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The Color Gold

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2010

 

                It would’ve been easy to think that the worst part about it all was that Sam didn’t even know it would be the last time he and Dean talked, but it wasn’t. No, the worst part about it all was much subtler. Only Sam knew it, at the end of the day.

                Because the worst part was that when Dean hung up, Sam had really thought Dean would call him back.

                Looking back, he should’ve known it was nothing but blind hope. This wasn’t just one of their bumps in the road. No, this was a wound that’d been long left untreated, a wedge that’d only driven deeper and deeper every time one of them had fucked up.

                Still, even years on, Sam would never be able to shake the feeling that he should’ve done more. He should’ve fought harder. Called back until Dean answered. Traced the phone he’d had called him on. Talked to every hunter in the damn country until someone gave him a lead.

                Whatever was between them was broken, but there had to have been something he could’ve done, even if it just would’ve been slapping duct tape over a leaking dam.

                The apocalypse was a lot lonelier when you didn’t have someone else in the front seat.

 

 

  


 

 

 

2011

 

                It took six months of radio silence before Sam realized that the call he’d been waiting for wasn’t coming. Six whole months for blind hope to fade away, and only a minute of acceptance for Sam to realize that he had absolutely no idea what came next.

                Ever since he’d left Stanford, there’d always been a goal. Find John. Kill Azazel. Save Dean. Kill Lilith. Make sure Lucifer wasn’t let loose. And sure, he’d fucked up every one of those to some degree or another, but at least he’d had something to work towards, someone to work with.

Now he had neither.

No leads, no ideas, no one to watch his back—nothing.

                Hell, sometimes he wouldn’t even realize he was holding a second cup of coffee until there was no one else to hand it to.

 

 


 

 

 

                In the end, Sam didn’t have a choice.

                He was going to stop Lucifer, with or without Dean, or he was going to die trying.

 

 


 

 

 

                And so that was exactly what Sam told him when he dreamed that night.

“I wouldn’t let you die,” Lucifer reminded him, “And even if you could, do you truly think that’d work like you’d want? Where could your soul go where I wouldn’t be able to find it? Heaven would hand you over, and Hell… well, I think that speaks for itself.”

                So Sam really had even less of a choice than he’d thought. 

                It was easier not to fall asleep.

 

 


 

 

 

2012

               

 

                The problem about angels wasn’t that information was scarce. No, it was the opposite. There were centuries and centuries of religion and stories and personal accounts diluting the pool, making even the most basic of information almost impossible to verify.

                When the libraries ran out of contradictions and inconsistencies to give him, he turned elsewhere. Field work—the shady kind. The kind that Dean wouldn’t have ever let him do, apocalypse or not.

For a while, there was a demon—Crowley, he’d called himself—that he’d had a running thing with. Sam would ask about Lucifer, about his powers, his schedule, anything he did, and Crowley would roll his eyes and answer more loftily than any human was capable of.

Crowley had been an asshole, cut and dry, but nearly suicidal enough in his ambition to overthrow Lucifer to take the crown for himself, and self-serving enough for Sam to believe he might be telling the truth whenever he opened his mouth. And he’d answered Sam’s questions, which, as far as Sam was concerned, was enough of a reason to keep him around.

It was valuable, but by the far the most notable thing Crowley had ever told Sam had nothing to do with Lucifer at all. No, it’d been about his brother, mentioned just after Sam had finished his latest interrogation.

“You know, it’d be much easier if both of you would summon me together. It’d cut down the time I spend fielding idiotic questions,” Crowley had offhandedly told him, heaving out a longsuffering sigh.

“Both of us?” Sam had asked, eyes going wide.

“Yes, you and your bow-legged brother. He won’t stop harassing me about the gun—I told him I don’t know where Lucifer hid it, but things like reason and judgment don’t seem to deter him.”

And then he’d been gone with a cloud of red smoke.

Sam hadn’t ever gotten a chance to ask what he’d meant. That had been the last time they’d talked, because the next time Sam tried to summon him, he never showed.

                It was a mystery easily solved, though, because that night in his dreams, Lucifer greeted him with the wry smile of a parent catching their kid with a hand in the cookie jar.

                And with that, Sam was back to square one.

                Long nights spent in libraries, passing out with his face plastered in yellowed books and the writings of long-gone prophets. Going out for fieldwork the second he couldn’t stand to read another word, coming home with rings of bruises around his neck and a hearty concussion to match. Trying to chase down someone to translate sixth-century chicken scratch, or pinpoint where the next volume in an ancient tome might be stashed.

                Sam moved from place to place before real trouble could find him, constantly uprooting, never slowing down, always on the move. Monsters were crawling out the woodwork everywhere. All you had to do to find one was following the closest trail of carnage.

                Sam tried not to think of how that was his fault too.

                He tried not to think about most things, actually. Things that could send him in a spiral, make him was hours pining for another time. Stupid things, like flicking through Dean’s collection of cassettes to find an album he could stand to listen to, that led to one thing, then another, and finally just reminded Sam of just how alone he was in the world now.

                He tried not to think about anything like that too much, but the weight of the phone in his pocket made it harder than it had to be.

 

               

 


 

 

 

2013 

 

                Sam didn’t even realize he’d stopped looking at mirrors until he caught a glimpse of himself one day in a storefront window, only to find he was a little surprised he still existed.

                He’d lost a lot of weight. Too much to guess at, but it was enough to make his flannel look comically baggy hanging off his pointed shoulders. When had that happened? Another ten pounds and he’d just about look downright skeletal. On top of that, his scruff was bordering on becoming a beard and if the shadows under his eyes were any darker, people were going to start thinking he’d gotten punched. He looked like he wasn’t even sure he still existed.

                Seeing himself for the first time in longer than he could remember was jarring, almost like he’d been dozing off and reality had suddenly snapped back into focus.    

                The haze around him cleared, just a little and, suddenly, he was aware of the snow beneath his feet—but that couldn’t be right, because it’d just been winter, hadn’t it?

                The longer he thought about it, the more uncertain he got, and the more unsettled he became. When was the last time he’d even known what day of the week it was? Or the name of the town he was in? How many days closer to the lights turning off had he gotten?

“Excuse me,” he said, panic driving him to flag down a passing man, “Do you have the date?”

“It’s the… eleventh,” the stranger replied, glancing down at his watch to double-check.

                It only freaked Sam out even more than he found that wasn’t any help at all.

“Of?” he hesitantly prompted, hyperaware of the uncertainty in his voice.

                The stranger’s face pulled into a look of confusion.

“You mean the month?” At Sam’s nod, the man gave him a good look and, probably seeing Sam’s death warmed over look, took a faltering step back. “It’s November.”

“Right,” Sam murmured as he turned away, “Sorry.”

                He wanted to ask about the year too, but that was about as clear of an outright declaration of insanity as you could get, so he bit his tongue. How could he not even know what year it was?

                The Mayans, his mind urgently supplied, though it took him a few more seconds to figure out why. They’d predicted the world to end at the end of 2012, hadn’t they? And he’d sunk months and months into researching that claim, spent weeks checking over his shoulder every second step, only stopping to take a real breath when 2013 had finally rolled around. And Sam was pretty sure he hadn’t missed a New Year’s celebration since then.

                If he’d been paying a little more attention, he would’ve seen the person walking towards him from the other end of the alley. If he were a little less deep in thought, he would’ve seen her first, and been able to bolt before she ever caught a glimpse of him.

                Life was shitty like that sometimes. Even more than usual when you were a Winchester.

                So Sam didn’t look up, and just about collided straight into Jo Harvelle.

                The pieces didn’t click for a moment, and he’d just gotten past mumbling an apology when he looked back up a second time, realization gripping him cold. Jo was looking at him the same way, her hand creeping instinctively towards the waistband of her jeans, and as much as Sam wanted to convince her he was still himself, he was frozen.

“Sam?” Jo finally got out, and it hurt more than he’d thought it would when he realized it was a question.

                What had Dean told them? Cut and run if you see him, ‘cause there’s no guarantee it’s still Sam behind the wheel? The next time you see him, he could be riding shotgun to the Devil?

                Sam felt like he was rooted there for what felt like eternity before he finally managed a halting step backwards, breaking him from the spell. He was about to pivot, turn on his heels and run, but she moved faster. Her hand shot out, fingers knotting around his forearm and keeping him static.

“It’s still you, isn’t it?” Jo asked, looking him over. Caution still lingered in her voice, but she sounded surer of herself now. “Did Bobby send you to get his book too?”

                Sam’s expression must’ve been a dead giveaway because Jo’s face softened with sympathy.

“Sorry. Didn’t know you two weren’t talking anymore either.”

“It’s not your fault,” he replied, eyes still glued on the ground. It’s mine.

                Sam could feel her gaze sizing him up. He could only wonder what she was thinking. This is the guy who’s got the fate of the world in his hands? Seriously? He wouldn’t blame her, either.

                Sam didn’t know what to say. He’d gone so long without anyone recognizing him that he’d kind of forgotten it was even possible.

“How about something to drink?” Jo asked, breaking the silence for him.

                Part of him still wanted to tear away before she could look at him with that all-too-familiar disappointment everyone seemed to reserve just for him. Truly. But part of him missed someone calling him by his real name, not whatever he was calling himself that town. All the parts that came along with it. Someone looking at him, not right through him. Someone who let him know his existence wasn’t accidental, that he hadn’t faded away like a ghost when no one was looking.

“I, uh…” Sam looked down. He should say no. Turn and walk away before he can screw something else up. What he said instead was, “Yeah. Yeah, I could use a drink.”

 

 


 

 

 

“How are you?” was the first thing Jo asked once they’d settled into a little booth out of the way in the back—though it was blessedly after they’d each gotten down a good deal of bourbon. Sam didn’t think he was equipped to answer many things stone cold sober, and given how Jo was treating her own whiskey, the feeling seemed mutual.

“I’m fine,” Sam glibly replied after another long pull, words ringing hollow enough for even a stranger to hear the lie.

                Jo let it slide without so much as a second look, and Sam’s mouth twisted a little. He’d always known she’d make a good hunter.

“How are things with you?” he asked, not expecting any more of an answer than the one he’d give her. It was just courtesy, never a question asked with any real expectations of a genuine answer.

“Still breathing. I know my mom always thought I wouldn’t be able to hack it on my own, but…”  She paused to take a long swig of whiskey, glaring down at it like she wished it was something harder. Her face was a volatile tangle of emotions that Sam knew better than to ask about, but she still offered a weary, “Well, I’m still here and she isn’t.”

                Sam had gotten just as far as opening his mouth when Jo silenced him with a look.

“If you’re about to tell me that you’re sorry, then don’t. I think you and I have been on both ends of it enough times to know it doesn’t change a damn thing.” She stopped to drink again, eyes staring at her glass like she couldn’t even see it. “I just figured you deserved to know.”

                Sam knocked back the better part of his drink, trying to process that.

                Ellen was good to him—too good to him all things considered, really. would’ve kept his number if he’d just ever called her. But like Bobby and Castiel and Jo and everyone else he’d known, he’d left them. Figured that maybe Dean was onto something, that if he just kept his head down and stayed away from the people he cared about, then they’d stop getting hurt.

                But sometimes, as it seemed, they didn’t.

“I’m sorry,” Sam said anyways, just because he wasn’t sure what else to say. What else he had the right to say. His glass was lead heavy in his hand, but he raised it in something like a salute anyways. “She was one hell of a woman.”

“Yeah,” Jo agreed, a ghost of a smile twisting onto her face. “That’s one way to put it.”

                Her lips curled a little higher, fondness briefly overtaking sorrow. Her eyes flicked to the side to meet Sam’s, and all at once, he was struck by just how much older she seemed. Not physically, necessarily, but in the way she held herself. Talked. Like some of her spunk had been snuffed out over the past few years, left behind someone a little more cynical, a little sharper around the edges.

He wondered just what she’d seen since they’d last crossed paths. He wondered what changes she saw in him, beyond the obvious. He knew better than to ask, though. Chances were he probably wouldn’t like the answer.

“She always liked you, you know. Said you had sense that passed the rest of your family over.” She laughed, and the sound was almost like she’d forgotten how to. “You know, she just about clubbed Dean over the head when she found out that he told you not to call him.”

                Sam wanted to say nothing. He wasn’t stupid. Unless he just wanted to flag over the bartender and ask for the rest of the bottle, there was no way that line of conversation was going to end in anything but bone-deep nostalgia. His need to know was unrelenting though, burning in his chest and clawing its way up his throat.

“How is he?” Sam asked, the words spilling from his mouth before he could stop them. “Have you seen him lately?”

                Jo finished off the rest of her drink without looking at him and flagged over the bartender.

“Leave the bottle,” she told him before he’d even gotten off the cap.

                He gave the two of them an odd look, but seemed to decide that anyone slamming back whiskey at two on a Wednesday probably wasn’t worth fighting with, and left the bottle on the table without another word. Jo poured herself another hearty glass, sighing before finally answering Sam’s question.

“Well, I saw him a lot for a while.” Her smile grew bitter as she looked down into her glass. “And then not so much.”

                Sam was surprised he’d forgotten how much of an idiot Dean could be until then.

                Jo didn’t wait for him to ask though, and by now she had to know anything about his brother’s stupidity that he could tell her by now, so he let her go on.

“Last time I ran into him was four, five months back? He was looking into some demonic omens up in Illinois and I caught him right when he was leaving town. He seemed fine then. A little tired maybe, but that’s part of the job, right?” Jo finished, giving him a pointed once-over.

                More than anything, Sam wanted to leave it there. But the words were already burning in the back of his throat, too thick to swallow down.

“Did he…?” Sam trailed off, the hope in his voice already used up by the second word.

He thought of the last time they’d talked, then of the last time Sam had tried. Of how the burner phone, the last thing Dean had ever given him, was probably sitting somewhere in a dump by now, and found he was already pretty sure he knew the answer to what he’d been about to ask.

                And if he hadn’t been sure, Jo’s expression confirmed it.

“Don’t say sorry,” he said, smiling weakly as he echoed her earlier words. “It’s better like that.”

                Jo gave him a good, hard look and finally shook her head.

“I don’t know, Sam. My mom wasn’t wrong often.”

                And, well, it wasn’t like there was much he could say back to that.

 

 


 

 

               

                It was actually getting to be a reasonable time of night to drink by the time they’d polished off the bottle, and it wouldn’t have been an exaggeration to say Sam was a little drunk. Enough to forget that the world was crumbling to pieces just outside for the first time in ages. Enough to be able to listen to the hunting stories Jo had amassed since they’d last crossed paths. Even enough to share some of his own from what felt like lifetimes ago, back when he and Dean still came in a duo.

                 Not drunk enough to avoid thinking about how it was funny how he hadn’t thought of those as the good old days until any hope of having them back was gone. But it was better than nothing, and nothing was what Sam had been working with for the last four years.

                He’d take what he could get, even if he didn’t feel like he deserved it.

                Alcohol could only last so long, though, and as midnight rolled closer, the spell started to wear off. A quarter ‘til saw him standing up, guilt creeping in as he thought of how much research he could’ve gotten done in the time he’d taken off.

“I should go,” Sam said.

                He had to wonder just how easy he was to read, because Jo was watching him with an inscrutable vigilance.

“So—where to next for you?” she asked, careful and measured.

“Don’t know yet, but I got what I came here for.” Sam shoved his hands into his pocket, avoiding her gaze. “I heard through the grapevine that Heaven’s short a few weapons. Guess I’m going to see if I can try to verify that, see if anything that went missing might be able to take down an archangel.”

“Sounds like a big job for just one person.”

                It was easy to pretend he hadn’t heard the suggestion in her voice.

“It’s not that bad,” he evasively replied, and Jo’s sigh may have been silent, but he heard it nonetheless.

                Jo stood with him, digging inside her jacket until she came out with a weathered notebook. BH was carved into the faded leather of the cover and beneath it, a newer set of initials—JH. She flipped to the back of the book and tore out a sheet, producing a pen and scrawling something onto it.

                Straightening back up, she folded the piece of paper and handed it to him.

“That’s my number. If you need anything—research, hunting, whatever—let me know and I’ll get it done. All you have to do is ask.”

“Thanks, Jo. Really,” Sam responded, not even looking at the paper before moving to put it in his pocket. She reached out and grabbed his wrist, stopping him short until he relented and looked up at her.

“I’m serious. Promise me you’ll call if you need a hand.” Jo looked at him, but there was too much feeling in her eyes for him to meet them for long. “You and I have both been to enough funerals, Sam.”

                Sam knew she hadn’t meant it like one, but he could only hear it as a warning. Don’t fuck this up, Sam. If you fail, it’s everyone else’s lives on the chopping block. Their blood’s on your hands.

His eyes fell to his feet, and he shoved the paper into his pocket without a second glance. He didn’t need to drag her into this. She was safer if he never said her name again. And if he failed, she’d die anyways, his mind coldly reminded him.

“I will,” he promised, but they both knew he wasn’t telling the truth.

                But like a true hunter, Jo let him go without another word.

 

 


 

 

 

                Sam spent the next time with a bottle for company, drumming his fingers against the motel table as he looked over the paper Jo had handed him.

                It took half a bottle of whiskey, but in the end, Sam added her name, right under Dean Winchester.

                He owed her that much.

 

 


 

 

2014

               

 

                It took six months and one extremely dubious teleportation spell, but Sam found the weapons. Or found where they were hidden, that was—well, where they hopefully hidden. He hadn’t been chasing down unaccompanied angels for months, grilling them for information only to hit a wall.

So, yes, it was probably true that he wasn’t exactly being cautious as he picked the lock on the kitschy mansion he’d ended up at, snuck in without so much as drawing his gun first.

He didn’t even make it five steps into the foyer before he was being thrown backwards by someone he couldn’t see, trapped with his back to the wall. The force that was holding him there was unrelenting, putting just enough pressure on his throat to come off as a threat.

Sam was weighing his options in an instant.

He already knew he was going against an angel. If he could stay alive long enough to negotiate, he might be able to pull his angel blade, give himself a fighting chance. Of course, that would be useless if his opponent decided it’d just be easier to snap his neck then and there.

                Before he could think any more about it, the angel he’d been chasing strolled out of the shadows into his vision, and Sam’s mind momentarily went blank.

                After all the angels he’d met, he’d been expecting the usual ‘above humanity’ aura, but this one looked a little like he’d just done a line of coke—a little wild-looking, a little irritated, and entirely human-looking save for the dull Grace-blue glow in his eyes.

“Sam Winchester, I assume?” he drawled in an accent that Sam could only vaguely identify as British-something. That was another thing—Sam hadn’t ever heard an angel with an accent. “Never mind. You don’t have to answer. No one else could possibly be desperate enough to break into the house of someone in the possession of a few dozen very deadly artifacts.”

“You knew I was coming?” Sam asked, because unimpressed as the angel was, he didn’t exactly seem surprised.

“Well, I knew I could eventually expect one of the Three Stooges. The only thing that was in the air was which of you it’d be.”

                With a flourish of the angel’s hand, Sam’s feet were back on solid ground—this time untethered. He tested his freedom until he was sure it was complete, then took a half-step towards the angel just to test the waters. The angel’s eyes never left him, but there was no fear in them either.

“It’s probably best that it is you. I hear that you’re the most reasonable of the bunch these days.”

“I try,” Sam replied. Cautiously, he took another step forward. “Do I get your name?”

                The angel scoffed. Apparently, Sam was too much of a nuisance to deal with sober, because the angel moved to the nearest table of alcohol, popped the top from a decanter, and poured himself a liberal glass of whatever was inside.

                It really was strange, seeing an angel look so comfortable in a human’s skin. Unnerving, almost. Sam wouldn’t have known the difference if they’d passed on the street.

“No, you don’t get my name.” He rolled his eyes, stopping only to take a long swig of his drink. “As far as everyone else knows, I’ve been dead for years. I’d like to keep it that way, if it’s not too much of a bother. Now, are we done here?”

“I haven’t even told you what I want yet,” Sam pointed out.

“I’m the proud owner of a good percentage of Heaven’s private armory. You’re in the market for something that can kill an archangel. It’s easy to assume you didn’t come here to enjoy my company.”

                Sam chanced another step. He was almost within stabbing range now, and just desperate enough to think of it as a genuine option.

“I don’t particularly want to help you, but I would if I could. Lucifer might be preferable to Michael in terms of how he treats my brothers, but I’ve been making quite the profit off humans. I’d hate to cut off my preferred source of income. I imagine I want him running the show as much as you do.”

                Sam’s mouth curled into a frown.

“So why can’t you help me?”

“I’m self-centered, not suicidal,” he scoffed, “Of course I didn’t take anything that could kill an archangel. If Michael didn’t go the ends of the Earth to kill me first, Lucifer would come knocking before long—and I’m done with everyone’s family drama. Yours included.”

                Sam tried not to let his dread show. He’d been chasing after another ghost, hit another wall. How much more dead ends could he hit before he ran out of time?

“You must have something,” Sam protested, denial setting in. “At least something to weaken him.”

“I had things that might have been useful, but they’re out of my hands now.”

                Sam’s knife pressed sharp against his chest.

“Now, I trust you can see yourself out.” Just for a moment, something like regret was plain on his face—the first hint of anything other than shamelessness had seen him wearing until then. “And give Castiel my regards, will you?”

                Sam lunged, drawing his blade. He had no plan anymore, no idea what he was going to do—hope for the best, he figured. See if the angel had a better memory under duress. What was there to lose, anyways? He’d already lost anything that’d mattered.

                The angel saw him coming from a mile away.

                Sam was slammed back up against the nearest wall in a second, the angel’s foreman pressing hard against his throat.

“Did you really think that was going to work?” he asked, patronizing. “What they say about your family is true. You really are incapable of higher thought.”

                Sam couldn’t breathe, but Lucifer’s promise to him echoed loudly in his head.

                Where could your soul go where I couldn’t find it?

                It was a last-ditch effort, but it was all he had. He had to get it out while he still could, before he passed out from strangulation or, worse, the angel just decided to make things easy and snap his neck.

“It’s Balthazar, isn’t it?” he gasped.

                It was a last-ditch effort, but it worked.

                Unbridled surprise flashed on the angel’s face, just enough for his grip to loosen, and just enough for Sam to break free. In a second, Sam swiped up his dagger and had it at the angel’s throat.

                The angel—Balthazar—could only manage more shock for another few moments, but fury was quick on its trail. Sam just dug his blade in a little deeper, daring him to try.

“How did you know?” Balthazar snarled, and Sam was suddenly very thankful he had a knife to the angel’s throat, because if he didn’t, Sam was pretty sure he’d be a pile on ash on the ground by now.

“I didn’t,” Sam admitted, voice cold. “But it was a good guess, wasn’t it?”

“Then humor me,” he replied, even colder.

“I don’t know. Will it make you feel more cooperative?”

“It’ll make me feel less like slitting your throat once your knife half an inch away from my throat.”

                With the way he said it, Sam was sure he didn’t mean it as an empty threat. He still wasn’t sure there was any option where he let Balthazar go and still kept all of his blood inside of him, but he supposed there was no reason for him not to answer.

“I went through something like fifty angels trying to find you,” Sam explained, impatient. “Every time I asked them if they could think of anyone with a bone to pick with Heaven, your name tended to come up right after Castiel’s. With the caveat that you were dead, of course.”

                Balthazar laugh was bitter.

“And I told you that everyone thinks I’m dead a minute after you walked in the door, didn’t I?”

                That wasn’t what Sam had been thinking of.

“When Castiel lost focus on his mission, he tried to stop them from taking him away, and eventually, they just took him too,” one of the angels had told him. “Castiel came back with a clear mind, and Balthazar… well, I don’t know what they did to him, but he wasn’t the same either.”

                But it was probably easier for both of them if he just agreed.

“Pretty big clue,” Sam told him, smiling thinly.

“Well, you’ve got me where you want me now.” Balthazar raised a mocking brow. “Now, pray tell, what do you expect to get out of this? In case you’d forgotten, I can’t help you.”

“I don’t care if you don’t have the weapons. You have to know something. Or know someone who does. I don’t care what it is—a place, a person, anything. I’m not leaving empty-handed.”

“What, you just expect me to pull something from thin air? I haven’t spoken with anyone with any ties in to Heaven in years.”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” Sam darkly told him, digging his knife in just deep enough for a line of blood to well up in its wake.

                Balthazar looked at him with nothing short of wrath, every one of his muscles drawn tight in anger. For a moment, Sam was really half-sure he’d take his chances, try to fight his way out of Sam’s hold. But the resistance in his eyes dimmed after a few long seconds, though it was another few moments before he actually answered, eyes looking at something over Sam’s shoulder.

“I…I know—well, I don’t expressly know him, but I know how you can find him. He might have what you’re after. Or know how to get it, at any rate.” Balthazar tilted his head up, letting the knife dig a little deeper into his throat. “Let me go, and I’ll give you what you need to get to him.”

“How do I know you won’t just kill me?” he asked, dubious.

“Scout’s honor,” Balthazar dryly promised, but the murder didn’t leave his eyes.

                Sam considered him a moment longer, but in the end, he had more to gain than lose. And if nothing else, he trusted that Balthazar wanted Lucifer out of the picture as much as he did. It would be a lot harder to take him down if he was wearing Sam’s skin, after all.

                He dropped his knife.

                Balthazar glowered at him a moment longer, but true to his word, he didn’t smite Sam where he was standing. Instead, he vanished. He was back before Sam could worry he’d been screwed, though, this time with a piece of parchment in hand.

Brusquely, he shoved it at Sam.

“As much as it would’ve delighted me to think of you frantically trying to decipher twelfth century Old Norse for the next four days, I found you my English version. You’re welcome.”

                Sam hardly heard him, too busy scanning over the page. It was impressively yellowed, thin and so brittle Sam was almost afraid it’d fall apart in his hands. One side had jagged torn edges, like it’d been ripped straight from a book. Sam half-suspected that was exactly what Balthazar had done.

“What is it?” he asked, though he was already skimming over the writing.

“It’s a reverse summoning spell,” Balthazar impatiently replied, “Do it right, and it’ll bring you to him.”

“Who’s the he in this equation?” Sam asked, but the question answered itself. There at the bottom of the page, written in loopy cursive, was the name Loki. Sam’s mythology kicked in, followed instantly by incredulousness. “You’re sending me to a Pagan God of Lies?”

                Balthazar rolled his eyes, swallowing from a wine glass Sam hadn’t even seen him pick up.

“That’s what it says, doesn’t it?”

“What, I can trust him?”

“God no,” Balthazar scoffed, “If I didn’t think you had some small chance to take Lucifer out of the picture, I’d call ahead to ask him to screw you. He may still screw you anyways—which would delight me, by the way—but he’ll know more than I do.”

                The part of Sam’s mind that appealed to logic was already crying out to him that this was a bad idea, but he ignored it. He couldn’t afford to listen to caution often anymore.

“It says only to perform the spell on the eve of the Winter Solstice?”

“My, aren’t you the avid reader?” Balthazar drawled, and Sam was kind of regretting not stabbing him now. Still, he did go on, albeit only after Sam sent him the coldest look he could—even if still sounded irritated as ever. “The Winter Solstice marks the first day of Yule. Unless you’d like to wait until the Summer Solstice, it’s the only time Loki and the other Norse gods takes visitors—and requests from their followers, for that matter.”

“So, what? People show up, eat, and ask for favors?”

“Well, naturally they make offerings first.”

                Sam’s teeth bit into his tongue. That could trip him up.

                But he’d just have to figure that out later.

                Sam looked up, carefully folded the parchment into a neat square, and tucked it gently into his pocket. He’d gotten what he’d come for. Well, not exactly. But he had something new to look towards, and staying moving, making some kind of progress was just as important as anything else.

“Well, it’s been a pleasure,” Balthazar told him, dripping with sarcasm. “Now, the door?”

“I’ll be out of here faster if you fly me out.”

                Balthazar looked like Sam may as well as been strangling him, but he walked to him nonetheless.

                Just before he set his hand on Sam’s shoulder, though, he paused to look at Sam with nothing short of menace, eyes glowing threateningly.

“If you tell him I sent you or so much as give him a hint that you’ve talked to me, I’ll hand-deliver you to Lucifer myself. And trust me when I say that you don’t want to try to call my bluff.”

                Sam believed him but before he could say as much, he was back in the motel he’d come from with the angel nowhere in sight.