Characters/Pairing: Sam, secondary Bobby, Jo, Bela, Ruby, Dean (bits of Sam/Jo and Sam/Bela)
Disclaimer: The characters and situations of Supernatural do not belong to me. I make no money from this story. Please don't sue.
Warnings: Spoilers through 3x11 "Mystery Spot." Also, kinda dark.
Summary: It's been months of solitary, single-minded killing. Sam may be honing his hunting abilities, but his people skills are growing rusty. Missing scenes for "Mystery Spot."
Author's Note: Written for the 'rusting' prompt at Taming the Muse and my spn25 table prompt #3, 'ritual.' This story started out as something completely different, then it morphed and grew and ate my Saturday. It's different from my usual writing, so I'm definitely curious to see how it is received.
The paramedic is a pretty blonde, just the sort whose hands Dean would love to be placed in. But Dean doesn't get a vote anymore, and Sam's not letting go.
He's not sure how much time has passed. His legs have gone numb from his position on the concrete, curled up under his bulk as well as Dean's weight in his lap.
The dead weight of the body, that is.
He kept closing his eyes during the long minutes before the sirens approached, hoping to open them to the familiar hotel ceiling and Dean on the next bed over, alive once more. By the time the blonde is kneeling in front of him, trying to convince him to let go of Dean, he's resigned himself to the fact that this day is not rewinding. He still stubbornly hangs on, knowing that she can't help him and unwilling to give up the connection yet.
He doesn't remember letting go, in fact. The other paramedic, her large male partner, may have been involved. All he knows is that he ends up at the police station giving a statement, and that later he is wandering the streets and taking up station in the diner, searching for the Trickster. He doesn't find him.
Cal confesses like a scared kid caught breaking curfew. He's arrested. Sam barely looks at him twice. He may have pulled the trigger, but he isn't at fault here.
He hangs around until they release the body, watching all the while. When he's sure the Trickster is no longer in town, he decides to finish his business here and move on.
But first he has to stand at his brother's funeral pyre, alone.
He doesn't call ahead. He just shows up on Bobby's doorstep.
The older man greets him with a smile that fades as soon as he takes in the empty car behind him. "What happened? Where's Dean?"
Sam tells the story in stilted descriptions, gripping the newly-inherited amulet around his neck all the while. When it's over he lets Bobby hug hum tightly. He wishes it made him feel even a little bit better.
He finally pulls back, eyes red-rimmed but dry. "Will you help me find the Trickster?"
"Sam," Bobby breathes, more a sigh than a statement.
"Look, I know all the options for resurrection, all right? And Dean's…" He stops, swallows hard. He won't belittle Dean's choice, not now, when he would repeat it himself in a heartbeat. "The Trickster is my best bet, my only real chance. He made this happen. He can fix it."
"And what? You're gonna track him down, hold a stake to his throat until he gives in? Beg him to take pity on you? Why would he do that, Sam?"
"He has to," is his stubborn answer. He has to, because no other option is even imaginable.
Bobby shuts his eyes briefly. "You know I'll help. But Sam, you make me a promise. When we find him, you don't go after him alone. We do this together."
He looks up, meets Bobby's serious gaze. It's the expression of a father who has lost a son; who is afraid of losing another. Something twists painfully deep in Sam's chest.
But the leads are slow in coming, and Sam can't just sit still and wait. He assures Bobby that he'll keep his promise, but that he needs to be out there, hunting, until something solid comes through.
So he goes. But unlike Dean, unlike their father, he's never really hunted alone. It takes some getting used to. He nearly gets himself killed a couple of times because he's so accustomed to having someone else watch his back.
He learns. He makes some mistakes, he gets himself injured several times, but he always picks himself up. And he learns.
It's not just the hunting. He's not used to being alone in the car, in the hotel room. There's this blanketing silence that unnerves him. He can turn on the TV, he can have the noisiest neighbors, but the silence remains.
But it's the strong emotions that puts him at the most risk. His anger makes him reckless. His sorrow debilitates him, makes him clumsy and foolish and useless. He can't afford to let himself miss Dean, not in the little moments that leave him melancholic or in the big ones that endanger his life.
He doesn't really recognize it, but he is slowly learning that the best way to focus and make it through the day is to resist as much emotion as possible.
And, slowly but surely, he grows used to having a bathroom to himself, to waking on his own; to not arguing over television or food or laundry.
He starts learning to cope with the silence.
There's a particularly nasty spirit just outside of Duluth. It's not that he needs help, not by this point, but he could use some good bait. Because he's so close, and because he'd like his bait to be able to fend for itself, he gives Jo a call.
She gives him directions to her apartment, he willingly drinks a little holy water, and they talk briefly about Dean. It's little more than condolences; neither of them seem willing to walk memory lane. He describes the job, and she is eager to help.
She's fully aware that she's the bait, but she doesn't seem to resent the fact. She plays her part well, and they dispatch the spirit in good time.
Too good, it would seem, and he's reluctant to go so soon. She invites him back to her place. He accepts.
They get Chinese takeout and sit at her little kitchen table. This is where that memory lane walk rears up again. She asks, if a bit reluctantly, and he finds himself reliving his many hellish Tuesdays. Turns out some of them are a little funny in retrospect. If their laughter has a little edge of hysteria, they both ignore it. It stops completely by the time he's finally describing his Wednesday in a rough, hushed voice.
"Sam…" she touches him lightly on the shoulder. Then, before he's sure what's happening, she's hugging him. He hesitates for a moment before returning the gesture, burying his face in her hair. His breaths come shakily. Dimly, he notices that she's trembling too.
He wonders now if this is why he called her, if he came near this city in the first place because he wanted some companionship.
They sit tangled together in silence, her hands running lightly over his back. Later he won't be entirely sure how it happened, but he will remember that she was the one who started it, who first pressed her lips to his in a light, chaste kiss.
Somehow it morphs quickly, and her rickety little table threatens to give way as he lifts her onto it. Shirts slide off and his hands are on her belt when the TV in the next apartment suddenly blares on, loud even through the thin walls. It forces him to pause, to stop for a second and think.
"Sorry," she whispers in his ear. "Mr. Taylor's hard of hearing; he always blasts the volume. I guess I'm just used to it." She's warm and solid against him, deceptively strong legs wrapped around his waist. But there's something fragile about her too, something in the way she tentatively touches his cheek to bring his lips back to hers, something in the way she's still trembling.
He pulls away, and she stills as he holds her at arm's length.
This isn't working; it's wrong for so many reasons. For one, he never had any feelings for her apart from those of a brotherly sort. He's trying to use her, and he kind of suspects it goes both ways. It was Dean she liked, after all. And he fears that part of that trembling is not grief, that it's instead a remnant of the last time their bodies were this close, though she's trying to keep the demon's actions separate from his in her mind.
"I'm sorry," he apologizes.
"No; I shouldn't have…" she's blushing, looking uncomfortable, but he can see in her eyes that she's a bit relieved.
"You did nothing wrong," he assures her. They both attempt awkward smiles as they disengage completely, reaching for their respective clothing. He stays for a bit, has a drink with her, and says nothing of consequence.
She walks him to the door. "You're always welcome," she offers. "And if you ever need any help, give me a call."
He won't, and they both know it. He nods anyway and accepts a final, somewhat stiff hug before he goes.
As he drives away at rather unhealthy speeds, he reflects that it was a mistake to seek someone out. He doesn't need solace. He needs to find the Trickster, convince him to turn things back.
Failing that, he really needs to kill the bastard.
Bobby calls just as he's about to hike into a wooded park in search of whatever has been grabbing young children in the area. He's distracted and a little short with him, trying to hasten the conversation along to the point. He tries to quash his irritation when Bobby chastises him for not listening. "What is it, Bobby?"
"I'm worried about you, kid. You shouldn't be alone."
"Most hunters work alone. You usually do. My Dad did."
"Sam…your Dad was my friend, you know that. But I will never encourage you to be like him."
He's pretty sure that should make him angry. All he feels is an urge to get moving. "Bobby, do you have anything for me or not?"
There's a long sigh over the line. "I'm still working on it."
"Fine. Good. Let me know."
That gets a reaction. "Don't, Bobby." He needs a moment, takes a deep breath. "I'm fine."
"You are not fine, son."
"I'm not your son."
He hangs up on him. He feels a tinge of regret, but he pushes it away and focuses on the job ahead.
He doesn't want to hurt people, but they can't help him. He needs to keep all that emotion in check if he expects to keep functioning. Best if he keeps his distance.
Bobby keeps calling, but he stops answering.
A few weeks and a werewolf later, Bobby leaves a message that catches his attention.
Two days after that he's in a fancy high-rise apartment in Seattle, waiting for her when she walks through the door. High-heels click on hardwood floor, stuttering to an abrupt stop when he turns on the lamp and floods the room with light.
She stares at him with comically wide eyes. "Sam."
He doesn't bother to stand. He just continues to survey her from the easy chair in the corner of her living room. "Bela."
Her eyes dart around the room before settling back on him. Her hand strays toward her purse.
"Don't make this harder than it has to be."
She watches him steadily, licks her lips. Without taking her eyes off him she slips the purse from her shoulder and sets it on the table, trying to portray calm. "I'm sorry. About Dean, I mean. I heard through some of my contacts."
He stands now, steps closer. "I'm not here for your pity."
To her credit, she doesn't back away. "Then what can I help you with, Sam?"
Whereas he'd had no real feelings for Jo, he had for Bela. He vividly remembers lust and hatred, and some small part of him had expected she would provoke them again. He steps close enough to smell her perfume, and as she reads him and changes her stance to adopt a seductive smile, he admits that maybe he's even hoping for a little feeling.
All he says is, "I want the Colt, Bela. Now."
She steps closer, touches his chest lightly. "And I would love to help you with that, but I'm afraid I'm no longer in possession of that item. Perhaps there's something else you'd like…"
She raises up on her tiptoes and he tilts his head willingly, lets her breath ghost over his lips. Her kiss begins softly, but there is nothing chaste about it. He lets her do all the work for a long moment, waiting for the desire he'd once felt to flood through him. When it doesn't come he pushes back against her, tongues tangling and hands grasping. They break apart after a long moment and she turns her head into his shoulder.
He's out of breath, and he feels a bit of disappointment. But that's about it. "I think you are. Still in possession, that is."
She smiles against his cheek. "As I said…"
He cuts her off, grasping her hair and pulling her away. It's not overly forceful, but it is designed to make her gasp. "Something like that, there would be noise when it passed into new hands. It's here, somewhere." He lets her go and she stumbles a step. "And I will be leaving with it."
"Ow," she complains. "All right, all right. No need to get forceful." She turns away, picks up her purse and heads toward the kitchen, casting him a look over her shoulder. "Unless of course that's how you like it."
He follows her, watches her closely. He doubts the Colt is hidden in here; he looked pretty thoroughly before she got home. In fact, he's laying odds on the purse. She sets it on a counter as she bends to a low cabinet. "Don't you even want to know why I did it?"
"I know why. Greed."
"Sam. You wound me. You're right, of course, but that's no reason to be rude."
"Quit screwing around, Bela." He edges closer to the purse.
"Aw. And just when I thought that was where the evening was heading." He sees her move out of the corner of his eye and reacts instinctively, ducking in time to avoid the cleaning powder that comes flying at his face. What he doesn't quite miss is the skillet that follows it up. The edge barely catches his forehead, but it is enough to make him stumble. When he rights himself, she's produced the Colt. It irks him that she has the nerve to point a weapon she stole from him at his chest.
He frowns at her. "Just when we were getting along."
She shakes her head. "You've changed, Sam."
"Yes," he acknowledges. "Unfortunately, you haven't." He bends, producing his own gun from a hidden holster around his ankle, and notes her annoyed look. "What's the matter? Unfair, since it's a hard spot to search while copping a feel?"
She tightens her lips, and her grip on the Colt. She is human, and therefore he gave her more leeway than he should have. He doesn't hate her, he's not even annoyed with her anymore. But she is an enemy. And he's long since lost compassion for his enemies.
She's threatening his life, and she's shot him before. He has no reason to doubt that she'll do it now with her own life in jeopardy.
Her mistake was in a lesson his Dad tried to drill into him long ago. Don't wound what you can't kill; it only creates a bigger threat.
Somewhere, his Dad should be proud that he's finally learned that lesson.
He shoots to kill.
The Colt makes things even quicker, easier. His hunting is more efficient.
He's standing over the broken bodies of two recently demon-occupied teenagers when Ruby makes her presence known for the first time in months.
"Not bad," she proclaims as she surveys the remnants of his work. "Those two were a particular nuisance. Shame about the kids, of course."
"Of course," he echoes blandly.
They move together in silence, and she follows him back to his hotel room. While he's storing his weapons, she sits and studies his wall of information devoted to the Trickster. "Your track record is getting pretty impressive. Everybody's talking about it."
"Does that mean more will be attacking, or less?"
"It means that the ones who do will be either very reckless or very strong."
"Or very stupid," he throws in.
She cracks a smile. "Or that."
He sits down, not close enough to touch, and follows her line of sight. "I don't suppose you can help me with him."
"I don't have his kind of power."
"No. But I'm guessing you could tell me where he is."
"He can hide." She shrugs. "I don't know."
He's not sure why he believes her, but he does. "Then get out. I don't need you," he says with the same emotionless tone.
"No. You don't." He should probably be disconcerted by the pride in her voice. Instead he just watches her dispassionately as she ambles out the door, tossing over her shoulder, "I'll be in touch."
Late at night, lying in strange beds and staring at unfamiliar ceilings, truths creep forth from the dark places where he's stuffed them. He recognizes what's happening to him.
In these darkest moments, he fears he is losing all the good bits of himself. His compassion, his ability to interact on a personal level…his humanity in general. It's all rusting, corroding away from lack of use. Soon it will flake away, perhaps for good.
In his particularly brutal moments of clarity, he admits that he's become what he hated most in his father.
This is what he is without Dean.
He turns on his side; swallows the lump in his throat and shuts his eyes. No moisture makes its way out. He reminds himself that in the end, he respected his Dad. John Winchester was a hero who saved countless lives, and that soldier's discipline kept him sane enough to do it.
He uses a newly perfected trick, mentally reciting an exorcism rite. Sometimes he chooses a specific creature and goes through all the facts he knows about it; sometimes he mentally pictures fighting styles or weapon assembly. It's a technique his Dad would be proud of, maybe even something he used on occasion. Turn off the thoughts, keep yourself sane.
Focus on the goal.
Three months later (or five months back, if you're anyone other than Sam Winchester), Dean parks in front of a little motel about a day outside of Broward and sends Sam in to get them a room.
He tells the girl at the desk that he wants a single. He sees the way her eyes cut towards the parking lot, watches her smile and notices the tinge that touches her cheeks. But the implication doesn't even occur to him.
It does a few minutes later when Dean pushes open the door to their room and stops, forcing Sam to balance halfway across the threshold with both of their bags. "You got us a single."
Sam stares at the room's one bed. "Oh."
"One queen bed," Dean reiterates, as if he'd missed the concept.
Sam's rote actions are all stuck on the 'alone' setting. Apparently it's going to take some time to reset. He shrugs defensively. "Guess so."
Dean's shooting him an odd look. He's been doing that a lot in the thirteen hours he's been alive again. "Okay then."
Dean doesn't say anything about changing rooms, and Sam doesn't offer to go ask.
A few hours later Sam lays stiffly on his back, staring at yet another unfamiliar ceiling. Dean keeps shifting beside him. It should comfort him, the constant reminder of Dean's presence, but somehow it is just setting him on edge.
He's been watching Dean closely all day, hyperaware of his habits as he drummed on the steering wheel, as he ordered a huge burger and horribly greasy fries and savored every bite as if making love to them.
Driving, eating, sleeping. It had all become mindless ritual for Sam. He did them because they were necessary, but he put no thought towards them, took no pleasure in them. His fingers clinch in the sheets now, and he knows the tension is because he hasn't accomplished anything towards a hunt today. That, too, has become ritual.
But he has Dean back now. He should be able to slip back into his old persona. But how long will that take? Until Dean's deal is up, perhaps?
Then he can go through this process all over again.
"Sammy. You're not sleeping."
"Neither are you."
It earns him a frustrated huff. Dean shifts again, and then there is a gentle brush of fingers up his arm. He jumps, as he's been doing with every casual touch all day. He's become unaccustomed to everyday human contact. Dean feels it and hesitates for the briefest of moments before the touch finds his shoulder and settles in an anchoring grip. "It's after midnight. I'm still breathing."
"Yeah, but when I wake up, will it be Thursday? Will we still be in this room, together?"
"Yes," Dean answers firmly.
"You can't promise me that."
Dean sighs and goes quiet for a long moment, hearing what Sam isn't saying. The touch keeps anchoring them to each other. "I'm gonna be with you as long as I can. And when I'm not…you're gonna be fine. You're stronger than you think."
He laughs then. It might be a bit hysterical, if the tightening of the hand on his shoulder is any indication. He can't help it. He'd forgotten what laughter felt like.
"Sammy?" Dean asks after several beats, concerned.
Sam calms himself. "I'm okay."
"You need me to hold you?" There's more than enough teasing in the question for Dean to laugh it off as a joke. But Sam knows that if he rolls closer and takes him up on the offer, Dean won't push him away.
The longing to curl up in big brother's arms is strong, and that's a nice change. But he resists. Hugging Dean this morning was one thing, an affirmation that he was really there and still breathing. Letting Dean hold him now would probably break all his barriers and leave him sobbing like an infant. "I'm all right."
Dean adopts an offended tone. "What, I'm good enough for the same bed but not for a little cuddle?" The hand on his shoulder creeps down to tweak his ribs.
Sam laughs again, a more realistic one this time, as he squirms away and directs, "Go to sleep, jerk."
Dean pats him on the chest before he pulls away completely. Still he's a warm presence only a foot away. "Not goin' anywhere, Sammy," he declares sleepily before he goes silent.
But Sam still can't sleep. The bright but short-lived emotion fades into the darkness. It isn't until Dean's breathing evens out into light snores that Sam admits it to himself. He isn't afraid the comfort will break him.
He's afraid that it won't.