A wide, empty boardwalk painted amber by the setting sun, slipping over the horizon, basks a 26-year-old Dean Winchester in buttery warm sunlight. The air is cool and calm, a light breeze brushing over his cheeks. Like in a dream where one flits from place to place in a hazy instant; no journey, no decision, only destination; Dean finds himself there in the middle of the road with no clue how he got there.
Dean tries to parse his recent memory, searching for something to bridge the gap. The last memory he has is hazy, like it’s blurred behind a filter of alcohol and sleep deprivation. He was in a motel, he thinks. In some backwater part of Ohio, maybe.
Typically this would be the moment where panic sets in - for Dean that would present itself in getting instantly into defensive position. The scene is not unlike the first scene in some zombie flick where the unwitting protagonist finds themselves in a deceptively calm and empty street only to get jumped moments later. But there’s something about the air, the temperate, still air, and the clouds painted pink and gold. The panic never manifests, and Dean feels peaceful.
That peaceful feeling brings its own kind of worry though. It’s the kind of peace that one might associate with death - the final release. Dean can’t remember dying. There was no fight, no struggle, no panic. But then, he does recall a pang of sadness, a weight in his heart and mind. Maybe he slipped away in his sleep or something. It seems pretty ridiculous when he thinks about it. But this picturesque street offers little in the way of answers.
But Dean is a hunter. He doesn’t take obvious answers, he doesn’t work on assumptions. He investigates, he assesses. So he begins to stroll down the road to the west towards the fiery glow of the setting sun. Each step is cautious, as if the ground may falter under his feet.
Something bright catches his eye; the glint of the sun reflected off the shining black chassis of the Impala. Dean’s face relaxes into relief as he dashes forward towards the familiar sight. His reflection beams back at him in the window, his youthful green eyes filled with life. He takes a moment to run his hands over her, his ol’ reliable. Even when he doesn’t have his dad, his brother, or anyone, he has her.
Dean shoves his hand into the right-hand pocket of the leather jacket cocooning his narrow shoulders. He draws out his keys, singles out the silver key and opens up the car door-
A gruff voice calls out from behind. There’s authority in that voice, sending shivers through Dean’s bones in a way that usually only his father’s cold commands could.
Dean turns round, his eyes meeting the source of the yell’s own eyes dead level, not a millimetre in it. The face Dean finds himself staring down is familiar. The man’s eyes are a little wearier, his face a little weathered by time and struggle, but the face is undoubtedly, unmistakably his own.
Both pairs of eyes widen in shock, not faltering from their deadlocked stare, even as the keys slip from Dean’s hand and clatter onto the asphalt. Dean watches his own lips purse in a seeming irritation.
“What the hell,” his mirror mutters with an unflinching frown locking the lines in his forehead.
Dean can only look on in a wordless panic. Fight or flight is nowhere to be found as Dean completely shuts off. His mind isn’t reeling, it’s frozen in place like a computer crash. He cannot even process the motion of his evil twin pulling a flask from his pocket and dousing him in water until it’s already happened.
The cold water snaps Dean back to normal function. He sputters and shakes head, “Ugh, what the hell?”
“That’s my line,” his clone says flatly. “Get in.” He gestures to the door from whence he’d come. Dean scans the storefront - it’s a bar, an empty one by the looks of it.
“Fuck off,” Dean spits, only now falling into his instinctive defensiveness.
The other Dean merely rolls his eyes, unsurprised and definitely unimpressed. In a moment, Dean’s being gripped by the lapel and shoved towards the bar’s door. He feels like a rebellious kid being dragged home after being caught out past curfew as he’s thrown inside.
Dean stumbles as he finds his footing. His other self strides in after him and pulls out a silver blade. Dean holds up his hands, notably unarmed himself.
“Woah, woah,” he says, his voice faltering into a higher pitch than he would like, hardly able to match the other Dean’s gravelly tones.
“Just hold your arm out,” the other Dean orders, not in a bark, but in a cool, steady tone. It’s almost reassuring, kind of dad-like in a way.
Dean does as he’s told, not out of trust, but more a bewildered acceptance of his lack of control here. The other Dean takes Dean’s left arm in a firm grasp and slides the blade across his forearm making a short, shallow cut. When there’s no reaction, the older Dean purses his lips and nods slightly to himself. He grabs a towel from atop the bar and chucks it to Dean, who catches is and wipes down his wet face before pressing it to his fresh wound.
“Happy?” he asks, a little put out.
“Well you’re not a demon,” the older Dean says. “Or a shifter.”
“Yeah, no shit,” Dean grumbles, pulling the towel off his arm to check that the flow of blood had curbed. “What about you then?”
“Well obviously I’m not a demon,” the older Dean shrugs, nonchalant.
“Oh yeah, obviously,” Dean mocks.
“How old are you, kid?” the other Dean asks, shockingly calm and conversational.
Dean furrows his brow, his mouth unclosed, like there are words perched right on their edge.
“Aren’t you gunna say it?” he asks tentatively, as if he’s crazy for picking up on the obvious.
“Yeah, you’re me. Past me, anyway,” the other Dean replies. “I wanna know from when.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Time travel,” the older Dean states as if it’s so obvious and ordinary. “It happens.”
“To who? Marty McFly?”
The older Dean smiles. “What year are you from?”
Dean searches his mind for any kind of rationale, or at least some further protest to the ridiculousness of the whole thing. He quickly gives in; swallowing his reservations, and answering, “2005.”
Older Dean raises his eyebrows, like he knows a thing or two, which of course, he does. His 26th year was quite the whirlwind turning point in his life. It’s not that much of a surprise that if someone or something wanted to meddle with his timeline, they’d pick that year.
“So you’re what? 26?”
Dean nods, “Yeah. When- what, uh, what year is it now?”
“2021,” older Dean answers.
Dean squints as his brain moves numbers around. “So I’m, like, forty?”
“Yeah, I’m ‘like, forty’.” older Dean chuckles.
“I make it to forty?” Dean says through a scoff and a half-smile, eyes brushing over the walls as he averts his gaze away from his future self.
“Spoilers, I guess,” older Dean says, looking Dean head on, unwavering. “Sit.” he gestures to a bar stool before walking around behind the bar. Dean does as he’s told while his older self plops two glasses onto the counter and starts pouring out some top shelf whiskey. Dean is hesitant, but slides the glass toward himself and takes a small sip. It’s good, exactly to his tastes.
“So you’re… me in the future?” Dean says, nervously navigating the new ground.
“Seems like it, yeah.”
“Do you work here?”
The older Dean scoffs at the suggestion, insulted. “Work here? I own the place.”
Dean nods and pouts, taking a look around at the clean tables, the atmospheric decor, the classy glasses. Then his face turns, “Wait, you’re not hunting?”
Older Dean takes a sip from his own glass and smiles. “Not so much.”
Dean takes a moment to process the thought. His gaze drops to his hands as he fumbles with his glass. “Wow, that- that’s… I don’t know.” Dean takes a sip. “Dad okay with that?”
“Who knows,” older Dean shrugs. “He probably wouldn’t be okay with a lot of the choices I’ve made.”
Dean frowns at his older self, unsure as to whether he’s proud or ashamed. Still, he looks upon his future self with a certain reverence. He reminds him of his father in a way, even as he claims his divergence from John’s approval. Perhaps it’s the confident stance, the steady tone and gravelly timbre of his voice, the seeming assurance of someone who seems to fit into a mould of their own rather than trying to cram themselves into someone else’s. Dean’s shoulders feel heavy under the weight of all that leather, but his older self looks so… unburdened.
In other ways he seems so unlike his father. He seems almost peaceful, like there’s no fight in him anymore; no hate, no rage, no vengeance. He pisses him off.
“I can’t believe you quit hunting, man,” he says. “I couldn’t- I’m not-” He’s not a hypocrite, and he’s not Sam.
“Things change,” older Dean answers back. “I changed. It’s been fifteen years. Fifteen years of- you don’t even know.”
“But there’s still monsters?”
“So, what? They’re just somebody else’s problem?” Dean spits, trying to hold himself to the company line even now.
Dean shrinks into himself and bites his tongue, eyes focussed down once again. He wants to argue, he feels like he should. But what’s the point?
“We- uh, you seem different. To me now, I mean.”
“Well duh,” older Dean says, shaking his head with a calm smile. “It’s been a rough few years, you have no idea.”
“Oh yeah?” Dean raises an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” older Dean sighs with a sad smile. He sucks in a breath. “So how’d you get here?” he shifts the subject back.
“I got no idea,” Dean shrugs. “You’re the future me, shouldn’t you know?”
“Doesn’t seem to work like that. Not in my experience anyway.”
“Your experience with time travel?”
“Yeah. I met my future self once, but he didn’t remember anything about it,” older Dean recalls. “I dunno maybe it’s alternate timelines or something. Cas’d know.”
Who? Dean brushes over it; it’s not pertinent.
“But hey, look, what I do know is that where there’s time travel, it’s usually angel shit,” older Dean continues.
“Oh, yeah. Angels are real,” older Dean adds, nonchalant. “Before you argue, because I know you will; yes, they’re really real. I’ve met a helluva lot of ‘em. And they’re dicks. Mostly.”
“Angels are real, and they’re dicks,” Dean repeats with an accepting nod. “Alright, fine. Normally I’d call bullshit, but I’m drinking whiskey with myself right now, so.”
The older Dean chuckles at his younger self.
“So, what do we do then? How do you even fight angels?” Dean sighs, defeated.
“Nah, angels aren’t so tough. Besides I got one batting for our team, so we’re good,” older Dean waves a hand and finishes the last of his whiskey. “Look, I don’t know why you’ve been sent here. When I got blasted to the future it was- the angels were trying to get me to change my mind about something. They wanted me to see how bad things would get if I didn’t do what they wanted.”
“And did you?” Dean asks. “Change your mind?”
“Ha, nope,” older Dean grins proudly. “I told ‘em to get fucked.”
“So, what are they trying to convince me of now?”
“No idea,” older Dean shrugs, looking his younger self over, his brow furrowed in thought. “This place is hardly apocalyptic.”
Dean huffs. “So how do I get back?”
Older Dean bites his lip, a habit he apparently hadn’t dropped from his youth. “Yeah, I dunno,” he admits. “When the angel who zapped me made his point he came and zapped me back.”
“So what, do I just wait?” Dean asks with a frown, unsatisfied.
“Hmm, maybe,” older Dean maintains his calm, but seems genuinely perplexed. “We're definitely gunna need help on this one. Why don’t you stay the night and we can head over to the bunker in the morning. I’ll call Sam.”
Dean’s eyes widen and light up. “You’re talking to Sam?”
“Yeah,” older Dean states casually, before seeming to realise himself. “Yeah, that whole mess blows over.”
Dean sits, face like a smacked bottom as his future self whips out what he can only assume is some futuristic cell phone (where are the buttons??) and calls Sam like it’s nothing.
Every movement his older self makes seems deliberate, so relaxed, it’s hard to believe it’s really him. He’d never really believed the idea that people just naturally come into themselves as they get older. It always seemed like the same lies people would tell you about high school being the best years of your life, or that everybody finds love in their 20s. But then, Dean was here looking at living proof that one day that tension in his shoulders would melt away, that fear that accompanied every decision would disappear. Or maybe he just learned how to fake it.
“Okay,” older Dean turns his attention back to his younger self. “I’m gunna get someone to cover here tonight, you can come home with me.”
“Okay.” Dean nods with a usually uncharacteristic passivity.
The older Dean grabs his jacket and his keys and makes for the door.
“When was the last time you had a home-cooked meal?” older Dean asks, stepping out into the street, now tinted with the greyish-blue tones that accompany the dusk.
“Uh, probably when mom was alive,” Dean replies.
“Right, yeah. Well I’ve got leftover lasagne at home,” older Dean smiles fondly as he slips into the front seat of the Impala. Dean stands there, dumb, for a moment as he realises that he’s got to ride shotgun in his own car.
Dean sits down in the passenger seat and looks over to his own hands placed on the wheel. Then he notices, “Are you married?”
The older Dean perks to attention, then clocks his younger self eyeing the band around his left-hand ring finger. “Uh, yeah,” the older Dean replies, swallowing. “I made the lasagne though. Turns out all I needed was a real kitchen; I’m a pretty decent cook.”
“Me? Cooking?” Dean scoffs, smiling out the window as his older self pulls away from the curb. “Angels and time travel I could get behind, but that?”
“What? Guys can cook!”
“Not this guy,” Dean chuckles. “What’s next, don’t tell me you bake too?”
Older Dean licks his bottom lip, eyes fixed on the road. “You know what, sometimes you gotta make your own pie. Don’t judge me.”
“Okay, Martha Stewart,” Dean shakes his head. “So am I gunna meet the wife?”
Older Dean tenses. It’s the first time Dean’s seen his older self be anything other than cool and collected. He waits for an answer, wondering if maybe something happened to her. Maybe his older self has more in common with John than he claims. He doesn’t get his answer, but he doesn’t ask again.
Well, he ain’t Dean Winchester if he doesn’t know how to diffuse some tension. He reaches to the back seat and finds the box of cassettes exactly where he’d expect - he swears he sees a teddy bear down on the floor too - he picks out a tape and the rest of the ride is scored by Deep Purple.
The house they pull up to is not at all what Dean expects, though in truth he’s not sure exactly what he did expect. The idea of a house, or a home of any kind, is a totally alien concept to him.
The house is shockingly ordinary. It’s modest but inviting, two-up two-down from the looks of it. It’s not the kind of place where a hunter would rest his head, that’s for sure; his older self wasn’t joking about quitting.
Dean looks over to his older self as they pull into the drive. He’s still tense, and Dean’s not sure why. His best guess is that he’s reluctant to bring a remnant of his old life into his normal suburban life. Maybe his wife doesn’t know about his past. Dean doesn’t even consider that the apprehension is for his benefit.
Dean’s older self shuts off the engine, but pauses. “I know the whole ‘giving up hunting’ thing is weird for you,” he begins. “I just- You know, a lot’s changed. Obviously I’m still you, you’re still me, but I- I’ve learned to let myself do things the way I- the way I always wanted to.”
“I get it, you’re out of the game,” Dean says quietly. “I bet you probably want nothing to do with me. I must be hard to look at.”
“No,” older Dean licks his bottom lip. “It’s not that. I mean you’re never 100% out. I never thought I was, and that’s fine. I still get involved here and there. It’s not- it’s not about hunting. But you’re right, I do find you kind of hard to look at.”
Dean feels a weight in his chest. It’s not dissimilar from the one he gets when his dad reels off reasons why he’s let him down.
“There’s a lot I’ve had to get past,” older Dean continues. “A lot of crap I’ve had to dig out and you just- you’re a living reminder of all that stuff. It’s not your fault though.”
Dean frowns. Of course it’s not his fault that he’s been zapped to the future, but that’s not entirely what his older self means. It’s not his fault that he inflicts his dad’s disapproval by proxy. Older Dean exhales in a deep sigh.
“Alright, come on,” he groans as he gets up out the car. Dean slips out with ease, looking at his older self with pity at his old and creaky joints.
Older Dean opens the door and steps over the threshold. Dean follows, feeling a wave of warmth as he enters. He can hear the sound of clinking dishes and sloshing water from the kitchen. His mind instantly pictures a smiling woman in a sundress with pink rubber gloves who’ll come bounding over to plant a kiss on his older self’s cheek and gasp with melodramatic girly shock at baby Dean standing at her door.
Instead, there’s the patter of tiny footsteps as a young boy, no older than 5, dives right for his older self. “Daddy!” his tiny voice calls out with joy as he barrels into older Dean, before older Dean picks him up, allowing the boy to wrap his tiny arms around his neck.
Dean’s face is frozen, gobsmacked. He could see himself married, sure. Farfetched and unattainable, yeah, but strictly speaking he could imagine it. But a kid? Hell no.
He had enough trouble keeping himself going half the time, the idea that there was some little life that was his responsibility? He couldn’t even fathom it. Based on his own experience, fatherhood isn’t something he ever wanted to inflict on anyone else.
“Why’s there two of you?” the boy asks, reaching out a tiny hand and placing his fingers, wet with suds, onto Dean’s cheek. Dean’s breath hitches at the touch, he recoils like he’s a toxic substance.
“Uh,” older Dean searches for an answer. “Jack, why don’t you go upstairs for a bit, okay?” He places Jack back onto the floor and is met with a childish pout. But Jack obliges and trudges up the stairs.
Older Dean glances furtively over to his younger self. “Yeah, uh-” he begins, but Dean’s attention is firmly locked ahead, where a man is approaching, shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows, wearing a confused and concerned expression. Older Dean’s breath catches and he straightens up.
“Dean?” the man asks, eyes darting between the two, settling on the elder.
“Hey, Cas,” older Dean responds with a forced smile. “So I probably should have called.”
Dean can’t help but stare, his eyes wide, his jaw clenched and frozen solid. He stares at the man’s ruffled black hair, his piercing blue eyes, his gentle gaze. His wedding band. Oh.
“You think?” Cas says with raised eyebrows. “Where’s Jack?”
“I sent him upstairs,” older Dean replies. “Has he eaten?”
“Yes, we weren’t expecting you this evening, I thought you were working?”
“Well I’m supposed to be, but,” older Dean gestures towards his younger self, who still hasn’t moved a muscle or taken his eyes off of Cas.
“Yes,” Cas nods tentatively. “Is he…”
“He’s from 2005. I’m taking him to the bunker tomorrow. Sam’s coming.”
“You told Sam already?”
“Well, I told him that I had a situation,” older Dean says.
Cas sighs and presses his fingers to the bridge of his nose below the crinkle between his furrowed brows. “Alright,” he says, resigned. “I’ll grab some blankets for the couch.”
“Thanks, angel,” older Dean smiles, placing a hand on Cas’ side and pressing a kiss to the side of his mouth, leading Dean to finally avert his gaze. Shit.
Older Dean turns to his younger self and pats his sides. “Well, come on let’s get something to eat.” He takes off towards the kitchen as Cas heads upstairs.
Dean is glued to the spot, standing there in the empty entranceway. Sure, Dean hadn’t been sure what he expected, but this is so much further afield from anything he could have ever pictured.
Eventually, he starts to move, stepping forward like he’s pushing through cement with every step. He finds his older self flitting around the kitchen grabbing plates, scooping out cold lasagne from a large dish.
“It was fresh,” his older self says, passing a look over his shoulder. “Yesterday. But it’ll taste just as good day two.”
“Yeah, sure,” is all Dean can muster in response.
“Hey, sit down,” older Dean gestures to the small round table. Dean does so, sitting awkward, stiff and proper like a Victorian schoolboy.
Cas returns to the kitchen, sliding a hand over the older Dean’s lower back as he slips past him so casually to the sink, where he pulls out the plug to let the water drain away. Dean watches them from his front-row seat. He can’t hear them talk, as they do so in hushed tones, but he’s not particularly interested in what they might be saying anyway. Instead, he’s transfixed at how cooly their hands seem to drift around each other. A hand on the waist, the hip, the shoulder. And the glances; the soft, loving looks and the smiles. Their bodies are so close, shoulders brushing together, Cas’ head practically sitting in the crook of Dean’s neck. Dean feels almost like he shouldn’t be watching this. It’s so innocent, yet so intimate.
With a towel thrown over his shoulder like a true domestic goddess, older Dean walks over and places a plate of steaming hot lasagne in front of Dean. He sits down beside him, with Cas joining them a moment later.
Dean’s hand is shaky as he picks up his fork. He’s starving, honestly. He’s not unused to hunger, but it pangs like a bitch when the homely scent of pasta sauce, beef and cheese drifts up a hits him in a blast of warmth. But his stomach also feels wobbly, precarious, deeply unsettled. He doesn’t want to eat, he thinks. But then his older self and this guy, Cas, are staring at him expectantly, like spectators at the zoo waiting for him to gobble up his little treats.
Dean raises a forkful to his mouth and the instant it hits his tongue, his body melts into a temporary calm. It doesn’t taste familiar exactly - he can’t recall his mom ever making him lasagne - but there’s a homeliness that it embodies so perfectly.
With the tension cut through, his older self digs in too, powering though his meal with the same fervour that he always has. Dean ends up wolfing the thing down, barely registering how this Cas guy is just watching him, an unwavering stare.
With knives and forks crossed over empty plates, Dean finally musters up enough courage to speak.
“So…” he starts nervously. “What’s you guys’ deal?”
Cas tilts his head and squints at him. It’s piercing, like his glacial blue eyes are cutting into his soul. Intense. His older self just looks at him, frowning in confusion.
“What do you think, dumbass?”
Dean just gives a dumb smile, inhaling deeply before letting out a motorboat sigh. “Yeah,” he nods. “I, uh- well this isn’t what I expected,” he finally admits.
“Yeah, you can say that again,” older Dean grunts.
“Look, I got no issue with,” he gestures in Dean and Cas’ direction. “You know. But- I mean this just ain’t me.”
“Yeah, you keep tellin’ yourself that,” older Dean snips as he rolls his eyes. Dean swallows as he watches his older self get up and grab their dirty plates, stepping away without a look in his direction. He’s somehow managed to piss himself off.
“I mean, you said about alternate timelines or whatever,” Dean continues. “I’m just saying that like, no offence or anything, but now I’m pretty sure this ain’t my timeline.”
“What? ‘Cause you’re not-” older Dean huffs as he returns to the table after placing the dirty plates in the sink.
“It’s not just that,” Dean explains, licking his bottom lip as his eyes dart in Cas’ direction for a moment. “It’s also, you know, the bar, the not hunting, the- the kid. It’s everything, man. I’m an open-minded guy, you know; time travel? Sure. Angels? Might need some proof on that one, but after time travel? Okay, sure. And yeah, maybe there’s a universe out there where I’m… where I’m gay or whatever. But that’s not me.”
“I don’t get it,” older Dean says, voice short and quiet. “How I could sit there, and try to lie to myself. I know you man. I am you. I know everything you’ve ever done, everything you’ve ever thought about doing.”
Dean sits, silent but steadfast, ignoring his racing heart. “Yeah well that ain’t me. That’s you.”
The older Dean clenches his jaw and glares at his younger self, there’s rage bubbling up in his chest and it’s on the tip of his tongue. He can’t, he just can’t, let that hatred back into his life. Never again, not after he’s worked so hard to scrub it out, could he let that muck stain his psyche ever again.
But there’s a hand over his, ring over ring, as Cas looks the older Dean dead in eyes. “Dean,” he says, his voice kind but stern. “Don’t.”
As the older Dean shifts his gaze to Cas, his expression softens and he looks almost sad. He shifts his hand to take Cas’ in his. Dean looks on, the two are silent, but he can tell that there’s a wordless exchange going on that he’s not privy too.
Dean’s older self sighs, closing eyes, as if conceding the silent argument. “I’m going to bed,” he states, voice calm and quiet once again. He turns to his younger self.
“Cas made up the couch for you. Don’t even think about bolting, Cas doesn’t sleep.” he continues, stern and serious, pointing an accusatory finger.
With that the older Dean is gone. Cas sighs, sending a look of pity Dean’s way before following suit. Dean sits there at the table for a moment longer. So his older self hates him. Well that’s something they do have in common.
The couch is decidedly softer and more comfortable than any motel bed Dean’s ever slept in. There’s no weird draught, nor is it sweltering hot. The blanket is soft, clean, it smells nice. So much so that Dean can’t help but draw it up to his nose and just breathe it in.
The whole house smells nice, actually. It’s not like it’s scented; it doesn’t smell like flowers or air freshener or candles or anything like that. But the kitchen smells like home cooking, and the living room? Well there’s a scent in the couch cushions that’s enveloping Dean as he snuggles into it. Dean can’t quite put his finger on it, but it smells homely, like, and he feels stupid as hell for even thinking it, but it smells like love, like family. It kinda smells like that Cas guy…
No. No way. Dean feels sick to his stomach now breathing it in. It’s not his home, not his family. It couldn’t be. Hell, he doesn’t even want it to be. He throws the blanket off and swings his legs over to sit upright. He takes a breath, before burying his face in his hands.
This isn’t how how Dean Winchester handles his problems. He handles things alone. He usually doesn’t have much choice in that, but hell if he doesn’t prefer it. His dad’ll only push him aside and take over the situation then berate him for fucking it up, which, to be fair, he usually did. And Sam can never just offer his help, he always has to be so smart about it. Not that he can turn to either one of them right now anyway. Not that he could in 2005 either.
Fuck this. Who knows if this other Dean can even help him; the guy’s probably rusty from being out of game so long. He’s probably got a bad back and can’t read stuff close up or see stuff far away. He’s probably got a whole heap of old man problems that Dean doesn’t imagine he’ll ever have to deal with since there’s little chance in hell he’s ever getting old.
So he’s decided; out. Dean slips into his shoes by the side of the sofa and slips towards the door to grab his coat and turn tail. He figures he can borrow the Impala, which is a double plus because it makes it harder for old-man Dean to follow him.
Dean creeps out into the hall only to find Cas standing right in front of the door staring him down with those steely blues.
“You’re trying to leave,” he states plainly. Dean, eyes wide, stops dead mid-step. “Dean wasn’t joking; I really don’t sleep.”
“Uh…” Dean hesitates, awkward as his plan is so quickly foiled. “I was just looking for the bathroom.”
“With your shoes on?”
Dean glances down, as if he’d forgotten he’d put them on. “Uh…”
“I could stop you,” Cas says, with what Dean almost thinks is a flirtatious smirk. “But I won’t. If you really want to leave, that is.”
“I just-” Dean licks his bottom lip; a nervous habit making quite the showing during all this. “This is all… a lot. You got a kid and stuff, so… I’m probably better off dealing with this alone.”
“Is that what you really think? That we can’t help?” Cas tilts his head, unsettling Dean a little with how weirdly alien this guy seems, and that’s before he considers the fact that the guy was just waiting by the door to catch him escaping. Cas doesn’t wait for Dean to answer his question, “Sit with me, have a coffee. Or can I tempt you with a hot chocolate?”
The last thing Dean wants is to sit and have a chin-wag with this guy, but there’s something about him that makes him want to say yes. So he gives a slow nod and follows Cas back to the kitchen.
Cas flicks on the light and busies himself setting up mugs and getting the kettle boiling. Dean sits down at the table, feeling oddly juvenile yet again as he sits and waits for his hot chocolate.
Cas sets the two mugs down on the table and sighs. “Dean and I are probably the most qualified people to help get you home you know.”
“You? Are you a hunter too?” Dean asks, trying to be normal about the whole thing, removed from the situation like a third party observer.
“Not exactly,” Cas smiles softly, his eyes appearing far away for a moment. “I’m an angel.”
Dean stops with his mug at his lips, poised to take a sip. “Seriously?” He lowers the mug to the table.
“Yes,” Cas says. “Seriously. That’s why I don’t sleep.”
“What, like ever?”
“Well, I do occasionally. Like after a big fight when I’ve exhausted my grace, for instance,” he replies cooly. “Though I can sort of- well, Dean calls it ‘powering down’. It’s like sleep, though I’m still partially conscious. I don’t need to do it, but it allows me to share the night with Dean.”
Dean swallows hard, taking in this supposedly divine being who chooses to sleep just to be close to him. Well, the other him. He tries not to dwell on the thought.
“No offence, but you don’t look like an angel. You just look like… a guy.”
Cas chuckles. “Yes, well angels must take human vessels in order to walk the earth.”
“Somewhat similar, yes,” Cas admits. “Though angels must obtain their vessel’s consent.”
Dean grimaces and shuffles, uncomfortable in his seat. “So you’re just walking around playing house, and there’s a guy in there?”
Cas slumps and averts his gaze, ashamed. “Not exactly. The man whose body this was, he- he’s dead. It’s just me in here. And this body’s been completely deconstructed and reassembled a number of times. I wonder if it’s even truly still his.”
“Is that just what you say to make yourself feel better?” Dean presses.
Cas looks directly at Dean, a fond recognition in his eyes that makes Dean squirm. “Perhaps.”
“Can I just ask-” Dean starts, before biting his lip and shaking his head. “Nah, never mind.”
Cas frowns, reaching a hand out, before realising himself and drawing it back. “You can ask me anything,” he assures. “I- I won’t tell the other you if you don’t want me to.”
Dean, who up until now had been fervently avoiding eye-contact looks up at Cas to meet his gaze. There’s something in his eyes that makes him trust him, and makes him feel safe enough to say anything. He chalks it up to his angelic influence, like he makes you want to confess your sins or something.
“I just wondered, I know that it’s not exactly the same me,” Dean says, his eyes darting away as he continues to push the claim that they’re not the same man, even as he starts to believe it less and less. “But, we’re close enough I guess, so, I wondered… What the hell is angel doing with a guy like me?”
Cas’ face melts into a soft, sympathetic smile. “You’re a good man, Dean.” he says softly, earnestly.
Dean’s heart skips a beat as this is presented to him as fact, so out of step with everything he believes about himself.
“How did I- he quit hunting. How did he end up with this life?” Dean asks, pushing past any reservations he has to ask all the burning questions he has.
“Thats… a long story,” Cas replies. “And a complicated one. But, Dean, it’s always been something you can have. And something you do deserve.”
Dean’s eyes shift down to stare at the swirling streaks of chocolate dance around in his mug, unable to look his future in the eyes any longer. “Right,” he says quietly to himself, almost in a whisper.
Cas sighs and stands from the table, placing a warm hand on Dean’s shoulder. “I’d like to go to bed, if that’s alright,” he says. “Like I said, I won’t force you to stay, but if you do, there’ll be coffee waiting for you in the morning.”
Cas’ hand slips off as he exits, leaving Dean’s shoulder feeling cold without his warm touch. He sits there at the table, clutching the now empty mug, not moving an inch. His face feels hot, his eyes are heavy with sleep, and wet with tears forming there. A couple of them go rogue and slide down his cheeks. Dean heavy-handedly wipes them away with his sleeve, desperate to wipe away the evidence even with nobody here to bear witness.
He doesn’t know why he’s crying. Except, he does.
He goes back to the couch.
Dean begins to stir in the early morning as soft white light begins to stream through the blinds casting the room in stripes of alternating light and shadow. His body feels heavy on the plush couch cushions, warm under the thick blanket. He’d stay here forever if he could.
He hears the sound of clinking crockery and running water from the kitchen. He rubs his eyes haphazardly with the back of his hand as he forces himself up. As he enters the kitchen he is met with a broad smile from Castiel. Before his mind can think, he’s matching him with an earnest, honest-to-god smile. He’s distracted quickly as a speeding kid brushes past his legs, rushing towards the kitchen table and clambering up onto a chair.
“Morning, Dean,” Cas says, sliding a mug of freshly brewed coffee over the counter to him.
“Morning,” Dean replies, taking the coffee, but hesitant to take it over to the table.
Dean’s older self trudges in draped in a grey robe and rubbing his eyes haphazardly with the back of his hand. He walks up behind Cas and greets him with a light smack on the behind. “Mornin’ sweet cheeks,” he says with a smirk.
Cas just tuts and slides him a coffee. The older Dean chuckles to himself and takes his coffee over to the breakfast table where he sits beside Jack.
“Good morning, buddy,” he says, cheery even while his voice is gravelly and rough in his morning tiredness.
“Good morning,” Jack chimes back. Cas places a bowl of cereal in front of him. “Thanks dad, love you.”
“Love you too.” Cas places a kiss on the top of Jack’s blonde head.
Dean is still stood awkwardly by the counter, notably separate from the family unit. He feels like an interloper, like he himself is the elephant in the room, but Cas gestures at him to sit down, so he does.
“Good morning, Dean,” Jack says, clearly taking care to be polite and proper. “Dad says you’re other dad’s cousin who’s also called Dean.”
Dean takes a moment, his eyes wide, not sure how to interact with this innocent little thing without breaking him. “Um, yeah, that’s right,” Dean answers, rolling with it.
“I’m Jack,” Jack says, holding out a tiny hand to shake. Dean takes it and lets the kid shake it rather too energetically.
“Nice to meet you,” Dean says, vacant, bewildered more than anything.
“So Cas tells me you guys had a chat last night,” older Dean says between sips of his coffee.
“What did you talk about?”
Dean looks over to Cas, who gives a small reassuring nod. He really hadn’t told older Dean anything then, huh?
“Not much,” Dean says with a shrug, avoiding his older self’s accusatory stare.
His older self lets out a heavy sigh. “Cas told me I should be kinder to myself,” he says. “It’s not the first time he’s told me that, but it’s the first time it’s been so literal.”
Dean can’t help but chuckle a little at that. So he’s hard on himself, yet another thing they have in common.
“Anyway, sorry if I was a little confrontational with you yesterday- hey kid, you wanna slow down,” the older Dean says softly yet sternly as he turns his attention to Jack, who’s drinking milk directly out of the bowl with loud, eager slurps.
Jack puts the bowl down revealing splashes of milk around his mouth. “Sorry,” he says, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand.
“It’s alright, why don’t you give the bowl to your dad and go wash your hands?”
“Okay.” Jack jumps down from his seat and carries the bowl over to Cas by the sink.
“So…” Dean starts in an attempt at normal, polite conversation. “He yours?” he gestures between his older self and Cas.
The older Dean frowns at his younger self as if he’d just dribbled on his shirt. “Are you- That’s not how that works in any universe.”
“I mean, Cas is an angel, or whatever right?” Dean attempts to justify his own awkward stupidity, his mouth dry but somehow unable to stop speaking.
“Dude,” is all his older self says in response. “We’re meeting Sam at the bunker later, so have something to eat and then we’ll head out.”
“What’s ‘the bunker’?”
“It’s a bunker.”
“Cool.” Dean nods, tapping his fingers nervously on the side of his mug. “So how is Sam? I’m surprised he’s down to help, isn’t he, like, a lawyer now or something?”
“Nah,” the older Dean replies. “He’s been through a lot since your time, probably even more than me. He’s changed a lot; Sam’s still hunting.”
Dean mouth is perched open in shock. He’s sure now, this can’t be his universe. Not if he’s the one who’s settled down with a kid and Sam’s the one still hunting. Dean wants to ask more questions, he wants to know everything that went down to lead to this unfathomable outcome, but he doesn’t. Somehow his own future self doesn’t quite seem as inviting to question as Cas does. He could tell when he spoke to his last night that Cas loves him, even if he’s not his Dean. But future Dean looks at him like he’s yesterday’s disappointment. He supposes that that’s exactly what he is.
Jack is left with a neighbour when the three of them head off, with Dean relegated to the back seat as he’s clearly several rungs below Cas in future Dean’s pecking order. The drive is short and leads them to what looks like an empty back road in the middle of nowhere. There’s a door tucked into the side of the road that looks like some kind sewer entrance that workmen might use.
When they open it up, however, Dean is welcomed into what looks like some old WWII war room, complete with retro tech. They make their way down the iron steps and into the belly of the place. There are tables towards the back in a library section where he can see a guy who looks suspiciously like Sam already there waiting. This Sam has hair that’s way too long, and he looks older too. He looks like a grown-up, like he could tell Dean a thing or two. Nothing like the Sam he knows who still looks like a snot-nosed kid to him.
As they get closer, Sam’s face lights up and he pulls his brother into an hug. Dean hangs back, just watching. There’s something about this older Sam, something about the way he moves that seems so much heavier than the Sam he knows. This Sam seems like he’s been broken down and stitched back together more than a few times.
He’s like a broken bone that’s never healed the same, or scar tissue upon scar tissue. His own older self seems kind of like that too, but at least that was something he’d expected to see. But seeing Sam like this is jarring. As much as his heart warmed to see Sam embrace his future self so eagerly, his heart also hangs heavy in his chest as he looks upon the inevitable result of his own selfish neediness.
As Sam pulls away from his own brother, he catches his first glimpse of the younger Dean. Dean stands still and drawn into himself, unsure what he’d even say to his own Sam if he could see him now.
“So this is your situation?” Sam asks. The older Dean just raises his eyebrows. “Woah, you look so young! Well, any version of Dean is a brother to me, come here.”
Sam pulls Dean into what feels like a bear hug. He’s not that much smaller than his future self, but in Sam’s hug he feels tiny. He can barely register anything that’s happening, only managing to half raise one of his arms up in a weak attempt to hug back.
“When are you from?” Sam asks as he releases the poor, startled Dean.
“2005,” Dean answers back.
Sam grits his teeth and looks back at his brother, who just nods his head as if to say “Yeah, I know, right?”
In all his shock at seeing Sam, Dean’s barely noticed the stranger in the room. A brunette woman, who had just been sitting at the table, is now standing just behind Sam, peeking round him to get a good look, like Dean’s some kind of museum exhibit or lab specimen.
“Woah,” she says. “Dean, you used to be kinda cute.” She has a devilish grin that’s instantly likeable. The older Dean shoots her a weary look.
“This is my partner,” Sam says, apologetic. “Eileen.”
Dean gives a stiff half-wave and a grin. “Nice to meet you.”
“So what gives?” Sam asks the older Dean while still studying the younger one. “How’d he get here?”
“Beats me,” older Dean replies with an exaggerated shrug. “I was thinking Zachariah, but Cas said he doesn’t think so.”
“Zachariah would gain nothing from sending 2005 Dean here,” Cas explains. “There’s no motive.”
“So what’s our play?” Eileen asks, similarly staring down young Dean. “Are we trying to find who did this, or are we trying to fix it?”
“Both, ideally. Could be a two birds, one stone kind of situation,” older Dean says. “But priority is getting me back before we fuck up the past more than we already have. We can’t assume whoever did this is gunna be considerate enough to put me back.”
Dean stands there, as Sam and Eileen’s eyes scan over him. He shrinks into himself as their gazes bear down on him.
“So weird,” Sam shakes his head.
“Alright, you guys, come on, let’s hit the books,” the older Dean insists.
“How the tables turn, huh?” Sam whispers to Dean with a nudge. He darts back towards the shelves of books and starts running his fingers along the spines as he scans the rows of titles. He seems so friendly, so warm.
He doesn’t hate me, Dean thinks. He should.
Eileen hovers there for another moment, smiling at Dean and eyeing him up with a smirk, like she’s picking out stuff to make fun of later. But she doesn’t say anything else before she swivels back round to join Sam dredging through the books.
Dean is completely misplaced and out of his element. Research isn’t his area of expertise; he usually leaves the deep dives to Bobby when he really needs information, otherwise he just goes in hot on the seat of his pants and hopes for the best.
It’s not long before there are several stacks of books in the centre of the wooden table, each member of the gang taking one to paw through. Dean’s older self dumps one in front of him with a thunk. “Why don’t you make yourself useful,” he sighs. “I hate reading just as much as you, believe me, but it’ll go much faster with an extra set of eyes.”
Dean groans at the sight of the tiny, single-spaced text that lines the pages of the book in front of him. “Cas is an angel, isn’t he supposed to have, like, fifty thousand of them?” Dean retorts.
Cas chuckles from his armchair, not lifting his eyes from the book he’s presently got his nose in. The older Dean shoots him a glare.
“What?” Cas says, looking up. “I like past you.”
“Do not say that,” the older Dean warns with a pointed finger. “Seriously, weirds me out. Gives me fucked up déjà vu.”
The five of them are spread around the room making space for all the books sprawled out across the two tables. Dean can only get through a sentence or two at a time before his mind taps out, either blanking and not taking in another word, or wandering off in wayward directions. He crashes his head down onto its pages and lets out a dramatic groan.
“Yeah, same,” his older self says, closing his eyes and rubbing his temples.
“How about a break?” Sam pipes up.
“Yes,” the older Dean agrees instantly. “How about lunch?”
“Oh yeah,” Eileen agrees as well. “I’m starving.”
“Alright, I’m gunna head out and get some grub,” older Dean says, pushing himself up from his seat and grabbing his jacket off the back.
“I’ll come with you,” Cas adds, hopping up as well.
“Me too,” Eileen says, standing up and stretching her arms up. “I need to stretch my legs.”
“Okay, Sam you stay here and babysit baby me.”
The three of them file out and with a clunk-click, the bunker door is sealed behind them. And with that Dean is alone with Sam. Sam draws his eyes up from the volume he’s been skimming through to catch his younger-older brother staring at him with some intensity.
“So…” Dean starts. “You’re hunting again.”
Sam nods and rubs his hand against the back of his neck. “Yeah, I am.”
“What happened? To Stanford, I mean. To being normal, and getting out?” Dean asks, pushing his words past the lump in his throat.
“I, uh, maybe I shouldn’t tell you,” Sam hesitates, wary of this more unstable isotope of his brother. “Timelines and all that.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Dean sighs. “But, I mean, I’ve already been spoiled on enough of my future, so what’s the harm, right? I dunno, I guess it just seems so far away from the Sammy I know. You wanted out, man. Bad. I really thought that, you know if I even made it this far, that I’d be the one hunting and you wouldn’t want anything to do with me anymore.”
Sam frowns. “Why would you ever think I wouldn’t want anything do with you?”
“Well, you know,” Dean says simply. Because I’m me.
“I got back in because I needed to get back in,” Sam answers, artfully dodging the specifics. “That’s it really.”
“But if I’m out, what about you? I mean why would you stay in it?”
“It’s been a long time, Dean. Things have changed.” Sam remains vague.
“So everyone keeps saying.” Dean fidgets with the pages of the book lain out in front of him.
“Because it’s true. And I don’t want the same things I used to want,” Sam sighs, a decision being made in his head as he continues on. “I used to think I hated hunting, because I was hunting the way dad wanted us to. But I don’t hate it, not when I do it my own way, on my own terms. I’m helping people. And not just people.”
Dean snaps his head up. He’s not sure if the shock he’s feeling derives from confusion, or disgust, or maybe even relief. Dean doesn’t interrogate the notion further.
Instead, his mind shifts focus to another burning question,
“Hey Sam,” he says, looking down at the corner of the pages again. “Is dad dead?”
Sam’s lips draw into a thin line. “Yeah, he is,” he answers.
“Okay, I thought so,” Dean nods, solemn, but not quite sad. “I mean he’d have to be for any of this to happen, for either us to… be ourselves.” Dean instantly grimaces at his own words, still thankful he hadn’t said the first thing that had come to mind, which was ‘for us to be happy’.
Sam hesitates, like he’s sidestepping around mines with everything he says in this conversation. “Maybe,” is what he settles on. “I think dad pushed us a lot to be like him, and I don’t think either of us ever really wanted to be. I reacted to that by aggressively trying to be everything he wasn’t. And you-” Sam stops himself, realising that he’s not exactly speaking in the past tense with regards to the Dean sitting there in front of him, still carrying all of their father’s expectations on his back. “Either way,” he continues. “I think it’s natural when you get older, to figure yourself out, to really just stop caring what your parents think and do what you feel is right for you.”
“So, this is what you want to be doing?”
“Yeah, man, it really is.”
“And what about Eileen? I mean, she’s cool with you hunting?”
“She’s a hunter too. That’s how we met. I think it’s right for me, being with someone who gets the life.” Sam says, an earnest smile spreading across his face.
“Don’t you wanna settle down with her? Raise a couple kids or whatever?” Dean pushes, honestly just waiting for ‘the truth’ to slip out and confirm what he fears.
“Maybe,” Sam sighs. “I really don’t know. That’s what you did, and that’s really what you wanted. You were tired, I think. Tired of fighting, tired of losing. Thing is, the most important thing to you has always been family. You were always the one trying so hard to keep us all together. For a long time family meant hunting. Then one day, family meant something else. So you stopped.
“But for me, the most important thing was always doing something with my life that mattered, that meant something. You know back in my pre-law days I had aspirations to be a human rights lawyer, because I thought that I could help people that way. Eventually I realised that the best way I know how to help is hunting, or at least my version of it. So that’s what I’m doing. And if I find that one day that meaning changes, like it did for you, then I’ll stop.”
Dean sits silent, taking in every word. There’s no spite in his words, no anger, no regret. “Why?” Dean asks, quiet, almost in a whisper. “Why don’t you hate me?”
Sam sits up and frowns in shock and confusion.
“I dragged you back in, didn’t I?” Dean continues. “Before I got zapped here I- I was thinking about going to Stanford to get you. I did it, didn’t I? I took you away from your normal life and brought you back in and I ruined your life. I don’t get it, how are you so zen about all of this, saying all this crap about helping people. All your life, you wanted out. The whole time. It’s my fault you’re back in it so why don’t you hate me?”
“I would have got back into hunting whether you came to get me or not,” Sam says, firm and emphatic. “And Dean, I could never hate you. We’ve both been through a lot of crap, been to hell and back - literally. But Dean, where all of that’s lead us is here. We’re both happy, we won. Against all of it, in the end we won. I wouldn’t trade it.”
The sound of the heavy bunker door clunking open reverberates off the walls and Dean sucks in a breath to compose himself. Older Dean, Cas and Eileen all trudge down the steps and dump several paper bags on the table.
“What are you two girls gossiping about?” the older Dean jabs.
Sam tuts. “Just talking about how terribly you’ve aged.”
“Hey,” Sam chimes after a few more hours of gruelling research. “I think I have something. It’s a little roundabout, but it might do the trick.”
Everyone turns to attention, perking up and waking their tired eyes.
“So it’s a time spell that lets you borrow energy from your past,” Sam explains.
Older Dean frowns. “How is that supposed to help? My past is already sitting right there?
“I wasn’t thinking we use it for you,” Sam continues. “I was thinking we use it on Cas. If we could get Cas up to full strength, he could zap baby Dean back to 2005, right?”
Cas purses his lips as he ponders the proposal. “Yes, theoretically that could work,” he says. “Although borrowing power from one’s past is a dangerous thing to do. If we take it from the wrong moment we could seriously disrupt my own past.”
“Right,” Sam nods. “The book mentions that. But I thought we could modify the spell a little. What we could do, is instead of borrowing all the power we need from a single instant, we borrow a little bit from a whole bunch of different instants. That way it’ll barely register to past Cas, but we add it all up here and now and it’s all the power we need.”
Older Dean beams with pride and slaps Sam on the back. “That’s my weird witchy nerd of a little brother.”
Sam grins. “Too right.”
“I think that’s an excellent strategy, Sam,” Cas agrees. “But if we do it this way, then I don’t believe we’d ever be able to do the spell again, since we’d already have tapped into so much of my past. So if we do this now, that’s it.”
“Right…” Sam sighs, his shoulders slumping.
“Do not misunderstand, I’m more than happy to do it, I’m fully on board. I just want to make sure we all understand that this is a one use only for me.”
Sam nods. The older Dean places a hand on Cas’ shoulder and gives him a firm look.
“Okay, let’s do it.” Cas says.
The spell is simple to assemble, but requires quite a few ingredients. If it weren’t for the Men of Letters’ bunker, they’d probably be out scouring for days to gather them all. Sam makes quick work of adapting the spell, with him being 98% confident that it’ll work as planned (with the other 2% concerned that it’ll make Cas blow up).
In just over an hour since Sam’s revelation, they have everything they need. Dean merely watches in awe as the four of them work together like a well-oiled machine.
Even with his future self out of the game, he seems so focussed and efficient. He reckons he could probably still take on a fair few vamps without breaking a sweat. Not bad for a family man.
The five of them stand around the table, a bowl of ‘stuff’ laid out in its centre. This is it. The whole ordeal is over, or it’s about to be.
“Okay, Cas,” Sam says, nodding at the collection of ingredients in a silent review of their correctness. “The spell should power you up for twelve hours.”
“I’ll barely need one.”
Sam exhales and nods. Dean is stood opposite, he takes a few ragged breaths in anticipation. Sam steps up to him and places his hands on his brother’s shoulders.
“I’ll see you soon, man,” he says with a solemn smile. “Let’s fuck some shit up.”
Dean can’t help but leak out a smile. “Yeah man, for sure. We’ll tear it up.”
Eileen leans against the table and makes a phone gesture with her hand and holds it up to her ear mouthing “call me”, which elicits a snicker from Dean, which grows into a laugh when Sam turns to Eileen to see what Dean’s laughing at and she holds her hands up, innocent.
Dean’s older self steps up to him, take a breath, then hugs him. It’s strange, being hugged by himself. It would be easy for it to feel like an empty gesture, like giving yourself a pat on the back. But it feels full. Full of forgiveness for all the mistakes he’s made, and the ones he’s yet to make; full of acceptance of who he is, even if he can’t admit it yet; full of reassurance that there exists a future where he’s happy, safe, and loved.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” older Dean says, stepping back. “And definitely don’t do anything I would do.”
“I just won’t do anything, then.” Dean shrugs.
“Ready?” Sam asks, holding a lit match over the bowl. Dean and Cas both nod, and Sam drops it in and begins chanting in a language Dean doesn’t recognise (yet). Cas’ eyes light up up and there’s a bright light casting huge black shadows of thick plumed wings behind him. Both Deans look on in awe as Castiel’s fully powered grace and his vast, unbroken wings are revealed for what will be the final time. Both Dean’s are glad for the chance to see it, the younger for the very first time, and the older for the very last.
As the light dies down, Cas turns to Dean, places a hand on his shoulder, and with a whoosh of whipping wings, they’re gone.
The second after Cas’ hand makes contact with Dean’s shoulder, they’re standing in the middle of some dingy motel room, beer bottles strewn across the floor.
Dean takes in his surroundings; they’re awfully familiar. He holds his composure, but inside his heart drops. The room is empty aside for him and Cas. His cell phone sits on the bed, his dad and Sam’s numbers sitting in it, aching to be dialled. But he knows that he won’t.
He turns to Cas. “That really was my future, right?” he asks, his voice pained, but hopeful.
“What happened to it being an alternate timeline?”
“Yeah, I dunno,” Dean shuffles and looks away. He turns back to Cas, his words catching in his throat, but he squeezes them out, “I can’t wait to meet you.”
“And I, you,” Cas replies, placing a hand on Dean’s face, running his thumb over his cheek. “Goodbye, Dean.” Dean looks as though his heart’s about to fall out of his chest, tears pooling in his eyes.
“Don’t go,” Dean croaks, grabbing onto Cas’ arm, digging his fingers into the fabric of his shirt sleeve, desperate to hold on. “Please.”
“I’m sorry, Dean,” Cas sighs. And he is. He places two fingers over Dean’s forehead and his body drops, falling limp into Cas’ arms. He carries him over to the bed and lays him gently down.
And then he’s gone.
When Cas returns to 2021, ‘older Dean’ is just Dean again; there’s no remnant of his past lurking around anymore, and normalcy is restored. The four of them make the most of the free evening and share a dinner together followed by a few beers. The atmosphere is casual, but there’s a certain stiffness in the air after the whole ordeal.
“Man,” Sam sighs, feeling comfortable to broach the topic after a couple of beers. “I really forgot how much you’ve really changed.”
Dean shrugs and takes a swig of beer. “Yeah, I guess I have.”
“You’ve come a long way,” Sam says.
Dean clenches his jaw for a moment. “Hmm,” he hums. “Yeah, I kinda forgot how much of a mess I used to be.”
“I don’t know if I’d say you were a mess…” Sam walks back the moment. “You were just so unsure of yourself back then.”
“You know what I was?” Dean says. “Needy. And repressed.”
“What’s changed?” Cas snips with a smirk.
“Shaddup.” Dean bumps his shoulder against Cas’.
“You needed me,” Cas adds cheekily.
“Hey, and me!” Sam cuts in. “You were just a lonely little guy.”
Dean’s face is flat, his lips pouted. “Whatever, shut up.”
“So we still have no idea who sent you back,” Eileen adds, concerned and unsure.
Dean shrugs and takes a swig. “Yeah we’d better look into that. Maybe tomorrow.”
“Doesn’t it seem kind of odd?” Sam says, leaning over the table like he’s on a hot piece of gossip. “I mean, that nobody showed up to- I don’t know, to make demands or try and make their point? They just sent Dean here, then nothing.”
“Yes,” Cas agrees, leaning back, pensive. “That definitely is odd. Sending a human through time takes a lot of effort, even at full power. I can’t imagine why an angel would do such a thing without some ulterior motive.”
“Well, hey, we sent me back, no harm, no foul,” Dean says with a stretch and a groan. “If my 13-year-old self shows up tomorrow then maybe we got a bigger problem, but right now? I’m taking the win. And I’m gunna turn in. Cas?”
Cas nods and the two excuse themselves. With their neighbour already having agreed to keep Jack for the night, they decide to spend the night in the bunker, rather than bother driving home in the dark. Besides, Dean’s old room is nostalgic for them as it’s the first one they ever shared.
They slip into bed and lie there, Cas’ head in the crook of Dean’s neck. They lie there, Dean gazing up at the ceiling in the dark as if it’s an inky black sky.
“I was thinking,” Dean says, breaking the comfortable silence. “About how I couldn’t remember any of this,” he continues.
Cas perks up, shifting so he can look at Dean as he speaks.
“You wiped my memory, didn’t you?”
“Yes, Dean. I’m sorry, I should have asked before I left, but I realised once I had already taken you back that it was what I had to do.”
“No, it’s okay, I’m not mad at all,” Dean says, running a hand through Cas’ hair. “You’re right, you had to do it. It would’ve messed up a lot of stuff if I remembered. But I was thinking about when exactly I think this happened. I know you figured the exact date, but I mean, who remembers what they hell they were doing on a given day fifteen years ago, right? But I think I know what day it was.” Dean swallows.
“I’d just found out that dad was missing. I was in some crappy motel somewhere after a routine salt-n-burn. I had to decide if I was gunna go and get Sam from Stanford. And I decided not to. Instead I bought enough alcohol to sedate a killer whale and loaded my gun…” Dean lets out a jagged breath. “I was done. With hunting, with fighting, with everything. I didn’t want to get Sam because what was the point. I figured dad was probably dead and Sam was probably better off without either of us.”
“And if he was alive, well, then he must have just left. Finally got sick of me and just left, And I thought, he doesn’t care about me, right, and god knows Sam doesn’t need me. So maybe it’s for the best that I go.”
Cas looks at Dean with unwavering attention. His eyes are welling beneath his furrowed brows. Dean’s barely keeping composure himself.
“I thought there was nothing keeping me here anymore. So I was gunna just-” he bites back the words. “And then, I dunno I just passed out I guess. And when I came to, I didn’t really remember much, but I had this fuzzy feeling in my head. I thought I was just hungover, but it felt like there was the memory of a dream just out of reach. Every time I tried to remember it, it slipped further away. But it felt warm. Whatever it was, it felt hopeful, it felt like a reason to keep going. So I did. And the next day I hit the road and headed for Stanford.”
Cas strokes hand on Dean’s face a places a kiss softly on his lips. He doesn’t say anything, and Dean doesn’t want him to. They lie there in each others arms until Dean slips off to sleep. As soon as Cas hears the familiar rhythm of Dean’s sleeping heart rate, he slips out of bed. They still have a good 7 hours or so on the clock before the spell wears off, and Cas knows now what he must do. So as Dean sleeps soundly, Cas uses the power for one last trip.
He vanishes from the bunker, and appears before a drunken 26-year-old in a dingy motel room, sitting on the edge of the bed, handgun in his hand.
“Who the hell are you?” the young man slurs, voice lazy and hopeless.
“Someone who loves you.”
They both vanish.
A wide, empty boardwalk painted amber by the setting sun, slipping over the horizon, basks a 26-year-old Dean Winchester in buttery warm sunlight.