The first thing Sam heard when he started waking up was familiar voices, ones he couldn't quite place. They were shushing each other, and that alone was enough to spark anxiety. But he was too bleary, head spinning and body heavy, to really take it in yet.
One of his hands drifted to his scalp as he blinked his eyes stickily open. His vision was blurry, everything soft and out of focus, but he could still tell he wasn't in his room. Frowning to himself, he tried to calm down, sure there was a reasonable explanation. A tongue of panic crept in anyway, rising off the anxiety.
He felt...weird. Out of it, loose and only partially tethered inside his body, which was aching like the bastard lovechild of the flu and a bruise. Honestly, it reminded him of coming off a bender, but it'd been a few years since he'd drunk enough to be anywhere near this hungover.
Maybe he was aching because of the lumpy, unforgiving bed under his back. He could feel springs digging into his spine and hips, and with the way he was splayed out, his hands and feet hung off the edges of a mattress that was not made to accommodate somebody over six feet tall. It really hammered home that he wasn't in his room. Felt like the beds in the motels they'd used to crash in, back when he was a teenager...and now the panic was an icy rope, knotted around his guts and kidneys.
He pushed himself up onto his elbows, had to swallow a gag reflex as everything seesawed crazily. When it settled, his stomach fell right out of him.
The first thing he saw was...Dean, sitting in a chair at the end of the bed. It smacked Sam sideways with a splintered kaleidoscope of emotion: guilt, anger, fear, happiness, relief. He was older than he remembered, but that kind of made sense, didn't it? Considering how long it'd been. And they were in a cheap, crappy motel room yanked straight out of their childhood, all peeling paint and water-stained walls. He would've demanded to know what he was doing here, anger winning out over everything else, but then the words froze right to his tongue, because he'd just caught sight of himself.
Sam couldn't believe it was a mirror for even a second. This version, sitting right next to Dean, was scruffier, had much longer hair, was wearing a flannel with the sleeves rolled up its forearms. Still, it was unmistakably him.
Reflexively, Sam scooted up the bed, kicking to try and get purchase on the ratty duvet. His hand dove under the nearest pillow, but he'd put the knife in his nightstand a month ago, his guns were in a safe in the closet, and it didn't matter anyway because this wasn't even his fucking home. Just a motel room so crappy and rundown he half-thought he might have stayed in this exact one when he was fifteen.
"What the hell's going on?" he finally managed, voice sleep-rough and breathless as his heart hammered in his throat.
"Well, we were kinda hoping you could tell us that," the other Sam said quietly.
"What's your name?" asked Dean, or whatever looked like him, blunt.
"Sam," Sam said warily, not believing they didn't already know. "Winchester."
"You sure about that?"
"Dean." Sam watched the other him touch Dean's shoulder. Dean sat back in his chair.
They were sitting pretty close together, Sam couldn't help noticing.
"What's your last memory?" asked the other him.
"Uh…" Sam groped. It was foggy, but it came back to him fast, so mundane he almost skipped right over it at first. "It was a Saturday - "
"Still is," Dean interrupted. Sam felt his jaw tighten.
" - and I'd just ordered DoorDash. For dinner."
"What'd you order?"
"Vegetarian sushi platter." Sam didn't bother keeping the irritation out of his voice.
"Well, he's definitely you," Dean commented, turning to look at the other Sam.
As the other one glared meaningfully, Sam looked around the room, trying to figure out what he might be able to use as a weapon if it came down to that. Which he was starting to think it would. Despite all the problems he'd had, he hadn't exactly been sticking to a concrete training regimen lately, and he was really hating himself for that now. He didn't even know what he was up against. What the hell kind of creature would kidnap him looking like hard-living versions of himself and his brother?
They hadn't tied him up. He wasn't sure if that was a good thing, or if it just meant they weren't worried about being able to stop him from escaping.
The two of them were muttering to each other now. "Probably ain't a clone. Something else?"
"We tested him while he was out. Salt, iron, silver, holy water, the works."
"So we thinking alternate universe, then?"
"Wait - wait, wait, wait." Sam put a hand out. He couldn't help it, he had to jump in. "Alternate universe? I'm sorry, but what the hell are you talking about? Who are you?"
They looked at each other. Then the other him took a deep breath and leaned forward, forearms on his thighs, fingertips pressed together. Sam recognized the pose, used it with clients. Something crept unpleasantly down his spine.
"Sam," the other him began carefully. "Where you're from. A-are there monsters? Real monsters." When Sam didn't reply, he elaborated. "We're talking ghosts, werewolves…"
"Witches," Dean tacked on, obvious disgust in his voice.
It took a second, but Sam finally managed a laugh. It came out bitter.
"Yeah, you could say that. I spent my entire childhood, up 'til I was about eighteen, being dragged through places like this - " He gestured to the room around them. Could definitely use the lamp to bludgeon, maybe the phone if it wasn't glued down. " - learning how to kill them." His mouth twisted into something that almost felt like a smile. "Some kids do karate."
"Well." The other Sam cleared his throat. "That's a parallel, at least."
"Okay, just…" Sam shook his head in disgust and frustration. "You're seriously gonna try and tell me you're. What? Me, from another universe?"
"Oh, no. See, this is our universe." Dean pointed at the ground. "You're from a different one."
"Yeah. Okay. Okay. Fine." Sam raked a hand back through his hair. "Say you're telling the truth. How'd I get here?"
The other him answered. "We're still trying to piece that together." Convenient. "But long story short, we were hunting a witch, and things got a little outta hand - "
"Sammy kicked her cauldron over," Dean stated. Sam's stomach twitched inside him at the nickname.
"I stopped her spell before she could finish it!" insisted the other him.
"Yeah, well." Dean gestured to Sam. "Maybe you didn't."
"Anyway, we found you while we were cleaning up," Sam's doppelganger told him. "Out cold, on the floor, in the middle of her spell circle."
"And you immediately jumped to 'alternate universe,'" Sam said flatly.
"This isn't the first time we've dealt with something like this."
"Oh. Wow." Sam smiled at them, tight and sardonic. "You two must really get around, huh?"
There was a long, tense silence, just the three of them staring at each other, adrenaline that Sam had failed to use going rancid in his bloodstream. Dean broke it when he straightened his legs and looked at the other him, saying, "He doesn't believe us."
"I don't think I would either, at this point."
"Yeah, you're not me." Sam pointed at his double, and then at Dean. "And you're probably not my brother. I've got no way of knowing that you two are who and what you say you are, and it seems way more likely to me that you're some kind of monster. Some kind o-of...shapeshifter."
"Seems like a pretty convoluted scheme just to eat your brains," Dean pointed out.
"I've seen more convoluted." Sam's left hand, a fist in his lap, felt suddenly hot. "Believe me."
He'd thought he kept the feeling, the memories he couldn't quite stop from rising briefly to the surface, from reaching his face. But he caught an unreadable flicker in the other him's eyes that made him wonder if something hadn't made it through.
"Guess you get around, too." Dean, one hand on his knee and his elbow up, paused for a second. Then, abruptly, he said, "Until you were twenty-one, you thought pegging was just another word for cribbage because." He mimed fiddling with a cribbage board. "Pegs."
Even as he flushed, Sam snapped, "I never told Dean that!"
"Maybe not, but my Sam told me. He was drunk." He glanced at "his" Sam, who was also blushing. "Oh, man up, you wouldn't believe what I had to tell my nutty apocalypse self to get him to believe me."
Sam let out a long breath, tried to keep the tremble steady, failed. Who would have known that? Nobody. No...one person. Jess. But she wouldn't have told anybody. And he never would've told Dean himself because first of all, when? They hadn't done anything but talked shop and argued in fifteen years. And second of all, even drunk, he would've known Dean would hold it over his head until his life was a living hell.
They were telepaths. It was the only logical explanation. They were about to pick up on the fact he'd figured it out, and then they'd drop the act. Unless they wanted him to believe they weren't telepaths because they were playing the long game and wanted his guard to go down before they...did whatever it was they wanted to do with him. To him.
He overthought everything. If he'd still had one, his therapist probably would have been disappointed in him.
"Your turn." Dean nudged the other Sam, who'd been studying him while he was trying to unravel the situation. "C'mon, darkest secrets. Dig deep, man."
"It doesn't matter." The other him shook his head. A foot of hair swayed. "He's not going to believe us no matter what we tell him."
Fresh adrenaline. A nauseous, icy pinch in the middle of Sam's back.
"How d'you figure?" Dean asked.
"'Cause I wouldn't. Not 'til I'd decided on my own."
"You're not me," Sam repeated slowly through gritted teeth before he could stop himself. It didn't matter, there was no way to play this smart.
"I am. Kinda." It was calm and reasonable, the way the fake him said it. Like he was just stating a fact, one that would be true whether Sam believed it or not. "But I'm not gonna waste any more time trying to convince you. It'd be a lot more useful to put that energy into trying to figure out why you're here and how to get you home. Do you wanna help us do that?"
Sam looked away, gnawing on the inside of one cheek, stomach and chest just one big knot behind his ribs. He didn't understand, knew he was vulnerable, was teetering on his back foot here, and nothing frustrated him more. Because the whole point of so much of what he'd done over the years was to never feel like this again.
"I can try," he finally said, "but I can't imagine I'll be a ton of help. I'm pretty out of the loop when it comes to witch lore. Obviously. Because, I mean, since when do they pull people into other dimensions?" They didn't. He knew that. They just didn't have enough juice, nothing did, and alternate universes were theoretical physics crap anyway, not magic. "Is that a normal thing here or something."
"Not usually, no," fake him admitted.
"We think this one was packing more than the average nine-volt batteries though, if you know what I mean," Dean spoke up.
Sam opened his mouth. He wasn't even sure what he was going to say, but he was filled with a desperate, scrabbling need to ask a question. Any question. Anything to patch the unstable little raft of knowledge he was floating on here. But before he could say a word, a cell phone chimed, and the other Sam pulled it out of his pocket.
He really needed something else to call him. "Sham" came instantly to mind.
"That Rowena?" Dean asked. Sam decided he didn't need a different name for him.
"You think he might be able to help with this?" Dean asked after a short pause.
"Maybe, if it were, I don't know, ten years ago and there were a dozen more of him. I'll ask him anyway; worst-case scenario, he helps us with research." Sham stood and took a few steps away. "I'll keep trying to get a hold of Rowena, too."
Sam saw an opportunity and grabbed it, questions bursting out of him the way they hadn't in years.
"Who...who's Rowena? Who's Cas?" he demanded. "A-and just how in the hell d'you think you're gonna get me home, exactly? Could you…" He spread his hands. "Ask the witch who did this, or is she dead?"
It was mostly just him trying to poke holes in a story he still didn't believe. Partly trying to scrape up a little bit more truth. Sham and Dean looked at each other for about the dozenth time. Telepaths. Once again, Dean spoke first.
"Welp - " He clapped his hands onto his knees and pushed himself up with a grunt. "I'm hungry. Pizza and beer good with you?" He turned to Sham, who looked like he wanted to say something, but Dean glanced at Sam before he could. "You eat pizza, or only if it's all...free-range and gluten-free or whatever?"
"Pizza's fine," Sam replied quietly, even though he didn't feel like he could eat anything even if he tried right now.
Dean turned to go. Sham protested: "Hey, wait - "
"Hang tight. I'll be back before you know it." He jerked his chin at Sam. "He's scrawny. You can handle him."
The door shut, and Sham was left alone, staring at Sam. Sam stared back. They had the same face, same moles and long nose and jutting cheekbones, but Sham's jaw was unshaven. Not quite scruffy enough to be called a beard without another day or so of growth. Waves of hair curled past his ears, the kind of length he'd fantasized about in high school and college. Sham was a lot wider in the chest and shoulders, but their narrow hips were identical. Top-heavy, then. Didn't corner as well, might not be as fast. If it came down to an actual fight, though...Sam didn't like his odds.
"You a runner?" Sham asked. Sam could only blink for a second, the question catching him completely off-guard. Again.
"Uh, yeah. Yeah." He climbed off the bed. Sham didn't make a move to stop him, and Sam felt instantly better once his Nikes were planted on the stained carpet tiles. Much to his relief, he wasn't shaky or dizzy. Apparently, being thrown between worlds (or whatever had happened) didn't give you a concussion.
"I am, too," Sham told him.
"Weights too, looks like."
Sham shrugged. "I need the upper body strength."
"You're a hunter."
There was a beat of silence. Sham stepped forward, paused when Sam matched the movement with a step back against the bed. Sam couldn't tell if he was upset by that or not. Sham grabbed the chairs he and Dean had been sitting in, one in each hand, and moved them over to the room's cheap little laminate table. Taking a seat in one, he commented, "And you're not."
"No." Warily, Sam crossed to the empty chair. He didn't sink into it until Sham tipped his head to it, and then only slowly, and because he couldn't think of a reason not to.
Sham folded his hands on the greasy plastic, leaned on his arms. When he made eye contact, a pulse of discomfort stirred Sam's stomach. Those were his eyes staring back at him, gray-green with the familiar amber starburst around the pupils. But at the same time, they were different, in a way other than the thin scar through the tail end of one brow, and Sham was talking again before he could figure out how.
"So, you go to college?"
"Uh huh. Stanford for my undergrad. "
"What'd you major in?"
Sham smiled. "Me, too."
And that threw Sam off again. He wouldn't have expected Sham to have gone to college, if he was some hunter version of him. If Dad had somehow gotten his hooks deeper in him than he had Sam.
That was when he realized he was starting to believe it: that he was actually under the thumb of alternate-universe incarnations of himself and his brother. Because he'd had time to look at it from the most logical angles now, think it through, and much as he hated to admit it, Dean was right. It was just all too convoluted to meet any goal he could come up with. It didn't make sense for them to be lying at this point...or from the beginning, actually.
"Did you go to law school?" he asked. He didn't realize how tensely he'd been waiting for the answer until Sham shook his head and he felt himself relax.
"No, but…" Sham sat back in his chair and folded his arms over his chest. "I'm guessing you did."
"Yeah. I got my JD ten years ago."
"What're you practicing, then?"
"Uh, criminal defense."
"So you went with that after all." Sham awkwardly added, "That's...what I wanted to do."
Sam laughed. "I thought about specializing in something else, but everything else felt wrong."
"Might as well be. My firm funnels all the pro bono cases right to me."
Sham nodded silently for a couple seconds. "Not on the partner track then, I'm guessing."
"I-I don't...mind." Sham didn't say anything else, so Sam asked, "You were aiming for law too, right? What was it for you?"
Sham took a deep breath. "When I was eighteen, I told everybody it was 'cause I wanted to help people. I thought I knew it was actually 'cause it was, y'know, a challenge. A way to prove I was smart. And it would let me make enough money I'd never have to think about the way I grew up, anything about it, ever again."
"But in the past few years, I realized I actually was telling the truth. Back then." He cocked his head. "How about you?"
"It kinda sounds like virtue signaling when you say it out loud."
Sham smiled down at the table. Without thinking, Sam brought his hands up, pressing sweaty palms to the cool surface. Sham's eyes immediately zeroed in on the silicone band on his left ring finger.
Sam saw surprise, then guilt, then something almost like understanding before Sham asked, "Oh, you. You're married?"
When Sam forced a smile, there might as well have been a ten-pound concrete weight hanging from each corner of his mouth.
"Yep. Almost a decade." He lifted his hand.
He watched Sham roll that around in his head, nodding again. He looked like he was thinking of something else to ask, but wasn't sure he actually wanted to know the answer. Sam knew the feeling.
Now they were back to the silence. Practically itching under his skin, Sam examined Sham again. This time, he saw the scars, some he had himself and some he definitely didn't. All over his hands, between his crushed knuckles and the calluses on his palms. Up his arms, defensive wounds gone silvery and flat, with plenty of fresher pink ones to even out the mix. They were subtle, barely visible, especially the ones on his face. The eyebrow one he'd already noticed, the triple tally mark of a claw score on one cheek, the little divot of a puncture wound dangerously close to the vermilion border of his mouth. Sam's shared marks flared and throbbed on his skin, like he was reliving every wound that had given him one.
The pain forced a question he hadn't intended to ask out of him. Before Sham could ask more questions about the ring.
"Why...how are you a hunter?"
Sham smiled again. Just a little this time, an ambiguous Mona Lisa twitch of the lips. It could've been bitter, could have been accepting, could have been nothing more than a reflex. But Sam could have sworn there was pain in it.
"Things change. And stuff happens. Stuff you never even expected, and - you change, because of it."
"Yeah," Sam agreed, "but that's why I left. And never went back."
Sham shrugged. "Obviously, things went a little bit differently for the two of us."
"Obviously," Sam agreed. After a second, he found himself shaking his head. "I guess you just must be made of sterner stuff than I am, because I can't imagine ever being dragged kicking and screaming back into it. All the - the nightmares, and the guilt, and the - " Once again, he indicated the motel room. "All the this. Scraping by, hand to mouth, doing something you don't want and never signed up for? For zero thanks or recognition, and wonder if you...haven't made things worse. While you're rolling out of town."
They stared at each other again. Neither of them said anything. It had to have been close to a minute before Sham cleared his throat and started, "Your wi - "
"Look, shouldn't we be doing research or something?" Sam interrupted.
"Oh. Yeah." Sham looked a little startled. "Of course."
Sam felt guilty, even though he didn't want to. "I'm sorry, I just…"
"No, I get it, it's fine." Sham leaned out of his chair to snag a backpack, dragging it over so that he could pull out a laptop. "You wanna get home."
Sam blew out a long breath. "Yeah. I really do."
Sham was only about five minutes into a downright heroic attempt to figure out where Sam's witch knowledge left off and his started when Dean got back, flat boxes in one hand and a couple six packs dangling from the other. After kicking the door shut behind him, he lifted both in the air and announced, "I got chow!" He hadn't even gotten everything on the table before he looked at Sam and asked, "Oh, wait, sorry. You drink beer?"
"Yup," Sam assured him, smiling tightly. "I do. Thanks."
He found himself looking at Sham, who just smirked back at him. "You'll get used to it."
Sam felt his smile get tighter. "Great."
They ate. Dean had somehow deigned to get a vegetable pizza, spinach and olives and sundried tomatoes; maybe they'd been out of all the other kinds. Sam didn't look at either him or Sham, head down, not tasting what was in his mouth. He wasn't worried about poison. They'd had plenty of opportunity to kill him or knock him out again if they wanted to.
"So you two figure anything out?" Dean asked through a full mouth. Sam felt something somewhere on his face twitch.
"In the - " He checked his Fitbit. " - half hour you were gone? This is a cross-reality problem we're talking about here. Magic so advanced, I-I didn't even know it existed before now."
Dean raised his hands, swallowed. "All I'm saying is, Sammy's some kinda galaxy-brain genius. Got a full ride to Stanford - "
"So did he, Dean," Sham cut in. Sam was still stumbling over the fact Dean's tone could have almost been mistaken for proud.
"Yeah. I figured he had the same kinda thing going on." Dean shrugged. "Thought putting the two of you together in a room together would, I don't know, rev things up."
"Guess not." Sam shrugged jerkily.
"He's right." Sham spoke up. "We've never really handled something like this before. Not without somebody else's mojo backing us up. It's gonna be a major fix, and he's rusty." He glanced at Sam. "Kind of a lot to catch him up on."
"So what's the plan?" Dean asked. "Besides Witch 101."
"First of all, we probably oughta take care of Adelina and all her shit."
"Is that the witch?" Sam almost demanded. Much as he hated to think about it, she might be a decent shot at him getting home. If everything else failed, obviously. "Like, the witch. So she is still alive."
"Oh, no, she's dead," Dean reassured him. "We just gotta torch the body and all her gross, witchy crap." A pause. "Might need a couple hazmat suits."
"Don't burn any of her books, I want those," Sham said hastily. "At least a few are probably cursed, but they've gotta be useful."
"Wait, are you saying you just...left a dead body?" Sam broke into the conversation. "At the scene of the crime? Surrounded by evidence?"
"Well, it's. A house outside of town," Sham pointed out, awkwardly. "A ways outside of town, actually."
"Yeah, the owners just 'gave' it to her." Dean made air quotes. "And we locked up when we left. Made sure she didn't have any resurrection spells or booby traps around, too. She's fine."
Sam couldn't say anything. He didn't remember everything about their father's lessons, mostly through conscious effort, but he knew that that definitely wasn't how he'd taught them to hunt. Sham and Dean looked at him for a second, and then Dean pointed at him.
"You see that? Vintage bitch face," he declared. "Haven't seen that one from you since you were about twenty-three."
"What?" Stung, Sam shook his head as Sham's face settled into an unimpressed expression. "What's a...what's a 'bitch face?'"
Instead of answering, Sham closed the screen of his laptop and pushed himself to his feet. "We oughta get going."
Apparently, Dean agreed. They both headed for the door without answering his question. Resting a hand on the doorknob, Dean glanced back to see Sam hadn't moved, and jerked his chin at him.
"C'mon. Field trip."
Reluctantly, Sam rose, followed the two of them outside. He somehow felt even more exposed than he had back in the room, to both them and everything else. Some buried evolutionary instinct, hopelessly out of its depth, cynically expected either weapon or mouth to bite into his back any second. It faded a little when he saw the car. Not because of a sense of safety.
"Oh," he said. "You've...still got that thing, huh?"
Dean turned his head to glare at him so fast Sam could have sworn he heard his neck crack. "She's got a name."
"Uh, the Impala?"
Apparently, that wasn't the right answer. Dean stomped over to the driver's side, slinging himself into the car. Before he joined him, Sham leaned over, murmured, "He calls it Baby."
Sam rolled his eyes, didn't care if Dean saw him. "Course he does."
He slid into the backseat, and he could say one thing about the car: Dean had taken care of it. Because it was exactly the same as he remembered. Same reeking leather, same ammo-boxes-and-beer-cans trash deposit on the floor, same sickening angle to his legs where he had to bend them up in order to fit. Exactly like being eighteen again.
He looked out the window as they drove. It was dark out, witching hour adjacent, and he tried to tell himself that there'd be a notebook where they were going with step-by-step instructions on how to return him to his own world. He knew there wouldn't be, though. Nothing was ever that easy.
"What was your last witch hunt?" Sham asked him, twisting to peer into the back. Sam tore his eyes away from a reelection campaign billboard for somebody named Jefferson Rooney, who had apparently been the president for the last four years, and sifted through memories he'd kept cleanly buried.
"Ahh...I don't know. Grand Rapids? Yeah. Back in 2000."
"Oh, right. I remember that." Sham looked at Dean. "Lizard lady."
Dean mumbled something Sam couldn't make out over the obnoxious grind of the engine, apparently still sulking. Sham turned back to him.
"This one was...a little different than any witch you've probably dealt with before."
Sam had kind of figured that one out already. What with the dimension-hopping and all. But he kept it to himself.
The house really was a ways outside of town. When they parked in the long, winding driveway, Sam told them, "I can just wait in the car. I don't mind."
"I don't think so." The engine died with a familiar rattle when Dean killed it and tugged the keys free. "How else you gonna get some hands-on experience with the new, improved, twenty-first-century witch?" He and Sham climbed out, the car bouncing on its shocks. "Who knows, you might even spot something we missed."
So Sam had to get out and follow them into the house, its overblown square footage practically screaming "mid-2000s housing bubble," and head on up to the master bedroom. Because that was apparently where the witch had chosen to set up shop.
The bed was gone. Occult symbols were smeared on the walls, books and artifacts and containers probably full of spell ingredients lining the shelves and nightstands. The dresser had been dragged over in front of the sliding glass doors that led out onto the balcony, your standard black altar erected on top. A Coleman camp stove and an upended cauldron sat in the middle of the floor, contents splashed out onto the ground in a soupy fan.
There were a terrifying couple of seconds where he thought something had happened to the witch, since he was looking for an actual corpse. He realized then that the bundle of withered, blackened bones in front of the altar, surrounded by ash and filth, was what Sham and Dean had left in their wake.
Really unfortunate that the owners had chosen to carpet this room in a light vanilla.
"You can look around, if you want," Sham told Sam. "Just. Don't touch anything. You wouldn't believe what kinds of stuff can carry a curse."
Sam did a slow lap of the room as Sham warily catalogued books and Dean, who'd carried up a duffel bag and a fire extinguisher, soaked what was left of the witch in salt and lighter fluid. He wasn't even going to say anything about how stupid it was to do that inside. He didn't want to accidentally volunteer himself to carry it out to the yard.
Sam didn't recognize most of the symbols or the items, bundles of stick and bone, fetishes fashioned from rock and metal. Others he did, but only because of the research he'd done when he was younger, Dad breathing down his neck. Only half aware he was talking out loud, he found himself murmuring, "Not sure we ever took out a witch like this. Most of mine were, y'know. Soccer moms. Grifters."
"Yeah, we know." Dean dropped a lit pack of matches onto the witch, didn't flinch when it went up with a fwoomph.
"Really old ones like this, ones born with natural talent, are rare," Sham agreed. "Or hard to find, at least. Since most of them know how to keep it under the radar."
"So…" Sam turned to them, something germinating deep down inside him. It wasn't respect or admiration, definitely not. But it might've been somewhere in that family. "This kind of thing. This level, of hunt. It's an everyday occurrence for you?"
They glanced at each other, shrugged in offputting unison.
"Not exactly everyday, but yeah." Dean readied the extinguisher, eyes on the crackling blaze. "Pretty common."
Sam watched as he put out the fire, and then he and Sham burned most of the witch's belongings out on the balcony, sorting through them by some set of criteria Sam gave up on figuring out. He guessed he'd just have to trust them not to throw anything he might need to get home on the pyre. Symbols got marked through with spraypaint, fires doused twice just to make absolutely sure. Drawers and the undersides of shelves were carefully checked.
"I'm gonna start carting books down," Dean told Sham after about an hour, picking up a stack. "You take a look at the rest of this crap, figure out what kinda hex box we're gonna need for it."
Once they were alone, Sham examining everything that was left with a careful flashlight and a frown, the sheer...bleakness of it started to weigh on him. He hadn't wanted to ask Sham anything else about his life. Not really. He just didn't want to know. But somehow, Sam found himself talking anyway.
"So...this is what you do." He cleared his throat. "This is you."
Sham turned that frown on Sam. "What d'you mean?"
"Well…" Fuck it, Sam would have been able to take it if it had been him. He didn't need to be nice. "Y-you're. Y'know. In your thirties. Still hunting. Still driving around in Dad's car, and staying in the same kinda rooms w - you grew up in, dressing like...like…" Sam trailed off, trying to summon the words and failing.
"What's wrong with the way I dress?" Sham looked down at himself.
"Nothing! I mean, nothing. You just look like…"
"A hunter." Sham finished for him, and there was Sam's own tight smile reflected back at him. "Well. We can't all dress in Nike and North Face."
"I didn't mean it like that." Sam self-consciously smoothed his jacket.
"Sure you didn't."
"It's fine." A flash of a smile, insincere as it was quick. "Really."
Sham got back to work. Sam got back to watching him. Dean came up with supplies, basic containment charm stuff, went back down to get more. After he left, Sam asked, "You go on every hunt with him?"
"I'm with Dean," Sham said, deliberate and careful as he chalked up the sort of cheap wooden chest you could buy at a craft store, "all the time." He glanced at Sam. "You got a problem with that?"
"I don't have a problem with any of it. Seriously, I don't. I mean, it seems like...you're good at it…" Sam trailed off. He knew it would make it worse, but something felt good about saying it anyway: "It's just. Not what I would've wanted. For myself, I mean."
"Not what I wanted, either." Sham snapped the chest shut like a gunshot. It seemed to ring off the walls of the room.
They didn't finish with everything until the pale, murky portion of early daybreak. Outside the house, almost everything either packed away or burned, Sam leaned against the trunk of the Impala. He straightened up when Dean warned him about scratching the paint, then settled again as soon as his back was turned.
Sam had been worn out even before he got shunted sideways into this reality. It'd been a long day back in his world, and he and his bad shoulder were not looking forward to their first rickety, lumpy motel mattress in decades.
"You ready to head home?" Dean asked Sham. Sam rolled his eyes. Home. That was a good one.
"Yeah." Sham kicked gravel over the smoldering remains of something he'd had to anoint with fifty kinds of oil before he could burn it.
"You, uh…" Dean nodded to Sam as he lowered his voice. "Wanna take him back to the bunker, or…?"
Sham squinted. "You wanna just leave him here?"
Dean shrugged. Sam glared at him, but something had caught on the edges of his fraying consciousness.
"What's the bunker?" Neither of them answered him, instead just climbing into the car. Sam followed, wedging himself into the back seat alongside a library's worth of books that reeked of fire and old lady. "Seriously, what's the bunker?"
"It's - " Dean had turned around in his seat to explain, but he cut himself off, raising a finger. "Never mind. I wanna see your face when we roll up."
Sam didn't think he made any expression at all, but Dean whooped.
"Hah! Another classic bitch face."
He put the car into drive, and they pulled away from the house.