nodded.
The dot stayed at the dairy queen until nearly 9:35, and Sam was just about to turn it off and declare that he may have just possibly been wrong to freak out so much about his daughter's date when the dot began to move again.
He and Dean both watched it. It climbed onto the hallway back toward the house.
"Uh-oh. They're coming back early," Sam said, his feelings of protectiveness shifting into a completely different gear. "Do you think something's wrong?
Dean shrugged and ran his thumb over his bottom lip. "The only times I ever brought a girl home before curfew she had either thrown up or was planning to play responsible so she could sneak out with me again later."
Sam did not find this comforting and trained his eyes back on the tablet. The dot turned off the highway that headed back to the house onto a back road and slowed down.
"Oh, shit," Dean hissed.
"What?" Sam demanded. "Where are they going?"
"Inspiration point," Den huffed. "He's taking her up to Inspiration point."
"The hell he is," Sam replied. "Get your keys."
Sam grabbed the tablet and Dean grabbed his keys. They piled into Dean's red 2025 Chevrolet Imbue. The Impala had been put into semi-retirement when it had hit 55 years old. Gas was too expensive and too hard to get. They only used it now for joy riding and teaching the kids about machines.
The Imbue was practically the only car that anyone made anymore that wasn't fully electric. It's engine made a contented but throatless purring noise. It was an automatic and full of safety features. Dean had made it very clear that he resented the thing for even existing, but a few years ago had also needed to admit that he couldn't run the Impala the way he did and expect the poor girl to live forever.
They were all the way to the turn off before Sam's over protectiveness and fatherly rage, egged on by Dean's mother hen concern, finally cooled enough for Sam to realize what they were really doing.
He couldn't crash his daughter's first date.
"Pull off here and kill the engine," He sighed. Dean did exactly that.
"Good thinking," Dean sighed. "Cause you can't turn off the stupid day-time running lights. It's not safe." He scowled at the dash. "Let's walk the rest of the way up." He opened the door, huffing at it when it beeped at him.
"Wait," Sam said. He was suddenly aware that his mouth tasted like whisky and he'd sped all the way across town as though this was a hunt back in the old days.
Sophie was bright. She was responsible. She was honest. He hated to admit it sometimes, but she was very mature and he trusted her judgment.
But he'd also been a teenage boy back in the day.
"We can't just storm up there and ruin her date. She'll never forgive us."
Dean leaned back as far as the ergonomic bucket seat allowed. "Okay. Yeah."
They sat in silence for a moment. "We drove all the way here," Dean started. "We might as well… check on her. Make sure she's alright."
Well. At least if Chelsea found out that they had run off like maniacs after doing everything they had promised her they wouldn't do, now he could blame Dean with a clear conscious.
They locked the doors behind them and climbed up a steep, brush covered hill in the dark. They'd made it about 10 feet before they both paused, realizing, but refusing to admit, that they were just too fucking old for this.
At least, from the roadside, the distance wasn't much of an obstacle. It took them about fifteen minutes to crest the hill, Dean panting louder and louder as they approached the end of the brush line.
"Damn," Dean managed, falling to his knees. "Cas was right about the gym."
"Shhh," Sam said, ducking down in the bushes.
'Inspiration Point' was a scrubby meadow over looking a quarry. It had fallen out of popularity amongst teenagers after a couple of truly gruesome corpses had turned up in the middle of it. Sam had pegged ghost activity and sent a team on a salt and burn a couple years ago. The place wasn't popular anymore, but kids were, according to the scandalized report of the PTA Moms that thought Sam and Cas were just ever so cute fore being the only PTA Dads, starting to risk going up there again.
Sam recognized the only car in the scrubby grass as Timothy's painstakingly mainted but still crumbling elderly Toyota.
"That's them," he told Dean.
"Can you see anything?" Dean asked.
"Not from this angle," Sam said. "Let's shift north about twenty feet, see if we can get a visual on the shadow."
"Right," Dean agreed. "Make sure we don't get close enough for her to pick me up." He waved a hand around his head. Sam knew what he meant.
They may not have been hunting in decades, but these were still instincts that had been ground into them from childhood and once they'd caught their breath they moved silently across the dark meadow until, by the sliver of moonlight and far off glow of city lights, they could make out Sophie and Timothy's shadows.
"They're sitting on the hood," Sam reported.
"Really?" Dean asked, incredulous. "He actually brought her out here to stargaze? How much time before she's supposed to be home?"
Sam checked his phone. "Twenty minutes? If he's gonna make a move he'd have to hurry."
Dean relaxed next to him. "Huh. Alright. Well. She can pick them then, I guess. We better head out before she catches us."
And that's when Sam saw the light across the meadow. "Wait." He grabbed Dean's arm and pointed. The light, a cellphone light down in the bushes on the other side of the clearing, blinked again.
Some fucking perv was crouching in the bushes and watching his daughter on her date.
And Sam sure as hell wasn't too old to put a stop to that. He felt Dean get into position next to him, tensed and ready to spring. He held up his hand and swung it down decisively. They both burst across the meadow. Sam's longer legs putt him out ahead. He heard Timothy cry out as he crossed in front of the city lights. The cell phone light he'd been trained onto lifted as the bastard stood up. Sam leapt forward and bore the guy down to the ground with a "whumph" that came from him as much as the guy he'd taken down with him. He felt Dean fall next to him, pinning the guy's legs down.
"I'm gonna work you over, pal!" Dean bellowed.
"Dean, Sam, get off of me," a familiar voice growled.
Suddenly, Sam realized the body under him wasn't struggling. Dean was already letting him go.
"Cas? What the hell are you doing here?"
Sam pulled back, he and Dean helped Cas to his feet and Sam finally took in the full tableau.
He and Dean were holding Cas up by the elbows. Timothy had pushed Sophie behind him. She was facing the three of them, a switch blade ready in her hand.
His hunter's instincts saw the blade lower. His father's instincts heard Sophie's sharp intake of breath and was ready for the ear splitting "Oh my god! Did you all follow me out here? Have you all been stalking me all night?"
"Hey-" Dean replied, pointing an accusing finger at her. "You're the one out here in the dark with your boyfriend."
"And an illegal knife," Sam added.
"You have a knife?" Timothy managed.
"Uncle Cas gave me this!" Sophie protested.
Sam and Dean turned to Cas, who set his knuckles to his hips. "Oh, sure, I'm the crazy one. She is up here in the dark with a boy we don't know. I taught her how to use it."
"Your uncle gave you a knife?" Timothy asked clearly having trouble with the concept.
"What are you even doing out here then, if you thought she could take care of herself?" Dean challenged.
Cas huffed and held up his phone, which he'd managed to maintain his grip on. "I was following you. I figured you'd do this so I turned on your GPS and guessed what must be happening when you lit up here. I was trying to prevent this. It's not the middle-ages anymore. Trust me on this. Girls can go out without their father's worrying about their honor."
"Where's Matthew?" Dean asked.
"He's eleven! He can be in his own locked house for half an hour," Cas answered.
Just as the three of them were ready to devolve into bicker, Sophie stepped out from behind Timothy and declared. "I'm calling Mom!"
"No!" All three of them cried out in answer. Sophie clicked the knife shut, stashed it in her pocket and stepped further forward into the clearing.
"Okay. Fine," She said, setting her hands on her hips in very much the same way that Cas had. "Mom never finds out about this, and my curfew is one AM."
Sam glanced at Dean and Cas, watching him with expressions torn between wary and amused.
Sam wanted to shut this right the hell down, but he'd raised bright resourceful daughters and he couldn't help but feel like Sophie was proving that point. She was up here with a guy who'd brought her flowers and apparently actually, innocently taken her stargazing, and now she was standing up to her entire family in an incredibly embarrassing moment for a teenage girl-and had realized she had enough leverage to cut a deal.
Besides- he had noticed that, when he had been afraid, Timothy had jumped in front of her. Even if Sophie was better equipped to deal with a threat, Sam could respect that protective urge.
"Eleven thirty, but only for three special occasions," Sam countered.
"Twelve thirty, eight special occasions, not including school dances."
"Midnight, five special occasions, dances negotiable on a case by case basis."
"Midnight, six special occasions, dances negotiable, no questions about prom."
"You can't even go to Prom until next year," Sam protested.
"Striking while the iron is hot," Sophie replied.
Sam sighed in defeat. "Midnight. Five special occasions. Dances negotiable. Prom dress under three hundred and fifty dollars."
"Deal," Sophie shook his hand, grinned and dug the switch blade back out of her pocket. She handed it to him.
Sam looked at Timothy for just a moment longer than necessary and folded Sophie's hand back over it the knife. "Keep it. I'll see you at home. Tonight is still 10:30."
"Good night, everyone," Sophie said pointedly.
A ragged chorus of "Night, sweet-heart" echoed back to her as three men who had once beat the Devil and stopped the Apocalypse trudged back to their cars after losing to a teenage girl.
It turned out that Cas had parked right behind them, and beaten them up the hill by jogging up the road instead of schlepping up through the bracken. Dean kissed Cas goodbye at the car and he and Sam piled back into the Imbue.
"So… the oldest child we were so worried about, picked a decent, respectful guy, and then handed all of our asses to us when we tried to protect her," Sam sighed.
"Pretty proud moment for us, huh?" Dean laughed.
"It really is," Sam replied.
And Dean drove.