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Rabbit Hole - Part 1

See warnings and notes in the Master Post.






~*~*~

My name is Sam. I think. It’s been a long time — several thousand lifetimes, I’m guessing — since I heard anyone call me by my own name, and it stopped being all that important after a while. That was probably a mistake on my part, but honestly, as bad as the loss of my name has been, I think I’ve lost worse.

I seem to remember being certain that I went through a childhood of my own at some point, but if I did, I have no sense of when or where or even who my parents were. I don’t always have time to think about it, but when I do, it seems logical to conclude that I was, in fact, a child once. There are certain rhythms and responses that seem perfectly natural whenever I step into the life of a young person, so yes. Probably. But logic is all I have on my side, and childhood isn’t a concept I can connect to all that well unless I happen to be experiencing it at the time.

On the other hand, I’m not sure it really matters in the end, because I lose a little bit more of my sense of self, of who I am, each time I step into another life. This gradual winnowing makes me wonder if I’ll die when that last little bit of me, the part that thinks it has a name of its own, finally disappears.

I suppose that should worry me, but lately, I’m beginning to hope that death really is around the corner. It would be a relief, especially after the last couple of leaps.

My name is Sam, and I —

“— ’m tired.”

“What?”

The man who spoke was tall and in his mid to late twenties, and he was good-looking, despite having hair that looked like he cut it himself and that was on the wrong side of too long. His clothes showed signs of wear and tear, and they didn’t fit the man all that well. They were cheap, when it came right down to it; they were the kind of clothes that could be found in a charity store for a dollar or two per item. (Salvation Army, Sam, no doubt about it. Three to one, he doesn’t have a job and that he’s a grifter. Ah, hell. Make it even odds.)

Sam repeated, “I’m tired.”

“Big surprise, there. Maybe if you hadn’t closed down the bar before hitting the sheets last night, you’d be a little more alert.” There wasn’t even a hint of suggestiveness in the man’s voice, and he didn’t look at Sam the way a lover would, so maybe he was a friend or a co-worker.

He stared at Sam, and Sam blinked, realizing a little late that response was required. He relaxed his hold on the tattered remnants of his own identity for a brief moment so he could answer with, “Jealous that all the chicks were interested in me and not your emo little ass?”

“Jerk,” the other man answered, and just as quickly, Sam responded with, “Bitch.”

The exchange had the feel of a lifetime of familiarity, so he upgraded their relationship to family — brothers or possibly cousins — and took a moment to look around. It had the feel of a motel room and was decorated in remarkably poor taste. Sam was kind of surprised there wasn’t a mirror on the ceiling or suggestive artwork on the wall. What was on the wall opposite to the beds, however, was interesting in its own right.

Beds.

Sam paused in his assessment of the room, because there were two beds, and both had been slept in. He was relieved that he was right about the pair of them not being lovers. He didn’t object to sex with another man (Oh, geez, Sammy, I didn’t need to know that.) — the sense of intimacy was a comfort that he took when he could and never mind the sex of his partner — but he always felt bad when he took someone’s place in a committed relationship. It felt too close to adultery for him to ever fully relax and enjoy the connection.

With the issue of sleeping arrangements settled, he turned his attention back to the papers tacked to the wall. Most were news clippings about mysterious disappearances in the county — Monroe County, but no indication of a state — and some of the articles dated back seventy years and more. There were notes tacked up as well, and there were hand-drawn maps next to some of the articles. An even larger map — Michigan — was on the table near the wall, and it had various locations circled in red, and the circles themselves formed a partial ring around Estral Beach. There was an X marked off the shore, so whatever they were looking for, it seemed to be in Lake Erie. Odd.

In any event, it was a picture of research in progress, and it was a relief to know he hadn’t landed in a serial killer’s life, that perhaps all that was required of him was to research the deaths and nothing more.

The other man said, “So, do you think Cas is okay?”

Sam turned from the articles and tried to get a sense from the residual personality of his host as to whether it was a casual question or something more serious. There was nothing, which wasn’t a surprise, but it was also disappointing. Judging by the cocky response from before, Sam thought there was a pretty good chance that the man he’d jumped into leaned more toward optimism than cynicism, so he said, “Sure. I mean, why wouldn’t Cas be okay?”

“You’re joking, right?” The other man looked appalled by Sam’s response, which wasn’t good. In fact, if Sam had misread his host’s personality that badly, it meant that he’d lost an essential skill when he leapt.

“Um —”

“God, Dean. You saw what happened the last time Cas got into it with Raphael,” the man said. “And you left that voicemail for him what — three days ago?”

Sam stammered, “Well, yeah, but —”

“But nothing. Jesus. Look, I know you want to believe Cas can kick Raphael’s ass, but seriously, think about the imbalance for once. Even with the boost you told me he got when God brought him back, he’s still outclassed by —”

“You can’t tell me a dick like Raphael outclasses someone like Cas,” Sam said, the words coming out before he could stop and think about what he should say. As surprising as the automatic response was, it was also a comfort. Sam hadn’t misread his host after all. The man, Dean, was generally optimistic, especially when it came to Cas.

“Dude, come on. Archangel? They’re one step below God, and there’s no way Cas is that powered up.”

Sam blinked, and then he reran the conversation and picked up on something he’d missed earlier — God brought Cas back? Archangel? There was an archangel involved?

“Um —”

The other man continued talking, and Sam looked away from him in an effort to focus on what he was saying, because it was probably important, but every time he tried, words like angel or demon or apocalypse kept snatching at his attention and making him think that Dean’s brother needed some serious psychiatric help. Dean, too, most likely, since he apparently fed his brother’s religious delusions, and boy did that bring up a wave of discomfort. Sam wasn’t sure why the thought of working with a psychiatrist could cause his stomach to cramp up, but whatever the reason, he thought it might well be irrelevant, especially if the evident religious mania translated into violence.

When Sam looked up again, there was another man in the room, and he was well within Sam’s personal space. Sam caught his breath and started to take a step back, but the new man, wearing a suit and trench coat and looking far more intense than the presumed brother, grabbed Sam’s arm and stared deeply into his eyes before demanding to know, “Where is Dean Winchester? What have you done with him?”

Sam opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, the taller man said, “Uh, standing right in front of you, Cas. You sure you’re okay? I mean, from what we saw, Raphael really did a number on you.”

“I’m fine,” Cas said dismissively. “But this is not Dean Winchester.”

Sam couldn’t remember a lot, but he knew a few things. He knew, for instance, that only crazy people and animals could see his face instead of the person whose life he’d leapt into. He also knew that a typical response to a comment like that was to brush it off or to convince the person saying it that they were wrong. And finally, he knew the typical response was not for the other person to rush forward and restrain him before he could make a move then ask, “What is it, Cas? Demon? Shapeshifter?”

And okay, the questions about demon and shapeshifter were also on the list of conclusions people didn’t jump to, which was why Sam didn’t fight when the tall man grabbed him and held him in place. Based on the last few minutes, it was clear to Sam that Dean and Cas and the third man all shared a delusion, most likely religious in nature, and that they encouraged one another in its belief, and in doing so, they probably strengthened the fantasy for each other. Cas was mostly likely the source of the shared delusion, since he could see through the illusion Sam normally hid behind. The thought of what Cas could order the other man to do in the name of maintaining the fantasy frankly scared the hell out of Sam, and it was yet another reason to remain very, very still.

“No. He’s human.”

“How come he looks like Dean, then?”

Cas, who looked pissed off, shoved up the right sleeve of his trench coat and jacket and started unbuttoning the sleeve of his dress shirt and said, “He may be a warlock. However, I’ve never seen a glamour quite like the one he’s wearing.”

“Great,” said the other man, tightening his hold on Sam’s arms just enough to be painful. Even so, Sam didn’t start struggling until Cas pulled off his belt and folded it up. It was a lost cause, though. Dean’s brother or cousin wasn’t just tall, he was bulky with muscle that Sam hadn’t noticed before, because the cheap clothing had disguised it. Those muscles worked well enough to keep Sam from going anywhere, try as he might.

Cas said, “Open your mouth,” and Sam fought even harder until the other man said, “Trust me, you’ll want to bite down on something other than your tongue.”

He knew better, really, he did, but despite that, Sam was startled into saying, “Oh boy.” That was all that was needed, because as soon as his mouth was open, Cas shoved his belt in between Sam’s teeth and put his left hand over Sam’s mouth to keep it there.

And then Cas shoved his other hand into Sam’s chest, and Sam started to scream.

~*~*~

As a rule, I’m pretty sure I don’t pass out. Not for any reason. But I wished I could as soon as Cas shoved his hand into my chest. Aside from the fact that his hand was in my chest, which shouldn’t even be possible without a sharp blade, a lot of blood and significant trauma to my ribs and sternum, I felt like what little of me still existed was about to fly apart and disappear. It was similar to the sensation I experienced whenever I shifted to or from another life, and for a moment, I was sure I was about to die. The pain was unreal and unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I’m not even sure there are words in any human language to describe it, and I was ready to sell what was left of my soul just to make it go away, and as soon as I thought that, Cas pulled his hand out

— again and said, “As damaged as it is, your soul still has value. Don’t offer it to anyone. Not even me.”

The other man asked, “Who is he?”

“His name is Sam. I wasn’t able to learn anything beyond that, though.”

“Why not?”

Cas gave Sam a look that combined compassion with curiosity, irritation and frustration.

“His sense of self has degraded so much that to attempt to learn anything more at this time would be to risk his life. It doesn’t help that his soul is spread thin across space and time.”

Sam’s knees buckled from exhaustion that surprised the hell out of him and the aftermath of pain. The man behind him muttered, “Damn it,” before turning Sam around and getting him into a fireman’s carry. A few steps later, Sam was dumped unceremoniously onto the bed, and the man said, “Was I this tired when you did that to me?”

“No. But you were in better shape physically and not suffering emotional deprivation.”

“What does that mean, exactly?”

Cas looked at Sam before saying, “Do you really want to have this conversation now? He’s listening.”

“I’m not leaving him alone in here, not when he knows where Dean is.”

“Fine. It means that his physical body is approaching entropy, and that emotionally, he’s cut off from everyone, including himself. It’s a bad combination to begin with, and it’s even worse, given the specific problems related to his soul.”

“And you’re still calling him human?”

“Sam —”

“Don’t ‘Sam’ me, Cas, just answer the question: can you honestly say he’s still human at this point?”

On the bed, Sam was finally starting to recover from the pain, and he was trying desperately not to get upset over Cas’s casual announcement that Sam’s body was approaching entropy. He had a feeling that what Cas really meant was that Sam was effectively a walking corpse. On the other hand, maybe it didn’t matter what Cas said or meant, because Cas was crazy. Sam knew Cas was crazy, because Cas could see that he wasn’t Dean Winchester, and crazy people did and said all sorts of weird things all the time. They weren’t tied to a firm concept of reality, so Cas could say whatever he wanted about Sam, but that didn’t make it true, it didn’t make it —

“You’re overwrought,” Cas said, and then he touched Sam’s forehead with two fingers, and Sam slept.

~*~*~

I honestly can’t remember the last time I slept as myself and dreamed only dreams specific to me, but after I went to sleep that day, I didn’t experience any bleed-through from my host. Usually, about ten percent of my dream time is made up of my own hopes and fears, and the rest belongs to the host. This is one of the ways I’m able to find out more about the life I’m in, so despite the problems and frustration I experience when I dream someone else’s life, I refuse to complain. The information is just too valuable.

It’s hard to explain how I knew everything I dreamt then was made up from my subconscious and no one else’s. There’s a subtle difference to the texture and emotions between my dreams and my host’s, but trying to explain it to someone who hasn’t been through what I’ve been through is pretty much a lost cause. In any case, I saw faces and heard voices I knew were from my past, even if I couldn’t connect names or places to them. I dreamt of doing things I was pretty sure I’d never done on a leap, and during one especially wonderful fragment of a dream, I was small, so small, and I was being held by a woman who clearly loved me.

Because the dreams I had were all my own, I all but rolled around in them saying, “Mine, mine, all mine.” As embarrassing as it was, that visceral reaction was enough to convince me I hadn’t known how much I was suffering by letting my host’s dreams take up so much of my subconscious. It hadn’t occurred to me until then that this might be why I was finding it so difficult to hang on to who I am.

That nap

— healed me,” Sam muttered as he woke up. He blinked at the light, because it was significantly different than before. He must have slept longer than he’d thought. Sam made a half-hearted effort to figure out what the new angle of the sun meant, but he was too comfortable to care very much.

“You say something?”

The tall man was there, but Cas was nowhere to be found.

“How long did I sleep?”

“Three and a half days.” Sam blinked at the news, because three and a half days was closer to coma territory than nap territory. He wondered what kind of drugs had been used on him and whether or not they were dangerous. He also wondered if the other man even had the slightest idea how to determine dosages and — and it was pointless to even worry about it at this stage. Whatever they’d done, for better or worse, it was over now, and Sam was awake again. All he could hope for was that there wouldn’t be any long-term consequences.

Sam swallowed his fear and anger and stared at the other man, who looked sheepish and more than a little embarrassed when he said, “Sorry, but, uh, you’re wearing Depends.”

“Depends?” Sam thought he should know what that meant, but he was still running up against the information that he’d been asleep for three and a half days.

“Yeah. You know. Uh, diapers. For adults?”

He looked incredibly embarrassed about that, and for a moment, Sam marveled at the sheer ignorance of the man, that he thought wearing diapers would be the biggest worry Sam had after being dosed with an unknown narcotic. Sam sat up straight and realized that not only was the other man telling the truth, but also that he was, in fact, wet.

“Perfect. Just perfect,” he muttered, embarrassed, even though he knew it wasn’t his fault.

“Yeah. Sorry about the whole —” The man gestured in the direction Sam’s crotch and continued with, “But Cas said you needed to sleep. Something about trying to reverse the damage of, um —” The other man’s expression turned curious and he asked, “Time travel? Seriously?”

Sam opened his mouth, but when he couldn’t figure what to say, he closed it again. Not only was the cat out of the bag about him not being Dean, but so was everything else. Cas must have — Sam felt a whisper of pain in his chest, a reminder of what he thought he’d seen Cas do to him, and he deliberately ignored the train of thought he’d started to follow. Cas wasn’t the only one with a shaky grip on reality, and Sam didn’t care to test his own grip if he didn’t have to.

After a moment, he settled on, “Okay, apparently you know about me, and that I’m not Dean.”

“Right.”

“Could you tell me what your name is?”

“You don’t know?”

“Don’t have a clue,” Sam said, lying down again so he could nudge the diapers off. He’d rather use the bed sheet as a toga than suffer a wet diaper any longer than he had to.

“Huh. Weird.”

“Why?” Sam lifted his hips and shoved the diaper down his legs.

“Hm? Oh. That. Um. It’s just — it makes me feel better, that you don’t know anything about me.”

Sam was fast losing patience. “And why is that?”

“Never mind. My name is Sam, too. Sam Winchester.” And wouldn’t that get confusing, with both of them named Sam. He doubted very much that Winchester would remember to call him Dean, so Sam hoped they wouldn’t see too many acquaintances before he leapt into someone else’s life.

“Dean’s brother?” he asked.

“I thought you said you didn’t know anything about me,” Winchester said, frowning.

Sam reached under the covers to grab the diaper and grimaced at the heavy feel of it, thankful that it was filled with urine and nothing else. He pulled it out and sat up again before he realized he didn’t have a good way to get rid of it. Winchester noticed the same thing and said, “Hang on,” before going into the bathroom and returning with a wastebasket.

Once Sam threw it away, Winchester repeated, “Seriously, you said you didn’t know anything about me.” He was tense, and he looked at Sam with deep suspicion and a hint of anger.

Sam believed that if anyone had a right to be tense and suspicious, it was the guy who’d been drugged against his will. He thought about saying something along those lines but decided there was no point in making things worse than they already were. As calmly as he could, he said, “When I first stepped into Dean’s life, and you and I talked, it had the feel of family. I guessed brother or cousin.”

Winchester nodded, the tension in his body easing up somewhat, even as he said, “About that. How did you know what to say? You sounded enough like Dean that I wouldn’t have guessed if Cas hadn’t popped in.”

The question was uncomfortable, and not just because Sam didn’t like to think about the loss of self he went through whenever he tried to answer the way his host should. The bigger problem with the question was that it showed Winchester’s thought processes weren’t only organized but that they followed external logic without any apparent trouble. It didn’t bode well for Sam’s earlier assumption that the man was fully on board with a delusional Cas. Once again, he shied away from thinking about the fact that delusional people couldn’t typically shove their fist into someone’s chest without serious trauma as the result. Granted, there were fake healers who could convince an audience they were doing exactly that, but Sam hadn’t been in the proper frame of mind for that, and —

“You’ve upset him again,” Cas said, looking at Winchester with a shade of disapproval.

Winchester pressed his lips together (Nice bitch-face, Sammy. Keep it up, and I’ll get you a subscription to Cosmo.) before saying, “He took over Dean’s life, so I really don’t give a shit what he’s feeling while Dean is — is — Jesus. We don’t even know if Dean is still alive.”

Sam tried to calm himself down, but the more he tried, the worse it got. Cas hadn’t been there. Sam would stake his life on that. Only Sam and Winchester had been in the room, but now Cas was there, and there wasn’t an explanation, and —

“I wasn’t able to determine much, but I’m convinced Dean is alive. I’m just not sure where.” Cas frowned at Sam. “Or when.”

“When? What the hell does that mean?”

— Sam knew, he knew, people couldn’t just appear at will like that. It broke all the laws of physics, and it just wasn’t possible. This sort of thing couldn’t happen, so maybe it meant that the drugs they’d used on him were hallucinogenic, and God, if that were the case, then he was completely —

Cas put two fingers on Sam’s forehead again, though instead of sleeping, Sam felt nothing. One moment, there was increasing panic, and the next, nothing. He couldn’t even feel distressed over the lack of feeling, because his emotions had been turned off.

“Interrupted,” Cas said, apparently in answer to Sam’s thoughts, and that should be upsetting, too, but — “You think too much.”

The fingers touched Sam’s forehead, and he was asleep again. Only this time, he was standing on the dock of Graham’s Pond, back home in Indiana, and Cas was there, too. Sam still wasn’t panicking, and that was weird, but he was okay with it, even though he knew perfectly well he shouldn’t be. The only thing that kept him from following that useless train of thought was the realization that the scene in front of him was familiar.

“Indiana,” Sam said hesitantly. “This is Indiana, and I — I think I grew up near here.”

“Good,” Cas said. “You’re beginning to regain your sense of self.”

“This looks like a dream, but it doesn’t feel like one.” It didn’t have a ragged edge of discontinuity to it. Instead, it felt like he was inside a memory, a true memory.

“This space is similar to a dream,” Cas said.

“Why are we here?”

“Because in here, you aren’t attempting to convince yourself that I’m a delusional human being. It’s easier for you to see the truth of what I am.”

Sam thought for a moment then said, “If you aren’t delusional, then what are you?”

“I’m an angel of the — I’m an angel,” Cas said, though he didn’t seem to be all that happy about it. Sam knew that at any other time, he would be rejecting that statement out of hand, but in this space, he was willing to accept it at face value for the time being.

“Winchester said — I remember him talking about — about Raphael?”

“Raphael believes the apocalypse should still happen to cleanse the Earth of human filth,” Cas said. What was remarkable was the lack of inflection in his voice, as if that sort of statement were so common that it was beneath notice. “When you wake up, ask Sam Winchester about the last few years. If he answers, it will provide context to my response to Raphael.”

“You’re reading my mind?”

“I’m in your mind,” Cas said gently.

Sam could feel the panic clawing to rise up, but it was caught where it was, and eventually, it settled down again. He decided to return to Cas’s earlier statement.

“You’re an angel?”

“Yes.”

“And your name is Cas?”

“My name is Castiel, but neither Winchester brother is inclined to use it. Both tend to shorten my name unless they’re angry with me.”

“Oh.” Sam felt like an idiot asking, but he said, “Which do you prefer?”

Castiel didn’t answer. Instead, he said, “You’ve been traveling through time.”

“Yeah. How did you know that?” As soon as Sam asked, he knew the answer. “Right. Angel.”

“I now know who you are, but —”

“You do?” Sam’s emotions were still shut down, which he knew the discussion was frustrating, even if he couldn’t experience the frustration directly.

“Only one human has successfully traveled in time using scientific means. It made researching your identity somewhat easier,” Castiel said, his voice as dry as dust.

“Okay,” Sam said, looking at Castiel.

Castiel looked at Sam.

After another moment, Sam said, “Well?”

“Well what?”

The sidestep into farce should have been irritating, and Sam planned to wallow in irritation as soon as he could feel again. “Who am I?”

“You’re Sam,” he said, without a hint of irony or mockery in his voice.

“Sam who?”

“You’ll have to discover that on your own.”

With that, the restraints on Sam’s emotions snapped. It was a sore point, not knowing who he was or remembering what his family was like, assuming he even had one. No. It was more than a sore point. It was a maddening itch, a phantom pain, a hole where he should have existed but didn’t. Sam had been helping people all along without hope of recognition or reward, and he was okay with that. He’d made his peace with that decision a long time ago, but what he hadn’t made peace with was the loss of his own identity. This man, this so-called angel knew who he was and could answer all of Sam’s questions, but he wasn’t going to, and it was that combination of frustration and fury that launched Sam at Castiel.

Given they were in Sam’s dream, Castiel should have dropped like a rock into the pond behind him. Instead, Sam felt like he was throwing himself against a rock, because Castiel wasn’t moving, wasn’t responding to Sam’s assault, and wasn’t even raising an eyebrow at the sudden violence.

“Tell me, damn you!”

After letting Sam punch him a few more times, Castiel took Sam’s wrists in hand and just held him in place.

“No.” Before Sam could get angry again, Castiel added, “You’ve suffered a great deal of damage to your essential self. If I were to repair your identity directly and make it whole again, it would only make things worse.”

“Why?” God, Sam hated to whine, and he hated even more the fact that he’d apparently lost all control over himself. But he’d been alone for so long, and Castiel was —

“Calm yourself,” Castiel said, and Sam was calm again, just like magic. Or divine intervention, he thought, hysteria again being held at bay.

After another moment, Castiel asked, “Do you have any idea how long you’ve been lost in time?”

It was a question Sam had asked himself any number of times, especially lately, and especially after the last two leaps, which had been horrific enough that he still hadn’t lost the memory of either one of them. The best he’d been able to come up with was, “Ten, fifteen years?”

Castiel didn’t say anything.

“Longer?”

“Much. You’ve looped around your own timeline so often that I’m not entirely certain it exists any longer.”

Sam remembered something Castiel said and asked, “Is that what you meant by my body approaching entropy?”

“Yes. Your mind, as well.”

The fury was starting to die down enough that Sam was able to ask quietly, “Why won’t you tell me who I am?”

“I can help speed the process, but you need to heal yourself if you’re to have any hope of maintaining your identity,” Castiel said. “If I do it all for you, you won’t know how to correct for the problem in the future.”

Sam thought he heard a ghost of a voice say, Ain’t that a kick in the teeth? He tried to follow it back to a memory of a face, but he lost the trail, and when Sam looked at Castiel again, there was a hint of sympathy on his face.

“In the future? Does that mean I’m not going home?”

“It means I don’t know what’s in store for you,” Castiel said, not unkindly. “If you continue to displace others to affect their personal timelines, however, you must learn how to maintain your own sense of identity against the pressure of your host’s identity and life.”

“The dreams. My dreams. They were —”

Sam wasn’t able to finish. He was awake again, and Winchester was staring at him with annoyance.

“Cas just fucked off without a word. Did you tell him where Dean is?”

“No. I don’t know,” Sam said, tired again and wanting to forget what just happened and to pretend it was a stress-induced hallucination. Maybe he could sleep again. He was willing to do anything to avoid thinking about just how badly this particular leap was going.

“Do you at least know if he’s safe?”

“Probably.” Sam rolled over closed his eyes, unwilling to face Winchester’s anger.

“Probably? What the hell does that mean?” Sam didn’t answer, and Winchester grabbed him by the shoulder and rolled him onto his back. “Answer me!”

“Look, I don’t — Probably. He’s probably safe. Whatever it is that makes me leap — God, or Time, or —”

“God?” Winchester barked out a laugh.

“Whatever,” Sam answered with only a little heat. “The point is, I don’t think I could keep doing this if I weren’t helping people, and helping them means they have to go back into their own life when I’m done.”

“But you don’t know that,” Winchester said.

Sam sighed. “There’s a lot I don’t know.”

The answer clearly didn’t set well with Winchester, who looked like he wanted to hit something. Sam remembered how strong the man was and hoped Winchester wouldn’t decide that Sam’s head would make a convenient punching bag.

Winchester must have seen some of that concern in Sam’s face, because he unclenched his fists and stepped away from the bed. “Look, you don’t get it. Dean is — I can’t lose him. Not again. You have to tell me where he is.”

Infuriated again, Sam shoved the covers aside and stood up, not really giving a damn about his lack of clothing. “I don’t know! How many times do I have to say that before you get it?” Sam stepped up to Winchester, who took a step back and kept on going as Sam followed him, poking Winchester in the chest and saying, “I don’t even know who I am, let alone why I’m here, so how the hell am I supposed to know where your brother is?”

Winchester raised his hands and said, “Dude, chill. It’s just — Dean and I, we have a lot of people who don’t like us —”

“I can’t imagine why,” Sam said.

“Yeah,” Winchester said on a sigh. “Okay, I’m not exactly making a case for you to join the Winchester fan club, but you’ve got to understand that Dean is important, and not just because he’s my older brother. There’s a lot of shit going down right now, and we really need Dean here.”

At that, Sam shook his head and went back to the bed. Part of him wanted to lie down again and go back to sleep until the leap was over, but the larger part wanted to find out why he was there so he could leave again. Going to sleep wouldn’t help that, so he said, “Where are Dean’s clothes? We need to talk about him, and I’m pretty sure you’d rather do that while I’m dressed.”

~*~*~

We stayed in that motel room for another day, with Winchester and I dancing around the topic of Dean. I tried to get some basic information about him, but his brother kept going off on tangents about demons and angels and purgatory, which didn’t help me at all. Every time I tried to get him back on track and talk about Dean instead, Winchester gave me what Dean apparently thought of as his brother’s “bitch face” and said he was trying, but I wasn’t letting him. In the end, I was frustrated that Winchester wasn’t focusing on reality, and he was frustrated that I wouldn’t support his delusions.

And yes, I was holding tight to the idea that these were delusions. I wasn’t sure what happened in that odd dream I had that featured Castiel, but I was convinced it was similar to an LSD flashback, though it had to have been brought on by the drugs they’d given me to make me sleep for so long. Needless to say, my trust level wasn’t high, but neither was Winchester’s, so that made us even. Unfortunately, it also made it difficult for us to have a conversation.

The only thing I learned that day was that Sam Winchester is convinced his brother something akin to the new Messiah and that the pair of them seem to be codependent to a ridiculous degree. There was, however, an actual benefit, which was that our discussion gave Winchester a chance to come to terms with the fact that his brother wasn’t coming back immediately, and that when he did, he would show up exactly where I was, so it didn’t matter if we stayed where we were or went someplace else.

Once Winchester accepted that, he told me we would go to stay with a friend of theirs in South Dakota, someone who would accept that I wasn’t Dean. I questioned the wisdom of telling their friend, but Winchester told me in no uncertain terms, “We don’t keep secrets from Bobby. Not anymore.”

I wasn’t happy about meeting yet another person who might be caught up in the same fantasy as Cas and the Winchesters, but the prospect of staying in a home rather than a hotel was enough to keep me from arguing the point, even after Winchester’s cryptic announcement that we weren’t leaving until he took care of a salt-and-burn. I had no idea what he meant, so I was more than willing to remain in the motel room while he went off on his errand.

Sam was studying the newspaper articles on the wall, trying to make sense of them, when Castiel returned, silent as always. While Sam didn’t believe Castiel was an angel, he was more than willing to believe that somewhere along the line, Castiel had had extensive training in how to sneak up on people.

“I hate it when you do that. And hey! Personal space!”

“That’s Dean talking, not you,” Castiel said. “If you’re to regain your grip on your identity, you must not allow his personality to interfere.”

“I — yeah. Okay. I get it. But it’s hard,” Sam added, before he could stop himself. He was pretty sure that arguing about this was helping to feed the delusions, and he didn’t think that was at all helpful.

Castiel scowled for a moment, then his face slid back into neutrality. “Regardless, you must learn how to do this.”

“I know, but what’s the rush?”

“Until you’re able to maintain your own sense of self, you will be of no use to me in determining when Dean Winchester is,” Castiel said, frustration and maybe a little bit of fear shaping his tone of voice.

“When?” It suddenly occurred to Sam that Castiel was absolutely right. There was no way to tell when people went, especially since Sam’s own timeline might, in fact, be shot to hell. They could be at any point in time, they could even —

“Calm yourself,” Castiel said, and just like before, Sam calmed down.

He supposed he should be grateful for the way Castiel was able to shut down his panic before it could get bad, but the process was more than a little creepy. And frustrating. Actually, it was incredibly frustrating. It was like being told to take a timeout, which was absurd, all things considered, though maybe it wasn’t. The few things Winchester had said about his brother led Sam to believe that Dean was a man who refused to grow up in some ways. Just based on the conversation Sam and Winchester had right after the leap in, it was clear that Dean was a womanizer. Added to the itinerant lifestyle, Sam began to think that maybe a timeout was exactly what Dean needed on a regular basis. He just wished he weren’t the one taking it. Worse still, Sam couldn’t figure out how Castiel did it. He wondered if maybe he’d implanted a subliminal instruction in Dean’s subconscious at some point, and the urge to obey was simply bleeding through.

Castiel frowned at Sam. “Our conversations are much easier when you’re not trying to deny that I’m an angel.”

Sam ignored that statement and said, “I’m calm, which is what you wanted. What did you mean by ‘when’?”

“You know what I meant. Your retreat into denial is pointless and counterproductive. Where is Sam Winchester?”

“You don’t know? I thought you were an angel.”

“I’ve etched Enochian sigils onto his ribs to hide him from demons and angels,” Castiel said impatiently. Then he took a step toward Sam and added, “Hear me, and hear me well: I’m an angel, a warrior of Heaven. I walked this earth when it was new and when God still loved angels best. I fought my way through countless demons to reach the deepest pit of Hell and fought my way clear again while holding fast to the greatest treasure in all of Creation. You, on the other hand, can’t even remember your own name. I strongly suggest you consider that when choosing your tone of voice in the future.”

Sam swallowed hard, because regardless of what Sam thought Castiel was or wasn’t, he could be pretty damn terrifying when he wanted to be. He answered, “Winchester said something about a salt-and-burn.”

“Of course,” Castiel said, stepping back again and ramping down the intensity. He glanced at the articles on the wall and added, “James Larson.”

“Excuse me?”

“James Larson. It’s the ghost Dean and Sam were hunting.” Castiel looked at Sam and asked, “Why did you come here?”

“What?” Sam was still stuck on ghost, and the change of subject startled him.

“Why did you choose Dean Winchester?”

“I don’t —” There was something niggling at the back of Sam’s head, something important to do with Castiel’s question. “I’m not — I don’t think I did.”

“Are you certain?”

“Maybe?”

Castiel’s face looked like thunder again, and Sam would have taken a step back, but a table was in his way.

“I need to determine who diverted Dean from his path.”

“I don’t understand,” Sam said cautiously.

“Of course not. You can’t even understand just how important Dean Winchester is to this world.” Castiel glared at Sam and said, “Someone sent you here — possibly Raphael — and if he has Dean —”

Castiel disappeared when Sam blinked, and Sam really, really wanted to know what they’d given him to make him continue to hallucinate so much. People couldn’t just appear and disappear in front of someone’s eyes.

That was impossible.


~*~*~

Part 1 | Part 2 | Epilogue | Master Post

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