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He ends up in Lawrence, stone cold sober. That’s something he’s going to change, the sober part.

He’d meant just to go to his room and get wasted. God knows they keep enough liquor. What he drinks, Dean won’t. It’s win-win. Then he’d meant to go to the closest dive and get wasted there. But once he got behind the wheel, once he’d gotten Dean’s junk food and dropped it off with Cas, he’d wanted to drive. Away, just away. Three hours and a half, speeding. It’s irresponsible as fuck. Cas hasn’t been well. He shouldn’t be alone back at the Bunker with Dean. Who knows what might happen.

Whatever it is, it’s happening two hundred odd miles away, now. And Cas has Sam’s number, though Sam can’t remember when he last charged his phone. He checks in his pocket. The phone’s there. He didn’t ditch it. He doesn’t take it out to see if it’s on.

He certainly hadn’t intended to wind up in Lawrence. Apparently his brain has gone symbolic on him. To be fair, starting out in Kansas did limit his brain’s options. The mystic omphalos of the the continental US has a certain éclat, but it’s still the middle of nowhere.

He could find a liquor store, buy a bottle, and go to the old house, park across the street like a creep. Dean would probably think that was appropriate. Or he could buy a bottle and go out to Stull. That would be melodramatic, all right. It would be hard to beat that. But there’s really nothing appealing about drinking outside, or in a cold car. It’s raining, a nasty, cold rain. Sam’s shoulder is aching like hell. He’s tired. He’d prefer to be somewhere where he can sit in a chair. Somewhere with central heating.

He finds a bar. Not a dive, a nice place, near the university. Yeah, whatever, so Sam is a wuss. He wants to get close-call-with-fratricide wasted in a nice place, around normal people. He wants to be somewhere where Dean wouldn’t look for him, where Dean won’t track him down and bash down the door. Sure, he’s indulging in the bad habits Dean always suspects. Not the blood and torture and demons ones, not right now. Sam’s too damn tired right now for blood and demons. Anyway, he found Dean. But if Dean suspects that Sam’s gone slinking back to normal, if he gets on that trail, then he’ll look behind white picket fences for a girl and a dog. He’s not going to check out some chi-chi bar. In Dean’s head, Sam moves fast. He’d gotten Dean’s mom, Mom, killed before he could even talk, before he was out of diapers. Dean won’t look for him here. It will do.

They even have a fireplace, and armchairs. Sam heads toward the one that’s empty. Heat and the low buzz of talk hit him like a wave. Sam’s really tired. There’s a moment where it’s touch and go, where his vision swims with spangled, roiling grey. His shoulder jabs red through it. But he’s almost there. Something, some play in the game on the screen, elicits a collective groan. Sam sinks through the groan into the low, cushioned seat. It was touch and go for a sec but it’s OK. He’s sitting. The Bunker’s a long way away.

Now that he’s close he can see that the fire is fake. Fake, but warm. Fuck authentic. Sam will take warm.

Maybe he should get something to eat before the getting wasted part. He last ate … sometime. He got a burger for himself when he picked up Dean’s food. It’s still congealing in its bag under the passenger seat. He’d better throw it out before he goes back. Dean may have messed up the car while he was all demony, but he’ll hate it if Sam leaves burgers under the seats.

“Would you like a menu?” says the waiter guy, and Sam says yes.

The menu comes rustically clipped to a wooden board and Sam counts four artisanals. Their mac and cheese has fucking truffle oil in it. It costs almost twenty bucks. Sam orders it. He’s not sure if he’s ever eaten truffles. He’s heard of them, though. Pigs loom hazily in the back of his brain, truffle-hunting pigs. He’s ordering a dinner that may have required trained pigs. It’s, like, twelve hours since his brother almost brained him with a hammer. That incident didn’t involve pigs, even trained ones. Still, truffle mac and cheese makes sense in context.

He also orders a beer. It’s becoming clear that he’ll need to pace himself. Shots would be more dramatic, but he’d just end up pitching forward into the fake fire. Anticlimactic and embarrassing.

The beer comes right away but the food takes a while. Sam’s takes a few sips. Sleep deprivation is an amazing thing. It makes your head spin, even without a bender. It makes things lurch around like a carousel. Dean took Sam on one when he was little, maybe just three or four. It went round and round. Dean sat on the horse with him and held him steady. Dean was a kid then, they both were. It’s still hard for Sam to wrap his head around that. The hammer swings towards him. It blinks out of existence if Sam opens his eyes. He takes another sip of beer. The spinning settles into a steadying hum.

A different guy brings the food. He’s wearing a white apron, so maybe he works in the kitchen. He sets the overpriced truffle stuff down. It’s browned at the edges and bubbly and it smells like heaven.

“Careful,” the guy says, “the plate’s hot.”

Sam looks up. The guy’s attractive in a distant way, red hair, sharp brown eyes behind glasses, a beard and freckles. Mid-twenties, maybe. He’s staring. Sam wonders if he looks weird. There’s the sling, of course, but he’d pulled off agent often enough with the sling. Shit happens. Lots of people wear slings.

“Thanks,” Sam says.

“Holy shit,” says the guy. “Holy shit. Sam. You’re Sam.”

Sam doesn’t know quite what to say to that, but he nods. He is Sam, at least approximately. It clearly means something to pricey mac and cheese guy. Perhaps he’s after Sam, for someone Sam killed or Dean killed or something. Maybe Sam drove all this way and got truffle mac and cheese just to get revenge murdered in a chi-chi fireplace pub. That seems a bit much, after Cole. Though at least that way Sam wouldn’t have to drive the three and a half hours back to the Bunker.

The guy is still babbling.

“OK. So. This is awkward. I do want to talk to you, though. Just wait here a second. I don’t think this should go on the clock. I’d better tell Kathleen that you’re my long-lost something and I’m taking the rest of my shift off. It should be fine. Kathleen likes me. It’s late, anyway. We close in an hour. Just wait here.”

It’s not like Sam was going somewhere. He’s not sure he’s ever getting out of this chair, even if it’s not due to be his final resting place when babbling guy knifes him. He takes a bite of the mac and cheese — it tastes as good as it looks — and tries to place the freckles and the red hair. If he’s not planning to make his employers pay for his time while he kills Sam, then he’s quite conscientious, for a demon. Also chatty. If that’s his villain monologue, it needs work.

If it is a demon they can go out back with a knife and Sam can ask him where Dean is. No, Dean’s at the Bunker. And Sam didn’t bring the knife. He can recite an exorcism, though. He can recite it backwards. He can’t remember that woman’s name, but he remembers her face. If it’s an angel, there’s the sigil. Sam can break a glass. He can cut his hand on that. He’ll remember the sigil in a minute.

Then the freckles slot into place. The whole thing plays out in his head, flat and vivid, like film. It’s how he remembers those whole eighteen months.

It was a small nest, but efficient. They’d split up, Sam and Samuel and Christian and Gwen. Samuel and Christian took the nest; Gwen went after the two who’d been picking up girls at the club; Sam volunteered to decapitate Gay Bar Alden. Two birds; he wasn’t in the mood for a girl just then. It had been a couple of months since he’d fucked a guy. He hoped Alden wouldn’t take up too much of the evening.

He’d done his research, making sure this guy, freckle guy — Jamie, that was his name — was only bait, not vamp himself. If he wasn’t a vamp, it wasn’t for lack of trying. He’d been lucky to get through his first date without being drained or turned, and there he was back for a second. Alden the Vamp gave off creepy vibes even Sam could read, and Sam was hard to freak out in his soulless period. Jamie was the kind of nice guy who finishes last, or dead. Bait. But he was lucky, sort of. Sam was there.

He did get hit with most of the blood spatter.

It turned out Jamie was one of the effusive ones who had hysterics. They bored Sam.

“Oh my God. Thank you. That was a vampire. Was that a vampire? Vampires are real. You killed it. You’re, like, a slayer. Oh my God.”

“Vampires are real. Buffy is not. Did your dead date break skin?” It would be a waste of time to clean the machete if it turned out he had to take this guy out, too. Sam hoped he wouldn’t. He was ready to get on with the rest of his evening.

Jamie was looking down at his second date outfit. He was going to have to toss it. Not a great loss.

“No. No, he didn’t. We didn’t … he didn’t get that far. But I’ve got blood on me. What if I’ve got a cut or something? Could I be infected? Is that how it works?”

Sam grabbed Jamie’s jaw, turning his head this way and that. There were smears of blood on his neck, but no bite marks. The guy really had got lucky, though probably not in the sense he’d started the night hoping for.

“You’re not infected,” Sam said. “You got lucky.”

It made sense to say these things. Civilians got fewer people killed if you kept them from panicking, and sometimes when Sam said the things he was supposed to say to them he ended up getting laid. And it was true. Jamie was lucky. Alden hadn’t gotten him and Sam hadn’t had to take him out.

It didn’t take long to stow ex-Alden in the body bag. It was a good idea, carrying body bags. The Campbell side of the family was really much more efficient. They took the bodies back to the base, to burn or bury or look more closely at the weird ones, or they put them in places it would cause least trouble when the police found them.

Annoying bait guy was still hovering. Annoying, but easy on the eyes. Sam weighed whether to try his luck in the bar. It wasn’t likely the blood in alley would get spotted till morning, but it might make trouble, being seen there. He could stick with chatty Jamie. In the last year he’d slept with a lot of new widows and widowers. Death made people horny. Sam could stick with Jamie for a bit and see what developed. He could always go to a different bar later.

“If you want a ride, I’m heading out,” Sam said. Jamie had arrived in Alden’s car.

Jamie was still going through his whole vamp-sponsored enlightenment. He followed Sam to the car and got in like he wasn’t even paying attention.

“This has changed my life. This has totally changed my life.”

In Sam’s experience, people who took randomly not dying as some kind of revelation tended to make stupid decisions.

“Don’t become a hunter,” he said. “You’re an amateur. You’ll die. You won’t be a good judge. Amateurs don’t know when not to go in, when things have to take their course. You’ll just get more people killed.”

Jamie stared at him.

“Are you crazy? I’m not becoming the fucking slayer. I’m going back to school. I’m filing the application tomorrow. I mean, I was thinking of it. I mean, Mom’s all for it. But, like, this is it. Near-death experience. I’m going to school. I’m taking a pottery class. I might get religion.”

“Good luck with that,” Sam said.

“One with monks, because clearly I am never having sex.”

The guy was already handing him straight lines. Sam probably had a fuck for the night if he wanted it.

“Sex is pretty easy to come by,” he pointed out.

“For you, maybe. You’re built slayer guy. You save people. They’re probably grateful. This was my big thing. I walked in the door of a gay bar. I bought guys drinks. I went on a date. I went on a second date. And it turns out the guy was a vampire. You ch-chopped his head off. His fucking corpse is in your trunk. Oh, God. This sucks. I think I’m going to throw up.”

“Well, vampires do.” Jamie looked blank. “Suck. Vampires suck. Get it?” Jamie still looked blank. “Look, if you’re going to throw up, don’t do it in my car. Are you going to throw up?”

Jamie put his head down on his knees. Sensible. He wasn’t quite as stupid as he acted.

“But what if I’m not attractive to guys? What if the only men who will go for me are vampires? Maybe this gay thing just isn’t going to work out.”

Like Sam was some it-gets-better counselor. But the smell of blood and sweat from Jamie was tickling Sam’s groin. He was ready to go on saying the stuff he needed to say to get this to where it was going.

“You’re fine. I’d fuck you.” With girls Sam usually went for petite brunettes. With guys he likes muscle. And the red hair was vivid and definite, something to fix attention on, like the angle for a shot. Sam visualized Jamie bent over, braced to show off that broad back. Sam could get a good view of that hair if he fucked him from behind. Sam was getting hard. He was definitely going to fuck this guy. That way around; he wasn’t much for bottoming lately, though sometimes he could go for a good dicking. Not tonight. He wanted to fuck someone.

“Are you … offering?” Jamie’s voice squeaked up, but Sam could see he’d popped a boner. It was really amazing, how many people near-death experiences did that for. It worked out for Sam. “You want to have sex with me?”

“I was planning to get laid tonight. You just almost got killed. Adrenaline makes for good sex. I’ve got a motel room. Why not? You were going to have sex with creepy vamp Alden. I’m a much better lay.”

“Oh, God. I can’t do this. Alden just died. You just killed him. And what if you’re a serial killer? Not just vampires, I mean.”

“I don’t kill things for kicks. It’s work. Look, life sucks and sex feels good. It’s simple. There’s no logical reason not to go for it.”

Jamie was looking at him with wide eyes.

“You saved my life. This night can’t get any weirder. Oh, God. I almost died. Vampires are real. I’m going to have sex with a guy.”

Jamie went silent while Sam drove the rest of the way to the motel, probably dithering, but also looking at Sam’s hands on the wheel and his arms where the sleeves were rolled back. Some people were into his hands when they’d seen him with a gun or a knife. One woman asked him to choke her. It was better for her than for him, but Sam liked the challenge, so close to hunting, except the goal was orgasm rather than a kill. They took a lot of the same skills. That was interesting.

“You should wash the blood off, unless you’re into that,” Sam said, when he’d keyed them in. It was up to Jamie. Sam was good either way. “We could fuck in the shower.” He started to take off his own clothes. No bloodstains, but time for laundry.

Jamie shucked his stained clothes with a shudder. He was looking at Sam from the corners of his eyes. It was hard to tell if he was nervous or just horny. His dick was certainly taking an interest, but his hands were shaking. He was probably expecting more talk. They always wanted talk. Sometimes Sam tried, but he’d just sat through the whole drive from the bar. That was enough talking. Jamie would stop wanting talk if Sam gave him other things to think about.

The water was hot. That and his hard-on were making Sam’s ears thud, a good feeling, spreading out into his body, fogging his mind a little. This was the kind of simplicity he liked, hot water and a willing body, knowing that he’s good at this. People didn’t always like the things Sam said, though they seemed quite reasonable to Sam, but they liked having sex with him. Sam liked that. Jamie was certainly a guy virgin, probably a virgin, period. Sam would get him off, get him there, do it right. That made Sam feel good. It was the only time, these days, that it seemed like he was what people wanted him to be.

He’d have his own orgasm, too, that moment when everything sped up and slowed down. The anticipation was already stretching things out, pushing him ahead, slowing him down, diverting the minutes of the night from their endless, straight trek. Sam wanted to slow it down first. He’d go down on Jamie before he fucked him.

He hadn’t used to like rimming, but that had been kind of stupid. It’s a part of the body. He was going to be putting his dick in there. What was not to like? He liked the smell and the taste, even in the shower. It must have been hell that had given him perspective. After hell it was stupid to have hang-ups about things that felt good. Plenty of stuff was unpleasant and boring. People should do as much of the stuff that isn’t as they could.

“Hang on to something,” he said to Jamie, and then he knelt down.

“Are you …? Oh. Oh.”

Jamie had a good ass, and his hole was round and pink and clean. Sam had been working on his tongue skills the last few months; they were good for getting people to stop talking and start fucking already. The noises Jamie made when Sam curled his tongue past his rim hit Sam’s pulse like a hammer. For a moment Sam sank into it, the water falling around him, his hands holding Jamie’s cheeks open, that moment of leisured intensity, the pauses that came in sex and hunting when things seemed thicker, somehow. But he wanted his orgasm, too. His erection was on the edge of painful, wanting to fuck. Time to get on with it.

Jamie had a good hard-on, too, though he’d probably lose that when Sam entered him. Sam would get it back for him. He’d had no complaints.

“OK, you’re ready,” he said. Jamie craned his neck around.

“Jesus. I hadn’t imagined it that big. I’m not that big. Will it hurt? I’m not sure I’m ready for this.”

Sam was irritated. It wasn’t like he wasn’t putting in the work to do this well.

“It will probably hurt some. It feels good, though. You want it to hurt. It’s part of feeling good. That’s the point of sex. You want it to feel like as many things as it can. Look, I’d do it the other way round, but I got you ready. It’s getting late. I’d like to get on with it. You’ll be fine.”

Just shut up, bait Jamie, and let me have my orgasm sometime in the next fucking hour. You’ll get one, too. Surely people at least didn’t have to get complicated about wanting orgasms. Sam twisted his fingers in Jamie, feeling for the prostate. Jamie swore and bit his lip.

“Yeah, OK. OK. Shit. Go for it. Oh, God. I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

Sam wasn’t listening, working his dick in. Jamie was tight and tense, clenching up, and his erection was flagging, but he was taking it just fine. Once Sam was lodged he thrust a couple of times, getting a feel for it, then reached round and started working Jamie back to hard. It only made sense. Sex was about feeling good, and about being good at something. Once Jamie was up to scratch Sam could go to town.

The muscles of Jamie’s back looked as good as Sam had imagined. Sam would enjoy the way they’d shift and tense when Jamie orgasmed. He liked watching that. He’d get Jamie there.

It took a bit of work before Jamie was grunting at Sam’s thrusts, starting to move clumsily, to do his stuff while Sam did his. He was getting the hang of it, sort of. He’d need a lot more practice, but it didn’t matter right now. Sam could handle things. Jamie was hard again. Sam could forget about him and get off himself. At-fucking-last. The delay was part of the goal, but enough was enough.

He was already close, almost to the point where the sex would take over, would take his mind for a moment. He wanted to go deeper. It was better when his whole dick was inside. Jamie was making noises each Sam dragged out and punched back in. Sam’s dick liked the noises, thickening in Jamie’s hole. Sam bit down on Jamie’s wet shoulder, tasting blood, and Jamie arched up, coming, oh God, oh God. They always said that. Jamie bucking back against him, Sam pushing in, muscle against muscle, Jamie relaxed with orgasm, yeah, Sam had got him there, he’d gotten it just right, good things piling on, making Sam come. He came long and luxurious, panting. Jamie was a good lay.

The hunt had gone well all around.

Jamie. Red hair and freckles. Now serving up pricey mac and cheese in the pub where Sam’s getting close-brush-with-fratricide loaded. He’s checking in with someone named Kathleen to see if he can take the rest of his shift off and maybe, what, knife Sam in belated revenge for second-date vamp Alden? For fucking him in the shower and then kicking him out, back in his blood-stained clothes, to call a taxi?

Sam is thinking too slow to keep up with coincidence. He doesn’t want to think back any more to that soulless year. He’s drifting apart too easily already, watching the hammer swing down. He eats more of his truffle mac and cheese instead, just in case he’s about to die. Finishing dinner will also work out if he isn’t. It really is good.

Statistically improbable Jamie gets back right around the last bite. Sam’s chair is too low. He shouldn’t have gone for the armchair. He’s at the wrong angle to block a knife. It doesn’t even have to be revenge. Jamie could have become a hunter after all. It’s a debatable point, whether Sam is a monster.

Jamie doesn’t go for a knife. If he did become a hunter, he’s at least got the sense not to take his target down in public. It’s possible Sam is misreading this whole situation. He hasn’t been doing much people stuff the last couple of months.

“So Kathleen’s fine with me clocking off early. But maybe this isn’t a good idea. I’m intruding. You’re having dinner. How was the mac and cheese, by the way?”

“It was good,” says Sam. Good is a strange concept, not about holding a knife, not about dodging a hammer, not about saving Dean, not about remembering fucking this guy in the shower. Food isn’t usually Sam’s thing, but then food doesn’t usually have truffle oil. “It was fantastic, actually.”

Jamie beams at him. That’s also strange.

“It’s my recipe,” Jamie says. “It’s my claim to fame. I’ll go down in history as the man who introduced truffle oil to Antarctic cuisine. Which is a good segue for where I’m going with this conversation, because you’re the guy who saved my life. So my place in history is down to you. So there it is. You’re eating mac and cheese that exists because of you. It’s on me, by the way. I’ll even throw in another beer if you want one.”

Sam pulls out the part of that speech that’s even harder to make sense of than the rest. He’d fucked this guy in the shower when he was missing his soul. But the fucking in the shower elephant in the room is not turning out to be the weirdest bit.

“Antarctic cuisine?” he says. He ran out on Cas and on Dean and that was a dick move and he should call, he should really call, but he’s fairly sure he didn’t run as far as the South Pole.

Jamie sits down in the armchair next to Sam’s. Now neither of them can get up in time if something comes at them.

“I went to Antarctica,” he says. “Before I went back to school. They hire people, you know, just regular people, to maintain the machines and cook and bartend and things. My cousin did it. She knew people. She put in a word. I cooked and bartended and did the whole finding myself thing. If you can’t find yourself in Antarctica after nearly getting chomped by a vampire, when can you? And it worked, which I’d always assumed finding yourself didn’t. Anyway, someone had given my mom this truffle oil for Christmas, and she regifted it to me because she hates mushrooms. So I took it to Antarctica and put it in mac and cheese. The rest is history.”

It’s a sign of how out of it Sam is that he followed that.

“Did you take that pottery class as well?” he asks. “Or did you substitute Antarctica?” He’s genuinely curious.

“I did, in fact. I was awful. The wheel defeated me. I’m not spiritually centered or something. I was better at Antarctica. And I’m pretty good at school. Hey, you know you don’t have to listen to all this, right? You don’t have to be polite and ask questions. You can tell me to leave you alone. You saved my life and you can see how that’s a big deal to me, but you were just doing your job or whatever. And you don’t want your rescues popping into your space six years later and talking your ear off. And running into hook-ups gets difficult. Just in case you think I forgot that part or I’m ignoring it out of icy disdain.”

“It’s OK,” says Sam. “It’s good to hear that things are going well.” He means it. Here’s a guy whose life had got saved who has done something with it. He didn’t fuck up. It didn’t fuck him up. Mac and cheese Antarctica Jamie is a goddamn miracle. Someone even having a life is a miracle. Usually Sam only meets people when they’ve had something happen, or when they’re tracking something down. He doesn’t see much of people just living. “And I owe you an apology. I was, well, it’s a long story. But that was a weird time in my life. I wasn’t exactly myself. I was an insensitive asshole. ”

“You weren’t the one who watched the guy he was on a date with get his head lopped off and then hooked up with the guy who killed him. I mean, vampire, shock, extenuating circumstances, but still. I was the awful person in that scenario.”

“That doesn’t make you an awful person. What happened wasn’t your fault. People react in all kinds of ways. I shouldn’t have taken advantage.”

“You know, it was only our second date. That’s what makes it awful, that it wasn’t really awful. I barely knew him. I didn’t know his parents’ names, what they did. I met them at the funeral. I thought I should go to the funeral. It was gruesome. His ex was there. He cried and Alden’s dad hugged him and cried and I was, like, wedged next to them in the aisle. It was gruesome. I shouldn’t have gone. Going on a couple of dates and having him try to kill me, or, whatever, change me, that didn’t give me a claim. Going to Antarctica was better.”

Compared to the things Sam does with loss, going to an awkward funeral and then Antarctica is pretty damn healthy coping.

“So, what do you do in school?” he asks. That’s good, too, that Jamie hadn’t gotten so far from school that he couldn’t go back.

“I was a Bio major. I’m done now. I graduated last spring. But I’ve got more school coming, next year.”

“Med school?” That’s what most of the Bio majors Sam knew at Stanford had done. They’re probably all out there in white coats now, chugging coffee and saving lives.

“No, I’m going for a PhD. I want to do Antarctic ecosystems. I’m going back there in November. Antarctica, that is. November means the beginning of summer down there. I’m going for three months. More research assistant this time around, less bartender. And then next year I’m starting grad school, and then hopefully I get a PhD and a job and I can keep going back. It’s an amazing place, you know, Antarctica. I mean, it’s like the world and you, this huge world that’s not even hostile, just indifferent, and strange, just really, really strange. And you’re there, you’re tiny, but you’re there to see it, you’re big enough to see it. And it’s an amazing place for a scientist. Human beings are there for science. Well, and politics, but nothing’s perfect. And doing science is you working with the world, and with other people all over the world. And you’re still small, you’re just a tiny part of it all, but you matter. Being a part matters. That sounds corny, I know.”

“It sounds good,” says Sam. It’s nice meeting someone whose obsession is life. And he can understand it, wanting connection and going as far away as you can for it. “Maybe I should get down there. Investigate the supernatural properties of Antarctic lichens or something.”

“You’re the first non-biologist I’ve met who even knows that there are Antarctic lichens,” says Jamie. “In fact, you may be the first guy I’ve met who’s ever spontaneously mentioned lichen at all. Certainly the first guy I’ve slept with who has. Does lichen have supernatural properties? Do you have supernatural zoology and supernatural botany and such?”

“We have lore, herbology, stuff about cryptids. It’s hard to sort out what’s real and what isn’t. We don’t have much of a scientific process, at least, not now, not the hunters I know. We always just need the next thing for the next hunt. If it doesn’t work, you get killed. Scientific method, I guess. But I, when I was a kid, we spent a lot of time in graveyards. We still do. It’s a ghostbusting thing. But back then when I got bored I’d crawl around with my dad’s magnifying glass. I looked at the names, too, but I liked the ants and the moss and the lichens, the things that could grow right on stone. I liked things being at home.”

Sam wonders how three-fourths of a beer has got him rhapsodizing about graveyard plant life to this guy he barely knows. Sleep deprivation or sheer randomness or being far away, though not as far as Antarctica.

Jamie looks around.

“We’re closing soon,” he says. “Look, do you want to come back to my place for a nightcap? Well, I don’t really have a nightcap. I might have beer. I certainly have coffee. And I think there’s some herbal something at the back of the cabinet. It could have supernatural properties.”

It’s backwards, it’s all wrong, because this is a pick-up, this is unmistakably a pick-up. But it’s all wrong. Sam already remembers how this guy’s hole looked stretched around his cock. And he hasn’t really done sex lately. It’s backwards. It’s in there, the flat, porno memories Sam has of himself fucking Jamie, fucking all those cunts and holes and hookers. And it’s dangerous, because Sam’s tired. Soulless him didn’t sleep; does that mean if he doesn’t sleep he becomes soulless?

But what’s even more dangerous is that he wants, what he wants, what he wants to say yes to, the fake fire and the mac and cheese and chatting with a guy about lichen. The beard looks good on Jamie and Sam doesn’t want to go back to the Bunker, not just yet. He wants just a little bit more of this. He doesn’t do sex much these days, but he does want more. He doesn’t want to be alone, driving back down the road with Dean’s hammer swinging toward him, with the ghost of Cole’s hammer resting so lightly against his knee. There’s an image in his head of the car crumpled up against a tree. That’s stupid. Sam drives all the time in worse shape than this. He’s not having some kind of premonition. It scares him, though, how easily he can imagine the tree. He doesn’t have finding Dean any more to keep him on the road. And he’s tired.

“Maybe coffee,” he says.

“My place isn’t far, if you’re OK with walking. Your car will be fine here. Or we could drive if you’d rather. Up to you. ”

Sam doesn’t want to get back behind the wheel of the car.

“Walking’s fine,” he says. “I spend enough time in the car. It was kind of like home, growing up, but it means you’re always passing through. You’re not one of those people walking their dog or jogging or doing errands.”

“I just thought, maybe, with whatever’s up with your arm. If you’ve recently been mauled by a werewolf or bitten by Bigfoot or something,”

“A demon, actually,” Sam says. It’s kind of seductive, talking to someone he can say that to. It’s even more seductive not having to say any more. “It’s fine. It was a while ago.” Though Cole had roughed it up some.

Jamie’s apartment is tiny. There’s just a main room with a door to a small tiled bathroom, and a doorframe without a door to a narrow kitchen. Jamie waves Sam to a futon, which must be the bed because there isn’t a bed. It’s nice, though. There’s a big window, curtained right now in dark blue. There are a couple of plastic chairs in a kind of turquoise with pillows on them in dark orange. It’s bright, but it’s restful. There’s a table. It’s got a laptop on it and also one of those big flatscreen monitors, so it’s more like a desk. It’s covered with sliding piles of paper, probably full of stuff about lichens and penguins.

Usually when Sam’s in this kind of place he’s looking for clues, why someone died, or why they killed. Sometimes both. Right now he just looks around. A coffee machine starts sighing and gurgling from the tiny kitchen and Jamie comes back. He’s carrying a plate of cookies.

“So, there are cookies,” he says. “And there will be coffee. I even have cream. Well, half-and-half. And then I thought I might chill your blood with the depravities of penguins, and you could retaliate with graveyards you have known, and then, if you want, but only if you want, there might be sex. I mean, I don’t want to make assumptions, because, you know, assumptions are bad. And last time we met you cut off my date’s head and then we hooked up, which was weird. And you may just have come home with me now because you were too zonked to drive. Though, dude, I was there. You had one beer.”

This is true. Sam’s epic getting wasted might not, from where Jamie was sitting, have seemed too impressive.

“But it seemed like — and please step in if I’m getting this wrong, because I’m not a creeper and you’re welcome to just drink coffee and sleep on the couch — like you might also have come home with me because you weren’t averse to sex. And I’m very not averse if you’re not averse. Just putting that out there. Anyway. Believe it or not I’ve still got a conversational thread here, because what I meant to say is, penguins can get depressing. Sometimes when I talk about penguins the sex doesn’t happen. Sometimes when it does it goes badly. So you know I’m prepared for the evening to end in not-sex. You can sleep on my couch, no hard feelings.”

Sam looks around again.

“You don’t really have a couch,” he says. “Either that or you don’t have a bed.”

“Well, there’s that. But it’s OK. I have a sleeping bag. I have several. Most of them rated to handle a polar vortex. You can have the futon, really. I mean, you’re injured. And you look, uh, tired.”

“I don’t, look. I’m not sure what you want. I’m not sure what this is. I don’t, I don’t want a gratitude fuck. I can’t fuck anyone right now. I’m really not the guy who saved you.”

“It’s not a gratitude fuck. Though I won’t lie; I mean, I get you were messed up last time and it’s not like I wasn’t and maybe you don’t want to hear this, but it was memorable. You must really work out.”

“He did,” says Sam. When he’d woken up in the panic room with the IV and its coiled tubes standing next to the cot, his mind a fall and a blank, he’d looked down at himself and tried to piece it together, his unfamiliar limbs, shaky like he’d been sick, sculpted like he’d been in training for something. Now he has the whole training montage, of course, but it still freaks him out a bit. He stays fit, though the last few weeks, with his shoulder and being busy, he’s let things go, but he’s avoided being too systematic, stayed away from trying for some kind of peak form. He’s not that guy. “I mean, I did. I mean, that guy … look. This is a mistake. I’m not the guy you think I am. I should go. Really. You don’t have to let me take your bed.”

He stands up and looks around vaguely for his jacket. He can’t remember if he’d had a jacket. Jamie puts a hand on his arm.

“Sam, wait. I was enjoying talking to you. OK, I know I did, like, five-eighths of the talking. It’s a bad habit. I do it when I’m nervous. But then you got all enthused about lichens. Do you know how rare that is? I’m a Bio major. My life is full of people who want to cure cancer, or earn a fortune in biotech, or both, and that’s all got them way too stressed out to geek out over lichen. So I asked you back here. And you, I mean, what you do, that’s got to be hard. So, yes, you saved my life, but I shouldn’t put that on you. And yes, we hooked up, and that was probably a bad idea for both of us, even though I didn’t exactly hate it. That’s not the guy I think you are. You’re really attractive. I like you. And you appreciate the finer points of mac and cheese. And now I’ll back off, because I didn’t meant to make things uncomfortable and you look like right now you could use a no-strings-attached place to crash.”

The carousel’s going round again in Sam’s head. If you step on at the wrong moment it’s the soulless guy. If you step off the light is red and Dean’s calling Sammy. But there’s also a place where it goes round and it’s warm. The plate is hot but the food smells delicious. And then there’s a bit in the middle where it’s still, a Pole. It should be cold there, but it isn’t. For someone who gets off on frozen continents, Jamie is warm.

Sam came home with Jamie because he didn’t want to go back. But he’d also come looking for this, the hum of attraction, someone’s voice going on and on, not asking or answering with a knife to the throat or a hammer to the knee, not lying in wait and calling his name, just babbling on about penguins. He sits down again. Jamie perches cautiously on the edge of the futon.

“I don’t mind you doing five-eighths of the talking. Let’s, uh, see where it goes. Tell me more Antarctica trivia and we’ll see how it goes. If that’s OK.”

Sam moves closer on the futon so that their thighs are touching, a line of warmth along the outer edges.

“I can do that. Heroic tales of polar exploration? Sea spiders? They grow huge there, you know, because the water is cold. Everything slows down. Everything has time. They grow slowly, but they grow huge. Cyanobacteria? They can live inside rocks. They can live in lakes under the ice. Giant mats of cyanobacteria, glued together with mucus, floating in the dark like ghosts. There’s a guy who dives down there, who’s brushed right up against them. Freaky, but amazing. Water in the dark, under ice, and there’s something organic still putting itself together.”

Deep down, brushing up against something. It could be a horror story, but it isn’t. It’s just life, putting itself together. Brushing up against something is pretty different from fucking. It’s something Sam can do, even with his arm in a sling. He gives it a try, brushing up against Jamie’s beard with his palm, brushing against his glasses. Jamie takes his glasses off. His eyes are brown and kind. They kiss. It’s awkward the way things are awkward, but there’s no porno film starring himself playing out behind Sam’s eyes. He’s not seeing anything. He’s tasting Jamie’s mouth, warm and sour with coffee. It’s good. It tastes good.

Jamie pulls away.

“OK, so, clarity here. You want this? You’re sure?”

“I’m … yeah. Yeah.” It’s funny, Sam’s not even hard yet. It’s not quite like wanting sex, but it’s good. He wants to keep going. He’s back in the zone, the truffle mac and cheese carousel whatever zone. “Yeah, I do. It’s just, right now I’m not up to anything athletic.”

“That’s OK. I don’t need to be nailed in the shower to have a good time. Though I think you should give yourself a break on your nailing in a shower skills. It wasn’t the crime of the century, you know, even if you were a bit of an asshole. You were right. Death makes people horny. Life goes in for improbable conditions. I should know. I study Antarctica.”

“You’ve told me,” says Sam. “Like, ten times now.”

“It’s a relevant skill. We can lie back and think of Antarctica. Though it’s better if we put the futon flat first. Sorry. I know it’s a mood-breaker. Your back will thank me, though. I’ve never quite figured out where in the proceedings is best for the futon interruption. The putting-a-condom-on bit is a breeze compared to time-to-flatten-the-futon. That’s a reason it’s easier to go to the other guy’s place. I like my apartment, though.”

“It’s a nice place,” says Sam. He’s feeling a little dizzy, like his blood’s rushing south, but he’s still not hard, just on the carousel. He stepped on at the right moment. No one’s there, lying in wait. No hammer, no soulless guy, no Sammy.

“I’ll do it. There’s a trick. And you’ve got the arm. You can just hover. Where were we? Lie back and think of Antarctica, that’s right. I mean, in my case thinking of Antarctica gives me a hard-on. It’s terrible, especially in my line of work. I can’t have a casual conversation about ice cores. And, you know, they had this little sub to go under the ice and measure with sonar, all chubby and high tech and phallic. Total turn-on. Penguins, too, zooming about like torpedoes. Let’s not get into their sex lives. But, hey, wanna know something? This is brand new scientific fact. Adélie penguins prefer to snack on jellyfish with huge gonads. They’re gonad snackers. How’s that for Antarctic dirty talk? OK, flat futon. We are good to go.”

They lie down. Jamie’s still talking. Sam’s into doing stuff, now, cautiously, going slow, like the sea spiders. Now that they’ve got this nice flat futon. They’re … making out? Nothing athletic. How long has it been since Sam made out? College, maybe. Everything else, even Amelia, felt too urgent, too rushed. Now he’s making out. He’s earned a break, damn it. Dean still has the Mark. Sam will have to deal tomorrow. But he earned a fucking break. He told Cas he was going to get drunk. Cas can deal. Jamie’s beard tickles. How long has it been since Sam slept with a guy with a beard? Has he ever?

Jamie’s beard tickles the hollow of Sam’s throat and that’s it, this is sex now, not talking about Antarctica. Or, sex and talking about Antarctica, because Jamie’s still talking. The sound of his voice and the tickle of his beard send little shocks through Sam, not in any one place, particularly, just all over. Sam wonders if there are electric eels in Antarctica. He’ll ask Jamie, after. Not right now, though Sam hopes Jamie will keep talking.

Sam slings a leg over him. Jamie’s hard. That’s good. Sam rolls on top. He’s hard, too. He’s getting hard. How long has it been since he last had sex? Since he even jerked off? Not since Gadreel, certainly. Fuck Gadreel. This is Sam’s. He’s thousands of miles away. He’s in Antarctica. They kiss, Sam and this nice guy who hadn’t fucked up being saved, who’d gone to Antarctica.

“Are you even listening to my dramatic Antarctic anecdotes?” Jamie complains. He’s a little breathless, maybe because Sam’s on top of him, maybe because they’ve been kissing, maybe because Antarctica really does maintain his hard-on.

“Hmmm,” says Sam. He’s listening, or feeling, feeling the hum that vibrates in Jamie’s chest when he talks. “Go on.” He’s listening, diving in, brushing up against what Jamie’s saying, weird, benign mats of life, not lying in wait for him, just there. Someone who almost died, exploring, but he didn’t. Someone who almost froze, observing penguins. “Go on talking.” He presses down, feeling the hard line of Jamie’s dick, his humming chest. Jamie pushes up against him. Something about snowy petrels. Jamie breaks off when Sam bites down on his lip.

“Oh, yeah,” Jamie says. “That’s good, how about, yeah, that. You good, Sam? Is this good?”

They’re still dressed. Jamie pushes vaguely at Sam’s clothes, not getting much of anywhere. Sam starts to undo his belt, though he’s awkward, one-handed.

“It’s good,” he says, “I’m, yes. I’m good.” He gives up on the buckle for the moment and goes back to kissing. His erection is trapped against his zipper, excruciating, but good, good, good. That’s the amazing part, good. Not just not-bad, good. Like having cream in your coffee, or lying on the beach.

He’d stopped, a while back, after a lead went dead, at a café with an old-fashioned, irregular glass storefront, a ramp with small black and white tiles wedging up between windowed flanks to the entrance. There had been plants in front of the glass, doing pretty well, it looked like, despite a few authentic yellow leaves. Sam had had tea instead of coffee — his hands had taken to shaking on the wheel, it seemed like a good idea — Earl Grey, like Captain Picard, and a chocolate thing with almonds that the guy said was called a financier. He’d even gone for whole milk, instead of skim. Living dangerously, Sam. It had been, like, three weeks before he’d almost got his kneecap smashed.

It’s a pleasure Sam takes from time to time — not often — when he’s been on his own. Even just when he and Dean split up for the afternoon, following different leads. He’ll stop somewhere — maybe just Dunkin Donuts in a strip mall, maybe just ten minutes, but he’ll sit with a cup of coffee and think that no one in the world knows where he is right now. Not Dean. Not Cas. Cas put those sigils on their ribs, of course, that’s why he doesn’t know, why the other angels don’t know, but Sam sometimes fancies that the anonymity of the random Dunkin Donuts would work anyway, that it’s arbitrary ordinariness works to baffle angels.

It’s different when it’s Dean who’s missing, or gone. Even then, though, Sam sometimes gets the feeling. Once or twice even when Dean had been in hell. He’d gone to the movies. It’s a betrayal, but Sam’s never quite stopped doing it. Betrayal is one of his skins, over grey v-neck, under plaid. He’s not really comfortable taking them off, though Jamie is working on his buttons now. Sam’s wearing a t-shirt underneath, though it’s been a bitch getting them over his head with his shoulder. Sam isn’t usually comfortable with them off. But right now it’s good, truffle mac and cheese good, tea with whole milk.

The clothes get pushed off the edge of the flat-now futon, lost on the floor. Sam’s dick is out. He looks at it. It doesn’t look like his. Not like he’s someone else (blinding blue light; his hands killing Kevin — he pushes that away, he’s here, damn it, he’s now, he’s him), just, it’s weird. Sam doesn’t often think about how strange penises look. And it’s been a while since he’s, well, interacted with his dick. It’s looking up at him, all veins and wrinkly skin and mushroom head. A stupid looking life-form, blunt and hopeful and persistent, harmless, like mats of cyanobacteria, just doing their thing. You might freak out if you brushed up against it, it might not be the most elegant or eloquent, but it’s not a ghost, it’s alive. Sam brushes his hand over it, acknowledgment, almost apology. It twitches, weird-ass thing. It wants a cunt or a hand or a hole or another dick. It just wants a place where it can live its weird life, do its thing, like Antarctica.

Yeah, that’s right. Jamie’s hand is on Sam’s dick. He’s lining it up with his own dick. Another weird life-form, but it’s lucky, it’s got Jamie. He takes it to Antarctica, to visit the penguins and sea spiders and brave explorers and weird mats of cyanobacteria. Sam just takes his whole body out hunting and they kill things together, they torture demons, they get possessed, they almost get killed. That isn’t nice to his dick. No wonder it’s kind of quit on him lately.

Jamie’s pulling his hand up and down, he’s pushing his dick against Sam’s. It drags and catches — they’re doing this dry, no spit, no lube — and it’s good, good, good. Everything in Sam is gathering in his dick, eager and curious, nosing down, like the phallic sub with sonar. There’s a whole world Sam hasn’t visited in a long time. His face is close to Jamie’s. Jamie has more freckles on the left than on the right. There’s a little curl in one of his eyebrows, right at the outer edge.

Sam shuts his eyes and for a moment he swoops and falls, Cole’s hammer against his kneecap, his knife at Dean’s throat. The door crashes in. Sam goes through. Dean’s chair is empty, ropes in a tangle on the floor. Dean’s somewhere, round a corner, back home, calling for Sammy, another hammer swinging down. Wrong carousel. Sam opens his eyes. Jamie’s hand stops for a moment and starts again, dragging up and down. Not fast. Slow, slow.

There are sea spiders, giant sea spiders off the coast of Antarctica. They can grow so large because it’s all slowed down, because it’s cold. Sam isn’t cold, not here in bed with random Antarctic Jamie. He closes his eyes again, slow this time. It’s dark. It’s under the ice. But it’s above freezing. There are things down there, mats, columns, curtains, cyanobacteria held together with mucus. They’re not alien. They’re at home, just life in a strange environment. Life and Sam breathing hard and fast, joining up, even though it’s weird, this strange place where he and Jamie brushed up against each other. Jamie’s breathing hard, too. He’s not talking now, but that’s OK, they’re there. They’re in Antarctica.

Something hits Sam, nudging him in the water, a kick like a shock, jerking and peaking, lasting a second and a second and a second before it eases. It might have a hammer, but it’s not. It’s not because it didn’t break through. Sam reverberates out to the rim from the center, where he just shot a hot spatter up his chest, up Jamie’s chest, where Jamie just came, too. Sam’s stayed whole. It didn’t break through.

Somewhere in the red distance Dean is calling him — Sammy, Sammy — but Dean can’t find him. Sam’s safe in Antarctica.

Sam opens his eyes and blinks. He’s lying on the futon. He just had sex. He had sex for the first time in like, aeons, with Jamie. There’s white come all up his chest, mixed splashes, him and Jamie. It looks mushroomy, or something. Are there mushrooms in Antarctica? Jamie’s fingers move through it, curious. Of course he’s investigating. It’s his job. He does life, even this white, random smear, messy and benign.

Sam closes his eyes again and drifts. Sleep shuts him in, a warm darkness with nothing smashing through.

 

He wakes abruptly. He’s nowhere. Where? Somewhere with sun. He must have fallen asleep. He does that a lot, at his desk. But he’s not in the Bunker. There’s sun.

Dean’s nowhere to be seen. There’s a guy with red hair and freckles. A demon?

Sam’s shoulder is aching but the demon’s not very alert. Sam gets him up against the wall, bracing his good arm across the demon’s throat.

“Where’s Dean?” he asks. He’s asked so many times.

The demon looks scared. Good.

“Dude. Let go. Let me go. You’re not awake. I don’t know who Dean is. You’re at my place, in Lawrence, in Kansas. I’m Jamie. Everything’s cool. I promise, everything’s cool. Please let me go.”

“My brother. Where’s my brother?”

But the conviction is draining out of Sam. He’s not questioning a demon, is he? Dean’s back at the Bunker. Dean killed him with a hammer. He did it because Sam had drained his life, like a vamp. Sam had killed a vamp. That was when he met Jamie. That had been years ago. Yesterday Dean had killed Sam and Sam and Cas had cured Dean. It worked.

Sam lets go and sits down on the futon. There’s a futon. Jamie stays by the wall, looking freaked, rubbing his throat.

Sam’s not dead. Dean hadn’t actually killed him. Dean’s cured. Sam had driven out to McDonald’s to get him a Big Mac and fries.

Then Sam had gone off to get drunk. He hadn’t, actually, but he might as well have. He might as well have gotten wasted, passed out in the woods and let hypothermia take him and stuck Cas with dealing with Dean. Instead he’d come here. He’d come back with Jamie and they’d had sex and it had been good, it had been good, up to when Sam woke up and assaulted him.

Sam had run away. It’s his specialty. He’d just walked out and left Cas to deal with Dean and now look what’s happened. And he’d been eating mac and cheese with fucking truffle oil. The truffle oil had been Jamie’s addition. And Sam just assaulted him.

“Fuck,” he says. “Fuck, Jamie, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t … things have been, uh, kind of intense lately. I’ve had stuff going on. Not your problem. I wasn’t awake yet. I’m sorry. I’ll leave. I’ll get dressed and leave. Are you OK? Do you need a doctor?”

Jamie laughs, sort of.

“I guess it’s one way to start the day,” he says. “You didn’t hurt me. I was just startled. Not your fault. I guess it’s your work, isn’t it? You’re like a combat vet. There must be a lot of PTSD, with the vampires and demons and things. You don’t have to leave. I’ll make coffee. You’d better wake up more before you drive.”

Jamie probably watches war movies, when he’s not watching Buffy. It’s as good a story as any. Sam owes him the truth, though.

“It wasn’t work. I’m used to work. Work isn’t that bad. It’s my brother. He’s been … sick. I almost lost him.”

“That’s rough. I’m sorry you went through that. He’s doing better?”

It’s weird, hearing someone say normal, nice things about Dean being a demon, about the things Sam had done to cure him. Of course, Jamie doesn’t know.

“He’s going to be all right. I think he’s going to be all right. He’s, uh, in remission.” That seems like a reasonable way to think of it. It’s not like he has to pretend this was, like, cancer. Jamie knows there are things out there. But Sam doesn’t want to go into it, not right now. “I just, yesterday. It happened yesterday. And I walked away. I just walked out the fucking door. My friend is back there. God knows what he must think. Fuck. What the fuck am I doing here?”

“Hey, it’s OK. Trust me. I’ve been a barkeep in Antarctica. I’m practically a licensed therapist. Right when things get better, that’s when a lot of people fall apart. It’s normal, it’s how it happens. I’ve heard it’s like that if you spend the winter. Some people do, even at the South Pole. The sun comes up, finally, and it’s been night for months, nothing but the dark, and you know that it’s almost over, that you did it. That’s when you lose it. Sometimes someone goes apeshit with a hammer, though they do try to screen. I’m sure your brother will get it. You can bring him a potted plant or something. I mean, it’s not like you went apeshit with a hammer, right?”

Sam starts to laugh and can’t stop.

It’s like a crevasse opening in the ice. Sam’s dangling from the ropes, like that guy Jamie was babbling about last night, one of the heroic explorers. His sledge went over a crevasse. You can’t see them, because of the snow. The snow makes a bridge and it looks like it’s solid ground but it’s not, there’s nothing to hold you. He’d had dogs, the guy’s sledge had been pulled by dogs. There are dogs down there somewhere, smashed, like they’ve been hit by a car. Sam can’t breathe. The rope’s too tight across his chest. He can’t get back up. It’s all ice and air, there’s no leverage. The dogs died.

Sam didn’t go apeshit with a hammer. That much is true.

He imagines showing up back at the Bunker with, like, an African violet. The picture makes him laugh harder. His chest hurts, a weighty, edged pressure. It’s like a heart attack. Maybe it is one. Tears squeeze from Sam’s eyes and snot runs from his nose. Dean doesn’t want an African violet. An African violet wouldn’t make up for anything. You don’t suck someone’s life dry and then bring them a potted plant. Cas might like it, though. Cas is the potted plant type.

That’s a funny image, Cas with a potted plant. Sam tries to breathe in. There’s a barrier. Not ice. Something mundane but absolute, like plexiglass. Black spangles roil slowly across Sam’s field of vision.

Jamie is staring. He looks ridiculous, in blue pajamas with his hair mussed. He’s babbling questions. He should know Sam can’t answer. It’s like dentists. They wedge your mouth open and stick sharp-edged things you bite down on in there and they start up the drill, and then they try to make small talk.

“Are you having a panic attack.? Do you get those? Can you try breathe? Should I call 911?”

Sam shakes his head. He really, really doesn’t want to deal with EMTs. He’d better try breathing. He sucks air in, right through the barrier. It makes a bizarre creaking whistle. Sam tries for another breath. He just has to concentrate. If he’s dangling by something, that means he can pull himself up. That’s what the guy did in Jamie’s story. The dogs died, but he lived. Sam goes on breathing, awful, embarrassing rasps. The black spangles die down. Jamie’s apartment is warm. The radiator is clanking cheerfully, and there’s sun coming in through the window.

Jamie reaches out hesitantly and rests his palm on Sam’s back. This must be incredibly awkward for him. Sex is one thing, but this isn’t what Jamie signed up for. People should know better than to bring Sam home. His hand feels good there, though. Sam lets it stay for a minute before sitting up straight. The hand drops back to Jamie’s side.

“Are you feeling better? Do you want me to call someone? Friends, family? Your brother? Or not, if he’s in the hospital. Is there someone I can call?”

“No! Don’t call anyone.” The vision of Jamie digging out Sam’s phone and calling Cas, or, worse, Dean, is enough to get Sam to his feet. Jamie has no clue how much more badly dealing with Sam can go. Awkward is the least of it. “I’ll do it. I can call, uh, my friend. I should anyway. I walked out on him.” Cas must be furious.

“Maybe you should take a minute first. Uh, splash some water on your face.” Jamie looks like he’s expecting Sam to keel over, or maybe go apeshit with a hammer.

“I’m OK. I’m, uh. I really haven’t gotten much sleep lately. I’m sorry I made an exhibition of myself.”

“Why don’t you have a shower? I’ll make coffee. Do you need any help with that sling?”

A shower sounds good. It does help. Sam comes out with his hair wet and digs out his phone. It’s on. It’s still got some charge. His flight is retroactively forgivable.

He’ll call Cas. Calling Dean … no. Not yet. He’ll call Cas.

“Where are you?” Cas asks, without greeting.

“Lawrence,” says Sam. “Not all that far. I’ll be back in about three, four hours. Look, Cas, I’m sorry. It was a dick move, leaving you with the baby. And I already owed you, well, everything. I just needed some space, and then I kind of crashed. I was tired.”

There’s a moment of silence in which Cas may be deciding whether or not to feign confusion about the baby thing.

“Of course,” he says at last. “Take your time.”

He’s probably thinking that he has as much right to crash as Sam does. And he probably hadn’t gotten laid last night, or had mac and cheese with truffle oil, or six hours of sleep, or a nervous breakdown.

“How’s Dean?” Sam asks.

“He wanted to know, last night, he asked if you wanted a divorce. He was joking, of course. You’re siblings, not married. I told him you didn’t.”

There’s a note of interrogation in Cas’s voice. Sam doesn’t have an answer for it. He does have one for Dean, though.

“Tell him way too much paperwork.”

“I’ll give him the message. You should get back here as soon as possible. Remember, Dean still bears the Mark. This isn’t finished. We need to be working.”

“Yeah, I know,” says Sam, but Cas has already hung up. It’s not exactly rude when Cas does it, but it’s definite. That take your time in the middle there, sandwiched between the return-at-onces, that had been polite. Sam appreciates the gesture, even though he knows he’s not meant to take Cas up on it.

“I’ll walk you to your car,” says Jamie. He’s probably afraid Sam will put straw in his hair or something and wander out into the street.

It’s not far to the upscale pub place. It seemed like a longer walk last night. But then, Sam had been tired.

They stand awkwardly next to the Impala, still safe in the parking lot. A two-night stand six years apart is one of those difficult situations, even without all the rest. At least neither of them got decapitated.

“Thanks for everything,” Sam says. “I’m sorry about this morning. You’re a lifesaver. You and your futon saved my life.”

Not literally, of course, but having one’s actual life saved is overrated. Sam’s grateful, for the sex, for the futon, even for the breakdown. Despite the surface awkward, he’s weirdly unembarrassed. Jamie’s seen him without his soul and with snot all over his face, but it doesn’t seem terrible. Maybe the two cancel each other out. Or maybe it’s just that Jamie is going away, as far away as anyone can get. A couple of nights of Sam’s shit can’t loom so large in Antarctica. And Jamie’s kind. He won’t be out there hating Sam.

He’s watching Sam, now, a steady look. He’s a solid guy, under the talk. He looks older than he did when Sam cut his date’s head off. Well, he should. It’s been six years. He’s probably good in Antarctica. He’ll be one of the ones who can spend the winter there, whole months of dark, and not go apeshit.

You saved my life, remember,” says Jamie. “That outweighs a lot of weird. Anyway, I’ve seen weirder. Giant sea spiders, remember? Are you certain that you’re good to drive? You really want to go back this morning?”

Sam stands with his hand on the Impala’s door. There’s stuff that he can’t ever say to Cas, or to Dean. But Jamie doesn’t know. Sam can tell him and he still won’t know.

“I really don’t want to go back,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong. I’d do anything. I did do anything. I did things to get Dean back. That’s my brother.” Jamie may have gotten blood-spattered from a vamp kill, he may have gotten fucked by the soulless guy, he may know about the depravity of penguins, but he still has no concept of demons strung from trees or that poor shitstain Lester trading his soul for murder. He has no reference for the things Sam can do. “But I don’t want to go back. Or I do, just … not right now.”

Apart from anything else, the thought of the drive is unappealing.

“Hey, you could run away to Antarctica. There might be some eldritch horrors under the ice. We’d have work for you.”

That sounds pretty damn tempting. Sam could deal with eldritch horrors. Or maybe he could develop an expertise in sea spiders or lichen, and get out of the monster business.

“Thanks,” he says. “But it’s time I was heading home. Dean will be wondering what’s become of me.”

He gets in the car and closes the door. Jamie waves. Sam starts the engine and pulls away. There isn’t much traffic. In ten minutes he’s on the highway.

It occurs to him that he never did get drunk. Three and a half hours for a bender, and he’d had one fucking beer. He almost starts laughing again, but he stops in time. Better not crash the car.