Disclaimer: If they were mine, they'd have hugged it out already.
A/N: Though I liked season four's "I Know What You Did Last Summer," I've always wanted to know more about what Sam went through whilst Dean was in hell. And I really, really wanted to see him trying to open the Devil's Gate. :)
She finds him in Wyoming, on his knees before the Devil's Gate. Around him, thunder cracks as lightning spears the air, splintering into broken fingers that hang like webs in the night sky before dissolving into blackness. As she strides towards him, moving quickly between the many gravestones that litter the small cemetery like sentinels, driving sheets of rain batter her, slicing into the bare skin of her face and hands like sharp, stinging bullets.
With a few steps more she is behind him, breathing in the damp scent of the storm. Carefully, she drops her hand onto his back, soft and tender, caressing the taut muscles that are clenched beneath her fingers. His head jolts, panicked, but as soon as he realises that it is her, he lets it drop back down so his forehead brushes the upright stone surface in front of him.
When he speaks, his words are barely audible under the deafening roar of the tempest that rages around them.
"I thought I had it."
"What are you talking about?" she murmurs, kneeling down so her face is mere inches from his. She continues kneading the tightly clenched muscles of his neck, pleased that, for once, he hasn't recoiled from her touch.
"I was so close," he says instead, and he reaches out a hand, running it softly over the hellgate. "It moved. I know it…I felt it move, Ruby. But I couldn't get it open. I couldn't reach him."
As his slow, slightly slurred words register, she sees the edges of a deep, bloody cut protruding round the edges of his palm, sees the glint of a muddied silver knife lying discarded by his feet, the stash of witchstuff strewn over the soaked, bare earth only a few yards away, and she realises what he has tried to do.
"Sam-" she says, but he cuts her off again, his voice wretched.
"I'm so close to him," he whispers, and he lifts the wounded hand that is pressed against the cold, soaked stone and slams it down, hard. The next moment, he's on his feet, pounding his fists against the solid granite wall that is the Devil's Gate, leaving trails of slick blood where his skin catches and splits on the carven rock. He's shouting, his words mostly lost in the roar of the storm, but she can hear the twisted bellow of pain and rage and grief and guilt that quickly morphs into a desperate plea for his brother to come back, to return to him, to have never gone at all.
In a second, she's on him, pulling at his arm. "Sam!" she shouts, fighting to make her voice heard above the cacophony of Sam's own cries and the raging thunderstorm that has enveloped them, battering and buffering them both. "Sam, listen to me! It's useless! He's not coming back! Dean's gone."
At the sound of his brother's name, Sam turns on her, his face tear-stricken and twisted, wretched with fury and anguish and a shame so deep that she can see it eating away at him, devouring him like a many-headed monster. She reaches up and grabs his chin, makes him look at her even as he struggles to pull away.
"He's gone," she repeats, softly but firmly, and, finally, finally,she sees it sink in. His fist, raised to strike her, drops, and he staggers, almost sending them both crashing to the ground. But she pushes back against him, manages to keep him on his feet, cursing the pouring rain that makes the ground slippery wet.
"I'm sorry," he whispers, staring at her, sodden strands of hair hanging over dark, guilty eyes which, she now realises, are unfocused and wavering, giving away the lingering effects of the alcohol he had promised her not to consume.
She meets his gaze, knowing it's not her he's apologising to. "I know, Sammy," she says.
It takes her a long time to get Sam back to a motel room. He's heavy and stumbling and almost incoherent as she half-carries, half-drags him to the Impala, left abandoned by the graveyard entrance with its doors open to the storm, and shoves him into the passenger seat. He curls into the dark, wet leather like it's his second home, and as she slams the door behind him and crosses to the driver's side, she can see his eyes move blearily to the seat beside him, then drop away in disappointment when he doesn't find who he's looking for.
Silently, she opens her own door and climbs in. Sam doesn't say a word as she reaches over and fishes the car keys out of the pocket of his saturated jacket, nor as she starts the Impala for the first time, relishing the low growl of the engine beneath her as she pulls out onto the slick black road and heads towards the nearest motel she knows of.
Almost two hours later, she has Sam showered and dressed in clothes that are warm and dry, and she's leaning against the wall of the motel room, her hands behind her back, watching him as he sits silently on the bed, staring at the ground, his head cradled in his long fingers. He's pulled on an old hoodie that looks a few sizes too small for him, and it makes him look younger, innocent, more like the Sam she'd met over a year ago, before the loss of his brother had hollowed him out, scraping away the last vestiges of the little brother he had once been.
Abruptly, he stands up, wavering slightly before finding his balance.
"I'm going out."
Before he has taken more than a couple of steps, she has pushed herself upright and moved towards the door, angling herself so that she is not quite blocking it with her body. She has worked too long and hard on Sam Winchester to let him go out and drink himself to death now.
"Don't," he says to her. "Just…I need to be alone right now, Ruby. You should go."
She stands her ground. "I'm not leaving you."
"You should. I'm a monster. A freak."
She shakes her head in denial and reaches out a hand to him, but he withdraws from her, his eyes lingering on the long, half-healed cut at her wrist before he jerks them away. "You're not," she continues, evenly, decisively. "You're doing what needs to be done."
He shakes his head. "If Dean was here…if he knew what I'd done…"
"I drank your blood," he whispers, as though saying it out loud would make it true, would make it real. "How could I do something like that?"
"Because it'll help you kill Lilith!" she snaps, forgetting herself. "That's what you want, isn't it? "
He flinches back towards the bed and she curses silently. Berating herself, she makes her voice soft and soothing. She wants to keep him with her, have him see her as he person she once was, not as the demon she is now.
"It'll do more than that. With the blood, you can save people. Soon you'll be able to exorcise demons right out of their hosts, even destroy them, all without using the knife. No more killing, Sam, no one else dead because of you."
Sam stares at her, his eyes still haunted, but within them she can see a small spark of understanding and, beneath that, a pallid flicker of hope. He believes her about the blood, at least, or is starting to, and that's all that matters.
Slowly, he steps backwards and sinks down onto the mattress. Just as slowly, she joins him, moving to his side, pressing herself against him, knowing that her valuable charge isn't going anywhere, not that night.
But later, as she listens to the deep, slow breaths of the man sleeping restlessly on the other side of the bed, the warmth of his body like a furnace despite the empty distance between them, she wonders if Sam is still strong enough to do what needs to be done, to be what He needs him to he be, wonders whether the loss of his brother, though necessary, had damaged Sam too much. And as she stares through the darkness at the hard curve of his spine, lit by a gleam of moonlight through the window, she thinks back on the past few hours, on the soft feel of Sam's mouth at her wrist, on the sight of him on his knees in a Wyoming graveyard with a bloody knife by his feet, and she wonders to herself whether Sam Winchester had been trying to get his brother out of hell, or get himself in.