Don't own any of them.

AN: The 'right books' Sam refers to later on are, of course, Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. If you haven't read them yet, I'm disappointed. Title refers to the 'aces and eights' hand of poker Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was shot.

Dead Man's Hand

As soon as he opened his eyes, Dean knew something had gone wrong. For one thing, the view hadn't changed. A dirt-track crossroads in the middle of Louisiana was not quite his idea of Hell.

Dammit, Sammy!

He pushed himself up on his elbows, looked around, and nearly passed out again.

Sam was standing to his left, arms crossed over his chest, wearing his most stubborn get-his-own-way look. Dean knew all about that look and the things Sam used it for: another six months in the town they were staying in, permission to go to his prom, Stanford, a normal life.

And Dean, apparently.

By Sam's feet in the dust sat two beautifully-made hourglasses, polished till they gleamed, filling with shimmering sand running down into the bottom globe. Strangely enough, neither of them seemed to be running out. Top and bottom, the amount of sand in the glass bulbs remained constant.

A few yards in front of Sam, the recently-promoted new crossroads skank was arguing furiously with a skeleton in a long black robe that held a scythe in one bony hand.

Dean rubbed his eyes disbelievingly. The skeleton made no move to vanish. He sat up, turning to Sam, but his brother caught his eye and shook his head briefly, nodding at the skeleton.

It was talking, in a voice that sounded like heavy iron doors clashing together, a statement chiseled in a headstone.

I don't care what your contract says. This takes precedence.

"He sold my master his soul!" the demon snarled. "You can't just shrug that off! There are rules!"

I didn't say anything about shrugging. And I know all about the rules. But I don't answer to your master, and I don't care how much he wants the boy. You can't take his life without my permission, so what gives you the idea you can just float on up here and pinch his soul? This isn't a free-for-all demon buffet, you know.

"You have no right to interfere!"

On the contrary. I have no choice but to interfere. Now begone. And take those animals with you. Why you demons don't like cats is beyond me.

The crossroads demon huffed angrily, but didn't seem to have much choice in the matter. It erupted out of its host's mouth in a billow of demon smoke that quickly dissipated.

Shoo, the skeleton said to the hellhounds, poking the scythe at them. They slunk off, whining.

The skeleton turned to Sam, and Dean had a brief glimpse of blue eyes that seemed to stretch back into eternity.

Samuel Benjamin Winchester. I hope you're satisfied.

The crypt-door clang had a slightly nervous undertone to it now.

Sam smiled. "Yes, thank you."

A debt must be paid, the skeleton waved him off. Now. Um. Your hourglasses?

"I think I'll keep them, thanks."

I don't appreciate the implication that I'm not to be trusted, boy.

"Oh, I'm sorry. The fact that you're Death might have something to do with it."

The skeleton of course had no other option but to grin, but Dean thought it really was amused now.

I should introduce you to my granddaughter. You have a lot in common. An education, for one thing.

"Your granddaughter? I'm sorry, Iā€¦ don't understand."

No matter.

"OK. Well. I'll just ā€“ take my brother and go. Thanks again."

My pleasure, actually. I quite enjoyed our game. So did the others. Next time, we shall have to teach you Cripple Mr. Onion.

Sam laughed. "I appreciate the offer. But there isn't going to be a next time."

That, Death replied as he turned away, is what they all say.

"You played poker with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for my soul," Dean said flatly half an hour later, as they sat in the Impala, roaring northwards.

Sam shrugged. "Whatever works, man."

"It's ridiculous!"

"There's precedent. You just have to read the right books."

"The right books," Dean grumbled under his breath. He was the poker player out of the two of them, dammit!

"I offered bridge," Sam said, as if reading his thoughts, "But apparently they've had bad experiences with that one."

"Bridge!" Dean yelled indignantly, and his brother started to laugh ā€“ happy, joyous, infectious laughter that Dean couldn't help but join in.

"So where we going?" he asked at last.

Sam shrugged again. "I was thinking the Midwest someplace? We can find a place to lay low in for a few months. Get ourselves together."

"Sounds good, little brother. By the way ā€“ what's Cripple Mr. Onion.?"

"I'm not so sure I want to know."