They rode in silence for a long time then, Other!Sam brooding, Dean processing what he had just heard, till Dean couldn't stand it anymore and turned on the radio. Except of course out here in the middle of nowhere, Nebraska, there wasn't much in the way of decent radio -- so of course he put on Zeppelin and Other!Sam groaned and complained and Dean flashed a grin at him and drummed along on the steering wheel until Other!Sam slid down on the seat and crossed his arms across his massive chest and relaxed again, lost in the familiar, comforting sounds and smells of home.
When they pulled up to the Roadhouse it was a little after noon. Other!Sam climbed out of the car with a look of wonder on his face, and Dean clapped him on the back and led him inside, where REO Speedwagon blared from the jukebox and Ellen Harvelle stood at the bar, looking up with a smile of pure pleasure as they came inside.
"Well, look who it is," she drawled, leaving her post to cross around where she could fold them both into warm hugs.
"Hi Ellen," Other!Sam breathed as she pulled him in, squeezing his eyes shut in an obvious effort to fight back tears. He held her a minute longer than was necessary, and when he released her she pulled back to look up at him with an expression of compassion spiced with her special brand of country street-smarts that Dean always appreciated in her. She was exactly the kind of woman he could've married, if the cards had lined up right and their ages weren't so different. But instead, Ellen had Jo -- and Ash, who surprised him by turning out steadier and less geeky than he could have imagined eight years ago when he first met the mullet-headed genius.
As if he heard himself being thought about, Ash was suddenly there, his arm around his wife, and Other!Sam stared at them like he'd seen another ghost -- which Dean knew was exactly what he was seeing, from his point of view.
"Ash? and Jo?" Other!Sam breathed. "You two are together?"
Jo lifted her ring finger to show off an impressive diamond match-set. "Going on five years now," she said proudly. "And two-year-old Billy makes three." She crouched down as a little tow-headed boy ran out from behind the bar and into her arms, and Dean watched as Other!Sam's face registered the existence of a child who had never even been born in his world.
"Well, if it isn't the Winchesters," Rufus Turner's booming voice sounded behind them, and Dean turned to find his hand clasped warmly in both of Rufus's, who then turned to offer the same to Other!Sam. "Good to see you boys," Rufus noted. "I hear there's some trouble brewin' in Wyoming tonight."
Dean nodded. "You in?" he asked. "We could sure use the help."
"We're all in," Ellen noted. "Just tell us what to do."
Other!Sam was looking panicked, his eyes darting from one to the other of the faces around him, haunted.
"Uh, Dean, I don't know if that's a good idea -- " he said hesitantly. "I think maybe we should handle this one ourselves."
Dean frowned for a minute, a feeling of foreboding eroding his confidence.
Then he shook his head. "These people are good hunters, Sam," he said. "You said yourself we don't know what to expect. Bobby called these folks because he could see we could use the back up. I trust his call on that. You should too."
Other!Sam took a deep breath. "It's not that, Dean," he said. "I just don't want to put anyone else in danger."
"If there's a demon-door somewhere on this earth, Sam, we're already in danger," Ellen said. "It's only a matter of time before that thing opens on its own, and it's just one state over. Better we figure out how to stop it now, get a handle on the thing before it gets a handle on us first."
Other!Sam shook his head, but Dean could see he wasn't going to keep arguing. Nobody was listening anyway.
Word had spread quickly of a plan to kill demons. Other hunters, clearly alerted to the job and looking to join, strode up as they moved a few tables together, sat down with a bottle or two provided by Ellen, and went over the details. Dean recognized Dan Elkins, his dad's old hunting partner, as well as Isaac and Tamara Jackson. Other!Sam's haunted gaze moved from one face to the next, and Dean got a sinking feeling they were all dead in his world.
Then he pushed the feeling down firmly so he could focus on the job at hand.
"So, Sam thinks the thing we need is in a safe in your basement," Dean explained to Ellen once they were seated, a bottle of whiskey and some pretzels on the table between them.
Ellen looked from one to the other of the Winchesters, considering.
"You mean the map," she clarified, and Other!Sam nodded.
"It's a one-hundred-square mile devil's trap," Other!Sam explained. "Built by Samuel Colt. The Devil's Gate is in the center of it."
"So we just walk into this devil's trap and open the gate?" Ellen said. "Then what?"
"That's what we're not so sure about," Dean said. "We think once the gate opens, the blast of power or energy or whatever will open a temporary portal between our world and the place Sam comes from. My brother should be able to step through."
"Along with about a hundred demons," Ellen said.
"Not if we get the gate shut again fast enough," Dean said. "Sam thinks we'll have about a minute to get the gate closed again after he comes through."
"A minute. As in sixty seconds." Ellen's voice was dry, disbelieving.
"Seems like a pretty big risk for such a small return," Isaac commented. "Why should we go to all that trouble for one man? What's so special about Sam Winchester? No offense," he added, glancing at Other!Sam.
"None taken, believe me," Other!Sam breathed bitterly.
Dean felt rage building in his chest, took a minute to simmer down before answering.
"He's got valuable intel," he said, keeping his voice deadly quiet, calm. "Sam's knowledge of that other world is essential if we're gonna survive what's coming. He thinks there are breaches between our two worlds that are starting to cause things to bleed through -- demons, yeah, but other stuff too. He's spent almost two months over there, understands what we're up against. We're gonna need him if we want to stop these things from taking over this world."
Dean could feel Other!Sam's eyes on him and deliberately avoided returning the look of disbelief on his not-brother's face. Yeah, so maybe the "breach" thing was stretching it a bit, but Dean had seen enough sci-fi t.v. shows to make up all kinds of crazy shit. And he had years of experience as a liar, as Other!Sam well knew.
And that last part, at least, was true. Sam did understand that world better than anyone, present company excepted, and his knowledge of things over there would help them, especially if all those things got loose.
Isaac still looked skeptical, was still weighing the cost versus benefit of rescuing Dean's brother.
But of course it didn't really matter what Isaac thought, because one way or another, Dean was going to do this thing, even if he had to do it alone.
Which he wouldn't, since Other!Sam would be there, at least. And probably Bobby and his dad as well.
"Well I, for one, am in," Ellen announced, and several voices immediately chimed in.
"Let's kick some demon ass," Ash agreed, pumping his fist, amid a chorus of testosterone-infused "Yeah!"s and back claps for Dean and Other!Sam.
Ellen retrieved the map from the basement safe and they spread it on the table. Other!Sam drew the pentagram connecting the five frontier-era churches, then circled the location of the old cowboy cemetery in the center. Since Other!Sam was the only one who had actually been to the cemetery before, he and Dean would lead the way, and the rest of the group agreed to gather weapons and meet on the highway on the way down just after dark, which should allow them time to get to the cemetery and set demon traps before the appointed time.
While Other!Sam said his goodbyes to the visiting hunters, Dean called Bobby to give him an update. Dean watched Other!Sam's gaze linger on each of his friends in turn, drinking in their existence with a mixture of relief and sorrow as he promised to see them again soon. As usual, Ash was staying home with the baby so Jo could come along -- Dean felt some pride at the skilled hunter Jo had become over the years, thought fondly of how Jo had taken her earlier crush on him and channeled it into a serious drive to become a better hunter than either of her parents.
Good thing he hadn't let that happen, he reflected now as he watched her with her husband and child. Of course he'd been so wrapped up in Sam at the time he hadn't really paid her much attention anyway. And he couldn't remember the moment he realized her interest in him was less romantic and more sisterly, but as he watched her now she raised her eyes to his and smiled, then glanced at his not-brother, then back at him with a nod, her unspoken promise to use all the skill and natural ability Dean and her dad had inspired in her to help him get his brother back, because she trusted him.
And because she knew what his brother meant to Dean and knew she had never really had a chance against that more-than-brothers bond between the Winchesters.
"Dean," Other!Sam was calling him out of his reverie, and he jerked his head around to meet Other!Sam's eyes. "Time to get going, man."
Other!Sam's slanted hazel eyes softened for a moment as they met Dean's, and suddenly Dean wanted to gather the big guy into his arms and just hold him for awhile --
OK, time to go.
The drive west was uneventful for the first hour or so.
And then it wasn't.
One minute they were barreling up the highway towards Wyoming, the next there was a man standing in the middle of the fuckin' road and Dean was slamming on the brakes and swerving and finally skidding to a stop on the shoulder, having narrowly avoided hitting the dude.
Dean was pretty sure he had already been swearing, but now that they were stopped and he was shaking and panting a little after the superhuman way he'd managed to control the car, he let out one more "What the fuck!" before turning to Other!Sam.
The words were automatic, as was Other!Sam's nod and Dean's relief that Other!Sam hadn't gone through the windshield head-first.
So far, so good.
But when he glanced back at the road, expecting to see the crazy dude still standing there, he was gone.
"Where -- " he started to say, when a deep voice spoke from directly behind him and he jumped a mile.
Dude was in the back seat. Shitfuck!
Dean was out of the car and had his gun drawn before he could think. It was shear instinct; anything that moved that fast was a threat, a supernatural something, and that meant --
But Other!Sam wasn't moving, didn't seem to find it the least bit strange to have a guy in a trench coat suddenly appear in the car, and was in fact speaking to the creature.
Dean stared at Other!Sam, then at the thing in his car.
"Who the hell are you?" he demanded, keeping his gun trained on the creature but guessing from Other!Sam's reaction that it wasn't a threat after all.
Although it was obviously supernatural. Nothing natural moved that fast.
"He's Castiel," Other!Sam provided helpfully. "He's an Angel of the Lord."
"He -- where -- No, we do not have those here," Dean felt panic rising in his chest, so he used his anger to help him control it. "I thought you said the angels were dicks."
Other!Sam shrugged. "Cas is the exception," he said. "He's the one who pulled Dean out of Hell."
Dean glared at Castiel again; serious blue eyes stared back at him intently.
Dude was pretty good-looking. For a dude.
"Okay," Dean nodded, frowning. "So what's he doing here?"
Suddenly the thing was gone, and in the next second it was standing right in front of him, blue eyes boring into Dean's like they could see right through to his soul.
Dean jumped back, almost shooting his baby.
Which was so not cool.
"What the hell, Sam!" he yelled at his not-brother, taking another step back from Castiel, who either had no sense of personal space or was deliberately teasing him. Either way, the thing was a menace.
"I have come to stop you from doing what you're about to do, Dean," Castiel said in his deep, gravelly voice. "You must not open the Devil's Gate."
"It's ok, Dean," Other!Sam was out of the car now, raising his hands in a calming gesture. "You can put the gun down. Castiel won't hurt you."
Other!Sam tilted his head toward the angel, raising his eyebrows.
"Of course I won't hurt him," Castiel confirmed with a shake of his head that was almost human. "If there's one thing I've learned from recent experience, it's how very precious human life is. Especially Winchesters'."
"Ok," Dean was still unwilling to lower his gun, although he was feeling pretty sure this creature couldn't be damaged by it. It made him feel a little more confident to pretend that it could, was all.
"So what do you want?" he demanded, trying to sound tougher than he felt.
"Cas, how are you even here?" Other!Sam was rounding the front of the car to stand behind Dean, facing Castiel, and Dean shifted his feet into a protective stance, guarding his not-brother, which somehow made him feel more confident.
Which was probably why Other!Sam was doing it.
"I slipped in through the portal in space," Castiel said. "Did Sam not tell you?"
'Tell us what?" Dean demanded, starting only a little as he felt Other!Sam's hand on his shoulder, felt his muscles relaxing under the comforting touch.
Castiel exchanged a glance with Other!Sam and Dean felt Other!Sam's hand move gently down his arm until his hand was covering Dean's.
"Put the gun down, Dean," Other!Sam breathed into his ear, and Dean shot one more threatening look at the angel-thing before complying. He felt more exposed, too vulnerable under the scrutiny of those blue, blue eyes, wondered briefly if Other!Dean and Castiel ever --
Wow. His mind did not just go there.
Dropping his eyes and clearing his throat, he shifted deliberately away from Other!Sam, still holding his gun loosely in his grip, but pointed at the ground now.
"Ok, so you're friends with an angel," he muttered, nodding his head toward Other!Sam and still not looking back at those intense blue eyes. "You have a monster -- a supernatural creature -- for a friend." He shook his head. "This is not the way Dad raised us."
His eyes flicked up to meet Other!Sam's. His not-brother was looking back at him sympathetically, just waiting for him to absorb the truth.
"This is weird for me, man," Dean huffed out the words, and Other!Sam nodded.
"I know, Dean," Other!Sam gave him a tentative smile. "It's ok. Castiel's one of the good guys. You can trust him."
Dean felt panic rise again, shot a glance at the angel-thing and its damn eyes, shook his head vehemently.
"I don't know if I'm ready for that," he muttered. "I can not shoot him, though, I guess."
Castiel shifted, lifted its chin, huffed out a breath. Sounded a little exasperated. Sounded almost human.
"Sam, we don't have time for this," Castiel said impatiently.
Impatiently? Angel things could be impatient?
"You need to make him understand," Castiel tried again, speaking to Other!Sam and gesturing at Dean. "He obviously trusts you. What Dean and Crowley have planned will cause the end of this world. You can't let them do that, Sam."
Other!Sam looked agitated suddenly, frowning and clenching his fists.
"Can't you talk to him, Cas? Tell him to stop what he's doing?" Other!Sam asked, and Dean had that odd feeling again -- that Castiel and the other Dean were --
Castiel looked uncomfortable, lowered his eyes.
"He doesn't listen to me," the angel said, sounding almost miserable. "All he thinks about is getting you back, Sam. Whatever it takes."
Dean didn't so much not enjoy being talked about as if he wasn't there, as listening to Other!Sam and this angel thing talk about his doppelgänger as if Dean wasn't there.
This was so messed up.
"Hey, I'm right here," Dean tried. "I get that the other Dean wants his brother back. I'm the same way. So you better start explaining if you think I'd put a stop to something that does that. 'Cause from where I'm standing, I gotta say I agree with this Sam's brother, for once. We gotta do this. Gotta put things right and get our Sams back where they belong."
Other!Sam stared at him, and Dean didn't look but he was pretty sure the angel was staring at him too.
"What? Did I sprout horns or something? How can you think I wouldn't do whatever it took to get you back, Sam? If you were stranded in some other place and I found a way to get you out, yeah, I'd do it. Whatever the risks."
Other!Sam licked his lips, exchanged a look with Castiel.
And then Dean had to look too, because the angel thing was -- flickering. It was like he was there, but he wasn't there.
"Cas?" Other!Sam noticed it too, looked worried. "What's happening? You're fading."
Castiel looked up, then back at them, his expression even more intense than before.
"I don't have long," he said, and his voice sounded suddenly far away, then closer again. "The earth is moving and the portal is going out of range. I can't stay here."
He seemed to flicker again, and this time when he spoke his voice was thinner, as if it came down a long tunnel.
"You have to stop it, Dean," he said. "You're the only one who can."
Another flicker, then Castiel was gone.
Dean and Other!Sam stared at the space where the angel had been, then reflexively looked around to see if he would reappear, but after a minute or two they gave up and turned to each other.
Other!Sam's face was a mask of doubt and uncertainty.
"Ok, then," he said finally. "Now we know."
Dean stared at him, feeling his defenses rise.
"Now we know what, Sam?" he demanded, spreading his arms in a questioning gesture, his right hand still gripping his gun. "You believe that douche-bag? Huh? We just had a visit from a goddamn angel who told us the world is ending and you believe that shit?"
Other!Sam sighed. "Yeah, Dean, I do. I know Castiel. He isn't just any angel. He's our friend in the other world. He's saved us more times than I can count. Saved Dean, saved me. And if he says this thing we're doing is gonna destroy this world then yeah, I believe him."
"He's a goddamn angel, Sam," Dean insisted. "He's a supernatural thing. Things lie. They all lie."
Other!Sam took a deep breath. "I know it's hard for you to believe, Dean, but not all supernatural creatures are bad. There are some -- this one particularly -- who have actually helped us."
Dean shook his head. "No, no, no. They only help you if it gets them something. Then they fuck you up. This guy -- this angel -- he's got an agenda, man. He needs you only as long as he can use you. That's what this is. That's all this is. Sam, I can't believe you would fall for this."Besides, he's clearly fucking your brother.
Other!Sam was shaking his head. "You're just gonna have to trust me on this, Dean," he said.
"Trust you?" Dean was determined not to lose it, but it was taking real effort. "You and your brother are in cahoots with supernatural monsters and you want me to trust you."
Dean shook his head, scrubbed his free hand across his face.
"I should probably just shoot you," he muttered, but of course Other!Sam knew he wouldn't. Couldn't.
But he had to know, because his brain was demanding that he know, despite what his heart was telling him.
"You said you went to Hell, Sam," Dean said. "Does that make you a demon? Have I been sleeping with a demon?"
Even as he said it, his guts clenched painfully and he stared up into Other!Sam's eyes, daring him to lie.
But Other!Sam's gaze flicked away, then closed tight as he lowered his head, jaw clenching. Dean felt the ground give way under him and he almost sank to his knees right there in the dirt.
"Sam?" his voice sounded pleading, even to his own ears.
Other!Sam opened his eyes, glanced at him, then away again.
"No, Dean," he breathed out. "I'm not a demon."
"OK, so what then?" Dean pressed. "What's happened to you these past eight years? 'Cause you are definitely not the Sam I know. You've changed. My Sam would never be friends with something supernatural. My Sam would never make deals with demons or be besties with an angel or go to Hell and come back -- come back with all his wounds healed and -- "
"I'm not him, Dean," Other!Sam broke in, catching Dean's eye. "I'm not your brother. And anyway, how do you know he never had a friend who was supernatural? Did you ever ask him?"
Dean stared, felt his mouth drop open in shock.
"You're kidding, right?" he demanded, but the look on Other!Sam's face gave him all the answer he needed.
"Stupid, selfish, sentimental -- " he muttered, still reeling at the thought of his brother actually befriending one of the evil sons-o-bitches they hunted, but realizing at the same time that it made a kind of sense. Sam had always been a sucker for sob stories, and those evil things that haunted their hunts were definitely the sorriest dumb-asses on God's green earth.
Which begged the question.
"So if there's angels, does that mean -- " Dean was pretty sure of the answer, but he had to ask. And he could tell by the way Other!Sam lowered his eyes and shifted uncomfortably, that he hadn't needed to.
"Didn't think so," Dean answered himself before Other!Sam could beat him to it.
"Dean," Other!Sam's voice was soft, and the eyes he raised to Dean's face were filled with compassion. "We don't know, ok? We just don't know. Doesn't mean He doesn't exist. In fact, some of the stuff that's happened -- sometimes we think -- I mean, the main thing is there's been no proof He doesn't exist, despite all we've learned and seen and done."
Dean stared at his not-brother, riveted, torn between the need to hear more about a world where God might exist and the urge to mock Other!Sam's misplaced faith.
Other!Sam's lips tipped up into a tiny smile, reading the skepticism and desperation in Dean's face.
"There's Heaven, Dean," he said gently. "We've been there."
Dean frowned, pursed his lips, suddenly noticed his gun was still in his hand.
"'Course you have," he muttered as he clicked the safety back on and tucked the gun back into his pocket. "If there's Hell, there's gotta be Heaven. And angels. Makes perfect sense. All of it."
Other!Sam sighed. "Sometimes I wish I could go back in time, back to before all of it, and just start fresh." He pushed his hands through his hair and shifted his weight, staring out across the hood of the car at the barren landscape.
"When I'm with you, I can almost believe none of it happened," Other!Sam continued, turning his warm hazel gaze on his not-brother. "You may think I'm nothing like your Sam, and I get that. I'm not. But you -- you are the brother I looked up to when I was growing up. You have his courage, and his strength, and his certainty. You're the Dean I knew before all the bad stuff happened. And I -- I really loved that guy."
Dean looked away uncomfortably.
"Bad stuff happened, Sam," he insisted gruffly. "Mom died. We lost our home. Grew up in the life, moving around, hustling -- Bad stuff."
Other!Sam shook his head. "I just wish I'd known how good we had it," he said. "I wish I could've appreciated it more. Wish I could've appreciated you more. You and Dad. 'Cause it just wasn't that bad, Dean. We had each other, we had fun together. Our life was simple and straightforward and it had purpose. We saved people, did good things. And now you and your brother have been doing that for the past eight years while me and Dean have been falling apart and wrecking things and destroying everything we touch -- "
He put his head down, shifted again with one hand on his hip, rubbing the back of his neck with the other.
Dean watched him, fascinated. No one had ever envied their life before, but after all the revelations of the past twenty-four hours, he was beginning to see things from Other!Sam's point of view. And he had to agree; there was a certain simplicity in what they did. In how they lived. And after almost nine years of it, day in and day out, despite the times they spent apart, Dean had to admit he felt a certain pride in what they had accomplished. It wasn't flashy or save-the-world meaningful, but it helped. He was certain of that. He and Sam had helped people. Made a difference.
It was a good thing. Almost a good life.
But Other!Sam was still staring at the dirt, still rubbing the back of his neck. And Dean couldn't stand to watch that.
"Come on." He reached out and slapped Other!Sam's arm lightly. "Let's get some food. Your blood sugar's low, that's all it is."