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From: jessmoore1984@hotmail.com

To: jamesandsandramoore@hotmail.com

Hi Mom,

I'm doing well! London is a lot like I expected – it rains a lot – but Sam and I are having a great time. Taking the offer to study here was the right choice, I'm just really sorry it means I can't come home for Christmas. I want to, so badly. I miss you. Tell Dad and Grandma I love them.

I'm mailing some presents to friends at Stanford anyway so I'm saving postage by sending yours to them too and they'll forward them to you. No London souvenirs, but I think you'll like them.

Love you lots. I miss you so much.

Merry Christmas.

Love,
Jess

Nestled in a blanket on her side of the bed, Jess looked around the walls of the bunker, breathed in deep, shoved everything down, and hit Send.

 

Three days later, pulled over on the side of the I-29 just outside Sioux Falls, John slapped a hand on the wheel of his truck and decided, "Caleb."

Caleb's place was three hours away. Jim was closer, but Christmas at Jim's was always too full of God for John's liking. Caleb took it easy; a few beers, some store-bought eggnog and whatever game was being rerun on the only channels not playing It's a Wonderful Life. Caleb would be glad of the company and wouldn't ask questions. He was a good guy like that.

Right, John nodded. He was going to Caleb's. All he had to do was wait for Dean to call to say they were safe at Bobby's and that, as expected, he wasn't invited.

The kids thought he would be, of course; even Sam wouldn't have gone off to have Christmas without him, but then, Sam had been clingy ever since future Dean had let slip that he'd kicked it less than a year from now.

Jessica had blatantly rolled her eyes when John insisted he'd wait for an okay from Bobby before setting foot in his town. He really didn't feel like being shot today. Why future Dean thought it'd be fine, he didn't know, but both Deans were being stupidly bullheaded about trying to make everyone get along. As if they didn't have more important things to do.

Like finding the yellow-eyed demon. Future Dean kept saying he didn't know where the thing was right now, only where it would be later this year, and that they didn't have the means to kill it yet. John mostly believed him, but he sure as hell didn't believe in not trying to track the thing anyway.

(Castiel had taken one look at John's room, at the maps and newspaper cuttings taped up and strung together, and told him he would never find the demon by following its side effects. John had shut the door in his face.)

He sighed and tapped the steering wheel. The kids should've been there by now. Maybe Bobby was being more surly than usual.

His phone rang: Dean's number. He picked it up. "What'd he say?"

Bobby replied, "That you're an ass."

John grimaced. "Then why are you talking to me?"

"To figure you how the hell the lot of you are talking again," said Bobby. The background noise behind him faded and there was a clunk of wood on wood; he'd gone outside. "Sam had plenty good reason to hate your guts and yet here he is, bringing home his girlfriend and asking me to give you another chance."

"They tell you the story?"

"Yeah. I'll believe it when I see it."

John sighed, tired of this. "Tell the kids I'll be at Caleb's," he said, restarting the engine. "I'll call when–"

"You're comin' here, idjit. Bring a ham. I ain't got enough for four, let alone seven."

John paused. The indicator ticked, waiting for him to pull out. "Why?"

On the other end, Bobby's voice got quiet. "Like I said, you lot are finally talking again," he said. "Those boys are happy. If you screw this up, I'll kill you."

 

"I'm Dr Palmer, this is Dr Piccolo," said Dean, walking up to the reception desk with Cas and flashing their latest fake IDs. "We were called in for a private consult. Can you direct us to the oncology ward?"

The receptionist checked their cards a little more thoroughly than most people tended to, but smiled when he was done and pointed them the right direction. Cas was still fiddling with his white coat. "I don't like this, Dean. If anyone sees me there could be talk of a miracle. It would draw too much attention."

"We'll be careful, Cas. Just act natural and keep walking," said Dean, picking up the pace until they were at a brisk walk that got most people stepping out of their way.

"What if they ask about my 'technique'?"

Dean snorted and tried to hide his laugh as a cough. "Cas..." he fought down a grin. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but you've got to stop watching Dr Sexy."

Cas frowned. "Season one is dull," he replied sulkily, "and season two isn't airing yet."

"I should've brought DVDs back with us," Dean grumbled. "And the season twelve cliffhanger? Man, it's going to be a long wait."

The hospital staff around them were nothing like those at Seattle Mercy Hospital, which was bad, because IDs got checked at every ward, but on the other hand, they weren't celebrating Christmas with mistletoe in every (every) doorway, and didn't spare a second glance for the two 'doctors' walking through.

The oncology ward had more decorations than the rest of the place: tinsel on the doors, plastic trees and lights in every room, and the nurses all wore Santa hats. A box on the reception desk was labelled "for gifts" and was nearly full; Dean stuffed a few bills in when no one was looking. There was a big playroom to their left where kids with IVs and nasal tubes and shaved heads were watching The Muppet Christmas Carol with their parents; Dean scanned the faces once and moved on to the private rooms.

Cas took the right side of the corridor, Dean the left, and they checked the clipboards beside the doors one by one until Dean said, "Here."

Cas listened for a second, then nodded and said, "They're both asleep."

They slipped in.

The room was dark except for the glow from under the door and a nightlight, just enough to see by. Two chairs were crammed up next to the bed, and a man was awkwardly curled up on them, snoring, holding the kid's hand. Dean couldn't understand much from the monitors, but the way Cas stiffened when he got near the kid – that he got. "You can cure him, right?" he whispered.

Cas stepped up to the bed and laid a palm on the kid's head; his hand was huge in comparison. "Yes," he said, "but not in a way they'll be able to explain."

And it'd draw attention, he didn't say. Maybe a lot. Maybe even from Hell.

"Do it."

Cas closed his eyes, one hand on the boy's head and one on his chest. The air changed, just a little; it felt charged, and the hairs on Dean's arms stood up. White light glowed under Cas's hand, but it was thin and hazy, like a cloud. Nothing broke. The monitors flickered. "Cas, you okay?"

A few long seconds later, Cas stepped away and the glow faded. He let out a heavy breath and nodded wearily. "We should leave. He'll wake very soon."

Dean cracked the door open and scanned the hall; a nurse was approaching, reading a chart, so he waited. She stepped into the room opposite and Dean checked again. "Coast's clear," he whispered, and they stepped out.

They were a few feet down the hall when Cas slowed, ears cocked and listening, and he slowly smiled. "The boy is talking," he said. "He's waking his father." Suddenly his face lit up. "He wants a Happy Meal."

Dean chuckled. "Not bad for a terminal case."

The door behind them flew open and the father stuck his head out the door, eyes bright and wet. "He's awake! Nurse? Nurse, he's awake! He's hungry! Can someone find my wife?"

Then he scrambled back in, and even Dean could hear him crying as he hugged his kid. The nurse he'd been talking to was alerting a doctor, and Dean and Cas had to pretend very hard to be concerned about something in their prop clipboard as the man hurried past.

"Owen! We're so glad to see you're awake. When... when did this happen?"

Then, at the end of the hall, the nurse stepped out of the ladies' room, looking back in and holding the door open, and Jody Mills ran out.

"Owen? Owen?"

She almost bowled them over as she rounded the corner to her son's room, long hair whipping into her face. Slowly walking past the doorway, they could only see the foot of Owen's bed, and that's where Jody stopped short, hands on her mouth, tears in her eyes, staring as her son said, loud and clear, "Mommy!"

Dean got something in his eye. Dust. Definitely dust.

 

If he'd had anyone to tell it to, Dean probably would've said he was looking forward to seeing Bobby's eyes bug out when he met his future self, and that he was hoping Dad would stay away because it was better than watching him and Bobby punch it out. He'd been ready to leave, honestly, and spend the next week wherever Dad was going; Sam and Jess had been the ones who'd been moping about not having much of a Christmas, and Bobby was getting on fine with them.

But somehow, it didn't happen. Dad turned up with enough ham to feed ten people and he and Bobby only glared across the threshold for about a minute before Dad was allowed in. They didn't talk much to each other, but when Bobby snapped that someone better let Rumsfeld in before the damn dog froze out there Dad was the one who stepped outside, and when Dad said he'd noticed a part of Bobby's west fence had been cut, probably by some kids, Bobby grunted and said he'd have to fix that tomorrow. Dean spent half the evening keeping an ear out in case they pushed each others' buttons (on purpose or not), but all he managed was to chop his finger instead of the green stuff Jess insisted on having with the potatoes. Both Dad and Bobby had lunged for the nearest towel.

When future Dean arrived with Castiel and all Bobby said was, "Huh. You boys bring cranberry sauce?", Dean was just plain disappointed.

"So you're an angel," Bobby said to Castiel, frowning. "You don't look like much."

Castiel smiled gently. "It's good to see you," he said.

That was... weird. Dean frowned, watching the over his shoulder as he diced the apples that would be pie for dessert. Bobby was mostly ignoring it, studying Castiel for tells, and beside them future Dean was watching Bobby with a soft, mushy look on his face. Shit, not Bobby too?

Well, that wasn't happening again. No way, not Bobby. He'd try talking the how of it out of future Dean later. For now he waved a kitchen knife at the guy. "You going to show off your mad cooking skills, old man?"

Future Dean snapped out of his mush and looked around. With a smirk, he stepped over to the counter and stole the knife. "Watch and learn, junior."

Asshole. But the pie turned out great.

Around eleven, while Dean was polishing off the last piece of pie (there had been a fight for it, let me tell you) and Bobby was gruffly directing everyone around with their dishes ("What do I look like, housekeeping?"), future Dean tapped him on the shoulder and gestured to the back door. "Got something for you."

Dean frowned around the crusty, flaky perfection that is pie, but his mouth was too full to ask what. Future him was being quiet about it too, glancing round and nodding to Castiel, and smoothly swiping a few folded sheets of paper from his buddy's hand.

The porch was freezing, but the light from inside was warm and all the windows were shut tight, keeping in the noise. For a second, Dean thought, but now Dad and Bobby are alone, but he shook it off. If it came down to it, Castiel could literally hold them apart.

Future Dean unfolded the paper and handed it over. It was a photocopy of a newspaper article on some medical conference in Wisconsin. Dean scanned the details, but nothing popped. He shrugged. "What is it?"

"The shtriga."

Dean's guts went cold. Future Dean looked sympathetic. "Yeah, same one," he nodded. "It's going by the name of Dr Hydecker, works at Dane County Memorial in Fitchburg. Sammy and I found it last time after it started feeding on kids again. We killed it, and the kids lived, but I, uh..." He glanced down. "I didn't want Sammy to know then, so I figured if I give it to you now, you can go kill it, and he'll never have to." He paused. "You'll need Dad, or me or Cas; can't do it alone," he said, quicker. "It wasn't easy last time. I don't know what Dad'll say – never had a chance to talk to him about it – but if you want, I've got the time." He shrugged.

And Dean – Dean just stared at the smiling face in the picture, "Hydecker" printed neatly on his nametag. Suddenly a fold appeared right through the face; his grip was wrinkling the paper. He looked up, trying to decide if he should ask (How'd you kill it without letting it feed? It definitely dies, right? What will it feel like? Does it feel good? Did it make the guilt stop? Does Dad ever forgive us?), but all the words died on his tongue. "This is your idea of a present?"

Other Dean snorted. "Yeah, it is," he said, grinning. "Pretty crap, huh?"

Dean shrugged, looking at the picture again. Hydecker. His throat got dry. "Thanks."

"Merry Christmas."

 

Maybe it was the eggnog half full of rum, but watching his younger self walk back inside, shoulders set and shoving the shtriga's picture in his pocket, Dean felt a fuzzy sort of warmth that... well, he couldn't remember the last time. But it felt good

"Man, you're soppy."

He turned. Bobby was standing further down the porch, at the corner that went round to the front door. He had a beer in each hand. Dean made himself shrug casually. "You heard all that?"

"Some," said Bobby, walking over and offering a bottle. "Your daddy never mentioned going after a shtriga."

"It was years ago. We lost it." He hesitated. "It was my fault."

"Ah."

Bobby leaned back on the rail and took a sip, and Dean did the same, shrugging his coat higher against the cold and trying very hard not to think about how much he'd missed this. Missed him.

"Your buddy Castiel said you just paid a visit to Sheriff Mills's son," Bobby said after a minute. "Saved him from lung cancer."

Dean nodded. "He would've died inside a week."

Bobby eyed him. "So you're literally going around saving everyone you can? You do know everyone has to die sometime, right?"

"Not everyone. I mean, I know, yeah–" He bit it off. Sighed. "There was a zombie thing, a few years from now. Her son got brought back and she had to kill him. She ended up becoming a hunter because of it. And a friend. I didn't want her to go through that again."

"Ah," said Bobby, tipping back his head for another sip. "Guess that explains all this."

"All what?"

Bobby swallowed and gestured to the windows and the movement inside. "This. You crashing my house for a Christmas party of all things, getting all your ducks in line to play happy families for Sam. You're trying to make everything go your way this time 'round."

Dean frowned, puzzled. "Wouldn't you?"

"Course I'd try," said Bobby, shrugging. "But have you ever heard that you can't fight fate?"

"Fate's a bitch," Dean replied. "An actual bitch. And she's not all-powerful. Angels are supposed to be agents of fate too, but they just get orders from other angels, and even archangels don't know everything. God's AWOL, by the way," he added, and looked to see if that would surprise him, but Bobby, being Bobby, just shrugged.

"Figured."

Dean nodded to himself. "If he cared enough to stop us he'd have stepped in by now. We're up against some heavy hitters, but not fate. Not destiny. Just guys with bigger sticks."

He was half talking to himself at that point, fuzzy rum and the comfortable presence of family all around him dropping his guard, so it took him a second to click when Bobby said, "There's way more going on than demons getting ambitious, isn't there?"

Dean blinked at him, squinting and thinking back to figure out where he'd said too much. Bobby snorted.

"Come on, Dean. Not one angel's set foot on Earth in millennia, but a dozen years from now you've got one glued to your side? I'm not stupid. Demons don't go to war; they've got nothing to fight for, and they're too selfish to die for a cause. So what's really happening?"

Dean looked away. There was... really nothing he could say that wouldn't mean saying everything. "We're taking care of it. Me and Cas."

"Uh huh. I know that look," said Bobby. "You're in deep shit."

"I've got a plan," Dean said sharply. "It's a good plan, it'll work. It just takes time."

"Right," Bobby said sceptically, pushing himself off the rail. "Well, when that all goes to hell, call."

He finished off his beer. Dean paused. "What?"

"You heard me. Whatever it is, I'm in. But," he jabbed a finger, "when you do call, it's all or nothing. I don't work in the dark, Dean, but I'm sure as hell not sitting this out. Not if whatever happened in your time went so bad that you had to come back here to fix it."

Something tightened in Dean's chest. "Bobby... you died last time."

He shrugged. "There are worse ways to go. I don't want to be protected if it means your neck on the line, you got that?"

The tightness crept up through Dean's throat, thick and warm, and burned in his eyes. He nodded sharply. "Yes, sir."