The Ballad of Sam and Jess 1/1
A thousand thank yous to refur for betaing this. I couldn't have done this without you.
There is a time of Water and a time of Wind.
This is the time of Fire, and Fire eats time. --Elaine Maria Upton
He stays with her a long time, to make sure she's dead. It's been hours since the rattling in her chest stopped, and he studies her face beneath the bare bulb's harsh glow. Her skin is waxy. Dark circles ring her eyes. She doesn't look happy or peaceful; she just looks dead.
He digs through her backpack and takes the stuff he wants: the extra flannel blanket, a man's large sweatshirt, the stupid little teddy bear. It's ugly. And purple. He almost leaves it with her, but changes his mind and stuffs it into his bag instead. He has to take it. He needs something that belongs to her. A piece of her. He drops her backpack at her feet.
He keeps thinking she'll wake up any minute, but she doesn't. She doesn't, and she never will again. He wants to scream. Or cry. He feels sick, gutted, but he keeps on moving, breathing. He works fast.
He picks up one of the cans of hair spray and sprays her. He covers her hair, her face, everything. He sprays until his finger hurts, and then he switches hands and sprays until his eyes burn. He uses both cans. He sprinkles a handful of salt because it's all he has. He doesn't even know why he does it, it just feels right. Wrong word, nothing feels right now and nothing will again, but there's a reason for it, there's a memory locked someplace in his head, though now isn't the time to find it. Finally, he places the crumpled newspaper around her and lights a match.
He looks at her one last time, memorizes her face. Not how it looks now, but how it looked before. He hopes she's in heaven, if there is such a place – she deserves to be someplace good. She wasn't on earth long, just long enough to know she didn't want to be here. He wishes he was dead too. No, more than anything, he wishes she were alive. There are no words to say how badly he wants her back. There's also not enough time.
So he lets the match fall.
The newspaper near her head jumps and curls as the fire eats through it. The flames spread to the rest of the paper and then to her hair. Flames fan out around her body, and she's framed in light, holy. The wooden pallet she's lying on catches fire.
He can't stay any longer, he did what she wanted, he kept his promise. But his feet won't move. He watches her, smells her hair burning. The fire licks at her jeans, her shirt, but her face is still untouched. The flames form wings; she looks like an angel. Maybe she was one. He shoves open the steel door and steps out into the cool night air, leans against the storage unit, wonders if the whole row of units will burn. Decides he doesn't care.
"Goodbye, Jess," he whispers, and Sam Winchester walks away.
He walks past the cheap aluminum sign that says EZ Stor-it, his bag over one shoulder. Pretty soon he starts to run, long legs pumping. He runs as fast as he can, even though he has nowhere to go.
In his first life, he lives in a house with a mom and a dad and a brother named Dean. His mother dies when he's a baby. He doesn't remember her. His brother takes care of him, loves him. His brother can do no wrong. Dean makes him laugh, plays with him, protects him.
His dad moves them around a lot. He talks about things that live in the dark, and Sam doesn't like to listen. He's afraid of the dark. Sam remembers something about books and Latin and bones, but he doesn't touch that memory because he's not sure he wants to wake it. When Sam is nine, his teacher sees the bruises stippling his arms and then Sam is gone. He's whisked away into a new home like he's a piece of luggage, like he's been there all along. He cries for Dean, night after night, but the weeks tick by and Dean never comes.
His second life is with foster parents who don't have much patience for his crying spells or bed-wetting. Their real son calls him a sissy and a baby, even after Sam sprouts up six inches the summer he turns twelve. He keeps to himself, and lives inside his books. He imagines a hundred, maybe a thousand different scenarios of Dean showing up, rescuing him.
It takes years for the hope to die.
By the time he starts high school, he's with another foster family. His foster father is a drunk. His foster mother hits him, but her favorite weapons are words. He still has bruises from the things she used to say. But he doesn't think about that. Sometimes he thinks it's funny that his real dad never hurt him, but the system put him with someone who does. He lies awake at night thinking about a brother he can't really remember.
One day when he gets home from school, his foster family is gone, the apartment cleaned out. The landlord doesn't know where they are. Social Services try to track down his dad, but they can't find him. He sleeps on a couch at a friend's house for a while, and sometimes he dreams about a life where he has a real home and a real family. A life where he can be normal.
His third life is in Boston. He doesn't want to go to New York or L.A. – those places are already filled with dead-eyed runaways selling drugs, themselves, or both. He has a little money saved, so he buys a bus ticket and doesn't look back.
Boston is okay once he gets used to it. He stays out of Roxbury, watches the Harvard kids and pretends he's one of them, spends a lot of time in the tourist areas, cruising Faneuil Hall Square. There are lots of homeless people there; they play music in the subway for money, or beg near the Quincy Market, or pick pockets.
Sam watches and learns from the people he sees. He knows how to blend in, how to keep his head down—even if he is taller than most people—how to disappear. On his third day in Boston, a smooth looking guy offers Sam a free meal. It's obvious the guy's a pimp. He takes Sam to a nice restaurant and pays for his steak. He keeps asking Sam to come back to his hotel room, but Sam knows if he goes with him, he might disappear for good. He tells the guy he has to take a leak and splits. He keeps an eye out after that, tries to avoid the guy and the kids who work for him.
A few homeless people live in a big old parking ramp near the New England Aquarium. Sam stays there sometimes, especially during the winter. One night, on his way back to the ramp, three guys jump him. Sam doesn't know why, and he tries to run, then tries to fight, but neither one works. He has a bat in his bag, but he can't get to it. Sam is tall, but he's untrained, uncoordinated. They break his ribs, his skull, fracture his jaw. The ringleader breaks Sam's nose. Sam's on the ground, his left leg in a puddle, when the patrol car rolls by. One of the cops chases the kids off, the other calls an ambulance.
He's in the hospital for a couple of days and answers what feels like a million questions. Since he's underage, he gets shipped to a group home. He asks about his brother, and the social worker makes noises like she's going to look for him, but her polished smile and the way she won't meet his eyes tells Sam she's lying.
The home is okay. He's there three months, and there are beds and food and he goes back to school. He's a sophomore now, and he gets good grades. He thinks about Harvard or Stanford and dreams about normal. They aren't allowed weapons, but he keeps his baseball bat under his bed. He throws a ball and glove down there too, just for the sake of appearances.
His roommate has a knife, a big switchblade. He likes to play with it when he's alone with Sam, cleaning his fingernails, peeling apples. He's a big kid, not as tall as Sam, but heavier. Solid. He wakes Sam up one night, the blade pressed to Sam's throat hard enough to bleed. He rapes Sam and then goes back to his own bed, like it's no big deal. He tells Sam he'll kill him if he tells anyone. Sam considers taking his baseball bat and smashing his face to pulp.
Instead, he skips school. He steals some lady's purse and buys a bus ticket to Chicago, and that's where he meets Jess. He doesn't realize it at the time, but his real life starts when he meets her. He loved her. Still does. He wishes he had told her, but maybe she knew anyway. Maybe she knows now.
Sam is good at stealing. It's not something he should be proud of, but he is. He's one of those people they warn you about on those news shows. He can bump into someone, say excuse me with big eyes and a self-deprecating grin, and walk off with a wallet. He used to feel guilty, but he doesn't anymore, not really. He never mugs people, never gets violent – no one even realizes he's taken something until it's too late. He always takes the money, never the credit cards, and puts the purse or wallet in a mailbox. He's not sure if the post office will return them or not. He likes to think they will.
There are lots of ways to live if you're smart and invisible. At lunch time, some people leave their left-over food on the tables at fast food restaurants, too lazy to throw it away themselves. Jess and Sam used to get a halfway decent meal that way. They rummaged through the dumpsters out back too, but some restaurants lock their garbage up. A guy at Italiano's used to give them pizzas that didn't turn out right, or never got picked up. Sometimes they'd go to the mall and scoop change out of the fountain. A security guard yelled at Sam once, but they never got caught.
Sam's stayed in a lot of places. There's a shelter on First Street he goes to when it's really cold, but usually he sleeps under the stairwell in the east parking ramp off State Street. Once in a while a drunk keeps him company, but he usually has the stairwell to himself. For a while, it's like he's back in Boston.
When Jess hooks up with him, they find the empty storage unit and stay there. He gets a lock for the door, so nobody else can get in. He shows her which entrance to use to get into Booker T. Washington High School; they blend in carrying their duffel bags and get to take a shower at least once a week. If they go after school, the locker rooms are pretty much deserted, most kids already at basketball or football practice.
Going to Booker T. Washington always makes Jess nervous, she's afraid they'll get caught. If Sam gets caught, he'll just go to foster care or a group home; if Jess gets caught, she'll get sent to her real home. Her father is a District Attorney in Madison and wants her back. He misses having someone to beat on and rape, not necessarily in that order. Jess tells Sam her father started sneaking into her room when she turned ten, has been fucking her since she turned thirteen. Jess wants to get further away from him, so they plan on going to Palo Alto. Jess has a sister there, at Stanford. It's a long way, and they'll need to save money for the trip. That's not going to be easy.
When Sam meets Jess she's hustling on a street corner with three other girls. He knows she's hustling because she looks terrified. The fear in her eyes is huge, making them look black. Sam crosses the street, and two of the other girls start talking to him. He ignores them and goes straight to Jess, takes her arm, and steers her down the street. Her face is rigid, her blond hair shoulder-length and dirty. Sam thinks she is the most beautiful girl he's ever seen.
"Fifty for an hour," she says, and her voice sounds like a recording. She looks younger than Sam, maybe fifteen or sixteen at the most.
"Is this what you want to do?" Sam asks, his voice low and calm.
"Fifty for an hour," she repeats.
"You don't have to hustle," he tells her. He keeps his hand on her arm, but he's careful to keep his grip light.
"I don't have any money," she whispers, eyes on the ground.
"I have some."
He interrupts her. "Are you hungry?"
Her dark eyes flicker and he grabs her hand. He brings her to his stairs at the ramp. He doesn't like people knowing where he lives, but there's something about Jess, something he likes. Something he wants to protect. He wants to talk to her. Be near her.
She tells Sam she'll get in trouble if she's not back in an hour, but he tells her not to worry. If she still wants to leave, he'll send her back with the fifty bucks she keeps talking about. Sam hopes she doesn't go back -- fifty bucks is just about all he has.
"How long have you been on the street?" he asks her.
It takes her a while to answer. "I left last night."
"You didn't go with anyone?"
"I left…in a hurry."
"Why are you hustling?"
"I don't know what else to do." She won't meet his eyes. "I don't have any money. All I know how to do is…fuck." Her voice is thin and bitter, like a flattened penny. While they talk, she takes something out of her pocket. She holds it in one hand, then the other.
"Don't you have any friends you can stay with?"
She shakes her head, mouth pulled tight. "No. All my friends…their parents know my father. It…wouldn't work."
"Where are you from?"
She doesn't answer.
"You have any relatives you can trust?"
"I have a sister in California."
"Maybe you can go there," he suggests. He wants to stay with her, save her. He doesn't understand why – he doesn't even know her. But when she looks at him, he finds it hard to breathe.
"Maybe." She sounds listless.
"It must be nice to have a sister," he says. "I have a brother. Had a brother," he amends, and smiles weakly. "I don't know where he is." He keeps his voice neutral. He's not trying to make her feel sorry for him, just wants to get her someplace safe, someplace comfortable. She looks too fragile for the street. Her eyes had been wild, the eyes of a spooked horse.
"She's a lot older than me. I don't know her that well…once she left for college she never came back home."
"Maybe you two have more in common than you think."
She turns to look at him then, but he can't see her face in the shadows. They sit in silence for a few minutes, listening to somebody try and start their car somewhere on the second level.
"Do you think she'd let me stay with her?" she finally asks.
He has no idea, but he tells her yes.
"What's your name?" he asks her.
"Jessica. Jess." She offers him a tentative smile. "What's yours?"
Sam smiles back. He usually uses the name Dean, doesn't like to give out his real name. It's the only thing he owns, the only thing that's just his. But it's the only thing he has to give her, so he tells her, "Sam."
He sees the glimmer in her hand and looks closer. "What is that?"
She speaks softly. "A razor blade."
He thinks of the baseball bat in his bag, the Swiss army knife in his pocket. "That's not a very good weapon."
"It's not to defend myself," she says, and her eyes slide away from him.
She stays with him that night, and they talk for a long time. He tells her a little about himself. She tells him a little about her father. Her mom is dead. She says she's seventeen and Sam says he's eighteen. They're both lying.
He takes her to SuperSave and picks out a backpack and some other stuff: toilet paper, candy bars, a box of tampons, a stuffed purple bear. The bear looks stupid, but it makes her smile, so he has to buy it. Sam gives her some money, and she spends about fifteen bucks. While they're checking out, two cans of soup disappear into Sam's jacket pockets, along with an apple and a bag of licorice.
Back at the ramp he uses his can opener to open the soup. He only has one spoon, so he lets her eat first, cold, since there's no way to heat it up. They share the apple. In the morning, she tells him she wants to go to Palo Alto to see her sister. She asks if Sam wants to come with her, and he says sure. It's not like he has anything to stay in Chicago for. Besides, Stanford is in Palo Alto, and there's no way he'll ever get in there, not when he doesn't even have a high school diploma, but there are other schools. He can still study. He can learn. He can learn to be normal.
That same day he sees a poster with Jessica's picture on it taped to a store window. There are a couple more around the neighborhood; her dad is offering a reward. Missing: Jessica Moore, the poster reads. She's barely sixteen years old.
Sam buys her an old Smurfs T-shirt and a jacket from the Holy Angels Thrift Store. He uses his knife to cut her hair and steals a bottle of hair dye. He stands guard at the door while she dyes her hair red in a gas station rest room, and when she comes out she smiles at him. It's a real smile, bright and honest, and she's so beautiful Sam can't quite meet her gaze. He thinks maybe he doesn't deserve to.
A few days after she dyes her hair, they find the empty room at EZ Stor-it. They divide their days between the university library and the mall. Sam loves the mall -- so many women set their purses down when they try clothes on or buy overpriced coffee, when their kid throws a tantrum. He tries to show Jess how to lift a wallet without looking like you're doing anything, but she's too scared, and Sam doesn't push it. She doesn't mind taking change out of the fountain though. They need enough money in case her sister doesn't want them. Or in case they can't find her.
By the end of October they have almost three hundred dollars saved. That's the most money Sam has had at one time, ever. He keeps most of it in his shoe, but Jess has some too. He doesn't keep any of it in his bag in case it gets stolen. It's a lot easier for someone to steal his bag than get the shoes of his feet; he'd have to be dead for that to happen.
They plan to leave in late November, which gives them one more month to hang around downtown. They could leave, but they don't. They spend the time together, learning about each other, learning to trust, learning to laugh. For the first time in forever Sam's not lonely. He has someone to talk to. And Jess is smart. In the normal daydream he creates, he imagines that someday he and Jess will be in college together. They'll always be together. Maybe she'll help him find Dean.
Sam and Jess understand each other. Sometimes, Jess lets Sam read the poems she writes. Sometimes Sam reads to her. He likes to study Latin, although he doesn't know why or what good it will do him, he just knows it feels like something safe when the words roll off his tongue. They talk about books and movies and the schools they've been to.
She wants to be a nurse. Sam wants to stop being alone. He wants to find a job in Palo Alto and get his GED. He wants to take care of Jess and make her happy. He imagines them sharing a little apartment, and smiles to himself when he thinks about it. Future is no longer a word that scares him.
In early November, Jess goes to the SuperSave for a food run. She's gone an hour before Sam starts to worry. He puts down the book he's reading and starts to think about the things that could have happened – maybe she tried to shoplift and got caught. Maybe someone finally recognized her and she's at the police station waiting for someone (her father) to pick her up. Maybe she decided to go someplace else. Maybe she's tired of you. He puts that last thought out of his mind, he doesn't want to think about that one. What if she's hurt?
There are so many what-ifs and maybes dancing in his head that he can't think straight. She could be anywhere. Anyone could have grabbed her. He knows runaways that have been sold for drugs, kids who have disappeared off the face of the earth and drowned in a world of underground pornography and sex. Sam waits, restless, while worry eats a hole in his stomach.
He finally walks to the SuperSave. It's dark out, but it's snowing and the moon is bright. At the edge of the parking lot, dusted by snow, is a shoe. A woman's sneaker. He recognizes it and his stomach falls, falls, and it's hard to breathe. He didn't know fear could go that deep. He almost screams her name, but catches himself. Instead, he clenches his fists and turns in a slow circle.
The traffic is fair, not too heavy. Two black guys argue across the street. The SuperSave lot is half full, a couple of customers loading bags into their cars. He wonders if anyone saw what happened. If anyone cares.
Sam picks up her shoe and runs across the parking lot, his feet leaving faint prints, like tracks in sugar. He runs around the side of the brick building, his breath coming in frosty gasps. Maybe he's wrong, maybe it wasn't her shoe. It's a well-known brand, it could belong to anyone, could have been tossed out a car window, or been left behind by a homeless woman, maybe—
Behind the dumpster is another shoe. It's attached to a leg. His heart hammers against his ribs like a fist.
Jess is face down on the ground. She looks like a broken doll. A small pool of blood mixes with the snow beside her face. He drops to his knees and whispers her name, but she doesn't respond. Her pack lies a few feet away.
Sam pulls her jeans up carefully, choking back tears. He turns her over, praying no bones are broken. Her lip is split open. Her right eye is ringed with red and purple, swollen shut. Her left eye flutters open, stares at him, unseeing. He knows he should be thankful: she's not dead, she hasn't disappeared, the cops don't have her, she's not high. Violence isn't a stranger to the streets, and she's lucky to be alive. But Sam doesn't feel thankful. His muscles feel too heavy and his skin feels too tight and he wants to kill someone. He has a brief image of a sixteen-year-old boy, helpless, a knife pressed to his throat. He pushes the memory away.
He runs a hand through his hair. How is he supposed to get her back to their room? He can't just throw her over his shoulder and expect no one to notice. He pounds his fist on the blacktop, pounds out the rage and guilt and hate until his knuckles split and his hand is slick with blood. Fuck. Fuck! He rubs Jess' hands; they feel frozen, and her jacket is unzipped. He arranges her clothes as best he can and zips her jacket with trembling fingers. "Jess? Can you hear me? It's Sam."
She blinks and focuses her good eye on Sam. A single tear squeezes out and slides down her cheek. He wipes her nose with his sleeve, struggling to find words. "Are you hurt bad? Can you walk?"
Her voice is hoarse. "I think so. Help me up."
"Just a minute." He slides her foot back into the shoe and ties it in a double knot. "Okay." He puts an arm around her shoulders and gently—he hopes—helps her stand. She leans against the dumpster for support.
"I didn't get any food," Jess says and her voice cracks. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry," Sam tells her. "It's okay," he says, and it's not, nothing is, but he doesn't know what else to say. Why didn't he go instead? Or at least go with her?
It takes half an hour to walk the four blocks to EZ Stor-it. He can see she's in pain, but he doesn't know what to do or how to help. "Do you want to go to the hospital? I can say I'm your brother. I'm eighteen," he lies, "they can't put me anywhere. You need to see a doctor."
"I don't need anything," she snaps. "If I go to the hospital he'll find me. I won't go back."
"Maybe a foster home," he ventures, but the look in her eyes silences him.
"I spent six months in a foster home while my dad had therapy. Very hush-hush, of course. He was a new man. My homecoming was a joyous occasion," she says, and he can hear the pain beneath the bitter veneer.
Sam unlocks the door, pulls it open and goes inside. He spreads both blankets out and Jess eases herself to the floor. "Oh God," she says, and starts to cry. Sam holds her hand.
She doesn't tell him what happened in the parking lot and he doesn't ask.
When he wakes the next morning, Jess is watching him. He rubs his face. "What?"
She just shakes her head and offers him a weak smile. "I was just thinking that you know more about me than anyone."
Sam blinks at her.
"I should have said it a long time ago, but thank you for helping me. You're a good person." Her eye is still swollen but it's open. He can read the curiosity in both her eyes. "Why did you help me, Sam? You could have done…you know, what those guys did last night. But you didn't."
He's not sure how to answer. He could tell her, because I loved you the moment I saw you, or being with you makes me feel like I'm actually alive. Instead he says, "When I saw you, that first time, I could tell you needed help. Someone to listen. And I wanted to be that person. And just because I don't have a home or a job or a family doesn't mean I'm a complete asshole. I know the difference between right and wrong. I would never touch a woman—touch anyone—if they didn't want me to." He closes his eyes. "I wish I'd been with you last night," he admits. "I wish I could have saved you from…from that."
Jess looks into his eyes until he has to turn away. "Sam, you already saved me," she says softly. "You're my best friend."
Sam doesn't know what to say. He hasn't had a friend in years. Maybe ever. He manages a smile; it's the best he can do.
She can walk easier the next day, but they don't go to the mall. She's too tired. By evening Sam can tell she's not feeling well – her face is flushed, and instead of sleeping she spends the night tossing and turning. Whenever Sam gets close to her, he can feel the fever radiating from her body.
Her coughing wakes him, and Sam looks around, groggy. The coughs come from deep inside her chest. They sound thick and dangerous. "My chest hurts," she whispers. "So does my head."
Sam runs all the way to the pharmacy on Gillmore and looks for Tylenol and cough syrup. He's so nervous he actually pays for the medicine. He gets orange juice from the gas station and is back with Jess within a half hour – her eye looks better, but her cough is worse. He hopes it's just a cold. He helps her sit up and gives her a capful of syrup, makes her wash down the pills with some water. He sets the bottle of juice beside her.
She sleeps most of the day away while Sam paces the ten foot by ten foot square, watching her. He thinks about Palo Alto.
The days blur together and Jess doesn't feel any better. She gets weaker, more withdrawn. She says it hurts to talk, so Sam talks to her. He rambles for hours about anything and everything. His father, his brother, schools he went to, places he's lived. He tells her fragments of ghost stories that he remembers his father telling him. Sam knows he's not making sense, but he's pretty sure Jess doesn't notice. He's not even sure she's listening.
He only goes outside when he has to take a leak; otherwise he never leaves her side. It's hard for her to stand now, so he brings a bucket inside so she doesn't have to go out into the cold. Her cough continues. It sounds like there's a creature trapped inside her chest, growling to get out. Sam's afraid the noise will make someone suspicious – he keeps expecting the door to break open. He imagines a cop standing there. Or Jess' father. When he dreams, he sees other things waiting for him, things with yellow eyes, things standing in the shadows.
When the coughs rattle through her chest she sounds hollow. She struggles to breathe, and Sam watches numbly while she slips further away. He doesn't know what to do. She won't let him take her to the hospital. He knows she's killing herself; she doesn't need razor blades now.
"What are you going to do when I die?" she asks him.
"You aren't going to die. You have to get better so we can go to California." Sam's not sure which one of them he's trying to convince.
"For God's sake, there's an elephant sitting on my chest," Jess whispers. "I can barely breathe. Face it, Sam, I'm not going to see my sister."
Sam's throat aches and his eyes sting, but he swallows the pain; he won't cry in front of her. He doesn't like to cry.
"When I die, you can't stay here anymore."
Sam turns his back on her. He doesn't want to listen to this. This isn't right. This isn't how his life is supposed to be. He picks the scabs off his knuckles, watches fresh blood bead along his skin. Don't let her die, he prays. He doesn't know who or what he's praying to.
"I don't want to go back to Wisconsin so my dad can have a big funeral for me. I don't want him getting some big show of support. I want him to be alone and to wonder what happened to me." Her voice lowers and the hate shines through. "I want him to lie awake, every night, wondering." She takes a ragged breath. "I need you to promise me something."
Sam keeps his eyes on the cement wall. He's very still.
"Sam, please!" Her voice is a croak, the sound of burlap or tree bark.
He looks at her reluctantly. His palms are sweating. Nothing feels real. He tells himself he's dreaming, that he's still little and Dean's in the next room and Sam still has a chance at life, there's still a chance—a thread—that the best thing (person) in his life isn't dying in front of his eyes.
"Promise me…when I die you'll burn my body so the cops won't be able to recognize me." She talks faster, desperate, the words tumbling out. "Hopefully I'll end up a pile of ashes. At the very least they'll need dental records to identify me. And if they don't know who I am in the first place, dental records won't help."
He stares at her, shocked and stricken. Sick. What kind of a request is that? What kind of fucked up thing is that to want? A fragment of memory flutters by, a whisper of the past, a raspy voice saying, you can destroy the spirit by burning their bones, boys, and then it's gone. Sam lets it go, freely, gladly, because he doesn't believe in ghosts or monsters, except maybe the ones that live inside his head. He pushes the hair out of his face and sinks to the ground. "Jess…" He can't do it. He won't.
She smiles at him and it breaks his resolve – what little he has. "I don't want him to see me again. Ever. Please, Sam. Do it. For me. Please."
He shakes his head, fumbles for words. "I don't…I don't…how do I even do it?"
Jess moves one shoulder, an attempt at a shrug. "Pour lighter fluid one me, and throw a match." Her smile slips crooked and she laughs. "Just make sure I'm dead first, okay?"
Sam doesn't think she's funny. The laughter turns into another wave of coughing, and he goes to her. He holds her hand while she rocks on the makeshift bed of blankets, squeezes it, afraid to let go. The fit passes and she looks up at him, bright spots of blood flecking her lips. "Promise me."
And he does.
She dies a few hours later.
He has nowhere to go.
Is he supposed to go to the shelter and start another life? He has Jess' sister's address, he can go to Palo Alto on his own. But he doesn't want to do anything.
This morning there was a police car parked in front of the EZ Stor-it office. He doesn't know if it means the manager found Jess, or if somebody broke into one of the other units. Sam doesn't get close enough to find out.
He feels the hard square of the matchbook in his pocket and thinks about Jess. She's all he thinks about. He remembers how she looked in the fire, like an angel, red, avenging. Avenging. Revenge. Avenging angel. Sam sits in the SuperSave parking lot, behind the dumpster where he found her. The snow has long since melted, and there's no trace of where she lay. Sometimes customers walk by him. They see his old clothes, greasy hair, the look in his eyes, and turn away.
Sam wanders the city, considers taking the subway deep into Chicago. He has his baseball bat and a boiling rage, what else does he need? But he walks to the east ramp instead. The temperature is dropping and he thinks it might snow again. He stares at his old home beneath the second floor stairway, lost. He doesn't want to stay there without Jess. So he keeps walking, up to the top level.
A group of homeless people huddle around a big metal garbage can; there's a fire burning inside. Sam walks up to the barrel and peers into the heat. For a moment, Jess looks back, an angel with wings of white and gold. Then a man elbows him out of the way, muttering, and the fire is just a fire, dying flames trying to warm dying souls.
Sam moves away, but the message is clear: Jess is still alive. She's in him, she's in the fire. The tears come without warning, but he swallows them down, he doesn't want to feel like this. But the pain is harder and harder to beat down, it won't stay buried, it waits (eager) just below the skin.
Behind him he can hear the man muttering. Maybe he's schizophrenic, maybe he's drunk, maybe it's just an act. Sam used to look at the homeless people, wondering if one of the faces belonged to his father, or Dean. Now he doesn't care.
Tonight he's going to see Jess. He has two bottles of lighter fluid in his bag and the matches are safe in his pocket, impatient.
Just like him.