JUNE 26, 1990

"I'll be back real soon," Dean promises, leaning against the door as he looks back at his little brother on the couch. "Just around the corner to get some more cereal at the store, and then I'll come right back."

"And then we can watch Tom and Jerry?"

With a smile, Dean says, "And then we can watch Tom and Jerry."

"I'll wait," Sammy promises back when Dean steps out. As the door closes, he can't help but notice the shimmering blue crevice carved into it.

OCTOBER 16, 2013

"Tears," Cas explains, leaning tiredly against the wall of the bunker. Since falling, he's always leaning- on chairs, on the Impala, on Dean. "Like rips."

"In time?" Dean asks for clarification, walking across the room to get a better look at Cas. Sam's sitting at the table munching on one of the burgers Dean made, still reveling in the feeling of being healthy after the figurative and literal hell the trials had put him through.

"Yes," says Cas. "After you killed Nao- Clotho, it seems the fabric of time has begun to fray, resulting in slips in the time stream-"

"English, Doc Brown." Cas had sounded almost upset reminding Dean about the Fate's death, but Dean wouldn't soon forget the look of relief Cas had held after he'd thrust the angel blade through the woman who had been controlling him.

"The glowing cracks we've been seeing everywhere- on the warehouse wall, in that graveyard," he elaborates, sounding impatient.

"In Baby's backseat," Dean offers.

"About that," says Cas. "I would- I'd really rather not sit back there. Until we sort this out." His voice gets small, like he's embarrassed to be frightened of something that seems so innocuous. Could be it was nothing worse than a rip in the leather, light reflecting through the window. "It's just, I get paranoid that I'm going to lose something, or drop something, and it'll fall through the crack."

Dean nods slowly, understanding, while his brother glances up from his sandwich. "So time is unraveling," Sam sums up.

"And we ganked the seamstress." Frustrated, Dean runs a hand through his hair. "Great." After a moment of looking around, as if a solution is going to drop from the sky, Dean announces, "I'm going on a beer run. Anyone wanna come?"

"I was planning to read up on the Three Fates," Sam says.

"I'll go." Cas still sounds quiet, but determined.

"Good," says Dean with a slight smile. "I'll let you sit in the front seat."

"And- can I borrow a coat?" Cas asks, glancing at the hook where one of Dean's jackets is hanging. "It's… it's chilly outside."

If anything, Dean's grin widens. "Sure," he says, grabbing a second army jacket off the back of a chair.

"Hey, Cas," Sam says from the table, "how come you never have your own coat?"

"Well," Cas says, though he sounds somewhat confused himself as he slides his arms into Dean's green jacket, "I suppose I didn't need one when I was an angel." They say their goodbyes to Sam and they step out the door.

JANUARY 24, 2014

Sam seizes on the floor, hands clamped over his forehead as Dean hovers above him, worried and not knowing what to do. "Sammy, hey," he says, the same words over and over again as he tries to steady a shoulder to hang onto, "Sammy, hey, it's me."

"We forgot her," he ekes out through clenched teeth as he shudders against the corner of his room, "Oh, God, Dean, we forgot her we forgot her."

"What are you talking about?" Dean says, frantic, wishing Cas would get the hell back here soon.

"She fell through the crack and we forgot her." Sam sounds scared, and furious.

"What crack?"

"The crack, the… the rip or whatever it is, she fell through and you forgot her and I forgot her and we shouldn't have."

"Sammy, we haven't seen one of those rips in months." While Sam shakes under his hand, Dean tries to find some sense in the situation but there is none.

"No, we did, we did but we forgot," he repeats his mantra. "We forgot, oh, God, we forgot, we forgot."

"Forgot who?" Dean says, gripping around Sam's shoulder, the back of his neck, trying to look him in the face. "Sam, who are you talking about?"

"Charlie."

And Sam keeps shivering and wincing and hanging onto his head like he can't believe what he's done, what they've both done, and Dean doesn't know how to help him, just keeps rubbing his shoulder trying to calm him. Under his breath, like he doesn't want to upset Sam more, he says, "Who's Charlie?"

MAY 1, 2014

"What's happening?" Dean calls out, stumbling to keep himself upright as he steps around the gravestones. As the streetlamps pop out, just fade and disappear, they're emitting sparks that have him seeing haloes.

"The end of the world," Cas says rather solemnly.

"What, again?" Sam says from his stance by the Impala. It should've been funny, but yes, again. It had started with the lights (appropriate, really). The lamps, the bulbs, and finally the stars had extinguished. All year, things had been falling through the cracks, vanishing from space and time. Not just things but people, memories. And it was almost over. It was all almost over.

"Okay," Dean says, more strength in his voice than he feels, because that's his job, to be strong. "Cas, why are we still here? If everyone's just disappearing, or… going out of existence, why are we still here?"

"I…" The former-angel looks lost, confused as always. "I'm not sure. Although maybe…" He sweeps toward the car, careful to avoid the widening crack in the backseat as he rummages through the trunk, coming out with an angel blade, and not just any blade but the blade that Dean had used to stab Naomi- well, the being whose name they'd thought had been Naomi, who had actually turned out to be Clotho the Fate Sister, a true identity which had eventually, now, caused them much more trouble than a simple angel ever could. "This. We were all there, at ground zero when the cracks started. When you stabbed Clotho with the sword. It's the center of all of this."

"So maybe," Sam says, the same light in his face that always accompanies the good ideas he gets, "we throw the sword back through the cracks, we set everything right, and time patches itself up again." Cas glances at Dean, who responds with only a shrug, as if to say, Might as well try.

And they do try, but it doesn't work. Sam climbs into the backseat to toss the blade through the tear in the seat, in time, but it repels, bounces back, even as time and space run out around them. The only lights in the sky now are the distant bluish tears, like runs in tights. No matter how hard Sam tries to force the blade through the rip, it won't go. Either he's not forceful enough or the crack is just too resistant, but it soon becomes clear that the plan isn't going to work, not this way.

When they're standing outside the car, wondering if the world really is just going to end this time, Dean points out, "It must be the right thing to do, though."

"What makes you so sure?" Castiel sounds skeptical.

"I mean, that's how it works every time, right?" he reasons. "If it fights back, it's because we're doing the right thing. We just have to try harder." He makes it sound like any old hunt.

"Hm," Sam says, looking out at the horizon. It almost looks like the sunrise, but he knows it's just time, everything that ever was, is, or will be vanishing before his eyes.

And then Dean says, "What we need is more force." And then Dean says, "Like 385 horsepower."

In the minutes that follow even as time erodes, Dean and Sam argue a lot and Cas looks pained and several fists are slammed against the Impala in irritation. Dean makes a lot of points about "I've got to do this" and "The damn world is more important than me and my car" and "Dammit, Sammy, I can do this."

"You can't," Sam says emphatically. "I won't let you."

Unbelievably, Dean's mouth quirks up at the corner. "You won't let me jump into a big empty void to save the world?" Sam glares at him, unable to argue this because he's right. "Because I kind of thought that was, like, the family business."

"Dean-"

"No, it's good," he says, setting a hand on the hood of the car. "I can do this. There are rips off in the field over there. As long as the blade's in the car, and I drive in- I can do it. Everything will go back to normal."

"Not you." Sam's voice is thick through accumulating tears, and Dean can't help but being a little surprised and, remarkably, glad that Sam's still even capable of crying after everything. "You won't even exist anymore."

"You're right." Dean swallows, a lump growing in his own throat while Cas stands between the two of them, an awkward buffer. "But that doesn't… I mean, without me, no apocalypse. No destiny, no plan. If there's no me to be Michael's vessel then you can't be Lucifer's vessel, so… so maybe Mom and Dad-"

"Don't say that." Sam looks a little like he might just lay down in that graveyard and die right now. "Don't."

"You could have them back."

"Not you," Sam says again.

Dean smiles again, wipes away a tear that's somehow wormed its way out of his left eye. "You'll have your parents back," he says, voice gravelly as he feels the pit sinking in his chest. "You won't need your big brother anymore."

After that, Sam doesn't say much to him while he readies the car. At one point, Cas leans towards Dean and tells him, "You taught me how to drive. I could do it. I could-"

"No, Cas," Dean says, voice firm the way he used to talk to Castiel a long time ago, like he was an enemy or a child. As Sam watches on the other side of the car, Dean pulls him into a close hug and says a lot in his ear, quiet. Sam can't hear it and now he'll never get a chance to ask.

"Well," says Dean awhile later, hand resting on the top of the Impala, angel blade tucked into his jacket. He's hugged Sam, said goodbye, a distant part of his mind painfully reminding him that Sam will wake up and remember none of this, nothing of him. "Guess I'm running out of time." With a sharp laugh that sounds harsh to his own ears, he climbs into the car and drives off, leaving Sam and Cas standing in the graveyard.

"You used to have a trench coat," Sam tells him, because he remembers, suddenly. Even when things get lost or forgotten, sometimes he remembers.

"Maybe I'll get it back," says Cas, sounding like there's so much more that he wants.

DECEMBER 2, 2011

Dean jolts awake on a bench in a hospital, breathing heavy. He can still feel the cool of the angel blade on the inside of his jacket, which shouldn't be right, but when he glances up he can see his brother from behind, standing in front of him. "Sammy?"

"…say we made it through when Dad died?" he hears his own voice saying from next to Sam. "We've been through enough." Dean remembers this conversation, remembers how he was exhausted and run-through, Dick Roman outside, Bobby dying in the next room.

"Sam," he says again, trying to get his attention, though it seems his past self and past Sam don't hear him. The younger Dean, the Dean who hasn't seen Bobby die and been to Purgatory, stalks off and Sam collapses into a chair. "Sammy," Dean tells him, looking at him. "I'm right here." Sam looks up, almost turning his head, and then begins steadily rubbing the scar on his left hand. With dread, Dean glances up and sees the shining outline of the tear in time above him, and he feels himself rewinding again.

MAY 13, 2010

Sam stands in another graveyard, but it isn't really Sam and the man watching from the edge of it isn't really Dean, just an echo of him going back through his own time stream. "Sammy!" he calls, and he could've been imagining it but he thinks Sam's body, even as it's possessed by Lucifer, stiffens. "Sammy, I know you're scared. But I've been here before and I know what happens. It's gonna be okay. I promise."

There's no way of knowing, but he's near sure, that Sam can hear him even as he fades into another day, another decade.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2005

In the woods, Sam curls in on himself, wishing he'd brought a better jacket from the car. The fire's dying down and Dean's off circling the perimeter while the others sleep. With tensions running high since Roy's death earlier that night, Sam's just trying to make sure no one else gets hurt, so he's keeping watch. (Not that he could sleep, anyway, with the nightmares.)

Dean comes up behind him, silently thanking that it's dark enough so Sam won't get a good look at him, because he knows he looks different than he did ten years ago, all the time on earth, in Purgatory, and in Hell layering on top of him. He's also thankful that Sam can see him at all, amazed but glad when Sam straightens up and turns to look at him.

"Dean, what're you doing here?" he says, a loud whisper in respect to those sleeping in the tent, probably having nightmares about the Wendigo. "Thought you were keeping watch."

Dean almost chokes at how young Sam sounds, how different he looks, scrawny and skinny and hair cut short. "I had to tell you something," he manages. "And you need to start trusting me, Sammy, now more than ever."

"You don't always tell me the truth."

Dean grins. "If I always told you the truth, I wouldn't need you to trust me."

"There's a crack," Sam says suddenly, glancing over Dean's shoulder. "On the tree there." Dean doesn't need to look to know he's right, because he's not gone yet. He's still going backward. "I've seen it before."

"Yeah," he sighs. "Listen, Sammy, I need you to remember. I need you to remember what I told you when you were a kid."

"What?" Sam asks, confused, but Dean's already disappearing back into the woods, back through the years, through a fire in a dorm room and too many salt-and-burns, roadside fights and rock and roll.

JUNE 26, 1990

The door is locked but Dean picks it easily enough, knowing in which room he'll find Sam. As he opens it, he recounts to himself that he remembers this night, the night he went to get food and ended up figuring out where the body of the spirit John was off hunting was buried, how he'd had to leave Sammy alone most of the night to go show Dad, help him.

Shutting the door, Dean sees the thinning crack against its surface. It'll be gone soon, he knows, and so will he. Sammy lays bunched up on the couch, looking like he drifted off trying to stay up waiting for Dean. Now, Dean leans down and scoops him up, carrying him just like always, depositing him on one of the motel beds.

He gets the comforters pulled up around sleeping Sammy and then he sinks into the bed opposite, sitting up hunched over, eyes on Sam's face, which looks for once at peace. It occurs to him, suddenly, that this is before Sam knew about the monsters.

"You know, I thought if you could hear me," Dean says quietly, "I could… could hang on somehow." Talking to Sam like this hurts, because he remembers a time when Sam wasn't asleep, but dead, as he sat here confessing his sins to the corpse of his brother. That isn't going to happen, he tells himself. I'm making it not happen. "When you wake up," he says, half a smile, "you'll have a mom and dad. And you won't even remember me." He'll deny for what little remains of his life that he shed a tear then. "Well," Dean amends, "you'll remember me a little. Like a song stuck in your head." Nodding to himself, he thinks about Sam living his life without him and feels his breath hitch. "I guess you'll never get to see the car though," he realizes, remembering how he'd convinced John to buy it, 1973. "Baby… you're never gonna see Baby. She was the best though." He smiles, really now. "Timeless, and… classic. Sleek black. And you crammed that army man into her ashtray…" Gently, he sets a hand on Sammy's hair. "You might dream about me, I don't know. I think you were starting to remember, back there, and well… you always had a way of dreaming up things you weren't supposed to know." He bends over to kiss his little brother on the forehead. "No nightmares, okay Sammy? Dream good dreams. Live your good life." He ruffles Sammy's hair, and he always did like it long, he thinks, standing up to face the now brilliant blue crack on the door.

No point in going further back in his life, he tells himself, because it's just more fires. If this is the last moment he exists, well, he tells himself, he's alright with that. Dean steps forward and fades into the door along with the rip, turning back once more just to say, "Goodnight, Sam."

MAY 1, 2014

"I've got a text," Cas says to Sam as they watch the Impala drive off into the distant field. After fumbling with his phone for a moment, he adds, "It's from Dean."

"What does it say?" Sam can't- or won't- take his eyes off the car.

It's ridiculous, but Sam can hear the smile in Castiel's voice when he replies, "'Son of a bitch.'"