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the island of conclusions

In Our Embers (SPN fic--GEN)

the island of conclusions

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In Our Embers (SPN fic--GEN)

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Impala
Here's my spn_summergen fic, folks. I'm not going to editorialize, because I would go on FOREVER.
(it's up on DW and AO3 as well, if you'd like to read/comment without FB interference)

I am completely behind on reading all the great fic from this year--I'll be trying to catch up! But I did LOVE the story that [personal profile] desertport wrote for me: it's about Ellen--giving birth! And she's just as tough and tender about it as you would expect. Namesake.

Title: ‘In Our Embers’
Recipient: Yanyann
Rating: pg-13 (for language)
Warnings/spoilers: Set b/w 5.16 and 5.17.
Word count: 7,822.

a/n: much love and gratitude to calamitycrow, for the sharp eye, the hand-holding, and the much needed injections of reality.
a/n: title, epigraph and quoted text from William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality."

Summary: "Easy now." Sam gathered the warm little body into his own. He patted awkwardly at his brother's hair, his shoulders, Dean's sobs the only sound in the eerily silent room. "It's okay, Dean, it's okay," he said. And he couldn't help saying it like he wanted the words to carry all the way back to 2010.


O joy! That in our embers
Is something that doth live,
That Nature yet remembers
What was so fugitive!


In Our Embers

"No," Dean said, voice flat and furious, pushing his chair away from the rickety motel table so hard the legs squeaked along the floor.

He stayed in the room, though, and for that, Sam was grateful.

"Okay," Sam kept his tone measured, "there are other methods we can try. Hypnotism, maybe. Or one of those recovered memory specialists."

But Dean wasn't done with the other thing, yet. "Look, Sam, I know you're gung-ho on this, but you gotta remember what happened the last time. You almost died; Cas ended up comatose. People died." Angels died, he meant. If a voice could ache, Dean's would.

"I know," Sam tried again, "But, Dean, people are dying right now, here in Fort Collins. If another trip to the past is going to save them, why not—"

But this time, Dean was already out the door.

++++++

Left alone, Sam paced.

Dean dropping his amulet in the trash after their heartbreaking Heavenly road trip had plunged Sam into a well of uncertainty—he felt like he couldn't read what Dean was thinking at all, despite a lifetime of studying his deflections and evasions, his silences and explosions.
Okay, that wasn't quite right. Truth was, Sam had the horrible feeling that he knew exactly what his brother was thinking, even though the idea was so not Dean it made Sam want to scream. Every time Dean stomped out of a motel room—or a diner, or a bar—Sam was sure he was getting ready to offer himself up to Michael. That it wouldn't be Dean who came back.

To distract himself from that possibility—and really, what was he going to do, hand-cuff Dean to the bed?—Sam made himself go over the details of the case again.

They'd come to Colorado following reports of a horrible beast descending from the mountains at night, mauling people, sometimes killing them. Two hikers first, then a guy in a lonely gas-station on a mountain road, and then, finally and worst of all, a couple of ten-year-old girls on a Girl Scout camp out. It looked like a lion, most people said, though it walked on two feet. It killed with its teeth and claws; that much at least, was verified by the autopsy reports.

"Probably a mountain lion," Dean had scoffed, "they do stuff like that sometimes."

"No," Sam had told him, "No, witnesses aren't saying it looks like a mountain lion. They're saying it looks like a real lion. You know, with a mane."

"Huh," Dean had said, convinced, "that's a new one," and they'd headed out.

There were known instances of were-lions, but the activity didn't follow the cycle of the moon. Something demonic, they'd concluded—something unleashed from the back pages of the bible. Not that that helped them figure out how to stop it, to kill it.

Then Castiel had shown up. He'd popped into visibility, cocked his head at them, looking more threadbare and careworn than ever, and said, "Is it behaving the same way as it did the last time?"

They'd both stared at him.

"Last time?" Dean had asked, "What're you talking about, Cas--we've never seen this thing before. This is new. And by new, I mean old. Very, very old. Biblically old."

"True," Castiel had agreed, "Sam has never seen it before. But you have, Dean. When you were very young." And he'd looked at Dean expectantly.
Dean had shaken his head. "Sorry, Cas, but you're wrong. This, I think I'd remember."

And so Castiel had told them a story.

"This is one of the tales about the Winchesters that used to make the rounds at the garrison," he'd begun, and Sam had tried to decide whether it was flattering or disturbing that the angels had been telling stories about his family before his family had even believed in angels. "One night, shortly before you were born, Sam, Azazel sent his henchman, Raum, to Lawrence, to learn the lay of the land —to case the joint, I think you would say. Raum brought his familiar, a fierce, lion-headed creature. It is not known whether they meant to be discovered—to scare your mother, to remind her of her contract—or whether they meant to observe her unawares. In either case, she detected them, detected the threat to her family," Sam had thought he caught a trace of pride, or admiration in the angel's eyes. "Mary knew the word that bound the monster to his master—it had been lost to the lore books, but somehow preserved in the Campbell family—and she severed the ties between them. She set the lion, now in her command, upon its master, who fled. It is thought she bound it where it could not hurt others."

"Mom," An unusual edge of wonder had colored Dean's voice, "Mom did that?"

Castiel had nodded.

"And that's what this is?" Sam had asked, "the demon's familiar?"

Castiel had nodded. "It is the end of days: all bindings have been loosened. It is hungry, after its long imprisonment. There is good news and bad news," he'd said solemnly, not seeming to realize he'd uttered a cliché, "which would you like to hear first?"

"Bad news," Dean had said tersely. He always picked bad news; Sam could have saved Castiel the trouble.

"Raum is abroad, and he is looking for his great weapon."

"Okay, that is bad," Dean had agreed, "Let's have the good."

"The good news, Dean," Castiel had said, looking hard at him, "is that you were there, the night your mother defeated Raum and his creature. You know the word to bind the beast."

"Uh-huh," Dean had come back, just as flinty, "except for how I don't. I don't remember anything like that happening."

Cas had unfurled one of his patented "I raised you from Hell, I can put you back" stares, but Dean had just met it, dead-eyed.

"Okay, okay," Sam had tried to break the tension, and he would've been amused to find himself in the position of peacemaker, if they hadn't been up such very nasty creek without a paddle, "Dean doesn't remember. So. So, we'll find the word some other way. We can do that. That's what we do."

Cas and Dean had stared at him, equally skeptical.

++++++

And they were right. Hours of searching through the internet, and having Bobby comb through the books on his shelves, had yielded nothing. Plenty of binding spells, to be sure, but not the right one.

"Okay, so maybe you've blocked out this memory," Sam had conceded, two nights in, rubbing tired eyes. "I'm sure you had your reasons." Dean had glowered at him, but conceded nothing. "Maybe I remember it," he'd offered, "studies have shown that children in the womb can—"

"Oh, shut up Sam," Dean had said, heading towards the door, "I bet we have some kind of ammunition in the trunk that'll bring down a demonic lion."

He'd come back empty-handed.

But when Castiel had shown up again, offering to send one or both of them back to 1983 to retrieve the word, Dean had treated him like he'd suggested taking out an anthill with a nuclear bomb, and vetoed the whole idea.

++++++

Sam paced, and wondered how much of a betrayal it would be—or rather, how it would stack up against all his other betrayals, all of the wounds re-opened by Heaven's lathe of memory—if he simply got Cas to send him back without Dean knowing.

++++++

In the end, though, it was both simpler and more complicated than that.

Lacking a better plan, they went up against the lion head on. Tracked it up into the piney granite foothills of the Rockies, the climb leaving them breathless in the thin, mile-high air. They'd found it too; and in the nasty struggle that followed it had been impossible to tell whether it went on four legs or two, whether its limbs were leonine or human. Cornered, it had tossed its ragged, muddy mane at them, growled down its grizzled snout—and then attacked with what might accurately be called demonic fury. It had thrown Dean into the granite rock face—thrown him so hard that Sam was more worried about internal bleeding than about the fact that Dean had wrenched his always tricky right knee again.

The lion creature had fled into the forest without a scratch. While they were the ones licking their wounds.

++++++

"Sam," Dean growled warningly, limping very carefully between the bathroom and the bed, "you ask me whether I'm pissing blood one more time, I'm gonna piss on you."

"Uh-huh," Sam was unmoved by the threat. "Lemme take a look, okay?"

Sullenly, Dean lowered himself onto the bed, pulled up his shirts so that Sam could see the spectacular bruising beginning to spread along his right side and across his abdomen. Sam poked and prodded, Dean watching him as though his body belonged to someone else, but nothing seemed more swollen or tender than it had before.

Sighing, Sam shook out two Vicodin for his brother, made a disapproving face when Dean chased them with a pull from his flask, but didn't interfere.

Soon enough, Dean was dead to the world.

++++++

Sam, however, lay awake, wondering what the hell they were going to do now.

Then air fluttered against his cheek and the mattress dipped next him as Castiel's weight sank into it.

"Jesus, Cas," Sam pushed himself up abruptly and flicked on the bedside lamp. He was never going to get used to that shit.

"How is he?" the angel asked, looking at Dean, whose face was tight and furrowed, even in sleep.

"He's had worse," Sam shrugged, burying his own concern. They were speaking in whispers, although there seemed little chance of waking Dean up.

Castiel narrowed his eyes at Sam, and for once Sam had no trouble remembering that the angel was a soldier. "We could do it now," Castiel said, as if he were reading Sam's thoughts, "I could send you back."

"No," Sam shook his head, "It—it wouldn't be right—without Dean agreeing—without him knowing--"

"More people are going to die, Sam—they'll keep dying until we—until you stop this thing—"

"I know," Sam said, "I know," he stalled, "but—it really hurt you—aren't you worried about that?"

Castiel just looked at him some more, and Sam could tell by his expression that no, no he really wasn't.

"Don't you need, uh, equipment? Like last time?" Sam said, but he was just drawing out the inevitable now, he knew himself well enough to realize that.

"No. That time I didn't know where were going—this time I know the date and year."

"Alright," Sam said, feeling something harden inside him, resolute or callous, he couldn't tell, "Alright. Let's do it."

Two fingers touched a precise spot between his eyes, and the world went black around him.

++++++

He opened his eyes in a sunny playground, soft spring air caressing his face. The breeze carried a faint scent of lilacs.

The park was busy, every swing taken, kids dangling from the monkey bars, but it didn't take Sam long to locate the Winchesters.
Even if he hadn't recognized Mary's bright hair and Dean's sturdy form, he would have noticed them: she was the only heavily pregnant mom chasing her four-year-old across the playground.

Mary was stalking Dean with exaggerated Frankenstein monster arms and big, stomping strides, and Dean was shrieking with laughter, the crazy glee making him stagger. Dean tried to hide behind a pillar of the jungle gym, but when he peeped out, Mary was on him. She wrapped her arms around him, making deep growly noises, and the two of them collapsed onto the ground in a fit of giggles.

Sam felt like he'd landed on the moon—an alternate universe where Winchesters laughed and hugged and goofed around.

"Alright, little man," Mary said, slightly out of breath, still on the ground, "your mama's got to sit down for a minute—go swing, okay?"

Dean nodded, tugged at his mother's arm as if he were helping her up. The open adoration in his little face squeezed Sam's heart like a fist.

Dean headed towards the swing set, and Mary walked slowly over to a bench, one hand protectively curled around the substantial swell of her belly.

That's me, Sam thought, that's me in there. But the idea was so surreal he couldn't begin to take it in.

As unobtrusively as he could—which was pretty hard, considering he was a six-foot plus guy in a park full of mothers and children—he made his way closer to Mary. She looked a little different than when he'd last seen her. A few years older, certainly, and pregnancy has filled out the hollows in her face, made her seem less girlish, even more beautiful, maybe. She was wearing maternity jeans and a loose flowered blouse; when she stretched her legs out in front of her, her ankles looked a little swollen above her white socks and Keds.

Even sitting, she tracked Dean across the playground, but as Sam approached, she glanced up, and everything carefree went out of her eyes.

"Christo," she said, and Sam suddenly knew where his brother's ability to freeze bad guys with a word had come from.

Sam held his hands up, a gesture of good-will or surrender, he wasn't sure. He'd known she wouldn't recognize him—Michael's unwanted parting gift to them all. But it still hurt. "Mom," he wanted to say, "mom."

But he stuck with the cover story he'd already devised. "Mary Winchester?" he asked. She nodded, giving nothing away. "Name's Jarvis, Matt Jarvis. I'm a hunter." Her jaw tensed, and her right hand clenched, like she wished she were curling it around a gun. "There've been reports of demonic activity in this area," Sam forced himself to go on, "You notice anything?"

"No," she said, turning away from him, "no, I haven't noticed anything, and no, I don't do that kind of thing anymore."

"I know that, ma'am," Sam felt horrible, "I just thought—"

"Yeah? Well, think again. Hey, sweetheart, what is it?" Dean had trotted over to them, holding a big orange rubber ball.

Dean said nothing, staring up at Sam through thick, sandy lashes.

"This is Mr. Jarvis, Dean. We don't know him," Mary said pointedly, looking at Sam. Dean accepted that, nodded. He pushed the ball towards his mother again.

"Oh, no, honey, I think I'm done playing for the day, I'm sorry," Mary said.

Dean looked so disappointed that before he could help himself, Sam found himself saying, "Hey, buddy, I'll play ball with you, if you want."

Mary glared at him, and tightened her arm around her son, but Dean took another look at Sam, full-on this time. His eyes were a more feline green at this age, less hazel, and the clarity of them shocked right through Sam, made him realize how shadowed his brother's eyes were now. But this Dean, without any other evidence, seemed to decide something about Sam. He wiggled free of his mother, tossed the ball at him, and ran towards the basketball court on the edge of the park.

Sam shrugged at Mary, who blurted out half a protest, and then stopped and waved him on. He nodded, grinning and followed Dean. He needed to keep an eye on the family as he waited for Raum's arrival, anyway.

Dean wanted to play some weird, modified, four-year-old version of four-square—one that involved only two people, multiple do-overs when you missed, and a whole lot of tackling for a non-contact sport. Sam didn't consider himself particularly good at talking to kids, but that didn't seem to matter, because preschooler-Dean, much like thirty-something Dean, wholeheartedly preferred action to words. He was fast, too, and strong for his age, in a way that intimated the man he would become. So as long as Sam was prepared to throw, chase, and let himself be barreled into by forty pounds of little boy, it was all good. Sam lost himself in it, after a while, drinking in his brother's happy shouts and laughter like a long-forgotten favorite song.

++++++

It was over far too soon. The ball ended up in the undergrowth at the edge of the park, and Sam good-naturedly chased after it. When he turned back to Dean, darkness smacked him in the face like a blow. He blinked. He was lying on his back in a musty motel room in Fort. Collins, early morning sun bleeding grayly through the shades.

He grunted in frustration, and instantly, the exhausted, pain-pinched, furious face of his adult brother loomed over him.

"You alright?" Dean asked him, harshly. Sam nodded, bracing himself for an angry tongue-lashing, but Dean just said, "You find what you were looking for?" voice strained and tight. Sam shook his head. Dean made a disgusted noise, and turned away.

Sam got up on his elbows; he felt as if he'd been digging graves all night, not playing ball with a kid. Cas, he could see now, was sprawled out on the other bed, asleep or unconscious. With a muted groan, Dean lowered himself to sit next to the angel, put a protective hand on his arm, and fussed a little with his sleeve, face turned pointedly away from Sam.

"What happened?" Sam asked.

"I think you probably know better than me, Luke Dreamwalker," Dean said, not looking at him, "heard Cas make a noise like he was in trouble, woke up, found him passed out on the floor. And you—like that. Doesn't take a genius to figure out what happened."

"Dean—" Sam tried "I'm sorry—"

"Don't, Sam. Just--. Don't. Okay—you talked Cas into sending you back. It didn't work out. That's it. That's the end of it."

It stung that Dean immediately blamed him, when Cas had introduced the idea, but Sam didn't have the heart to disillusion him. "Don't you want to know what happened, what it was like?" he asked.

"No," Dean said, "No, I really don't. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. I've had enough. Look, can you get up? Go find us some coffee or something? I really need to lie down; getting Cas off the floor just about killed me."

And so Sam did; relinquished the bed to Dean, forced himself to greet another morning with no answers.

+++++

It was a bad day. A really bad day. Dean was in no shape to go anywhere: he could barely put any weight on his right knee, couldn't bend or twist at all because of the bruising on his torso. He seemed determined to stay uncomfortable, though—would accept nothing stronger than ibuprofen. Probably worried about what would happen if he relaxed his vigilance again, Sam thought, guiltily.

Cas eventually roused himself, but he was clearly exhausted—heavy-lidded and lethargic. And he stuck around, which Sam took to mean he didn't have the mojo to leave. Sam felt guilty about that, too.

None of them said more than was absolutely necessary to each other.

Sam went on a food run, but didn't feel right leaving the other two alone for too long. He tried to pretend he was researching—fruitlessly rechecked sources he'd gone through three times already, called Bobby to hear the same bad news from him—but really, he was keeping an eye on Dean the same way Dean was keeping an eye on him—scared of what he would do if left alone.

In the late afternoon, the local TV news reported that another mauling had occurred. In daylight, in a suburban subdivision, both new and disturbing developments. Seeing no help for it, Sam left to inspect the scene and interview the witnesses. He almost might not have bothered—except for the time of day, and the scene, the prints, the stories, were all exactly the same.

The only difference was, that this time, several of the neighbors reported a strong smell of sulfur. Not at the time of the crime. After—which they thought was strange.

Bad news, indeed.

Dean would have to see the urgency of the situation now, Sam thought. But when he got back to the motel, Dean had finally crashed, stretched out on one of the beds, snoring lightly. He looked more comfortable than he had all day—shoes and jacket off, bad knee propped on a pillow.

Cas was perched in one of the rickety motel chairs, frankly watching him.

Sam raised his eyebrows at the scene. "Did you—?" he twirled two fingers around near his forehead.

"No," the angel shook his head. "I think he finally conceded the extent of his injuries. He took a pill," Cas gestured at the bottle on the nightstand. "I did remove his shoes, though. And the pillow seems to help."

"Thanks, Cas," Sam smiled for the first time that day, glad his brother would accept help from someone, even if it wasn't him.

"What happened, Sam?" Cas asked, almost whispering. Things had been so tense that they hadn't even managed to exchange notes on Sam's trip to 1983.

"I don't know. Nothing." Sam shook his head. "It was afternoon when I got there—everything seemed fine. Something might have happened that night, but—"

"I know," Castiel's face took on the hangdog look Sam had learned to identify as guilt, "I couldn't sustain it. I'm sorry—"

"No, man, don't apologize. We tried, right?" Sam shrugged, but couldn't keep all the hopelessness out of his voice. "We'll think of something else."

"I could try again," Castiel offered.

"Oh," Sam said, touched and kind of horrified that the angel was willing to risk it. "No. I'm starting to think Dean's right. I mean—it knocked you flat for most of the day, Cas. We shouldn't--."

But Castiel continued as if he hadn't spoken, "I don't have the strength to give you the same—the same presence you had before. But you could be there that evening, as a kind of witness. You might learn something."

"Really?" Sam was intrigued, despite himself.

Castiel nodded. And he must have seen agreement in Sam's eyes, because without asking permission, he leaned forward, touched two fingers between Sam's eyes and--

++++++

Sam blinked. He was standing next to the open window in the Winchester family living room, the last, late afternoon sun catching a few stray dust motes as it slanted in.

Almost directly in front of him, Dean and Mary were curled up together on the couch. It was the same day as before, judging by the fact that they were wearing the same clothes. The only difference was that Mary had pulled an oversized blue shirt on over her blouse—one of his dad's old work shirts, Sam realized with a twinge.

Dean was pressed up so close to his mother that he was half-draped over her. His head was curled into the crook of her neck, and one palm rested on the highest point of her belly, Mary's hand on top of it.

"Feel that, baby?" she asked. She sounded tired, but content. Dean nodded solemnly. "Soon we'll know if you're going to have a little sister or a little brother." Dean made a funny face, like the idea was so cool it was embarrassing. "Either way," Mary said, "I bet he or she is going to be big and strong like you."

Dean ducked his head and grinned.

Mary held a big glossy book, A Child's First Encyclopedia of Trucks, and now she started reading it to Dean. Well, reading might be too strong a term. Mostly, they just flipped through the pictures, pointing out the "neat" features of each machine. Dean seemed a little tired too—the day of sun and running catching up to him, maybe.

Sam was so engrossed in the scene in front of him—something he had never known, something he wasn't sure if Dean remembered—that it took him a minute to register the fact that this younger version of his brother and Mary hadn't reacted at all to a stranger suddenly appearing in their living room. Castiel had been right—he apparently had no more presence here than a ghost.

Or at least he didn't for Mary.

Because after a few minutes, Dean lifted his head from his mother's shoulder, took his eyes off the picture of the tractor, and looked directly at Sam.
Dean could see him, Sam could tell by the split-second of hesitation before he recognized his four-square conspirator. Sam's breath caught, and he had a moment of pure wonder at the absolute certainty, whether it was four or at thirty, with which his brother recognized him. Sam held his breath, unsure of what Dean would do now; maybe he'd be frightened, raise the alarm with his mom.

But something in the situation seemed to spark Dean's impulse for mischief. His eyes narrowed at Sam and he almost smiled—like they were sharing some awesome, daring secret.

Sam smiled back—put a finger to his lips, and Dean nodded, taking his mission seriously.

They stayed like that for a bit, Mary's quiet voice pointing out tire sizes and tonnage. Everything seemed peaceful, Sam thought, but he couldn't shake the knowledge fact that a demon and his leonine familiar were about to arrive

The front door snapped shut with a click; Sam tensed. But it was only his father, returning from work.

"Hello, gorgeous," John said, coming into the room, clothes marked with oil and grease from the garage—"how ya doing, kiddo?" He bent to kiss them each in turn. "No—don't get up," he said, as Mary started to lever herself off the sofa, "I'll start dinner—"

"Hey," John said, as he moved into the kitchen, "looks like Mrs. Russell's Great Dane took a crap right on our front walk—you see that? Biggest turd I've ever seen."

Dean burst into a fit of giggles at the phrase "biggest turd,"—"How big, daddy?" he clamored, getting up and dancing around his father, "how big?"

"Must've been after we came in," Mary said, "Not like her not to clean up, tho'---"

"Huge!" John held his hands a good five inches apart, reveling in the size as much as his son. "Mary," he called from the other room, "did you open every window in the house? There's all kinds of dust blowing around in here."

"Really?" Mary's voice was calm, but her face changed, grew wary. She stood up. "What kind of dust?"

She headed towards the kitchen, Dean following, and Sam trailing after—he could, he noted, pass right through furniture.

There was, indeed, a fine coating of dust over everything in the kitchen. John stood by the open window, running his finger over the ledge. "I don't know," he said, "but it smells gross—"

Sam's stomach clenched in alarm.

"I wanna smell it," Dean said, pulling at his father's hand, "I wanna smell it!" Mary conducted her own inspection of the dust, which, Sam saw, was a sickly yellow where it had collected in more thickly.

And, then, without warning, then the scene went dark, like a television being clicked off.

++++++

"Fuck," Sam said loudly, as he blinked his eyes open in the motel room again. Hardly any time at all seemed to have passed. Dean was still deeply asleep, and Castiel was sitting facing Sam on the narrow bed. The angel was conscious, but his face was gray and damp with sweat, a few strands of hair plastered to his forehead.

"Sorry—" he murmured, voice very faint.

"Damn it, Cas," Sam said, all compassion for the angel blown away by his anxiety for his family, "It was about to happen—I know it was."

Castiel nodded, drew in a rough shaky breath. He raised his hand, but slowly, as if even that small movement were costing him enormous effort. "Alright," he said.

And Sam knew he should try and stop him, he had no business taking an angel's last strength. But he couldn't bring himself to say no. And it wasn't even concern for the people of Fort Collins that drove him on, or fear of the oncoming Apocalypse; it was a pure, savage concern for his family, for tiny, taciturn Dean and his pregnant mother, for his father in his youth and innocence.

So he let Castiel press clammy, shaking fingers to his forehead one more time.

++++++

He expected to be plunged back in where he'd left off, with all the Winchesters in the kitchen, examining demonic traces.

Instead, he opened his eyes in what he recognized, from recent experience, as Dean's childhood bedroom—butter-yellow walls, white furniture, piled toys.
And not only the scene was different: instead of the familial warmth he'd experienced so far, an air of tension and anger pervaded the room. Dean was kneeling on the floor, hunched over a motley line of tiny metal cars. He was pushing them, one by one, methodically, violently, into the wall of his room, striving for maximum impact. As each one hit, it careened and flipped, creating a miniature forty-car pile-up. It could be a game, Sam supposed, but if so, it was a harsh and brutal one. There was something about the set of Dean's small shoulders, the unhappy downturn of his mouth, that reminded Sam painfully of his adult brother.

Something else weird was going on, too: it was as if all the sound had been drained out of the room. Sam could see the cars hitting the wall, but he couldn't hear them. He couldn't hear sounds from anywhere else in the house, either, or through the window from outside. His ability to be present in this time had apparently gone down another notch.

He wondered whether even Dean could see and hear him.

"Hey," he said quietly, and the little boy's head snapped up, hurt, angry eyes that looked a little red from crying, focusing on Sam. Okay, so Dean could. Again, Sam felt that little jab of wonder that whatever connection they had seemed to pierce the vagaries of space and time. Then Dean sniffed and turned back towards his cars, obviously not in the mood for ghostly companions.

"Hey," Sam tried again, both because he felt bad, and because it was important that he find out whether the lion and its master had already shown up, "what happened?"

Dean flung another car at the wall, not looking at Sam. "I'm being punished," he said, "I have to be in my room."

"Oh," Sam said, confused, but relieved that he could hear Dean. "That sucks. What'd you do?"

Dean didn't seem to want to answer that one. He concentrated on sending more of the cars into the big pile—it must have been making a serious racket, one Sam was almost glad he couldn't hear.

"Told my dad I hated him," he said, reluctantly, after a while, "and told my mom she was stupid."

"Oh," Sam said. He tried to imagine the Dean he'd grown up with doing either of those things and came up short. "Betcha didn't mean it. Why did you say that stuff?"

"Dunno," Dean muttered, sounding again like Sam's older brother, "Mom started acting weird after we found the giant poop and the dust, putting down salt and stuff." Oh, Sam thought. "And Daddy asked her why she was doing it, and she wouldn't say. And they started fighting about stupid grown-up stuff like they do. And then." Dean sniffed, "he left."

Dean whole face crumpled, his lower lip sticking out, his nose running, fat tears streaming from his eyes. "So, I got mad," Sam could hardly understand him, his voice was so choked with tears, "and I yelled at her—said stuff." Dean gulped, like he could barely get a breath.

"Oh," said Sam, feeling like he might cry himself, Dean's misery was so palpable, "hey—you were just mad—you didn't mean it. I know you didn't mean it—and your mom does too. And your Daddy loves you both—he'll be back."

And this was the point, Sam knew, where the adult Dean, or any version of Dean Sam had ever known, would have shut down, retreated into himself to lick his wounds. But this Dean, this Dean who had two parents and no brother, suddenly, unexpectedly, launched himself at Sam, buried his hot face in Sam's shirt, and sobbed.

"Easy now." Sam gathered the warm little body into his own, amazed that he was solid for Dean, when he could pass through furniture and probably walls. He patted awkwardly at his brother's hair, his shoulders, Dean's sobs the only sound in the eerily silent room. "It's okay, Dean, it's okay," he said. And he couldn't help saying it like he wanted the words to carry all the way back to 2010.

++++++

It didn't go on for long. Dean suddenly put his head up, as if he'd heard a noise. He scrambled out of Sam's arms, and rubbed his nose, looking uncertain.
"You hear something, buddy?" Sam asked. Dean nodded. "Coming from downstairs? Like a fight or something?" Dean nodded again. "Okay, then, let's go." Sam stood, gestured Dean towards the door.

Dean looked scared now, shook his head.

"Oh," Sam said, "I know she told you to stay up here, but we gotta go down—I think your mom needs us."

Dean took a shaky breath, but squared his round, four-year-old shoulders, like that was all the information he needed to face a dragon, grabbed Sam's hand, and opened the door.

Sam could tell the noise was getting louder as they went downstairs by the way Dean's face grew more and more alarmed.

And the scene in the living room, when they arrived was indeed alarming.

Mary, her feet bare, her white nightgown ballooned over her pregnant belly, was facing down the lion creature, armed only with some kind of metal pole—a curtain rod, maybe. She swung at the thing, but it ducked out of her way; it slashed at her with its claws, but she batted it away with her makeshift weapon.

She moved pretty fast for a woman eight months gone, Sam thought, and there was nothing domestic in her face—just a fierce, deadly concentration. But even so, he was pretty sure the creature was showing some restraint, some reluctance to go in for the kill—it seemed to be trying to get close to her, more than to harm her.

Without really thinking about it, Sam moved to help his mother, hurled himself between her and the creature. But they couldn't see him, and his body passed through theirs like smoke, left him panting with frustration on the other side of the room.

He could see Dean, white-faced with terror, getting ready to do the same thing. "No," Sam yelled, "Dean—stay there—just stay there."
Mary was shouting the same thing, he could tell, Dean's head swinging toward her in an agony of indecision. But he stayed put, for the time being, watching his mother fight with saucer eyes.

Sam tried to collect himself, to objectively sum up the situation. And once he did so, he noticed two things. First, that there was a fourth presence in the room, partially hidden in the shadow of the curtains. The demon Raum itself, he guessed, letting his lion-creature do the dirty work. Not that Sam understood exactly what was happening: it was surely no part of Azazel's plans to kill Mary now, before Sam was born. Maybe Castiel was wrong, and Raum belonged to some rival faction, trying to thwart the yellow-eyed demon's plan before it even go going. Or maybe, like Castiel had said, this had been a recognizance mission gone wrong.

Not that it mattered, though, because here Mary was--beset. And that was the second thing Sam noticed. Now that he could see the creature in electric light, rather than under dim moonlight, it looked different than he'd expected. The reports had been right—it was fighting on two feet, instead of four—and its limbs were definitely human. It had a lion's snout, for sure, but its ears were those of a donkey or mule. And its feet—well, they were like giant, gnarled, parrot's feet—two claws in front, two behind.

All at once, the image clicked with one of the thousands he'd seen in sleepless nights of research. He knew what it was.

"Dean!" Sam shouted across the room, and the kid's face turned towards him, on the edge of panic now. "Dean—I need you to tell your mother something," Sam tried to make his voice calm, commanding, "She can't hear me, but she can hear you. And I want you to listen carefully to this word, and tell it to her, really clearly, okay?"

Dean nodded, though his bottom lip was quivering again.

"Ugallu," Sam enunciated it carefully, "As loud and as clearly as you can, kiddo—Ugallu. She'll know what to do." at least I think she will, he added silently to himself.

Dean swallowed once, and then shouted the word, every syllable perfect.

Mary glanced away from fight at the sound, clearly confused as to why her son was suddenly spouting gibberish. But then her face changed as comprehension dawned.

She looked right at the Ugallu, and said a word. Sam wished to hell he could read lips, because as much as he could see Mary's mouth moving, he couldn't guess what sound she made.

Whatever it was, though, as soon as she said it, the dynamic in the Winchester living room changed. The Ugallu tilted its head at Mary, for all the world like a cat scenting the wind, then nodded, oddly human, and turned away from her.

With a fluid, leonine movement, it lunged at the shadowy figure beside the curtain. If there was a struggle, Sam couldn't hear it—but he could see two forms tumble out the open window, fade away into the night.

Inside the room, Dean was sobbing again.

"Mommy," he wailed, throwing himself at her, sounding even younger than four, "I'm sorry, mommy, I'm sorry."

Mary gathered him up, but whatever she said to him in reply, Sam couldn't hear it.

++++++

This time, coming back was hard. Sam felt like he was struggling through thick, black muck, great heavy waves of it weighing him down, getting into his nose, his mouth, his lungs.

After what seemed like a long time, fingers dug into his shoulder, grabbed, shook. "Sam," Dean—the adult Dean—growled, "wake up, man, breathe."

Sam did, sucking in air and coughing. He pried his eyes open, though it felt like his eyelids had been glued together too.

Dean put a hand on Sam's face, patted, and then left it there a minute, cupping his cheekbone.

"I'm good," Sam gasped, willing it to be true.

The first thing he noticed about being back was that the room stank of vomit. His nose wrinkled involuntarily, and he peered at Dean anxiously. Dean pursed his lips and shook his head.

"Not me," he gestured towards the other bed, where Castiel was carefully arranged in the rescue position. He'd been divested of his trench coat, a thin motel blanket thrown over him, and he was horribly pale, a sheen of sweat covering his face. "I woke up, and he was in the middle of an epic puking fit—and angelic horking is not the kind of thing you want to wake up to, believe me." Dean looked worried, "I'm not sure he's ever thrown up before, even—it kind of spooked him. Anyway, he pretty much passed out after I got him cleaned up. Then I noticed you hadn't snapped out of it yet. Thought you might have gotten stuck..." A note of uncertainty crept into Dean's brusque run-down of events. "You're okay, right?"

"Yeah," Sam at up, "yeah, I'm okay."

Dean nodded, stood, and walked back to the half-cleaned up puddle of vomit on the carpet. He'd clearly been trying to do something about it with the bathroom towels, though he hadn't gotten very far. Sam heaved himself to his feet, went and squatted next to him.

"Hey," he said, "I'll take care of this—you've had enough to deal with for one night."

"You might be right about that." Dean looked at him more closely. "You get it this time?"

"Not the word, no," Sam steeled himself against the smell, scrubbed at the mess with a towel, "but I think I know what it is: it's an Ugallu—really old--Mesapotamian."

"Huh," Dean sat back on his heels, "I thought they were—"

"Yeah," Sam said, "they're good demons—they protect people from illness, from other demons too. This one must have gotten caught, had its nature warped by Raum long ago. I think," he paused, "What Mom did—she didn't bind it—she released it. And it turned on Raum, chased him away from you and her. But now he's captured it again. So we were barking up the wrong tree, so to speak—"

And just like that, as always, despite exhaustion and suspicion, Dean caught his train of thought. "We were looking for a binding word," he said "but what we need is a--a--releasing word. I don't know what you call that," he frowned. "How about it? Think we can find it now?"

"Maybe," Sam said, "still be easier if you could remember. But I have an idea about that, too."

"Yeah?" Dean sounded marginally less hostile, as if the events of the night had knocked some of the fight out of him.

"Well," Sam continued, cautiously, "it's more like I have an idea about why you can't remember." Dean looked almost curious. "You—four-year-old you—had a fight with mom that night. No—that's not right: Mom and Dad had a fight—about hunting stuff, if you can believe it. Dad stormed out--and you got upset—got mad—like any kid would, I think," Dean looked like he was about to bolt now, but Sam forced himself to get to the end. "You told Mom she was stupid—that it was her fault--" Sam took a breath, "So. When the Ugallu showed up, tried to hurt her, I think you thought maybe you'd caused it. You know, by being mad. So. So you blocked out what happened that night. Because you felt guilty."

Dean blinked at him, something wary and wounded in his eyes. He looked very like their mother for a moment. Then his face tightened up again.
"Sam, that is the biggest piece of Dr. Phil bullshit I've ever heard. I don't remember because I was four. End of story. Christ."

"Are you sure?"

Dean stared at him, sullen and curt again, "You know what? I'm gonna get some air—the smell's starting to make me feel like I'm gonna puke too."
And he was gone, letting in a blast of night air as the door opened and shut.

Mentally, Sam kicked himself. He should've eased into it more gently, he thought, showed some tact, instead of just bashing Dean over the head with his idea like that.

He did the best he could with the mess, piled the dirty towels near the door, checked on Cas, who was breathing okay at least, though he just muttered miserably when Sam tried to wake him. Then he flipped on his laptop, and started up a new search for charms of release.

He had pretty much resigned himself to the worst—Dean wasn't coming back, Dean was halfway to Michael by now—so he was genuinely surprised when the door opened again, less than an hour later.

"You—you're here," he stuttered.

"What?" Dean looked annoyed, "'course I am. Told you I was just going out for some air." Then, like something uncontrollable was breaking through, he grinned. A huge grin, the kind of grin Sam hadn't seen for a long time.

"What?" Sam said, almost alarmed—the change of mood was so complete he suddenly worried it wasn't Dean in that body after all.

"I remembered." Dean said, like a crow of triumph.

"What? The word?"

"Yeah, the word," Dean almost chortled, "Maybe your Dr. Phil thing worked. Maybe it just finally pushed its way to the surface, I don't know. But, yeah, I got it. We can spring that Ugallu, no problem."

"That's great," Sam said, amazed.

"Yeah," Dean said, "and then I remembered some other stuff about that day—about Mom." And he ducked his head, almost shyly, looked sideways at Sam, as if it were all so awesome it was almost embarrassing.

Sam's breath caught—it was as if someone had held a picture of Dean from 1983 and one of him from 2010 side by side, and then slowly slid them closer, 'til they were superimposed, revealing the same person, a perfect match.

It made him think of a poem he'd had to study in freshman English, back when he thought he'd left his family behind for good, a poem that he'd thought then was equally pretentious and just plain wrong.

The child is father to the man, it went
And I could wish my days to be
Bound to each other by natural piety


Oh, thought Sam, Oh.

"Hey," Dean was saying, "focus, Sammy. Let's think about how we're going to track that thing."

Sam looked up to meet his clear-eyed gaze, felt again, as always, the force of his brother's recognition, gathering him in.

In the morning, they were going to release a protective demon back into the world, and if that wasn't good news he didn't know what was.
fin

a/n: the prompt was (in part): "(sometime after 5.16 "Dark Side of the Moon" and the whole "soulmate" thing) Sam ends up in the past to when Dean was like 3 and half years old and Sam was to be born in some months."
  • (no subject) - ex_calamity172
  • Awww I really loved this. Mary is kickass-awesome. Baby!Dean is the most adorable little guy ever. Your grown-up grumpy, protective Dean is pretty adorable too. Nice Sam voice as well. Thanks.
    • Hey--I'm so happy you enjoyed it! I've been having such a hard time writing SPN recently, but kickass pregnant Mary was pretty fun to do (and, even tho' I usually avoid trying to write kids, it was fun to try). Thanks so much for reading!
      • Yeah I've noticed that there is a lot less SPN fic from some of my fave writers, this year. Maybe it's a function of the age of the show or just the disappointment with a lot of last season. *sigh* Oh well. Maybe things will pick up when the show starts back.

        Anyway, I'm glad you wrote this. It's been a while since I read any non-D/C fic so this really hit the spot. :)
        • yeah--I'm hoping my interest picks again when the new season starts...I didn't think that S5 burned me out on the show, but I guess it did, a little...Anyway, glad this hit the spot!
  • Loved the glimpse of the family dynamic, and Sam seeing his brother now and then!
    • I'm glad you enjoyed it! It was interesting to think about the differences/similarities b/w past!Dean and present!Dean. Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • awwwww... I''ve been yearning to see some Sam with kids on the show or in fic, but to see him with wee!Dean? Near to made my heart explode!
    • thanks for the aw! I usually resist writing wee!chesters (too many little boys in my rl ;)), but it was interesting to think about how their relationship would be different/similar (particularly w/ a wee!Dean who was willing to accept comfort...).

      Thanks so much for reading!
  • That, my dear, was awesome :D
  • What a lovely glimpse into the past! Mary, fierce as she truly was, wee Dean, yes, the poem fits so well. And Sam, getting to see an important series of moments. I enjoyed this SO much, thank you for this!
    • oh, I'm really happy you enjoyed it! Writing a fierce, pregnant Mary was particularly satisfying--and I was kind of interested to see what Sam could learn from the past. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Aww, I just love Sam's interactions with his little big brother, and that Dean could see Sam when no one could. &hearts
    • thanks, hun--I struggled with this, but it was fun to write those interactions. Thanks so much for reading--I'm glad you enjoyed it--
  • I am always amazed how symphatetic fictions make Sam as opposite to shows version.

  • Nice execution of the promt! Appreciated all the extra h/c... and wow, neat creature you've picked!
    • Thanks! I never write kids, and I hardly ever write Sam POV, so the prompt was kind of a leap in the dark for me--and a struggle--glad you thought it worked out okay! (and I was pleased to finally find the creature :))

      Hey--have you moved yet? Hope it's going well!
  • Beautiful, lovie...

    *hugs*
  • Gorgeous. Four-year-old Dean had about the same effect on me as he did on Sam. The contrasts and smiliarites were at once delightful and heart-breaking. This was a great idea for a story, and you told it so well.
    • thanks so much, hun! I really struggled with this one--I never write kids, and I hardly ever write Sam POV--so I'm glad you thought it came out okay. Thanks for reading and commenting!
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