A/N: Thanks for being patient. From here on in, weekly updates. I'd update faster, but I'm hoping to have the next big installment mostly done by the time I finish posting this.
Sam was the last to regain his footing after their rough landing and as soon as he was vertical again, he was met with his brother’s hand smacking him upside the head. Hard.
“What the hell, dude?” he called, only to trail off distractedly as he took in their surroundings. They were in a sunny, half empty parking lot like a million others he’d spent his life passing through. The problem was, he was pretty sure he’d never been in this one before. At least, he didn’t remember it. He had no clue where they were. All he knew was that they weren’t in Kansas anymore. The fact that it was clearly afternoon when, seconds before, it hadn’t been dawn yet, was kind of a hint, too.
“What…” he started again, not sure what he was going to ask. Buffy solved that problem for him when she grabbed the amulet he was still holding in one hand and waved it in his face with a sour expression.
“This, Sam!” she snapped. He pulled back far enough to focus on the silver and red object, noting that it wasn’t all that red anymore. The center stone had faded to a dull burnt orange and the silver looked dirtier than before, greyer. Not at all like the shiny, pulsing object that had drawn his attention a minute before.
“You activated it, you idiot!” the slayer yelled when it became obvious that he wasn’t going to make the connection himself anytime soon. Oh. Activated the amulet. The one the demon had used to travel through time and space. Oh
He said it out loud. The slayer growled. “Yes, oh. You shouldn’t be asking ‘what’, you should be asking ‘where’.”
With that she took a step away from him and pulled a t-shirt from the duffel bag that had been slung over her shoulder when they’d taken their little… trip. Actually, they all had their bags. That was one good thing anyway. Sam watched, guilt setting in belatedly, as she wrapped the amulet and tucked it safely away, out of reach. You can’t just touch anything you find, Sammy!
It was the one lesson that had never quite sunk in and this time, it had gotten them into real trouble. He opened his mouth to apologize for whatever was going to happen now, when Dean rubbed a hand over his head and quietly said, “Actually, I think the right question isn’t ‘where’ either. It’s ‘when’.”
He met the confused looks of his brother and friend with a curiously blank one, pointing at something behind their backs with one hand. They turned to see a little boy of about five or six stumbling along the gravel of the parking lot, clutching his right hand to his chest, tears and snot on his face. While Buffy still didn’t get it, Sam did. Sammy, don’t!
Dean had yelled, but it had already been too late. He’d touched the machete and cut his hand badly. But then Dean yelled, and Dad yelled and he got scared and he was hurt and so he ran out the motel room and into the empty parking lot.
Twenty years later, he stood in the same parking lot, watching the same scene unfold from another point of view.
“Guys?” Buffy asked, not seeing what was so special about a single child.
Sam silently pointed one finger at the boy and then at himself. “I think that’s me,” he told the slayer. His last thought had been of this exact day, this moment, being scolded for always touching and the amulet had taken that thought right out of his head.
Not where. When. And the answer was: August, 1989.
“We have to go,” Sam blurted as soon as the fact that he was watching his younger self
sunk in. He made to grab Buffy and drag her backwards, away from the pitifully sobbing boy that was himself twenty years in the past.
He should have listened. All those one million instances when Dean and their father had told him to keep his goddamn paws to himself and not touch
everything, he should have listened. Because he was a Winchester and nothing ever went smoothly for a Winchester and of course he couldn’t get into normal trouble, no, he had to land himself and his family twenty years in the damn past and now the entire universe was probably going to implode and it would be his fault.
So much for bad karma.
“What?” Dean immediately protested loudly. “We can’t.” He pointed at little Sammy and the grown up Sam fought the urge to what… roll his eyes or start sobbing? Because Dean never could walk away from his little brother in distress, no matter what the circumstances. Even if it meant the end of the world.
“Dean, I don’t remember anyone in this parking lot that day. That means we weren’t there and that means we can’t be there.” He tugged on Buffy’s hand again, but she refused to budge.
“You’re worried you’ll cause some kind of time travel paradox,” she observed.
He nodded. But Dean would hear nothing of leaving. “Think, Sammy. You’re six. That means we have, what, twenty years? Twenty years to hunt down that demon son of a bitch and save Jess. Save Dad. We can… we can see Dad again, Sammy. He’s alive.”
“We can’t! Anything we change now will have consequences in the future, man. We could wipe ourselves out of existence and never know.” There was no time for this. They needed to get away before anyone noticed them. Before John Winchester rounded a random corner and laid eyes on them because if he did, if he did… they needed to get away. Now. History needed to stay intact or God only knew what was going to happen. They might turn left where they had turned right before and all die on a random hunt. Or the demon might get them all or Sam might never leave, or Dean might never come for him. They might never wake Buffy from the Nightmare, might never close the Devil’s Gate, might not save any of a thousand people they had saved in the original, the real times line. A million ways for everything to go wrong and the world to end with a bang and a whimper. Dean didn’t seem to understand that, though.
“Boys,” Buffy cut in, pulling her hand out of Sam’s, her tone demanding attention. They both stopped their desperate fighting to listen. “It’s okay. I’ll take care of it. You can go see your dad.”
“How?” Sam wanted to know, not believing something that looked to be too good to be true. The way the blonde bit her lip and avoided his gaze seemed to confirm his suspicions.
But then she gave a decisive nod of her head and straightened, seemingly finishing some quick thinking and coming to a decision. “I’ll take care of this. I know a way. I can fix this for you. We’re here now so we were here then. I can work it out. I promise.”
“How?” Dean echoed, gaze fixed on the little Sammy who was sitting at the base of a tired looking tree less than thirty feet away. His crying was the only reason he hadn’t noticed the yelling adults yet.
She took a deep breath and asked, “What if I could erase it?”
“Okay,” Dean nodded almost instantly and Sam turned to him, surprised. Not because he trusted Buffy with this, but because his answer came so fast. Then he saw the naked longing on his brother’s face and understood. Dean wanted this. He wanted to be here, to maybe avoid Hell. To be safe. Maybe he would have decided differently if he’d had time to think about it but this was a split second decision. They were here, now, and they had to make a choice. Run or stay. Dean wanted that chance. Wanted to stay. And even if it didn’t work, could Sam deny Dean one last chance to see their father, to actually talk to the man, alive? Dean only had four months to live. And here, now, in this second, they had a chance to do something they never thought they would again. Talk to their father.
He was about to admit defeat when Buffy added, “Think about it rationally. We don’t know how this amulet works. We need to do research. Our credit cards don’t work, our ID’s don’t work, our phones
don’t work and our contacts don’t know us yet, if they’ve even been born. We need a hunter if we wanna get back to our own time anyway. We’re doing what’s logical.”
Sam looked at her, at his brother, at himself in the pocket sized version and noticed movement out of the corner of his eyes. A ten-year-old Dean was frantically searching between the cars for his baby brother, calling for Sam who either didn’t want to answer or didn’t hear him. They needed to decide on a course of action now
. This whole conversation had been hurried because they knew they either had to make their move or leave, but now they only had moments before little Dean spotted them and changed the course of history. Literally. Because even at ten Dean was smart enough to recognize danger when he saw it and the three of them didn’t look very inconspicuous. And once he saw them, well, Sam didn’t think there’d be any choice left to make then.
Sam sighed, Dean gave him the big, silent and lost eyes and Buffy just stood there, awaiting his judgment, tense. She was doing this for them, he knew. For him and Dean. Otherwise there would have been no need for her to make her split second offer to ‘take care of it’. And her ‘logic’ was all hot air and they knew it. They could just as well find Pastor Jim or Bobby and feed the men some shit. No reason for the truth. Except… except that was him over there, tiny and lost and crying and he could fix it all
. Just for a while.
“I trust you,” he told his friend and he did. He trusted her to be true to her word. If she said she could keep the world from imploding, then she would. And she’d do it so he and Dean could be sentimental and try to save a family that had been cursed from the day he had been born. Because Sam knew, even if Buffy said she would erase it all, Dean would try to change it. Because that was just who he was. He tried. Looked like they were doing this. Time travel and trying to fix everything. God, some days he really wondered what Lady Fate was smoking.
Buffy gave him a brilliant smile that was mirrored by Dean, flung her duffel at him and then jogged over to baby Sammy, going to her knees in the dirt in front of him.
Once the world stopped spinning and Sam pointed out his younger self, Buffy took a moment to appreciate the fact that they had just traveled through time. Only on Tuesdays did crap like that happen. Well, recently the bad stuff had started to happen on Thursdays instead of Tuesdays. Which was probably worth looking into…
Once she had pushed the hysterical giggles into the back of her mind, she started thinking. The amulet. What did they know about the thing that had gotten them there? It was controlled by thought, which explained why they were here and now of all possible moments and places. Sam had thought of this instant, for some reason. It was powered by the demon’s inherent… energies, which made time and space fluid.
And therein lay the problem. The amulet felt cold and lifeless as she took it from Sam’s hand. Spent. Empty. All the energy that had been stored in it was gone. They’d either have to find an alternate energy source for it, or another way to travel through time entirely.
Research. They needed to do research. She was already rattling off the phone numbers of people she knew who might not only believe the crazy story but be able to help, too. Then Sam tried to drag her away and she was pulled into the present again. Ha. Pulled into the present. Funny.
She stopped him and after a moment realized why he was so frantic. Paradoxes. Dawn had droned on and on about them after she’d gotten into watching Dr. Who. Change one fact, destroy the whole of space and time. A bit dramatic if you asked her, but they couldn’t exactly risk it.
Except, Dean looked like someone had dropkicked his puppy and under Sam’s panic was a badly hidden desire to stay
. Sam wanted to go over to his younger self, find his younger father, talk to him, as much as Dean did. He was just being more rational about it. Stay or go.
Worrying her lip in thought, she tried brainstorming for a way to make it possible. This chance was less – way less – than one in a million and if anyone deserved some sense of closure, some answered questions, it was those two. If she had been offered the chance to speak to her mother again, or even just to see the woman alive, she would have moved Heaven and Hell to see it through.
Speaking of Heaven… yes, yes, that should work. She’d owe a favor or two but, looking at Sam and Dean and the hollow yearning in their eyes, it was worth it. But they needed to agree and quickly because if Sammy was here, then so were Dean and John and once the hunter discovered them, their decision would be made for them. If they were going to do this, the decision needed to be made now, here. There was no time for grand contemplation. Stay or go. They needed to decide now
before they unwillingly messed something up. Stay or go.
So she threw them a quick question that didn’t even begin to sum up what she intended to do. But it was all they had time for. Stay or go. Right now.
Dean agreed immediately, Sam took a moment, his rational mind warring with his desire to give his Dean whatever happiness his brother asked for. Not that Dean ever asked for anything. Which was sort of the point.
Either way, they had seconds to decide on a course of action because a crying first grader would be missed and soon. They either had to stay or they had to book it. Now
“I trust you,” Sam suddenly said, broad shoulders relaxing as the decision was made. Buffy felt a surge of affection for those two lumps, who, after knowing her less than a year, trusted her with this. Trusted her to be able to keep her word, to make things alright, to not harm their family, past or present. Or was that present and future?
They trusted her. They probably didn’t like what she would have to do but they would understand. Making everyone forget afterwards was the only way to see them at all. What was the saying, better to have loved and lost… well, in this case, talked to and lost, but the principle applied. And they were okay with that. Because they trusted her.
It probably shouldn’t have felt as good as it did, she decided, as she threw her bag at Sam and turned to go and console a six-year-old.
Sammy looked up as she got close and the weariness in his small face made her want to cry a bit. His gaze flitted over her and then the two tall men behind her, before settling back on her. Dismissing the obvious danger in favor of the one that was closer. Not a hunter yet, not the tactical genius he was twenty years later, but far too experienced.
He sniffled and pulled his injured right hand closer to his chest. Somewhere beyond the cars, young Dean was coming closer.
“Hi,” she greeted, making sure to sound cheery. She crouched so she was at his eyelevel. “Did you hurt yourself, pumpkin?”
She flinched as soon as the pet name left her mouth, but it had been an automatic endearment, one she had heard her mother use a million times on Dawn.
“’M no’ allowed t’talk t’strangers.”
“That’s smart. How about this, you let me look at your hand and you don’t have to talk at all. Then you’re not breaking the rule.”
For a moment she was sure he was going to call her stupid and turn her down because she knew that look. Those incredulous did-you-just-say-that eyes were the same now as they would be. But then he shifted a bit and his hand obviously stung. He nodded and carefully held out his hand with a nasty cut across the palm.
She didn’t know the story behind the cut, but she could guess that he must have run from John and Dean because they’d never have let him toddle around with a wound like that. She had never met John, but he lived in his boys and those she knew. She held out her own hand, palm up, friendly and open. It was a bit like dealing with a skittish animal.
And then little Dean rounded an old Ford and Sammy jerked his hand back like he’d been caught with it in a cookie jar. “Sammy!” Dean yelled, “Why the hell did you run away?”
Sammy sniffled again and shrugged sullenly and only then did Dean notice the strangers close to his brother. It took him less than a second to insert himself between the younger boy and Buffy.
“We’re not allowed to talk to strangers,” he snapped and there was nothing of Sam’s adorableness in his voice. Hard and cold and ready for someone to start throwing punches.
Buffy kept on smiling. “Well, your brother wasn’t going to talk. He was just going to let me take a look at his hand. It’s bleeding.”
She felt bad for guilting a ten-year-old into letting her treat Sam the same way she would the twenty-nine-year-old. Sammy, Sammy, Sammy. Always Dean’s one weakness. Behind her, adult Dean made a small noise and Sam hissed.
Dean hesitated, looked down at his brother – who looked absolutely heartbreaking with wet cheeks, puffy eyes and splotches from crying all over his face – looked back at Buffy, then took in her two companions and finally asked, “Why don’t you let Dad take a look, Sammy?”
The sniffles turned into angry hiccups. “No! Not Dad!”
Aw, how cute. Six-year-old Sam didn’t just have the same puppy dog eyes, he also had the same talent for holding grudges. Dean deflated instantly at the tone and stepped aside cautiously. Buffy held out her hand again, trying to sound idly as she asked, “Where’s your dad, boys?”
“Close,” Dean snapped and she took that to mean that he was around somewhere, looking for Sammy, too. In fact, if he hadn’t felt it his job to play guard dog, Dean would have probably been looking for the man now.
“Alright,” she agreed mildly, pulling out a few tissues to wipe away the blood and take a look at the cut.