It started on May 7th, when Sam finally made up his mind and said, "We're being followed."
Dean glanced at him askance in faintly alarmed response. "By who?" he asked sharply, and Sam looked out the window like he might actually get a proper look this time.
"I'm not sure," he said. "For a couple days, now. But it's just been a feeling."
"This time you saw something?" He definitely had Dean's attention now, but there was also nothing there, and he was too aware of too many things, too many reasons why he didn't…
"I…yeah," Sam said, then modified it with, "I think so. Just for a second. Someone. I don't know, it was probably nothing. I just got a feeling."
"It's probably just someone getting curious," Dean said casually, "Or suspicious, or whatever. Anyway, we're done here, moving on. Don't get all stressed about it." Or it could be something else, Sam thought, but didn't say, and he noticed that Dean took a back way out of town.
The crawling, unpleasant feeling down his spine didn't go away. He did his best to ignore it. Instincts were important, but sometimes his were haywire lately, especially when something put him on edge. And Dean was probably right anyway. Just nosy locals.
He curled up to sleep a couple hours out, and Dean had to shake him out of vague nightmares that had him twitchy and nervous no matter how little he actually remembered.
They stopped in Blue Springs, Missouri and Sam was barely out of the car before he was spinning around and searching for the source of that prickling on the back of his neck. Nothing. The parking lot was empty. Dean paused halfway to the trunk and stared at him.
Sam shook himself. "Nothing," he said, quickly. "Just…got that feeling. You know, of being watched?" He regretted saying it the moment it was out, the moment Dean frowned and got the look on his face that meant he was worrying and trying not to show it. Normal paranoia or Sam cracking up, Sam imagined him thinking, and felt an unreasonable surge of irritation. "It's nothing," he repeated more firmly, and walked to the trunk, dragging his bags out.
Dean, perversely, seemed to take his downturn in mood as a good sign, and relaxed. "Probably just someone ogling the car, Sammy. Don't take it personally."
Sam just shook his head and went for the room. The feeling wasn't fading. The moment his back was turned, it returned, and he couldn't help glancing back over his shoulder, just to check.
Still nothing. Sam took a deep breath. It was just paranoia, just part of being a hunter and watching your back. He was still fine. Still dealing.
Lucifer sniggered from where he was sitting on the hood of the Impala. Sam ignored him. "This is where it gets good," he murmured, and Sam surreptitiously dug his fingers into the underside of his wrist where he knew it would hurt. It feels different, he told himself. This feels different.
That night he dreamed of Adam for the first time in a long time, Adam gambling with his own fingerbones and looking up at Sam. Why you, Sam, Adam asked in a whisper, and he woke up to Dean blinking at him and looking bewildered and concerned. "You okay?" Dean asked, and it took Sam a couple seconds to find his voice.
"Yeah," he said. "I'm good. Just bad dreams."
Things seemed okay the next day. No prickling, no sense of being watched. Just exhaustion from sleeping too little, and three cups of coffee covered that well enough. They went to an uneventful breakfast, discussing the case in low voices.
On the way back to the car, Sam saw him.
It was just a guy, standing casually by a bus stop sign, hands in his pockets. And when Sam stepped out of the diner, his head turned and their eyes just happened to slide across each other, and lock. Sam froze.
His heart was suddenly thudding so rapidly it hurt, and he wanted to run, just turn tail and bolt as far and fast as his legs would take him, and something, something made him think you're still in the Cage, you never left-
The man smiled.
And really how could he have thought it was nothing, it was never nothing, it was just Hell seeping through the cracks because it'd always been there and not just in his own head-
Sam jerked, and startled, and stared wide-eyed at Dean, heart galloping and breathing like he'd been running. "Dean?" He said, uncertain.
"Yeah," said Dean, frowning, "What the hell was that?"
Sam looked again. The bus stop was empty. There was nothing there. There had never been anything there. He took a deep breath and the air stung his nose.
"Never mind," Dean said abruptly. "Forget it. Car, okay? Jesus, Sam…you looked like you were going to keel over." Seize, Sam translated, and chewed on his lip, hard. This needed to stop. He needed to stop. It didn't mean anything.
"Just…freaked out for a second," Sam said, and checked the bus stop, just in case. Still empty.
"Yeah, I'll say," Dean scoffed, but it sounded strange, and he didn't take his eyes off Sam. He paused, for a second, seeming to struggle for words. "You'd tell me, right?" he said, finally. "If it…things were getting worse? You can't just…"
"I'll tell you," Sam said mechanically.
"Okay," said Dean, after a moment's hesitation, and headed for the car. Sam trailed after him, trying to breathe deeply and keeping his eyes forward, not looking back. The crawling sensation was back again, and he couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong, and not just in the usual way.
Why you, Sam, Adam asked, standing above him this time looking down, why you and not me?
Sam woke up with a jerk, sweating and shaking. Dean was still fast asleep. He hadn't meant to close his eyes, hadn't meant to drop off. Hadn't meant to dream. He turned over and found himself staring into Lucifer's eyes. He smiled.
"He misses you," Lucifer said.
Sam closed his eyes. Lucifer didn't seem to care.
"I miss you," he said. "Adam's not half the companion you were. Pity, really. I would have left him alone if you hadn't left the three of us so…bereft."
Sam swallowed hard. "It's not here," he said, feeling his stomach twist into guilty, nauseous knots. "It's just my mind. It's just…my mind." He sat up and rolled out of bed, walked into the bathroom and didn't look in the mirror as he splashed water on his face.
For a moment, as he stepped out, he thought he saw a shadow on the other side of the window through the blinds. Then he blinked and it was gone. "You're losing it, Sam," Lucifer said. "Going craaazy."
Sam sat down at the desk and watched the windows until it was light out. When Dean woke up and blinked blearily at him, Sam was surprised by the clarity of his own voice as he said, "Dean, I think there's something wrong with me."
"What?" Dean said.
"I don't think you can trust me," Sam went on. Dean was staring at him with dawning horror on his face. It made Sam sick, but he knew – knew –
There was something on the window.
Like in a dream, Sam got up and went outside. He pulled the piece of paper off the window, slightly damp with dew. Hey guys, it read. Did you really think you were the only ones who could come back from the dead?
Sam started to shiver. There was a roaring in his ears. "See," said Lucifer, "I told you this was where it got interesting."
Nothing. Then pain.
He blinked and found himself in the car. The engine was humming and Dean's expression was tight and rigid next to him. His head hurt. "What happened?" he asked, dully.
"You checked out," Dean said flatly. "Just…went down. Sam-" He cut off, but Sam could see his teeth grinding. He looked out the window.
"I think it's Adam," he said, finally.
"Yeah, thought it might be," Dean said. There was an edge under the anger and Sam wasn't sure if it was fear or guilt. "But how-"
Sam closed his eyes. "Give a Winchester long enough and they'll find a way to crawl out of Hell," he said. "Figures." And laughed, short and sharp and bitter. Lucifer was humming something in the back seat Sam recognized as "Bad Moon Rising." "We should have helped him," Sam said.
"Shut up," Dean said. "Death gave me a choice, all right? You or him. I wouldn't change my mind now."
"It's probably not even really Adam anymore," Sam said, because he felt he had to. Dean's hands tightened on the wheel until his knuckles were white. "What are we going to do?"
"Get to Bobby's," Dean said. "And until we get there, salt the fuck out of the windows and doors."
Sam's head throbbed once, twice. He rested it against the window. "Okay."
"Take some pills," Dean said roughly. "I can tell your head hurts." He's not mad at me, Sam told himself. Not really. He's not.
He took the pills. It was a long way to South Dakota.
They had to stop in northern Nebraska. Dean almost dragged Sam from car to motel and salted the doors and windows immediately behind him without saying anything. "I'm okay," Sam said, as firmly as he could manage, which was not very.
"Yeah, right," Dean said. "Cause I believe that." He looked at the door like he expected Adam to burst through it at once, and then set to pacing.
Sam set his face in his hands and tried not to close his eyes. There were things lurking behind them he didn't want to see again. "Are you going to stay awake all night?"
"If I have to."
"Yeah, cause you're in a great place to judge what's reasonable," Dean snapped, and Sam couldn't help his flinch, because even if it was true (and it was, he knew that) it still… "Sorry," Dean said, a moment later. "Sam…"
Someone tapped on the window. They both looked up at once. Sam glanced at Dean and found his brother not looking at him, just at the glass. Tense and waiting.
Another couple taps. Silence.
The glass exploded inward. Dean was lunging forward, but with the salt line broken Sam was suddenly face to face with the man from the bus stop.
"Miss me, Sam?" he said, and then his fingers were fastened around Sam's arm and he was screaming for a few seconds before he was gone to the tune of Dean screaming "Sam! Sammy!"
Lucifer liked to linger. Liked to take his time and explore meticulously everything he did, to the utmost. Whether it was picking apart your body or your life, he liked to do it slowly.
Sam remembered that.
He remembered the way Lucifer's fingers felt in his brain. Waking up felt a little like that, and god, this needed to stop, he needed to stop doing this, because Dean would only…
"Go on," said an unfamiliar voice. "Try getting away from me this time."
Sam forced his eyes open. He hadn't been wrong. The face was the face of a stranger, but the eyes…something was wrong about those eyes in that face. Too light, too old. He knew those eyes better than his own.
Sam swallowed. "Hey, Adam," he said. Adam seemed pleased.
"You recognize me."
"Yeah," Sam said. "Sort of. I guess." Maybe after a hundred years one couldn't help but know a soul, no matter what body it wore. Sam closed his eyes again and turned his head away, aware of his position, spread-eagled and restrained. Adam struck him, open-handed, light.
"Look at me." Sam forced his eyes open, made himself look in spite of the shudder of wrong it sent along all his nerves at once. "Look. I got out. All on my own. I didn't need your help."
"I'm sorry," Sam said. Adam scoffed.
"You always said that. 'I'll protect you' and 'I'm sorry.' You didn't protect me. You left. Got yanked out, never looked back-"
"I couldn't do-"
"Liar," Adam hissed, and there was a knife in his hand suddenly hovering over Sam's breastbone. "Dean did it for you. Why couldn't you do anything for me?"
Sam took a shallow breath and felt the prick of the knife anyway. His mind was blank. Except of Adam, alone in the cage without anyone between him and two archangels-
"Why you, Sam?" Adam asked, sounding almost pleading. The hand with the knife didn't waver. "Why you and not me? I can get Dean, maybe. But you? You said you'd be there. You said you'd take care of me. I never asked for any of this."
"I know," Sam said helplessly. Adam's mouth twisted.
"Not like you. You knew what you were doing. Me? They dragged me back from the dead to die all over again. What did I do to deserve that? What did I do to deserve getting left behind?"
"Nothing," Sam said.
"So why did you?" Adam demanded, and Sam didn't have an answer, couldn't make an excuse, because he knew what it was like, he knew and he'd left Adam there, he'd never even tried to…
"That's what I thought," Adam said, and pulled the knife up. "I can't do much, here. I mean, relatively. You'd just die too fast. I don't want you to die too fast."
"Adam," said Sam. "Please."
Adam smiled, a horrendously gentle expression. "See, that's what I said," he said. "After you were gone. 'Please.' And you know what?" He leaned in close. "They never listened."
Adam wasn't Lucifer.
That wasn't saying much, though. Michael wasn't Lucifer, when it came right down to it, though Sam had never decided which was worse. Adam was clumsy and lacked any precision or delicacy.
It still hurt, though. Still hurt as he drew bloody diagonal lines in steel across Sam's chest, down his abdomen, pressing a little deeper every time. Sinking it down just above his hip and scraping the flat across the bone until Sam's back arched and a scream dragged its way over his throat because he'd been to Hell and it could be worse but this wasn't Hell and he knew that, he did-
Dean was coming. Dean – Adam had left Dean alive. Hadn't he?
"I learned a lot I didn't want to," Adam said, as he picked up a hammer and nail and set it against Sam's palm, "All that time and sometimes they'd make me hold the knife."
"They didn't hate me like they hate you," Adam said, as he watched Sam's fingers twitch and try to curl inward with something like satisfaction. "They just needed something to do. It's a long time. You know."
"I was in Heaven, Sam," Adam said, as he found the knife again and set to carving again. "I'm never going to get there now. You stole Heaven from me."
"A little to the left," Lucifer whispered over Adam's shoulder. "Yes, that's it – you're learning," and Sam didn't think he'd stop screaming, and maybe someone would hear. Someone. Someone.
"Please," Sam said again, and Adam said with something that was almost pain or desperation as he cut deep, "You left me, Sam, why'd you leave, why'd you leave me there," and if Sam could just find his voice he would tell Adam that he had it all wrong, they'd never left.
"Here," Adam said, "Have some water." A drop of blood tickled as it slid over his shoulder. Sam felt weak and sluggish and tired. He tried to lift his head but couldn't get far, and it fell back down with a thunk. Adam's expression was…sad.
"I miss my mom," he said, and Sam remembered all over again how young Adam had been, before all of this. Before the world remembered he was a Winchester and Winchesters weren't allowed to be happy. "I wish I could see her again."
Sam's mouth was full of blood. He turned his head and tried to spit it out, but most of it just dribbled down onto his cheek. Adam's eyes moved from Sam to the glass of water he was holding, and then he brought it to Sam's lips. He drank greedily. It was cold and clean.
"It's your fault," Adam accused. "You shouldn't have left me."
Sam closed his eyes. He felt cold.
"I don't know what to do now," Adam said, pulling the glass away abruptly and pouring it out on the floor. "I don't know what I am." Sam let his head loll back limply. Maybe it was Adam and maybe it wasn't. It was still Hell, and no one was coming. "Everything still hurts," Adam whispered. "I want you to hurt like I do."
He was shivering. Consciousness ebbed and flowed like a spring tide, and he was slipping out again. "Sam?" Adam's voice sounded strange, half worried and half curious. "Are you dying?"
You can't die in Hell, Sam thought, but it didn't quite reach his mouth.
"I forget what it feels like to die," Adam said dreamily. Sam was pretty sure he lost a few moments, because the next time he knew what was happening Adam was standing up and reaching for a pair of pliers. "I'm not sorry," he said.
The glass exploded inward. Or maybe it was the door. Someone was yelling. Latin? Maybe, and Adam was suddenly speaking right next to his ear, "Don't let him send me back, Sam, please don't let him send me back, please-"
Sam went out with the tide, and let everything fade.
It was Dean when he came back around. Sitting looking not-quite at him with his jaw tight. He could hear the soft sound of beeping monitors and felt a remarkable lack of pain, and the first question out of his mouth was, "Are you real?"
"Yeah," said Dean, too quietly. "I'm real."
Sam wasn't sure if he believed it, but he decided he could for now. "What happened to Adam?" He asked, and saw Dean tense.
In Hell, Sam read. Again. Because of them. Because of him. He said nothing, just rolled that up and tucked it away to mull over when he got complacent. "He was our brother," he whispered. Dean jerked to his feet.
"Yeah," he said. "Was. And he was also killing you. I told you. I made my choice before. And I'll keep making it."
"Are you angry at me?" Sam asked, slurred.
"No," Dean said vehemently, then amended, "Not really. I'm just sick of things aiming at you. I chose to leave him down there. I knew what it meant. What were you going to do?"
Sam opened his eyes and looked at Dean. "I said I'd protect him," he said. "I said I'd keep him safe." Adam's eyes, too old. I miss my mom. "He was just a kid."
"He was killing you," Dean said.
"Didn't I kill him?"
Dean's jaw set and he turned his back. "I thought you were dead," he said, after a few moments of silence. "You were just…lying there. I thought you were dead."
Sam couldn't think of anything to say, so he closed his eyes. And finally said, "He'll come back. He got out of Hell once."
"Shut up," said Dean. "Just sleep." Sam closed his eyes and let himself drift.
He dreamed he was a map of scars, and Adam as Sam'd known him was tracing them with a finger, lips moving in a silent count. The sky behind him was red and full of fire, and Lucifer was sitting on a stool off to the side. "Oh Sam," he said, "It's like you think it's over. It's not. It's really, really not."
Sam woke up blinking with the sun in his eyes and Dean asleep in the chair next to him.
He thought he saw a shadow under the door, like black smoke; then he blinked and it was gone.