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Pick Myself Up Off The Ground

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Chapter 1

“Sam, it’s Bobby. Haven't heard from you in a while but I been hearing some rumors. Call me - just want to know you’re still alive out there.”

It took a few tries before he could hit the delete button. The stupid red button floated in his vision and Sam chased it with his thumb, punching at it until the phone finally flipped out of his hand to land on the floor. His arm dropped heavy on the bed.

Avoiding Bobby would be a lot easier if he changed his number. Or stopped drinking. Neither was likely to happen any time soon.

Sam tried to fall back asleep but it was hot and the mattress smelled like mice, so he swung his legs over the edge and sat up. Someone must have been sticking knitting needles in his temples while he slept, what with the pain that was piercing clean through his skull and turning his stomach. It gurgled for solid food instead of the liquid meals that had been on the menu for the past few days.

All in all, Sam had worse mornings so he couldn’t complain.

Standing up, he stretched and went to pull off his t-shirt and grimaced at the smell. He was letting a lot of things slide other than research and hunting, but he was getting ripe. Not that there was anyone else around to complain.

There was a laundromat in town that he could hit before running a few errands for the hunt tomorrow. Sam snatched up the rest of his dirty clothes, scattered across chairs and lying on the floor, and stuffed them into a duffel. The Impala keys were hidden under a newspaper on the table. He scooped them up and was halfway out the front door before he went back and threw a few protein bars and a can of Coke into his laptop bag.

“Breakfast of Champions,” Dean said, as he shook Sam awake on Bobby’s couch last month and tossed a Power Bar in his face. “Can’t lay around all day, Sam. We got places to be and people to see.”

Outside, a light rain fell and Sam paused beside the car, face up to the sky to feel the drops hit his face. Even with eight hours of sleep, he was exhausted - the kind of tired that seeped deep into his bones like a cancer. Sam was the early riser in the family, eating a bowl of cereal in front of the tv quietly while Dean and John slept in, grabbing a few precious hours of peace after a hunt. He would wait for them as long as he could before poking at Dean’s shoulder under the covers.

“Dean. Dean. Wake up.”

Now that Sam was alone, it was harder and harder to face the morning. He wiped the rain off his face, the drizzle too much like tears, before climbing in the car.

The Impala sputtered for a few minutes before turning over, and Sam added a tune-up to his to-do list. A flush of guilt hit him at the thought. Dean had shown him around the engine at the side of a sunny road that one day, but he would never learn how to fix the damn thing himself. It wasn't a lack of will - he just didn’t have the same skills as Dean. His brother would spend hours with Bobby at the junkyard, the two of them sharing a beer under the open hood, bonding over fan belts, and carburetors.

That was always an option - Sam could take the Impala back to Bobby's to fix it. Bobby would make all the right noises, give him a hug at the door, make him a bowl of homemade chili, but it didn’t feel right. Bobby was as much Dean's property as the car was. Sam was just the little brother, the extra, the other.

The fact was that Sam wasn't heading to Sioux Falls anytime soon. If he couldn’t bring himself to call Bobby back on the phone, how was he going to stop by for a visit?

***

Every laundromat in the Midwest had the same orange plastic chairs. They were hard and small, and the scooped back made it tough to sit up straight for more than a few minutes. Sam squirmed, remembering how it was so much easier to sit in them when he was little.

Between the warmth of the shop and the thump of the dryers, Sam had loved laundry day growing up. A lot of moms with their kids would come in and make a happy noise as they dumped their loads in the machines, jingling out quarters to put in the slots, then head out for thirty minutes to run other errands or grab a coffee next door, trusting that no one would take their things.

That kind of trust was ridiculous. It made them marks for thieves and monsters, and they didn't even know it.

Sam would sit in the corner of the laundromat on his hard plastic chair and watch them come and go over the top of his library books. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from watching the parade of normal.

Laundry day also gave Sam a chance to be by himself. Growing up, his brother and dad existed in a tight orbit with him - living, sleeping, or riding in the car, never more than twenty feet away from each other - and he craved the time alone. When he would volunteer for it, Dean would give him that look, as if Sam were an alien dropped into their family.

Be careful what you wish for, Sam, Dean would say with a shake of his head. Normal and quiet aren't all they're stacked up to be. Most serial killers came from happy families with picket fences and vegetable gardens.

He would do anything to see that stupid look on Dean's face again - anything for his brother or even his father to come back into his orbit again. Instead, Sam was left without his sun and moon to pull against him, to keep him in line.

The buzzer on the washer went off, dragging him out of his memories, and he moved the load from the washer over to the dryer. Returning to his seat and opening up his laptop, he searched Google for possible cases once the vamp hunt was done, absently scrolling down the screen, but nothing showed up as unusual. The biggest headline in local news was a Walmart opening in the next town over.

He shut the lid with a sigh and sat with the sun streaming on his shoulders. That's when he first felt it. A little prickle in the hairs on the back of his neck. He rubbed his hand over the spot and turned to view the parking lot outside. Six cars and a beat-up Ford truck sat side by side, while a couple of kids were practicing their skateboard moves. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Maybe his instincts were getting rusty, or maybe the quiet that he loved as a kid - being off in your own world - was taking the edge off his mind. Or maybe his brain was still vodka pickled from the night before.

Ruby told him that he needed to get his shit together and to stop drinking when she saw him a few days ago, and she was right. He had no illusions about the demon - she wanted something from him, but he needed something from her too. Ruby claimed that the two of them together could do something big - could go after Lilith. But she was short on the details and prone to disappear for days at a time. Not the best ally he could hope for - as they say, beggars can’t be choosers.

***

Stepping out of the laundromat thirty minutes later, a full laundry sack over his shoulder, Sam took another look around the parking lot, which was now empty and abandoned. Like the house he was staying in. Like the life he was living. He sighed and walked over to the car, throwing the sack in the trunk. Time to give some thought on what to do next. If Ruby wasn't coming back tonight, well, screw her and her ultimatums about pulling his life together. He needed a drink.

***

Sam woke with a start. Even after a few drinks last night (okay, maybe more than a few), his instincts warned him again that something was wrong. He reached under the pillow for his Taurus and flipped off the safety, before jerking upright and sweeping the room with his gun.

The abandoned house was far enough off the main highway that there was little noise, just the occasional honk of a big rig on the wind or the scratch and crawl of critters in the drywall.

Tonight, it was silent as he looked down the gun sight. After a minute, he eased his finger off the trigger, shaking a tiny bit as he released his breath and the adrenaline ebbed away.

He wondered what Dean would think of his choices now, choosing this dump in the middle of nowhere over the cheap motor lodges and motels his brother favored through the years. Sam had no need for nearby bars or the easy companionship of people who weren't witnesses or law enforcement. Those things - normal and comforting - would have eroded his focus. He wanted nothing to distract him from getting Dean back or that eased the misery that festered deep inside his chest.

The Trickster had shown him what this would be like, how he would act without Dean. Now, he was living up to that image. The best thing Sam could do was to stay far away from Bobby and anyone else who could get hurt by it.

Booze helped. It eased his paranoia and his nightmares, filled with Dean’s screams, but not always. There were plenty of nights that he woke up edgy and exhausted, unable to remember the specifics of what happened in the dreams and unable to return to sleep. At least he stopped having any visions in the past year. The last thing he needed right now was images of other people's deaths ripping into his skull and leaving him glassy and fragile.

Bringing his thoughts back to the here and now, Sam blew out another breath and then set his gun down on the nightstand. He shuffled into the little bathroom and splashed cold water on his face.

Looking up, his face was pale and lost in the cracked mirror. Most days he avoided this view. It wasn’t pretty. Dark circles under his eyes and how flat and lifeless they appeared. Maybe Ruby was right. Drinking his problems away wasn’t helping him. Funny that it was a demon telling him to clean up his act.

He grabbed the sides of the vanity and closed his eyes to listen to another memory. Dean's voice a low growl in his ear, his arms looped around Sam’s chest as he pressed his hips into the porcelain sink from behind.

Sammy, open your eyes. Look at me in the mirror. I want to see your eyes, okay?

When he opened his eyes again, a movement behind him in the mirror stopped his heart and a familiar face emerged from the shadows over his shoulder, but it wasn't Dean. His first thought was a monster, an image of Dorian Gray, but that didn't make sense. It looked just like him, a normal face but a few years older (which image was the monster?).

His second thought was this is it - I've finally lost my mind. And then a very real hand descended on his shoulder.

Sam whipped around with a move that was long practiced between the brothers in dirt yards and motel parking lots - a cutting chop to break a hold from behind and knock your opponent off balance. Except the move was blocked this time, his wrist grabbed and twisted behind his back. The move drove him forward, and the lip of the sink bit into his hipbone. He looked up once more into the mirror at the side-by-side reflection of his own face.

A shapeshifter or a doppelgänger. It had to be. Sam kicked back and scraped the side of his foot down the thing’s shin.

“Fuck!” it shouted, its voice decidedly not dreamlike. The thing released its hold long enough for Sam to push past it to the other room.

His Taurus sat on the nightstand, reflecting back the lamplight. It was just within reach when Sam was grabbed from behind and spun around. Before he could take a swing, the thing punched him hard in the face. As unconsciousness took him down and he sank onto the dirty carpet, Sam thought, maybe this is it. Maybe now, I can sleep. And when I wake, maybe I’ll see Dean again.

The stranger muttered as it pulled Sam’s lax body up on the bed. “Never did make it easy on myself.”

***

Chapter 2

“It’s okay, boy, I can take a hint. You don't want to talk to me. I miss Dean, too, but I'm worried about you. You're family and you're always welcome here.”

Sam woke up to the sound of his cell phone ringing. Probably Bobby, again. The sun was shining through the window on the east side of the room and he blinked against the brightness. He started to stand up but was pulled back into place; the bite of metal surprising him on his wrists. A pair of handcuffs secured Sam to the wooden spindles of the headboard, and two lengths of rope were wrapped around his ankles, securing him to the bottom of the bed frame.

“No cuffs big enough for those feet.” A voice came from the desk in the corner, and he twisted his head to see. The stranger from last night was sitting at Sam’s laptop, clicking the keyboard and staring at the screen.

“Yeah, well, no one’s complained until now,” Sam said. He did a quick mental inventory of possible injuries he might have, just as Dean taught him when Sam was twelve years old. Assess your situation, Sam, keep the bad guys talking so that you know what you're up against and you're ready to make your move. Other than his head hurting like a son of a bitch from a possible concussion, he seemed fine.

“You’re fine,” the intruder said, as if reading Sam’s mind for the second time. “But I think you scraped seven layers of skin off my shin last night.”

“Well, that’s a laugh,” Sam said. “Easy enough for you to shed that body.”

Whatever the thing was, it snorted out a laugh. “Of course, you think I’m a shifter. Or a ghoul? Maybe a doppelganger? Boy, do I have a surprise for you.”

While Sam waited for the thing to start a monologue about some plan, he felt around the headboard for any loose spindles or screws - anything to get out of the cuffs around his wrists. After a few minutes, Sam realized that the thing had stopped talking, and he paused his search in curiosity. Its scrunched-up face that looked like his own was scanning something on the laptop screen.

Sam let out a dramatic sigh. “So, you stole my body and knocked me out to what? Use my wifi?”

“Oh yeah, that’s my evil plan. I’m hacking your Facebook account and posting pictures of your sunbeam costume from kindergarten.” The intruder peeked over the top of the screen at Sam. “Are you calm enough to talk now?”

Sam twisted his feet again, testing the strength of the ropes. “We can talk about anything you want if you let me go.”

Whatever this thing was, it stood and grabbed the back of the folding chair, carrying it over beside the bed. It flipped the chair around and straddled it while studying Sam’s face. “Aren’t you the least bit curious why I’m here?”

“To eat me? To torture me? Doesn’t really matter much.”

It smiled, giving him a full dimpled smile, and shook its head. Sam wanted to kick the condescending look right off its face with his Timberland boot.

“What a fucking mess,” it said, looking around the room. “No wonder I don't remember much from this time. I never was good at being by myself.”

The stranger reached over and pushed up the hem of Sam’s t-shirt, reaching for his hip. Sam tried to squirm away from the unwanted touch, but there was no give in the restraints. Its fingers ran gently along the skin on Sam’s abdomen to rest on a ragged white ridge of scar tissue.

“I was twelve when I got this scar. Dad and Dean were gone on a hunt for two days. Man, we were living in a crap part of Baltimore and some punk at school threatened me with a knife. I kicked his ass but not before he cut me.” The stranger pulled his hand back to raise his own t-shirt up, displaying an identical scar on his own hip. “I couldn't go to the hospital because CPS would show up, so I sewed it myself while sitting on a dirty toilet seat. Dad never knew about it. But Dean? Well, he found out about the scar four years later.”

Sam had difficulty swallowing around the lump forming in his throat. “I’m not an idiot. Shifters take on memories as well as the bodies of their victims. Anything I know, you know.”

The stranger sighed, an eerie echo of Sam’s earlier expression, and pulled a silver knife out of his boot. Sam cringed as far back as his bindings would let him, but instead of coming at Sam, the knife rested flat across the stranger’s forearm and the thing sucked in a breath. “God, I hate this part.”

Blood welled up red as it cut into the pale skin of the arm, and Sam’s eyes grew wide. “Doesn’t mean anything. You could be a demon or something else.”

The small silver flask that he got from John on his eighteenth birthday was snatched off the desk and Sam watched as the stranger toasted him before drinking the holy water down with a grimace. “Satisfied?”

“You could have switched it out. Doesn't matter - you're just another kind of monster who needs to be hunted down.” The other man flinched at Sam's words and Sam stared at his face. It wasn't exactly the same as his - the hair was longer and raggedly cut, and there were a few more lines around the eyes, with a white scar under the stranger’s jawline that ran thin and ugly back under the hairline. When he looked into the eyes, they were exactly the same hazel he saw in the mirror every morning.

“What would you say if I told you I'm from the future?” Those eyes were guarded now, waiting for Sam's reaction. The guy obviously believed what he was saying, and Sam thought it was an odd feeling, trying to figure out the tells in your own face. He might lie for a living but he didn't do it much while looking at his reflection.

Sam pointed his chin up. “If you're from the future, I hope you brought back some winning lottery numbers with you. Hunting isn't a paying gig, but guess you would know that, being from the future and all.”

The sound this guy made this time couldn't really count as a laugh, too bitter and broken to be amused. “God, you sound like Dean right now. He dies and somehow you take over his personality.”

Sam squinted, looking again for some clue as to what this was about. “What do you know about Dean?”

The stranger’s hand reached for Sam's neck and he tried to pull back further against the headboard. Long fingers gripped the black cord necklace around his neck and Dean's amulet slid out from under Sam’s shirt, its horns snagging on the collar before it popped free. The small gold pendant sat in the palm of the stranger’s hand, and dimples showed up under the scratch of his beard as he examined it.

“I know a lot about Dean - he's my brother, too.”


***

The cuffs and rope were removed while Sam tried to think his way through a list of logical scenarios. Maybe this guy was an older brother? Perhaps Mary had a child when she was younger and gave it up. Or John was married before and walked away from a son. Maybe Dean was adopted and this person was related to him? Each one seemed less likely and more unsettling.

The stranger sat back down at the laptop while Sam straightened his clothes. Tucking the amulet back under the collar of his t-shirt, he snatched the Taurus off the nightstand and sat down at the table in the opposite chair. His hand rested on the cool metal as he examined the guy on the other side.

Silence dragged on before Sam finally spoke up.

“So, you're my half-brother?”

Another snort. “No, that would be Adam.”

“Wha- Who the hell is Adam?” Sam waved off his own question. “No, no, no. Let's start over. What's your name?”

“Sam. Sam Winchester. And I’m not your brother. Thought I made that clear - I’m you.”

Sam fell back against the chair and threw his hands up in the air. “You’re insane. Trust me, I've heard a lot of crazy stuff in my life but that's unbelievable.”

“Unlikely but not completely unbelievable that I'm from the future.” The stranger smiled and went back to studying the laptop screen.

Sam slammed the laptop lid shut, missing the guy’s fingers by about an inch. “Stop looking at that. If you’re going to share the crazy like this, then talk to me.” Sam leaned back in the chair, and the other man mirrored him, crossing his arms across his chest.

“Deep down, you know that what I'm saying is true.”

And that was the strangest thing of all. It felt true. Like he was looking at someone that he had known all his life. Those eyes, identical to his in every way, didn't hold any malice. He felt that he could trust him. Of course, Sam was on the verge of trusting a demon, so maybe he wasn't the best judge of character right now.

“Say I believe you, and I'm not saying that I do, but what am I supposed to call you?”

“Well, I’ve always been Sam,” the stranger said. “A lot longer than you. Maybe I should call you Sammy,” he teased, his lips curling up in a smile.

“Yeah, no. Sammy is not gonna happen. If you want to play it that way then maybe I should call you Old Sam.” Sam expected some reaction to the jibe but the other man shrugged in resignation.

“I’m older than you in ways you can’t possibly imagine.”

The man’s looked a few years older, but looking in those eyes, Sam could believe it was a lifetime. So many questions he wanted to ask but instead, he leaned forward in his chair. “So, what happens next?”

Old Sam stood up. “We get dinner. I'm starving. Preferably pizza. I haven't had pizza in four years.”

***

The waitress looked between the two of them the whole time she took their order. When she returned with their food, she stood at the end of the table with a smile.

Sam looked up and she laughed, looking back and forth between the two men. “You and your dad look exactly the same. I've seen family resemblances before but this is crazy.”

Old Sam's head whipped up from the pizza on his plate. “Not his dad.”

His scowl sent her running back to the kitchen. Sam looked over at his future self in the bright light of the empty dinner. A few grey hairs were scattering through his hair and there were lines around his eyes, but he didn't look that old. Then Old Sam looked up and Sam saw it, the expression from the mirror last night. Centuries seemed to sit behind those eyes like a snake coiled up under a rock, dangerous but only if disturbed.

“So, let’s say I believe you,” Sam said. “Why would you travel back to this time?”

Old Sam took a bite of the pizza. “Wow. This is amazing.”

“No, it's really not. It tastes like cardboard. Now, answer the question.”

Old Sam wiped his mouth and hands with a napkin. “I came back to stop you. You, or should I say I? This is way more confusing than I thought it would be, now that you’re sitting in front of me. Well, let’s say we are going to make some mistakes in the next two months that will destroy the world.”

Sam fell back against the back of the diner booth with a snort. “You're joking, right?”

“No joke. End of the world bad, apocalypse bad.” Old Sam was already reaching for another piece of pizza.

A chill ran down Sam’s spine. Dean used to call it a goose walking over your grave, which was the stupidest saying.

“Back up. How do I cause the apocalypse? Because I'm…” Sam paused. What was he exactly without Dean? “I’m nobody.”

Old Sam got a soft look in his eyes and reached out across the table to touch Sam’s hand. The pity in that look was too much like Dean when Sam would bump heads with their dad, a silent look that spoke support for something so obvious. “You aren't nobody. You - and I really mean me - we trust the wrong people sometimes.”

Sam's eyebrows went up and he waited for Old Sam to continue. His future self smiled up at the waitress when she brought him another Coke, and waited until she left to continue.

“Okay, so here’s the bottom line. You release Lucifer from his cage in Hell. That’s how this all starts. Well, there’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it.”

“Wait, what?” Sam's voice climbed half an octave in response. He realized that their hands were still touching on the tabletop and he yanked his away. “No way. Why would I release Lucifer?”

“You thought you were doing something else, something that was the right thing,” Old Sam said. “But someone else was pulling your strings.”

“Yeah, well, it wouldn't be the first time.”

“Speaking of which, I have something for you.” Old Sam reached into his pocket and pulled out a small felt bag and laid it on the table. It was black with a red string tying it off at the top, and a pentagram design sketched in red on the side. Sam picked it up and his mouth turned down as the contents shifted beneath his fingers. The small noises as the bones and other pieces shifted against each other set his teeth on edge.

“I want you to keep this on you at all times. I have one, too. They’ll shield us.”

“And who are we hiding from?” Sam held the felt bag up to the window to better examine the runes on the side.

“Demons. Lilith. Ruby. Just to name a few.”

“Ruby? But she's helping me.”

The muscle in Old Sam's jaw twitched. “Trust me. She’s not here to help you.”

“Fine.” Sam tucked the bag inside his jacket pocket. “You mentioned a plan.”

“I’ll tell you about it, but first, there's a store called The White Raven across town. We need to stop by and pick up a few things.”

The name sounded familiar. “Wicca supplies?” Sam asked. “What for?”

“A spell. The spell. To bring back Dean.”

***

Chapter 3

The White Raven had a few of the more basic ingredients Old Sam had on his list. As they wandered the aisles, a middle-aged woman with a bird’s nest of an updo walked in. Her smile was bright and her greeting familiar for the shop owner behind the counter. Dean never liked witches and lumped in Wiccans with that group, but Sam had found them harmless enough and even helpful at times with their willingness to talk about their beliefs and rituals.

Sam had turned back to a shelf looking for dried yarrow when he felt Old Sam tense at his side, grasping for Sam's jacket sleeve. He looked up to follow Old Sam’s concerned gaze to the end of the aisle.

Bird’s nest lady had turned the corner into their aisle and stopped dead in her tracks. Her eyes narrowed and held onto Old Sam's face as she grabbed at one of the wooden shelves as if to steady herself.

“We need to pay for these and get out now.” Old Sam whispered, as he yanked on Sam's sleeve once more and backed up to head the other way over to the cashier. While the woman behind the counter bagged up their items, Old Sam kept his head down and tapped impatiently on the counter. Sam pulled out a few bills to pay when the lady from earlier approached them, blocking their way to the exit.

“You shouldn't be here.”

Sam looked up with a reflexive smile, ready to talk his way out of whatever was the problem. “We were just leaving.”

She moved to get a better look at Old Sam behind him, and Sam moved to block her view. The woman's face was pale and stricken; strands of curly brown hair hung down unnoticed as she stared at Old Sam. “No, he shouldn't be here. He doesn't belong in this time.”

Old Sam froze for a moment, never looking up from the counter before he scooped up the bag and walked quickly for the door. Sam threw down the bills in his hand before following close on his heels. He turned to look over his shoulder at the shop entrance where the woman emerged from the shop, her fists balled up at her sides. Sam jumped in the driver’s seat and started the car, as Old Sam folded himself into the passenger seat, attempting to look small while his knees were jammed up against the dashboard.

After putting three blocks of distance between them and the shop, Sam glanced back at Old Sam. Sweat had gathered on his upper lip and he wiped at it with his sleeve.

“I didn't think about that,” he said quietly.

“Didn't think about what?”

“A psychic. Plenty of them survived the apocalypse. But coming back here? I didn't think about running into one like that. I need to be more careful.”

Sam reached out to touch Old Sam’s sleeve. “No, we need to be more careful.”

***

Now that he knew what Old Sam was here to do, Sam was ready to go all in on the plan. Bringing back Dean had taken up his waking thoughts for weeks, but nothing he tried - selling his soul, talking to demons, searching the lore - had given him a solution. It was crushing, that feeling of impotence, while Dean was out of his reach and beyond his ability to protect and hold.

Sam was ready to abandon the vamp hunt in a heartbeat to track down the other ingredients on the list and get this show on the road, but Old Sam said they had plenty of time. The ritual needed to be done on the next full moon, and that wasn't for another two weeks.

When they got back to the house, Old Sam pulled out a leather journal to mark off the ingredients. He laid the book open on the table, smoothing out the weathered pages, to show Sam the spell. The block letters on the page were so familiar to his eye, as if something he had written in a dream.

Sam glanced through the list and mechanics of the ritual. Many of the ingredients looked exotic and the elements to the spell casting were familiar, looking like how they might summon a spirit. But this was different - they were pulling a soul back from hell, not summoning its spirit from elsewhere on the earth. The power necessary to do that was enormous and he wondered what was the engine behind that power. And that’s when the last step of the ritual stopped him - blood. A lot of it - five pints worth. No one could survive that kind of blood loss. His eyes swam for a minute before they focused on the notes scribbled at the side of the spell - soulmate blood. My blood.

Panicked, he started to back away. Now, he knew why this Sam was here. He needed the blood and planned to make a sacrifice of his younger self to stop the Apocalypse. It was a practical solution to the problem of getting Dean back.

Sam’s vision began to narrow as he fumbled for the gun wedged at his back before two strong arms caught him and held him in place. He looked up at Old Sam’s face, which was furrowed in concern before it softened in understanding.

“I'm not here to hurt you. We need to do this together - it'll work with two of us here. I promise you.”

That's when it hit Sam. The same blood that ran through his veins ran through his man as well. The spell could work with the two of them and they could both survive it. It would take two Sams to rescue one Dean.

Old Sam closed the journal and touched Sam's wrist. “You know, blood magic creates the strongest spells. When it's the blood of a soulmate, you can do just about anything.”

“Soulmates?” Sam asked, sitting down at the table to steady himself.

“Of course,” Old Sam said. “You must have guessed that, right? Dean and I are soulmates.” He raised his fingers in a mock Boy Scout salute. “Swear to God. I heard it from an angel in heaven.”

That would certainly explain a lot. The lengths the two of them went to for each other. The physical attraction they felt. And that deep, dark hole, the absolute destruction, he felt in his heart with Dean gone.

A weight shifted inside him at the thought. For so long, the things he wanted from his brother and what they had done together had caused them to be unbearable close, while the guilt weighed heavy on Dean’s shoulders.

His brother was sure somehow it was his fault that they started down that path, even though Sam took the first steps, stole the first kiss. He pushed and pushed until Dean responded in kind. The reality was Sam wouldn't take no for an answer, and Dean would never say no.

If they could get Dean back, maybe they could truly be together.

***

They spent the rest of the afternoon talking about details of the hunt that brought Sam to town. Old Sam didn't share much else on his end, and seemed content to listen.

Sam caved in on the request to order more pizza that night, thinking his future self needed to make up for lost time. While Old Sam wanted to look online for some of the more exotic ingredients for the spell, Sam drove into town and picked up some supplies. He drove by The White Raven again, but the little shop was dark and the door locked, with no sign of the psychic from earlier.

He wondered what she saw when she looked at Old Sam. Could she see the horrors of a world where Lucifer existed? Or was it something else?

When Sam pulled into the driveway two hours later, the sun was hanging low in the west, the blue sky darkening to indigo. Out of the corner of his eye, a flash of white reflected the fading sunlight at the side of the abandoned house. While he had seen a few deer come through the yard while he was squatting at the house the past few days, nothing in nature would be that brilliant white and he felt unease settle in his stomach.

Setting the six-pack and the pizza box on the front steps, Sam walked up the sidewalk and stepped quietly towards the waist-high wooden fence. It needed a coat of paint and a few of the slats replaced, but it offered silent protection to a small garden that was probably well loved by its owners less than ten years before.

The motion and the color he'd seen turned out to be Old Sam, dressed in a white t-shirt and some old grey sweatpants, wandering like a spirit through a tangle of sweet pea tendrils and uncut grass. Old Sam trailed his fingers through a hydrangea bush with its bluish tinged flowers, before bending down to examine a clump of daylilies in need of separation.

Something about Old Sam's face, furrowed in thought, engulfed in some memories, that stopped Sam from calling out. He kept out of sight, like a stalker, and watched as Old Sam stood up again.

A few rose bushes were growing wild along the kitchen window, and the climbers had engulfed the trellis and made a desperate leap to the wall, grabbing tight to the crackling paint, pulling it away in small patches. The red blooms were the one bright spot of color in the garden, their buds open wide in the late summer weather; the heads drooping and drowsy. Old Sam reached out and touched one, cupping it gently from below, and the petals scattered to the ground. He made a choked noise, like a hurt animal in a trap, and Sam stepped forward through the gate. The movement startled Old Sam, and he stood up, a look of panic and despair on his face that made Sam ache.

“I didn't mean to…” Old Sam said, then he pushed past Sam to go inside the house.

Sam glanced back at the rose bushes and the petals scattered like drops of blood across the grass, wondering what unsettled Old Sam. He settled down on his haunches, mimicking the other man’s, and picked up one of the petals, already soft in its decay. As he held it between his fingertips, he wondered for the first time about Old Sam's world and the things he'd seen. Sam had always held out hope that the future would be better somehow, that all the sacrifices they made, the monsters they killed, would make things better. The future didn't sound better or safer at all, only more inevitable.

He tucked the red petal in his jacket pocket and then grabbed the pizza box and beer on his way up the steps, following Old Sam inside the house.

***

“You need to know the whole truth.” The pizza had been polished off and they were working through the last of the beer. Old Sam cracked one open and handed it to him. “About Ruby. About the demon blood.”

The beer can felt heavy in his hand and he took a few sips before answering quietly. “I already know about the demon blood in me.”

Old Sam let out a bitter laugh, as he threw himself down on the couch. “Not what Azazel did to me. That’s old news. No, this is something that I did to myself. Well, with Ruby’s help.”

Sam waved his hand in a dismissive way. “No more big revelations about the things I'm gonna fuck up - not tonight, okay? If you feel like talking, I’m more interested in how you were able to travel back in time?”

Even from across the couch, Sam could see Old Sam tense up. He began to pick at the wet label on his beer shredding it off between his fingers before responding. “An archangel’s grace and an old Men of Letters spell.”

“Archangel, as in Lucifer? You were able to convince him to give you that?”

“No. Just a little gift he left behind. Inside of me.”

Sam opened his mouth to ask, but Old Sam stood up and waved his empty bottle. “I need another beer. You need one?” He walked out of the room and into the kitchen, and a few minutes later, Sam heard the back door to the house bang open and shut.

****

“Sam!” Dean's voice echoed as if calling him from far away, the sound desperate and broken. He tried to follow it down an underground tunnel with rock walls that were rough and wet with condensation. He was afraid to touch the dirt and mold, that they might seep into his pores, take root in his body. Every step he took, the tunnel became darker and darker, and he didn't know which way to turn. All he knew was that he needed to find his brother.

“Sam!” He turned at the sound of his name. It wasn't Dean's voice but it sounded familiar. Before he could respond, hands came out of the darkness and grabbed at his shoulders. He struggled to break away, unable to see what or who was holding him, desperate to break away and find his brother - to save him - but the hands were too strong.

“Sam!” The voice was different this time and the hands weren't holding him back; they were pulling him up and shaking him.

“Sam, wake up!”

The light behind his eyelids changed from pitch black to a murky grey. His lashes were heavy like weights as he opened them to look into Old Sam's concerned face. He had fallen into a deep sleep on the bed while Old Sam had taken the couch.

“Jesus, is that what my nightmares are like? No wonder Dean would freak out every time.” Old Sam cupped Sam's face, his thumb wiping a tear away from under Sam's eye. “What were you dreaming about?”

Feeling someone's skin against his again was nice, and he leaned into the touch. It had been a while since someone touched him. Three weeks and one day to be exact. “I don't remember.”

His eyes were already drooping shut when Old Sam pulled the covers back up to his shoulders. Old Sam rested a hand on his head, stroking his thumb along his temple. It felt familiar, comforting, like when he was a child and Dean would try to get him to sleep when their dad was running late from a hunt.

“Get some sleep. We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow.”

***

Chapter 4

“Hey, Sam. It's Ruby. You kinda dropped off the grid there. I got some info on Lilith, so call me.”

Sam leaned against the Impala hood, listening to the voicemail from Ruby while Old Sam grabbed them something to drink from inside the coffee shop. His finger hovered over the delete key, before hitting save. In the bright light of the morning, it still seemed a little crazy to be following the instructions of someone who claimed to be from his future.

He watched Old Sam paying at the counter, flashing the cute cashier an awww-shucks smile and counting out his bills. As Old Sam turned to make his way back outside, his smile faded as he bobbed and dodged through the people standing in line, pulling away from someone who bumped into him.

“Finally. What took you so long?” Sam teased when he stepped out, taking hold of one of the coffee cups.

Old Sam took the lid off his own cup and smelled the coffee deeply, his nose almost touching the liquid’s surface, a blissful smile spreading across his face, replacing the taunt look from before. The reaction reminded Sam of Dean, whose greatest joy was his first cup of coffee in the morning.

“Dude, it’s just coffee. Not even great coffee.” Sam said, swinging around to the driver's side.

He eyed the older man as he climbed into the car. They had the same broad shoulders, but Old Sam was leaner with rangy muscle mass. He wondered if he could take him down in a wrestling match if he would have the same moves as Sam.

“You know, I've never hunted with anyone but Dean and Dad, and Bobby, too.”

“Bobby. He's alive right now, isn't he? Maybe we could visit him. Sioux Falls is only four hours away.” Old Sam looked at him over the rim of his coffee cup, taking a long sip before speaking again. “You will, you know - hunt with others in the future. Hell, I spent a whole year with our Grandpa Samuel and the Campbell cousins.”

“Grandpa Samuel’s been dead for almost thirty years. And we don't have any cousins.”

“Yeah, well, that one is another long story. Not sure you're ready to hear it and I'm not ready to tell it.” Old Sam set his coffee on the floorboards between his feet and pulled out the old leather journal and a pen out of his pocket.

Sam went to start the car, swishing the keys between his fingers before he pulled back in the seat. “Why are you be telling me all this stuff about the future? Isn't there some rule that I shouldn't know what’s going to happen?”

Old Sam glanced up from what he was writing and nodded. “Ray Bradbury and the butterfly effect. But don't you see? That's what I'm counting on - that we can change the future. I want you to know this stuff. Then you can avoid all of my mistakes.”

The hopeful look on Old Sam's face was too much to look at, and Sam started the car. The two of them agreed to finish up the vamp hunt that Sam started, and truth be told he was glad to have the backup and something solid to focus on that wasn't some time-traveling version of himself or the rising hope that was bubbling in his chest that they might succeed in bringing back Dean.

***

The hunt didn't go well.

There were four in the nest, which was an abandoned barn located about half a mile off the main road. They parked at the driveway entrance and walked. There was no cover for them, no trees or buildings, but if the vamps were sleeping in the heat of the day, it was best to avoid alerting them with engine noise. Both men had machetes hidden under their coats as they walked silently along the dirt drive. The two of them eliminated the four vamps quickly as if they had been a team forever (and perhaps they had).

Too bad they didn't realize there was a new vamp in one of the horse stalls, a girl about sixteen years old who was sleeping off her first kill if the blood around her mouth was any indication. She slashed at Sam's leg with a rusty scythe and would have taken his leg off if it had been any sharper. Old Sam took her down easily and ripped his own flannel into strips for the tourniquet.

“Don't bleed too much on the leather. Dean will kill you himself when he comes back,” he said, getting a weak smile as he helped the younger man to lay across the back seat. Blood continued to trickle down his leg despite the bandage.

“Keep this leg propped up until I get us back to the motel, okay?”

The Impala fishtailed in the gravel of the road and made good time going back to town.

Old Sam looked in the rearview mirror. Sam had thrown his arm over his face and was grimacing in pain at every pothole in the road, but at least he hadn't passed out yet. “How ya doing back there? Do we need a hospital?”

“No,” Sam hissed. “It's fine. Just get the hell off this road.”

Luckily, no other guests were around to see the two men, one bloodied and in pain, stagger into their motel room. Sam held onto the edge of the table as he stripped off his jeans, giving another hiss of pain when he pulled the denim away from the cut. Old Sam returned from the bathroom with a bowl of water and a washcloth in his hands and their little black first aid kit under his arm. He placed the supplies on the table and guided Sam to one of the chairs.

He took the younger man's chin in his hand and wiped it down his cheeks and around his mouth with the washcloth, as Sam tried to dodge away. Dean would have said, quit squirming, Sammy.

“You had blood on your face. Can't be too careful.” He released Sam's chin and rinsed the washcloth in the bowl.

The wound on his leg was ragged, but it wasn't as deep a gash as he feared. Once the blood was cleaned off, Old Sam poured disinfectant along the wound.

“Fuck!” It felt like a thousand needles piercing his thigh.

Old Sam left the room without word and Sam could hear the Impala’s trunk open and close. One minute later, he walked back in the door holding a brown prescription bottle and a bottle of Jim Beam by the neck.

“Thank God. I was beginning to wonder if you didn't feel pain in the future.” Sam snatched the whiskey away from him, unscrewing the cap and getting two slugs down before Old Sam pulled up a chair.

The older man shook out two painkillers out of the bottle and handed them over before examining the gash thoroughly and opening the med kit. “Maybe ten stitches. You ready for that?”

Sam swallowed the pills and lifted his eyebrows in response. Old Sam's eyes tracked as he swallowed it down. The gash was rinsed and fingertips began to gently prod the wound before that first needle prick.

When they were younger, Dean taught Sam breathing techniques to distract him from pain after a hunt or boredom in the backseat. He breathed in deeply through his nose, filling his chest and holding it there until it felt like it would burst, and then exhaled through his mouth, pushing the air out in an extended breath.

Old Sam's fingers were sure as he closed the wound, and Sam continued to breathe through it. He dropped his head down to examine the small and even stitches, an almost elegant black line that he reached out to touch before Old Sam pulled his hand away from it.

“You could have had a career in cosmetic surgery, rather than pre-law. Hey, maybe you could fix this one?” The pills were starting to kick in. He bit on his bottom lip as he considered his older self. “Could I see yours again?”

The black medical kit was placed back on the table, and Old Sam hiked up his grey t-shirt. Sure enough, the lumpy white ridge was right there. It was a little disconcerting as they sat face to face because it wasn’t a mirror image of him, really, because the scar sat on the other side. He reached out to touch it like Old Sam had the day before, The older man shivered when Sam’s fingertips lingered.

“I’m sorry.” He started to pull back, but Old Sam caught his wrist and placed his palm flat so that it covered the scar.

“It’s okay. Been a while since someone touched me like that.”

“How long?” Sam looked up into his face.

“Hmmmm, same as the last time I ate pizza.” Old Sam smiled and looked away but his hand remained on top of Sam’s, and the skin felt warm beneath his palm. “Dean and I went our separate ways soon after Lucifer was released. “Pick a hemisphere” were his exact words. And then Detroit happened.”

Another scar peeked out below the grey t-shirt and Sam pulled the hem up with his other hand for a better look. Well stitched but shiny white against smooth tan skin. Sam had never seen it before, which meant-- “Where did this come from?”

Old Sam sucked in his breath, which made his abs stand out more defined and Sam ran his fingertips along the ridge of the scar.

“A hunter did that.”

“Some kind of a hunt gone bad?”

“You could say that.” Old Sam’s face screwed up tight. “The guy tried to kill me and ended up dead. So, yeah, it went bad for him.”

Sam raised his eyebrows but didn’t respond. He let the cotton t-shirt fall back into place, covering up the skin and scars that lay ahead in the future for him. He poured out more whiskey in two dirty mugs on the scarred kitchen table and handed one to his other self. “What happened in Detroit?”

Old Sam took the mug and set it aside, then plucked Sam’s mug from his hands. “I don’t think you need any more of this right now.” He moved closer, slotting himself in between Sam’s legs, and took Sam’s face between his hands. Between the painkillers and the touch, Sam sank into a state of relaxation, closing his eyes.

“It’s not a good story,” Old Sam said, rubbing a thumb along Sam’s cheekbone. “I went to confront Lucifer.”

Sam looked up with concern. “Without Dean?”

“I did it for Dean. Lucifer needed me as a vessel for the final battle so I tried to make a deal.” He leaned over, resting his forehead against Sam’s, his words soft and low. “We were desperate then - the Croatoan virus was killing so many people already and more were going to die so I made a deal. He could possess me if he promised to leave for heaven immediately after defeating Michael. I thought it would save billions of lives, and it did. Except for the one that really mattered.”

Sam reached up and grabbed on to Old Sam’s forearms. “How did Dean die?” When the older man shook his head, a few tears flicked off his face and he tried to move away, Sam held tight and his voice rose rough and loud. “Tell me how he died.”

“Lucifer loves to talk. He would tell me anything I asked. Never lied about anything to me,” Old Sam said. “But he also didn't tell me the most important thing of all - that Dean was Michael’s vessel. Here I thought Dean was safe -far away from all of it - until I saw him in that cemetery. So, Lucifer killed our brother, and his own brother, with my hands.” He leaned down, resting his forehead on Sam’s, sharing the contact before continuing. “And then left. He promised to leave and he did. Dropped me like the meat suit I was, right on top of Dean’s body.”

He was glad for Old Sam’s big hands on his face, holding him up in place, otherwise, the painkillers would have had him slipped off the chair onto the floor. The drugs and the whiskey didn’t mix well with bad memories. Sam saw Dean die once in front of him, ripped by hellhounds. And now, Sam would once again have a front row seat watching Dean die. And he would be the reason for it. Sam started to list to the side in his seat and Old Sam pulled him upright.

“Okay, that’s enough for tonight.” Old Sam walked him back to one of the beds, where he plopped down on the edge of the mattress with a grunt.

Before Old Sam could walk away, Sam grabbed his hips and took sloppy hold of them, shaking him a little to get his attention. A fuzziness had come over his pain and removed the filter on his mouth.

“Am I just a memory for you? A ghost?” he slurred, resting his forehead on Old Sam's stomach. “A failure?”

Old Sam grabbed his chin and nudged Sam’s face up. He brushed the bangs back with a smile. “Never a ghost. You're a part of me.”

Looking into those eyes, which mirrored back his own pain, gave Sam a moment of vertigo, and he shut his eyes against it.

Sam was pushed back against the mattress, a pillow placed under his head. Lips brushed his forehead, cool against a rising heat. In his half-conscious state, Sam wasn't sure if the kiss was from Old Sam or a sense memory of Dean rising from the darkness of his dreams until he heard Old Sam whisper in his ear.

“No more hunts for us, okay? Not ‘til we have Dean back.”


***

The demon was waiting for him when he stepped out of the dark motel room in the sunlight the next morning.

“Hey there, Sam. Long time, no see.” Ruby was leaning back against the hood of the Impala, arms crossed, looking down at her fingernails, her dark hair shiny in the daylight.

“Ruby. How’d you find me?” He shifted the duffle bag to the other hand.

“Oh, so you were hiding from me?” Her mouth curled up at the corner. As always, Sam’s discomfort seemed to feed her amusement. “You know, when you're driving around in that fucking gas guzzler of Dean's, it's easy enough to find you, hex bag or not.”

He nodded. It was impressive that she put out some kind of demon APB on the Impala and tracked him down within a day. “What do you want?”

She pushed herself off the car, sticking her hands in the pockets of her leather jacket. “Thought we were going to partner up on this Lilith thing.”

Sam set the duffel down at his feet and looked at her in silence. Those dark eyes were full of sincerity, and yet she had been manipulating him since they met. Maybe Ruby was an opportunistic bitch or maybe she was sent back upstairs with instructions from Lilith to get him to the endpoint in this dance. Whatever the reason, he didn’t want to know.

“There’s been a change in plans.” Old Sam’s voice came from behind him. Ruby’s annoyance at being interrupted was slowly transformed into surprise and then settled into a look that was green and bordered on panic.

“Who’s your friend, Sam?” Ruby stuck out her pointed chin in Old Sam’s direction.

“Someone who knows all about your games.” Sam wrapped his fingers around Ruby’s knife where it sat in his jacket. Since she returned, Ruby had never used her powers on Sam. But like a dog who was threatened and pushed into a corner, he didn’t know how she’d react in a situation like this.

“What are you? You’re not from this time, that much I can tell.”

“No, I’m not.” Old Sam walked up to stand next to the younger man, and Ruby looked back and forth between the two and took a step back. He put on a grim smile and stepped in front of Sam. “I’ll make a deal with you, Ruby, and it’s the best one you’ll get. Leave now and don’t look back. We won’t come after you and maybe you can hide from Lilith.”

“What? Why should I leave?”

“Because I know what you’re going to do, Ruby, how you’re going to use me and it's not going to happen this time.”

She looked back at Sam in a last-ditch attempt. “Sam, you gonna let this guy talk to me like that?” So much indignation in those petite features.

Sam crossed his arms and didn't respond. When Old Sam took a step forward, Ruby was gone. Whether it was for today or forever, he didn't know.

He seemed unphased as he walked past Sam and unlocked the Impala’s trunk, throwing his duffel bag inside.

***

Chapter 5

“Sam, it's Bobby. Heard about that vamp nest down in Kentucky. Good work. Also heard that you were working the case with your brother. Has me a mite confused. Call me.”

Shit. Sam chewed the side of his mouth as he considered the phone screen. If there was anybody who would understand this screwed-up situation, who could help them make sure the spell worked, it was Bobby. Yet Sam couldn't get his fingers to dial the numbers.

“What's wrong?” Old Sam said as he walked in the motel room door. He looked concerned, but then again, this older version of himself always looked concerned.

“Nothing. Just Bobby checking in.” Sam hit the delete button and tossed his phone on the bed.

Old Sam set the pizza box and six-pack of beer on the kitchenette table. “You know, we could probably use his help with the spell.”

“Yeah, probably, but I can't talk to him right now.” Sam wiped at his nose with his plaid overshirt. “Dean was like a son to him, and me… I'm not.”

“Sam.” It was strange. They rarely called each other by name - it was too much like talking to yourself. Old Sam crouched down, placing his hands on Sam’s knees. “We both know that’s not true. He loves you.”

When Sam was seven, Bobby gave him a book on dragons. Dad was gone for the day and Dean was messing around Bobby’s property looking for a list of Chevy parts that John had left him, like a junkyard scavenger hunt. Sam took to hanging out with Bobby in his library. “Here, kid, I want you to memorize all you can about the different types in here and be ready to tell about them at dinner.”

Even at that age, he knew it was the kind of busy work that adults hand out to get you out of their hair, but he really didn't really mind. Sam grabbed the book and clamored up on the couch, reading about wyverns, ryu, nagas, and lindworms. He learned that Imoogi lived in the sea while Cuélebre lived in caves and that most dragons didn’t breathe fire.

Bobby and Dean got the low-down on all things dragon at dinner that night. Dean rolled his eyes, affectionately annoyed, and Bobby sat back in his chair, considering Sam stoically and prodding him with questions. It was in that moment before Sam knew about the supernatural and how real it was and all the things that Dad and Dean did to fight it, that he felt a calling. He didn’t have to be like the rest of his family; he could be just Sam and it would be fine.

“Huh,” Bobby said. “All that in one afternoon? Maybe I should pay you to be my assistant.”

Dean reached out and ruffled his hair. “Hear that, squirt, you got yourself a job.”

***

That night, Sam took the bed and Old Sam slept on the couch. And the call to Bobby still didn't happen. The benefits of making that call came with a lot of risks - the intense scrutiny and the questioning that happened whenever Bobby was involved - and no matter what he said or tried to convince them of, the two of them were going to go ahead with this spell.

They checked salt lines in an unspoken partnership, and for the first time in weeks, the whiskey bottle stayed on the table, capped and untouched. Sam wasn't so good facing the quiet of the night sober; all that time to thinking and wonder and plan. But having Old Sam breathing and shifting, struggling to get comfortable on the narrow couch, helped to calm him. The sounds in the night were different from Dean, whose breaths were a soft rattle from laying on his stomach with his face cradled in the pillow, a deep and efficient sleep. But Old Sam was constantly in motion, twisting under his blanket, making unhappy sighs. The noise blended into his own unease, and Sam fell asleep within a few minutes.

The next time he woke up, it was to sounds of pain. Not screams, but whimpers pulled from deep inside Old Sam’s throat. Sam's stomach clenched in sympathy as he looked over at Old Sam, lying on his back, his lips open as if to call for help but paralyzed in a nightmare. He still had trouble thinking of Old Sam as himself, but he knew those sounds. They were part of his own dreams every night.

He slipped out of bed and kneeled beside the couch. The noises may have stopped but Old Sam's fingers clenched the blanket so tight that the thin material looked like it would rip. Sam reached out his hand and touched the back of the other man’s. Old Sam tensed even more at the touch and Sam squeezed his fingers, and slowly, his hands released the blanket and the wrinkles across his forehead relaxed.

Old Sam’s fingers tightened around his, so Sam sank down on the hard floor next to the couch and nestled his head against Old Sam's arm, a pillow for the long night ahead.

***

Chapter 6

“Sam, where are you? I've been waiting outside the morgue here for twenty minutes and I'm freezing my ass off. I swear to God if you aren't here in ten minutes, I'm taking off and leaving you behind.”

He jumped when he heard the footsteps behind him.

“God, I forgot I kept that message on my phone. Everything from that year was such a blur.” Old Sam smiled.

Gathering the spell ingredients and making sure everything was perfect had occupied their focus for so many days that Sam hadn’t listened to the voicemail in a while. Before, when he was drunk or lonely or stewing in his own bitter juices, he would replay it over and over, to hear the sound of Dean’s voice, and make himself feel better that his brother was only waiting on a sidewalk on the other side of town for his pain-in-the-ass brother rather than in the bowels of hell.

“I… couldn't delete it.”

“Yeah, well, that's a good one to keep. Some of the voicemails weren't so good.”

Old Sam walked back across the linoleum floor to check the timer on the kiln again. The spell had called for “ash of an acacia taken down to dust by all-consuming fire” which like all spells was vague enough to be worrisome. The pottery studio at Pontiac Community College seemed a good bet. Unguarded, with a kiln big enough to hold a tree branch, they snuck in after dark but needed to wait a few hours for the kiln to reduce the wood to a fine powder.

“Tell me about one that wasn't so good,” Sam asked, as he picked up some student’s unfinished pot from the table. It was too heavy to be useful in any way but the design on the side was pretty.

Old Sam turned with a confused look.

Sam put the pot down and repeated his request. “A voicemail. One that wasn't so good? Tell me about it.” His nerves were ramping up the closer they got to the full moon. Now, they were two days away and he needed distraction.

Old Sam chewed on the inside of his cheek. “No. Don't want to talk about it, or anything else having to do with angels.”

“But won't the other angels help us? The good ones, I mean.” Sam said. “Dean always told me they weren’t real.”

“Oh, they’re real alright. And they’re all dicks.” He scratched the back of his head. “Well, that’s not fair. One of them ended up our friend. Not that it did him much good in the end.”

Sam and Old Sam frowned at each other, as Old Sam went back to check the kiln timer for the fourth time. “Angels rescued Dean the first time, which should have been a good thing. But they left him in hell for months - four months - until after he broke the first seal.” The buzzer on the kiln went off and Old Sam searched the room for a brush and pan to scoop out the wood dust.

Sam kicked at the clay dust on the floor and watched it settle on the suede of his sneaker. He couldn’t help but think of Pastor Jim and his church in Blue Earth, where he spent hours, studying the stained glass angels with their wings and smiles. “The first seal?”

“Sixty-six seals needed to release Lucifer, to jump start Armageddon. But it never starts without that first one. So they left Dean in hell… until that happened. This time we’re going to get there first, pull him out as quick as we can.”

Sam watched as the dust was swept up into a paper bag; the heat of the room made him think of grabbing an icy beer out of the green cooler and sitting by a creek somewhere.

“One last ingredient on the list,” Old Sam said standing up and brushing off his jeans. “An echo of what is to come. Problem is, that could be anything. But I have an idea.”

“What’s that?”

Old Sam smiled and tapped on his own chest. “Me, of course.”

Sam paused. “What, your hair? A fingernail? Wait, I have a better idea.” He reached into his coat pocket, pulling out the rose petal from the garden. Its edges had darken and begun to curl.

“What-” Old Sam’s brow contracted as he looked at the petal lying across Sam’s palm, red as a gash of blood. He started to reach for it and then pulled back.

“This means something, right? Some kind of echo?”

Old Sam shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“No need to talk. We use this echo instead of hacking off your hair, or something worse.”

They packed up their duffel, carefully tucking in the paper bag that rustled with ash. Stepping outside the studio door, they were faced with blinding sun, fresh air and the psychic from The White Raven.

Sam held out his arm, blocking Old Sam behind him from her view, while reaching around for the gun tucked in his waistband. “Why are you here?”

The woman’s hair was standing up even more than the last time, as if she had passed a few restless nights since seeing them last. She pointed her finger and went to step around Sam. “Him. I came to find him.”

He pulled and pointed the Taurus at her. Despite her small, frazzled stature, Sam knew what mental damage a psychic with powers could do.

“I don’t have any powers, boy. I just want to talk to him. To see.”

Old Sam walked up to his side and pulled Sam’s arm and the Taurus down, and they stood in silence side by side as the woman looked both of them up and down.

“You glow. Like a goddamn lighthouse shining in the night. Couldn’t sleep because of it.” She reached out her hand to touch his sleeve and Sam tensed as her fingers clenched around Old Sam’s forearm and her eyes closed. The woman swayed on her feet for a moment, a strand of her curly brown hair falling against her face.

When her eyes opened again, it wasn’t with anger. It was fear and pity. “You poor boy.”

Old Sam spoke up for the first time to her. “Now, you know. Why I’m here and why I won’t let anyone stop me.”

“Oh, I’m not stopping you two boys - I’m gonna go home and light a candle and pray to the Goddess that you succeed.”

She turned and walked back to a beat-up Ford Fiesta, and drove away without looking back.

***

The trunk was packed for the following night - a shovel, a pick-axe, an altar cloth, a bronze bowl, two knives, and a tackle box with all the ingredients in glass vials and paper envelopes. They still had eighteen hours before the full moon, so they holed up inside a half-decent motor lodge thirty minutes away in Normal, Illinois.

Sam’s nerves felt like a lit firecracker on a long fuse, burning and snapping waiting for the payoff. Old Sam seemed to go into hibernation mode, crawling under the covers, but Sam couldn't lay down yet and a shower seemed like a good idea.

He stepped out of the steamy bathroom and found the room dark, with the blackout curtains shut tight against the daylight. He toweled dry his hair and considered the open bottle of vodka sitting on the dresser and a used glass that sat next to it. Maybe a drink was in order to quiet his nerves and get some sleep.

A glance at the other bed showed that Old Sam was already under the covers, his arm thrown over his eyes. Sam took a sip of the vodka, and it burned his throat on the way down, but filled his stomach with warmth. After pulling on a t-shirt and boxers, he poured a second one and took it with him to bed. As he sat on the edge of the mattress, he drank and looked at the man in the other bed, trying to decide if he was really asleep.

I thought he was a skinwalker - a monster - that first night. Now, I’m trusting him with all of our lives.

“You're staring at me,” came a muffled voice from under the arm. “You should get some sleep. Next day is gonna be long.”

Sam slid into his own bed and tried to settle, but his foot kept shaking as if he had palsy and his eyes refused to close. If Dean were here, he'd throw his leg over Sam and pull him tight against his chest, pinning him and his anxiety to the mattress, growling in Sam's ear, making jokes about all the ways that he could help Sam to sleep.

He twisted in the sheets, adrift without that anchor, and finally pulled himself upright against the headboard, knees tucked up to his chest.

Sleeping during the day wasn’t his thing. His internal alarm clock wouldn’t shut off. And the situation that lay before them - the consequences if they failed - was too much.

“Stop overthinking.” Old Sam lifted his arm. “You’re making me crazy.” He dropped his arm back down into place.

“How can you be so relaxed?”

Old Sam shifted over to his side. “I'm not. Just focused with a little help from some alcohol. Come over here.” He pulled the sheets down and patted the mattress beside him.

The invitation was met with a raised eyebrow and Old Sam chuckled. “Come on, get in. I won't bite.”

Sam shifted over to the other bed, sliding under the sheets that were warm with Old Sam. He laid awkwardly on his back for a moment before Old Sam grasped his hip and rolled Sam towards him, throwing a leg over his hip. It felt so easy to relax in that hold - a different motel bed, a different Winchester, but the same nonetheless - with the smell and feel of this man familiar in ways that ran deep in his brain. A nose rubbed along Sam’s jawline while a hand held the back of his head as gentle as it would a child.

“It's okay. I miss him, too.” Old Sam snugged him close, so Sam's nose was buried deep in his neck. Breathing the tang of their sweat and feeling their hearts beat together, Sam slipped his hand between them to rest his palm on the anti-possession tattoo on Old Sam’s chest. He could close his eyes and almost believe it belonged on someone else.

“How did you survive losing him twice?” he whispered into the skin there.

“I didn't. Just trying to make it through each day.” Old Sam stroked Sam's hair, tucking it back over his ear.

Sam moved his fingers away and kissed the inked skin below. A tremble passed through Old Sam as Sam’s lips began to trace along the collarbone, and moved up along the tendons of his neck, stopping at the ridge of scarring that ran underneath Old Sam's jawbone, white and whipcord thin. The fingers tangled in his hair tightened up and pulled his head back enough to break through his thoughts.

“I’m not him,” Old Sam murmured, but didn't shift away.

“I know.”

Sam snaked his hand behind Old Sam's neck and brought him down into a kiss. It wasn't like kissing Dean. Being with Dean was all red heat and urgency, as if they needed to crawl into each other's mouths, to hold on because someone was going to pull them apart. They were pulled them apart, but this could heal them. All of them.

Old Sam's mouth opened softly, and let out a soft sigh as their tongues touched. The hand on Sam's back began to rub slow circles into his skin, and Sam felt himself go boneless as he floated in that blue-grey place between comfort and desire, his cock laying heavy and half filled inside his boxers. Old Sam kissed each of his eyelids and then brushed Sam’s bangs back from his face.

“It's gonna be alright. Trust me,” he whispered.

Sam hooked his leg behind Old Sam's knee, pulling him closer, tangling them further together. Old Sam’s fingertips trailed down the cotton t-shirt covering his back and ribs and he gave a little gasp, grabbing onto his arm. Old Sam's lips curl up in a smile beneath his. “So ticklish.”

Fingers were hooked in his waistband, pulling the boxers down to the top of his thighs, freeing his cock. Old Sam seemed to get distracted by the feel of Sam’s flesh, stroking his ass in a circular pattern that was now becoming familiar.

Sam lost himself in the feel and the motion. He closed his eyes, and imagined the two of them on an endless circle, one beginning where the other one ended, seamless parts of the same whole. His mind drifted to the idea of adding a new tattoo, an ouroboros, one that the two of them could share.

The soft touch made him want more, and he pulled Old Sam closer, rubbing his cock against the leg between his thighs.

“Shhhh, I got you.”

Old Sam moved his hand between the two of them, snaking inside his boxers, moving past Sam's cock to hold his balls in his large palm. Sam’s toes curled at the feel, and he began to thrust his hips, hard against the press of that hand. A moan slipped from his mouth, but it was a muted little thing that was swallowed up easily between Old Sam's lips.

Finally - finally - Old Sam wrapped his fingers around Sam's cock. With that touch, Sam curled his spine outward, touching their foreheads together, as Old Sam began to stroke him loosely. His hand flitted down to mirror Old Sam's position, pushing down Old Sam's sleep pants far enough to reach his cock.

He knew what the other man needed. The twist of his wrist as it reached the top of the shaft, his thumb rubbing the precome from the head, the slow acceleration of the pace.

It wasn't like it was with Dean. With his brother, there was a fight for dominance with every kiss; sharp claws extended to keep them from falling too far, from needing each other too much. And when Dean had Sam where he wanted him, possessed and owned, he would start a stream of filthy talk that could get Sam hard in a minute.

This was soft desire with the two of them protected in its embrace. When they came, within a minute of each other, there were no screams - only their soft panting and the sound of Old Sam’s lips kissing down his neck and shoulder.

Old Sam touched their foreheads together again, with a smile. “Think that will help you get some sleep now?”

But Sam rolled away, curling up on his other side and looking across at the empty queen bed next to them. “What if it doesn’t work?”

“Then we start over again on the next full moon. It’ll work - it has to.” Old Sam pulled Sam in tight against his chest and murmured into Sam's shoulder. “Not just for Dean, but for us. When Lucifer left for heaven, he made it clear that if he needed to come back, he’d find a way to make me say yes. I can’t live through that again. I won't do it.”

***

The footpath through the woods to Dean's grave looked like it did two months before. It was more of a deer path that led across private land, not well travelled and not visible from the road. After all, it wouldn't do to have some Boy Scout troop come across a fresh grave and ask a bunch of questions.

The crunch of the gravel reminded him of how he drug Dean's body in its narrow pine box behind him on a litter. The two pine boughs had bent under the weight of the box with a shovel strapped on the top; the wood rough as it bit into his palms during the twenty-minute march into the woods.

Another full moon. Another shovel. Another grave being dug. But that night was filled with grief as sharp as a bag of broken glass, and tonight, there was hope. Tonight, he had Old Sam with him. They were together on this.

Old Sam got to work right away, unfolding a black altar cloth on still freshly turned earth that they had shoveled out of the grave. Sam stood beside him and glanced at his watch. 11:45 pm. Only fifteen minutes to go time. As he looked at Old Sam’s head bent over the bronze bowl set on top of the cloth, Sam's nails bit into his palms, but the bright pain did nothing to calm his rising panic.

“What if it doesn't work?” he said for the fifth time that night. He avoided looking down into the grave, at the pine box they uncovered.

Old Sam put the remaining items in the bowl and glanced over his shoulder. His eyes were hooded and dark in the moonlight. “Then we start over and do it again next month. He has two more months before he steps off the rack, and one more month before the angels succeed in coming for him.”

“Off the rack?” Sam swallowed past the lump in his throat.

Preparations continued as the question hung in the air. Old Sam pulled out a chalice and an ornate knife and set them on top of the cloth. “What did you think was happening down there?”

It was why Sam either kept busy or got stinking drunk these last few weeks - to push the thought of what was happening to Dean out of his mind. To wipe clean his utter impotency in saving his brother. His dreams were another matter. His mind supplied plenty of images of Dean, his tears and blood flowing freely, screaming his name.

He didn't answer but kneeled down next to Old Sam, the heat of his body being pulled down into the cold dirt where it pressed against his knees.

The ingredients were combined and the matches already lit. “Are you ready? We have to move quickly.” Old Sam paused, the matches lighting up his face.

Sam nodded his head with a jerk. With a blood magic ritual like this, they couldn't stop midway through. If they brought Dean's soul back, but his body wasn't intact… well, they would lose him one more time. Between the spell and the ritual, Dean’s body would be restored to the state it was before the attack.

Cloth bandages were pulled out of the duffel bag and laid carefully between the two of them. Sam rolled his sleeve up his forearm and rubbed at the bare skin as Old Sam lit up the bowl.

The flame lit up the area with a bright blue-green flare, except where it could reach into the dark shadow of the grave pit. It died off abruptly and Old Sam shook the steaming contents of the bowl over the coffin, sprinkling it from foot to head. He then picked up the knife. Spots were still floating in front of Sam's eyes from the flames, but even in the darkness, the blade glittered fierce in the moonlight.

He extended his arm over the grave, and Old Sam gripped it, making a diagonal cut. Sam didn't feel the pain at first but was too concerned with watching the blood well up, not red in the moonlight but a deep glossy black. It begin to run down his arm and drip into the grave.

“Hold it here,” Old Sam said and pushed down on the skin above, driving the blood out. Sam took over, rubbing the skin, and watched the steady drip drip drip that was turning into a drizzle.

Old Sam rolled his own sleeve up, and eerily similar to their first meeting, he slashed the pale skin of his forearm. Only difference was this cut was deeper; the blood was a darker red.

“Shit-- what are you doing?” Sam reached for Old Sam's arm but he yanked it away and began to massage it, making the blood flow rather than drip. “Are you trying to kill yourself?”

“Five pints. We can't stop until it's done.”

Bile rose in Sam's throat at the coppery smell of blood in the air, underlaid with musty grave dirt. He turned his face away to gulp down fresh air but then glanced back at Old Sam, who was chanting the words of the ritual softly and staring down at the wooden coffin below.

He couldn't look himself. They agreed to uncover the grave but not to open the box. The sight of Dean, and the possibilities of what happened to his body in the past month, would distract them and they needed to be sharp. Both their lives and Dean's would count on it. Now, the blood was pooling on the cover and seeping through the thin slats in the wooden boards

The minutes dragged by, marked only by Old Sam’s low voice and the sounds of a few crickets nearby. Old Sam swayed on his knees towards Sam for a second and then righted himself. His voice gained in timbre while his face grew pale.

The idea that the spell wasn't going to work had just crossed Sam's mind, that he should grab Old Sam and wrap his wound, when the sound of the crickets stopped abruptly.

Old Sam heard it too and looked up, taking in the silent darkness of the surrounding trees. “Be prepared” was the last thing he said before keeling over onto the pile of dirt.

As Sam reached for him, he heard a desperate pounding against the boards of the makeshift coffin below. He looked back at Old Sam, pale and bloodied on the dirt, looking like one of the many bodies they had buried in shallow graves through the years. He should wrap his wound, check that he was breathing. Instead his eyes were drawn back to the coffin, where the lid was shaking like a boiling pot of water.

Sam jumped down into the hole.

The scuffling sounds from inside the wood box stopped after he landed, and Sam kneeled in panic, ear to the pine. Maybe it hadn't worked. Maybe they brought back… something else. He and Old Sam hadn't discussed this part - what might be under that lid. He thought he could hear heavy breathing from inside.

“Dean?” The pounding on the wood below him started up again and then he heard the voice that had been haunting his dreams for weeks.

“SAM!”

Hearing his name launched him into action, pulling at the wooden boards below him with his fingers, the crowbar he brought lying forgotten in the dirt next to Old Sam. Soon enough, one of the boards broke between the frenzy above and below and a hand reached through. Sam grasped it for a minute before attacking the next board and finally dragging Dean into the open air.

“Dean.” He choked out as he held his brother upright. Dean was wide-eyed and covered in grave dirt but the wounds from the hellhound seemed to be gone. The spell had worked. Sam pulled Dean to him and hugged him tight. “We saved you.”

His brother tensed under the touch and began to pull back. “I know what you want from me, and I won’t say yes.”

Sam was confused and took hold of Dean’s face between his hands. “Dean, it’s me. It’s Sam. You’re safe.”

For a minute, it looked like he might fight it but Dean’s face softened and he hugged back this time. “But how? You didn’t sell-”

“No soul selling. There’s someone you need to meet.”

Sam turned and reached over the open grave to where he expected to find Old Sam lying in the loose dirt. But his future self was sitting up, applying pressure to his wound and looking down at the two of them, his eyes wet with tears. Sam touched Old Sam’s leg.

“We did it.”

“We did.”