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Rabbit Hole

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Summary: Sam Beckett has been leaping through time for longer than even he knows, but he's pretty sure he's never leapt into a life quite like this one. Quantum Leap/Supernatural

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Supernatural > Non-BtVS/AtS Stories > Crossover: Other(Past Donor)elementalvFR15115,73771184820 Mar 1120 Mar 11Yes
Disclaimer: Donald Bellisario owns the rights to Quantum Leap, and Eric Kripke owns the rights to Supernatural. Me? I own electronics.

Notes/Spoilers: Special thanks to Malnpudl for the beta on this. The story takes place after the series end of Quantum Leap and during the second half of Season 6 of Supernatural

Artwork that shows Sam Beckett leaping into Dean Winchester's life.

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.

~*~*~

I’ve had leaps go worse than this one. Two that I can think of offhand, and if Anyone is out there listening, I would really, really like to have those memories disappear sooner rather than later. But as horrible as those leaps were, I don’t think I’d ever been as off balance as I’ve been from the moment I stepped into Dean Winchester’s life. After five weeks, I still don’t know why I’m here, and I’m starting to worry that I’ll be here for the remainder of my life, such as it is. .

Sam Winchester acts like I’ve pretty much stepped on his favorite toy but won’t apologize for it, and he looks at me like he thinks I’m the devil. When I told Singer that, shortly after Winchester and I arrived at his home, his expression turned sour, and he assured me that Winchester was very much aware that I’m not Lucifer. I’ve thought about asking Winchester if Singer is right, that he knows I’m not Satan, but I’m reluctant. The question seems oddly intimate, and I’m not entirely convinced it’s any of my business. There’s also a benefit, because if I don’t ask, I can probably avoid discussions that include references to the apocalypse as a recent event.

For his part, Bobby Singer seems quite sanguine over the fact that I’m not Dean Winchester, though he did make me drink water he claimed was holy and threatened to slice me with a sharp knife. I think he would have if Winchester hadn’t told him that Castiel is convinced I’m human. It took a few days before he finally started talking to me in addition to glaring at me. Since he’s also fond of glaring at Winchester, I’ve come to assume this is his normal state.

It was only ten o’clock in the morning, but temperatures were in the mid eighties, and Sam had heard a weather report earlier that said the day might hit triple digits. It wasn’t happy news. What money Singer had went toward maintaining the salvage yard or toward buying books or bidding for absolutely useless trinkets and hoaxes on eBay. He still couldn’t believe Singer spent almost three thousand dollars on what was purported to be the bones of a lesser saint and seemed to think it would be a bargain at twice the price.

For Sam, the real bargain would have been central air in the house. As it was, the only place inside that was relatively cool was the ironclad room in the basement, and that was where Sam had decided to hide for a while. With any luck, he’d —

“Sam? You down there?” Winchester came through the door, holding a sawed-off shotgun at his side. It was pointed downward, and Sam was grateful for small favors.

Still, he kept a wary eye on the gun and said, “What’s that for?”

“You ever use one of these before?”

Sam was about to tell In fact, the automatic denial was on the tip of his tongue, but the truth was, “I don’t know. Maybe. No way of knowing until I try to shoot it. Why?”

“Zombies, man.” Winchester seemed to be in a good mood. He looked almost cheerful enough to smile, which would be a welcome change from the glower he’d been sporting ever since Sam leapt into Dean’s life.

Granted, Sam couldn’t really blame him, especially since he had yet to figure out why he was there in the first place, but Winchester seemed to take Sam’s presence personally, as if the universe had put Sam there just to punish him, which was ridiculous. Despite his religious mania and fondness for weaponry, Winchester didn’t strike Sam as the kind of man who merited that kind of direct punishment from the universe. If anything, he seemed more like someone who had been taken advantage of more than a few times.

However, none of that had any bearing on — “Zombies?”

Winchester smiled broadly and said, “Yeah. Zombies.”

“As in —”

“Dead men walking. Zombies.” Winchester looked far too happy about it, like maybe he was pulling Sam’s leg.

Sam took a deep breath and said, “Look, I know you think —”

Singer yelled down the stairs, “Is there some reason you two princesses are sitting down there braiding each other’s hair instead of getting your asses into the truck?”

Winchester called out, “Sam’s having a little trouble with the idea of zombies.”

“They’re decaying flesh on bones, and it’s a warm day,” Singer shot back. “I’m having a little trouble with it myself. Now get up here already. I don’t want the sheriff getting pissed at me again.”

“Wait,” Sam said. “The sheriff? The sheriff knows about zombies?”

Winchester tugged on Sam’s arm and pulled him toward the stairs. “She got an education a couple of years ago, and she knows enough to know she doesn’t want them in her town. Now come on.”

Sam went up first, prodded by Winchester, and he said, “Yeah, but — okay, but — Zombies? I don’t know anything about how to kill zombies.”

That probably wasn’t the most absurd thing he’d ever said in his life, but it probably ranked right up there. And if Sam was panicking a little, he didn’t think anyone could really blame him. It was bad enough that there were apparently four men who shared the same delusion, but if the sheriff did, too, that meant there was a possibility that what Sam and Dean did was based in reality, not delusion, and Sam wasn’t entirely sure he was ready to accept that.

“Not a problem,” Winchester said, looking far too amused at Sam’s discomfort. “They’re already dead. We just need to put them back in the ground.”

“But —”

“Dude, zombies are easy. In fact, Dean’s gonna be pissed that he’s missing out on this. He loves taking down zombies.”

Sam tried again. “Seriously, I’m not going to be any use.”

Singer, who was on the porch by the time Winchester and Sam made it up the stairs, said, “Sam’s right. Zombies are easy. Got a flamethrower with your name on it. Just point and shoot at the rotting flesh, and you’ll be good to go.”

“Look, I don’t know what else I can say to convince you that this isn’t something —”

Singer glared at Sam, and it was enough to shut him up. “Son, zombies are everybody’s business, no matter what they think they can or can’t do, you got that? Day like today, all that rotting flesh leaches into the ground water, and the town’s got a health hazard to deal with. Now get in the damn truck, already.”

Chastened, Sam got into the truck and hoped against hope that “zombies” were actually a metaphor for something else. He wasn’t quite sure what it could be meant by “zombies,” but he hoped he was about to find out.

Instead, thirty minutes later, he found out that no, “zombies” wasn’t actually a metaphor for something else. It really did mean walking corpses with rotting flesh falling off in chunks and littering the ground where they milled. For a moment, an all-too brief moment, he thought he was looking at people in costumes, but then a light breeze kicked up, and Sam caught a whiff of the sickly-sweet smell of advanced decay. He wasn’t sure how he knew that smell so well, but there was no doubt that it meant death.

Along with Winchester and Singer, Sam stood next to the truck and watched as the sheriff and a couple of civilians put up temporary fencing to keep the zombies — five, all together — in one place. The fact that the fencing was chicken wire would have been surprising if the zombies had been determined to go somewhere. As it was, they seemed confused, more than anything else, and willing to stay put.

The sheriff came up to them, her mouth a grim line, and Singer said, “Jody, what the hell is going on here? How’d this happen?”

She shook her head and said, “It was Danny Hatcher. He remembered the last time and decided to try to get his mom back.”

“Aw, hell. That’s her, isn’t it? The one in the blue dress?”

“Yeah. Danny’s pretty broken up about it. He was sure she’d know who he was, but these — It isn’t like the last time. None of them can talk.”

“That’s because he isn’t Death,” Winchester said. “Damn.”

“Got that right,” she said. “Can you three take care of this? I’ll keep the curious bystanders out of your hair.”

“Yeah. Sure,” Winchester moved to the back of the truck and added, “Flame’s gonna work best. You might want to keep everyone as far upwind as you can.”

The sheriff agreed then looked at Sam and said, “What’s up with you, Dean? Cat got your tongue?”

Sam blinked. He’d been hearing his own name for the last month or so and had forgotten what it was like to answer to someone else’s name. “Um. Not much to say, really.”

“Uh, yeah,” Winchester chimed in quickly. “He’d normally be all over this, but, you know. They aren’t the usual kind of zombie. Plus, Dean feels bad for Danny.”

“Yes! I do! I feel bad for Danny,” Sam said, hoping like hell the sheriff didn’t know Dean well enough to realize that he’d totally blown it by behaving the wrong way.

The sheriff frowned then shook it off as one of the zombies let out a wail. “Take care of it quick, would you? I can’t have those things running around. It’s bad for the town.”

“Got it,” Singer said. “Give us a couple of hours, and we’ll get them planted again.”

“Oh boy,” Sam said, as Winchester handed him a flamethrower.

~*~*~

I don’t like napalm. I especially don’t like homemade napalm. And I really don’t like homemade napalm when I’m aiming it at people. Granted, they were walking corpses, and they didn’t feel any pain, judging by the lack of screams when I set them on fire, but still, the point is, I don’t like napalm. I also don’t like realizing that the Winchesters really do deal with the supernatural on a regular basis. And as long as I’m listing things I don’t like, I don’t like finding out that supernatural beings are real.

What I do like, however, is having enough time to stop and try to remember who I am without the pressure of trying to be someone I’m not. My memories are slow to return, but I get the feeling that they’re kind of building up in my head, even though I can’t access them at the moment. Every so often, I’ll have a breakthrough, where I’ll suddenly know something or remember a name, so I know the process is working. I just wish it could work faster.

“Sam!”

Sam heard Singer’s bellow and ignored it, assuming he was calling for Winchester. Besides, Sam was busy chasing the echo of a memory down, something to do with a car and a brother, and he couldn’t quite sort out if the memory was his or Dean’s. Initially, he’d thought it was Dean’s memory, because Winchester was fond of making fun of his brother’s obsession with the family Impala. But the longer Sam concentrated on that echo, the more convinced he was that it was an echo from his own life, not Dean’s. The real problem was that it was too generic — one brother teaching another how to change the oil in a car — but Sam’s view of the process seemed to put him below the unknown brother, which meant he was shorter, and —

“Damn it, boy, where the hell are you?”

He rubbed his temples as he leaned against one of the rusted heaps in the junkyard then turned his face to the morning sun, letting its warmth relax him as much as possible so he could get another hint of that memory. Sam wasn’t sure why it was so important, but a gut-level feeling told him it was, so he worked on teasing it out so he could discern more details. The car was — it was —

“Is there some reason you can’t answer when I’m talking to you?” Singer was right there and startled Sam out of his memory.

He shook his head at the poor timing and said, “I thought you were calling for Winchester, not me.”

“Too damn many Sams around, that’s for sure.” Singer wiped his forehead with a bandana and added, “Not that I don’t appreciate your help around here — and for the record, you’re a damn sight more pleasant about it than Dean’s ever been — but I’ll be glad when we get him back.”

There wasn’t a response that that Singer hadn’t heard in one form or another, so Sam asked, “What did you want, Mr. Singer?”

“For you to call me Bobby, but I figure that ain’t happening anytime soon.”

Sam opened his mouth, but Singer talked over him. “It don’t matter. Castiel’s up to the house, and he’s injured pretty bad. Needs to talk to you about something.”

“He’s injured?” And for a moment, Sam stood still, because there, in full and glorious Technicolor memory, was every last class he’d taken for medical school as well as all the rotations he’d completed to earn his M.D. He couldn’t remember where he’d gone to school or any of his professors and classmates, but he knew he could suture a wound if he had to, and he had a perfect memory of the structure of a stomach cancer cell. It wasn’t the first memory breakthrough he’d had — someone named Ziggy had that honor, though Sam still couldn’t figure out who Ziggy was — but it was certainly the most comprehensive, and it nearly brought Sam to his knees.

After a moment, the memories settled down, and Sam said, “I’m a doctor.”

“So?”

“I’m a doctor,” Sam said on a laugh. “I can help Castiel!”

“Idiot,” Singer said, grabbing hold of Sam’s arm before he took off to go to the house. “Cas is an angel. He can fix himself up just fine as long as he has enough free time and that dickless wonder Raphael isn’t chasing him.”

“But —“

“He’s down in the safe room, working on his arm.”

“His arm?”

“That bastard Raphael tore it clean off, and Cas is trying to grow a new one.”

“He’s — What?”

“Never mind. Just get down there. He wants to talk to you.”

Singer shoved Sam toward the house, and Sam went, trying very hard to believe that the comment about Castiel’s arm was so much hyperbole. Granted, since Sam’s arrival, Castiel had shown that he was capable of remarkable things (Miracles, Sam. Plain and simple miracles, suggested a vaguely familiar voice), and Winchester and Singer both spoke of other things Castiel had done, but Sam still wasn’t willing to believe that Castiel was an angel, and Sam wasn’t sure he ever would be.

Regardless, Castiel was evidently injured, and supposed angelic ability to heal or not, this was a concrete problem Sam could handle, so he jogged back to the house and headed to the basement.

Sam heard the tail end of Winchester’s comment, “—pens if your vessel is destroyed?”

“I would have to find a new one, the way Raphael did, and it will take time I don’t have. Besides —” there was a long pause, and Sam waited near the bottom of the stairs until he heard Castiel finish with, “Dean is comfortable with me when I’m in this vessel. I would prefer not to change my appearance if I don’t have to.”

That made even less sense than zombies and a recent apocalypse, but Sam wasn’t about to try and sort it out. Instead, he continued down the stairs and called, “Castiel?”

“In here, Sam,” said Winchester.

“I heard there was —”

Sam stopped short in the doorway. Winchester looked as if he was ready to vomit, and really, Sam couldn’t blame him. Castiel was, as Singer had said, trying to grow a new arm — the right arm, to be specific — though as he watched, Sam realized that “trying” probably wasn’t the best word to describe what he was seeing, since the new arm looked as if it was about halfway done.

“You —”

Castiel looked up. “I apologize. Raphael’s blade did more damage to my Grace than I realized, so I’m unable to heal my vessel as quickly as I would otherwise. However, I was able to determine that he had nothing to do with your arrival here, so I’ll count that as a blessing.”

Sam said nothing; he just waved goodbye to the last bit of denial he had about what Castiel was while watching an arm reformed itself in slow motion. From a clinical standpoint, it was a fascinating process. From a human standpoint, Sam was feeling just as queasy as Winchester seemed to be.

After watching for another minute or so, Sam finally said, “Mr. Singer told me you wanted to see me.”

“I’m certain, now, of how to find Dean.”

At that, Winchester looked up. “Really? Where is he?”

“I said I know how to find him, not that I had,” Castiel said with asperity.

“That’s good news,” Sam said, moving closer to Castiel. The fingers were unfurling as the stump grew longer, and no matter what Sam thought of the idea of someone growing a new arm within an hour, it wasn’t a sight he could turn away from.

“Perhaps. But I will require your permission to proceed.”

“You’ve got it,” said Winchester.

Sam looked at him, annoyed, and said, “I think he wants my permission.”

“And he has it, right?”

Before Sam could answer, Castiel said, “I’ll need direct access to your soul again.”

At that, Sam started backing away toward the door. “No. You said the last time I wasn’t in good enough shape.”

“That was then. You’ve had time to solidify your identity and fortify your ego. It will be painful, but there’s no reason to believe you’ll disintegrate under the pressure. Not now.”

Sam turned to leave the room, but Winchester was right there, blocking the doorway. To be fair, Sam could understand his anxiety. If it were Tom, he was pretty sure —

For a moment, Sam experienced a doubling of memory. He was standing at a graveside with Tom’s flag-draped casket ready for burial, an honor guard off to the side and ready to fire a twenty-one-gun salute, but overlaying that was a headline that Tom Beckett had returned home safe from war and would be spending time with his family before returning to San Diego for redeployment.

Beckett. He was Sam Beckett, and Tom was his brother. Tom was dead, but he wasn’t. Clearly, he wasn’t, and Sam couldn’t quite make the connection to understand how that could be, because he was too stuck on knowing he had a brother and that he had a last name.

“Tom.”

Winchester looked confused. “Tom?”

“His brother,” Castiel said. “Yet another sign that both memory and cohesion are returning. You’ll be able to tolerate this.”

Sam pulled away from memory and turned back to Castiel. The thought of the pain wasn’t sharp enough to cause panic, but he did remember feeling as if he was about to fly apart, and that wasn’t something he wanted to experience again. Ever.

He backed up against Winchester and started shaking his head. “No. Please, Castiel, no.”

It was too late, though. Castiel, his arm fully formed again, was already reaching for Sam’s forehead, and he had a moment to be grateful for that kindness before he blacked out.

~*~*~

I don’t remember Castiel poking around in me the second time, though Mr. Singer tells me he could hear the screams out in the yard and complains that I managed to scare his dogs. That’s not really a surprise. As much as he likes to talk about them being mean junkyard animals with attitude fit to put an angel to shame, the fact of the matter is that his dogs get spooked when the wind whips up dust devils.

The sun was low to the ground, and the moon was already rising by the time Sam made his slow way out of the house and to the car he’d been perched on earlier. The dogs followed, even though they seemed to be uneasy about the night, and Sam was glad of their company. It was certainly easier to deal with than —

“Sam expects me to go back to 2002 to retrieve Dean,” Castiel said.

He was exhausted enough that he didn’t jump, but Sam did give Castiel a dirty look. “Is there any chance at all of tying a bell around you so there’s some warning when you show up?”

“That’s something Dean would say.”

Before Castiel could start lecturing Sam on host bleed-through, he held up a hand and said, “It’s something anyone would say. You need to give some warning the next time.”

Apparently that was enough to satisfy him, because Castiel returned to his original comment. “I’ve already told him that it isn’t possible, that Dean must return by the same route he left.”

“Good.” At least with Castiel on his side, Sam wouldn’t have to have the same argument with Winchester. He hoped, anyway. The way Winchester hammered at a point, Sam thought he’d missed his true calling as a lawyer.

“He wants to know what it will take to get you to move on.” Sam was under the distinct impression that Castiel wanted to know the answer to that more than Winchester did, and possibly even more than Sam himself did, but it probably wasn’t the time to point that out.

“I have no idea,” Sam said, discouraged at the thought of it. He didn’t think he’d ever been in one place for this long, and — “Do you know if Dean is okay?”

“He is,” Castiel said without hesitation. “He is being cared for, though he is extremely frustrated at being there instead of here.”

“Did you —” and Sam couldn’t believe he was about to ask this, but he continued, “— did you go back in time to talk to him?”

“There was no need. I was able to sense him through his connection to your soul.” Sam didn’t know Castiel all that well, but he thought he detected some irritation in Castiel’s voice when he mentioned Dean’s connection to Sam’s soul. Sam was curious about it but not enough to ask about it.

Instead, he asked, “How were you able to sense him? Is it something all angels can do?”

After a pause, Castiel said, “Dean and I share a bond that is — powerful. It transcends time and space.”

At that, Sam blinked, though maybe he shouldn’t have. Castiel was an angel, so it would take something fairly significant for him to be willing to spend so much time working with the Winchesters to the exclusion of almost everything else. A powerful bond, one allowed Castiel to follow a thread left by Dean Winchester, was probably far more significant than Castiel would, or perhaps even could acknowledge. Given what little Sam recalled of biblical lore, including the apocrypha, Castiel’s behavior started to make a great deal more sense.

“Oh. You’re in love with him,” Sam said, though the moment he spoke, he thought he should have kept his mouth shut. Of all the possible responses to that statement, Sam truly didn’t expect to see a deer-in-the-headlights expression on Castiel’s face.

Nor did he expect a stammering, “No. You don’t — I pulled Dean out of Hell. That’s why — not — no.”

Sam looked at Castiel for a long moment before deciding that neither of them was especially ready for a conversation about the nature of Castiel’s concern for Dean. It spoke volumes about the last few weeks of his life to realize that the far safer response was, “Oh. You pulled Dean out of Hell?”

Castiel seemed grateful for the change of subject, and considering how much of a poker face he usually had, Sam figured he must have hit a target Castiel didn’t even know existed, and that — yeah. There it was. There was the feeling he usually got when he was onto the reason for any given leap. Clearly, Castiel felt something for Dean (Hah! Greatest treasure in Creation, Sammy, remember that?), and it was up to Sam to get him to acknowledge it and to be willing to act on it. He would have told Castiel this, but Castiel had sudden and pressing business elsewhere.

Fine.

It didn’t matter. At least Sam knew he was finally on the right track to leap out of Dean Winchester’s life, and that was more important to him than anything else at the moment. He’d figure out what to do next after getting a good night’s sleep.

~*~*~

Finding out that Castiel was in love with Dean was one thing. Accepting it was something else entirely. Since I first leapt into Dean’s life, I’d come to a gradual and inescapable conclusion that the guy was kind of a jerk. Based on Winchester’s comments and Singer’s, too, it seemed clear that Dean was insensitive and selfish, and he wasn’t all that concerned about things like credit card fraud and creating false identities to maintain his lifestyle. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d like him if I ever had the chance to meet him, but all that changed after I realized Castiel loved Dean.

Obviously, I don’t know with any certainty, but I suspect that for an angel to fall in love with a human being, the human in question would have to be more than the petty thief everyone saw. He would, in fact, have to be “the greatest treasure in Creation,” whatever that might mean. If I knew how, I’d apologize to Dean for judging him; as it is, the best I can do is sort things out for him and Castiel.

Before I can do that, though, I need to find out what Winchester knows about Dean’s relationship with Castiel, which could be a problem. I’ve leapt into a lot of emotionally fraught situations, but some of the worst involve homosexuality. I’m not sure what it is about same-sex couples that sets off such deep-rooted fear and anger, but I know enough to know that I need to approach Winchester with caution. After all, our first meeting involved “Dean” bragging about women and Winchester accepting the comment as read.

Maybe if I frame it as a way to bring Dean back, I can —or maybe I should — but ¬— It’s no use. I still have no idea how Winchester will react. I can only hope for the best.

The next morning, Sam found Winchester in the back forty, ostensibly rebuilding a carburetor, but really, looking more like he was just tossing parts around out of frustration. He cleared his throat, and Winchester looked up.

“Yeah?”

“I, um, I think I know what it will take to get Dean back here,” Sam said.

Winchester went still at that and then, “You couldn’t have said something before now?”

“I didn’t have any ideas until last night.”

“What happened last night?” Winchester flushed when Sam glared at him, and he at least had the grace to look guilty as he remembered what happened. “Oh, right. Uh, sorry, by the way, for, um, you know. Making sure Cas did that soul touch thing on you. I know it hurts like a bitch, but at least he knocked you out, so that was okay, right?”

As much as he might have wanted to make Winchester squirm a little more for that, Sam waved him off. They had more important things to discuss, which is what he told him.

“So, Dean? How do we get him back?”

“Before I answer that, I need to know something,” Sam said, positioning himself carefully, to ensure the shell of an old Ford Escort was between him and Winchester.

“Sure. Anything. Ask away.”

“Is Dean in love with Castiel?”

For a long moment, all Sam could hear was a starling and the low buzz of cicadas coming from the brush that lined the property. The warmth of the morning sun and the smell of dust and machine oil hanging in the air set off an unexpected longing for home.

Sam could have easily slipped into a nice long brood, but Winchester burst out laughing.

“Dean? Are you serious? The man never met a woman he didn’t think about taking to bed. And he does that with every woman above the age of consent. Hell, if Ellen hadn’t scared the crap out of him, he probably would have —” Winchester shook his head. “Never mind. The point is, Dean likes women. A lot.”

“Yeah, okay. But is he in love with Castiel?”

“Seriously, he can’t get enough of women. They’re all he talks about when we’re not on a case. He goes on and on about —” He stopped speaking and looked thoughtful. After a moment, he said, “Huh. The bragging only got worse after Cas showed up.”

Sam waited, because clearly, a light bulb had gone on over Winchester’s head, and it was only a matter of time before he came to the conclusion Sam thought he might.

Winchester shook his head and huffed out a breath as he looked off into the distance. “I can’t believe I missed that.”

“It happens.”

“Okay, so to answer your question, yeah, probably he is.”

“Good.”

“Good? If you leaving depends on Dean admitting that, you’ll have a long wait, and you might as well plan on taking care of Bobby’s bookkeeping for the rest of your life.”

“My leaving doesn’t depend on Dean admitting it. It depends on Castiel admitting that he loves Dean.”

“Again, I’d like to point out that you might as well plan on taking care of Bobby’s bookkeeping for the rest of your life.”

“Not going to happen,” Sam said, and it wasn’t. He’d been roped into that duty shortly after they’d arrived, when he’d admitted he was good with numbers. Numbers were all very fine and well, but Bobby’s method of filing receipts and the fact that he maintained tax records for no less than nineteen false identities meant that Sam could only deal with the paperwork for so long before he had to escape the house for fresh air.

“You’ve met Cas, right?”

“I have,” Sam said. And then he told Sam about their conversation the night before.

“Great. So there’s interest, but Cas is hiding from it.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Raphael, maybe,” Winchester said. “If he had confirmation that Castiel loves Dean, it would be the same thing as painting a big target on Dean’s back. Every angel that supports Raphael would be gunning for Dean.”

“Castiel said something about sigils on your ribs. Didn’t he take care of Dean, too?”

“Yeah, he did, but a couple of years ago, when Zachariah was trying to find Dean, he convinced a bunch of religious people to keep watch for him. Raphael would probably set up the same kind of deal.”

“Wait — Zachariah? Who’s Zachariah?”

“One of Raphael’s buddies. Dean killed him, and with good reason.”

“Damn it.” Sam sighed. He was hoping to avoid having to hear about this, but clearly, he needed context if he was to have any hope of moving on. “Tell me about Raphael and the rest of it.”

“Thought you didn’t want to know, man,” Winchester said, with a smirk on his face and a challenge in his voice.

“I don’t. Seriously, I don’t, because the idea of angels is — okay, maybe it’s not so weird, considering the way I’ve been living — but the idea that this is so commonplace for you that you barely notice kind of bothers me.”

“Bothers you?”

“Fine. It scares the daylights out of me.”

Winchester nodded, and then he wiped his hands off on a rag and stepped around the shell of the Escort and put his arm around Sam’s shoulders. “How fast can you read?”

“Pretty fast. Why?”

“Because Bobby has the complete set of Supernatural, including Chuck’s unpublished manuscripts, and it will be easier to tell you the rest of it, if you have that background first.”

~*~*~

When Winchester told me about the books, I thought he meant — actually, I’m not sure what I thought, but I know I didn’t think the books would literally be about the life and times and multiple deaths of Sam Winchester and Dean Winchester. Singer called the books the Winchester Gospel, which explained some of Sam’s earliest comments that suggested Dean was at least as important as Christ, and he added that Castiel had assured them all that even with the averted apocalypse, the books would one day take their place next to the books of the Bible.

As uncomfortable as I was with the idea of angels and demons, I’d already made the decision to accept them as real, so I sat down with the books and started to read with an open mind. The more I read, the better I began to understand Sam Winchester and his animosity toward me for sending his brother elsewhere. Considering all the pair had been through, it was no wonder they clung to each other, even to the point of a willingness to go to Hell to save each other. A psychiatrist would have a field day with the issues the two of them had, but I was inclined to be more forgiving. I still didn’t know how Tom got home alive from Vietnam when he should have been dead, but I suspected I had gone to similar lengths to save him.

In any event, I was grateful to Winchester for giving me the books, because I could see why Castiel was attracted to Dean. The series also explained why Castiel had had to pull Dean out of Hell, and why Castiel had described his connection to Dean as a powerful bond. If I had time, I planned ask Castiel about that trip to Hell and back, but before that could happen, I needed to get Castiel here so I could talk to him about Dean.

Winchester was under the Impala, changing the oil, when Sam found him the next afternoon.

“So, I read the books.”

Winchester pulled himself out from under the car to stare at Sam. “You started what — twenty-four hours ago?”

“Thirty-two, actually,” Sam said. “I told you, I’m a fast reader.”

“Yeah, but —” Winchester reconsidered then said, “You ready for the rest of it?”

“I’ll admit to being curious about how you got out of Hell.”

“I had a different kind of help,” Winchester said. He spent the next few hours bringing Sam up to date on what had happened over the last year and a half, and he talked about what Castiel was dealing with when he wasn’t shoving his fist into Sam’s chest. Singer came out midway through Winchester’s narrative, and he had a plate of sandwiches in one hand and a couple of six-packs of Pabst in the other hand.

When Winchester finished talking and started devouring his first sandwich, Singer said, “Sam here told me what you said about Cas and Dean. Makes sense, now I’ve had time to think about it.”

Winchester very carefully didn’t look up, so Sam said, “Will you be okay with that? With the two of them being in a relationship?”

“They’re already in a relationship.”

“You know what I mean,” Sam said quietly.

“Yeah, all right. I know what you mean. But before you get any fool notions about me being uncomfortable with Dean being gay, that ain’t it.”

“Then what is it?” Winchester asked quietly.

“You’re joking, right?”

“Not really,” Winchester said, looking at Singer for the first time.

“It’s — Cas is an angel, you idiot. How the hell is that supposed to work?”

Winchester shrugged. “I don’t know, but it must. Gabriel didn’t seem to have any problem with sex, and Cas told us his friend Balthazar is into orgies.”

“Yeah, but — damn it. He’s a different species.”

Sam and Winchester both looked at Singer, and Sam finally said, “That’s your objection? That they aren’t the same species?”

“That and the fact that Cas could snap Dean in half if he wanted.”

“Cas wouldn’t do that,” Winchester said firmly.

“You forgetting the way he whaled on Dean back when he was ready to say yes to Michael?”

“He didn’t do anything I wasn’t ready to do to Dean myself.” Winchester finished his sandwich and washed it down with the rest of his beer before standing up. “It’s a done deal, Bobby. You going to be okay with it?”

Singer didn’t say anything for a long moment, but then he nodded reluctantly and stood up as well. “As long as I don’t have to walk Dean down the aisle, I can live with it. I seem to recall a summoning spell that might drag Cas’s ass back here, whether he likes it or not.” He looked at Sam and said, “Seems to me a man who can read as fast as you might be a help in finding it.”

Sam said, “Point me at your books.”

~*~*~

Bobby Singer has an impossibly large collection of supernatural lore tucked away in his house, and I have a feeling there are any number of people, including the Vatican, who would love to get their hands on it, if only they knew it was here. They were unlikely to find out, though, because Singer hides his collection in plain sight. For example, a volume of lore about werewolves is tucked between second edition copies of Jane Eyre and Little Women. Winchester doesn’t even twitch at the incongruity, so I assume he’s known Singer long enough that such quirks of reading habits are old news to him.

With the three of us searching that night and the next morning, it didn’t take long to find what Singer remembered.

Singer finished the incantation, and immediately, there was a flash of brilliant light. Sam caught sight of a pair of wings that stretched up to and through the ceiling before the light died down, and when it did, he saw Castiel standing inside the complicated pattern they’d drawn on the floor using a mixture of blood from the three of them along with a witch’s brew of other ingredients. As disgusting as it was, it was certainly effective, because Castiel wasn’t moving from where he’d appeared.

Castiel wasn’t very happy, either. In fact, Sam was willing to go with wrathful as a good way to describe the look on his face.

“You dare? You dare use that obscene filth of a forbidden summoning spell on me? I have given up everything to protect this world, to protect Sam and Dean Winchester, to protect humanity. God Himself has resurrected me not once, but twice. I have killed countless angels and risked being called anathema and being sent to Hell as punishment for my rebellion. I have faced down the wrath of Raphael and Lucifer, and I have willingly suffered indignity upon —”

“Yeah, whatever, angel-boy,” Singer said, sounding bored. “One thing you ain’t done is admit how you feel about Dean.”

The change in Castiel’s posture was immediate and remarkable. He seemed to shrink in on himself a little, and then he said, “I have to get back. Raphael is —”

“Not going to find you here,” Winchester said. “The house is unremarkable, thanks to the sigils you taught us, so we have time to talk.”

“There’s nothing to discuss, unless you’ve suddenly discovered how to defeat Raphael for once and for all.” After a beat, Castiel said, “No? Then release me.”

“Don’t think so.” Winchester sat in one of the armchairs and stretched his legs out to get comfortable for the long haul. The provocation was deliberate and obvious, and Sam was impressed by the fact that Castiel didn’t fall for it.

“Sam —”

“Just want to know what your intentions are toward my brother,” Winchester said.

Castiel looked at him for a moment before saying, “I don’t understand.”

“Don’t you? Maybe you don’t.” Winchester’s tone softened, and he sat forward in the chair. “Do you love Dean?”

“I — Dean and I share a —”

“— profound bond,” Winchester said in unison. “Yeah, I heard. That doesn’t answer the question. Do you love Dean?”

“I — Dean is — I —” Castiel looked helpless, and Sam felt for him.

“You care for him, right, Castiel?” At Castiel’s reluctant nod, Sam continued, “So it’s not much of a stretch to say you love him, is it?”

“I — there are rules.”

Singer snorted, his amusement bright in his eyes. “Right. Like you’ve paid all that much attention to rules over the last few years.”

Castiel turned to him. “I don’t see the relevance of this discussion. Raphael may yet find the weapons Balthazar stole, and I —”

“— don’t really have to go anywhere,” said an Englishman who appeared behind Bobby. Sam was fairly certain he would never get used to that, and the way Winchester and Singer reacted, he was pretty sure they weren’t all that happy about it either.

Winchester pushed out of his chair and started toward the man — Angel, Sam reminded himself — stopping when he realized he couldn’t actually threaten him. “Who are you?”

“How tiresome. You don’t remember me. Pity. I certainly remember you.” His tone was suggestive enough to raise even Sam’s hackles, and the tension might have ratcheted up further if not for Castiel.

“Balthazar.”

“Cassie,” he said with a broad smile. “I wondered where you’d gotten to, and here you are.”

Winchester asked, “How did you find him?”

“Castiel and I have known each other for a very long time,” Balthazar said. “I’ve taken to keeping track of him, and when he disappeared so abruptly, I wondered who might be audacious enough to take him. Naturally I thought of you and your brother first, though I don’t see our very pretty Righteous Man. Where is the dear boy?”

“How’d you find this place,” Singer asked. The club he held close to his leg turned into a rotting mackerel, and Singer dropped it on the floor in disgust.

“Why, Sam invited me not so long ago, and I thought this was the most likely place to start looking for my dear, dear Cassie.”

“What? I didn’t —” A dull red flush rose on Winchester’s face, and he looked away.

“Release me from this trap, Balthazar.”

“I don’t think so, my dear. The conversation I overheard was rather fascinating, and I’m looking forward to hearing the end of it.” Balthazar made a grand gesture of sitting down and crossing one leg over the other, and Sam developed a first-hand understanding of why the Winchesters and Singer classified angels as dicks.

Castiel tried again with, “Please, Balthazar. Raphael —”

“— won’t get his hands on the weapons. Trust me when I say they’re very well hidden.” Sam thought that kind of pride tended to go before a fall, but he didn’t see any reason to point it out. Not when Castiel had yet to acknowledge the real reason he’d been summoned.

“But —”

“No buts. I think it’s time you answered the question. Inquiring minds want to know, and all that.”

“I can’t — it isn’t right.”

Balthazar cocked his head, and Sam got the feeling an entire conversation was going on between him and Castiel. As he thought about it, he realized a conversation probably was taking place, because Castiel finally looked away and said, “Fine. I love Dean. My feelings, however, are irrelevant when compared to the fact that Raphael is still searching for Heaven’s weapons.”

A familiar tingling started at the tips of Sam’s toes and fingers, and he said, “You’re wrong, Castiel. Your love for Dean isn’t the slightest bit irrelevant. In fact, I’d say it’s the most relevant thing in recent history.”

Castiel gave Sam a startled look. “Why would you say that?”

“You said it yourself,” Winchester said. “You rebelled. You said it was for me and Dean, but I think we all know it was mostly for Dean. Even when you lost faith in God, you still had faith in Dean. Mostly.”

“Sam —”

Sam wasn’t sure if Castiel was pleading to him or to Winchester, but it really didn’t matter. The energy was gathering strength, and he didn’t have much time left.

Castiel looked at Sam just then and frowned. “You’re leaving.”

“Yeah. And when Dean gets back, talk to him. If you don’t, his brother will. But I’m sure he’d rather hear it from you.”

“Sam —” he paused, then said, “Go in peace, Sam Beckett. Know that the blessing of Heaven is on you.”

~*~*~

My name is Sam Beckett, and for the first time in a long time, I know who I am. I was born in Elk Ridge, Indiana on August 8, 1953 to John Samuel Beckett and Thelma Louise Beckett. My older brother is Thomas Andrew Beckett, and until I changed history, he died in Vietnam. After I changed history, he came home. My younger sister is Katherine Elizabeth Beckett, and when Tom was dead, she was married to an alcoholic who abused her. After Tom survived, she ended up married to a Navy officer who loves her.

My name is Sam Beckett, and, theorizing that I could time travel within my own lifetime, I led an elite group of scientists into the desert to develop a top-secret project known as Quantum Leap. Pressured to prove my theories or lose funding, I prematurely stepped into the project accelerator, and I awoke to find myself in the past, suffering from partial amnesia and facing a mirror image that was not my own.

My name is Sam Beckett, and my guide was Al Calavicci, who kept me sane during those early years. I grieved when I broke contact with him and the project to start traveling on my own, but at the time, it was the right thing to do. Somewhere along the line, though, I stopped worrying about where or when the people went when I leapt into them, and that bothered the hell out of me, because it wasn’t who I was. I got off easy, though, because based on what Castiel had said about Dean, it was clear that someone was taking care of Dean, at least. I had to assume that same someone or group of someones took care of everyone else.

“They do.”

Sam stood in his mother’s truck garden, with a row of cabbage to his left and a row of strawberries to his right. The man who spoke held a hoe, and it was clear that he had been weeding.

Still disoriented from the leap and the fact that he knew he was in a garden that had long since gone to weed, Sam said, “What?”

“Your friends. They take care of the people you leap into. Gets a bit confusing at times, but they manage, and they keep tabs on where you are.”

“Who are you?”

“My name is Joshua.”

At first, he thought the information wasn’t useful, but then he remembered the manuscript, and he was pretty sure he knew who Joshua was.

To be certain, he asked, “Why am I in my mother’s garden?”

“Everyone sees the Garden in their own way. When Dean and Sam Winchester were here, they saw the Cleveland Botanical Garden because it had meaning for them. You see your mother’s garden for your own reasons.” Joshua leaned down and carefully pulled a weed out, making sure the roots were intact, then laid it on a stack of weeds near his feet. He added, “It doesn’t really matter, though. All gardens stem from this, the one Garden.”

Sam considered what Joshua said and asked, “Am I dead?”

“You’ve been dead a long time, Sam,” he said, his face kind even as he delivered the news.

“But I’ve been traveling through time, helping people. I couldn’t do that if I were dead.”

“True enough. But would you say you were living your life through most of that?”

Sam started to answer, but he realized Joshua was saying something else entirely. “Oh. Not really.”

Joshua smiled briefly. “You’re as smart as they say you are.”

“Are you — are you related to that other man I met? Al?”

“I know Al. He keeps in touch sometimes.”

“He said I was the one who decided to keep leaping, but — but lately, it’s felt like I haven’t had any control.”

“Of course you haven’t. You didn’t even know who you were. No way for you keep on course if you don’t know where you’ve been or where you need to go.” Joshua nodded at the porch, where a pitcher of lemonade sat with two glasses on Grandma Beckett’s favorite lawn table. The chairs on either side were in pristine condition, and Sam willingly followed along, remembering how comfortable they were.

He poured two glasses and handed one to Joshua before asking, “Did you send me into Dean Winchester’s life?”

“I did.”

Sam sighed, wondering if angels ever gave up information without prompting. “Was it to help him and Castiel get together?”

“That was one reason.”

“They — will they be okay now?”

“Perhaps,” Joshua said thoughtfully. “It’s difficult to say with those two.”

“I don’t understand.” Sam thought he might have, when he first arrived, but even as he sat there, his memories of Dean Winchester’s life and family were already starting to fade, and he thought he might be missing something important.

“Come, now, Sam. Your memories haven’t gone away quite yet. Surely, you can tell me if anything you’ve learned about Dean Winchester suggests even slightly that the man ever willingly does what he’s expected to do.”

Startled, Sam laughed. “No. I haven’t learned anything that supports that theory.”

“And Castiel. Do you think he’s readily moved to do what others want him to do and to do so without questioning the purpose?”

“That would also be no,” Sam said. But even as he was amused by the idea, he was concerned. “Why send me there, if there’s no guarantee they’ll get together?”

“God asked me to.”

“God? I thought He didn’t get involved anymore.”

“He doesn’t. Not really. But every so often, He likes to skip a stone across a pond.” Joshua took a drink of his lemonade and said, “Dean and Castiel have potential to do great things together, and God wants to see if they’ll fulfill that promise.”

“Oh.” It made sense, really. From what he recalled of the books, Sam thought that the real reason the angels started the apocalypse was an effort to get God to give them direction again. It never seemed to occur to any of them that God, like any parent, was stepping back to let His children grow up. So that explained Dean and Castiel, but — “You said they were one reason. What was the other?”

“You were. How’s your memory?”

“Perfect.” Sam could remember everything up until he leapt that first time. After that, his memories were uneven, but considering that he’d been traveling in time for — “Four hundred years? I’ve been — that’s impossible.”

“Not much is impossible when God is involved.”

“God?”

“I told you, he likes to skip stones sometimes. Dean and Castiel are one, and you’re another.” Joshua looked at him with so much compassion and love that Sam wanted to look away, to hide himself, because no one deserved that level of devotion. No one, which is what he said.

Joshua answered, “I hope you’ll understand when I say I disagree with you on that. You kept going longer than I thought anyone possibly could, and you did so willingly and alone.”

He made it sound more noble than it was, and Sam, honest to the core, said, “I couldn’t — I didn’t know how to stop.”

“That much is obvious,” Joshua said wryly. “You’ve done a lot of good, Sam. Far more than I would have thought.”

“Why am I here?”

“We needed to talk,” Joshua said.

“About what?”

“About you. You’ve been wandering in the wilderness for a great many years. It’s time to rest, don’t you think?”

“I —” He thought about everything he’d done and briefly considered the possibility of going on, but then he remembered Al and Donna and everyone else on the project, and he couldn’t do that. Not if there was a chance his family and friends were still alive and waiting for him to return.

“Could I go home?”

“Which home, Sam?”

“Mine. I want to see my family again, and my friends.”

“Even if they’ve moved on?”

“Yes,” Sam said, with no hesitation.

Joshua’s smile broadened, and Sam felt the leap home begin.

The End

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