At first when he heard the shots, Sam thought he'd fallen asleep and was dreaming about hunting. Then he recognized the look of panic on his teacher's face, and the way the students were starting up in their seats, looking nervously at the open door.
Oh fuck, he thought.
There were more shots, closer this time, and screaming. He could hear, feel the buzz of panic growing in the classroom. Oh, fuck. Dean was going to kill him for this.
The teacher was just starting to give the orders for lockdown. (Orders, ha, funny how he formulated that in his head.) Sam grabbed his backpack and went for the door. "Sam!" He heard someone yell after him, but kept moving, because there were civilians and training was training. All he had in his backpack was a switchblade which was worse than useless here, and after a moment's thought he dumped it. It would only slow him down.
Into the hallway, and Sam closed the door behind him, grimaced at the lock on the inside, and hoped to god that Mr. Black would stay in the classroom and not come after him.
There were another three rapid shots from down the hallway, one after the other, and Sam broke into a run, not quite headlong, keeping his footfalls as quiet as he could manage. Just think of this as a hunt, he told himself. An angry spirit. His heart was racing, pounding hard. He could hear yelling, frantic and high pitched, the yell of "Everybody stay still!"
He recognized the voice. James Kobel was in Sam's physics class. He wasn't particularly quiet, seemed bright. Didn't have many friends, maybe, but he hadn't seemed terribly interested when Sam made overtures.
Oh god, gibbered some part of Sam's brain. I know him.
Sam shut it off.
Dean talked about that sometimes. Talked about how when he was worried or whatever (scared, he would never say scared) about a hunt, he would just kind of shut it all up in a box and put it away. Sam had never understood that. He got it now. His thoughts were still and calm and flat, and he forgot about school and James and everything but the very simplest of things.
Someone with a gun was hurting civilians. It needed to stop.
Sam braced himself and edged closer. The classroom doors on either side of him were closed, locked, blacked out. He could see one open door at the end of the hallway. Beyond that was a too-familiar dark shape sprawled in smeared red on the white-and-green linoleum. For just a second, the world lurched sideways.
He forced it straight again. Distant. Calm. In control.
Dead or wounded, he assessed. Dead, by posture. Shit. Dead. He could hear someone crying, now, sobbing hysterically. "Shut up," James said. "Shut the fuck up!" He was close enough now to hear every word.
Stupid stupid stupid said a voice in Sam's head that sounded a lot like Dean as he called, "Hey! James!"
Silence. He drew a couple steps closer, trying to think of a plan. Distract and disarm. Sounds solid. "It's me," he continued. "Sam Winchester. I'm in your physics class."
The door was just a little ways away. He stepped back into the hallway and edged into view with his hands up.
James looked like a wreck. His eyes were red-rimmed and wild. His face was blotchy like he'd been crying. And he was holding a semi-automatic pistol in each hand. (Sam's brain helpfully identified both make and model.)
Sam looked past James into the classroom. He couldn't see the teacher. There was blood on one of the desks but he couldn't tell who it belonged too. Someone was crying, muffledly. "Hey," he offered. James tensed.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing," James said. He was trembling. Twitchy. Fuck. Pissed would have been easier. Wrecked was worse. For a moment, Sam wanted to panic.
He shut that down too. Called Dean to mind, and found a smile. "Just checking in," he said, casually. Considered James. The classroom. The amount of time elapsed. The police should be here soon. All I have to do is… "Those semi-automatic?" He kept his hands up. James looked confused.
"Get down," he said, gesturing sharply with one of the guns, but his voice wavered. He doesn't know what he's doing, the calculating voice in Sam's head supplied. Hardly even knows how to use or handle a gun. "Get down and shut up."
"Okay," Sam said, "Okay, I gotcha, but…"
And then it went haywire. Sam heard a siren in the distance. James' head jerked around and one of the students made a sharp and sudden movement toward the window.
So it turned out Sam was faster than James was. It turned out the bullet was even faster.
Sam didn't think he'd ever been shot before. He felt it go in through his stomach, tear through and rip out the other side even as he was twisting both weapons out of James' hands. He got one, ripped out the clip and threw it across the room. Sam staggered, caught himself on the desk, and looked down at the blood pumping out of the hole in his body.
James still had the other gun. The sirens were getting closer, and someone in the classroom kept repeating "Oh my god, oh my god," over and over. Sam felt dizzy.
Devastated, red-rimmed eyes looked straight at him. "You fucker," said James, and lifted the gun. Sam knew he should be getting down, doing something, but everything was going so fast and he just…hurt.
He realized too late that James wasn't aiming for him. "No," he started to say, but there was already a splatter of blood spraying across his face.
"Oh god," someone said from somewhere nearby, after what felt like a moment but must have been longer, "Are you okay?"
"Uh," Sam said, and then slid slowly the rest of the way to the ground as the world slowly whited out.
Dean was going to be so fucking pissed.
Sam woke up to the smell of antiseptic and the rhythmic beep of what he recognized as a heart monitor. Hospital, his brain identified blearily. Huh. Must have been bad. His thoughts felt fuzzy and unclear, floating on a thin veneer of mild befuddlement.
"Sam? I can tell you're awake," came the familiar voice he'd been waking up to since just about forever, and Sam forced one eye open.
"Hey, Dean," he said sleepily. Drugs. He was on some kind of drugs. Huh. Dean did not look happy. He looked tired and a little ragged around the edges, and also immensely relieved. Pretty bad, then, Sam amended.
"You're never leaving the house again," Dean said firmly, sounding completely serious, and then it came trickling back in. The shots. James. The gun, and – oh, shit. Sam lifted the blanket to look at his side, and found thick white bandaging wrapped all the way around his middle.
"Heh," he said. "Yeah."
Dean's expression went from relieved to thunderous. "Sam."
He let his eyes drift closed again. His eyelids felt awfully heavy. "What else was I supposed to do, Dean? Let someone get shot?" Dean made a frustrated noise.
"I called Dad," he said, after a moment. "He's on his way back. Do you even know…" Dean paused. "You were in surgery for ages. They're dosing you to the gills with antibiotics to hold back infection. It went right through you, Sam, it might have hit your spine or – fuck." Sam forced his eyes open. Dean was looking away, one hand rubbing his mouth. He looked a little sick.
"I'm okay," Sam said in a smaller voice.
"You're going to be in here for a week," Dean said roughly. "If not more." Sam winced. He knew how much that would cost, and the risks, especially since they probably had his real name.
"We could leave early," he started to say, though his heart sank. There were only a couple weeks left of this semester…
…then again, Sam didn't know that he really wanted to walk back into that building again.
"No," Dean said, firmly, before Sam could finish. "Dad agreed. We're not taking risks, not with a gut wound. Fuck, Sam, why do you have to-" Dean cut off, shook his head. "Yeah. Yeah, I know, you couldn't let someone get hurt. Jesus."
"I just did what you or Dad would do," Sam said, feeling a flare of anger. He'd saved someone's life. Didn't that count for anything? Dean sighed.
"Yeah," he muttered, under his breath, so quietly Sam wasn't sure if he was hearing right. "Maybe that's the problem." Then he raised his voice again. "You hurting?"
Sam considered that. His body felt heavy and disconnected, but it didn't hurt. "Nah."
"Good." Dean licked his lips. Then he forced a smile. "You've got admirers, Sammy. Girls have been lining up to bring you flowers and shit. Sob over your unconscious body. The works."
Sam found his own thin, weak smile. His mind flashed to the body sprawled in a pool of red in the hallway. "Yeah?"
"Keep asking how come they didn't know you were a total badass. Told them you learned it from your big brother."
"Hmm." Sam could feel his eyes falling closed. He was still so tired. Eyes slits, he saw the flash of panic cross Dean's face, the grin evaporating like butter on a hot skillet.
"Hey, Sam. Sam."
"S'fine," Sam managed, and hoped Dean heard him. He thought he felt a squeeze of his hand, but that couldn't possibly be Dean. He slipped back under.
"You're mending well," the doctor said, sounding genuinely pleased. "You had a touch of fever last night, but it seems to be gone today. That's a good sign that we're doing a good job managing infection." Sam kept his eyes on his father, who was standing a few feet away with his arms crossed, perfectly impassive. He can't possibly blame me, Sam thought, but his stomach did an anxious little leap anyway. And subsequently he felt like he was going to throw up.
The doctor straightened and gave Sam a long look, adding, "Don't think this means that you're out of the woods. I've recommended you stay here for another week, just to be sure. You've been very lucky so far, though. It could have been much worse." He stepped back. "I'll let you three talk for a bit. A nurse will be in to shoo you out when it's time to go."
As soon as the doctor was gone, Sam looked toward his father and swallowed hard, explanations welling up on his tongue. John didn't really look any less grim, but he shook his head. "Don't look so worried, Sammy. I'm not going to chew you out over getting shot." His expression darkened. "You should have been safe."
Sam felt a sudden flash of anger, wanted to say nowhere's safe, not when I hear gunshots and my first instinct is to run toward them and a moment later felt bad for thinking it at all. He was beginning to feel a distant throbbing in his gut and supposed whatever was keeping him comfortable was probably wearing off.
"Sorry," he said, ducking his eyes to the blanket. "About the money and stuff."
John huffed out a breath. "Sam," he said, and grimaced. "It's fine. The important thing is that you're okay."
Something in Sam melted at that, without even thinking. After this year, with all the fighting and arguing and no matter what his family thought it really wasn't something Sam enjoyed – hearing that felt just a little good. He managed a tiny smile in his dad's direction.
"Yeah," he said, "Okay," and his father closed the distance and ruffled his hair.
They were leaving town. For once, Sam couldn't really care. Thinking about going back to that place sent involuntary shivers down his spine that he knew logically were absurd. He'd seen ghosts and zombies and werewolves, and he didn't want to walk into a school?
He turned on the TV, waiting for Dean to come and grab him after all the paperwork was signed, and leaned back, wincing a little for the lingering pain in his abdomen. And froze.
"…are still investigating the shooting at a local high school that left four dead and six injured," he heard, before groping for the remote and turning the TV off again in a hurry. He stared at the black screen, heart jumping in his chest.
Four dead. He'd been dreaming of James nightly, lifting his gun to his temple and blowing his skull away, and the body in the hallway, but hearing the number somehow hammered it home all over again. He could feel his breathing picking up.
If he'd moved faster. Gotten there sooner. Done something different-
"Hey, Sam, are you-"
Sam turned his head to stare wide-eyed at Dean, who fell still.
"Dean," Sam said, and swallowed. "I could have saved them."
"What?" Dean looked perplexed, and took a few steps into the room, starting to frown. Sam wrapped his arms around his shoulders and winced at the tugging, lingering pain in his abdomen.
"I could have saved them," he repeated. "The other people. I should have-"
"Hold on, Sammy," Dean said, eyes narrowing. Sam rolled over him.
"You or dad would have done better-"
"You need to calm down," and Sam could hear the worry in the bark of Dean's voice, but it felt like everything was boiling up at once and he could feel himself starting to cry and it was so stupid, so goddamn stupid. Except Dean sat down next to him and after an awkward second pulled him over so Sam could turn his face into Dean's shoulder and cry on him like he had when he was five.
"It's okay," Dean was saying. "It's okay. We can't save everyone, remember? You didn't do anything wrong. Except get in the way of a bullet, but-" Sam made a choked sound, and he felt Dean shift. "—sorry."
"I don't want to do this," Sam said, and behind it was I don't think I can be this and this isn't what I want and I don't like how easy it is to imagine myself on the other end of that gun.
"Stuff feels like crap right now, all right?" Dean said, and his voice was low and rough and somehow just as soothing as it had always been. "But it'll get better. I promise it'll get better. You're a Winchester, Sam. You'll do fine."
There were thoughts about college applications and leaving and real life floating in the back of Sam's head, but for the moment, just for the moment, he gave up on them. In a week, things would be back to the same: he and dad yelling at each other, never being good enough, and Dean's silence worse than anything. In a week, four people would still be dead that he should have saved, and there would be another monster to kill.
Sam'd take the peace that he could get.