Out of Time
Summary: In which a thirteen year old Sam finds himself in a strange bunker with a fever of what feels like a million degrees and a stranger claiming to be his brother. Set during the Trials.
Something bright and sudden that leaves Sam reeling, blinded and totally disorientated and definitely not in a motel room arguing with Dean over who gets the shower after Dad like he remembers. He can tell even before he blinks away the splashes of white light staining his vision. The air here is different, strangely flat and recycled, and everything around him is so still and silent that he must be alone.
Something burns in his hand and he releases it automatically, gasping as he pulls his arm against his chest protectively. He hears something small clatter to the floor at his feet and tries to squint at it but the room is dim and he's still half-blinded by star-bursts of white nothingness. He shakes his head to try to clear it but this turns out to be a bad idea. His balance is off and moving makes the whole room duck and weave around him in a confusing blur of dark shadows and imprinted light. He doesn't realise he's staggering until he trips over something that tangles around his ankles and sends him crashing backwards into a shelving unit.
The shelf beneath him tips forward and a wave of items tumble to the floor. Sam lands beside the shards of a broken purple jar, the viscous liquid it once contained soaking slowly into the pages of a dislodged book and creeping towards him. He shuffles away from it instinctively, scooting back on shaky arms that seem unwilling to hold his weight. There's something wrong with him. His thoughts are slow, muddled, and he feels strangely disconnected from his body. Like he's been drugged. Maybe he has been. Or maybe it's a side effect of... whatever happened.
The room swirls dizzyingly around him as his vision slowly clears, all grey concrete and shelving units as far as Sam can see, shelves holding everything from books and boxes, ancient chalices and swords, to different coloured crystals and old scrolls tied with faded ribbons. He can't see a door from where he's sitting and he can't seem to catch his breath properly, like his lungs are full of junk. Curiously, he tries to draw a deep breath and has to double up to smother the resulting coughing fit in his hands, suddenly terrified of making any more noise. He feels oddly heavy and light-headed at the same time and it doesn't seem to matter how long he waits, nothing about this is falling into place. He has no idea where he is, how he got here, or where Dean and Dad might be, and – he realises with a sickening lurch of panic – these aren't even his clothes. He looks down at himself with an ever-growing sense of horror. The thing that tripped him turns out to be a large pair of sweatpants and boxer shorts, tangled around his ankles. His only other item of clothing is a huge grey t-shirt that hangs all the way to his knees.
It doesn't make sense, he thinks dumbly. Panic seems to have robbed him of the ability to think straight. None of this makes sense and he can't even begin to figure out what happened. He searches his memories for a clue but the last thing he remembers is Dean smirking and challenging him to a wrestling match, winner gets the next shower.
Sam freezes. The call comes from nearby, he thinks. There's a strange echoing quality to it that makes it hard to figure out which direction it came from. Not in the same room as him, not yet, but definitely close to it, and even though the caller knows his name, Sam doesn't recognise the voice. It sounds human – it almost sounds... worried? - but a lot of monsters have the power of speech and something human couldn't have teleported him here so suddenly.
It's coming closer. Maybe it heard the crash when he fell into the shelf. Maybe it can even smell his blood or hear his heartbeat. Who knows what it can do? Sam breathes in carefully, ignoring the scratch in his throat, and tries to mentally will his heart rate into slowing down. He feels dizzy and lost and there's no time to wonder about what's coming. He needs to get out of sight and get his hands on a weapon, now. He can figure out his next move after that. There's so much stuff in here, surely something will prove useful.
He should probably ditch the boxer shorts and sweatpants – they're so big they're sure to restrict his movement – but he doesn't know where he is or what's coming after him and the idea of discarding what little clothing he has is abhorrent. Instead he hitches them up as high as they'll go – which is almost to his armpits – and pins an arm to his side to stop them from falling down. Then he clambers to his feet. He has to use the shelves to pull himself upright and even then the room seems to be tilting to one side. It occurs to him that he should probably be cold. The sweatpants and t-shirt are worn thin but he's hot, covered in a sheen of clammy sweat, and it's getting harder to breathe, like the air in the room is thick and clogging his throat with each inhale. Sam thinks vaguely that this must be what it's like to be trapped inside a burning building. He breathes shallowly to try to stop himself from coughing as he stumbles away from the sound of approaching footsteps. His heartbeat is pounding in his ears, dizzyingly fast.
He needs a gun. There's something wrong with him. Really wrong. Like maybe he really has been drugged and whatever he was dosed with is wearing off. He has a sinking feeling that his argument with Dean happened some time ago, that wherever he is, he's been here for a while, even though his memory cuts off abruptly as if he were transported straight from the motel room to... here.
Sam moves down the aisle of shelves, eyes skimming over various precious stones and talismans, intricately carved boxes and rows and rows of ancient books. He can't find any firearms but there is a shelf that holds an impressive collection of knives. He hesitates over some of the bigger, more lethal-looking blades but picks up one of the smallest first. If it comes down to it, he's sure he'll be no match for whatever's taken him in close range combat, no matter how big his knife is. He can barely see straight. His only hope will be a sneak attack so he folds the switch-blade into the waistband of his sweatpants, rolling the fabric over it so it's concealed. Then he grabs one of the bigger knives anyway because he can't stand how vulnerable he feels without some kind of weapon in his hand. Anyway, the monster might expect him to arm himself and walking past a shelf full of knives without taking one would be stupid. At the very least, the blade in his hand might distract it enough that it won't search too hard for another one.
"You in here, Sammy?"
Sam sucks in a breath, startled by the close proximity of the voice. He quickly ducks down in an attempt to blend into some boxes on the bottom shelf and clutches the knife close to his chest.
It's in the room with him. For one brief, stupid moment Sam wants to cry out of sheer terror. There's a monster after him and he'd give anything, absolutely anything for Dean and Dad to show up and save him right now. He's never had to fight anything without backup before. Hell, he's usually the backup. Most of the hunts Dad's taken him on have been nothing more than holding a gun and watching his family's backs. And he's always known what he was facing. This, hunting blind and alone... this is too much. What is he going to do?
For a long moment, there is nothing but silence. Sam imagines a dark figure, motionless in a doorway, listening, and forces himself to stay as still as possible, even though his legs want to tremble with the effort of staying crouched. He clasps a hand over his mouth to smother the sound of his rattling breath.
"Sammy?" the monster calls again.
Think like a Winchester, Sam tells himself sternly. Winchesters don't fall to pieces, not even if they're thirteen years old and facing a surprise solo hunt. This is what Dad trained him for.
So what does he know? The monster knows his name. Maybe it can read minds? Or maybe it's been stalking him. It might have the ability to teleport people or control them and wipe their memories. And it sounds human. At this distance, the voice even sounds a little familiar, almost like... like it's trying to imitate Dean. It's too deep, but the inflections, the way it says his name and the ring of what seems like honest concern in it's tone, it all sounds just like his brother, and somehow that makes it seem a lot creepier than if it was unrecognisable. Wendigos and shape-shifters can copy people but they can do it much better than this thing. This is a long way from a Wendigos type of terrain anyway. Some ghosts can teleport people, if they're strong enough, maybe even possess and control them... but ghosts don't usually walk around calling for people. They just kind of... appear. None of this adds up to any kind of monster he can think of.
Footsteps again. Sam catches a flash of movement through the shelves. It's moving cautiously but purposefully, on guard but making no attempt to conceal itself (why would it? It must know that it has the upper hand) and Sam realizes that it's found the shelf he knocked over. He can see the creature's back clearly when it crouches down to inspect the fallen items, definitely human in appearance. It looks male, dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt stretched over broad shoulders, tall and heavily muscled in a lean, deadly sort of way. Sam doesn't doubt that it can move fast and hit hard. With it's back turned he can't guess at an age but age doesn't matter so much as size and this thing is big, too big for him to take on by himself even with his training, and especially not when he feels like a stiff breeze could knock him down and keep him there. So if he can't fight, he needs to evade. The door must be near where the creature last spoke, somewhere not far from where it is now. Maybe Sam can get around it...
"Sam, I know you're in here," the monster says, pushing itself upright. Sam watches it's legs as it moves along the row of shelves, mercifully picking the opposite direction to the one Sam chose, until it turns a corner, out of sight. "Whatever you're doing, whatever you think is happening, it's just the fever, okay? Nothing crazy going on, you're just sick."
The hilt of the knife is slippery with sweat. Sam swipes his palms on his t-shirt, readjusting his grip. Fever? He definitely feels feverish. Maybe the man's not lying about that but there's sure as shit something crazy going on. A fever doesn't explain what this place is or how he got here or where Dean and Dad are. Surely this thing isn't dumb enough to think he'd give up so easily so what is it doing? Why is it talking like it knows him, like it's worried about him?
This train of thought is getting him no where. It must be worried about him getting away and that's exactly what he needs to do. He can figure out the rest later, when he's back with Dean and Dad. Slowly, checking through the shelves for any hint of movement, Sam rises to his feet.
The world spins again, darkness creeping into the edges of his vision. He slams his eyes closed and breathes in carefully. He's too scared to steady himself on the shelves, afraid he might knock something else off that would betray his position, but after a moment the head rush passes and he opens his eyes, ready to move.
The whole room is a maze of shelves. Sam edges further away from the one he knocked over, checking warily around each corner before he takes them, praying he doesn't run into a dead end.
There are more dead light bulbs hanging from the ceiling than live ones and the resulting shadows are at once a blessing and a curse. Easier to hide but harder to find an exit. He's as quiet as he can be, taking small, measured breaths to avoid a coughing fit, but the sweatpants are dragging on the concrete floor and even the whisper of fabric seems too loud. The man has stopped calling him. He can't hear footsteps anymore either. The realisation stops Sam in his tracks. Is the man waiting somewhere, listening? Or silently stalking him through the shelves? He whips around to check behind him, gripped by a sudden terror that the man has snuck up on him. The aisle is empty. Stop panicking, he tells himself, and turns back just in time to see the man step around a corner barely ten feet ahead of him.
Sam startles back a step and stumbles on the dragging sweatpants, rights himself and swings the knife out in front of him in what he knows is a feeble attempt at self-defence. He keeps one hand clamped tightly against his waist – he doesn't want to lose his pants and he can't afford to lose the second blade.
"Stay away from me," he warns, fully expecting the order to be ignored. He braces himself for an attack but the man looks just as startled as Sam is by their sudden face-to-face meeting.
"Whoa," he says, in that deep Dean-like voice, backing up a little, hands raising in the universal position of surrender. His eyebrows draw tightly together as he squints down the aisle with an incredulous frown. "Sam?"
Sam stares, waiting, but the anticipated attack doesn't come. The man keeps his hands up, green eyes looking Sam up and down with an air of bewilderment. Which doesn't make sense. The man was looking for him so why would finding him be such a surprise?
"How do you know my name?" Sam asks finally, because the man seems to be waiting for him to say something, and it seems like as good a question as any to start with.
"How do I..." the man echoes, a little faintly. "Fuck, you're not just younger, you're, like, seriously younger, right?"
"What?"Sam asks, crinkling his nose in confusion.
"Did you touch something?" the man asks urgently, still staring at Sam as though he's something to be amazed by. "Something on the shelves? Or read something maybe? One of those books on the floor back there?" He motions his head vaguely towards the shelf Sam broke, and he keeps his hands in the air, which Sam appreciates even if it does confuse him. He feels like he's being scolded as though he were a child who had done something wrong by accident, but not outright threatened. This guy seems to be on the way to figuring out something that Sam can't even begin to make sense of.
"I don't know," he answers honestly, edging backwards a little. He shoves a hank of sweaty hair out of his face and studies the man closely, searching for some sort of clue that might identify what kind of monster he is, still waiting for some kind of assault. The man is too solid to be a ghost but that's about as much as Sam can figure out from his appearance. He has short, dark blonde hair and stands around six feet tall, broad-chested and muscled under his shirt. He holds himself with the same sort of wary readiness Sam has come to recognise in hunters, even though he's trying to come across as non-threatening. There's something in his eyes that makes Sam think of his father.
"Okay," the man says, in that tone people use when things aren't okay at all but they're trying to convince someone else that they are. Sam is definitely not convinced. The man seems to notice this because he backs off another step, putting a little more room between them. Sam's not sure what to make of it but his arm is starting to shake from the effort of holding the knife out in front of him so he lowers it to his side. Honestly, it doesn't matter whether he's holding it ready or not; if the man decides to attack it's sure to take all of two seconds to disarm him either way.
"Do you remember the last few years at all?" the man asks hopefully.
Sam doesn't understand the question. His head is spinning again, those dark edges creeping into his vision, and his lungs ache. Why wouldn't he remember the last few years? He can't have been here that long. Sam glances around at the shelves, all towering over him, blocking him in. "I was in a motel room," he ventures cautiously.
"Shit," the man groans. He lowers his arms to scrub his hands down his face and Sam backs up again.
The world does a sudden flip and he loses his already shaky balance, stumbling sideways into the shelves. He tries to catch himself but his sweat-slicked hand slips off the cool metal and he falls to his knees. Everything spins. The coughing fit he's been trying to ignore starts deep in his lungs, harsh and painful, and he sees the man's fuzzy shape lurch towards him.
"No!" Sam chokes, slashing the knife out blindly in the direction of movement. It's immediately knocked from his grasp by a blow to his wrist. He tries to scramble after it but he can't breathe. He's so hot, it feels like his blood is starting to boil, and the man's hands are icy against his skin, trying to latch onto his arms, trying to drag him somewhere. Sam can taste blood in the back of his throat, then on his tongue, Jesus, what's wrong with him? The man catches one of his swinging fists and pulls him to his feet but Sam can't hold his own weight anymore. He sags back towards the ground, his vision darkening even further until he's sure he's about to pass out. The man's saying something that Sam can't make out while he struggles to draw breath. He tries to pull away but the ground drops out from under him as the man gives up on dragging him and swoops him off his feet instead. He's clamped tight against the man's chest and hurried away through the maze of shelves, then down a long, blank corridor that Sam only catches glimpses of as he tries uselessly to twist and kick his way out of the man's grasp.
"Man, you're strong for a sick kid," the man grunts, blocking a fist to the face and pinning Sam's wrist again.
"Let me go!" Sam demands as the man tries to safely manoeuvre them through a doorway – Sam smacks his ankle on the door frame anyway – even though he knows he sounds pathetic and, if the man were to put him down, he thinks he might just fall over.
"Sorry, Sammy." The man really does sound sorry. "I'll explain once your brain stops trying to fry itself."
And that's all the warning he gets before he's suddenly plunged into ice cold water. The shock knocks the air from his lungs; he gasps and narrowly avoids inhaling water as he goes under, panicking, unable to make sense of anything. All he knows is that he can't let the monster drown him. He thrashes wildly, beating frantically at the hands trying to twist in his t-shirt. He's in something shallow, a bath tub, his hand finds the rim and he resurfaces in a spray of water, coughing and spluttering and fighting wildly. The man is swearing. The room is filled with a cacophony of of screams and yells and churning, splashing water.
Pain bursts in Sam's elbow as it connects with the side of the tub, hard, his bare feet kicking and slipping against the tub's smooth surface as his numb fingers scrabble at the hand fisted in his shirt. The man growls in wordless frustration and shoves him back down, and Sam's thrashing earns him a mouthful of water. It rushes down his scorched throat and cuts off his screams. The man swears again and hauls him upright as he chokes and gasps desperately for air, a broad hand thumping him between his shoulder blades.
"Damn it, Sam, stop!" the man yells, voice huge in the sudden quiet of Sam's suffocation. It's me, it's Dean. I'm here. Let me help you."
Sam chokes out pink-tinged water and swipes his sodden bangs out of his face so he can stare up at the man's green eyes, studying his features for the truth. He can feel the switch-blade, heavy against his stomach. Disbelief wars with confusion as he remembers thinking that the voice calling him sounded something like Dean's, that there was an echo of John Winchester in the man's face.
"You're not Dean," he grits out through teeth that are starting to chatter. The water's so cold. Are there actual ice cubes in here? "You're too old."
The man claiming to be Dean eyes him warily. "Actually, you're too young," he says, which just confuses Sam more. "You gonna keep trying to fight me?"
Sam considers this. The man's still holding the front of his shirt tight in one hand. The other is pressed against his back but it doesn't seem like he's in imminent danger of being drowned and so far fighting hasn't helped him much.
"Let me out of this bath," he tries instead, and surprisingly the man immediately adjusts his grip to help Sam stand up and step out. Sam keeps a hand clenched in the waist of his sweatpants, reassured by the feel of the blade concealed there.
"You were burning up," the man explains apologetically, backing away a little. Sam's not sure whether the guy's trying to give him space or trying to block the exit.
Sam shivers, wrapping his free arm around himself. The t-shirt is clinging to his skin like cellophane, sweatpants drooping under the weight of the water soaked into them.
"Where are my clothes?" he asks, glancing around uneasily. The bathroom is small, the door on the other side of the man who claims to be Dean but can't be. No way out.
"You're wearing them," the man says.
Frustration is building in Sam's chest. The ice water has shocked some of the clouds from his head along with the fever and he just wants to get a straight answer out of this guy for once.
"These aren't my clothes," he spits out. His teeth are still chattering, he can feel himself shivering and he's probably not doing a great job at convincing his captor that he isn't completely terrified. He's just so confused and right now all he wants is to be wearing his own things. "I was wearing something else."
"I don't know how to explain-"
"I want my fucking clothes!" Sam demands, as if he's in any position to demand anything. The man surprises him (again, everything this guy does is a surprise) by acting like he is.
"Okay, okay, just... chill, okay? I'll find you something." And then the man makes a mistake. Such a stupid, obvious mistake that all at once Sam's sure that it can't be Dean because Dean would be smart enough to know that you should never turn your back on a Winchester.
"Nothing here's gonna be your size," the man's saying as he reaches for a bathrobe hanging on the wall, "but you can wear this until-"
Sam has the switch-blade unravelled from his waistband, flicked open and against the man's throat before he can finish his sentence. It's a little awkward – he has to reach up so far – but Sam's fast and he's certain that he can cut the guy's throat faster than the guy can disarm him.
"Don't move," he orders as the man freezes, back stiffening.
"Okay, not moving," the man agrees, his easy tone at odds with the tension in his body.
Sam thinks quickly. This might be his only chance. "How do I get out of here?"
The man hesitates. "Look, you don't want to leave-"
"Bullshit," Sam snaps.
"Okay." The man breathes out slowly, like he's trying to control his temper. Sam holds the knife steady. "I phrased that wrong. You can't leave. You're sick and it's dangerous and you're, like, twelve years old or something. I can't just let you walk out of here like this."
"Like what?" Sam asks before he can stop himself. He probably shouldn't engage in conversation but he wants to know what's wrong with him.
"Like a frikking twelve year old!" the man exclaims, like that should be obvious, and Sam is getting really annoyed by never getting an answer he can understand.
"I'm not twelve," he says, like it matters. "I'll be fourteen next month."
The man is quiet for a moment. "Fourteen..." he says, "So you think you were just in Michigan, right? That really old motel with the huge field behind it that Dad made us run laps of?"
"I was just in Michigan," Sam says stubbornly, but he's less certain now. There is a large field behind the motel and of course Dad's been making use of it for training. It doesn't prove anything though. Anyone watching him would know about the field and the laps he's been running. What's more convincing is something less explainable, something about the way the man talks, the way he moves...
"No, you weren't," Maybe-Dean says patiently. "Just listen, okay? Something happened to you. You touched something or read something in that storage room and it, uh... de-aged you somehow, I guess."
De-aged? Sam doesn't move.
The man sighs. "You wanna put the knife away so we can talk about this?"
"I want to know what the fuck's going on." Sam doesn't put the knife away. Now that he has it out he's scared to move an inch in case he gives the man the opportunity to disarm him. Maybe this wasn't the best idea. He should have waited.
"Yeah, well, me too," the man fires back, sounding so much like Dean that Sam has no idea what to believe anymore. "What I do know is that you're not supposed to be thirteen years old, Sammy. You're meant to be thirty. And I really am Dean and you're gonna be pretty upset if you stab me before you figure that out so please, put the knife away so we can figure out what to do next."
Sam's frozen with indecision. What is he supposed to do? What if the man isn't lying and he really is Dean? He can't risk hurting his brother but maybe it's all a trick and the man (monster) is using that fact to his advantage. So far the man hasn't done anything to try to hurt him, not unless he counts being dumped in the ice bath – and even though he's soaking wet and freezing now he can't deny that it's better than boiling blood and air so think he could hardly breathe. Maybe the man really is trying to help him rather than harm him. And he could have, if he wanted to. Even now Sam's not so sure that the man couldn't disarm him if he chose to. Maybe-Dean definitely doesn't seem quite as concerned about the knife as he should be.
The silence stretches as Sam hesitates. The wrong move could ruin everything.
"If I wanted to hurt you, don't you think I would've done it by now?" Maybe-Dean presses, following Sam's thoughts.
"Maybe you need me for something," Sam counters uncertainly. This is getting him no where. Whether it's Dean or not, the man doesn't seem likely to let him leave without putting up a fight – a fight that Sam would surely lose – and there's no way he can bring himself to actually slit the guys throat, maybe not even if he wasn't claiming to be Dean. He needs to think of something. Fuck, he needs someone to tell him what to do next because he doesn't know. "I want to talk to my Dad," he says, even though he's sure he sounds unbearably childish. For once he's willing to do whatever Dad tells him if only it will somehow get him out of this mess.
There's a twitch between the man's shoulder blades. "The numbers you know won't work, Sam. They were disconnected years ago."
That's convenient. "How do I know you're not lying?" Sam challenges. "You think you can just tell me I'm in the future and expect me to take your word for it?"
"It's not the future, it's the present," Maybe-Dean says, "You're just past-you for some reason."
"That's not an answer," Sam says flatly.
The man breathes out a sigh. "Fine, you wanna try, go ahead. My phone's in my back pocket."
This is insane. Maybe this guy's just a lunatic who drugs kids and dumps them in ice baths and messes with their heads. Sam keeps the knife steady against the man's throat, expecting an attack as he reaches his other hand into the pocket, but Maybe-Dean is perfectly still and what Sam pulls out doesn't look like any phone he's ever seen before. It lights up under his touch like something out of a sci-fi, brightly coloured icons set out on a tiny, flat screen, and no number pad in sight. Sam stares at it with a dawning sense of horror. He's already sure that the man is right and he won't be able to reach Dad on this thing. He doesn't know how to make it work, for a start, and also... he's starting to think that maybe he really isn't supposed to be thirteen years old.
The man – Dean? - slowly twists away from the knife and Sam lets him pry it out of his hand. The blade clatters against the porcelain when the man drops it in the sink and for a long moment they both eye each other uncertainly.
"This must seem really strange to you," the man says finally, retrieving the bathrobe he'd been reaching for when Sam stopped him.
"It doesn't to you?" Sam asks, a little faintly.
The man takes his phone back and pushes the robe into Sam's hands instead, huffing a dry laugh. "Nothing surprises me much anymore, but this... yeah, this one is a little weird."
To Be Continued