There is a bible story of two brothers, Cain and Able. God favored Able. Cain killed him. God cursed Cain, and ordered him to wander the world alone. Which brother am I?
I don't know John Henry. Perhaps you're neither. Perhaps in this story, you are God.
THURSDAY, JUNE 24, 1999
Sam Winchester dreamed of thunder, standing in a cornfield under a heavy grey-green sky. The waist high stalks whipped roughly against his hands and jeans with each gust of wind. The fine hairs on his arms and neck stood away from his body in the charged air. Lightning cracked again hitting close enough that he could smell the ozone, followed hard on by thunder vibrating his breastbone.
Sam started to walk and then run towards the road in the distance, following the rows of damp green cornstalks. His newly-long legs eating up distance with a length of a stride he still wasn't used to. Shit! His foot twisted on the uneven ground between the rows sending him sprawling face first into the wet dirt.
Sam opened his eyes to find his face close to an ugly green and gold blur. He levered himself up on the motel bed and shook his head to clear it.
He remembered watching a late night movie, waiting for Dean to get back from his date with that waitress from the nearby diner. But the noise in their dingy motel room wasn't coming from the direction of the television, and a storm wind was actually swirling inside the room whipping curtains and stray fast-food wrappers in its wake.
A bolt of electricity shot from the corner of the room beyond the foot of his bed, hitting his bare toe.
He scrambled up the bed and crouched against the fake-wood headboard. His right foot was numb and his lower leg was wobbly and full of prickles.
More bolts hissed and snapped out from the same area of the room with increasing intensity. Sam ducked his head as one hit the wall he was leaning against. He shot glances longingly at the doors to the bathroom and the exit, but there were more of the bright blue bolts zipping in those directions. Always know your exits. Good advice if you can fucking get to them .
Just as he was readying to leap, numb foot and all, to the head of Dean's bed to try to make a break for the outside door, the lighting in the room changed. The flickering light from the television and the yellowish cone from the table lamp were gone, replaced with a brighter but inconsistent cooler shade. A large ball of azure light obscured his view of the room past the foot of his bed.
With a thunderclap, like a small sonic boom, it collapsed plunging the room into darkness. The bed tilted under Sam's body and he decided now was the time to move. He launched himself onto the second double bed and rolled over it, none too gracefully, landing on the floor on the far side. He swore again as his head clipped Dean's nightstand on the way down. Well, at least there was nothing between him and the exit now.
Rubbing the site of the pain, he raised his head slowly above the mattress. He knew some light should be coming through the cheap blinds, but he could see nothing past the spots on his vision. Crap. He could smell the acrid stench of scorched carpet and burnt wood. He also heard movement. Something was alive in the room with him.
He dove back down, bare chest pressed to scratchy carpet, and tried to quiet his breathing. In his experience, not knowing who or what was in the dark was a very bad thing.
The compulsion to see outweighed his instinct to stay hidden. Sam reached up and fumbled his hand across Dean's night stand until he found the lamp switch. He flinched as static charge snapped at his fingertips, then turned the knob and yellow light flooded his area of the room.
He ventured another look. Smoke was curling up from multiple locations. Either the smoke alarm in this cheap-ass motel never worked or it was one of the items missing in action. The table and chairs in the corner were gone, along with the main room lamp. His bed was canted on only three legs, a curved chunk missing from all layers. Adrenalin was already rushing through his veins making his heart thump double time, but now his stomach clenched again. His feet had been in that empty space only moments before.
Sam unfolded himself a little more in order to see over his bed to the floor beyond. In the center of the circle of destruction was a human-looking form. Damn, he's buck naked.
Nothing about the stranger screamed non-human. Pale skin, but not supernaturally so. Short, dark hair in a military-style cut. Average build. Short not-at-all-claw-like, thank you very much, nails. The eyes that met Sam's were just eyes, nothing freaky. He was an ordinary looking guy…who just happened to have transported sans clothes into their room.
The shaking man knelt on the patch of ruined carpet, a single wooden leg with a smoldering chunk of top attached—all that remained of the room's table—laying beside him. He pawed ineffectually at his mouth in uncoordinated swipes. His desperate eyes locked back onto Sam's briefly, but he still didn't speak. The stranger started coughing.
"Christo," Sam croaked but there was no obvious reaction. The young man seemed to be absorbed by his own problems. Sam tried again. "CHRISTO!" Nothing.
Sam dove for Dean's duffel, tearing through it until he found a small flask. He unscrewed the lid. He slid his right hand under Dean's pillow until it brushed against the hilt of a knife. Sam silently thanked the gods that Dean had only taken his date-night weapons with him, and had left his favorite knife behind.
Sam saw the stranger topple, coughs weakening. Cautiously he approached. Across one bare hip and curled leg he saw old bruises. A fresh angry burn, matching the trashed table top contrasted with his very pale skin. Must have hit him on the way down.
Just out of arms reach, Sam hurled the holy water, hitting the naked man on the neck and head. No reaction again. OK. Here we go now. He stepped over the now very still body, half expecting to be grabbed. The light from the bathroom revealed a surprise. Sam downgraded his estimate from man to boy. This kid was about his age…and he didn't appear to be breathing.
Sam moved the boy onto his back, damn his skin was cold , and checked his airway. Jammed in his throat was a metal object. Sam pried it out and slid the saliva-covered thing onto his front pocket. Come on. Come on! Sam didn't relish the thought of giving mouth to mouth to his naked stranger,and was relieved when he started to breathe on his own.
Sam jammed the table remnant under the box spring almost leveling what was left of his bed. Then he helped the other boy sit up against it, tucking the ruined bedspread around him. This close Sam could tell that it had been a few too many days since this guy had seen soap. He eased back and leaned against the damaged wall opposite.
"I'm Sam. What's your name?" he spoke softly and waited, thinking at first that the shivering boy didn't understand English.
"John." OK, Sam thought, first names it is. "What's the date?"
"It's Thursday, June 24." The boy continued to stare at Sam. "Uh…1999?" John closed his eyes in evident relief.
"Sam Winchester, I've got a story that's going to sound pretty crazy to you."
"Just try me."
THURSDAY, JUNE 24, 1999
Dean turned the key and pushed into their room. The one dimly lit lamp revealed the room was trashed. Paper crinkled under his feet and he could see some of the smaller furniture, which he suspected was older than him, overturned. Both beds were a mess.
His stomach clenched for a second until his eyes adjusted and he spotted Sam on the far side of the room. His brother, barefoot but dressed, had a second t-shirt slung over one shoulder and was jamming clothes haphazardly into his worn duffel. Dean heard the shower turn off in the bathroom.
"Holy crap, little brother! Did you have your own party while I was gone?" Dean wasn't sure if he should feel righteous anger or admiration. He thought he'd reserve judgment until he found out how much of his stuff was damaged.
The bathroom door opened spilling more light into the room, and a male figure stepped into the doorway. Although mostly back lit, Dean could see that this sure as hell wasn't their dad. The slim young man was shirtless and appeared to be wearing a familiar pair of faded thrift store sweatpants. After his most recent growth spurt these pants had Sam wading for water, but their father hadn't converted them to rags since they would still fit Dean. Not happening. It would be a dark day in hell before he wore his baby brother's hand-me-downs.
Instead of answering, Sam turned to the stranger and handed him the extra t-shirt.
Dean's grin faded. "Dude, seriously…Sammy, is there something you need to tell me?"
"Well, yeah," Sam started distractedly as he turned back to his brother. He stopped when he saw the stunned expression on Dean's face and Dean's gaze darting between himself and John's bare torso, then it clicked in his brain. "What?...No! For God's sake Dean, get your mind out of the gutter for just a second. Damn!"
John took in the exchange with the shirt clenched in his hand, and didn't break eye contact with the man who was now glaring at him. The heat from the shower was fading, but he didn't want the brief loss of vision and tangling of limbs that putting on the shirt would bring him. He just stood very still.
He'd met enough men like Dean in his life to be wary. Most people were dogs, occasionally vicious but mostly domesticated. However a few, like his mother and Derek, were wolves. Everyone in the future is a wolf. Or someone's prey. So he didn't let the young, handsome face fool him. He sensed this older brother was the more dangerous of the pair as he tracked Dean's inching towards the bag John guessed held the majority of their weapons.
"Right," Dean drawled, stretching out the word, "This guy just falls naked from center of a tornado, like some x-rated Dorthy, and desperately needs your skanky old clothes."
FRIDAY, JUNE 25, 1999
Shirt on and toweling holy water out of his face again, John sat on the edge of the damaged bed. As he finished his story for the second time that night, all he wanted to do was topple sideways onto the threadbare bedspread, but he didn't dare.
Sam continued to deal with what remained of their things shoving some haphazardly into bags and tossing the unsalvageable bits into the trash. Meanwhile, Dean leaned back against the far wall his arms crossed over his chest.
"So let me see if I've got this straight. You," pointing at John, "are the result of some time paradox thingy between your future dad and your teenage mom."
"And you're the future friggin' savior of mankind in a crappy-as-hell post-apocalyptic world full of killer-robots. Those killer-robots, lead by some hopped up computer program, keep coming back in time trying to knock you off," Dean ticked the points off on his fingers. "So you, I mean future you, counters by sending more not-so-killer-robots back to defend you. Am I with you so far?"
"Yeah," John fought a sigh. Man he sounded like a lunatic, didn't he.
"Then you jump a bunch of years from now to avoid getting killed by one of the bad guys, but they find you anyway. Another robot from some third team, to be named later, steals your pet robot's brain and jumps further into the future. You leave you own mother behind and follow mommy-robobitch to get back a piece of what is supposed to be your guard dog."
John's had been trying his best to look sincere and nonthreatening but at this his eyes narrowed. "Cameron's not my pet. She's family. I couldn't just let him keep her. You don't just give up on family."
Dean appraised him for long moment and pushed off the wall with a snort. "Well, that's the only thing you've said that makes sense. I'm gonna talk to my brother here for a minute, if you don't mind." He canted his head toward the door.
A shrug from Sam met John's questioning glance. John started for the door.
John turned as a pair of beat up sneaker's flew his way. He caught them by the tied together laces and exited the room, closing the door quietly behind him. On the stoop for the motel room, he pushed his bare feet into the cheap shoes and laced them as tight as he could. At least two sizes too big, he surmised. He'd worn worse in his life. Too big beats too small any day. Besides, it's hard to run away on bare feet.
He leaned back surveying his surroundings. It was a warm night in the almost deserted parking lot of a single story motel. They were about as far from the office as you could get, which may explain why no one noticed his arrival but Sam. In front of him, in the circle of the overhead light he couldd see an old but well maintained muscle car. He couldn't tell what model. He'd never been too interested in cars beyond their ability to get him somewhere fast. Twenty dollars says I know who you belong to, you shiny thing.
He felt exposed out here under the clear sky and scanned above and around out of habit. The only sounds of machines were the intermittent whoosh of cars on some nearby highway and the hum of outdoor lights. He forced himself to relax a little. Remember where and when you are, John.
Through the thin wooden door of the room he heard muffled voices. Both were loud and none too happy. He could tell Sam wanted to help him and might even believe him, which made him laugh. Even he wouldn't believe him if the roles were reversed. Dean, on the other hand, wasn't buying any of it. John wondered who would win.
For a moment he considered just taking off, saving the brothers that headache that usually came with helping out a Connor. The practical side of his mind ticked off the advantages of funds, wheels, and backup. And what the hell…I've got an invitation.
He stood up before the door fully opened. Dean, his face flushed, challenged him, "For some godforsaken reason, my brother thinks you're on the level. I think you're full of shit! Tell me one thing to prove me wrong!"
John nodded towards the Impala. "The first time your dad let you take that car out alone, you managed to get a scratch all the way down the passenger side. Instead of picking up the girl you were going on a date with, you spent the rest of the evening in the parking lot of Walmart using rubbing compound to erase the damage. You never told your father and you broke up with the girl at school the next day to help cover your tracks."
Dean's jaw dropped. Sam snorted a laugh and covered his mouth to hold back a second one when Dean whipped around to glare at him.
"What are you laughing at, princess?" To John, Dean sputtered hands flailing, "That doesn't prove shit. You could be one of those freaky psychics and, I don't know, pull that out of my head. Or maybe you touched the car and got vibes from it like them clari-whatsits."
"Do I look like I need your help, Snow White?"
Sam rolled his eyes but managed to stifle the reflex to reply in kind. He wanted Dean to come around to his side in this argument.
"If you want me to pick up and drive you around the country on some half-assed mission, then I'll need something more that just your word. Can you give me that?"
Dean's fine tuned cynicism was so like Sarah's. I think it won't help my case to tell the angry armed man that he reminds me of my mom. John thought for a minute and then asked, "Where are we exactly and what time is it?"
"It's around half past midnight. We're just outside Atlas, Kansas about 20 miles north of Topeka.
"If you're willing to travel now, I think I can give you that proof before the day is done."
"Well, we've got to bail from here before housekeeping comes around tomorrow, so it might as well be now. You've got until lunch tomorrow to convince me, or I'm leaving your scrawny ass at the nearest funny farm. Are we clear?"
FRIDAY, JUNE 25, 1999
"We can't tell him!"
"Why the fuck not?" Dean snapped. Both Sam's usual contrariness and his own lack of sleep, were leading to one mother of a headache. The last thing Dean wanted right now was to get in a bitchfest with his little brother while speeding down the I-80 West in the dark before sunrise. "He could help us."
"Yeah, right. Dad is about as flexible as an iron rod, and he's so willing to trust strangers." Dean's eyes flicked to the rear view mirror, where he could see John, head lolling back apparently asleep. Must be pretty damned tired to sleep through us taking a round out of each other.
"He's got his reasons. Why don't you ever cut him any slack? All the two of you do anymore is butt heads."
"Dean, this is not about dad and me. Stop being such a good little soldier for a minute and think it through!" Dean's hands tightened on the wheel so that he wouldn't reach out and smack the righteousness off his little brother's face. "This job is about saving the world, not a family or a town, the whole friggin' world."
"If it's real," Dean interrupted.
"Yes, if it's real. Think about what's at stake if you are wrong," Sam said urgently. "We've been picked to help save the world, not Dad. There must be a reason for that. You know as well as I that Dad is not likely to agree to help John, but if by some miracle he did, he sure as hell wouldn't let us help with it."
"You mean he wouldn't let you help. Just 'cause you got freakishly tall, don't go thinking that you're all grown up, little brother."
Sam's mouth shut with a snap, and he stared out the window at the dark shapes rushing by, muscles jumping in his jaw. After slowly counting to one hundred in his head, he tried attacking from a different angle. "He won't even be back for another six days. John said we can't wait that long."
Dean didn't respond, but Sam thought he might be wearing him down. "You promised John that you would give him until noon to prove himself. You call Dad now and there is no way you can live up to that promise."
"Fine. I won't call Dad until after noon today. Now will you shut the hell up and just let me drive."
Sam knew well enough to quit while he was ahead.