The bleak dawn fractured, pieces falling around him.
Sam glanced down at himself but realized it was too dark to see anything. What he couldn’t see was made up by what he could hear; the crunch of pine needles underfoot, a steady drizzle falling through the trees, crows cawing a dangerous song.
He patted his face, relieved at first that the claw had only gone across his temple and cheek, ending halfway through his lip, but avoiding his eye. The relief quickly gave way to nausea, his skin prickling at the idea of sliced flesh. It wasn’t unfamiliar, but it’d never stop being uncomfortable, the way humans could tear so easily.
Being one of them, sometimes it felt like all you could do was tear.
He patted his arms and legs once more, breathing in air that seemed to pierce his throat. He seemed whole, or whole enough to make it back to the car, but before he took off, he bent down. Seeing the dead werewolf on the damp forest floor made unease bloom in his gut.
Thanksgiving a year or two ago would have been a store-bought rotisserie chicken, Kraft mac and cheese, ginger ale and beer, stupid stories told again and again, a movie if John had enough cash on him.
Thanksgiving now was stumbling steps through some foreign wood, a cold that seemed to make a home in Sam’s bones, blood seeping down into his collar, numb fingers and flashing red lights in the back of his head.
By the time he’d made it back to the car, it was still dark, but he could feel the sunrise coming soon, the birds getting louder and remaining thunder rumbling through the earth.
He’d spent the whole summer before he went into Stanford working three separate jobs, trying to save up for the coming school year. It’d gotten him enough that he’d been able to tuck away money for all the things his scholarship wouldn’t cover, and he took a little out of savings to get a rental car for the weekend.
Now the car sticky with blood and dirt and pine needles, all of it excessive, some of it seemingly without a source.
In the passenger seat sat a backpack that carried the only things he’d brought with him. Cash, his phone, a spare change of clothes, and his hunting knife. He was hilariously unprepared, but he wasn’t dead, and all those years of reluctant hunting had to count for something.
Sam’s hands shook as he tried to get the keys in the ignition, his body trembled along with the quiet movement of the engine. Everything felt jarred as if he’d been punched across the jaw and given no time to recover. He wasn’t really sure where he was going, but back to Stanford wasn’t an option, at least not until Thanksgiving break was over. That was four days away.
He pulled back onto the road, turning on the heat to fight the cold that was locking up his limbs. His driving was terrible at best, the car veering between lanes, but it was early on Thanksgiving, so the roads were empty enough that he could excuse his behavior. Every few seconds he had to wipe the blood away from his eye, the gash going down his face still trickling.
The heat was doing nothing to calm the numbness he was starting to feel.
When the sun started to peak through the treeline, he pulled into a gas station. As he got out his knees buckled, everything blurrier than it should have been. He leaned on the car for a second then inhaled, trying to calm the nerves he felt were ripping through him.
“Hey man, is there something on your shirt?” Someone’s voice called from his left. A man was filling his tank, dark eyebrows that seemed to melt into his eyes locked on Sam.
Sam looked down, then back up, tugging his jacket tighter around him. He offered a vague nod and hobbled to the bathroom through the freezing November air. As soon as he was in he turned the lock, skull pressed against the door hard enough to dent.
Slim fingers picked at dark buttons, everything congealed in blood. He hadn’t seen this before, he hadn’t felt this before, but now it made sense, how his body shook and ran cold.
A gash cut underneath his rib going all the way down to his hip, blood pooling at the hem of his jeans. His fingers fumbled for his phone, desperation and blood loss making him clumsy.
He flipped his phone open and backed up to a wall, sinking to the ground in an uncontrolled descent. Out of all the contacts in his phone, there was only one he didn’t need to look at to dial.
He knew Dean’s number from memory.
The tile had been seafoam green when he walked in, now it was red. Panic rose in him like steady waves, crashing against jagged rocks in some unforgettable sea. He punched the buttons on his phone and held it up to his ear, trying to breathe, trying to stop breathing, trying to get a grip.
The line rang, then Dean picked up.
“Sam? The fuck? It’s five in the morning.” Dean’s greeting was followed by a laugh Sam could only describe as crooked. “You never fucking call, man. Figures when you do it’s at the asscrack of dawn.”
“Dean.” His voice crackled, a dying fire in his throat.
Dean must have caught on.
“Sam?” It was concern, but it felt like repulsion. “Are you in trouble?”
“I had-” Sam coughed, tried to press harder on his ribs, almost numb to the brittle pain. “I had this idea that if I went hunting I wouldn’t be so homesick. By the time I remembered how much I hated it, it was too late.”
“Sam, I’m coming, ok, whatever the fuck you did, we can fix it. We fix everything, right?” Dean sounded hurried, his voice laced with the distant rumble of a car engine, something reminiscent of decades before.
Sam wanted to say something, but he was afraid he would start crying. All he could muster was a weak, “Yeah. Ok.”
“Just stay put.”
“I won’t go anywhere.” Sam breathed, eyes fixed on the sun rising through the dirty square of a window.
Things were slippery. Time went on in a circle. Had he been in the woods hours, or seconds ago? What if it had been months?
No one ever knocked at the door.
Sam woke up, skin clammy and fingers locked around his phone. When he tried to move, a sob threatened to rip through him, but he pressed his chin to his shoulder and bit his jacket, muffling whatever came out. After a few minutes, when he finally had the courage to budge, the first thing he did was turn on his phone and check the call history.
It was blank.