He counted the days.
Counted the days and expected a miracle, even sitting alone, hunched, bruises aching and ears ringing from the tussle earlier, someone expecting an easy fight. Counted the days down and expected something, anything, to materialize, because it couldn't end like this, not like this, not fucking like this.
Ten days. Seven. Five.
He expected them to tell him. Half expected Henrickson to come in and gloat over his victory. Great Dean Winchester's dead, what d'you think of that, Bonnie? There was nothing, though. Just silence through the whole day, through midnight and into the next day, and the day after that.
He snapped three days later, yelled at the guards, tell me, dammit, just tell me, fucking-
For a while he didn't remember much of anything. Just blur, fog. And the sense that somewhere, he could find Dean, just out of sight, just beyond visibility-
Nothing. And when he opened his eyes and pleaded with the first face he saw just tell me where he is, tell me where my brother is that was all the answer he got. Nothing.
I can't even get to a crossroads, Sam thought. I can't even get to a fucking crossroads.
"I'm glad he's finally getting transferred out of here," the man said. "About time someone did something. Freaking nutjob. Did you read his file?"
Across the table, the other occupant of the small office was looking up at the TV mounted on the wall. The tinny sound of someone screaming made it through, though the volume was way down. The man on the other side of the desk glanced up. "Ah, yeah," he said, "That was why the sedative. Wouldn't fucking shut up. Had to keep him down almost all the time or the other inmates…"
The other man tugged at his suit jacket. "We'll take care of him," he said, roughly. "Don't worry about it. Is he...the prisoner sedated now?"
"Not at the moment," said the man behind the desk, whose nametag read "Robert Ferris." "We haven't needed it for weeks. After a while, he just…went quiet. Hasn't said a word since. Would you like him sedated for the journey? He's still considered high flight risk."
"I know. I think I'll manage." The man in the suit (nametag: Jack Wexton) stood up. "Can I see him?"
"Suppose." Ferris shrugged. "You're going to be seeing plenty of him, aren't you?"
"Just for a second."
Ferris fumbled at his belt and took a key off it, stepped out of the office and into the corridor. "Down here," he said. "Just since this morning, of course. So he'll be ready to move. Here, just look through here."
Two guards were standing in front of a solid door, talking in low voices. Ferris and Wexton passed both of them and Ferris drew aside a small curtain covering a window made of bulletproof glass. Wexton glanced through and for just a moment, pain flashed over his face.
"I think that's all," he said, letting the curtain fall. "Think we can get a move on this thing? I want to get home." Ferris laughed.
"Sure," he said. "I don't envy you, god knows. Like I said, though – glad someone else is willing to take care of him for a while."
"Sure thing," Wexton said, bobbing his head. "We'll do just that."
Bobby put on his trucker cap as soon as they were out of sight and pulled over to change cars about a mile later. He clambered out of the transport van and around to the back, which he opened carefully. "Sam," he said, "Time to get out. We're getting in my car."
If he didn't know better, he'd think they'd sedated the kid anyway. His chin was tucked down and his eyes were half open, but too blank to really be awake. It made his skin crawl down his back. "Sam," he tried again, "You're out, dammit. Want to look at me?"
Sam twitched, ever so slightly. Bobby held his breath as the younger Winchester lifted his head on his too thin neck and cleared his throat. He had to lean in to hear Sam speak.
"Can you…" he coughed, a little, and Bobby remembered the warden saying he hadn't spoken for weeks. He'd taken it for hyperbole, but now he wondered. "Can you…" Sam repeated, "Take me…to a crossroads?"
Bobby's whole stomach twisted up. "No," he said, "No, I can't do that."
Sam's eyes closed. His head went back down. And he didn't respond again to Bobby's attempts to draw him out.
In the end, he just manhandled Sam across the gravel to his pickup, plunked him in the passenger seat, and hurried back to hide the transport van. He didn't do it well, too worried that when he got back his passenger might be gone.
Sam hadn't moved when he returned, though. Not even a little.
A month late for Dean, Bobby thought. Maybe too late for Sam, now, too. "You should change," he said, after a moment. "You'll draw attention in those prison clothes." Sam stirred, very slightly, and looked sideways. His eyes made Bobby want to cringe, they were so – dull.
He'd seen more animation in ghosts.
"I have your clothes in the back," he said, "Some of them." Sam blinked at him once, then nodded, and climbed into the back seat. Bobby started driving, but turned the rearview mirror down and glanced back as Sam stripped off his shirt, noting the bumps of his spine under the skin, the mottled blue and black and yellow bruises all over his shoulders.
He looked – wasted. Like a terminal patient in the last stages of disease.
Bobby looked away until the rustling of dressing finished, and pretended not to notice the way Sam's clothes hung on him. "Wonder…what they did with the amulet," Sam said, suddenly, his raspy, awful voice grating on Bobby's nerves (but not the anger ones).
"I dunno," Bobby said, finally. "Maybe-"
He glanced back, though, and Sam was curled up against the window, his eyes closed. There were hollows under his eyes, and Bobby let him sleep. It was a long drive to South Dakota.
He could see him pacing back and forth, waiting for his death. Alone, facing it alone. Could picture the fear and the way he would try to hide it. Saw him look up and meet his eyes. "Sammy," he said, "Sam, I'm not ready to die."
It always ended in screaming.
Bobby wouldn't help.
It felt strange to have his own clothes on again. They seemed heavy, pressing against his bruises, weighing on his shoulders. Sam traced his own ribs and wondered idly if dying would let him and Dean trade places.
But he didn't ask that.
He focused his eyes inward, tried to summon up the nightmares again. If they meant he could see Dean's face, even screaming, even in unbearable pain, even asking why Sam hadn't gotten him out, wasn't he supposed to save him – it was still Dean's face.
Four months and sixteen days since he'd seen it living last.
I'm tired, he thought, and then said it aloud. His throat hurt as the words dragged over it like they had edges. "I'm tired."
"Then sleep," Bobby said. Sam tried to explain that he did his best, but there was only so much you could make yourself sleep – but that was too many words, and his throat would hurt too much. He closed his eyes anyway and tried to remember what Bobby's house looked like.
Mostly what he remembered about it was Dean, though, and those memories had started to blur and fade. Dean's smile was the first thing to go. I'm sorry, Dean, he thought to those hazy memories, now only a shape and a smell, I'll get to a crossroads. I'll get you back.
"Hungry?" Bobby asked. Sam shook his head. His stomach ached, but he knew it wasn't from hunger. Bobby made a huffing noise, like he was angry. "I'm getting you something anyway. You're too skinny, boy. You eat it if I buy something?"
Sam considered that, and finally shook his head. He didn't think he could remember how it felt to be hungry. Or maybe he did, and just wanted to avoid it. He sank back into himself, away from the rest, seeking memories. Everything else could go to Hell; keep Dean company there.
Bobby was saying something. Sam shut it out, shut everything else, and the silence was music to his ears.
Sam stopped responding barely a half an hour into the drive. Bobby debated over getting him food anyway, and got a cup of soup, which he set in the cupholder in the middle seat. Sam stared through him the whole time, eyes utterly empty. Hollowed out.
Bobby swore. Some things he knew how to fix. He wasn't a bad hand with medical equipment, had more field experience than probably a few military doctors – but this wasn't something on his list. Whatever 'this' was. There was a rasp in Sam's breathing that said he was either coming down with or getting over something. The mottled bruises could probably do with some kind of surface treatment, but other than that, the real hurt?
There, he didn't even know where to start. "Sam," he tried again. "How about you eat some soup? Thinking we'll stop somewhere for the night."
No answer. Sam might have flinched, slightly, but Bobby suspected that probably had more to do with what was going on in his head than otherwise. "Come on, kid," he said, with a groan. "Give me something here."
Sam blinked once, and seemed to focus. "Crossroads," he said again, nearly croaked.
"I can't let you do that," Bobby said, through the lump that had suddenly emerged in his throat. "You just going to ride this circle around, you and your brother, forever? Maybe drag me into it?"
"Just…Dean," Sam said, and his eyes were wide in the rearview mirror, pleading with such desperation it made Bobby's stomach turn over. "Just Dean. No more."
"And you think your brother'll stand for that?"
Sam just shook his head, and fell silent again. It was as good as watching him fade, and Bobby barked out "Sam!" in an attempt to catch him before he went, but to no use. Wherever he'd gone in his own head, it was out of reach of Bobby's voice.
He stopped at a motel just before the border of South Dakota when the road started to blur. He would have felt better getting them both home, but he managed to get Sam into the room and even into bed without incident. "Need some new clothes, won't you," Bobby said, and it was like talking to himself.
Sam curled up on top of the bedspread and at least closed his eyes, for which Bobby was grateful, though the dark circles around them like huge thumbprints were almost as bad. He sighed heavily and sat down on the other bed, waiting until Sam's breathing slowed and evened in sleep before stretching out himself.
He woke up to quiet, and looked over to the other bed, and then cursed himself for an idiot and a fool and plenty of other things besides. Empty. Of course it was empty, and Bobby was already moving for the truck, trying to think of where the nearest viable crossroads might be. At least the car was still there, which meant Sam was on foot, which meant he couldn't get too far.
Not even a block, as it turned out. There was something close enough to be a crossroads just a street away, gravel down for construction but no concrete, and in the middle a huddled form, illuminated by the single streetlight still on. Bobby's heart lurched into double speed and he shut off the truck, approached carefully.
He heard the sounds of shuddering breathing and paused, a moment, but the jacket was the same. Sam's hand was clenched in the gravel, and Bobby could see his shoulders shaking now.
"Sam," he said, carefully, "What did you-"
"Nothing," Sam said, his voice broken. Bobby steeled himself.
"Don't lie to me, I just need to kn-"
"Nothing!" Sam lifted his head and looked at Bobby, and if he'd been hollow before, now he was just devastated, face half in shadow but still readable. "I didn't do anything. I tried. I tried, but they wouldn't – wouldn't – everything the way we want it oh Christ, Dean, Bobby, Dean's in Hell-"
And if he thought it had been bad before, now he remembered the tinny screams from the monitor as Sam folded his head under his arms like he thought he could vanish into his own body and keened. "I promised him," he heard, in between nearly silent, breathless sobbing gasps. "I – fuck – as long as I'm around-"
Bobby stayed where he was for minutes, not sure what to do, not sure there was anything to do. Finally he reached out and took Sam's shoulder, then finished the motion and gave him an awkward hug. Sam remained stiff, immobile, rocking slightly.
"I thought maybe," Sam said, his voice even raspier than before, "Maybe somehow he'd – gotten out of it…"
"I need to get home," Bobby said, carefully. "Come back with me, boy. Sam. Stay with me a little while. Long as you want. Long as you need."
It took several too long seconds, but Sam nodded, and he walked under his own power to the car, but Bobby could see the slump to his shoulders, the way all the little bit of structure had gone out, and it just –
No more deals, Bobby thought, but he wondered if Sam wouldn't find a way to curl up and die anyway.
He'd just have to do his best to get him through this, if there was a through; another side to reach. He wasn't sure there would be.
Bobby kept an eye on him. Sam wasn't sure where Bobby thought he would go.
He didn't know where to even start looking for Lilith. Didn't have the energy to do more than sleep most days, or wander around Bobby's property and his head looking for memories. Sooner or later, something would work out. Either he would wear out and die or-
Or he'd find a way to go hunting and die that way.
Almost all the memories were clouded and indistinct now. He wasn't even sure he could rely on the fragments he had. He kept them anyway, shuffled through them like a well-worn deck of cards, ever shrinking.
Time flowed strangely. Some days raced by and others dragged, slow and sluggish with hours of weariness and sitting down, sinking into his own head. Lonely and tired and heartsick.
Bobby gave him things to do, apparently hoping they would help. It did, a little – at least the physical labor let him sleep properly, let him rest through the whole night without interruption, and that was a little bit of a blessing, even if it never lifted the exhaustion flowing through his whole body.
Like blood (had Dean bled? Had he screamed and suffered? Hellhounds probably weren't gentle) and don't think, don't think.
Sammy you always think too much.
Bobby's property was warded against demons, but Sam wondered if any of them would come anyway. Track down their Boy King. He would take their Boy King and shove it down their throats-
If he had anything left by then. If they didn't carve him into pieces first, if he didn't let his head fall back and leave vulnerable throat bare. Funny, Sam thought, that he didn't realize how much of him was Dean until it was gone.
He was losing Sam.
He didn't want to admit it. God knew he didn't want to admit it, but he'd been losing Sam for three months and it wasn't getting any better. A little more each day, slowly whittling the youngest Winchester down to nothing, and he didn't even seem aware of it.
His raspy breathing had turned into a full on cough around midsummer, and it wasn't going away. Every time he coughed Sam seemed to struggle to breathe, but he wouldn't see a doctor, and Bobby could hardly drag him there, hardly make him take the antibiotics.
He was just drifting. Aimless, disinterested.
Bobby didn't know how much longer this could go on. How long Sam could keep dragging on before something gave and he was gone further away than just his own head. It wasn't, at least he didn't think, that Sam was intending to kill himself. It was just that everything had fallen by the wayside, nothing important anymore.
And he looked so goddamn tired, so goddamn lost.
He was curled up asleep, upstairs right now, clutching the blankets like some kind of lifeline, sleeping like a child (or a broken man).
Bobby saw the dust cloud before he saw the car, and sat up, stiffened. He reached past the books for the sawed-off shotgun and moved quietly toward the door, waited, looking through the window.
When he saw who got out, his heart almost stopped.
Quiet voices pulled him out of restless sleep. "Least he's here," a familiar voice was saying, and it sounded uneven and rough. Not awake, then. He closed his eyes to listen.
"Just – be ready," said – Bobby, that was Bobby, and the door opened. Sam didn't turn, didn't stir, but he heard the intake of breath and then the soft sound of feet, waited, trying to understand what this memory he'd never seen before was.
"Sammy," said the voice, "Hey, lookit me-" It was the smell, though, that got him to open his eyes. The smell that had been one of the last things to fade, and came back as it filled his nose again, and Sam forced his eyes open and found his brother's face.
Dean's eyes were owlishly wide and he looked dirty – filthy. Something flickered in his face. "Hey," he said, voice still raspy like he hadn't drunk water for years. "What d'you think you're doing sleeping through my resurrection?"
His ears were ringing and he suddenly felt fragile, like falling apart. Like everything was tumbling down around him, and it didn't matter if it was a shifter or a ghost or a demon or anything-
He flung his arms around his (its) shoulders and hung on, feeling himself shake, and waited until one warm (living) hand settled on his back and a voice in his ear rasped it's okay, Sammy, before he let go and crumbled the rest of the way.
Dean stared at him, looking stunned and shell-shocked, and Sam's face was buried in Dean's shoulder, his brother's arms circling his too thin frame. Sam looked like he was going to shake himself apart, was coughing muffledly, and Dean's eyes asked what do I do?
Watching them, Bobby replied to the unasked question aloud. "You already know," he said, and retreated downstairs to get a blanket for both of them.
When he got back up, they were both asleep on the one bed, all tangled together like they couldn't get too close. Maybe they couldn't.
Bobby eased the blanket over them, and it was Sam who opened his bleary, too bright eyes and mouthed thank you, thank you.
He looked alive.