It wasn’t so different.
That was what he told himself, anyway, it’s not that different. Living motel room to motel room, spending days on the road and sometimes nights too, the sleepless ones when he didn’t dare to close his eyes. The difference was that he was alone, now. But that was his choice, his decision, the way it needed to be.
The difference was, he was running, and sure, he’d always been running (all you know how to do, Sam, this time, this time-) but he wasn’t running for anything, to anything.
He moved fast and under the radar, covered his tracks. He didn’t want to be found, couldn’t be found. If he was found, everyone would be in danger and Sam was sick to death of pain. If he kept moving, he told himself, if he didn’t get involved, connected with no one – no one would die on his behalf.
That was the theory, anyway.
Dean didn’t like it. (Of course Dean didn’t like it.) All the messages were still saved, going from furious (How could you! Dammit, Sam!) to desperate (Sam, where are you, at least tell me you’re alive) to cold.
His last message was from a month ago. Is this just what you do? You always run away, Sam. When the going gets tough you leave. This time I’m not coming after you. There’s an apocalypse to stop. Just don’t do anything stupid.
He was relieved. Oh, it hurt – of course it hurt. But it was just the long delayed end of what had been dying since Lucifer’s rise, and at least Dean was still alive, that was what mattered, all that mattered.
Of course, there was one who never failed to find him.
“Sam, Sam. You know I can feel your pain.”
They were sitting in a meadow in the sun. Lucifer had his toes in a clear pool of water, his pants rolled up, fish swimming in circles far below. Birds were singing overhead and the grass waved in a gentle breeze. Sam watched the fish circle, their silver sides glistening.
“This is nice,” Sam said. Lucifer smiled at him and Sam’s skin crawled.
“I just want to take care of you.”
“I don’t need to be taken care of.”
Lucifer chuckled. His hand reached out and brushed Sam’s shoulder, but he managed not to flinch. “I don’t lie to you, Sam. Don’t try to lie to me. I know you’re strong. But I also know you’re hurting. I can feel it. Whenever I touch your mind…”
“Why are you here?” Sam said tightly, stiffening. “You know I’ll never accept you.”
“So you say.” Lucifer smiled again, more softly. “Can’t I just be here to keep you company? You shouldn’t be alone.”
Sam drew his legs into himself, folding up in a stupidly defensive, infantile gesture. “I want to be alone.”
“You think you need to be alone,” Lucifer corrected him. “It’s not the same.”
Sam watched the fish. One twisted around and bit a chunk out of another. Blood bloomed in the water and Sam watched it thrash, die. “Hm,” Lucifer said thoughtfully, following his gaze.
“You haven’t asked where I am,” Sam said finally. Lucifer shrugged.
“I know better than to push too much. I know you like I know myself.”
“You don’t know me at all.”
“Don’t I?” The Devil looked at him, gaze level, eyes full of warmth and sympathy. Sam looked away, and Lucifer’s hand fell lightly on his shoulder. “I’m always here, Sam,” he said. “I’m the only one who’ll never leave you.”
Sam woke up with the Devil’s voice still in his head.
His routine was the same every morning. Keeping things the same kept them under control, and above all (now) Sam needed control. Over something.
He got up, splashed water on his face to wash away the stickiness of sweat and Satan’s fingers. He dressed and got breakfast, careful not to linger, retreating to the motel to eat. If the night had been particularly bad, he didn’t go out at all.
Bad nights weren’t the ones when Lucifer visited. They were nightmares. Just nightmares. But Sam, of all people, knew how easily those could (did, had) come true.
On those days, he pulled up roots and ran. No direction, just ran, or drove really, and went in the other direction when he heard about bizarre happenings, potential hunts.
You can’t run forever, Dean had said in one furious message, and Sam thought Watch me. After all, what else could he do? Once you started, you couldn’t stop. You stopped and it found you. You stopped and you died, or everyone else did.
Sam thought he was somewhere in Nebraska right now. Maybe Oklahoma. He tried not to keep track. After all, if he didn’t know where he was, what chance did anyone else have? At least that was the idea, and it hadn’t failed him yet (three months and counting). Wherever it was, it was snowing. He drew a banishing sigil on the motel window in the condensation.
Sam didn’t have the strength to isolate himself fully, to truly disappear completely and never be found. He indulged himself in bars, sitting by himself and letting the light and noise and presence of people wash over and through, satisfying just enough. As long as they didn’t know his name, he told himself, it was okay, it was fine.
When the waitresses started to smile and ask what he was up to, it was time to skip town.
Rules to live your new life by, number seventy.
He got tired, sometimes. Tired and weak and lonely. Then he pulled out his phone, put it in a drawer, and got completely wasted as quickly as possible. Most of the time, he woke cured of the urge. Sometimes, he woke wanting to shoot himself in the head and not just because of the headache.
He listened through the messages, then, for the next step of curing himself. Listened through every one right down to the last one, which he listened to twice, just to make sure.
You’re a monster, Sam…a vampire. You’re not you anymore. And there’s no going back.
After that he would drive for hours, and by the time he collapsed into bed again, exhausted and wrung out, the thought of giving in was usually gone.
Besides, he’d burned his bridges; how would he get back anyway?
No, this was it, this was what he had, and he could live with it, had to live with it. It was just sometimes…sometimes. (Only natural to be lonely. Everyone gets lonely sometimes.)
Lucifer always found him on those nights after in exhausted sleep, and Sam hated him, hated him and yet leaned into his casual, careless touches, each deliberate but never lingering. “Sam,” he said. “Do you really want to do this forever? Sad, lonely…”
“Better than seeing everyone die,” Sam said. Lucifer raised his eyebrows at Sam like he’d been issued a challenge, and Sam turned his head away.
“Don’t,” he started to say, with a fragment of desperation, and Lucifer laughed.
“I won’t, Sam. I won’t,” he said, reassuringly. “I know how hard this is for you. I don’t want to make it any harder. Do you think it was easy for me to decide to disobey? I questioned. I struggled. There was no one to guide me, to tell me what was the right choice. Michael? He clearly wouldn’t have understood, if I had asked. You know what that’s like.”
“Stop it,” Sam said dully, and let his head fall dully against a tree. They were in the woods this time, in a small, sunlit clearing, the trees in full leaf. Lucifer was quiet, though Sam could almost sense his amusement. It was like that. Perhaps Lucifer was right and they really were just that close.
“Do you ever regret it?” Sam asked.
Lucifer seemed, for the first time, faintly surprised. He tipped his head to the side, and Sam clarified. “Falling. Do you ever regret – uh. Defying your dad? Ever think it was the wrong choice?”
Sam wasn’t sure what he expected, but it wasn’t the somewhat thoughtful expression he got. “No,” he said, finally, “And yes. Really only the way it ended. I suppose I always…expected Michael to take my side.” He glanced sideways, the corner of his mouth curling up. His expressions were so human sometimes that it jarred Sam. “I think you’d understand that, too. Nothing quite like the feeling of your brother turning his back on you.”
I turned my back first, Sam thought, but didn’t say. Lucifer probably heard it anyway, but he didn’t respond, for which Sam was grateful. “You miss him?” he asked, abruptly. “Michael, I mean.”
Lucifer did that funny little head-tilt again, and then sighed, seeming halfway between amused and faintly irritated. “You ask the strangest questions, Sam. I suppose I do. After a fashion. Then again, if I saw him now one of us would die, and I don’t plan on it being me.”
Sam turned his back to the tree and looked at Lucifer, feeling heavy and weary even in his dream, even with the sun warming the crown of his head. “You need some serious family therapy,” he said. Lucifer actually laughed fully, head back, throat extended. When he quieted, his eyes were dancing in a way that made all of the hair on Sam’s neck stand on end.
“Are you sure you don’t want to let me in, Sam?”
“Never,” said Lucifer, fondly. “Why would I need them, for you?”
“No,” Sam said, “The answer’s still no. It’ll always be no.”
Lucifer just laughed and Sam hated him, wished he wasn’t the only company Sam could allow himself.
He ran into a pair of hunters in Louisiana. He was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner, really. He didn’t know them, but they knew him on sight and went rigid at once. Sam kept his gaze on them sideways and regretted leaving his room, but it was too late now. He’d been seen. If he left, he’d be followed. If he was followed, they might try to kill him, and Sam didn’t really want to die.
Too messy, too complicated. Probably not even possible, given Lucifer’s promise.
So he sat very still and waited, eyes half closed.
One of them came over eventually, keeping a safe distance, arm having that telltale posture that said there was a gun he could reach for in a second. “Winchester,” he said, and Sam just nodded in acknowledgment. “Weren’t expecting to see you here.”
“Wasn’t exactly advertising,” Sam said, and tilted his head at an angle to look up. The man shifted. He looked uneasy, and Sam wondered briefly what people were saying about him now, what stories were on the road.
How many of them Dean might have heard and believed.
“Thought you were dead,” said the hunter. Sam let the corner of his mouth quirk up, mildly pleased. (That was probably the wrong response, wasn’t it.)
“’Parrently not.” The guy shifted again, and then narrowed his eyes and asked point blank, “What are you doing here?”
“Leaving,” Sam said, quietly. “I’ll be gone by tomorrow morning. Don’t try to follow me; you won’t be able to.” He canted his head back and added, “I don’t want any trouble. I just want to be left alone.” He kept his voice low and quiet.
The hunter retreated. Sam slipped out while they were talking, and left town in the middle of the night. Nobody followed, but he watched his rearview for miles anyway. He drove through the night and ended up in Texas, where he got out of the car in the middle of nowhere and sat down on a flat, sandy roadside and looked up at the stars.
He could name all the constellations, and for a while murmured their names out loud for no particular reason, but it felt too empty, too strange, so he just watched, half expecting Lucifer to join him any minute.
The space beside him stayed empty, though; more than empty, like a vacuum. Please, he thought, and didn’t know what he was asking for.
The sun rose and he went on driving. West, north – he wasn’t even sure. Didn’t matter, as long as it was away.
He got sick, bad sick, in the fourth month, fading in and out of dreams until he wasn’t sure Lucifer wasn’t there for real, stroking his hair, singing under his breath, tangled in the sheets with him. Sam remembered crying and sweating and puking, wrapped in misery and shivering with cold, time blurring and slurring around him. His body ached and his mind throbbed and he didn’t move, holding as still as possible and hoping that it would pass. He drank some water and threw it back up, drank some more. Eating…he couldn’t even think about eating.
Lucifer was tender, Lucifer was sympathetic, Sam leaned into Lucifer and dry-sobbed until his chest hurt, or maybe that was something else. He needed, needed so bad, and just-
“Leave me,” he choked, hand twisting in Lucifer’s shirt, “Alone.” In and out of his dreams, it hurt. It didn’t matter. Didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Oh god, I’m going to die in this motel room alone and nobody will ever – will ever-
Constellations darted through his head like horses, leaving thundering hoofbeats like a reminder: Orion Cassiopeia Andromeda Auriga.
Drifting. Pain. Ache. (None of this was new. All of it was different.)
He rolled over and put his face into the pillow. It smelled like rank sweat and sickness, and he couldn’t have cared any less.
Somewhere, a door slammed open. Somewhere, someone was pushing him around, rolling him to his back and saying something fast and loud like fireworks going off too closely. Sam blinked in incomprehension. His mouth was full of gauze and his head was full of cotton, or water, or possibly both.
Words faded in and out “the fuck…calling…if I hadn’t, Jesus, how long…Bobby, come on, I think…hospital…”
He understood that part and forced his eyes open. The world wavered between the meadow Lucifer favored and the motel room that smelled like vomit. Someone was glaring down at him, though, and Lucifer was never angry, not really, so it wasn’t him. Probably the manager, or something. “No,” he said, and was surprised at how weak his voice sounded. “No hospital.”
Too much time. Too much knowledge about him, too much of a connection. They’d all die.
But he was so tired, and couldn’t do anything about it except hope that someone would listen to him, that somehow, somehow…
Sam figured out it was Dean pretty quickly. He also figured out that Dean was angry, but that was…to be expected. (All you ever do is run. Do you know how to do anything else?) He walked with clenched jaw and spoke in short, abrupt sentences, moving jerkily, all wound tight.
He didn’t need to be lucid to read that body language. And he wasn’t, not really. It was a hospital, and there were people monitoring things like temperature, yeah, but also dehydration levels and malnutrition and wow, Dean said, caustic, I’m really impressed.
Sam wanted to be angry that he had come. He wanted to be furious, wanted to drive Dean away with words like daggers (he’d done it before without trying, how hard could it be). But all he felt was stupidly grateful because he was miserable and Dean was here.
When he could focus on things again, he asked, “How did you find me?”
Dean turned his head and just looked at Sam, his eyes too blank, hiding behind an impassive mask made of plaster. “Are you kidding?” Dean scoffed, hands shoved deep in his pockets. “There’s nowhere you can run where I won’t find you.”
You and Lucifer, Sam thought. You said you weren’t coming, Sam thought. You said you were done hunting me. He stared blankly at Dean until he made a noise of disgust and turned away. “Get some rest,” he said, shortly, brutally. “You look like crap.”
Sam laughed, because he thought Dean was joking. Turned out that he wasn’t.
Bobby came by sometimes too. Bobby said less than Dean and was clearly just as pissed. Sam thought he remembered telling Bobby that he and Dean could go be pissed somewhere else now and Bobby had just looked at him like Sam was a moron who was missing the point.
Sam wanted to ask if they’d already forgotten: Jess, Dad, Dean, Bobby, even Lindsey, who they didn’t know but still kind of counted. Sam was dangerous. Sam was just trying to help the one way he knew how.
Lucifer found him and Sam was almost sure he was asleep, but they were still in the hospital. It was too quiet, though, the moon bright outside. “Sam,” said Lucifer, quietly, and sighed. “Sam.”
“I’m tired,” Sam said.
“Dean found you,” said Lucifer. “But it’ll be okay. I promise you it’ll be okay.”
“I won’t say yes to you,” Sam said quietly, as if by rote. Lucifer reached out and ran his fingers through his hair.
“Shhh,” he said, and Sam woke up with a jerk, surprised by the warmth of the hand on his shoulder and Dean staring down at him, expression unreadable.
“Lucifer?” he said, like he already knew the answer. Sam nodded, just once, and Dean let him go. “How long?” He asked. Sam heard himself laugh a little. Dean jerked his shoulder. “How long?”
“Dean,” said Sam, “Just go.”
Dean looked at him for a long time, and his jaw tightened. “Fuck you,” he said, with feeling. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Sam found that genuinely hilarious. It might have been the drugs. He didn’t really think so. “I didn’t mean for you to follow me,” Sam said. “You didn’t have to.”
“Shut up,” Dean said, his voice lowering, roughening. “Shut the fuck up. Do you realize how lucky you are? That those guys in Louisiana called Bobby instead of killing you? That they happened to guess sort of the right direction? That I came to the right motel in the right town and found the right room where you were dying slowly?”
Sam considered telling Dean he hadn’t been at risk, and decided he didn’t really want to be punched in the face. He settled for closing his eyes. “Don’t ignore me,” Dean said savagely.
“I’m not,” Sam said. “I’m evading you.”
Dean made a furious, quickly muffled noise, and stalked out, closing the door with a resounding click behind him. Sam opened his eyes and looked at the ceiling, not sure which was better, Dean’s anger or Lucifer’s reassurance.
It was Dean. (And after everything, he’d come to find Sam. Not what he wanted, but still...)
He kept his eyes open.
“We’re leaving tomorrow,” Dean said, with the slightest emphasis on ‘we.’ “There’s something I’m actually needed for.” Yeah, that was bitter. Sam almost smiled. This one thing he wouldn’t feel guilty for. “Are you going to run again?”
“No,” Sam said, after a moment. There was only so far he could run. And the two he most needed to avoid he apparently could never get away from. Dean was quiet for a few moments, then said, “Sam,” like there was something important he needed to say and didn’t want to.
“Yeah?” Sam said, and Dean looked at him, and for just a moment he didn’t look angry or frustrated, just lost, like he didn’t quite know what to do. Sam wanted to look away and knew that he couldn’t, knew that this was on him (this was why he’d had to leave).
Then it was gone and Dean’s mask was back, and he shrugged his shoulders and moved for the door. “Never mind,” he said, brisk and flat.
“I’m sorry,” Sam said finally, and Dean stopped.
“That you ran?” he said, lowly, “Or just that you got caught?”
And then he was gone, Sam alone again, but not nearly alone enough.