Sam walks until it’s night again.
If he looked up- and he looks up sometimes, sometimes when there is nothing that he hasn’t seen before, he looks up- there’d be nothing but stars.
Stars spilled carelessly across the carpet of the sky, flickering silver jacks and cat’s eye marbles. Filling him up like a cup, brimming him over. The stars change, even when nothing else can. Case in point: he can see the lights of his motel flickering in the distance. Orange, red. Warm like a campfire. Again, again. The vacancy sign is crooked. It’s always crooked. It dangles a skinned cord and vibrates when the wind blows, glares brighter and fades in tiny surges, an artificial heart throbbing in the transformers. Currents are not constant, even if they seem that way: he can stare into light bulbs without blinking if he wants to, and heaven makes the bulbs wax and wane the way they really do, the way they did even when he wasn’t looking. Heaven is awash with the details of life, and heaven affords the time to observe them. He’s only a hundred meters out from the parking lot, or however many he wants to be. For a second he stands in the road and looks up. Cranes his neck back until the trees disappear from the edges of his vision, until there is nothing but night washed over him, nothing in his eyes but stars. The sky turns overhead so slowly they leave trails pulled out like taffy, bright shivering rows like the cut of a ship through still water. The wake. Here out in the middle of nowhere, the air smells like ozone and forest, like asphalt, a little like rain.
He goes to room twelve and stands in front of the door for a while, feeling the soft air on his face, listening to the sounds of night. The mosquitoes humming by his ear, that never land and bite anymore. These are the perks. There’s the cold sound of leaves moving through silent evening winds, stirred and crackling. Sam hears tinny laughter from old television sets, a couple arguing through thin walls. Car wheels on gravel at the edge of the lot. He never really appreciated it, back then: the orchestrated minor symphonies of life on the road. The sources of migraines, the white noise. It used to help him sleep. It vanished, once upon a time, that life. It blew away when he wasn’t looking. He stopped staying in shitty motels and chasing rugarou a long time before he stopped living. He didn’t miss it then, those good years, except once in a while when they’d send new kids out on a salt and burn and Dean would get a weird look in his eyes, like he was thinking about beating them to the punch. But time changes so many things. Sands the edges away. Produces revolutions. Sam has been so many men.
He opens the door.
"Hey," she says.
It is a photograph, a mirror reproduction, a lithograph fresh-printed from the stone. Ink wet, surface slick: if he stirred it with a fingertip it would smear. Sam stands perfectly still and watches her. She’s exactly where he remembers, lying in the middle of the bed with her knees bent and her ankles crossed, reading a magazine. It’s Guns & Ammo, but it might as well have been Tiger Beat for the picture she made. Dark-eyed pretty Ruby, her fine small hands turning pages. He’s seen those hands snapping necks and he’s watched her paint the tips with nail polish and complain about the splits. It was a thousand years ago, or forty, or a moment passed, yesterday, fifteen minutes ago. When she sees him, the thing that isn’t really his heart stops. “You get lost on the way to the vending machines?” she asks, and the silence left behind is empty, deafening. He doesn’t bother answering. He gets tired of playing fill-in-the-blank with her, he doesn’t know why. The rest of heaven softens him, soaks him in joy. The rest of heaven is, okay, it’s heaven. It doesn’t stir up these shapes. There’s nothing wrong with the memory, no cracks or blips, no knots in all its perfect cloth, no misprint in the workbook. She follows the same script just like everyone. Nothing else she can do. But she looks up at him and there’s something sad and strange where her smirk ought to be, a funny little twist to her mouth, sweetness in place of her sour. That’s what made it stick, maybe. What made his brain- his soul, his whatever- conjure this up, and play it for him once in a blue moon.
He almost never comes here anymore. Less and less and less. Someday he’ll shut this door and this memory will fade off the map forever. He’s seen it happen to other people: seen their other little heavens shuttering their windows, drifting into clouds. Moments they stopped needing, things they could let go. The scar will heal over completely and he’ll forget. Just- not yet. Not quite yet.
He used to think she loved him.
He sits down on the bed and leans over her and she rolls onto her back, bares her wrists and her throat, her eyes curious, waiting. He doesn’t remember anymore exactly what he said to her, exactly what he thought. He just remembers this: the line of her neck and her collarbone where it disappears under her shirt, the laughter in her smile. The itchy motel sheets and the silk of her skin against his lips. Heaven hasn’t forgotten that she smelled like soap and diner food, like sulfur, like cut roses. “Doesn’t matter,” she says. “You always find your way back, don’t you?”
He leans down and kisses her, and she curls her hands into his hair. This memory is a sin, he thinks sometimes. It might be. He doesn’t know. He’s not sure he cares. He just doesn’t understand how this can be here, he’s never understood it. The first time it played for him he ran from it, ran breathless down the road into the night, straight into the only time he got picked first for baseball in middle school. But when he came back she was here, still here and waiting for him. Her hands greedy and her mouth soft on his and the rest of the world dead to them for a million miles. He doesn’t know how to tell anyone about this. Dean doesn’t know. Or he might. Castiel does. They’ve never said anything. Sam hasn’t told any of the others, their ragged extended family that keeps growing. He doesn’t know what they’d say. They all brought picnics and weddings and first birthdays and retirement parties and stolen kisses on porch swings in the middle of June. Sam brought good things, he knows he did. Brought long summer drives with his brother and the first time he made Cas really laugh; his one night with Sarah and a couple of good times with his dad. He brought Christmas at forty-three and New Year’s at twenty-one and one lone mass in church after he got his soul back, a hundred lit candles and the strangest feeling of having a second chance. Hard-won. But there’s this, too. He doesn’t know where it fits, how it could be allowed. Sure, hunters bring stuff. Baggage. Sam knows that. But he’s pretty sure, he thinks, nobody else has this. Not this. Sam brought a demon to heaven.
Oh, if God knew- but maybe he does. Maybe this is wrong, a test. Or maybe this is something that wasn’t, that wasn’t as wrong as he thought, wasn’t the worst thing he ever did. Sam has read the Bible, all the holy books, the translations, the glosses, the apocrypha and addenda. But mostly for the scary bits, the angels and curses, the withering grain. Mostly for research. He forgets, sometimes, what it said about this. About love.
"You miss me?" he says, against her cheek. He’s supposed to say it. But he wishes he could really know. Maybe this was something he was supposed to understand. Something he was supposed to learn, and didn’t. Maybe now he has the time. To forgive this: her, and him. She bites the lobe of his ear and then kisses it, so tenderly. He used to believe her when she talked, when she answered. He used to think he loved her, too.
"Yeah," she says.
"Good," says Sam.