In the morning Bobby sent them to town to gather supplies while he did some research and made some calls.
When they got back, Booby was on the phone, and it was pretty clear from his side of the conversation that Other!Dean was on the other end of the call.
"Kid's so sure he's got everything under control," he muttered to Dean when he finished the call. "I need to make some more calls."
The rumble of a monster pick-up truck in the yard caught their attention, and Bobby rolled his eyes.
"Great," he muttered. "It's a goddamn Winchester family reunion."
"Dad?" Other!Sam's face registered utter shock as he recognized the sound of the truck.
Dean shrugged, almost as surprised as Other!Sam. John Winchester didn't participate in group jobs. It just wasn't his style. And he never hunted with his sons anymore. It was like he'd left that part of himself behind as soon as he'd killed the thing that had killed their mother, and that was all there was to it. Once, when Sam had gone off on one of his self-discovery binges, and Dean had been so miserable he could barely stand up, Bobby had called John and insisted he do something, and John had actually reached out to Dean. Had taken him on a hunt again like he used to do when Dean was a kid.
But it hadn't been the same, and Dean had missed Sam so much he wasn't really on his game, and although he did the job, his heart wasn't in it and John had finally called Sam and ordered his younger son to "Get your ass over here and pick up your brother."
And Sam miraculously obeyed, for once in his life.
That was the last time Dean had seen his dad.
"We need the colt," Bobby said by way of explanation when Dean shot a questioning look at him.
"You called him?" Dean clarified, and Bobby shrugged. "Did you tell him about Sam?"
Bobby shrugged again. "Had to. He wanted to know what I needed the colt for. What was I gonna say? That I needed the antique gun that killed the thing that killed his wife for target practice?"
So Dean and Other!Sam barely had time to step out onto the porch to greet him before John was on them, pushing past Dean and grabbing Other!Sam by the lapels, throwing him against the wall of the house, then getting right up into his face and grabbing Other!Sam's jacket again, shaking him violently.
"Where's my son, you son-of-a-bitch?" he snarled, slamming Other!Sam against the house again.
"Whoa whoa -- hey, Dad, it's ok -- " Dean tried to push his way between them, and John took a step back, letting Other!Sam go.
"It's not your brother, Dean," John spat out. "That thing is some kind of freak."
Other!Sam was staring, open-mouthed, at John, and when he uttered the word "freak" Other!Sam visibly flinched.
"Hey, it's ok," Dean said again. "Sam's ok. We're getting him back. We do this thing right, we should have him back tonight. This one goes home. Good times."
John's eyes flicked to Dean for a moment, his jaw working. He gave a small nod to acknowledge Dean's words, then shifted awkwardly, fixing Other!Sam with another dark look.
"You stay the hell away from me," he snarled, his voice low and threatening, index finger raised like a pistol at Other!Sam's face.
Other!Sam raised his palms in a gesture of surrender. "No problem, man," he huffed out, finally recovered from his initial shock at seeing the man he had grieved for eight years. "I'm not your son. I get it."
"John," Bobby was in the doorway behind them, nodding at the elder Winchester, who nodded back at him in greeting.
Dean put his hand on Other!Sam's shoulder. "Come on, Sam," he murmured. "We got work to do."
"Where are we going?" Other!Sam asked as they hit the highway, the Impala's comforting rumble beneath them, the road stretching out ahead of them to the southwest.
Dean shrugged. "Thought you might like to visit some more of your ghosts," he said. "We've got a few hours to kill, and I'm pretty sure it's a good idea to get as far away from Dad as we can for a little while."
"Yeah," Other!Sam took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "That was -- Weird doesn't even begin to describe what that was."
Dean nodded. "Dad's gotten a little intense in his old age," he said.
"He and Bobby get along?" Other!Sam asked.
Dean shrugged again. "Well enough, I guess," he said. "Dad doesn't get along with many people. He keeps to himself, mostly."
"Same old same old," Other!Sam said, bitterness creeping into his tone again.
They were silent for a moment, staring out at the landscape.
Then Dean couldn't stand it, so he asked, "In your world, Dad's been gone awhile, right?"
Other!Sam nodded tightly, keeping his eyes on the fields rolling by outside.
"So how did it happen?" Dean squared his shoulders, determined but filled with anxiety. Why the fuck was he doing this to himself? "He must've gone down fighting, right?"
Other!Sam said nothing for a moment, and Dean started to worry he wouldn't tell him, but finally Other!Sam turned his head and Dean could feel him looking, just looking at his profile and thinking.
Dean waited, almost started to get uncomfortable under the gaze of his not-brother, when Other!Sam sighed and turned his head away again.
"It's complicated," Other!Sam said. "But if what you want to know is, did he die a hero? Then yes, he died a hero. He died saving you."
Dean felt his insides go cold, flooded with guilt and anger and the glimmer of something dark and self-destructive.
"So -- did that happen before you died?" Dean was starting to understand why Other!Dean was such an asshole.
"About a year before, yeah," Other!Sam confirmed.
"Wow," Dean took another deep breath, fighting the knot forming in his chest. "I'm starting to get a real sense for just how personally fucked up things are in your world. I mean, monsters and ghosts and fighting things -- I get all that. But losing your family -- man, I don't know. Sounds like your Dean could use a few years in the loony bin, the poor bastard."
He meant it lightly, but Other!Sam's face registered grim, grim, grim.
But he'd opened the can of worms now, and he couldn't help himself.
"But you came back," Dean pushed. "So something brought you back. How did that happen, exactly?"
"Dean -- " Other!Sam let out an exasperated sigh.
Dean knew that sigh. That was Sam saying "Don't ask, you're not gonna like the answer."
Only this time, after hearing Other!Sam talk to his brother in angry, hushed tones on the phone last night, after getting a pretty good sense for how bad things were in that other world -- this time Dean felt like he really needed to know. He was beginning to get the idea that the other Winchesters were somehow central to the messed up situation on the other side, and that meant he and Sam were important somehow too.
He'd never considered the idea of having a destiny. It was counter-intuitive to the way that he thought of himself. He was Dean Winchester, regular guy. Well, except for the fact that he hunted monsters and saved people. Sort of like a supernatural fireman, that was how he'd come to think of himself after all these years. Charging into danger to save someone from some kind of threatening creature was a lot like charging into a burning building to haul people out.
Because of course when it had happened to him he had been too small. Too small to save his mom.
But he had at least saved his baby brother, and he'd always taken some pride in that. It gave him the confidence to get the job done, to avoid the nagging pit of self-doubt and failure his father had ingrained in him from an early age. His father, whose guilt at not being able to save his own wife had triggered a life-long psychotic break.
So things could be worse, 'cause at least Dean had Sam.
And keeping Sam safe -- the prime directive -- was a helluva lot less psychically damaging than the kind of twisted need for revenge that had driven John Winchester all those years.
"I need to know, Sam," Dean said now, darting a warning glance at his not-brother. "You and your Dean seem to be at the center of things in your world, and I need to know how that is."
"The center of things," Other!Sam scoffed. "You make it sound like some sort of hero's destiny or something, when really it's more like a curse."
"Damn it, Sam, just tell me what happened," Dean was losing patience, feeling panic rising in his chest. Something was so not right here.
Sam took a deep breath, stared out the window for a minute without answering.
"Sam," Dean started again, "Either you tell me now or I'm putting the breaks on this thing. Right now."
"You wouldn't do that," Other!Sam breathed. "You wouldn't leave Sam over there."
"He's a big boy," Dean insisted. "He can take care of himself. He's done it before. And if I decide we're not doin' this, he'll understand. He'd get it. He gets me."
Other!Sam visibly flinched at that. His face scrunched into an agony of indecision, and Dean had to fight the urge to comfort him, to offer reassurance that everything was gonna be ok.
Because he was starting to think it wasn't gonna be ok. At all.
"What the hell happened, Sam?" Dean tried again. "I heard you on the phone last night. I need to know what's going on. You owe me that."
Other!Sam darted a glance at him, his eyes full of pain.
"I'm not him, ok?" Dean said. "I deserve to know what's going on."
Other!Sam let out a sigh.
"I know you do, Dean," he said finally, his voice sad, tired. "And I don't know why I think I can make it better by not telling you, or by sugar-coating it somehow. I just wish you didn't have to know, that's all. You and Sam have a life here. It's a good life. You may not see it that way, but from where I'm standing, it looks pretty good. Pretty straight-forward."
"For two monster-hunting incestuous bachelors, I guess we do ok," Dean agreed with a shrug. "Not exactly the life I had planned for Sam, but -- "
"But it's a life he chose," Other!Sam interrupted. "It's clearly what he wants. You're not holding him back, or hanging anything over his head to make him stay with you. He wants this life. He loves you."
Dean shrugged again, noncommittal.
"I hate the thought of spoiling that, Dean," Other!Sam continued. "I can't tell you how much I hate that. You two deserve to be happy, and you obviously are happy."
"Spit it out, Sam," Dean growled, anger replacing his earlier panic. "Whatever you have to say, I can handle it. We'll deal with it, like we always have."
Other!Sam's breath hitched, and Dean resisted the urge to glance at him, spoil the moment. He knew that sound -- Other!Sam was caught. He always went for Dean's confident "It's-us-againt-the-world" and "we can get the job done if we do it together" spiel, and Dean knew it.
It only took Other!Sam another moment to spill, and Dean could feel him close his eyes and square his shoulders, take a deep breath as he gave in to his brother/not-brother.
"Dean made a deal," Other!Sam said, his voice low and intense. "With a demon. My life for his. He got one year out of it, then he went to Hell. For forty years."
Dean sucked in a breath, controlled the urge to curse. Waited.
"After the first thirty years, he started torturing souls," Other!Sam continued. "Was pretty well on his way to becoming a demon."
"A demon?" Dean couldn't stop himself. What the hell?
Other!Sam nodded. "Demons used to be human. They're human souls gone bad long enough in hell."
"So what happened?" Dean pursued, his hands growing slick on the steering wheel as he broke out in a cold sweat.
Other!Sam hesitated for only a moment this time, then muttered, "Oh, what the hell. An angel pulled him out."
Dean choked. "An angel?" What the fuck! "Those are real?"
"In our world, yeah," Other!Sam nodded. "Pretty sure we covered that already."
Dean was speechless. The idea of spending forty years in Hell was bad enough -- he could almost get that, imagine the experience as a kind of penance for letting his dad make a deal to save him, for letting Sam get hurt in the first place, for not protecting his family.
But being saved from Hell by an angel?
"Why?" he demanded finally. "Why did an angel pull me out of Hell?"
Other!Sam huffed out a breath.
"Why do you think, Dean?" His voice dripped bitterness and frustration.
Dean knew then. Knew the answer. Understood this was another fuck job.
As if it could be anything else.
"So the angels needed me to do something for them," he guessed hotly. "They needed somebody who had spent forty years in Hell and learned to torture and kill without remorse. Somebody who was already half-demon."
"Somebody who would do anything for his brother," Other!Sam continued, not really correcting Dean, just adding to his litany. "Somebody who was so far gone he would destroy the world to save him."
Dean faltered then, frowning. What? How did Sam have anything to do with this?
"They wanted me to destroy the world?" he tried, hesitant.
"Yeah," Other!Sam huffed. "They wanted you to bring on the fuckin' apocalypse. You and me. Because of our Winchester bloodline. We're perfect vessels for archangels, Dean. It's in our fuckin' DNA."
Dean was silent for a moment, too shocked to speak. To think. And the sick thing was, it all sounded true. Sounded right. Made sense.
"So Bobby was right," he said finally, and his voice sounded funny to himself -- hoarse and gravelly and dark. "The Winchester brothers are important after all."
Other!Sam looked at him then -- Dean could feel him staring, glanced over and saw the look of startled horror and revelation on his not-brother's face, frowned.
"What?" he demanded. "I miss something?"
"It's not you, Dean," Other!Sam said, his voice sounding wounded, pleading. "This isn't your story. None of these things have happened to you. That's why I'm telling you all this, because you can change it. You don't have to go down that road. You and your Sam -- and your dad -- you're on a different path. A better one, the way I see it. It's all happened differently for you these past eight years, and it's gonna stay that way, if I have any say in the matter. If I can keep Dean from fucking it all up for you."
"This isn't all up to you, Sam," he said gruffly. "We're gonna do this together. It's a job, simple as that, ok? We do it right, we get our brothers back. None of the rest of it matters. None of it."
Dean could feel Other!Sam's eyes on him, glanced over to catch the doubtful, pinched look he knew would be on his not-brother's face.
"I need your head in the game here, Sam," he insisted. "We've got a job to do, and I need to know you've got my back. So do you have my back on this, Sam? Can I count on you?"
When Other!Sam didn't answer, Dean glanced over again, raising his eyebrows, and Other!Sam gave a tight nod, his face a mask of misery and self-doubt that made Dean want to pull over to the side of the road and show him exactly how to take his mind off his troubles.
Unfortunately, they were running short on time.