Kalliel (kalliel) wrote,
Kalliel
kalliel

[Fic] John Dies at the End, 2/2 -- Sam (POV), horror/angst, S2 AU

Rule No. 11: Don't act like you're not invited. Just because you stop thinking doesn't mean time stops turning. The carpets are out, the cathedrals are on fire. There's even lights in the trees.

Don't worry, I'll wait for you. Just stop whining.


--


Five months ago, Sam and John killed a crossroads demon. On their way to the road, Sam asked, Did you get everything you needed from the witch?

John said, ever garrulous, Yes.

Have you ever met in person? Sam asks.

Not since I've been with you, John says. He says, Sam, she knows how to do her job. Don't worry.

So Sam worries. Not about the demon--nor the next one, nor the ghosts that follow. He worries, and he stays--Heaven help him, he stays. Because if his father wants to kill him, first he's going to have to escape Sam's watch.

They end up on the docks in Duluth, Meg sharing space with Sam's body, and John with his gun out. He can't shoot.

This should mean Sam's safe. It should mean he's going to be okay. It should mean that he and John, father and son, are in this together. But all Sam can think is, that's why.

That's why it has to be poison.

John needs to kill him but he doesn't want to watch.

He and John ride this brinkmanship all the way to Bobby's; and even with Meg gone, the feeling doesn't fade.

Breakfast at Tiffany's is playing again. The tape is wearing out.

(Bobby, again? Sam asks, and Bobby shrugs. He says, One of Dean's favorites. I dunno.)

They leave the salvage yard in the strong black embrace of the Impala, newly revived.

Sam tries to love her, and doesn't.

She's back on the road, but all that means is she's not Dean's car anymore.


--


The rest of the five months happen in snapshots. Now that Sam has the comparison, it's not unlike possession. He can't let John out of his sight. He can't let John's hands out of his sight.

Yet somehow, Sam's the one who feels watched.

It's bleeding him, he knows. He's seen himself in mirrors. His nails split like there's someone dragging a knife down their wrists. Even in the warm and forgiving light of Werewolf Madison's master vanity, he hadn't looked well.

He loses time and place because all he can do is watch for John's hands.

They end up in Hollywood, hash smoke and carnival mirrors, hunting vengeful ghosts. Santa Monica, the end of the Mother Road, is a stone's throw away, and something about Los Angeles just feels final. Sam breathes deep the smog. LA can jam a hundred rows of palm trees into the pavement, but that doesn't make it any less a pyre. All he can think is, I deserve this.

It's not even that he deserves to die; were that true, he'd have died a six-month old. No, Sam deserves to be teased. And tested.

He deserves the flutter in his heart every time John dips out of sight. Every time he doesn't, and Sam feels watched. He deserves every miserable day John doesn't so much as look at him funny, because it doesn't feel like comfort, or relief. Sam just feels stupid.

He deserves this.


--


Where have you been? asks Ellen, when they shuffle through the door. They made it to Nebraska, then. It's not happy hour this time.

The roadhouse is empty.

She glances pointedly at Sam; or rather, she sees in him his failure to keep promises.

Like father, like son.

Headed to Arkansas, says John, which is not an answer.

We've been in California for a while, Sam supplies.

See any of your friends? Ellen asks. When Sam replies in the negative, she glances at Jo.

Cured a werewolf, says John, which earns him twinned looks of skepticism.

Maybe, says Sam. If he sounds sullen and petulant, so be it. It's been a long drive.

He says, We didn't stay to check.

That sounds thorough, says Ellen.

Yeah, well maybe he'll send me and Dean to tie up loose ends, Sam mutters.

John pretends not to have heard.

So Jo says, Well, I guess if you're passing through, we should get you set up quick. Shower tokens are by the bar like usual--left side has better pressure now, by the way, but I fixed 'em so they're both okay. And Sam, I assume you'll be needing a bed?

She's surprised when Sam says no; Sam can tell. But he keeps having more--dreams, nightmares, visions, whatever, and that demon already came for him once and he just--he's not even sure if he's trying to save the Roadhouse or himself when he says no. Either his bunkmates will want him dead or Sam will get them killed. It's lose-lose. So Sam says no.

Did you--want to sleep with me? Jo asks tentatively.

On the floor, I mean. In a sleeping bag. Not with me with me.

Sam smiles thinly.

No.

The Impala will be fine. They have to get an early start, anyway. He and John will both sleep in the Impala.

Ellen shrugs. She says, Saves Jo a load of laundry, I suppose. Suit yourself.

Then she says, Oh, Sam! There's actually a box of coffee filters in the store room. Last freeloader rolling through put it up too high. You wanna give me a hand and get it down?

Sam nods, and Ellen takes him gruffly by the arm as she leads him to the back.

Jo, honey, shut the door behind us will you? You know the draft costs us a fortune in electric, she says.

The last thing Sam sees as he watches the door close behind them is John settling down at the bar for a nice, long chat with Jo. He's not stupid.

Arkansas in a hurry, huh? Ellen ventures, as they descend the basement steps.

You know how John is, says Sam.

You doin' okay? Ellen asks.

Sam sniffs noncommittally. Sure, he says.

'Cause I know you're not, says Ellen. Look, I'm not your blood, and I'm not your mom, but anyone with eyes could tell you that's not true.

Sam shrugs. Stresses of the job, you know? It's been sort of non-stop. But I think it helps--you know? It keeps my mind off certain things.

It's just that those certain things aren't death, murder, filicide, or his own slow but apparently inevitable defection to the dark side. And they usually aren't even Dean. Coffee filters probably make the list, though. Working with John, Sam almost never has to think about coffee filters.

Do you want out, Sam? Ellen asks.

God, yes. He wants out so bad sometimes he wishes John would poison him. But there's nowhere to run and no one to go to. He'd thought maybe the roadhouse but the moment they walked through that door he knew that wasn't gonna fly. There are too many hunters here, there's too much tension, and too much history. And if it's his father Sam's running from, the roadhouse isn't far enough.

I can handle this, Sam promises. His eyes feel raw and he knows his hair looks like shit but he does his best to look like someone Ellen can trust.

Ellen puts a hand on his elbow. She says, It's okay to need other people, Sam.

And oh, Sam knows. He knows he can't do this alone, and that's the problem. It used to be, he could--he could do fucking anything. But now he's not sure; he's up against too much, or lost too much, or he's just too fucking empty and it's not at all like Gordon said. Sam's emptiness doesn't keep him hungry or vengeful; it's eating him alive. Swallowing him whole.

I can't do this without him, Sam admits, and feels weak, and hypocritical, and trapped.

He's not just watching John; he fucking needs him.

For Yellow-Eyes, he says. Ellen, without him, I can't--

What's in Arkansas? Ellen asks.

And Sam says, Prison.

Ellen laughs. She says, Sam, I can't tell if you're trying to talk me into believing you, or smacking you.

Sam tries not to cry.

Suddenly, Ellen has her arms around him.

She says, Me and Jo are in your corner, okay? So you let us know when there's anything we can do.

Sam nods, and wishes they could stay this way forever, someplace quiet and snug and Ellen. But part of him can't help but wonder if this is really just Ellen's way of saying that he's on his own. That if he's gonna choose to ride with John, then he's burning his own bridges.

Sam knows as well as Ellen that the roadhouse cannot help him.

Not the way he needs.


--


you are alone
you are alone
you are alone





John sleeps effortlessly, the way Dean used to. Like a switch just turns in his head. The major difference being, of course, that John wakes that way as well--automatic and sudden. Dean had never mastered that, not even a little. Honestly, Dean's inability to wake up at any remotely normal hour without an extreme amount of assistance had been one of Sam's most consistent sources of aggravation.

Once upon a time.

Johns voice through his head, Dean never woke up, turns Sam's stomach and keeps him vigilant. Wakeful.

He wonders if it would have been different--if Sam woke up one morning and Dean in the bed beside him was dead in his sleep. If Dean's never waking had actually been as peaceful as that made it sound. Would it have been different if Sam hadn't known, in medically technical detail, the puree Dean's organs had been? If he hadn't seen the blood? If Sam hadn't known about the reaper, chasing his brother down? If he hadn't imagined Dean running, running, and losing?

Sam imagines Dean waking to find him dead, quietly poisoned in the night, and he figures that no, it'd probably be the same.

There's no escaping how this feels.

If John kills him, it won't be a good death. It won't be peaceful. All it'll mean is that they'll probably both end up in Hell. Sam for his visions and John for having the gall to try and end them.

You know, Sam thinks. You said you'd haunt me if anything happened to this car.

I don't know if you can feel what I feel, Dean, but I don't think this gets more wrong.

Because Sam's fucking terrified. And in no uncertain terms will he be falling asleep--not with the promise of nightmares, not for the potential of John becoming one.

And this is supposed to be home.


--


You promised you'd haunt me, Sam accuses, his first night in prison. It's a favor to John's friend Deacon and apparently it's important, but if Sam felt isolated out in the real world, he feels absolutely fucked in here.

Haunt me, Dean, he whispers, glaring at the ceiling. Forget what he said about Heaven, or at least Dean needing it. He needs Dean. He needs him now.

You promised.


--


Rule No. 12: Don't act like you've never gotten what you've wished for.


--


Prison is dull. At least in Baltimore, they'd only been in jail, and it had been for less than forty-eight hours. They hadn't even been formally charged.

Prison, though: They've been at Green River almost three weeks, and Sam's beginning to think he actually belongs here. That this is John's endgame. Baltimore was a practice run, Sam had failed, and now John is going to leave him here to rot; because if your son's going to go dark side, at least you can kill him with a prison riot.

So Sam is quiet. He keeps to himself, and he doesn't start trouble. John doesn't speak to him; he runs this case like he's been running the rest of them lately--solo, unless he needs the backup. Sam wonders what had been so wildly different about the vampires back at Elkins' place, with the Colt; but maybe they hadn't been. And in any case, John looks at Sam differently now. It's an illegible sort of difference, the way things always are with John, but Sam's got private access some fairly damning context clues.

Sam is here as a prisoner, not a hunter. So he eats his slop, he jogs the perimeter when they're in the yard, he does push-ups in his cell until his arms fall off, and he tries to think as little as possible. If he spends enough time on automatic, even the nightmares forget about him. He builds his mind a rubber room.

And the thing is, he probably does belong here. If he didn't in Baltimore, he sure does now. He has visions. He has urges. This is probably the best thing that could have happened to him, because now he can forget himself in full. On the road, he'd tried, and managed possession--finicky and punched through with retaliation. In here, it's complete surrender. It's consensual.

But every so often, John still comes around to slash his tires.

You need to find someone who's spent time in the old cell block, he'll say as he passes Sam at breakfast.

And because Sam's brain will jump at the puzzle regardless of Sam's desires, he'll have to remember how the world works all over again.

He'd planned to go run in circles this afternoon; instead he ends up shooting the shit with Randall on his work shift. It turns out Randall's real familiar with the old cell block.

So what're you in for? Randall asks, to even the push-pull of the conversation. He doesn't give a shit about Sam, but he doesn't give info for free.

My father's trying to kill me, says Sam. Because if you're already in prison, why lie?

You try to kill him back?

Not yet, says Sam.

Randall sighs. He says, Speaking as someone who's logged some time with the law books in the library, you probably don't want to phrase it like that.

If you were to tell Sam two years ago he'd be receiving legal counsel from a career criminal--or maybe just a career inmate, Sam's not sure what Randall's raps even are--he'd have laughed in your face. And he'd have honestly thought you were funny.

Thanks for the tip, Sam replies.

I mean, not that I'd blame you, Randall says as he jabs his mop into a far corner beneath the sinks. Your daddy's a hard one to read, that's for damn sure.

How do you even know who he is? Sam asks.

Randall just laughs. Who doesn't? He's been parading it all over camp. Why do you think no one's come to twist you? No offense, but people like you are turkey dinner to half the guys in here--and I don't care how you got all those scars. Maybe you're tall, but you're out of your weight class, pal.

You mean he's protecting me?

Randall shrugs. I'm not much for kittens and roses. My two cents? You two're still a horror story waiting to happen. Big bloody one.

Fuck you, says Sam.

This isn't a horror story. Sam's brother's dead and his father's trying to kill him. That's not horror; that's a soundbyte from the world's most depressing episode of Jerry Springer.

Sam rests his chin on his mop and bites his lip.

I'm serious. It's a fucking horror story, Randall insists. I seen your daddy; that man loves you more than anything. Yet here you are.

Here Sam is.

Thing is, I'm really not sure what he's planning to do with all those matches, Randall continues. But if you want my advice: Sleep naked.

What? asks Sam.

Randall regards him bemusedly, as though he's just now accepting that Sam really is the clean-shaven, well-scrubbed, college-educated, softie that Sam both is and definitely isn't. Right now he is, though.

What do you mean? Sam repeats, more urgently.

Randall cracks his neck.

I'm just saying--jumpsuit's polyester. It ain't pretty when it burns.

Sam must make a face, which Randall interprets as confusion. Randall looks him up and down.

That shit melts right into your skin, he says. And boy, it really ain't pretty.


--


Not even on you.


--


He's screaming. He can smell his own flesh burning--his chest, over his heart. But he can feel fire in his eyes as well, at the back of his throat, leaking through him. Fire from the inside out.

Dean's there, and Sam tries to cry out for him, but his mouth his not his own. And there are too many people holding him down.

Dean meets his eyes for a moment, like maybe he's going to save him from this. Then he walks away.

He has the decency, at least, to look sad about it.

Some part of Sam thinks, viciously, oh? you wanted a haunting?


--


I'll show you a haunting.


--


They're still in Arkansas, though not in prison anymore. This time, Sam doesn't hesitate. He's not sure if he's just woken from a vision or an honest nightmare, but the second he watched Dean walk away from him it's like something snaps inside him. He needs to get out, and he needs to get in front of this shit before Ash, before John, before the demon itself if he can help it.

And he does not care how much noise the Impala makes as he peels away. Let them know, and let them come.

Sam will raise an army.

He will.

But when he hits Nebraska, he keeps running. Doesn't stop for the roadhouse. He sweeps the Dakotas until he starts listing east through Fargo.

And yeah, Sam's got nothing. No army. No plan. Just visions. Visions of futures that will never be, no less; because Dean is gone and the Dean he knows would never let him burn like that.

Never.

Sam just needs to know what's happening to him. And the only thing he can think of, near a thousand miles later, is that the visions might have provenances. Or at least signatures. Some way of knowing who they're from, or what they're made of. What the demon did to him.

There must be someone who knows how to read those.

Immediately, he thinks of Missouri--Missouri in Kansas. But he can't face her without Dean, can't face Lawrence. He doesn't want to be with anyone who can see the empty space beside him, and know it for what it is.

Then maybe you shouldn't be trusting psychics, wheedles a voice at the back of his mind.

Or your father's friends.

But Sam doesn't know anyone John doesn't know--not anyone who can help. So he chooses the next best thing.

Bobby, he says, into a pay phone in Shakopee. Sam has this crazy notion that John knows every number that comes in and out of Sam's cell. Somehow, John knows.

I was just thinking about your brother, says Bobby, no niceties. The word--brother--shoves them out.

Would someone take a half-second and think about me? Sam thinks venomously. That's not fair--not to Bobby, and certainly not to Dean--but then, life isn't. Sam would know.

That's nice, says Sam. He says, Bobby, I need a psychic.

Five minutes later Sam has one last name and one more burning bridge behind him. He knows Bobby's burnt about Dean--how Sam didn't ask, didn't care, didn't cry.

He's his father's son, Sam imagines Bobby muttering as he stares daggers at the receiver.

Sam's always been his father's son.

Fuck you, Sam thinks bitterly. Grief works in mysterious ways. Especially when (Dean watching

just watching him burn)--


--


But the Impala starts making a strange noise when Sam hits honest-to-god I-40, because of course the only psychic Bobby knows is in Arizona, when Sam's practically north of Canada. He's beginning to wonder whether Bobby isn't fucking with him.

I'm sorry, Sam says to the car, bitter no longer--just yearning.

I'm sorry.
I'm so sorry.


--


Sam plays Motörhead two thousand miles in a row.

He knows he's not being haunted, not really. It's too hot and the radio works just fine and he knows, he knows, that Dean is dead, real dead. He might has well have watched the reaper take him. But he also doesn't have anyone else to talk to. It's almost fun.

And it helps him forget--the smell of his flesh, the heat in his eyes, the clop of Dean walking, walking away.

Besides, he was wrong earlier--she will always be Dean's.


--


Dean would smile, if he knew she'd survived. Even if he hadn't been as lucky.


--


Pamela has Sedona written all over her--and she makes good money like that, she admits. But give her the rock and the crag over magic vortices any day. When she's tired of moonstones she hitches rides up north.

You wouldn't believe what you can get into at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, Pamela confides, waggling her eyebrows. Eighteen miles out, high desert, no tour groups.

I've never been, says Sam.

Okay, let's get right to business, Pamela agrees. She squeezes his knee.

You have--

Dreams, Sam says. Visions, maybe.

We'll go with dreams, says Pamela. Sam, I can tell you're no witch.

And yet, it's too easy to imagine himself burned at the stake. Sam can imagine his hands bound, his wrists bloody. Palms, too, for good measure, for imagery--though of course everyone knows you nail at the wrist. He imagines shadows just outside the firelight.

He'll recognize John's boots, he's sure.

And who else? Sam thinks wildly. Will Bobby be there, with the yarrow? Deacon? Ellen? Jo?

Dean?

Sam, Pamela interrupts, bringing him back. Her voice is low like she's speaking to the dead.

Sam, I'm going to need you to trust me.

Suddenly Sam's back in Dr. Ellicot's office; it's January, Dean's birthday, and Sam is about to shoot him. Forty-seven tiny rock salt scars and bruising that nearly gets him--because a few days later they're on another hunt and they have to run. Hard. But first, Sam's in that office and the Doctor says, Sam, I'm going to need you to trust me. Sam, let's talk about your brother.

Sam, says Pamela, this is lavender. And it's going to calm you down.


--


This is how he'll go. He won't feel a thing. He won't be able to move.

And still, he'll know he's dying.


--


If you think this ends with me, Sam, you're so very wrong. I'm gonna make you big and strong and trust me, it's not 'cause I like show ponies. You're headed for someone else's stables: Think higher, birthday boy! Much.

Much.

Higher.

I'm not the one who makes the rules. And you're better and stronger than you think.



--


There's a man on a hill.


--


When Sam opens his eyes, there's down fluff from a dreamcatcher, blurry on his nose. There's red rock out the window. And Pamela's nursing a beer.

You drink? she asks, and gestures to the mini fridge.

What do you know? What did you find? Sam asks. How much of that did you see?

But Pamela says she hasn't started yet.

She says, You looked like you needed the sleep. I'm not going to touch you until you're ready for me.

But did I dream? Sam asks.

Pamela shrugs. I dunno. I left you alone. I think it's weird to watch people sleep. So I did some shopping, got my nails done. By the way, your father called.

Sam sits up so quick he nearly puts a dreamcatcher through his forehead.

Easy, tiger. I told him I don't do phone readings.

Do you eat?

Sam must look like he's about to flip his shit, because of course he eats, he's not a monster he's not a monster he's not a monster, because Pamela revises:

I meant, are you hungry? I'm not much of a cook, but I do a mean candlelit Clif Bar.


--


It's pasta, actually; angel-hair. And olive oil. A sprig of basil. Tiny cherry tomatoes.

Some bitch paid me for a reading in tomatoes. Can you believe that? asks Pamela. She shouts, Fuck tomatoes!

Sam smiles.

Sam eats carefully and then voraciously; and with every bite and every catty glance Pamela sneaks him in the candlelight, over the rim of her second beer, he thinks less and less about the food turning to chains in his gut. (He's read about that happening. It's a thing.)

Why are you helping me? Sam asks.

Oh, I haven't helped you yet. I gave you a place to crash and a bowl of carbs. That's barely Couchsurfer levels of hospitality, and that shit's free.

Why are you helping me? Sam repeats. He can no longer afford to suffer unanswered questions.

Because you walked in that door and I knew instantly that I liked you, Sam.

(And not just because of your pert little ass. I noticed that later!)

Sam nods slowly.

He tastes his food going down.

He feels the water, cool down his body, in Pamela's shower.

He smells monsoon rain through her open window.

He sleeps.

He feels safe, and cared for.

He didn't think he'd ever feel that way again.

Thank you, says Sam, when he awakes again and Pamela is, apparently, filing her taxes. She sets them aside and sees the look in his eyes and knows that now, he is ready; the time has come.

You have no idea how much this means to me. Like, no idea, says Sam.

You do still have to pay me, Pamela reminds him. So think about what this is really worth to you. I take all currencies but tomatoes.

Sam finger's Dean's amulet in his pocket and thinks about what this reading might seriously have at stake.

Dean would give it in a heartbeat, if it meant saving Sam.

Dean would give his skin, his blood, and his first-born.

Sam's not sure what Sam would do to save Sam.


---


This is a very powerful charm, says Pamela, uncertainly.

What's it do? Sam asks, because he's always wondered. It clearly doesn't spare lives, or grant wishes. It speaks to no dead.

I mean, nothing, probably, says Pamela. It's about what it's done, not what it will do.

Pamela sits Sam down on a small button pillow on the floor. She presses her palms to his temples, testing the waters.

You loved him, didn't you? Pamela asks. That's what I feel in that charm; it's about your love for each other.

More than anything, says Sam.

I wouldn't waste that word on anything less, says Pamela.

There you go, she says, as Sam's brow unfurrows.

There you go.

There you go.

One last question: Are you sure this is what you want to give?

Sam says, I have nothing else of value.

Pamela sighs. She says, Sam, I let a woman pay me in tomatoes.

Sam says, I have nothing else.

Okay, Sam, says Pamela.

Then let's make sure this is worth your while.


--


Rule No. 13: Don't underpay the help. There but for the Grace of me go...


--


When Sam wakes, he sees hair caught under a splinter of Pamela's floor. He's lying in a puddle of his own drool. He smells something burning.

Apparently, Pamela hadn't lied when she said she wasn't much of a cook.

She doesn't say anything as Sam stirs awake, and he doesn't hear her in the kitchen. He imagines her outside--smoke break, personalized Zippo. It's just now sunrise; and maybe she's a sunrise kind of person. Desert sublime, and all that.

Then Sam lifts his head from the floor and finds her foot, oddly canted, in his peripheral vision.

Then her legs, splayed.

Fingers, tree-like.

Eyes burnt out.


--





...But for the grace of me go eyeballs.


--


what have you done what have you done what have you done what have you done what have you done what have you done what have you done what have you done what have you done what have you done what have you done what have you done what have you done what have you done what have you donewhathaveyoudonewhathave you donewhathaveyoudone

Who are you, Sam Winchester?


--


What are you, that one snatch of your mind could do that to a woman?

What are you?


--


What have you done?


--


And why don't you ever listen to me?


--


It does not seem appropriate to burn her further. At least, not yet.

Sam can't help her form, but he drags her board-stiff to the bed and puts coins over her empty eyes. Tomatoes in her mouth. Dean's necklace against her throat. She's pale on the bottom and pooling purple most places else.

At some point before noon, she begins to smell like shit and her orifices pus red-orange.

The Grand Canyon, he thinks. North Rim, where there are no fences.

But you can't just throw a body off the face of the Grand Canyon, even on the north side. People will notice. When Sam wakes up the next morning, seasoned with day-old putrefaction and head stuffy from crying, he knows what he has to do.

He finds a pack and a hand saw.


--


went to the Grand Canyon, Sam texts Bobby.

No response.

went to the Grand Canyon, Sam texts Jo.

went to the Grand Canyon, Sam texts Dean's old cell.

Madison, he calls.

Ellen.

Even Gordon.

went to the Grand Canyon, Sam texts John Winchester.

again? John texts back.

Sam calls.

Don't lie to me, he shouts, and hangs up.


--


He is camping. At least, that's one way to put it.

He is walking.

The Impala, or whatever ether moves her, died about five miles back. The lone truck behind him had pulled over too, stuttered to a halt, and out popped three brown men who spoke no English. They wanted to help.

No, said Sam. He was covered in dirt and red sand, and he smelled like death and sweat.

He showed them the dirt. Still, they wanted to help.

He showed them the blood.

They didn't shy.

I can't be helped, shouted Sam. ¡No--puedo--ayudame!

He wasn't sure if that was correct. He hoped it was enough.

He really didn't want to have to show them the saw, stll sticky with fresh wet bone.

Señor ayudame, no puedo mas, no puedo seguir asi, answered one of the men, nodding fervently.

A recitation.

So Sam just started walking. Threw up his hands and marched away. Away from the Impala, away from the men--out into the dark. If the men got back into their truck, they never passed him. Perhaps they knew better than to cross strange things at night.

Sam walks.

At three o'clock in the morning, Sam spots something up ahead--a lurking shape in the darkness.

It's the Impala.

Sam turns to the flat darkness behind him. Then back to her, and beyond. The road doesn't twist. And if Sam knows one thing, it's that the road to Phoenix is long, and empty, and arrow straight.

It occurs to Sam then that the three men may not have been men. What they were, he couldn't say, but perhaps they recognized him as one of their own, and let him be.

When Sam gets inside the Impala, she's still dead and silent. Reproachful.

You know, don't you, he says to her. He runs his bloody fingers across her dashboard and she shocks him.

Dean knows.


--


He is camping. That's why he's out in the desert, alone without Dean.

Dean hates camping.

Sam curls up in the front seat of the Impala.

Then he jumps out, slams the door, and gets in the back.

He is camping.

Sam jumps out of the car again, stumbles to the trunk. Pulls the ouija board from the far, far back. It's sticky with Sam's not sure what.

But there's too many spirits awake on this highway tonight. There's no chance in Heaven or Earth Sam will be able to speak with one who isn't.

Sam lets the planchette wander freely, board balanced on his chest.

There are so, so many ghosts out here tonight.

Letter by letter, the highway sings him silent Bible lines and hymns.


--


Dean, I don't know how to fix her, Sam whispers into the upholstery.

I don't know how to fix any of this.

Dean, if you don't help me, I'm going to have to walk.

Dean, I'm sorry.

Sam's arms ache with the motion of the saw, and his ears buzz with the sound of it. His calves burn. The back of his neck is red, and so are the tips of his ears.

If he sits up, he can imagine Dean beside him, hand on his shoulder. Dean's never known quite how to offer comfort; but lucky for him, just his touch feels good.

Sammy, Sam mouths, brings Dean to life.

Sammy, I'm gonna need you to keep fighting. You need to get through this.

I would do anything to get you through this, Sam.

Sam, I need you to do whatever it takes.

Sam laughs, and chokes. He asks, What could I do to get you to change your mind?

Dean laughs, too.

He says, Don't get me started.


--


Sam tries the Impala again, but she stays silent and still. So Sam gets in the back and he promises himself he'll rest. He will sleep, and sleep soundly.


--


Fuckwit.


--


This is a vision. It just has that usual feel. And that's Dean in front him, flesh-and-blood Dean--not just Sam's wishful thinking. If Sam had wished Dean here, he wouldn't have that look on his face. His hands would not be fists.

This is a vision, and Sam thinks to himself, Oh god. What have you done now? Because this is either Sam killing Dean, or Dean leaving him; or maybe it's both. Maybe this is the end of the arc, where two rays collide.

Where everything comes full circle.

Dean looks like he's been dead for ten months. Not decomposing, Sam should clarify. He's just not Sam's brother anymore.

There's a cut by Dean's eye. It might scar, but probably not.

He's standing in a room so gaudily rich Sam actually can't imagine Dean there. In this sense, he's already in a state of crisis before Dean says a single word.

Dean in his dream takes a deep dead breath.

I'm worried about you, says Dean.

I know, says Sam.

I just want you to be okay, says Dean.

I'm trying, says Sam.

She's poison, says Dean.

I-- says Sam.

I actually don't know what you're talking about, says Sam.

Dean looks done. Like April last year when it swept him up and put him out.

He says, Sam.

Sam.

If I didn't know you, I would want to hunt you.


--


Sam pleads, I need you. This isn't how this is supposed to go. We were just starting to be brothers again; this isn't how this is supposed to go this isn't how this is supposed to go

this isn't how this goes


--


Sam.

Sam.

Sam, if I didn't know you, I would want to hunt you.



--


If highway patrol finds him, they will say it was dehydration that got him. But they'll probably do an autopsy anyway, to make sure it wasn't drugs--especially when they find what's in the trunk. The gluey bone dust on that saw. The gun from 1835.

And then maybe they won't say anything, because they will cut into Sam's brain and whatever's inside will sear their eyes out.

Sam heaves half his body weight up his throat and into the desert.

The other half of him breaks through his pores, quivering sweat.

Dean's mouth moves before him, caught by repetition, snagged in memory. He flashes again and again and again, and his body loses form, bleeds to whiteness and blot. The words crackle like a letter on fire, or a record scratched. But they do not stop. They do not change.

Sam imagines the driver-side door slamming, and Dean around the Impala like this is a steeplechase. Dean's hand cupping the back of his neck, the other supporting his chest. Dean pushes Sam upright so he can catch air before another round of bile in dust.

Sam, he says.

Sam.

It's like a countdown--three strikes.

Sam ends up back to the ground and breath to the sky, the Impala looming dizzily at his feet.

Dean comes at him with a hammer.

Sam feels white light behind his eyes.

Dean comes at him with his fists, and his fists, and his fists.

Then Dean's face is a sloppy mess, bones shaken from their foundations. His body flattens against the Impala, and Sam knows exactly how solid their girl is. Hers are not the bones that are going to break.


--


If I didn't know you--


--


These are not visions, Sam promises himself. This would not have been the future.

It's not.


--


It's like I don't even know you.


--


They're standing in front of a funeral pyre. Dean's, Sam assumes--it's the only one Sam knows. The body seems small, but all bodies seem small when they're burning.

It should be you up there, Dean spits.

At first, Sam wants to agree. If that's what would make Dean happy.

Instead he asks, Did I do this to you?

Was it the ouija?

The amulet?

Was it that fucking spell? (The one that never was. With the oil, the herbs, and the candles.)

How could I possibly fucking lose you too? Sam asks.

But Dean is a vision, not a confidante. Visions can't listen; they only proceed, like small untouchable fates. In this one, Dean strays from the fire and Sam is alone.


--


He is well and truly alone.


--


Rule No. 14: Well, let's hear it, Sam. What's your Number 14? Share with the class.


--


Sam doesn't even have to cock the gun.

Nora, he says, when he walks in the door. The shops is as he'd seen it.

Who are you? says Nora. She sees his gun and says, the way Sam knew she would, Stop, my kid's in the back.

And what's more sacred than a parent and their child?

Nora, says Sam.

Nora, we need to talk.


--


So tell me. Did you think if things went different, you'd be happy? How many times are you gonna make that mistake?

You knew you were always gonna end up here.






You were always gonna be alone.



--


You look parched, says John. He slides a glass of water across the table.

I just walked across the desert, Sam replies.

John's eyes crinkle. Of course, he says. Out of Egypt.

Sam's face is lime and plaster.

I'm glad you wanted to meet me here, John says. He doesn't mean thank you.

He says, We need to talk. But first you should eat. Check out that menu, kiddo; I'm gonna hit the head.

Sam's eyes wanders down to his plate, where his hands are folded atop a plastic menu. His fingernails are black, the blood's still tight on his skin, and the canyon dust has found every crease. He smells like vomit and fear. He's twenty-three, and not John's kiddo.

Sam puts his hands in his lap.

The menu, now smudged, reads Breakfast at Tiffany's.

John probably doesn't catch the reference, nor the repetition; Sam's pretty sure his father has missed every movie after 1908. And it had always been sort of a secret, anyway--Dean liking it.

But like most of Dean's secrets, it was poorly kept.

it makes you a monster

I'd hunt you

if that's what it takes to save you

I'd hunt you

she is poison

she is poison

she is poison


Refill? chirps the waitress, brightly.

Sam looks down at his now-empty glass and nods.

And more coffee for your sponsor? she asks.

I'm sorry, she adds immediately. I'm sorry. I didn't meant to assume. I just--my brother. He--

Lady, Sam sighs. I don't care about your brother. Mine's dead.

He jerks John's empty coffee mug toward her steaming pot, and watches his sour reflection in the ripples as it fills.

The girl doesn't say anything else.


--


Swing like a pendulum, little swing vote. But why wait? You can tell the future, Sam; you have to know it would have been only a matter of time.

No one can help you. Not even your own--


--


Thirsty? John asks, eyeing Sam's water glass, now twice-empty.

I walked through the desert, says Sam.

John sits back down and drains his scalding coffee, black.

Is it bitter? Sam asks.

John shrugs. No more than usual. Then he says, I forgot. You like yours with sugar and cream.

I feel like that's how you get the most bang for your buck, Sam agrees tepidly.

John laughs. Then he looks sad, and tired. He says, Sam, we need to talk. He says, You like pancakes, right? How 'bout you get yourself a stack? Nice tall one.

Sam says, Start talking.

Just order the pancakes, John barks. I'm trying to do something good for you.

Pancakes, Sam states, incredulous.

I'm doing what's best, says John. But he drops the pretense of brunch.

He places a vial on the table between them.

He nods at Sam's water glass.

I'm doing what's best, John says again. He looks, somehow, deeply apologetic and entirely self-righteous.

Sam's not sure what John expected he would do--cry, rage, maybe fight, or drop dead quiet--but Sam doesn't do any of those things. He says:

You couldn't even bear watch me drink it, could you.

He says, You bastard.

Lint lodges beneath Sam's ragged nails as he quests in this pocket. Then he pulls out an identical vial.

They standoff like chess pieces.

John's gaze flits to the bottom of his empty cup.

The family business, right? says Sam.

I mean, I learned from the best.

Sam, says John.

Sam.


--


Dean leers at him. Shouts, Sam! Let's finish this game!

Not you, too, Sam thinks desperately.

Dean, this isn't you.

But of course it isn't; none of them are.

Dean's dead.


--


Sam doesn't wait for strike three. He doesn't wait for apologies or curses, antidotes or secrets. He doesn't want to watch his kill, and he doesn't want confession. He doesn't need last words. He walks out that door and he doesn't look back.

Outside there's rainbows in the sky and it smells like fresh-cut grass and asphalt alive with monsoon rain. Sam picks a direction.

If he's not dead before he hits state lines, then John was right about everything.

He always is.




"I'm gonna be the one who buries you!"


(1x21 "Salvation")








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