Sam gen; canonical Sam/Ruby. Set between S3 and S4. Sam gets his first taste of things to come.

Raison d'être

Sam's been in real pain before. He's had to do his own stitches, fix dislocated shoulders, broken bones and ribs. But none of that compares to this -- none of that compares to the backlash when he tries to use his Last Freak Standing powers.

It splits across his head, like the starting shock of a migraine, except it presses deeper, never stopping, and he can't do anything but press his hands to his head and wait for it to relent. All the while the only thought he can manage is, You failed.

"Sorry. I'm sorry," he says to Ruby. His sight is blurry, and he can barely feel the blood dripping from his nose, but he knows that she's still there. The screams of the demon are just on the edge of his hearing before Ruby's arms are around him.

"Sammy. Oh, Sam," she murmurs. His eyesight is just starting to clear, but he presses his eyes shut and focuses on her.

He feels... close. It's the feeling he got when he picked pre-law for his major, when he moved in with Jess, like he's landed one step forward on the right path. He feels like he rammed his head right through a wall, but --

"I did it." It's a real effort to talk, but she hears him and nods, and he can slightly see her smile when he cracks one eye open.

"You did it, Sam. I told you that you could."

He wants to talk, but it's not worth the trouble. Being in her arms is one of the only comforts these days, anyway. He can pretend -- well, he can pretend a lot of things.

She guides him to the couch, and smoothes his hair when he winces at settling back. "It'll pass. It'll get better. Trust me."

He feels himself nod, and closes his eyes as she crawls on top of him. He can barely think of sex right now, barely think of anything, but ... she doesn't kiss him.

Okay. He takes a few slow breaths, focuses on that, and the ache in his brain begins to fade. He's starting to feel real again, human, as human as he gets, warped and lonely but at least human.

Then there's a pressure against his mouth, and he struggles before his instinct kicks in. Something warm, wet, hot and coppery-sweet, soft and new, and something -- something in his head's woken up like a switch was flipped.

It latches on. It feels good, real, right, like the scent of gunpowder and rock salt and the silence after a kill. It's him. Part of him. After all the grief, drinking, pain, numbness... he's awake.

He drinks, and only notices that his hands are wrapped around Ruby's wrist when she pulls it away.

"Good boy," she says dryly, once he squints up at her.

Sam always tried not to drink too much. It's because that's all it takes for him to let go completely, not a single foot planted on the ground. He slips, gets angry, becomes the freak he hates so much. This time, he's awake, he's definitely lost his grip but the (best) worst part is that he doesn't care, because for once, he feels good. Really good.

--

When he wakes up the next morning, Ruby's gone. The exorcised demon left a dead body in the next room, and though he really doesn't appreciate having to clean up the mess when Ruby's got magic, for the record, he handles it.

And even though he feels solid, pretty damn good, he drinks some coffee. It's weird but he feels better for once, better than when he started the exorcism practice last night. Maybe the psychic thing'll work out after all.

Maybe he'll kill Lilith after all.

"I brought lunch," Ruby announces from the door, waving a Steak and Shake bag at him.

"So... what exactly happened last night?" Sam asks her, as she eats a handful of fries.

She sends him a skeptical look as she chews, and swallows. "You don't remember."

He remembers something, little pieces, but he has to know for sure. "Most of it. Thought you could fill in the gaps for me."

"Well, you finally sent something bigger than a bottom-feeder back to Hell. Okay, halfway there, but still," she says, pointing at him with a fry. It droops midway through the gesture, and she eats it with a shrug. "Then I put you back together."

But that means -- "I didn't do it," Sam realizes. He starts to go through the night again in his mind, his sandwich hovering halfway to his mouth before he finally sets it down.

"You got as far as you were ever gonna get," Ruby says patiently, and pats his hand. "There's no shame in that." She takes another handful of fries, and eats. "Love this," she adds, chewing. "Lots of skinny fries. It's great."

Yeah, Sam hates it when she does that. "Cut the crap, Ruby. What did you do?"

She pauses, purses her lips, and leans forward. "I gave you a little boost. I thought you might not need it, but it turns out you do." She turns her arm over and taps her wrist significantly. "But it should be all good from here. Smooth sailing."

He stares at her wrist, and he remembers -- her fingernails resting on his hairline, the edge of her wrist against his face --

He rubs a hand over his face. "No," he swears.

"Sam," she chides. "Don't be so... close-minded."

"No. I'm not -- " He can't make himself say it.

Ruby rolls her eyes. "You're not, what? You're not a psychic, you're not drinking demon blood, you're not going to kill Lilith?" She takes his hand, rolls her eyes and relents when he sends her a hard stare, gentler but still persistent. "You think you can use those abilities of yours without any juice, Sammy? You're just... halfway there. It's a boost, like I said. That's it."

"I don't need it," Sam pronounces; he pointedly looks at the chair, the ropes, anything but her. "I'll do... whatever it takes, but this..."

She catches his eye, and keeps her grip hard on his hand so he can't leave. "If I hadn't, you could've died last night," she retorts. "Do you get that? You can't face down Lilith without this. And you know it."

Fuck, she's right. He definitely can't look her in the eye now. "Ruby..." he starts.

"Look at you, Sam! You usually come out of this like a tequila hangover, but right now, you've even got your L'Oreal hair thing going on."

She's joking, sarcastic, and now she's got her hand on his face, comforting. And the voice in the back of his head, the one that agrees with her, god, it sounds reasonable. More reasonable than he usually feels. "But I don't have to," he says, half-asking her.

Ruby considers that. "No," she says. "Only if you want to kill Lilith."

He sends her a weary glare at that, but they both know she's won. "Whatever," he says, and makes himself eat the sandwich she's bought him. Normal people eat fast food sandwiches; they go to the drive-thru, go to work, go on with their lives after the dead are gone, and if nothing else, he can pretend. Dean isn't here to drink, to eat, to have sex, because Hellhounds ripped him limb from limb while Sam watched and could do nothing.

He takes a bite, pointedly, as Ruby says, "We'll take a break tonight, okay? Maybe track down a lead or two, but hey, we could both use a break."

Her foot catches his under the table. Vengeance. Temptation. Loneliness. Sex. Yeah, he's doing the Winchester name justice. Maybe, one day, this'll all be over, and he can stop grasping for excuses. Maybe then he can just be a freak in peace.

A week later, he watches her slice her wrist open, while the demon grumbles through the gag from the next room.

"Just this once, Sam," Ruby says, eyes bright, sharp, wicked. "Let me show you what you've got."