"Car's up ahead."
Dad "hmmm"d and kept his eyes fixed on the road. Dean squinted at the taillights, trying to make out the model of the car in the dark, but Sam's journal was pretty clear about the victim's car being the only one on this road at the time.
Except the ghost truck, that is.
Truth be told, Dean was kind of excited about this one. A lot of the hunts his older self had sent them on these last few months were pretty dull; all the investigating had been done already and it was all just 'dig up this corpse' or 'burn this random thing'. They'd got to face one ghost (well, two), but only because she was stuck in a repeating loop every year and had to be talked into moving on, which was pretty cool really, even if he wouldn't admit it to Dad. But the rest of the time they were just breaking into crypts or (actual) haunted houses (and an asylum; wasn't that fun, even in broad daylight) or sneaking into places to burn things like gloves or a desiccated hand or a painting and dolls with real hair. There'd been a tree out in Indiana with a fugly scarecrow too, and some Confederate soldier's crypt with a super unlucky penny.
And the shtriga. He still couldn't talk about that one. Dad had clapped him on the shoulder when it was over, said something about being done now, but...
Today they were saving Cassie's dad, and Dean had spend the whole drive down grinning to himself. According to other Dean, last time she'd called him for help after this psycho's ghost truck had turned up, so, okay, she wasn't going to have as much reason to trust him this time, but riding in on a white horse after saving her dad had to count for something, right?
"It's nine-thirty," said Dad. "Truck should've shown up by now."
Dean checked the case notes again (actual notes, scribbled while his other self had described the case to them, not the actual journal the other Sam had written; Dean had asked twice to see it, but the old guy wouldn't budge). "Doesn't look like the cops knew the exact time. Give it a minute." Dad scowled and Dean backpedalled. "Or could be the ghost waits 'till the victim's alone. We could back off a bit."
"If I back off any more we're going to lose him."
Dean shut up. They backed off anyway.
When something finally happened, Mr Robinson's car was a speck of red light way down the road that barely showed up even in the headlights of the ghost truck. If the dashboard hadn't flickered, they would've missed it.
He'd already gunned it. Dean held on and shoved the papers in the glove compartment, unbuckling his seatbelt and shuffling hard up against his door. Ahead, the ghost truck was bumping the little car, smashing taillights and getting rougher every time, toying with him. Mr Robinson was trying to outrun it, but didn't have the horsepower. That truck was just too fast.
Dad's truck was faster.
With its prey in sight, the ghost wasn't paying any attention to them, so Dad got past it pretty easy. Dean wrapped his seatbelt round his arm a few times and, taking a breath, opened his door.
Mr Robinson was barely visible through his windows, trying like hell to keep control and evade, and from the look on his face when he saw them, he probably hadn't heard them drive up at all. For a second he blinked, wide-eyed like a cartoon.
They couldn't spare that second.
"Open up!" Dean yelled over the noise of three engines. He braced one foot on the step, shoved the other knee into his door to keep it open, and swung out on the locked seatbelt to hammer his fist on Mr Robinson's door. "We'll get you out of here, come on!"
The ghost, turns out, wasn't stupid. It changed targets.
Dean got slammed into the chassis as the ghost took out Dad's right taillight. From inside Dad shouted, "Dean!" but the blow had knocked the wind out of him; it took him a second to move. "Dean, now!"
Mr Robinson had cottoned on and was pushing his own door open, wriggling out of his seatbelt as he drove one-handed. Dean hoped like hell he was setting the cruise control because there was no way he could haul the guy in if that car wasn't matching their speed – if he could manage it at all.
Over his shoulder he called, "You gotta get me closer!" and Dad did his best. They swerved in and Dean reached out far as he could, but his fingertips were still half a foot from Mr Robinson's. He waved at the guy to move in. "Closer!"
Dad tried. The ghost jolted them again, trying for a side-swipe, and Dad used the opening to angle in, but there was less than a second to make the grab before Dad had to swing out to avoid a crash, and Dean missed.
The ghost truck nosed its way between their two bumpers, making it impossible to swing in again, but it couldn't rear-end either of them anymore either. The road was wide enough for three cars, but Dean would've bet his cosy new room at the bunker that the ghost would try running them off next. He couldn't swing out, and while Dad could gun it and get ahead, Mr Robinson couldn't.
Dean glanced at the road ahead – straight line, for now – yanked his door in, waved Mr Robinson back in and yelled "Brake!"
Dad reacted first, peeling left just enough so the passenger door wouldn't catch and rip Dean's arm off, and screeched to a stop, letting the ghost truck race by. A few dozen feet ahead, Mr Robinson halted and lost his door as the ghost barrelled past.
It braked a moment later.
They had barely a few seconds and they all knew it, so Dad hit the gas again and Dean got a car-door bruise across his shins as they raced up to the crunched mess Mr Robinson was climbing out of.
He ran for them. Dean pushed the door open and threw himself backwards into the gear stick as the ghost truck revved and reversed at them; Mr Robinson scrambled into Dean's seat and Dean grabbed his arm to hold him in as Dad evaded.
They took off.
"Wha– what the hell?" Mr Robinson panted. Dean reached over to slam the door shut.
"It's a ghost manifesting a truck and it's trying to kill you," said Dad, eyes flicking quickly between the road and the truck in the rear-view. "We're going to get you out of here."
"How did you kno–?"
Dean yanked his notes and the local map back out of the glove compartment and fished around for his flashlight. Damn, they really should've gotten here early enough to drive this a few times in the daylight. "Okay Decatur Road, should be half a mile ahead."
"Watch my back, Dean!"
Dean swung round in his seat and squinted into the headlights. "Fuck. Dad–!"
Too late; the ghost truck rear-ended them, making what sounded like an ugly dent in the weapons trunk and throwing all of them into the dashboard (Except Dad. Seatbelts? Great things). Dean bit back a shout as his shoulder was slammed into hard plastic. Instead, blood on tongue, he muttered, "Looks like it's chasing us."
"Yes, Dean, I got that," Dad growled. "Are you all right? Dean!"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm good." He winced and twisted back round to look again – still close, not ramming just yet – and back to the map. With no flashlight. Its beam rolled somewhere around their feet. He reached down for it and– yep, definitely bruised something bad. "Decatur Road, up ahead," he said from memory. "Then six... no, seven-tenths of a mile to where an old church burned down."
"And then?" said Dad.
Dean eased himself back into the tiny middle seat and glued his eyes to the mirrors. "Then it's supposed to chase us onto holy ground and off itself."
Dad growled and took a tight turn into Decatur Road. "This had better work."
"Must've last time."
Beside him, Mr Robinson was trying hard to get his breathing under control. But from the way he was clutching his seat he was... possibly having a panic attack.
"Hey, hey!" said Dean, shaking him. "You're all right. Okay? That ghost'll be toast in a few minutes, you're gonna be fine."
Mr Robinson shook his head frantically, still sucking in air. "Why – why's this ha–happening?"
"Dunno. Ghosts usually turn up as themselves, not some damn truck. We don't know much. Its name is Cyrus Dorian. Heard of him?"
His breathing stopped completely – for a second – and all the blood drained out of his face. Up side, it stopped the panic attack cold. Dully, totally disconnected from everything going on, Mr Robinson said, "He's after us."
The cabin brightened. Dean whipped his head back to the mirror, flung an arm in front of their not-vic and braced himself on the dash as the truck rammed them again. "Yeah, I'd say so."
"Church," Dad said, zeroing in on their target. There was barely anything left, and Dad pulled in as close as he could to the burnt sticks that were once a wall.
As one, the three of them turned to look out the back. The headlights were blinding, and its engine just kept getting louder and louder. Dad was swearing under his breath, gripping the wheel and ready to go. Mr Robinson started to pray.
It screamed at them, tearing down the road, getting closer so damn fast, and for half a second Dean thought calmly, I'm gonna die. Bastard future me set us up.
Then the ghost truck hit a ghost gate and shattered into little ghostie pieces.
The electrics stopped flickering; the rumble of Dad's engine didn't seem ominous anymore. It even felt a bit warmer. In sync, Dean and Dad relaxed, and Mr Robinson slowly turned around. "Is it over?"
Dad smiled and clapped Dean on the shoulder (not the bruised one, though Dean still had to work to hide the wince). "It is. Hallowed ground destroys evil spirits. Give us directions, we'll take you home."
"Oh, thank God," said Mr Robinson as they pulled out, slumping in his seat. "Thank God for you two. How did you know?"
"All part of the job," said Dean, grinning and settling carefully in his seat. He offered a hand. "Dean Winchester," he said and, jerking his head, offered, "My dad, John."
Dad gave a short salute.
"Take a left when you reach the highway," said Mr Robinson. He shook his head. "I just don't know... these last few weeks have been hard." He looked up sharply. "Is there any way... I mean, do you know if this is what happened to Clayton?"
Dean paused; looked at Dad. Dad frowned. "Who's Clayton?"
"Clayton Soames, a friend of mine. He died a few weeks ago. It looked like he'd been run off the road but there were no other tyre tracks." Exactly like this would've been, if they hadn't turned up. Dean's guts went cold. "I just thought," said Mr Robinson, "if it was Dorian..."
"If it was," said Dad darkly, "we should've known."
By the time they got back to the bunker, Dad was wound up to a rage. Hell, he'd been steaming before they left Cassie's place, soon as Mr and Mrs Robinson finished telling their story, but Dean's asshole older self and Castiel hadn't been answering their phones, and all Sam had known was that they said they'd be back soon.
So here they were, storming in from the garage with Missouri mud on their boots and startling Sam and Jess out of their law books. Dad didn't waste time: "They here?"
"Yeah, but they're not talking." Sam jerked a thumb towards the dorms. "Came back an hour ago. 'Got things to discuss'."
Which meant they'd be shut in Dean's room going over whatever bullshit they got up to when they were gone from the bunker, which was most of the time. Other Dean had said they were doing the same as him and Dad, taking care of hunts that would've happened later on so even the first vics wouldn't die, but if that were so, why'd they never share details? Huh? And that journal future Sam had written – they kept it locked away for no reason. Dean was sick of this kids' table crap, and he was nothing compared to Dad.
Sam knew them too well; he hurried after them. Dean didn't bother filling him in. Down the hall, a few turns later, and Dad was hammering on other Dean's door. Through it, other Dean said, "Not now!"
Dad stepped back and slammed his boot into the wood. The old knob gave way and he stormed in – and froze.
Dean, behind him, blinked. "Wha–?"
Castiel stood with his back to them, his long coat blocking most of their view of other Dean, who was sitting on the bed, feet planted on the floor and knees spread wide. He was doubled over, moaning, one hand gripping Castiel's coat, and Castiel was leaning forward, one hand on other Dean's shoulder and the other...
The other arm was plunging straight towards other Dean's body. They couldn't see exactly where, but from the angle, and the way Castiel was bracing his weight on other Dean's shoulder–
A puff of warm air hit Dean's ear as Sam said, "Is he jerking him off?"
Dean jumped, mouth full of wordless denials that fell out silently as his jaw hung slack. Ahead, Dad was just as speechless.
But then Castiel shifted to the side, and no: They were both dressed. But Castiel's arm was sunk into other Dean's sternum, right through his shirt; there was a thin glow around his wrist as he– What? Felt around inside the guy's ribcage? Whatever it was, it hurt; other Dean was gripping Castiel's sleeve with one hand and the mattress with another, sweating and grinding his teeth.
"Get away from him!" yelled Dad, and he lunged for them– but Castiel flicked one wrist and he bounced back, crashing into Dean and sending both of them into the wall. Son of a bitch didn't even look up; his eyes were screwed closed in concentration.
Sam helped them up (which was good, Dean wouldn't say, because his shoulder felt completely screwed now), and it was probably only his hand on Dad's arm that kept Dad from going again. What the fuck were they–?
Castiel slid his arm out, slowly, carefully, and as soon as his fingers were free the glow vanished; other Dean slumped right over, pale and shaky, and Castiel caught him. "You need to sleep."
"'m fine, Cas," he mumbled, weakly shoving him off. He tried to stand and stumbled right over. Castiel put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down.
"Get off him!" snapped Dad, grabbing the angel's arm and trying to haul him off. Trying. The angel was like a statue; a granite statue bolted into the ground and welded down. Dad could've been a breeze for all the effect he had. Castiel ignored it, focused on keeping other Dean sitting. Other Dean was waving him off weakly.
"Bullshit. What the hell are you doing?"
Other Dean took a deep breath, looking up at them with that face that said he was deciding whether or not they got to know. He turned at Castiel, but the angel just frowned at him. "It was your idea," he said darkly.
Other Dean frowned and shook his head. "Fine," he grumbled, and glanced at them. "Angel power comes from Heaven, but Cas can't connect to that because other angels would notice him do it. So he's got to use his own grace all the time, and that can drain out. Human souls are kind of like a generator for that stuff, so if he touches mine, he can juice up for a while." He shrugged. "That's all."
Dean blinked, rubbed his eyes, brain sorting that into some kind of logic. "You're using your – sorry, our soul – as a battery charger. For angel juice."
Which must've sounded just as stupid to his older self because other Dean chuckled, and he must've been exhausted because it turned into kind of a weird giggle.
"It's a dangerous process," Castiel said, eyes fixed on other Dean, disapproval radiating from him. "Especially this often."
"We've got work to do, Cas."
It sounded like an old married couple argument, which Dean might have mocked them for if his brain wasn't still spinning from the almost-traumatising sight they'd walked in on.
"What happens to his soul?" Sam asked Castiel, eyeing other Dean as he slumped forward on his elbows. "When you... touch it?"
"It drains his energy. He needs time to recover. Sleep."
Other Dean scowled. "You're not my mother."
"She told me to take care of you."
Dean froze, Dad jerked, and other Dean flinched, stung. Mom... Mom was a pretty harsh card to play, but Castiel had the same look as Dad did when he was at the end of his tether. It worked, anyway.
"...Fine," grumbled other Dean, and shooed them out. "Fine, I'll sleep. Ten hours, Cas, that's it– No, do not knock me out. I can sleep on my own."
Castiel held two fingers out ominously until Dean deflated a little. "I promise, Cas," he said, softer. Castiel nodded and turned to walk out, but Dad didn't move out of his way, though behind him Dean could hear Sam step aside. Castiel slid past. From the bed, other Dean squinted up at them. "What? Everything went fine with Cassie's dad, right?"
Dad shook the paper notes they'd had for the Robinson case. "Clayton Soames died last month. Same ghost. They told us before we asked; no way you didn't know."
Older Dean – and he really did look old to Dean's eyes right now, old and sad – slumped. "Yeah, well. That wasn't supposed to happen."
"What did happen?" demanded Dad. "You let a man die, Dean."
"It happened, all right?" other Dean snapped, and would have gotten up if he hadn't swayed with dizziness just from moving too fast. He steadied himself and ignored it. "There's a lot of cases here," he said steadily, looking just south of Dad's eyes. "Hundreds. I didn't remember that the first killing was so much earlier 'till I re-read the journal, and by then it was too late. Cas can't just time-hop us back every time we mess up, it'll kill him."
"So why didn't you tell us?" said Dean. "Better yet, why didn't you share that gold mine journal of yours so one of us might've caught it?"
His older self ignored that. "It's my fault, okay? They can blame me."
"Yeah, convenient how we can't tell them about you, isn't it?" Dad scowled and stalked out. Sam followed. Dean would've gone too, nothing left to say, but behind him the other guy said, "Hey me– you – Dean," and he turned around.
His older self was watching him, hitching a knee to slowly pull off one boot, and jerked his chin to invite him back in. Dean took a few steps and didn't sit. This room always felt weird to him; too many things the same and different, like the picture of Mom by the lamp, way more worn out than the one in his wallet. Other Dean avoided his room too. "What is it?" asked Dean.
Other Dean hauled off the first boot and stretched out his leg before starting on the other. "Wanted to ask you about Cassie," he said, eyes on the boot. "Did you talk to her?"
He had, and back then he'd been ready to sing; now he just didn't feel like it. "Yeah."
Dean folded his arms. "And what? You know me, you know everything." No, that didn't come out bitter. Probably.
Other Dean shucked the boot and started peeling off his jacket and belt, shaking off a yawn. "Not everything. But I know what we wanted before seeing her again, and I know what's going to happen if you go down that road. So don't."
"Why, why not?"
"Because." Other Dean threw his jacket across the room, didn't look at him. "The last time I saw her she said she's a realist, and didn't see any hope for us. That was a few days from now."
"And you didn't even try?" demanded Dean, because no, she hadn't said that; she'd hugged him and thanked him for saving her dad and invited him back sometime. She'd still been sceptical about it all and Dean might have promised to take her on a (very safe and easy) ghost hunt sometime to prove it, but they had a shot. "Twelve years and you didn't even get in touch again?"
Other Dean shrugged. "Shit happened."
Dean scowled. "Don't lie to me."
"Why not? We do it all the time," he retorted, and slowly stood up from the bed. He looked Dean straight in the eye. "Cassie's not going to stick around. She doesn't want this life; she didn't want us. Not enough. So whatever she said while she was over the moon that you brought her dad back, she'll change her mind."
Dean swung at him, but even worn out from angel juicing, the other Dean was still faster; fucker had twelve years of practice on his side, and he grabbed the swing and twisted, digging his thumb against Dean's ring and little fingers, two of his worst old breaks – even Dad didn't know they still twinged sometimes. Dean winced and grabbed back, but his older self had the better angle. They went still, locked in a knot of fists and forearms, and Dean suddenly had a up-close view of other Dean's hands: None of his fingers were off angle. Not even a little. He stared.
"Cas healed them," explained other Dean, and, after another second, let go. Dean stepped back, shaking out his arms. "He'll probably do the same for you if you ask. He's got the juice, for now."
"Yeah, thanks," Dean sneered, and turned and stalked out, not closing the door just so the bastard would have to do it himself. The broken knob made him grin.
Then it occurred to him, what he should have said, the perfect comeback. "I don't believe in fate." Over his shoulder he yelled, "I don't believe in fate! Thought you didn't either!"
He was probably too far down the corridor for the other Dean to hear him, but it made him feel better. He felt around inside his pocket as he walked and pulled out a scrap of paper; stared at it for a second. Cassie's email address looked back at him.
"What the hell," he muttered.
Castiel was nearing the kitchen when John caught up with him. "Hey!" he barked. "I want a word."
The angel paused and turned, watching him levelly. John walked up, ignoring the way his back ached from hitting the wall; it'd pass, and he was too angry to care. He got right up into the angel's face and said, "You need a boost, you use me. Not my boys. You got that?"
The feathered bastard looked surprised. He tilted his head, studying him for a second. "You're volunteering?" he asked.
John's jaw tightened. "I don't know what you two are up to and right now, I don't care. I won't let you drain him dry."
"I'd never do that," Castiel said, suddenly intense and– John did not step back. The wall was just closer than he'd thought. "Never."
John didn't break the stare. "Prove it."
Castiel leaned back, studying him for a long moment. Finally he said, "Dean will notice if I come to you too often. Every second time."
John frowned, considered, nodded. "Fine."