"Stay close."

"I am close."

"We can't screw this up."

"I know that. I'm the one who told you that."

"So we gotta stay close."

"Dean, if I get any closer, I'll be sharing skin with you, which, hello, you're my brother. It's not something I wanna do."

Dean spared his brother a glare before slowly moving through the foliage, gun at the ready. Sam held his own gun up, arms stretched out tight and tense. With great reluctance he slid closer to his brother, their shoulders brushing. "Remind me again why I have to cling to you like static? Bad static?"

Dean sighed. Again. "One, we've got one shot at this demon, and if we screw this up, we don't get another chance, and then we're toast. Literally, and getting blown to pieces isn't something I wanted to do tonight."

The demon really was a nasty ass thing. As far as Sam could tell, the thing was a gorgon, like Medusa. Except this one didn't turn people to stone with its eyes: it blew things up. Sam had been fascinated as to the how of it, molecules heating under a simple gaze.

Dean couldn't have cared less. He was still pissy over the fact that they'd had to wait for the full moon on a still lake to ultimately shoot the thing in the back of the head with a regular shotgun shell. Actually, 'pissy' wasn't strong enough to describe Dean's attitude right now.

"Dean, remember; we have to wait until she looks into the water," Sam said, earning a grunt of acknowledgement from Dean. Sam glared at his brother. "Dean!" he hissed.

"What?" Dean snapped.

"Don't shoot until she's looking in the water," Sam repeated.

"Yeah, yeah, heard you the first time," Dean growled. Sam rolled his eyes. The details really were important, and he decided to tell his brother as much.

"I'm not stupid, Sam!" Dean whisper-shouted. "Just...just shut up, all right?"

Sam huffed but didn't say anything further. For two whole minutes, and then he sort of had to say something, because he'd spotted the gorgon. "Dean. Right 500."

Dean's head whipped around to watch the demon, which was about 500 yards out to their right. It was descending towards the small lake. "'Bout damn time," Dean muttered, before slowly heading down the embankment. When Sam didn't immediately follow, he reached back and grabbed his sleeve, tugging Sam sharply. "I said stay close," Dean snapped, hauling Sam halfway down the embankment before Sam managed to wrestle his arm from Dean's grasp.

Sometimes he didn't know what was going on in his brother's head. If anything.

The lake was just short of being a pond, and the deepest part went to Dean's knees. (They'd checked it out hours before, which Dean also hadn't been happy about.) The gorgon headed out into the center of it, while the brothers stayed concealed in the brush and forest around the lake. Once Dean was content that the gorgon wasn't going anywhere, he gave the move ahead signal, and they cautiously entered the water.

They were about ten yards away when Dean raised his shotgun. Sam tried to see if the gorgon was looking into the water, but couldn't from his vantage point. He crept forward, twisting to avoid his brother's reach to pull him back. He continued forward, moved slightly right, then forward once more, never seeing the look of frustration and fear that crossed Dean's face. Sam could almost see her reflection...

He was stopped, paused in his attempt to look, when the gorgon suddenly turned. He hadn't made a sound, and he wasn't that close, so it hadn't been him that had triggered her attention. That was his only comfort as he quickly avoided her gaze. "Sam!" Dean shouted, and Sam threw himself to the right even as he heard the shotgun fire. There was a shriek from the gorgon, but it was too late.

Unless gorgons were shot with their gazes trained on a reflection, they'd explode anything their gaze settled on as they died. The lake had been their best shot; gorgons returned to a lake every full moon to regenerate. Unfortunately, it had been their riskiest shot, too: gorgons regenerated themselves from various dimensions they visited. If they were disrupted, there was a possibility that the portal the gorgon had opened for itself would explode.

Which Sam had tried to tell Dean before, but the jerk hadn't listened to him. And now the portal was opening, Dean was shouting, and Sam felt a sensation of being pulled forward before everything went black.

"Sonuvabitch!" Dean shouted furiously, but he was already running to where he'd last seen Sam. The portal had appeared seconds after the round had connected with the gorgon's head, and the sliver of light had seemed to lurch forward, grabbing onto Sam before pulling him inside. "Sam, no!" he'd shouted, but it had been too late. The portal had taken him who knew where.

Which was why Dean had insisted they stay close, but his bitch of a brother had moved away from him, so Dean hadn't been able to haul him to safety. And now Sam was gone, leaving Dean living his worst nightmare.

"Sammy!" he yelled, knowing he wouldn't get a response, but needing to do it anyways. Fear gnawed in his gut as condemning silence surrounded him. He'd failed his brother, failed to keep him safe, possibly failed to keep him alive. "SAM!" he screamed; anything to keep the recriminating voice in his head silent.

Suddenly the air buzzed, and a flicker of light appeared where the portal had been. Dean froze, hope clogging his throat and stopping any words he might've thought of saying. Then there was a flash of light, and when Dean could see again, Sam was curled in on himself in the shallow water.

All words of anger and fury were immediately forgotten. "Sam!" He moved fast, grabbing Sam by the shoulder to pull him up. It was only when he did so that the differences caught up to his brain.

A white undershirt and gray scrub pants were the only clothing he had. No shoes, no socks, nothing else. His hair was longer and went almost to his shoulders. There was a definite growth on his face, and Dean decided that a beard just made Sam look scrawnier. He looked skinnier, but out of it all, it was his eyes that made Dean stop the most. Cold, hard, with an edge to them Dean didn't like.

Maybe there'd been a time glitch of some sorts, enough for all the changes to occur. One look at those eyes, though, and Dean knew that this wasn't his brother.

Then the man that looked like Sam frowned. "Dean?" he said, and it was Sam's voice that said it, albeit with a great deal of surprise. It was Sam's eyes that glanced around, before turning his gaze to the water beneath him. The edge was still there, but the coldness had faded into confusion. "Uh, where are we?"

"Middle of a lake," Dean said automatically, and Sam's lips slid into a smirk. Definitely wasn't his brother; Sammy didn't smirk. That was Dean's territory. Sam did the shy smiles that got people to talk.

"You're not my Sam," Dean found himself saying. He'd recognized Dean for who he was, but that just meant there was another Dean out there somewhere. His head hurt at the thought of two of him, two of Sam...ugh.

Sam (and Dean was going to have to think up a different name because this wasn't his Sam) just raised his eyebrows. "Uh, no kidding," he said. "Big difference. Murky pond withstanding which, by the way, can we get out of?"

"Uh, yeah," Dean said, reaching to help not-his-Sam up. He got a surprised look for his trouble, and the surprise settled into wary suspicion by the time they were standing. Dean frowned. "There's a Dean, just like me, where you come from? Your brother?"

Not-his-Sam nodded slowly. "Then why'd you look at me like I've got two heads or something?"

Green eyes widened slightly. "I, uh, didn't mean anything by it. It's just...well..." Not-his-Sam frowned. "We're not close," he said uncomfortably.

Dean felt like he'd been slapped. "Not at all?" he managed to get out. After everything he and his Sam had been through, it was hard to think of a universe where he and Sam were distant.

Not-his-Sam shook his head. Screw it; he'd call this one Sam, and his Sam Sammy. There: problem solved. Well, minor problem solved. He still had to get Sammy back. And since they didn't have a gorgon anymore, Dean wasn't sure how to go about fixing things.

Dean scowled at the gorgon's corpse (and thank hell the eyes were closed now), then turned to Sam, who was staring at the body in utter shock. Shit. He'd never considered that this Sam didn't hunt. "You don't hunt?" Dean said weakly. Well, this Sam was about to get a crash course on the subject; Dean really couldn't avoid that now.

Sam roused himself from his stupor with a shake. "Huh? Oh, no, I hunt," he said after a moment. "I've just never hunted that particular thing, that's all. And I've never, you know, hunted with you." There was a bitter smile on his lips as he spoke, and Dean wanted to smack himself in the other universe for being so damn stupid to let Sam go hunting along, to go on living alone.

Then Dean's eyes widened at the horrible realization that if Sam hunted alone in the other world, then who'd be there for his Sammy? "Then my Sam's alone, wherever you came from?" he said sharply, watching this Sam tense as if to fight at Dean's tone, and he hated it even as he did it, but Dean had to know. "There's no one helping him over there? Dammit; we gotta get you two switched back. Fast." He wasn't leaving his Sammy over there alone any longer then he had to.

Sam blinked a minuted, before smirking. "No; what type of idiot do you think I am? Your Sam's with my friends right now. He'll be fine," he said, lips quirking up in amusement at Dean. "Trust me; they won't let him go anywhere without them right behind him."

Dean nodded, slightly mollified. Friends weren't Dean by a longshot, but at least Sammy wouldn't be on his own. "What about Dad?" Dean asked, before snorting and shaking his head. "You two probably don't talk, do you?" Trust something like that to not change.

Sam gave him a confused look. "No, I'm really close to my dad. Always have been."

Okay, skip being slapped: Dean had been slammed in the gut. His initial happiness that Sammy would be by Dad's side was instantly turned into a horrible twisted feeling inside that if Dean and Sam weren't closer, and Sam and Dad were close, then Dean and Dad probably weren't close. At all. If A equals B, and B equals C, then...

"In fact, my friends were going to get me over to see him in a couple of days. Your Sam could go in my stead. See Dad and Mom and probably you, too."

"M-Mom?" Dean stuttered, still reeling from the last revelation. God, what he wouldn't do to see his mom again. "She's...alive where you are?"

"She's with Dad," Sam repeated slowly, giving him a 'you really are crazy' look. "And in a few days time, your Sam'll be visiting with them. That is, if you don't get us switched back before then." He shrugged and looked entirely too casual, before turning towards the land. "Of course, you probably want your own Sam back, so let's see if we can't find a way to do that."

He'd trudged a few steps before Dean called out for him to wait. Sam stopped, glancing back with a raised eyebrow and a knowing smirk. "It's only a few days," Sam said. "Surely you can live with me for a few days. Long enough for your Sam to see Mom and Dad, which apparently he doesn't get here in this reality."

Dean pursed his lips together but didn't say anything. If that smirk Sam was giving Dean right now looked anything like the smirk Dean gave his Sammy, Dean would never do it again. It was annoying as all hell. Worse yet, he was right. Dean had had four years with their mom before she'd died. Sam had had six months he'd never remember, and a single minute with her spirit back in Kansas. Dean wouldn't – couldn't – begrudge him this chance to see their mom.

And it sounded like Sammy would at least be safe: he had this Sam's friends to help. Dean still wasn't sure if he liked this Sam with the smirks and toughened look to him, but Dean was starting to understand why he was like he was. If Sam was hunting by himself without anyone to help, besides a few friends, then Sam would've had to harden up and fast. No time for bright-eyed innocence or inquiring thoughts.

That was why Dean stayed by his brother: to protect him and keep him innocent and himself for that much longer. His heart ached a little for this Sam in front of him who hadn't had a protective big brother.

"It's gonna take a few days at least to figure out how to get you both switched back," Dean finally said, stepping through the water. "That'll give Sammy those few days."

That damn smirk was back. "Sammy, huh?" Sam said, before chuckling. "And he lets you get away with that?"

Dean rolled his eyes and went around the still smirking Sam up the embankment. Sammy sure as hell better appreciate this. If he heard any bitching when he got Sammy back whatsoever, there was gonna be hell to pay.