A/Ns: I was a little disappointed with the Season 11 finale, so I decided to change a few things. I might have gone a tad overboard...

This is a very large scale story I'm tackling, so bear with me. Original estimation put it at 120 chapters, covering seasons 1-5, but we're currently not finished with Season 2 yet and sitting pretty at 80 chapters. (As you get to know me, you will hear, only ever so often, that I am verbose as f***) So, now I'm thinking it'll be well over 200 chapters by the time I wrap this thing up.

It is (obviously) not fully written, and I am a slow writer. I post once a week on Sundays, as long as I have enough chapters stockpiled to do so. Posting switches to every other week only when I fall behind and need time to play catch-up. It is my goal to never make you wait longer than two weeks, except for a month break between seasons (roughly every 30 chapters, except if your name is Season 2, and then you're a 60 chapter little biiiiiiitch, and who knows what the other Seasons are gonna turn into. Oi boy. Where were we?)

Reviews: I am the people-pleasing, self-doubting kind of author who thrives on commentary. A simple dropped line to tell me you are out there in the abyss or that you enjoyed a particular thing in a chapter goes a long way for my muse. I really appreciate anyone willing to leave a comment now and again, so please review when something I write strikes your fancy.

Beta: Last author note! This story is un-beta'd. I attempt several read-throughs at various levels of production, but I know there are still typos and grammatical errors. They are all mine, and I apologize for any disruption to the story they incur. Feel free to point them out to me and I'll address them asap.

Chapter Warnings: A lot of Dean swearing through the narration ahead.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

The Road So Far (This Time Around)

Season 1: Chapter 1

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Reality returned to him with all the force of an eighteen-wheeler. He sat bolt-upright with a sharp exhale, a tearing in his throat, and a pounding heart. He heaved and gasped for air as though he'd just finished running a marathon, yet his muscles were not strained. His lungs were not pushed past capacity. His veins were empty of the adrenaline that usually accompanied an impromptu sprint in his chosen career.

"Dean!"

Where was he? What happened? He was definitely amped for a fight, but no fight presented itself. Caught up with the pounding of his heart, he frantically scanned his surroundings. There was nothing but the quiet interior of the impala and the empty backroad beyond the windshield. So what had woken him?

"Dean!"

He whipped his head to the right (and damn, whiplash) to focus on his younger brother, who was looking at him with wide, worried eyes. Of course it was Sammy, sitting in the passenger seat of the Impala, probably woken up with half a heart attack from whatever nightmare Dean had been having while they camped out on the side of the road in Podunk-fucking-nowhere.

Like always.

Dean's breath hitched at the thought because no, not like always, not in a really long time. Because now they had the bunker and their own freaking bedrooms with actual beds, and they had a home and a dungeon and a war room.

And Sam was looking at him like he was crazy and, hell, maybe he was because his brother was wearing the face of a fucking twelve year old.

Okay, maybe not a twelve year old, but still a kid. Like a twenty-something, college-aged, douchebag, chess-club nerdery, going-to-law-school, kid face. And holy shit, wait a second, hold up, what the hell had Cas done to him?

Shit, Cas!

He spun around the best he could in the Impala, looking around them and then craning his neck to check the back seat. As if the angel could be hanging out in the backseat waiting to pop up with jazz hands and a cheesy 'Surprise!'

Dean really didn't have time to examine his sanity right now, so he chose to ignore the odd visual. He'd blame it on the blood loss. Which he was no longer suffering from, apparently. He patted himself down, checking for the hurts he knew he'd been feeling not five minutes ago. Nothing.

With sudden realization crashing down hard, he reached up and grabbed the rear view mirror to adjust it until he was staring at himself. He froze at the wide-eyed person looking back at him. Fuck, had he ever actually looked that young? He couldn't help it – he ran a hand down his face in amazement, pulled at the tight skin lacking wrinkles and scars. Hell, he was practically a kid himself.

He was damn gorgeous, that's what he was.

"Dean!"

Sammy was still calling his name, although it sounded like panic was giving way to exasperation. Dean turned to him, eyes wide and hand still pinching at his mouth and cheek.

"…Huh?"

Sam made bitchface #7 ("Really, Dean? Really?") and stared at him expectantly. When he didn't move, his brother blew out a breath of frustrated air. "You done checking yourself out?"

Dean snatched his hand away and his cheek snapped back into place with a wet little pop. He had not been checking himself out. It wasn't every day you lost like ten years, is all. Speaking of years, he glanced around again. He really needed to figure out where he was (most importantly, when), but his eyes kept drifting back to Sam.

He looked so damn young. So...light. It was freaky.

Logically, Dean knew what this was. He'd had enough experience with angelic DeLoreans to know this was real. But even with four trips under his belt, he couldn't get his head quite around this one.

He'd never been zapped back into a younger version of himself, for starters. The other times had been well before he'd even had a body to get zapped into. To suddenly have years of aches and pains vanish – from old scars and mended bones to plain old aging crap like arthritis. It was all gone, replaced with a vigor and freshness he hadn't felt in so long that he'd forgotten what being young was even like.

And he was steadfastly not thinking about the yawning hole in his chest, ever present since he'd been yanked out of hell. Always there, always aching. Or, at least, it had been, until about five minutes ago. For the first time in more than half a decade (and it was really so much fucking more than six years; it was decades upon decades of torturing souls on the rack and the apocalypse and purgatory and the mark and the Darkness), Dean now felt whole. There was a warmth in his chest that was trying to fill his entire body and he couldn't remember if that was normal. It had been so long since normal was even on the table.

Was this what it was like to time travel back to a point when you still existed? Did you overwrite your past self? Shit, was he overwriting things now? Dean stopped at the thought. He took in and let out a slow, measured breath. Was he changing the future? Everything they'd been through? Could he?

"There's still time, Dean."

Shit. Shit! Had he meant there was time to fix things? Or was he talking about actual Time, like the proper fucking noun? As in, we can use Time as a desperate last ditch Hail Mary and fix everything. Cas wouldn't have sent him back if it wasn't a possibility.

"Cas," he muttered in a single breath. There was no way. No way the angel had- that he could- Dean looked over at his younger brother (and damn, if that wasn't the most accurate description ever). Sammy was still staring at him, still torn between annoyance and panic. Dean knew that expression, even on a younger model. Panic was winning.

Join the fucking club, he thought. Because it couldn't be. It couldn't. Cas couldn't have sent him back to change….everything. He knew Sammy – he knew him – like he knew himself. Hell, better probably. This was pre-apocalypse Sam. This, this was pre- Dean's death. He knew the difference, could see it in the lack of guilt and self-loathing and just weight in his brother's shoulders: in his gaze.

This….Dean glanced around again. This might even be- But no, it probably wasn't. He spotted a phone sitting on the dash and went for it. He needed to know the date and he needed to know it right fucking now.

"Who's Cass?"

He ignored his brother, not even hearing the question – the several he'd been asking. Instead he fumbled for the device (Jesus Christ, is that a fucking flip phone? You've got to be kidding me) and pried it open. The initial date wasn't helpful, just the month and day. Apparently it was November 1st, which was absolutely terrifying because it definitely hadn't been November fifteen minutes ago. And even though he knew, he knew, what was going on, each piece of proof was still jarring; worse, it didn't rule out what he was dangerously starting to suspect.

It took him a minute to navigate the older technology, but when he finally did, he forgot how to breathe. November 1st, 2005.

Fucking hell. Mother of all mother-fucking, time-jumping, dick ex-angels. Cas sent him back to….to before everything. Everything.

Two thousand and fucking five!

He stared at Sam, who was definitely panicking now, trying to get something (anything) out of his brother. Not that Dean heard any of it. Cas had sent him back to before the apocalypse. Before Hell and his deal. Before….Dean swallowed, looking away from his damn young younger brother who had never looked more innocent.

Before Jess died.

He reached forward and turned the keys in the ignition. Baby lit up like a purring dream and even a time-jumping, panic-inducing, apocalypse-averting epiphany couldn't stop his grin. He wasn't the only hot, young thing on this backroad tonight. She was in drive and flipping a U-turn before he could really think about it. He didn't need to think about it.

"Dean, what the hell?" Sam scrambled for his seatbelt while bracing himself on the dash as his body pressed into the door. He looked all kinds of ready to wrestle the wheel away from his questionably-unstable brother. A year or two from now and he wouldn't hesitate.

At this point, though, Dean wasn't even sure the kid had a license (and okay, Sam had learned how to drive when he was nine, but that was so not the point). The little salad-eating giant was gripping the door handle as Dean hit the gas a little harder than strictly necessary. Except he had just been sent hurtling ten years into the past, so 'necessary' could suck it for all he cared. Sammy seemed to disagree, if the white knuckle grip was anything to go by.

God, he was so young (and wimpy! Bitch.)

With gritted teeth, as if he could hear Dean's internal monologue, he ground out, "Where are we going?"

"Back to Stanford." Because that was an easy one. They were going to get far away from whatever hunt he'd dragged his brother back into. Sam was going back to school where Dean would make sure Jess stayed alive and his moose of a brother stayed educated and the two got married and had babies or something. All apple-pie-normal.

Maybe a dog instead of babies. Sam liked dogs. Although Dean would make a kick-ass Uncle if it came to it.

His answer had momentarily shut Sammy up. At least until he pulled bitchface #1 ("What? That doesn't make any sense, Dean. Don't be an idiot.").

"What? That doesn't make any- Dean, what about Dad?"

Dean managed not to jerk the steering wheel or all-out slam the breaks to a grinding halt as his brother's words registered. Instead, he let out the slowest breath he possibly could while still breathing. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Dad was still alive. Dad was still alive. It was 2005: before the crash and the hospital and Azazel (Yellow Eyes. We called him Yellow Eyes) and John's deal and shit. His knuckles tighten on the wheel. Dad was alive.

"I'll…uh," he had to take a moment to clear his throat around the giant fucking lump of Dad is still alive. "I'll find him. Alone," he added hastily, chancing a glance at his brother. "You're going back to school."

Soon as he killed the demon hanging out in Sam's friend (Brad? Think it was Brad). Kill the demon, save Jess, save Sam. No hunting, no demon blood, no dying. No Devil wearing him to the prom and all the crap after that. Piece of pie.

…Except he didn't currently have anything to kill a demon. Craptastic. No demon-killing knife (no Ruby to give it to them yet – and hopefully not ever, if he had anything to say about it), no Colt (shit, when did those vampires kill Elkins? Had it been 2005? Or 2006? What month? Crap, crappity, crap crap. Maybe they should make a detour to Colorado…) And no angel blades (…no Cas, either, despite sending up another half dozen silent prayers.)

Damn it, how had they even made it through the apocalypse the first time around?

An exorcism would have to be good enough. Maybe he could send the ass-hat back to Azazel with a message. Maybe one for Lilith, too. And shit, Lilith. Damn it, this was already making his head hurt. It had all been so long ago – so many crises and bad decisions and ends of the world ago.

"What about the thing killing people in Jericho? The EVP on dad's voicemail?"

Huh?

Jericho. Well, at least he knew where they were now. It sounded familiar. Dean wracked his brain. What had they been hunting when he picked Sam up from school? He vaguely remembered a motel room covered in victims, all male, all killed traveling a backroad. A creepy chick in a white dress and Ring-worthy black hair. Right! Cars, bridges, unfaithful men, and a suicide victim who'd killed her kids.

"The woman in white?" Dean gave a nonchalant wave of his hand, proud of himself for remembering. He could so totally pull this Time thing off. No problem. "I'll take care of her when I come back for Dad."

Sam sputtered. "The woman in- It's a woman in white?"

Okay. Apparently they hadn't known what it was yet. Smooth. Real smooth.

"Dean, how did you-" Sam made a face, part worry, part panic, and part…constipation? Dean wasn't sure what that last one was about. His brother's voice was oddly quiet, though, when he asked, "How did you know that?"

"Uh," the older hunter bobbed his head back and forth looking for something that sounded halfway plausible. "Figured it out? You know, all male victims, died along a road. Probably pulled over to pick up a beautiful, stranded woman. Came to me while I was, uh, sleeping."

Sam was still staring with Constipation Face (maybe that should be added to the list of Bitchfaces. Lucky #11?). So the older Winchester did what he always did best and ignored it, focusing on the road. He was going to have to start stockpiling some better excuses if he was going to slip up this freakin' much.

"Dean," Sammy started slowly, words measured with just barely withheld concern and frustration. "Turn the car back around. We need to find dad."

He thought for all of three seconds before going for gold in the Stupid Things Future Dean has Told Past Sam. "Dad's not in Jericho."

"What? Wh- Then where is he?"

Dean shook his head. "Don't know." He barely managed to hold back the 'don't care'. "But he's not there."

"Dean-"

"Oh come on, Sammy!" He looked over at his brother finally, because this wasn't the Sam he knew, the Sam that had reconciled with Dad. Not yet. This was the kid who wasn't supposed to care about John Winchester – who wanted out of the life. Who ran away to get it. And Dean was trying to honor that this time around, because Sam had been right all along. The further away from Dad they got, the better. And yeah, it hurt like hell to say it, knowing the man was still alive. Knowing he could still be saved.

Maybe if Dean could just find him, warn him about Azazel and all his plans. If he could change Sam's fate this time around, if he could stop the apocalypse, maybe he could save Dad, too.

Hell, who was he kidding?

John Winchester had never been save-able. Dean had too much experience this time around to make the same mistakes. He couldn't save them both, and Sam was more important. The further away from John Winchester and his crusade they got, the better. He wasn't going to let them – let Sam– walk the same bloody road again. Not when he could stop it.

He tightened his grip on the wheel. "Dad's not in some backwater town hunting a woman in white. Or a wendigo, or a ghost, or any other case he can't be bothered with that he'll stick on us just to keep us busy. This is another one of his fucked up missions – send us off hunting while he's busy with Az- with- with the thing that killed mom."

He chewed on the inside of his cheek. He was saying too much, and he hadn't meant to say any of it and shit, shit, shit. He just wanted to get Sam back to school, where he would be safe. Then he could focus on the rest of it.

Damn it, Cas, you couldn't have sent me back one more freaking day? Twenty four more freaking hours and we could have avoided all of this!

Twenty four hours earlier and he would have never pulled Sammy back in. Sam would never have known dad was missing.

His brother was back to staring. Dean twisted his hands around the steering wheel and blew out a measured breath. He was going to have to explain at least some of this. He probably wasn't acting very 'Dean circa 2005'.

"Look, I should have known better, okay? Shouldn't have dragged you into it. I'll find Dad on my own. You wanted out, well you've got it. We'll go back to Stanford, and you're gonna go to that law-school thing. You'll become a fancy lawyer and marry that girl and live happily-friggin-ever-after. Apple pie life, right?"

Okay, so his voice may have cracked at the end there and this was definitely not any better than the last bunch of shit he hadn't meant to say.

Note to self. When stockpile of excuses runs out, it's time to shut up.

Seriously, Cas. Twenty-four fucking hours! Was that so much to ask?

"Stop the car."

Dean heaved a sigh. Damn it, now Samantha was going to go all chick-flick, I-worry-about-you and blah blah blah on him. And he really, really didn't think he could handle that on top of everything else. "Sammy-"

"Dean, stop the damn car!"

He did. He pulled the Impala onto the shoulder and put her in park. It was silent as Sam tried to work out the right words to say. His pinched face told Dean it wasn't an easy battle.

The older hunter tried not to watch his brother (also a losing battle), because it was freaky – so freaky – but it was also so damn good to see Sam without all the pain and the sorrow and the fucking tiredness that had been there since…Well, since he'd gone to get him from Stanford. Since Jess.

"Dean," Sammy got his vocal cords working again and he put on his 'this is serious' face. "What's going on?"

"Nothing, Sammy."

"Sam."

Dean almost snorted. Right. He'd forgotten all about that. 'Sammy' was a twelve year old kid, if he recalled (oh, if his brother only new the irony. He freaking was a kid!) So he nodded and said, "Sam." And it wasn't the least bit sarcastic at all. Really, it wasn't.

His brother's eyes narrowed. "You're obviously not okay."

Dean rolled his own, giving his brother a pointed look. "You just told me not to! I'm doing what you said!"

"Yeah, and since when do you listen to me, huh?"

"Since-" Shit, nope, couldn't say that, that hadn't happened yet. "Since-" No, couldn't say that either. Dean huffed in annoyance. He'd forgotten how stubborn and immature and stupid his little brother could be (he really hadn't). "Damn it, Sam, can we just get back on the road?"

"No. Not until you tell me what is going on with you!" Sam waved his hands around as he spoke and Dean allowed himself to be distracted by them rather than focus on his brother's concern and annoyance and, oh right, actual spot-on point.

Because no way was he going to come out with, 'Well, Sammy, I just time traveled back a decade from the brink of the actual end of the world (not those other times, nah, those weren't even close compared to this one), so, yeah, I'm a little different. Astute observation there, Sherlock. But no biggie! I'm just gonna save you and your girlfriend and the whole world and we're all going to be apple pie.'

But Sam was still talking and Dean really needed to get his head in the game. "You were hell bent on finding dad three hours ago."

"Yeah, well, Dad's an asshole." He said it before he could think about it. So much for head in the game.

It's the second time that night that Dean rendered his brother speechless. He ran a hand over his eyes. This wasn't going to be as easy as he fooled himself into thinking. And why should it be? Nothing ever was. He had too much weight himself, too much baggage, to ever pretend that he didn't know what he did. To be what he had once been.

Time for Plan B. Too bad he didn't actually have one (not that he'd had a Plan A, either).

"Look, Sammy- Sam. Dad's not here. And no, I don't know where he is." Which was actually true. He didn't have a clue because they never had figured it out.

"But it doesn't matter," he continued, forcing his brain to focus and think like me ten years ago. "He's never going to stop hunting the thing that killed mom. And obviously, he doesn't want our help doing that."

Sam fell silent, watching his older brother with an unreadable expression. Dean didn't hold his gaze for long. They needed to get back on the road.

"Dean, there's still a woman in white back in Jericho, if that's what's killing those people."

The hunter nods. "I'll take care of it. Soon as I drop you off, I'll come back and gank the bitch." His memory on it was a little hazy, but he was pretty sure the trick had been getting her back into her old house. He could do that solo and not even break a sweat.

"Saving people, hunting things," he added suddenly, the words coming to him from a long ago memory. Dean turned to look at his brother head on. "That's my gig – and I'm good with that. But that's not your life, Sammy. It doesn't have to be and I, uh," he shook his head. No chick-flick moments. "I shouldn't have asked you to come."

Sam was already shaking his head full of ridiculously long hair and giving him those sympathetic puppy dog eyes. "You needed help, Dean. And I want to help. Let's find Dad."

He shook his head. "Not necessary, Sammy. Sam."

His brother let out a huff of air. "At least let me help with the woman in white."

"Nope. I got this."

Sam sat back in his seat in defeat. He was still eyeing Dean worryingly, but it looked like he was out of things to say. So Dean pulled back on the road and headed for Stanford, his mind running through plans to save Jess.

-o-o-o-

They were halfway to Stanford (back the way they had come just yesterday, though it'd been significantly longer in Dean's case) when Sam decided he wasn't out of things to say, after all.

"Who's Cass?"

This time the car did swerve dangerously as Dean's knee-jerk reaction sent them careening onto the dirt shoulder of the I-49. He corrected quickly and expertly (with a mental apology to his Baby for the rough treatment) but Sam's knuckles were once more white on the dashboard and Dean's heart was pounding a mile a minute.

He rubbed absently at the hammering in his chest and decided that even if he could answer honestly, he didn't want to talk about it. About the blood fertilizing the graveyard, the outpouring of grace seeping into the earth, or the apology in blue eyes that belonged to his friend for the first time in weeks. The back of his brother's head, unmoving and soaking up a pool of red. The finality of that last 'Good luck, Dean.'

Things that would never happen again, so they didn't matter. They didn't exist anymore.

Instead, he willed his heart to calm and responded casually, "He's no one."

Not casually enough, however, for Sam to miss the choice of pronoun, identifying him as someone. Eventually, he stopped staring at his brother, stopped waiting for him to say more, and stared out the windshield instead.

Dean knew that Sam was far from letting it go and was only biding his time. He hoped of all the many things his brother could latch onto in this situation, of all the slip-ups he could dig his mental claws into and refuse to give up, Cas would be one he let slide.

-o-o-o-

It was nearly five am when they pulled up outside of Sam's apartment. It was still dark, the sun not due to rise for another two hours, and Sam was yawning as he pulled his gargantuan frame out of the passenger side. Slumped shoulders and a hung head marked the giant's form as he headed for the front door, digging into his pocket for the key.

Dean darted up beside him as soon as he realized where his brother was headed. "Uh, hey, why don't you get your bag from the trunk? I'll get the door."

Sam scrunched his face up in his classic 'I'm tired and you're not making any sense' expression (bitchface #8). "Dude, if Jess wakes up to you tripping around the house in the dark, she'll freak."

He slid the key into the lock and turned it. Dean tensed beside him, desperately trying to think up a way to keep Sam out of the house long enough for him to clear it. Truth was, he didn't know exactly when Brad (Brody? Brian? Shit.) had stalked out Jess. From the little he'd gleamed of the conversation he was too busy being locked in the bathroom to hear, the demon could have held her for longer than just the night they returned.

How had the douchebag even known when they were coming back first time around? He'd killed her on the anniversary of their mom's death. But would he have done that even if they hadn't returned in time, or if they'd come back early? How long had he been waiting for them to return - had he had Jess tied up all weekend? Did he have her tied up in there now? Dean couldn't remember anything from the police report – it wasn't like she'd been missing for the two or so days they'd been gone. Had the demon been watching for their return, instead?

Surreptitiously, the hunter scanned the rest of the neighborhood. They were surrounded by other apartments, probably occupied by sleeping students. The windows were dark: most had curtains drawn or shades pulled. The ones that didn't were ominous, gaping mouths of impenetrable black that stared at them, surrounded them, hiding any number of eyes. Dean glared at them each in turn, daring one to have a demon begging for his throat to be cut.

He shifted restlessly and focused back on his brother as the lock shifted, the door slid open, and Sam disappeared in to the darkness beyond. If he noticed how close his brother was sticking as they walked through the house practically in tandem, Sam didn't say anything. Dean checked each room, hand wrapped around the hilt of the gun tucked in the back of his jeans. It wouldn't do much against a demon, but it was better than being weaponless.

The Sasquatch stopped abruptly, causing a near nose-dive of older brother into younger. Dean pulled back at the last second, feeling the brush of Sam's shirt against the tip of his face. He glared at the man, but was immediately on guard.

"What is it?"

Sam gave him a funny look. "My bedroom, Dean. You going to follow me in there, too?"

Dean scoffed, making a face of his own. He backed off, acting insulted just long enough for his brother to shake his head and disappear into the dark room. The door shut behind him with a click and Dean tried to ignore his twitch of nerves.

The demon probably wasn't in the bedroom. His gut wasn't screaming at him, no inherent danger he could sense. But that wasn't solid proof, and Jess had died in the bedroom.

The door made a soft scraping nose over the carpet as he pushed it open. The room beyond was pretty dark, but he could make out the silhouette of a single occupant in the bed, lit by a line of yellow light coming from beneath a door to the left. Bathroom.

The light flickered off and the door opened a second later. Dean slid back outside, turning around to survey the rest of the apartment.

Okay, probably no demon, then. He didn't smell sulfur (although with a demon as undercover as Brad/Brian/Brett, he probably wouldn't). Good. That was…good. That meant he had time to plan. He headed back out to the car, throwing open the trunk to grab Sam's bag. The kid's laptop was in there. He'd have to make good use of that once Sasquatch passed out.

He quickly popped the hidden panel and snagged a couple of weapons, a container of salt, and two canteens of water that would be turned holy five minutes after Sam conked out. He was on guard duty tonight, even if his brother wouldn't know it.

Dean went back into the house to find Sam standing in the middle of the living room, having turned on a small table lamp next to the sofa. He tossed him the go-bag, wrapping the strap of his own weapon-filled duffle over his shoulder to hide the obvious shape of the sawed-off inside.

"So, er," Sam mumbled as he distractedly set his bag down on the chair next to him, looking every bit the twenty-two year old kid he was. "I was hoping- that is… um, you probably shouldn't drive more tonight without some sleep, Dean."

The older hunter raised his eyebrows. Part of him wanted to smirk – oh, part of him wanted to laugh. Poor Sammy, beating around the bush trying to figure out how to suggest he stay the night without actually saying it. 2005 Dean would have been insulted – would have insisted he was fine to keep on driving. Would have done so just to prove it, too.

"Do you have a place to crash?"

Dean grinned, slinging the bag off his shoulder to land carelessly on the sofa. "What? Your couch too good for me?"

Sam blinked in surprise, jaw dropping a bit and this time Dean let out a chuckle. Poor kid. The younger Winchester was already back-pedaling, claiming it was fine, and he could stay as long as he wanted, and maybe they could get breakfast or something the next morning (Sam code for 'don't you dare leave without saying goodbye, Dean!')

He was smiling – all dopey, happy, innocent Sammy – when he said he'd love for Dean to meet Jess. Properly, this time.

The smirk slid off Dean's face as he remembered that this wasn't a family reunion; he had people to save, a job to do. And he wouldn't be sticking around afterwards. He was going to have to keep his distance from Sammy, too, if he wanted to keep him out this time. No Uncle Dean in this future, either.

A memory flashed through his mind of a Sam who barely tolerated him, who barely knew him, sitting across the table at a family dinner with his pretty wife by his side. A forgotten dream tainted with the bitter aftertaste of a Djinn.

Dean didn't trust his mouth to form words through the giant lump in his throat. So he nodded and smiled and hoped it didn't look as fake as it felt. Judging by Sam's laugh and quick assurance ('It won't be that bad, Dean. You'll love her,') he hadn't been very successful.

He waited until the kid was out – trying not to hear the mumbled words of reassurance to a half-asleep Jess and waiting for the light to go out – before he pulled the shotgun out of his duffle. He purified both of the canteens with a rosary and a mumbled prayer. After a quick lightbulb moment, he did so again with several glasses he stole and filled from the kitchen sink, placing them strategically throughout the house.

He slipped an anti-possession amulet on the second he realized his chest was missing the very reassuring ink of his tattoo. He thought about sneaking into the bedroom and getting one around Sam and Jess, but figured there was no way he'd pull that off (or talk his way out when Sam caught him). So he settled on painting devils traps on the undersides of what rugs he could find, putting one directly outside the bedroom door.

With the windows strategically re-salted (as unnoticeably as possible) and a few symbols added to the pre-existing carvings in the doorframes (that-a-boy, Sammy), Dean settled onto the couch with the laptop, a sawed-off, and a canteen.

He spent the next several hours researching everything he could on Sam's demonic best friend, stubbornly not thinking about a lonely future without his brother by his side.