Hunters don't die.
It's a realization Sam makes at 17. Far too young, but unfortunately, his growth spurt in the past year has made him too long too soon. He trips over a branch he can't even see in the dark of the woods, and it doesn't take long for the monster he can't even recognize without a flashlight (which is a damn shame because he's got fifty bucks riding on this being an ogre) to get on top of him, spit and hot breath spritzing on his face.
Dean saves him. He always does, and really, that's what does it. What makes him think as he breathes, in and out, Dean checking his ankle with all the care of Nightingale. There was nothing he could have done. He was weaponless, slow, and it was ready for him. For all intents and purposes, Sam Winchester should be dead, and it would be his fault.
At this age, Sam doesn't know many hunters, and most of the ones he does aren't active anymore. But he thinks it anyway and it feels true, as natural as the blood and adrenaline still madly coursing through him. Hunters don't die, not in the way most people think of it. They don't last long enough for natural causes to get them. They aren't killed. And they don't get into accidents.
They slip. Plain and simple, they slip, alone and stupid, with nothing but their own damn foolishness to blame.
Hunters kill themselves, with nothing but that knowledge as their company as they go.
Well, fuck that, he thinks, and suddenly he doesn't feel so guilty about that application to Stanford sitting at the bottom of his laundry bag.
"Details of the Death"
Sam Winchester slips in California in the middle of Lake Casitas while fighting a kappa.
He's 26--still too young, but it's not like that's ever mattered.
'Why?' is ambigious. The whole thing is technically accidental, in the sense that he did not leave the Dewberry Motel with the intention of dying. At least, he would not say so. Some would point to the bottle's worth of tequila flowing through his system, clouding his judgment and tipping his walk, as a sign not to take him at his word.
'How?' is fuzzier still. Not even Sam knows how, though admittedly he's too busy struggling for air to give it much thought. He thinks the bastard has grabbed one of his legs and pulled him down, as his frantic attempt to propel himself upward does nothing, but he can't see. It's night-time, and the street lamps illuminating the reservoir are meant for the guards, not little lost hunters drowning in the dark. His limbs are heavy, growing more so by the second, and cold sets in to his bones even faster thanks to an already unusually chilly summer night.
What it isn't? Is a surprise. No, dying feels every bit like Sam has always thought it would--well, always since he cheated it last time. His stomach clenches as the fingers release, and burning breaths of water come short and quick, stabbing at his lungs. It is resignation mixed with despair, followed by a sudden sense of relief, and Sam does not have time to wonder which is worse as his eyes finally close.
At least, he isn't supposed to have time.
Sam Winchester isn't supposed to cough. He isn't supposed to spit out water like the gauche cherub fountain he saw on the drive over, and he isn't supposed to breathe. Yet, for the second time in two years, the laws of the universe collapse and he does. It's harsh on his throat, still feeling more like fire than air and the part of him that's still drunk can't help but think that's funny, all things considered, but he breathesand the irony becomes unimportant. He swallows up every bit of air he can get, unsure which one will really be his last and desperate to take advantage of the opportunity he's been given, coughing up little bits of water as he goes.
Sam's still breathing when he feels thin arms (or he hopes they're arms; they feel more like twigs, far too thin and small to have a chance at holding him) drag him up what feels like rocks, then dirt, than rocks again. His eyes are still closed--he doesn't dare chance opening them. The survival instinct is slowly fading though and now all that's left is a shiver moving through numb skin and joints and a dull curiosity that asks 'What now?'
Because whatever this is? It could not be good. He's had very little experience with honest to God good in his life; he knows better than to expect it now.
He won't find out now though. Eyes that he simply didn't chance opening now just won't, as exhaustion overtakes him and he slips into a different kind of darkness.
Consciousness comes in a series of realizations.
He isn't cold anymore.
He isn't wearing clothes.
He is in what is possibly the best bed he has ever known in his entire life.
And because it apparently does not fully register the first time, he is not wearing clothes.
Sam's eyes fly open to a hotel room he doesn't recognize. Nor should he, really. It isn't the sort of place that he could get on a hunter's "salary". The walls are trimmed with a gold border, perfectly accentuating the cream-colored wallpaper. The bed, he sees now, isn't plaid or patterned with the red berries his own motel had chosen, but is rather just a simple peach color. The fabric itself he can't identify as anything other than 'expensive'--Egyptian Cotton maybe. To his right, a slightly ajar door leads into what looks like a walk-in closet; next to that sits a minibar, the remnants of a first aid kit and one bottle of champagne (unopened, chilled in ice) decorating the counter; and one window, sun shining brightly through it, sits above that.
To his left sits Ruby, in a leather chair too big for her. He jumps; she smirks, her dark eyes shining.
"Nice to see you back among the living, Sam," she says.
He starts to speak but finds he can't. He licks his lips first and then croaks, "How'd you find me?"
"Please, I've been following you since Denver. You kinda stick out in a crowd." She smirks again, raising her hand high above her head, but her voice is tight, too tight for a joke.
"So," she changes topics, trying to sound casual, not quite succeeding. "What happened? I only caught the part where you decided to go for a swim."
He licks his lips; swallows. When that doesn't help, she frowns but gets up from her chair and walks to the bar. Her hand hesitates over the champagne, but eventually she reaches underneath the counter to pull out a bottle of water.
She tosses and he catches it greedily, pulling off the cap and drinking in large gulps until his throat is in actual working condition again. It allows him time to consider the question.
What did happen? It was an easy job. A kappa had worked its way into California--rare, if it's ever occurred at all, but not completely impossible as far as he could make out with research. They were freshwater creatures, but could in theory survive anywhere if they kept their headwater untainted. If all had worked according to plan, he shouldn't have had to do anything more than bow to the thing; its moral code would demand it do the same, it would lose its headwater, and it would either die or make the long swim back home. They were carnivorous, mischievous, but usually innocuous. But then, usually they were in Japan, where they belonged. Lost, lonely, scared to be both--it was merely trying to survive and unfortunately, that had meant three eaten children and an attacked married couple.
He should have realized, tried to appeal to its natural sense of curiosity and override the fear. He would have, before --
In a voice close to sounding human, he mutters, "I lost control of it."
A pause. She repeats, snottily: "Lost control."
She stands up straighter, crossing her arms, trying to make her twig of a body look threatening.
She doesn't completely fail.
"Funny choice of words," she continues. "I would have said something more like 'completely fucked myself up with booze' but I guess that works."
"You didn't what? Stink like a frat boy at homecoming? I have a really good nose, Sam; I know what I smelled, and I know that I told you not to do that anymore."
He doesn't answer. She's right, but he doesn't need a demon giving him a morality speech. He messed up--there isn't a nicer way to say it and he isn't going to try. He meant to be better than this. He meant to dedicate month two of his personal calendar of grief to a sober, better method of forgetting, with blood, gunfire, and as many miles of highway between him and Pontiac, Illinois as he could afford.
He meant to do a lot of things. Then he hit California, and the idea turned to shit on the roadside. He discovered that leaving one burial site only to land smack right into another one only points out that there's a lot more hole inside you left to fill than you thought. Suddenly the pages fall. The calendar's back at month one, week one, it's fucking cold as hell (he's still drunk, he guesses, because that's pretty funny too, in that same 'not at all funny' way) in the middle of July, and if the store's open late and has a deal on Asombroso 100% Blue Agave, why the hell not?
"If you did things my way, you know, you wouldn't be in this mess."
His jaw clenches. "I'll take the mess."
"And death? Yeah, real bright idea there. You know--"
She stops, her face softening, and he looks away. "Sam," she says, quieter, "Look, I--"
"--Why am I naked?" he asks, cutting off the pity-fest.
Ruby isn't fazed. She leans down, picks up a bag, and throws it on top of him. "Here. I grabbed them from the car," she explains, as he pulls out a pair of jeans; he can't find boxers.
"That's not answering my question."
"You fell into a lake, Sam. It's not that complicated."
It isn't, really, but he's been trying not to think about it. Not because he thinks Ruby did something; he swore never again and, oddly enough, he trusts her to live by that.
As long as he isn't thinking about it though, he can ignore the fact he wishes she had done something.
With some effort, he manages to get on the jeans while still underneath the covers, sparking a snort from Ruby.
"Like there's anything I haven't seen before under there?"
He slips out of the bed and slips on the rest of the clothes: socks, t-shirt, button-down. No boxers.
She rips the bag out of his hands. "Sam, look. I'm sorry, all right?"
Her eyes are open, doe-like even, but he knows her enough by now. Odd, again, but true. "No, you're not."
"I'm sorry you're pissed at me, then," she corrects, arms relaxing but still folded into her. She does mean that, and that's even odder--though not as odd as the fact he's gotten used to it, to her.
God, Sammy, what are you doing?
He steps aside, reaches for his throat--
--And he stops. His hands pat down quickly, frantically, but he feels skin, cotton, leather--
--And nothing else.
Sam moves faster than he thinks, in seconds pinning Ruby against the wall with one hand while turning the bag upside down with his other. There's no clink of gold on wood though and his grip tightens around her neck as she chokes out his name.
"Where is it?"
The glare says it all and he loosens his grip just enough for her to spit, "Where's what?"
"You know what."
"Actually, as it turns out, I really don't."
His instinct is to tighten again, maybe even pull the knife out from his pocket but there's a glimmer in her eyes. She's being sarcastic, still bitter about the choke, but there's no deceit.
He lets go, and steps back to the bed, his hands dropping to search. They're long, reaching sweeps, but he feels every square inch of comforter, then sheets as he rips the comforter off.
Or begins to--Ruby pulls it back with a surprisingly strong grip.
His head whips toward her, and the words come out in a near-snarl. "The amulet."
"I don't know what you're talking about," comes the reply, slowly, like she's talking to a four year old. "You weren't wearing an amulet when you were out of the lake."
What happens directly after she says this is a blur to Sam. He remembers the highlights: Ruby punching him; him punching back: her calling him a retard, an idiot, a dumbfuck, and a few other choice terms. Suicidal, that was one.
At some point though, he leaves, looking for the car, a cucumber, and a boat, thinking of only one thing:
Not out of, but in.
Before any of this, Sam slips in Denver, Colorado while pulling a demon.
This one is literal.
"Looks like your boy needs some better legs to go with that hand of his," cracks the demon, currently embodying a tiny twig of a girl that Sam didn't let Ruby handcuff. Rope burns but handcuffs bite--Sam can't help but feel like the demon could cut a vein if it wanted to, her wrist's so thin, and they don't even know how old she is, if she's got a family waiting for her.
He lifts himself up, ignoring the pounding in his head, and looks up to realize it doesn't matter; she's dead.
He looks to Ruby who rolls her eyes as she tucks away the knife. "I checked the pulse; she was long-dead, Sam."
Suddenly, she frowns. In a few strides she's wiping his nose, blood dripping down her fingers. "Sit. Tilt your head," she orders and he follows, though it's not necessary. The headaches stay for days, refusing to bow to human medicine, but the bleeding usually stops the minute he does.
He lets her think that there is help though, and when she slips two Advils into one hand and a water bottle in another he swallows without complaint.
Well, complaint about her. "So when exactly does this get easier? Because I remember something about practice."
"You tell me; you did it before."
"I did it once."
"Which is before, so what's different?"
Sam glares, but it's less than effective as he squirms with every wave of pain so he thinks it over. "I don't know. Luck? Adrenalin?"
He tries to stand but she keeps him down with a hand.
"Maybe," she says quietly, which is what gets his attention. She's been doing that more often lately, but it's still not something neither he or she's used to. "Maybe it's not possible with Azazel dead though. Not consistently anyway."
Suddenly, the pain doesn't seem like a big deal. "So what?" he asks, voice raising, "After all this, there's no point? I can't do it?"
He rises again and she pushes again, harder this time. "Did I say that, Sam?"
"Yes, you did!"
"Well, you didn't let me finish," she shoots back, oddly calm. "Maybe it's not possible with Azazel dead, because the powers come from his blood."
"So? It's still in me."
"But he's not alive."
Her eyes are forceful, annoyed, and he moves back, just a little. Seeing the motion, her eyes soften, and with one hand on his shoulder, she continues, "I mean, you said it yourself, the powers became inactive when he died, right? Maybe they can't be drawn out fully because of it."
He thinks about it, really considering the logic, even as his mouth still jumps with a "You know, I'm hearing a lot of maybes, Ruby. I thought you knew how to take care of this."
"I did. How was I supposed to know it'd change?"
He sighs. There's no use yelling at her, and he knows it. And there is logic, of sorts. As much as there can be with blood and magic.
"Fine," he says finally, body relaxing. "Then what do we do?"
She opens her mouth. Closes it. Looks away. It's purposeful, just enough so that Sam already knows her next words.
"You're not going to like this."
"If it's the only way . . ."
At some point he must have said she should come. Or maybe she knew he wouldn't kick her out. Either way, she's sitting in the passenger seat and after all this time he still has to struggle down the urge to pitch her to the side of the road. It's his seat and his car and if there was one thing he could respect, it couldn't at least be this?
Her whining doesn't help either.
"So, what exactly is the plan here, Sam?"
Stoplight. He breezes past, blaring horns the only sign he was ever there at all.
"You going to find it with your powers? You can't even pull a demon out with your mind but you can detect and transport necklaces in large bodies of water?"
Another one, and this time he's stuck. He keeps it in first, foot ready and waiting on the gas.
"You know, if you did things my way, you wouldn't have this problem right now."
His hands tighten around the steering wheel, but his voice is calm, controlled as he asks, "Really? And how's that?"
"Well, for one thing, you wouldn't be getting into stupid pointless fights when Lilith's out there--or do you not care about her anymore?"
And just like that, the control's gone, as his head whips around to face her, cheeks already burnt red as he yells, "Of course I care!"
"Could've fooled me."
"It was killing people! What was I supposed to do?"
She glares, gestures to the green light, and his foot punches down on the pedal with all his frustration.
"You'll ruin the engine," she says, and he's right back to pitching her out. It's easy; she barely weighs a thing. He knows that, can still remember, can still feel her in his hands . . .
He mutters a "Fuck you" and grips the wheel tighter until the leather rubs at his palm, and they fall into silence for a time.
Only for a time, though. Eventually she tries again.
"I'm not saying you shouldn't have helped them."
"I'm just saying--"
"--that if you had just kept doing what you were supposed to be doing, you wouldn't be in this mess."
He looks down at the shift and she's touching his hand, gently but confidently, like she doesn't expect him to pull away.
"I can't." It comes out in a whisper, like it's more to himself than her.
"It's already in you, Sam. There's nothing you can do about it."
And there it is, that one little nagging fact he couldn't bury, no matter how hard he tried.
He's already damned; what's a little more?
Everything, he thinks, and he shucks her hand off to move into third.
Eventually (more like finally) he's back there, trying to convince the guard that he and his "girlfriend" will be perfectly all right: yes, he's aware that a few kids have gone missing near the lake; yes, it's a terrible thing; no, he really does have to go fishing today. They're the usual lines, prep time while Sam analyzes the man. He's middle aged, tired, drinking a slightly cracked mug that says 'World's Best Dad'.
In other words, the perfect target for a sob story.
Sam uses his words sparingly, with pauses when appropriate. He pretends for a moment that John Winchester is Seamus Knowlton, a man who went fishing with his sons every year before he died and now it's up to them to carry on the legacy. They don't live here anymore, haven't in years, but it was the first place dad ever took them. It was always his favorite, and well, that just means something, though it's probably stupid to say what.
The guard waves him on without complaint. He only asks, "Sure you and your girl don't want to wait for your brother?"
Sam just clenches his teeth and adjusts the canoe on his back, ignoring Ruby's sudden grip around his wrist.
The lake is calm, not a police officer in sight. For now, they're alone. Of course, that's implying he knows where, which he doesn't. The beach is large, wide, plenty of holes and dunes and pits, not that he thinks it's there. 'Not out of, but in'; if it's anywhere, it's the lake. It's just not particularly comforting knowledge. The lake has more opportunities than the land--for all he knows, the amulet could be struggling in sand at the bottom and he'd die trying to reach it.
He puts down the canoe. In moments he and Ruby are in and rowing, rowing, rowing, red canoe cutting across black water like a wound. The cucumber sticks out of his pocket awkwardly, his wrist bumping into it with each heave.
The joke comes easily, before he can stop it.
"Dude, that's nasty."
Sam stops rowing. His breath stops, then releases slowly in a hiss through his teeth.
"I'm just saying, you don't have to be that happy to see me.'"
His grip tightens around the handle of the row.
"What kinda monster eats cucumbers with a side of human flesh any--"
The row's gone. He vaguely recalls slashing it in front of him, but not really; just feels the burn in his palm, fresh from gripping too tightly. In his peripheral vision though he spots the red on the black. It's not far, but he'll have to go in to retrieve it.
If he followed the rules, this wouldn't happen. His tongue knows enough to do that--never dares utter a syllable. But his mind is always going, always thinking; always going where he couldn't go, thinking what he couldn't think.
His fist hurts from the sudden impact against wood and he strips down to the tee shirt, determined. In seconds he's in, the water somehow colder than it was last night. He needs the amulet. He didn't bury it with Dean, couldn't make himself drop it into the pit after he had already removed it, but he didn't wear it at first. It hung in the trunk first, dangling alongside the rosaries and dream catchers, but moved to the car mirror when it started falling off and getting lost in the guns. Time went on though, and that "time heals all wounds" crap is just that because it only got worse, so he finally just put it on. Lowered the passenger seat, AC/DC's bass line throbbing in his ears, and let the metal warm to his skin. Three weeks and two days--he hadn't taken it off since. Until this, that is.
The amulet was Dean; had to be Dean until he figured this whole mess out. And as long as it was Dean, then he didn't have to think about Dean at all.
Contradictory. Maybe even flat-out illogical. But it's all he has.
Because that's such a comfort.
"Sam, look out!"
He's down in seconds, the grip on his ankle tight. His only thought before passing out from the shock of it, as his breath takes in water, is that he should've known. He'd missed his chance last night; death had kindly rescheduled.
"'Because I could not stop for death, it kindly stopped for me'? Jesus, Sam, only you would pull that geek-boy stuff out now."
"I've been checking around. Reading up on some old lore. I didn't want to mention it in case I was wrong, but now I'm pretty sure. It's pretty nasty, I'll give you that, but I can't see anything really wrong with it. It should work--even with me."
"Azaezal gave you blood when you were a baby. Now, he didn't activate it until you were older, but you still probably had your abilities ever since then. They were just dormant, like they were after he died. Of course, now that he is dead . . ."
"You'll just need the blood of a demon that's still currently living, won't you?"
She lied. But it's not like he knew it then.
It takes him a moment and a incredulous look to realize that she's not kidding. Even when he does, he holds on to the possibility, laughing weakly as he says, "Yeah. That's the solution. Turn myself into even more of a freak."
"You're not a freak, Sam. And you won't ever be one" "And what will I be, Ruby?" "Special," she answers, her other hand dropping to rest on his. "Different." "Freak." He pushes her off and steps on to the ceramic tile. There's blood all over and he really should clean up but the house has been abandoned for ages so he doubts a little red on the floor will mean much. A little red. Blood--his and that thing's, one of the monsters he's hunted his entire life. And Ruby wants him to lap that up? Well, fuck that, he thinks. Ruby sighs, exasperated, but she follows him as he steps into the hallway, talking all the way. "Some might call you that. But I won't." He laughs, this time more genuinely if more coldly. "Because you're such an excellent judge." "Insults, very mature. So, tell me, Sam; when are you going to be ready to actually grow up? Because there sure as hell are worse things you could be doing than drinking--" He spins around, eyes locking on hers as she stops. "From you? Are you offering yourself up for this?" "Best option we've got." She says it casually, like it's a question of where to get dinner. Though in a way, he guesses it is. He turns back, opening the front door. "I can't even believe you right now." "Sam." She rushes in front, arms outstretched to block the opening. "It's not just about just getting the powers working again." She straightens up, seems to measure up the words exactly from the way her eyes flicker over him, before continuing, "From what I can find out, it's practically quantitative. The more blood, the stronger you get--with practice, but still." "That's bull." "It sounds it but it's true. And as far as I can see, it's the only way you're going to get stronger at this rate." He considers it. Maybe even fully imagines it, and all of the possible repercussions. At least he seems to. He puts on enough of a show to wrangle past Ruby and hightail it to the Impala, getting in and locking both doors in almost impossible speed. "Sam!" "Call me when you have something worth offering; until then, we're done."
"You're not a freak, Sam. And you won't ever be one"
"And what will I be, Ruby?"
"Special," she answers, her other hand dropping to rest on his. "Different."
He pushes her off and steps on to the ceramic tile. There's blood all over and he really should clean up but the house has been abandoned for ages so he doubts a little red on the floor will mean much.
A little red. Blood--his and that thing's, one of the monsters he's hunted his entire life. And Ruby wants him to lap that up?
Well, fuck that, he thinks.
Ruby sighs, exasperated, but she follows him as he steps into the hallway, talking all the way. "Some might call you that. But I won't."
He laughs, this time more genuinely if more coldly. "Because you're such an excellent judge."
"Insults, very mature. So, tell me, Sam; when are you going to be ready to actually grow up? Because there sure as hell are worse things you could be doing than drinking--"
He spins around, eyes locking on hers as she stops. "From you? Are you offering yourself up for this?"
"Best option we've got."
She says it casually, like it's a question of where to get dinner. Though in a way, he guesses it is.
He turns back, opening the front door. "I can't even believe you right now."
"Sam." She rushes in front, arms outstretched to block the opening. "It's not just about just getting the powers working again."
She straightens up, seems to measure up the words exactly from the way her eyes flicker over him, before continuing, "From what I can find out, it's practically quantitative. The more blood, the stronger you get--with practice, but still."
"It sounds it but it's true. And as far as I can see, it's the only way you're going to get stronger at this rate."
He considers it. Maybe even fully imagines it, and all of the possible repercussions.
At least he seems to. He puts on enough of a show to wrangle past Ruby and hightail it to the Impala, getting in and locking both doors in almost impossible speed.
"Call me when you have something worth offering; until then, we're done."
And with that he drives off, her glare in the rearview and the blood on the ground the only signs that he was ever there.
Sam thought that was his real slip. He was down in seconds. He passed out.
How was he supposed to know he'd be up again in just a few seconds more?
He coughs, the water coming in bits and spurts, as does his consciousness, as he hears:
"Come on, Sam, just breathe for me, okay? Nice and slow, in and out, in and out."
"That's it, keep going, it wasn't that bad."
He rises slowly, her arm on his shoulder, asking, "What the hell?"
"Kappa came back. Which, by the way, why is it alive again?"
He doesn't respond; just stares into the water. She follows his gaze.
"Yeah." She shrugs. "I scared it off, managed to pull you back in--which wasn't easy, just so you know, in case you're ever in the thank you card aisle. Guess he came back though. He must really want a piece--hey, what the hell?!"
She pulls him by the neck, keeping him from making the leap back into the water, before snarling out, "You're really committed to this whole suicide thing, aren't you?!"
"It's got it."
"That grimy son of a bitch has it."
He can see it even now, floating a safe distance away. Just the head, flat faced and white, slitted eyes unreadable from this distance and the mutated saucer shooting out the top.
Around the stem is the glint of gold. So small, just that glint and nothing more, but it, definitely, so fucking it and he can barely breathe because it's it, damn it.
Ruby finishes for him: "--has it, I get it. But you can't just leap in again; it's not going to do you any good. As long as we're in water, that thing has all the cards, and it's not going to let them go."
"So what the hell am I supposed to do?" he yells, eyes and mind still focused on the one thing that matters, and it isn't long till she yells back
"I don't know! But if you give me a second, maybe I can figure it out! I mean, it doesn't exactly look like it's coming after us just this second."
She's right. He keeps expecting it get closer, try for another attack, but it hasn't even tried, like it's perfectly content to tread water until Sam makes another move.
At least, he thinks, for now.
"Okay," she says slowly after some time, "look. You want the amulet, right? And it should probably be dealt with at some point before this starts to get really embarrassing."
"So, the amulet's in that thing on his head, right? If we cut that off, what'll that do?"
He tries to think, remembering all that research he did . . . yesterday? It seems so long ago, now. But eventually something comes to the surface, and he answers, "Headwater; it's his headwater. It's where he holds it. If he loses it, he'll have to leave, but cutting it off . . . with the blood-loss--"
"He'll die," she says, cutting in without hesitation. "Excellent; there's your plan."
"I'm not trying to kill it."
She turns to him, confusion etched into every little twist in her features. She doesn't even speak, not at first--just stares him down, her entire vibe saying the words for her: 'What the hell are you talking about?'
Then she settles, face moving into exasperation. "God, Sam, please say you're kidding me."
"It's not dangerous--"
"--which is why it's tried to kill you. Twice."
"It's scared. It doesn't know where it is, and if I cut off the bowl, it's going to bleed to death before it ever finds its way home."
She sighs. "And what was the plan before, Sam? Send it on a boat back to Tokyo?"
"No. I was just--"
"--Was just going to hope that it'd meet up with its buddies and they could all take a nice old road trip home. And maybe it'd die, maybe it'd starve to death on the way or get eaten up by a shark, but hey, that's not your fault, not at all."
At this point she's ranting and she knows it; he can tell, even keeping her in his peripheral vision, by the way her fists clench, and relax; the way she lets out the rest of the breath, rather than using it to bitch more.
He doesn't however understand what she says next.
"How long are you going to keep doing this, Sam?"
He finally wrenches his eyes away from the glimmer of gold to stare at her dead-on, as he asks,"What?"
"This. You say you want to do something. You say you'll do absolutely anything to make sure it happens, and won't let anyone stop you, but when you get right down to it, you want your hands to stay as nice and clean as always."
"My hands aren't clean," he mumbles.
"Then what's the problem? You just don't want to see the damage?"
Ruby grips his face--hard, but it doesn't hurt. She's surprisingly warm, or maybe he's just cold, and he finds himself leaning into the touch despite himself.
She stares into his eyes, making sure the connection is taut before she speaks. When she does, her voice is the softest it's ever been, warmer than fire. "If I could make this painless for you, I would. But only you can do that."
She looks back to the kappa, and he does the same, almost in sync.
"You kill that thing, and he dies," she continues, "and I won't lie. It'll hurt. But how many are you going to save, Sam? Not just the amulet, but how many people are going to live? And it's not like there's anything else you can do, right?"
He doesn't remember nodding. Doesn't remember saying or doing anything, really. But he must have, because suddenly there's a blade in his hand and she's out of his way, holding the boat steady.
He vaguely remembers asking, "What do I do now?"
He doesn't see her. But she seems to smile, or maybe it's just the glitter of gold that tricks him into picturing it.
"What you always do, Sammy. Win."
Before any of that though, Sam slips in . . . God, he doesn't even remember where. Doesn't remember when, just remembers coming to his brother's elbow so he can't have been that old.
Still too young. Always too fucking young.
John slams the hilt into his fist so hard it almost hurts, the wood hitting his palm with a solid, scalding thwack.
"The blue knife, damn it! What part of a blue knife to cut off the head didn't you get?!"
"It was just a distraction, sir."
"And what good is a distraction going to do you when you're dead, huh, Sam?"
His brother flinches beside him. Mumbles something but Sam can't hear, can't seem to hear anything but the steady stream of curses going through his head right now as he tries to pick out the best one. But he's not that mad--not yet, and if he starts swearing at his dad now there'd be nothing to differentiate himself when he was, so he goes with logic again.
It just somehow becomes sarcasm on the trip down to the mouth.
"I think the point of the distraction was to keep from being dead, sir."
By this point, John's furious. Sam can see it in his eyes, that plain and simple rage that only Sam can seem to bring out in him. Not that Dean would ever try. No, Dean is the one who just barely restrains the Beast That is John Winchester, the voice at the back of his mind saying, 'It's okay. I'm here for him, he'll be fine.'
'You still have me, Dad.'
"Sam, this isn't a game. You lose, you die. You can't afford to take chances like this if you want to survive."
No, Dean would never, could never, will never. So, Sam will just have to do it for the both of them.
"So instead we kill it?" he asks, hands bunching at his sides. "I don't want to and we shouldn't have to. God, I don't even know why you brought us into this mess in the first place!"
"You wanted soccer? This pays for soccer!"
"This doesn't pay jack-shit!"
Dean's yell brings them back to the reality that they're still in the middle of the woods, still in the middle of fighting , and right now there's a particularly disgusting boo hag, red muscles free from skin gleaming in the light, gliding towards them with newfound determination.
Gliding towards Dean. Gliding straight down at the last person to yell.
The decision's not hard at the time. He leaps up, screams . . . something. He's not even sure if it's a word, just knows it gets the hag's attention in no time. She's not picky, and in fact seems to recognize him from before, pleased to actually be going after the one who put the proverbial thorn in her side (really it's a knife jammed into her leg, but apparently it amounts to the same general level of annoyance).
She's not however expecting the real knife, metal painted a bright Crayola blue, to jam into her gaping open mouth, slicing into the neck from inside. She stops midair, a guttural screech that makes him flinch even as he pushes the blade forward, cutting through the neck and around until the head comes off, rolls off his fist and hits the ground with a thud.
It's his first kill. He should see it, right? He means to. He even moves to look down, but he can't. Tight arms have already pulled him away, pulling him in until all he sees is the black of Dean's t shirt, all he can hear is "God, Sammy", over and over and over again, and he's just too grateful to bother fighting this time.
John says something later. Something about winning and "I'm sorry" but somehow Sam can't even muster up the energy to hear that, words that have maybe never passed through John Winchester's lips and probably will never again.
'Fuck that,' he thinks, Dean's jacket tight around his shoulders and his knees pressed against his.
He's through with listening.
He's halfway up the sand, and even though he's sitting, trying to make himself look as non-threatening as possible, he knows that's suspicious enough for the beast. It comes in close enough to watch, but still far enough that any move from Sam would have it swimming. Its eyes watch him (or seem to, anyway) and nothing more.
That's fine. Sam can be patient.
So he waits. And waits. And he thinks that maybe this is how he'll slip, just waste away waiting here for a kappa that can outlast him even on his best day when suddenly it's on the shore, long thin limbs rising out of the water like cat tails. There's a glow about him, white wet scales sparkling in the sun, and any other time Sam might be taken aback. So many of the things they hunt are ugly, hair and teeth and claws that only make the job easier. But this thing, this kappa . . . it's different. Somewhere between human and fish and turtle and alien, and yet so much nicer than that description sounds in his head. Ethereal, almost.
But there's the gold little head dangling down from the stem just over the center of its head, and all he can see are the claws.
It stops just short of him and he stands, slowly. Lets the air come in breaths just as slow. Even on land, he's only got one shot at this, one chance to get it and get it right, and its eyes are still watching him, waiting just as he was.
The next few moments pass in silence, until finally the kappa nods. Raises one of its clawed webbed hands to his head . . .
. . . And takes the amulet. Takes it and pulls it off and grips in its dirty little hands.
Takes it and pulls it off and grips it and smiles, a row of clean, white shark teeth lining its mouth.
Sam bows, instantly, keeping his eyes upward to watch. No hesitation, no premeditation. The plan comes to him just like that, like it was always there and only now he had turned to see it lying there, just for him.
The kappa's confused. He can tell, can see it in the way the eyes narrow, but it knows the custom. Wouldn't dare think but do anything but follow suit.
He bows, the headwater inevitably falling from the bowl in a gentle stream, and Sam grabs him by the stem and pulls.
The scream is bubbly, more like a gurgle, but Sam recognizes it for what it is. It grabs at his arms, pulling hard, but he's already slicing through the stem, the blood pouring down his hands. It's thicker than he'd have guessed, or tougher. Not bone, but impossible to cut, and he ends up kneeling the thing in the gut and pushing it down into the sand to get better leverage.
Its limbs are flailing now, flapping but unable to move. Too much time without headwater or blood loss, Sam doesn't know and doesn't care, just kneels on one of the arms as it ineffectually snaps up at him. It still screams though. Words he doesn't know, straight Japanese without rhyme or reason.
All except for one. It flits out at him from the chaos, diving into college memories and old acquaintances until it hits at the right spot.
"Oneesan! . . . Oneesan! Onee--"
And then it was dead, and it didn't scream anymore.
Before this--well, before he slips in Lake Casitas but after a whole slew of other slips anyway--Sam slips at Greg's Liquor.
In a way, everything can be tied to this moment. It's a small little moment, and it seems strange to make it carry a weight like that, but life's like that, he knows. A spark in a wood causes a forest fire and a punch in a bar causes a brawl. So Sam steps into the homey, 400 by 400 square feet hole in the wall and he's already doomed, in more ways than one. He buys a bottle of Asombroso 100% Blue Agave, and it only gets worse. But at the time, it seems the best course of action. At the time, he's got a dozen chattering skeletons on his back that need a good shutting up, and he knows no better solution than a quick drink, hunt, and black-out.
He realizes he said he was done. But now that Ruby's gone and apparently ready to give up, he can't really see the point anymore. He has nothing to look forward to, no way to win, and other than a death that seems to keep just missing him, no way to lose.
He's already damned. What's a little more?
So he buys a bottle and drinks, until a little voice stops screaming from the back, 'Nothing. Not a fucking thing at all.'
The amulet comes out of the kappa's grip easily, but he doesn't wear it right away.
He doesn't know why, not just then. All that work, and he can't seem to do it. He holds it from his fingers, watches the little horned god he never could quite identify swing back and forth. The leather slips and slides, still wet and muddy, but the head is marvelously clean--cleaner, actually, almost polished as odd as it sounds.
He's still looking at it when Ruby plops down next to him, her side pressing against his for no reason at all.
"Well, that took forever."
He doesn't answer. There isn't really anything to say to that.
"What was it yelling?" she asks. "You're lucky this whole place is blocked off or you'd really have a--"
"Oneesan," he whispers.
"One of the things he shouted. 'Oneesan'. It means 'brother'."
"Oh. That's weird."
"Why would he say that?"
He looks to her, now, voice soft and unsure, and part of him wonders why. Part of him rails against his body, pressed against hers; part of him screams, 'Demons lie!', repeating it over and over until it's a constant loop in his head.
Part of him is still a Winchester.
The rest of him doesn't really know what he is anymore.
Her hand raises, tucking back wet strands of hair until they're out of his face, and with a steady voice, she asks, "Who knows? Is it really that important?"
Part of him says 'Yes'.
"Guess not" is the reply, and she smiles. She leans in closer, then looks past him and frowns.
"So what do we do with the body?"
He follows her gaze to the kappa's corpse, its stick-thin limbs sprawled out on the sand. He realizes with a sickening lurch that the head is still bleeding, a stark contrast from the smooth, white scales and sand. Maybe it'll never stop; just keep flowing out until eternity, until he ends it.
He swallows before speaking. "Salt and burn. The usual."
She nods, and starts to rise--
Stops. Waits, but he doesn't say another word, so she prods: "Yeah?"
He swallows again, his mouth still uncomfortably dry.
"Where'd you put the boat?"
They use iron and cloth.
Well, Sam uses iron and cloth. Drives down to the hardware store and buys more than he probably he even needs, wraps them around the body and sails it to the middle. Ruby just watches sullenly from the edge, unable to touch and not particularly pleased by the act. She asks him why. It's just another monster, just another thing in the dark. Why it, why today. And even as it sinks to the bottom, the blood rising to the top in a dark swirl, he doesn't answer.
But he does know why.
Sam isn't much for symbolic acts. Never has been. He either spells out or shuts out, retreating into himself like the world's on fire and ready to burn. But there's something about this. There's something about the prick of golden horns into his palm, his fist firmly closed over his eyes; about the burial, a sea captain's honorable discharge. Something about it just feels right, good.
Like he's saying goodbye to something important.
He's still staring at the water when he calls out to Ruby, still pouty enough to say, "Yeah, yeah, I'm here" in her sulkiest of tones
His mouth's still dry and he cherishes the feeling before he speaks again, with a voice close to sounding human.
Sam Winchester slips in California on the banks of Lake Casitas while drinking a demon.
He's 26--far too young, but the world's never treated him that way and maybe that's part of why it happens. It's chosen though, not accidental, if not well chosen. He doesn't even remember the specific moment when the decision was made, or even why really. Just remembers a warm touch and dirty hands that were never going to be clean anyway, even when he washed the blood off.
He still breathes when he's done. He follows her in a daze, grateful when her hand rests on the small of his back, easing him into the passenger seat. He lives in every biological sense possible, and he goes through the list dutifully so he knows he's right, even if he's relying on a long ago Bio 101 class to guide him. Hunters slip all sorts of ways though, so he knows not to think anything of it.
This is his slip. Breathing or not, this is his, and with the knowledge of it resting in his gut, he shuts his eyes to darkness.
Supernatural belongs to Eric Kripke and Warner Brothers. This fic is written for pleasure, not profit.
Many thanks to my beta, Rockeandroll, for gearing up to beta this monstrosity. As always, you did a stupendous job.