"I don't know, Dean. Why don't you open it?"
"Is that a dare? Are you daring me to open this door?"
"I don't know, Dean. Am I?"
"Because I will, you know. I will totally open that door."
"Be my guest."
It was the last door in the last hallway, and the only one they hadn't opened. It didn't have a number on it, and for some reason a bookcase had been standing in front of it. Dean had only noticed the door because he thought he could feel a draft coming from under the bookcase, and when he looked closer he could see that the bookcase wasn't completely flush with the wall.
When the Winchesters moved the bookcase aside, the door they found was an old, oak thing, worn and grooved with weather and time, with old-fashioned hinges and an iron latch instead of a doorknob. It looked like none of the other doors in the bunker. It looked ancient.
Dean took a deep breath. If the little furry creatures he'd found in the kitchen that morning were getting in through here he didn't really want to know, did he? Was it absolutely one-hundred-percent necessary to find out that mice could get into the bunker through this door? Dean could be excused for feeling slightly creeped out, couldn’t he?
"Okay," Dean reached for the latch and then Sam's hand was there, too. Long warm fingers curled around his.
"Or maybe we should go back to the library," Sam said. "See what we can learn about this thing before we open it."
Which was when a small, furry creature scuttled under the door, flattening itself almost all the way to the floor so it could squeeze through the narrow gap. It made a muted squeaking sound as it dashed up the corridor behind them, heading toward the kitchen.
"Okay, that's it," Dean growled, grasping the latch while Sam stood back, delicate lips twisted in disgust.
Despite the airflow beneath the door, when Dean turned the latch he had to push hard, heaving his body shoulder first to force the door to open. When it gave under his weight there was an audible sucking noise, as if the air inside was pressurized.
The small room on the other side of the door was a storage closet, old and musty, full of brooms and mops and metal shelving. Storage boxes and tin cans sat on the shelves, all appearing to be the same vintage as the rest of the bunker.
Nothing magical, mysterious, or strange, nothing that needed to be guarded by an ancient magic door and hidden behind a solid oak bookcase.
"Well, that's a bust," Sam commented as he inspected the dusty contents of the little room.
"A shit-load of nothing," Dean agreed. "So, what's with the Mor-door? Heh."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Maybe it was a donation and they didn't know where else to stash it," suggested.
"So they hid it?"
Sam shrugged. "Maybe somebody didn't like the way it looked. Doesn't exactly go with the Nazi-era decor of the rest of the bunker."
Sam shone his flashlight into a corner of the room, behind some of the metal shelving. "Well, there's your mousehole," he said, indicating a corner near the floor where some of the concrete wall had broken loose. "Little bastards are squeezing in from right there."
"Huh," Dean nodded. "Okay, I'll get some concrete paste and patch it, leave a few mousetraps in here for whatever made it in. That should take care of it."
Sam shrugged, already bored with the whole business. Now that the mystery was solved and it turned out to be a simple matter of housekeeping instead of a supernatural threat, Sam was out.
Actually, Dean didn't mind being the bunker's caretaker. He preferred thinking of himself that way over housewife or housekeeper, although that was probably more his role than Sam's. They shared some of the basic chores around the bunker, and Sam was great with the heavy-lifting. Sam had cleared more bodies out of this place and mopped up more bloody messes than Dean, so Dean figured the least he could do was attend to the day-to-day maintenance of the place.
Once he'd set the traps and patched the hole, Dean went back to the kitchen to rustle up some supper for them while Sam returned to the library to read. He couldn't get the door out of his mind, though, and the more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that something wasn't right.
"Since when has anything strange ever turned out to be something completely normal?" he asked Sam over supper.
Sam lifted his eyes from his laptop and frowned, putting his fork down as he considered Dean's question. "Not often," he conceded. "What are we talking about?"
"That door, Sam. Something's not right. I mean, you felt it when we opened it, right? Like something sucked the air out of the hallway."
"Maybe," Sam agreed with a thoughtful frown.
"And it was almost like it wanted us to open it, you know? Like it sent those mice out as bait, to get us to come to it."
Sam hesitated. "Are you saying you think the door is a cursed object?"
"Or maybe it's guarding something, you know? I mean, did you see all the spell-work on the doorframe? Maybe it's there to prevent the door from opening."
"Except, you opened it," Sam reminded him. "Not very well protected, if you ask me. Besides, what's it supposed to be protecting? It's a broom closet."
"Looks like a broom closet," Dean corrected him.
Dean could see Sam considering Dean's words, his trust in Dean's instincts overcoming his initial skepticism.
"Okay, we'll look into it," Sam agreed. "I'll dig into the archive, see what I can come up with. In the meantime, stay away from it, okay? If there is something supernatural about that door, we need to know what we're dealing with before we open it again."
Dean chewed on his lower lip and tried not to think about Bilbo Baggins and the magic moonlit door into the Lonely Mountain.
"Dean?" Sam waved a hand in front of Dean's eyes and Dean started, glanced up and met Sam's concerned gaze. "You heard me, right?"
"Yeah. Yeah, Sam, I heard you. Don't open the door again until you do your research. Got it."
Of course, the next morning Dean remembered the mousetraps he'd set the day before.
Sam had gotten up early and gone for his morning run as usual. Dean decided he'd have time to check the traps and make breakfast before Sam returned, so he got dressed and pulled his boots on. At the last minute, he decided it might be a good idea to slip his loaded gun into the waistband of his jeans, just in case.
This time, the door pulled open easily.
But instead of a broom closet, there was a wall, smooth and solid and immovable like the rest of the walls in the corridor. It was as if the door had just been mounted on the wall for decoration and had always led nowhere.
Dean inspected every corner, running his hand under the bottom of the door and along each surface. The doorframe seemed to be attached to the wall by some kind of invisible adhesive, with only enough of the frame to allow the door to shut evenly. The rest of the frame - the part that Dean could swear he'd seen yesterday - was sliced off, as if it had never been there, as if the frame had always been a picture-frame. Not to mention that the wall behind the door had not been there yesterday, although it had the feel and appearance of having been built at the same time as the rest of the corridor.
Or as if the other half of the frame had been sealed into the wall somehow.
But no matter how Dean tapped and pulled and yanked on the frame, it had absolutely zero give. Whatever was holding it in place was clearly stronger than any super-glue Dean had ever encountered.
More out of frustration than curiosity, Dean shut the door and examined the frame from the outside. He hesitated before sticking his fingers underneath the closed door, but only because he could feel airflow there, as there had been yesterday.
"Oh, come on. Really?"
He drew his gun before opening the door a second time, then did a double take. The broom-closet from yesterday was back. Putting his gun away, Dean ran his hand over the inside of the doorframe, over the edge which the wall had obliterated, since it now seemed obvious that half of the frame had been somehow stuck inside the wall itself.
Then he noticed that the mousetraps he set yesterday were missing. In fact, now that he looked closer, Dean could see that the closet was different. The shelves were more crowded, mostly with cleaning agents and various tools, and they weren't as dusty as he remembered. There was a bucket in the corner with a mop in it, and the bucket was half-full of water. This was a closet that was used regularly, not one that had been sealed in by a magic door and hidden by a heavy bookcase for fifty-some years.
Dean started to step over the threshold of the door, to inspect the corner where the mouse-hole had been yesterday, then hesitated. Something's not right here, his brain warned. He stepped back and shut the door again, which is when he realized why the door itself seemed different today.
Yesterday, the door had opened inward, into the broom-closet. Today, when Dean clasped the ancient wrought-iron latch, the door swung toward him, out into the hallway.
He gave a cursory inspection of the frame, then grasped the latch and pulled.
The wall was back. Only this time, it was a solid sheet of sleek, black steel, reinforced at the edges with iron bolts. When Dean banged the flat of his hand on it, there was a decided hollow thud, as if the plating had been put in place to seal out whatever was behind it. After inspecting the steel wall for cracks and finding none, he shut the door again, unable to resist the temptation of opening it again a moment later.
Solid dirt this time, like the door had been placed into the side of the hill. It was packed so hard it was almost rock; it would take a pick-ax to loosen even a little of it.
Dean slammed the door and opened it again immediately, this time to an outdoor scene. A cold, barren wasteland of swirling snow stretched as far as the eye could see, lit by a small, wan light that could only be a dying sun. Dean didn't even have to guess that nothing lived in this landscape; he had a sense nothing had lived here for a very, very long time, if ever. The door seemed to be built into the side of a hill that had been blasted away, or maybe hadn't ever existed in the first place.
He shut the door, his heart pounding, and leaned against it to catch his breath. The scene he'd just witnessed was impossible, he knew that, but he'd had the distinct impression it was real, too. That place was cold and lifeless, the air probably not even breathable. It was like the end of the world, his brain provided unhelpfully. Or like another planet entirely.
"Oh, this is crazy," he muttered, partly to steady himself. He knew he should leave the door alone, go to Sam with what he'd seen and let his big-brained brother help figure out what was going on here. There must be some lore on magic doors that opened into other worlds, right? Like that freak-ass episode of the original Star Trek.
Sam wouldn't be back for at least another thirty minutes.
The next time Dean opened the door, the broom-closet was back, looking almost exactly as it had yesterday. But Dean didn't take the bait, didn't go in to see if his traps were still there. He wasn't an idiot, for God’s sake. He just needed a little more information. For research. Sam would thank him.
Next time, the wall was back. It looked almost the same as the first wall, but there were fine cracks in the plaster and he could swear the wall seemed to bulge outward just a little, as if something was pushing on it from the other side.
Dean closed the door and opened it immediately, and the broom-closet was back. He tried again, and another wall was there, this one made of solid stone and completely immoveable. Dean closed and re-opened the door another half-dozen times, and each time he was met with either the wall or the broom-closet.
Then the door opened to another lifeless scene, this time a desert under a cold sun, lifeless and barren again but without snow or wind. Just a cold, dead place without much in the way of visible atmosphere. Dean slammed the door, taking deep breaths of the air in the bunker's corridor. It occurred to him that the difference in air-pressure should have caused all the air in the bunker to rush out into the vacuous emptiness of that world, but it didn't. He probably would've been sucked into that airless place, if the laws of physics were working properly here but, apparently, they weren't. There seemed to be some kind of invisible forcefield, maybe made by the spell-work in the doorframe.
Dean knew the world beyond the door's threshold was real because he'd been in the broom-closet yesterday. He'd breathed the air and touched the objects there. But with the half-dozen variations on that closet that he'd already seen this morning, Dean wondered if he'd ever find his mousetraps again.
Then it occurred to him that maybe he wasn't even the same person he'd been before he stepped into that closet yesterday. What if it had somehow changed him?
"Fuck," Dean muttered, closing the door on another wall, the fourth one in a row. He really should wait and talk this over with Sam.
Telling himself this was the last time, he opened the door.
This time, another corridor just like the one he was standing in stretched out in front of him, doors identically matched number for number, curving out of sight around a corner in an exact mirror-image of where Dean was standing. The only difference was that the mirror-corridor was dark and silent, and Dean just knew instinctively that it hadn't been touched in at least fifty years. No one lived in that mirror-bunker, Dean was certain. It gave Dean the creeps.
He closed the door quickly, heart pounding again as he wondered what it might mean for a bunker to exist where no one lived, the Winchesters' home, but also not.
Dean opened the door again, just to get the sight of that empty place out of his mind. The mirror-bunker appeared again, only this time the corridor was lighted. This time, the mirror bunker seemed alive, identical in every way to the one he stood in.
Dean stuck his hand out tentatively, just to see if there was a glass wall or an actual mirror, but of course there wasn't. He was overcome with the urge to step over the threshold and look back, just to see if the view from the other side was a perfect reflection, as it seemed to be from this side. He slid his hand along the edges of the doorframe, his fingers brushing over the runes etched into the wood on the other side of the frame.
That's when he noticed the door. Or rather, another door, identical to the one Dean had opened, which stood open in an exact reflection of Dean's door. He reached out to run his hand over the latches and noticed the heavy bookcase shoved against the opposite wall, identical to its double in Dean's hallway.
"Okay, this can't be good," Dean muttered. It was definitely time to close this door.
Then he heard Sam's voice, unmistakable, moaning in pain, coming from somewhere down the mirror corridor.
"Sam? Sammy?" Dean called out without hesitation, momentarily forgetting that Sam was out running and couldn't possibly be inside this other hallway.
Another moan of pain was the only response.
Out of an instinct that was utterly beyond his control, Dean stepped across the threshold and ran toward the voice. He had the presence of mind to draw his gun, to be ready to face whatever was making Sam suffer like that. He checked back over his shoulder just before he turned the corner, making sure the door to the other corridor was still wide open. These were two details he later congratulated himself on because they helped to orient him as things took a weird lurch into bizarro-land.
Around the corner, the door to the room on Dean's right was open, and Dean had a moment to recognize it as his bedroom, or at least a perfect replica of the room he usually slept in. Sam was sprawled barefoot on the floor, his long arms and upper body flung wide across the foot of the bed, like he had slid off and was trying to pull himself back onto a sinking raft. His arms were streaked with blood and his clothes and hair were filthy; the black T-shirt and jeans he wore were ripped across the back and knees, and there was a bloody gash down the side of one thigh that looked particularly nasty, possibly infected.
"Sammy?" The word whispered past Dean's lips as he took in the messy state of the room. Weapons and books lay scattered everywhere, the blankets and sheets all but torn off the bed. The ancient rotary phone and typewriter lay smashed and broken on the floor, along with the mirror over Dean's chest of drawers. Dean glimpsed his personal journal with his treasured family photographs, carelessly discarded on the floor in the corner. "What the hell happened here?"
Sam started like he'd been hit, lifting his tear-stained face from the bed at the sound of Dean's voice. Dean almost gasped. Sam's face was as dirty and bloody as the rest of him, his eyes wild and red-rimmed from crying, his cheeks hollowed out so that he appeared almost skeletal. There was a fine sheen of sweat over his prominent brow, and Dean could see from the high color in his cheeks and the glittering of his eyes that Sam was feverish.
"Dean," Sam gasped, his voice hoarse and ragged from crying. "You came back. Oh my God, you came back!"
Now that Sam had turned toward Dean, it was obvious he was sick, or injured. Probably both. He had difficulty moving, favored the leg with the gash and his right arm, which he tucked close to his body as he tried to push himself up.
Then Sam's injured leg gave out beneath him and he crumpled to the floor with a loud moan of pain, and Dean was there, tucking his gun away as he reached for his not-brother.
"Hey, buddy, what happened here? What the hell, Sam? What did you do to yourself, huh?"
Dean soothed the injured man as he ran his hands over him, thirty years of checking for injuries and taking Sam's pulse so ingrained in him it was like Sam's body was simply an extension of his own. He managed to ease the man onto his back on the bed, where Sam's fever was clearly making him delirious.
"I'm sorry," he gasped, sweating and shivering as Dean found a towel, wet it in the sink, applied it to Sam's hot skin to cool it. Sam reached for Dean's face, his eyes glittering with tears, and Dean wasn't sure he could see very well. Sam seemed to be half-hallucinating. "I'm sorry, Dean. I tried to do what you said. I tried to forget you. I know you think I'm better off without you, Dean. I know I should just let you go, but I can't. You're gonna have to kill me, you hear me? I can't stop. I can't!"
"Okay, okay, let's just check you out here," Dean soothed as he pulled Sam's hand off his cheek, placed it on the bed as gently as he could. "Nobody's gonna die. You're gonna be just fine."
Dean ran his hands over Sam's body, finding bruises under his T-shirt and a neat ring of bruises that looked like fingerprints around his neck in addition to the more visible injuries. Dean gently washed the kid's face and discovered fresh scars, one along his left cheekbone, another across his chin. Old knife wounds.
Sam calmed visibly as Dean ran the pads of his fingers along the scars. He closed his eyes and sighed, going completely lax on the bed, breathing out Dean's name like a prayer. Dean ran his hands down over Sam's torso and down his arms, finding fresh wounds along with old scars on each one.
"What did you do, Sam? Huh?" Dean murmured as he washed away the blood so he could see which wounds were still open. "You run face-first into a meat-grinder?"
"Spells," Sam gasped against the pain as Dean pulled Sam's jeans off his slim hips, the better to get a good look at the gaping gash on his thigh, finding more knife wounds and old scars down both legs. "Been doing spells to get you back."
"Okay, okay," Dean murmured, checking the medicine cabinet for antibiotics and pain-killers. Luckily Sam hadn't destroyed it in his rampage and the drugs were still there, along with a roll of gauze and some bandages. "Okay, gonna get you fixed up. Gonna patch up this leg first, then we'll figure it out, okay? We'll figure it out."
Dean worked quickly and confidently, not letting himself think too deeply about what he was doing beyond the urgent need to make Sam better. By the time he'd bandaged and bound most of Sam's wounds he'd managed to stave off the worst of the panic attack that had been triggered when he first heard Sam's cries of pain. He found a mostly clean pair of sweatpants that must have been Dean's, but in Sam's emaciated condition they were only a little too short on him, making him look young and vulnerable with his feet and ankles exposed. Dean pulled the blanket up to cover him, hoping to alleviate some of Sam's shivering.
Sam babbled incomprehensibly as Dean fixed him up, moaning with fever and pain, keeping his eyes closed most of the time. When they opened, he couldn't seem to focus, although Dean's presence seemed to calm him some. And when Dean tucked himself up behind Sam's right shoulder and guided painkillers and antibiotics between his cracked lips, Sam at least seemed to understand the drill. He swallowed the pills and the water from the cup Dean found on the floor, only choking a little as he relaxed against Dean's body, pushing his face into Dean's neck and chest and taking deep, shuddering breaths.
"Jesus, Sammy, what happened to you?" Dean whispered when it was obvious Sam had finally fallen into a fitful doze.
Then he heard it. Out in the hall, at a distance although the kid was right here in his arms, Sam was calling his name.
Mirror universe, Dean’s addled brain provided. Sam's just getting back from his run.
Sam's voice was closer now, tinged with a note of urgency that Dean could not resist.
"In here!" he called, gently shifting injured-Sam's dead weight so he could slip out from behind him. He made sure the kid was lying comfortably before he turned away to face all six-foot-four of chest-heaving, terrified brother looming in the doorway with a knife in his hand.
"What the– What the hell, Dean?"
Dean shrugged. It really seemed obvious, didn't it?
"You were injured," Dean gestured at the sleeping man on the bed. "You needed my help."
"That's not me," Sam choked out, incredulous. "How could you think that was me? Dean, we have to get out of here. Now!"
"What?" It was Dean's turn to be incredulous. "We can't just leave him here!"
"Come on, Dean," Sam urged. "We can't stay here. We don't belong here!"
"No, Sam," Dean shook his head. "I can't just leave him. I know he's not you, but he's another you, so he's still you, and I can't leave you here to die. You know I can't!"
"Fuck." Sam ran a hand through his sweat-drenched hair, bit his bottom lip. "Okay, fuck it. We'll bring him with us. We'll take him home with us."
"What?" Dean stared. "He's sick. He probably needs a hospital. I don't think we should move him right now..."
Sam drew in a breath, chest heaving. "Okay, look, Dean. You went through that door, and now we're in some alternate reality. We don't know what we're dealing with here, but things are obviously different, and the you that's supposed to be here isn't. So, I'm gonna take a wild guess and say this is a really shitty reality, and I want to go home. Now, if you won't come with me and leave him behind, then let's bring him with us. Either way, we need to get the hell out of here."
Dean knew Sam was right. Sam knew Dean better than Dean knew himself, and he understood that Dean couldn't leave this other Sam any more than Sam could leave Dean if the situation was reversed.
Just thinking about this was making Dean's head hurt.
"Okay, come on," he leaned down over the prostrate form on the bed, yanking the blanket off. "You get his feet."
"Wha– What's happening? Dean?" Sick-Sam's eyes fluttered open, glittering with fever, as Dean murmured quietly to him and tried to slip under him to lift him off the bed.
"Yeah, it's me, buddy," Dean soothed. "Time to move."
Sick-Sam's head lolled back on Dean's shoulder as Dean got under him, waiting for Sam to grab the injured man's legs before Dean lifted his upper body off the bed.
"What? No!" Sick-Sam kicked his legs out of Sam's grasp, blinking down at Sam without recognition. "Who the fuck are you? Leave me alone! Get off me!"
Sam backed off immediately, putting his hands up palms out in surrender.
"Okay," Dean murmured into sick-Sam's ear, stroking a hand down his arm. "It's okay, Sammy. He's just trying to help. We need to move you somewhere safe."
"No," sick-Sam protested as Dean managed to wrestle him off the bed, nodding to Sam as he pushed himself under sick-Sam's right shoulder.
Sick-Sam's body went rigid with pain as Dean grasped his injured arm, and Dean realized that the kid's shoulder had probably healed wrong after some long-ago injury, which explained why his right arm hung uselessly by his side.
"Damn," Dean muttered as sick-Sam settled against him, sweating and panting with pain. Sam slotted in under the kid's other shoulder, and this time sick-Sam was clearly too out of it to protest.
"Come on, move your feet," Dean coaxed as they half-dragged sick-Sam into the hallway. "You're too big to carry."
Dean tried not to think about how thin the kid seemed; he could feel sick-Sam's rib-cage under his T-shirt, the jut of his hipbone pressing sharply into Dean's side.
"Come on, come on," Sam muttered anxiously as sick-Sam's head lolled to one side and his injured leg dragged behind them.
For a split second before they rounded the corner to the magic door Dean panicked, his entire system flooding with trepidation. In the same moment that he registered his relief that the door was open, he heard a deep voice echoing from somewhere behind them, in the direction of the stairs to the dungeon.
"Oh, Sammy!" the familiar voice called, its taunting tone unmistakable. "I'm home!"
Ice water rushed through Dean's veins, and sick-Sam roused a little, lifting his head and blinking blearily.
"Dean?" he croaked. He tried to turn around toward the sound, but Sam and Dean urged him forward, toward the door.
"Faster!" Sam hissed, all but dragging the injured man between them as Dean picked up the pace.
"No, no," sick-Sam croaked, twisting around, struggling feebly to pull away. "I summoned him. He's coming!"
Dean's own voice boomed from behind them as they reached the magic doorway, sounding strange but familiar at the same time. Recognizable. Dean could see their own corridor stretching out in front of them through the opening, welcoming them home. He was about to drag sick-Sam over the threshold when the familiar voice sounded again.
The commanding bark made them all hesitate, both Sams obviously programmed to respond to that voice.
But there was something deeply wrong. Even as they all paused in the doorway, both Sams turning toward the man stalking down the hall toward them, Dean knew. Even before his doppelgänger's eyes flashed black, he knew.
"Go! Now!" Dean commanded as his instinct for self-preservation took over. He crowded through the door, into the other corridor, pulling sick-Sam with him. As the larger man protested weakly, the demon came at them with superhuman speed, and Dean glimpsed the horror in Sam's eyes as they tumbled through. Dean let sick-Sam slump away from him so he could make a lunge for the door, slamming it in the face of the snarling demon who took a flying leap at the door from the other side as it clicked shut.
Dean braced himself against the closed door, breathing hard, expecting a pounding from the other side, expecting to have to hold the door shut long enough for the two Sams to get away...
The silence in the corridor was almost deafening, broken only by the soft whimpers of the injured man on the floor and Dean's own panting. No banging, no pressure of a body pushing against the door from the other side, no booming voice demanding to open up. For another moment Dean stayed braced against the door, waiting for the monster on the other side to make his move, but of course he wasn't there anymore. Dean had closed the door. That other place, whatever it was, had ceased to exist.
Dean turned slowly, wide-eyed and shaking now that the immediate danger was passed. Sam was kneeling next to his injured doppelgänger, staring up at Dean in shock.
"Well, that went well," Dean said gamely.
"You– You think that went well?" Sam gasped incredulously.
"Well, we got away, didn't we? We saved this guy from the demon." Dean shrugged. "I call that a win."
"Dean, that was his brother," Sam reminded him. "This guy says he summoned him. You brought this Sam here, and now I don't know how we're going to get him back—“
"He's injured," Dean growled. "He was dying back there. You think that demon was gonna help him? Huh?"
It hurt just remembering that dark time when Dean had been demonic, when he’d cared so little about Sam that he could've hurt him. Badly. He had hurt him, at least emotionally, and for that Dean would always feel guilty.
"We should have left him there," Sam shook his head.
"And let that thing – that demon – kill him?"
"That demon was you, Dean," Sam said. "Or a version of you. You think he's gonna stop ‘til he gets his brother back?"
"He's a demon, Sam," Dean snapped. "He doesn't care about anybody."
"I don't believe that," Sam shook his head. "I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now."
Dean remembered too well how it had felt to be a demon, how free from guilt or responsibility he’d felt, how angry he’d been with Sam or Crowley or anyone who had tried to take away that freedom. There had been moments he’d been consumed with a rage he couldn't control, and he’d known he needed to kill something just to keep the rage in check.
And beneath it all had burned the twisted, seething resentment that had fueled his deepest self-hatred, a hatred he’d turned on the person he loved most. All those hurtful things he'd said to Sam after Sam had captured him, about Sam being a burden and that he was to blame for their mother's death, Dean had said those things out of a place of terrible self-loathing, out of a desire to make himself utterly unlovable so that Sam would let him go.
Because the fact is, he could've killed Sam. Dean was terrified of his capacity to kill Sam, and although he couldn't admit it even now, he had feared that killing rage more than he feared anything. Being capable of destroying the one source of goodness in his life would always haunt him.
"That demon was there for only one thing, and it wasn't good," Dean growled. "This kid figured out a way to summon him, and the demon was pissed. Trust me, demon-me was an evil monster, and he would've killed his brother to regain his freedom."
"I don't believe that," Sam insisted, gazing down at the injured man as he took his pulse. Sick-Sam had fallen into blessed unconsciousness. "He doesn't believe that."
Dean sighed. Sam's faith in him had always felt like a kind of miracle, something he didn't deserve. But it was also the one thing he counted on, when the chips were down, and they both knew it.
"Look, what's done is done," Dean took a deep breath. "Let's get him into bed and make him some chicken soup or something."
Sam made a face, but in the end he helped Dean carry the injured man into Dean's room.
"Just temporarily," Dean growled when Sam protested. "I'll get one of the other beds made up and we can move him again later."
"What the hell happened back there?" Sam asked, after Dean tucked sick-Sam into bed and turned out the light.
Dean explained about the door, how he went back to get his mousetraps but found the mirror universe instead.
"You just opened the door and that other universe was there?" Sam looked skeptical.
Dean considered lying for all of five seconds before he admitted to opening the door several times before that.
"I've got a really bad feeling about this," Sam muttered as they stood in the doorway to Dean's room, staring down at the sleeping man.
"That's my line." Dean huffed. "And it's fine. You go take a shower. Eat your breakfast. Let me worry about Skelator here."
Sam scrubbed a hand over his jaw and shook his head a little. "You know, I remember what it was like, when you were gone," he said. "After a while, I was barely human. This guy has gone years without you, or at least without the real you, by the look of him."
"I can handle it, Sam," Dean assured him. "He's not exactly a threat, not in his condition."
Sam took a deep breath. "You're not his brother," he growled. You're mine. The last words were unspoken, but Sam's meaning was clear.
"Don't you think I know that?" Dean said. "I know he's not you, okay? You can dial back the possessive she-bear thing. I'm not gonna forget who my brother is."
But the fact was, after Sam left the room with another dark look and a dubious shake of his shaggy head, it was all Dean could do not to power up into protective-big-brother mode. The kid on the bed looked, acted, even smelled like his brother, and every instinct in Dean's body compelled him to do everything in his power to fix him.
Nevertheless, after checking sick-Sam’s pulse and inspecting the gash on his thigh to make sure it hadn't reopened in the scramble to escape that other place, Dean decided it was probably best to let the man sleep for a while. He needed rest to heal, and with the pain-killers in him he seemed to be sleeping more-or-less comfortably. Chicken soup could wait until later.
In the kitchen, Dean scrambled eggs and fried bacon, brewed more coffee and popped bread into the toaster. By the time Sam entered, all scrubbed and shaved and dressed in that deep-red-checked flannel that made him look particularly strong and healthy and brought out the green in his eyes, Dean had already eaten and was searching the archive with his laptop.
Not that Dean really paid that much attention to what Sam wore. It was just part of his programming to notice when Sam looked sick, and right now the contrast between this handsome, robust specimen of American manhood and the sick puppy lying in Dean's bedroom was pretty dramatic.
"Find anything?" Sam asked as he helped himself to the eggs and toast, ignoring the bacon with that persnickety upturn of his perfectly pointed nose that Dean knew well.
Persnickety? More like picky. Sam and his picky nose, Dean chuckled.
"What?" Sam frowned, and Dean shook his head sharply. He must be losing it, day-dreaming about Sam picking his nose.
"Nothin'," he admitted gruffly, focusing on the screen in front of him. "Can't find a damn thing about a freaky medieval door that opens into other worlds."
"Or maybe the same world, just on a different timeline," Sam suggested as he opened his own laptop. "I was thinking about it in the shower."
"Of course you were," Dean muttered, deliberately not thinking about Sam in the shower.
Sam frowned, but otherwise ignored him. "There's a theory in physics about alternate realities. It says that anything that can happen, does happen. Every choice we make, every moment in time when things could've gone another way, they did. The timeline we live in isn't really linear; it's more like a huge tree with millions of branches heading off into millions of different directions, all existing simultaneously."
"So there's a universe where the Earth is just a frozen rock with no life on it?" Dean lifted an eyebrow, shuddering as he remembered that dead, empty world. "Some place where creation didn't happen?"
Sam shook his head. "I think it's more personal than that. I think the door shows you other possibilities from your own life."
Dean blinked. "Wait, how is that place – those two lifeless places – how can that have anything to do with me personally?"
The answer came to Dean almost before the words were out of his mouth, and he instantly regretted them. Of course the world had ended because of something he had done, or had failed to do, in another timeline. Twice. Maybe more.
"Never mind. I get it," he said quickly, before Sam could spell it out for him. "So the door reacts to the person opening it. If you open it, you see other possibilities from your life."
"That's the theory, yeah," Sam agreed, an annoying look of sympathy plastered to his handsome mug.
"Okay, but the door was open on the other side too," Dean said, pacing the floor as much to stave off the agitation he was feeling as to work the problem. "So the Sam from that universe – the one lying in my bed right now – he did that."
"I guess so, yeah," Sam agreed.
"So does that mean that this world – our world – is some alternative timeline for him?”
Sam took a deep breath and let it out slow.
"He's me, Dean," he said softly. "If you were a demon and I couldn't fix you, and I'd been living alone in this bunker for the past two years, trying to get you back – I'd probably be pretty desperate. Pretty insane, actually. I might have torn the place apart, looking for some way I hadn't thought of before. Finding that door– Maybe there's ways to manipulate its magic. Maybe I would've figured out a way to get another you to come through it."
Dean stopped pacing, stared at Sam blankly. "You think that sick kid in there lured me through that door on purpose?"
"It's a theory," Sam sighed. "He's obviously been casting spells, using his own blood to summon his demon brother."
"That's crazy, Sam!" Dean was horrified.
"Insane," Sam nodded. "Totally looney-tunes." And exactly what I would do, if all else failed, Sam didn't say, but Dean heard the words in his head anyway.
"But it worked," Dean protested. "The demon came. His summoning spell worked."
"Looks like it worked too well," Sam said. "He got two of you. At the same time."
Dean scrubbed a hand over his jaw as he put the other hand on his hip.
"Okay, so all we have to do is leave the door closed. Make sure nothing ever comes out. We can board it up. Build a wall. Block it off so nothing can come through it ever again."
Sam took another deep breath, made a face. "From your description, that's already been done. Walls, bookcases stacked in front of it, protection warding... Nothing seems to prevent somebody from opening that door, eventually. Here it is," he announced as he found the reference in the Men of Letters Archive to a "Porta Mundi," or "Door of the World." "'It appears and disappears at will,'" Sam read aloud.
"Whose will?" Dean leaned over Sam's shoulder, peering into the laptop screen with one hand braced on the table. He'd never tell Sam, but he loved it when Sam's research gave Dean an excuse to be so close to him, to feel Sam's comforting warmth so steady and strong against Dean's chest. Dean feigned near-sightedness just so that he could get his face down alongside Sam's, almost but not quite touching.
Luckily, Sam never seemed to notice when Dean did this. He never called him out on his personal space issues, never seemed to mind that Dean was practically plastered up against his back, breathing right next to his ear. Sam seemed totally okay with it, in fact, like he was whenever they moved in sync or stood or sat pressed together during a job. Sam seemed to take their physical closeness for granted, like Dean did most of the time, when it wasn't making his heart race or his palms dampen with sweat. Dean was just grateful his dick didn't get hard anymore, like it did when they were younger. That had been awkward.
"The door reveals itself to whoever seeks it," Sam explained, yanking Dean out of his half-horny daze.
"Well, we weren't looking for it," Dean frowned. "We were just trying to figure out how the mice got in."
"Right," Sam nodded. "So I guess it's the other Sam's fault the door appeared. He must have activated its magic with his summoning spell somehow."
Sam read further down the page and made a surprised start that pushed him back in his chair, flush against Dean's chest. "Huh."
"What?" Dean leaned closer. He could smell the clean citrus scent of Sam's fancy shampoo and tried not to take a deep breath.
"Well, it says the door appears when the seeker needs it. It responds to the seeker's regret over a past mistake, or a choice that ended badly. It shows the seeker other possibilities, other ways those choices might have gone."
"Definitely not my regrets," Dean said. "I'm not sorry the world didn't end. Not sorry you fixed me when I turned into a demon, either."
"You sure about that?" Sam winced. "You told me you were happy that way. You said you 'liked the disease.'"
"That wasn't me, Sammy, and you know it," Dean reminded him.
"Why did you open that door, Dean?" Sam asked, tilting his head to look up at Dean. "After we put the mousetraps in there, I mean. Why go back on your own this morning?"
"To get my traps," Dean leaned back so Sam could face him without going cross-eyed.
"Yeah, no," Sam shook his head. "Afterwards, I mean. Once you found the alternate broom-closet, the one without the traps. You kept opening the door."
"Curiosity," Dean shrugged. "It was like a fun-house novelty thing, you know? A new surprise every time. Mostly it opened up on a broom-closet or a wall."
"Until it didn't," Sam said. "Until you opened up on the End of the World."
"Yeah," Dean breathed, eyes widening at the memory.
"Did it occur to you to stop opening the door at that point?"
"Well, then it went back to being a wall or a broom-closet again," Dean said. "Totally harmless."
Sam sighed, shaking his head. "You're like the rat in that experiment, the one where it pushes the same button over and over again because one time it got food. Never mind the electric shocks it gets most of the time."
"It's called investigation, Sam, and in case you hadn't noticed, it's what we do." Dean gathered the empty plates and carried them to the sink, running water over them to let them soak for a while. "I'm going to go check on our patient."
Dean was relieved when Sam didn't protest. They were temporarily between cases, since Sam had come clean about working with the British Men of Letters. Dean had understood Sam's logic, even if he didn't agree with Sam's decision, and he definitely didn't trust those limey bastards. He had a hard time believing their story that the bitch who shot, kidnapped, and tortured Sam had gone rogue. After meeting Arthur Ketch, it seemed pretty obvious that psychopaths were the norm in their organization, not the exception.
Nevertheless, if Sam was willing to forgive them for what one of their agents had done to him, who was Dean to argue? For now, Dean was along for the ride, but he didn't have to like it. He'd talked Sam into taking a little break from all the souped-up mass-monster-killing– a self-imposed stay-cation here at the bunker– just to get their bearings before going all-in again.
Of course, in Dean's experience, nothing ever went exactly as planned, and the current situation was proving to be no exception.