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time has come today

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Schaffer’s Bar would close down in 2002 after repeated health code violations and an encroaching tax fraud evaluation. Owner Jerry Schaffer would determine that it was better to cut and run, maybe try his luck in Australia or Peru or the Cayman Islands. In 1998, the bar still had a regular crowd of locals who came for the pool tables, the cheap cold beer, and the complementary, if dubiously sanitary, bowls of cheese puffs always left out on the bar top.

Dean didn’t come for the cheese puffs, but he also took free food wherever he could find it. He had a little brother back in a de-enfranchised Motel 6 that was easy walking distance from the bar. Every penny counted, but usually by the time Dean finished his first beer he’d made enough leeway with the locals that he could skirt out of paying for the rest. That was what you called cost-benefit analysis. Yeah, he knew the term. Likely better than anyone else mailing in their latest completed math unit, chipping away at a GED. Hell, probably understood it deeper than white-collar guys in corporate with fancy degrees, who talked and traded with money as a theoretical. Markets and stocks and Dow Jones? All imaginary. Made up number games for people who were always gambling with a buffer, a fallback. What was that compared with going all in, like really all in with everything you got including your dad’s favourite gun, which he really will kill you for if you lose. Going all in even with what you don’t have, all on the chance that your luck is due this round, just so that you can pay the motel fees and maybe get your brother a jug of milk for that off-brand cereal tomorrow morning.

Dean, nineteen now and wiser than ever, didn’t go in for games of luck so much any more. Couldn’t afford to. He had to lean into his knack for showmanship, bluffing, reading people. He picked up pool faster than poker, so pool it was. Schaffer’s wasn’t the kind of place where the bets were high, but nowhere Dean chanced upon ever would be. If he could walk away up ten bucks, twenty bucks—counting in expenses—he’d call it a night well-spent. He’d call forty a windfall, but anything above that amount would cast him too far out of the good graces of the other players. He had to win small to keep the game going.

Cost-benefit analysis.

He was up ten right now. Better than being down money, but he had a couple nights to make up for with the motel and they would come around tomorrow asking. He wanted another round, wanted to double his take, but he’d played all these guys already and they weren’t biting. He leaned on his cue, trying to rustle up another match out of Barry, the one with a look in his eye like he had something to prove, but even Barry looked at the pool table and shook his head. Maybe they’d take Dean on again after the hotshot had a few more to drink, make for even competition against the old fogies. Dean had already played the challenge card, played the cloying card. He couldn’t look desperate, so he resigned himself. A long night of beers, till the guys turned drunk enough and one of them decided he had it in him to win this time. Whatever. It was Rick’s shout, and the pretty waitress brought around her tray with bottles for the table. Dean joined in the chorus of flirtatious howling after her, then laughed and brought the beer to his lips.

Across the floor, his eyes caught on a figure standing in front of the jukebox. He hadn’t seen the guy in here earlier. He hadn’t seen the door open. Dean noticed things like that, having a hunter’s eyes. A survivor’s instinct for casing a room. But he’d missed this guy. Maybe that wasn’t so unlikely. Why should anything stand out about some dark-haired white man in a nondescript trench coat? Except that it wasn’t like what anyone else here wore, with their torn denim and plaid flannel.

He wouldn’t have done anything about it, except that as the record on the jukebox slid into place, the needle came to rest, and Dean knew the pitter-patter beat and that acoustic strum from the first half-second it played. Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On.” One of his favourite songs.

A man of taste.

Dean looked back at the table, the drunks around him settling into their beers, and it wasn’t worth waiting for them to get it up for another round of pool.

He slid from his stool without a goodbye and crossed to trench-man.

“Zepp fan, huh?” he said. “Me too.”

“That so?” The voice came flat, gruff, but not disinterested. Not when the man’s eyes flashed to Dean’s face and seemed to see right through him. Dean straightened up by instinct. He might be a little taller than this guy, but the man was older, had twenty years on him, likely. It wasn’t the age that gave him authority, but the self-assurance, the unwavering focus.

“Yeah,” said Dean, unused to being on uncertain footing. But he had a mission here. “Hey, you play pool?”

The man’s eyes turned to the pool table over Dean’s shoulder. “Not very well,” he answered.

“Well, you can’t be worse than me,” said Dean with a laugh. He gave a jerk of his chin over his shoulder to the table he’d abandoned. “The guys back there have a bet going that I can’t even win one game. Maybe you and me will be more evenly matched.”

“I’m not here to play pool.”

“Well then what are you here for?” Dean asked. “You don’t look like a cheap beer and cheese puffs kind of guy. No offense.”

The man paused for a beat. “None taken,” he said quite seriously. “Actually, I want to talk to you.”

“Oh,” said Dean. His brain executed a few ineffectual rotations, sorting through possibilities of what that meant. He didn’t have nearly enough information to go off. “What about?”

“Do you want to sit?” The man gestured at a booth.

This could go a lot of ways. Hunter. Monster. Something else. Dean didn’t know which, and he had to stay on guard, but he feigned a careless shrug. Just like with pool, he’d play the hapless idiot until it didn’t work any more.

“Sure. You gonna buy me a beer?”

The man glanced down at the bottle in Dean’s hand, half-full, tipped his head, then sighed and said, “Sure.”

It wasn’t quite on his side, it wasn’t perfectly fluid, but Dean slid into the seat that left him with a better view of the bar’s exits. The man didn’t seem to notice, or say anything about it.

“My name is Castiel,” the man said, and Dean refrained from wrinkling his nose at the weird name. Sure, he knew guys named after beer brands and tractors, men named Bub and Diesel and Nash, but they sounded familiar and natural compared with some fancy, snooty name like Castiel. What the hell kind of name even was that?

“Alright, Cas,” said Dean, right off the bat. “Nice to meet you. Name’s Angus.”

“Angus Young,” said Castiel.

Dean froze. Yes, Angus Young. That was what the fake ID that said he was 21 stated. But Cas shouldn’t know that.

“Angus Young who plays with AC/DC,” explained Cas, as if he were the one who came up with the reference. “I know that’s not your real name. Actually, I’m here because I was looking for you, Dean.”

“Who are you?” asked Dean, tense. “And how do you know who I am?”

“I was told by a… a friend. Of yours. And mine. Where to find you.” Castiel’s eyes were careful, trained on Dean as if prepared that his words might be wrong, might send him running for the door. But Dean wasn’t scared enough to run, which maybe made him an idiot. He didn’t like not knowing what he was up against, when it came down to it. He didn’t know enough, yet.

“Oh yeah? Who’s this friend? What’d he tell you?”

“He’s a hunter.”

“Who?” asked Dean. Sure, that word ‘hunter’ acted like a secret code. It gained a person some measure of credibility. It kept Dean from cutting this guy loose right now. But it wasn’t enough on its own. “If I were to call him up and ask him if he knows you, what exactly would he tell me?”

“It’s not possible to call him up,” said Cas. “But he’d tell you that you can trust me. There’s something I came to ask.”

Dean paused, then sat back against the booth, an ‘Oh’ of understanding passing through his lips. At once he understood this guy’s stilted mannerisms, the awkwardness. This wasn’t the kind of thing he’d likely asked for before, or never easily. Dean should’ve seen it. The trench coat alone said it all. Cas said hunter, but this was never about hunting. It must’ve been Irwin. Irwin who said something about Dean. So he wouldn’t play pool, but this could still end with money in Dean’s pocket.

Not how he planned to make ends meet tonight. But it could be fast and easy in the men’s room at Schaffer’s and it was guaranteed. Money in the bank.

“I see. Say no more.” The sweep of his eyes took in the black blazer underneath the trench coat. “Twenty.”

“What?” That head tilt, those narrowed eyes, as if he just weren’t keeping up.

“Twenty bucks,” Dean repeated. “Look, maybe you heard different from your ‘hunter friend’ but times is hard. In this economy? Twenty.”

“Dean.” The blue eyes looked oddly hard, cold. Dean didn’t want the guy to get mad. He didn’t think twenty was anything to the type of man who ironed his shirts, but only cheapskates came around to places like this, Dean supposed.

“Fine, fifteen, but no lower.” He’d take ten. God, he’d take ten and he wouldn’t have to steal for Sammy. He was over eighteen now and couldn’t risk lock-up.

“I’m not paying you—”

“Then I’m outta here,” said Dean, although it was part of the act too, sliding along the booth. It worked. Castiel was reaching for his coat pocket, his wallet, and he shouldn’t be so obvious, right here in the middle of the bar, but Dean wanted to at least see he was good for the money.

Cas opened his wallet. He took out all the cash that was in there, placing it on the table and shoving it across to Dean. Sure, Dean didn’t have his math credit yet, but he’d been broke enough before that he could tally the bills without even consciously looking at the numbers. Sixty-eight dollars.

Dean stilled, settled back in his seat. He didn’t look at the man across from him, only at the money on the table. “So you’re looking for something a little bit more than a blowjob in the bathroom,” said Dean. “What is it…?” He didn’t finish the sentence. It didn’t matter what the guy wanted. Sixty-eight dollars would solve his problems for a week. He put his hand over the money and slid it forward, folded it and tucked it into his shirt pocket. “Well, where to? We should probably go before it gets late. It’s a school night.” He thought Cas might like that touch.

“You’re not in school, Dean,” said Cas.

Dean shrugged a shoulder, took a pull from his beer. “Not everyone in a bar is twenty-one,” he said.

“You’re nineteen,” said Cas. “Why would you…”

Dean shook his head, shrugged it off. “Caught me,” he said, carelessly. “Thought you might like the wrong side of eighteen. I mean, that coat.”

Cas gave an exasperated sigh, massaging his forehead. “We are going to talk about this later,” he said. “Dean, I’m not here for whatever reason you think I’m here for. I’m here to ask for your help. I’m just… asking you to listen, and keep an open mind.”

Keep an open mind? Dean couldn’t hear in that how it was any different from what he was expecting. If anything, it sounded weirder and more dangerous than anything else yet. He didn’t know what he’d walked into. But he had sixty-eight dollars in his pocket, and that kept him from leaving his seat. Maybe this guy just needed therapy. After all, corner girls likely heard more men bare their souls than wives or shrinks did. This Castiel guy just had something to get off his chest. Probably weird and freaky, yeah, but Dean would still have sixty-eight bucks at the end of it.

“Yeah, I’m listening,” he said.

“I’m from the future,” said Castiel.

“Mmhm,” said Dean, nodding his head and going for ‘understanding in the face of total bullshit.’ “What, like the year 2000?”

“Close,” said Cas. “2020.” Not close, thought Dean, but he rolled with it.

“So we survived Y2K,” he said. “Cool. What’s it like? World peace?”

“Not remotely,” said Cas. “It’s complicated. But in the future, I know you.”

Dean lifted his chin, wondering if there would be a moment he should bow out, and if this should be it. But he could keep up this strange improv skit for now. “Alright,” he said. “Hey, tell me, do I got a flying car? Jetpack?”

“No,” said Cas. “You still drive the Impala.”

“Dad lets me drive the Impala?”

Cas hesitated in a way that looked severely uncomfortable, like there was too much he didn't want to say, and Dean almost bought it for a minute. Almost panicked, except for the fact this whole situation was ridiculous. But wait, how the fuck would Cas know about his dad’s car?

“Cars still don’t fly,” Cas supplied. “If that’s any assurance.”

“You some kind of stalker?” Dean asked. Fair to ask, he thought, with the Impala. With knowing Dean’s exact age. Knowing his Angus Young alias.

“No, I’m....” Cas sighed deeply. “The friend who told me to find you here is you. You in the future said that I would be able to find you in the past and take you to our time to deal with a monster problem. A sort of… specialized monster problem.”

Dean wanted to play cool. He wanted to fire back with a quippy retort. Instead he just shook his head and said, “No, this is way too insane, man.”

“I can show you…” said Cas. He reached into his pocket again. He took out a device that reminded Dean a little of a palm pilot, but without any of the buttons needed to make it work. Cas pressed the side, and the screen lit up in a rich array of colours. “No networks out here, but I have some pictures...” Cas said.

He passed the surprisingly lightweight device to Dean. Dean saw a picture for half a moment, touched the screen wrong, and everything went black again. Cas reached over and easily brought up the picture once more.

That was Cas on the left, just as he looked now, only laughing as he looked across at a man with an identical smile in his eyes. Dean. A few extra lines around his eyes, a different haircut, older muscles. But clearly Dean.

Cas reached over again, swiping a finger carelessly across the screen like it wasn’t fucking Star Trek that he could do this. “That’s Jack, that’s me and Jack, that’s Jack, there’s you again.”

Cowboy hat on, making that stupid fucking face he made in pictures where he was too excited but thought he looked cool. If it were 2020 and Dean knew about Deep Fakes he might have some questions, but in 1998 he didn’t have an easy explanation.

“So I make it past forty,” he said. He couldn’t look away from his own picture, taken twenty-two years from now. It wasn’t vanity, but it was an intensely self-interested curiosity. He was alive with all his limbs intact. He didn’t take that for granted. Some of the hunters who didn’t die on the job retired from field work, not always by choice. Whenever he drove by Macon, Georgia he dropped in on Leigh, a war vet and ex-hunter who’d lost an eye, a leg, and three fingers on separate jobs. An amputation, paralysis, loss of senses, these were all possible hazards of the job. Sanity, too. Hell, Dean thought maybe he’d gone insane right now.

But Future Dean, dorky face and all, he looked happy and whole. Dean wanted to know if it was true. If that picture only captured a rare moment, or if he actually got to have that life. It surprised him to think he made it to forty-one not all that messed up.

He looked up from the phone, found Cas’ intensely blue eyes focused on him. Did the guy always stare with that intensity? Dean felt a pulse of worry, having let his guard down. People here in Schaffer’s, could they see it? This man who looked too hard, this man with a whiff of the future about him, a whiff of something more than what the small world Dean had known till now contained.

“So what’s this problem, and why do you need me? Why can’t he fix it?” He tapped at the photo of Future Dean. The picture unexpectedly zoomed into a close-up of his collar and the corner of his smiling mouth. Dean frowned and pushed the device away, but then shifted in his seat in concern. “Did something happen to him? Me?”

“He’s fine,” said Cas. “You’re fine. Dean’s too old for the job.”

“Come again?”

Cas sighed, evidently searching out the words to give the maximum amount of summary in minimal time. “There’s this Arimaspoi—”

“There’s a what now?”

“The Arimaspoi,” repeated Cas. “Or Arimaspians. They’re a race of one-eyed monsters—”

Dean spit out his beer inelegantly, losing most of it down his chin. He dragged the heel of his hand against his chin, pinched his nose because some of it had gone up wrong and burned, then dragged his thumb against one watery eye. “Okay,” he said. “Okay, you really had me going. Joke’s up. You’re good, though. Kept a straight face, and the trick with the, uh—” He pointed at the device with his picture in it. “Don’t know how you did that part. But I know bullshit.”

“Dean,” said Cas. “This is very serious.”

“Anything to do with the one-eyed monster’s gotta be serious,” said Dean.

“It took a significant amount of energy to get me back here, and I don’t have much time,” said Cas, urgency somehow rising in his voice while remaining gravelly and monotone.

“Your Delorean about to turn into a pumpkin and some white mice?” said Dean.

“Let me finish explaining,” said Cas.

“There ain’t explanations enough as to why you’re wasting my time,” said Dean.

“Stop it,” said Cas. And if Dean thought his expression was intense before, it was nothing to now. The blue eyes lost nothing of their power even as they narrowed in assessment. “Stop being scared.”

Dean wasn’t scared. He could scoff at the very notion. Nothing scared him. He was a hunter, a killer. His dad’s soldier. He faced nightmares every damn day and came out the victor. He was about to protest, but Cas kept going.

“This mission is more than you understand. Even I am more than what you can understand right now.” The demeanor softened. He had Dean’s attention, after that stern outburst. “And we may be requesting too much of you. We discussed it, all of us, and tried to find a way around it, but Dean believed you could handle it. I’m just asking you to listen before you make up your mind.”

Cas’ gaze had dropped while he was speaking, turning heavy-lidded, almost sorrowful. Like he regretted having to be here at all. His little speech raised more questions than answers, but damn if Dean wasn’t hooked.

“Okay,” he said. His future self thought he could handle it when the others didn’t. That made him want to prove himself. (To himself? To Future Dean? Didn’t matter.) He had to prove he could. “So keep on it. With these… one-eyed monsters.”

Cas eyed him warily for a moment, but he evened out his shoulders and continued. “The Arimaspoi we’re looking for has something we need, a special weapon that will help us in another, different fight that you don’t need to worry about right now.”

“Not ominous,” said Dean. “Continue.”

“It’s willing to trade with us, but first we need a griffin egg.”

“A griffin egg,” Dean echoed. “What kind of fantasy mumbo-jumbo is this?”

“You do hunt vampires, Dean,” said Cas. “And ghosts and werewolves. Need I remind you.”

“Okay, I’ll play nice. A griffin egg. Gotta break into the griffin coop?”

“Griffins live in caves,” Cas said patiently. “They’re very solitary.”

“No factory-farmed griffins,” said Dean. “Got it.”

“They’re also very protective of their eggs. They’ll fight to the death to protect them. You won’t sneak an egg past a living griffin.” He said this with that tone of regret again, like he was sentimental about these griffins. Even as he went on to say, “And they’re quite deadly. They have poisonous talons—” Here he made a gesture with his hands, stretching them about ten inches apart, then tipping his head, reassessing, and expanding a little further. “And their beaks are designed for scooping out entrails.”

“Alright,” said Dean. “So… does this griffin have something to do with me?”

“Yes,” said Cas, seemingly relieved Dean had got to the point. “A griffin can only be killed by a first-born, with a specific weapon — which we have, so you don’t need to worry about that part.”

“Future me ain’t a first-born son anymore? That doesn’t scan.”

“It needs to be killed by a first-born before they come of age,” Cas specified.

Dean’s brow furrowed. “You got the wrong year,” he said. “You said it yourself. I’m nineteen.” Old enough to serve in the army. Old enough to vote.

“I’m aware you are a legal adult by contemporary American definitions,” said Castiel. “As a matter of fact, that was a pivotal point in our discussions. But to come of age means different things in different cultures. Sometimes it’s a number on a legal form, sometimes it’s after a religious rite. For some it’s puberty, or loss of virginity—”

Dean laughed again. “You’re years too late for that one.”

It was supposed to come across as a boast. Cas wasn’t supposed to look at him sadly. Like he knew that Dean’s first time he’d been too green.

Maybe he did know. Maybe Future Dean told him that shit. Christ, Dean couldn’t think of why he’d do that, why the hell he’d open that can of worms. Maybe he said it when he was drunk. Maybe it was a dare. Maybe they’d been swapping stories and it just came out because maybe Future Dean was honest and balanced and had a real-life friend.

That sounded fake, though.

But still. Scary. Unsettling. He wanted to push past this.

“So, you think nineteen’s the sweet spot?” Dean asked.

Cas tipped his head in answer, a wavering sort of agreement without committing to certainty. “We did our research, and had options between twelve and twenty-one, as far as we can tell in griffin lore. I thought that under eighteen would be unfair to you as a minor—” Dean began to disagree with him, but Cas cut him off. “You, for the record, called me an idiot and threw ‘contemporary American definitions’ back in my face. Which… Perhaps. I know you’ve dealt with terrible monsters at a much younger age, but I don’t want to be the one forcing them on you.”

“What if that’s too late?” Dean asked. “What if eighteen was the magic number?”

“Then at least you’re old enough to factor that into the decision you make for yourself,” said Cas. “We thought the same thing about going past twenty-one. That while every year makes you a greater hunter, we might be off the mark and put you in danger because of it.”

“Okay. So, just curious, why not pop in on me next year?” said Dean. “If you had the option. When I’m twenty and have another year hunting under my belt? I mean, I think I can do it now, but I just wanna know—”

“You break your arm on your twentieth birthday,” Cas said simply.

“Shit,” said Dean.

“You fall on a patch of ice. You’re very drunk. Dean said it stays a little stiff for most of a year, not that it stops you. But he agreed that on account of that you’re in better physical condition at nineteen than twenty. So, I came here.”

“Okay hold up,” said Dean. “Didn’t you just, like, mess up the future? By telling me what’s going to happen? Because now I’m going to make sure I’m in fucking Florida or something for my next birthday, where I won’t slip, and then I won’t have a broken arm, and then you won’t come visit me when I’m nineteen because I won’t tell you about the arm thing, you’ll visit me when I’m twenty. But then... you won’t be here to warn me... about the arm thing—”

“You’re understanding that time travel is complicated,” said Castiel. “Let me uncomplicate it for you. Whether you agree or disagree to come to the future, you won’t be allowed to remember any of this. I don’t like to interfere with memories, but if I don’t correct things and it destabilizes the timeline, others will come and correct it for me with great impunity.”

“I won’t remember… any of this?” He looked at the device on the table between them, blank again now, where his picture had been. He looked at Castiel, with his sharp blue eyes and unflinching attention. He’d opened up a whole world, made everything seem so big, and now Dean knew how small it would be again after. He wouldn’t remember otherwise, but it still felt like a loss.

“You won’t miss it,” said Cas. “It will be harder on Dean, on you in the future, but he knows that already. Or he thinks he does. Now that I’m here, I can’t help thinking…”

“Thinking what?”

“I just wonder if he remembers you as well as he thinks. He won’t forget meeting you. If you come.”

Dean nodded, although he didn’t know why Future Dean should take it hard like Cas said. Would he be disappointed by his past self? Dean looked away from Castiel, idly shoving a rolled shirt sleeve back towards his elbow. He let his hand glance against the front pocket of his shirt, just over his chest. The sixty-eight dollars Cas set on the table to make him stay just about burned his hand.

“I can’t. I’ve gotta look after Sammy. It’s just me and him.”

“Yes, Dean said you’d say that. If you decide to come, you’ll return to this bar, this night, before I walked in here.” Cas paused. “Sam— Sam’s in the future. The weapon we’re looking for, that we’re trading the griffin egg for, we’re doing it to help him.”

“I’m gonna come back, right?” said Dean. “I can’t die in the future, can I?”

“You won’t die,” said Cas. “You have to deliver the killing stroke, but the rest of us will be looking after you. You’ll come back here. Even if we got it wrong and getting the griffin egg doesn’t work.”

“Right. Can’t mess up the timeline,” Dean said. “Don’t want to accidentally kill Future Me.”

“It’s more than that,” said Cas, leaning forward, deadly serious. “Dean, I would never let anything happen to you. Any version of you.”

No one had spoken to him like that before. At once so resolute and searingly earnest, like an impossible promise that could be kept. Even John Winchester wouldn’t say such a thing. His line was self-sufficiency, fostered by a kind of fatalistic paranoia. You have to learn to protect yourself, Dean. John would tell him not to expect anyone else to do the job right or to truly have Dean’s back. Outsiders would only have their own best interests at heart. John said not to count on anyone, himself included, because in the end, Dean only had his own wits and skills to survive another day by.

And Castiel said I would never let anything happen to you. He said it like he had the power to make it so.

“Alright,” said Dean. “Take me to your future.”

“You can change your mind once you’re there,” said Cas, already reaching forward, two fingers extended towards Dean’s temple. “It’s always up to you. But don’t tell Dean I said that.”

Cas’ fingers made contact with his skin and the bar disappeared.

They’d been sitting in a small booth when Cas touched him, but they landed at an open spot and Dean stumbled back, catching himself on a hand. Cas, meanwhile, fell unsteadily to his knees.

“Cas, are you—” Dean, grown, voice a deep rumble, put his hands to Cas’ shoulder. Helped him to his feet.

“I’m alright,” said Cas, though the tremor in his hand as he, in vain, waved off the assistance belied his response.

“Holy shit.” A different voice, approaching Young Dean, who hadn’t looked away from the face of his older counterpart. The older Dean had only just redirected his attention from Cas to Young Dean. Looked him over with a passively critical glance. Young Dean made a scornful face in return, then turned his head over his shoulder towards the other voice he heard.

It sounded like Sam even more than it looked like him. Somehow, in the intervening years, Sammy skyrocketed in height. And let his hair grow long like a damn hippie. Young Dean’s last memory of Sammy was from after school today. Sam at fifteen, moping because he’d had to say goodbye to Tamara Prescott from their last school in Colorado. Shoving his nose into schoolbooks to take his mind off the girl. Dean teased him about the studious bent, sure, but only as far as it was in his unwritten contract as an older brother. Fact was, when he saw Sam getting serious about grades, he felt sort of proud of him. Sam wanted to go to college and Dean didn’t think it very likely, but Sam ought to have something that made him happy, even if it would never come to pass. John would never let Sam go. But he was good at school, and he liked it, and maybe he could be allowed to hope for things. Just because hope had been trained out of Dean early didn’t mean Sam had to be like that.

God, it was something else seeing Sam here. Grown-up. Okay. Not broken, not dead. “Sammy, you kidding me? That you?” Young Dean opened his arms for a hug like it had been a million years (it sort of had and hadn’t been), and Sam responded on instinct. A brief embrace, then Young Dean had his hand on Sam’s arm. “Look at you. Turned out alright.”

“Yeah. Dean.” Sam looked over at his actually-older older brother, then back at Young Dean. “Yeah. Alright. This is weird.”

“Some kind of Freaky Friday,” said Dean, voice flat, tense. “But we’re the same freaking person.”

Young Dean looked back at Dean, surveying him again. Still standing close to Cas, like he didn’t quite trust the thing Cas brought back. Young Dean looked around himself, taking in the rest of the room. “Speaking of freaky,” he said. “What’s this place? They don’t have windows in the future?”

“It’s the bunker,” said Sam. “We live here. It’s a long story. How much did you tell him, Cas?”

“Very little,” said Cas, still looking wan and unsteady. He nobly attempted to keep his shit together, though, which Young Dean could respect. “I told him what we’re after and why we need his help, but everything between then,” he gestured at Young Dean, “and now I thought might take more time than I had.”

“We can fill him in on what he needs to know,” said Dean. “As much as he needs to know it.”

“He’ll forget it all later,” Cas reminded them. He looked paler every moment, barely holding it together, but still able to provide his precise brand of dry commentary. “But there’s also a lot that will shake up his world.”

“What will shake up my world?” said Young Dean.

“For starters,” said Cas, “you should’ve asked how I even time-travelled you from 1998 to today.” One shaking hand reached for stabilization, and Dean was still there beside him, giving his arm in support, expression at once attentive and troubled. “I’m an angel of the Lord. We’ll meet, ten years from where you are, in Hell.” Cas swooned, and it was instant the way Dean caught him, careful and efficient the way he manoeuvred his slumped form to a chair.

“That’s an angel?” said Young Dean.

“Cas is a bit… fallen,” said Sam. “But he’s an angel, yeah.”

“Angels are real,” said Young Dean. “And they aren’t like monsters? I mean, we don’t kill them?”

“We do if they’re dicks,” said Dean, looking over his shoulder. He locked eyes with his younger self, didn’t like it, and looked back to Castiel. Under his breath he said, “This was a bad idea, Cas.”

“Dean, you eaten?” said Sam.

“I’m not hungry,” said Dean, still studying Cas’ bowed head, colourless face.

“I meant Young Dean,” said Sam.

“Hell, I could eat,” said Young Dean. “What d’you got in this joint?”

“I’m sure Dean wouldn’t begrudge you some of his leftover Chinese—”

“Hey,” said Dean. “I’m saving that.”

“Save it much longer and it will turn into a science project,” said Sam. “C’mon, Dean. I mean. Proto-Dean. Fuck, what should I call you?”

“I mean,” said Young Dean. “I’m just Dean. Still Dean.”

“He’s Teen-Dean,” said Dean furiously, standing up. “I’m Dean. He’s Teen-Dean.”

“Why do you get to be Dean?” asked Young Dean.

“This is my timeline. I’m present-day Dean. This is my reality, and you’re the visitor. So that settles it. I’m Dean, he’s Teen-Dean.”

“I hate it already,” said Sam. “This is going to be a long few days. Well, Teen-Dean? Should we grab some grub?”

“If Dean gives his say-so,” said Young Dean

“Fuck off,” said Dean. “Whatever. Eat the Chinese food. Just get out of my hair.”

“I gotta say, I’m glad I still have hair,” said Young Dean.

Dean scowled.

Cas was out of it, but his lashes fluttered, eyes following Young Dean as he trailed after Sam into the kitchen. “You should go talk with him,” said Cas. “Explain things.”

“He can wait a minute,” said Dean. “You’re looking a little out of it.”

“I’m fine,” Cas said. Still pale, drooping, unfocused.

“Bullshit,” said Dean.

“I will be fine. He likely wants to talk to you,” said Cas.

“Actually, I don’t think he does,” said Dean. Maybe he was projecting. Something about this Other Dean, this younger version of himself, put him off. Young Dean and Sammy could connect, they seemed to like each other, to find their dynamic almost at once. Young Dean was somehow still the proud older brother, even if Sammy had almost twenty years on him. “I should know. If I was me, I wouldn’t actually want to know anything about my future.”

“You are you.” Cas didn’t bother hiding his annoyance. It permeated his voice. “I suppose it makes sense that you’re at odds. No one hates you more than you do, Dean.”

“Whoa, what the hell?” said Dean.

“I wasn’t supposed to say that out loud,” said Castiel. “Although it’s true.”

“You could warn a guy before you come at him like that,” said Dean. He wanted to be angry, but Cas looked too close to passing out for Dean to rustle up anything beyond mild chagrin.

“He was curious about you,” said Cas. “About his future. But cautious. He doesn’t want to know too much. Even though I told him he won’t remember this time.”

“Humans aren’t actually supposed to know our futures,” said Dean. “We don’t want to know what’s really ahead. We just think we do.”

“That’s a very astute observation,” said Cas.

“I guess I feel for him.”

“You should. He’s you. He’s… Dean, he’s so young. Are you sure about this?”

“I said I could handle it,” said Dean. “I dealt with more than my share of shit by that age.”

“You don’t look at him and think…”

“Think what?”

“I want to spare him the suffering.” Cas’ eyes turned up towards Dean, plaintive and sincere. “I’d try to spare you from suffering, too. If I thought it would get me anywhere.”

Dean’s mouth twitched in a serious frown. He clapped a hand briefly against Cas’ shoulder. “You know better than that,” he said.

“Mm.” Cas gave a resigned nod.