Sam expected to wake to darkness. He didn't.
The rest of his expectations—pain, cold, obvious isolation—those all came true, but once he'd double-checked and found that his eyes were, in fact, open, he realized that he could see a surface a few inches in front of them. Despite the otherworldly quality of the light, the mundane details it showed of texture and shadow proved that this was not a dream.
Neither was the smell.
A sewer. Of course it would be a sewer.
He tried to take stock of himself. There was a sludgy feeling in his limbs, under his tongue, in his head. It pressed on his lungs, and all his thoughts were submerged in it. He hurt: burning pain where something had dragged him, dull pain where his head had bounced. He was cold. Whatever had taken him had left him in jeans and a t-shirt, and he was lying in a puddle of what, if he were very, very lucky, might be water.
How long had he been out?
Slowly, Sam curled in on himself, sucked in a breath, and rolled over. Bile rose in his throat, and he had to lie still for a while. After several long, slow breaths, he managed to get enough muscles to respond to push himself up to sitting.
He was in a concrete chamber. Its size was hard to guess; most of the room was lost in shadow, and as weak as the light was, that meant very little. This place could be a city, or it could be barely more than a tomb.
Sam stumbled to his feet. His head struck concrete and he nearly pitched forward again; groping, he found that he'd awoken in a sort of alcove. A pipe let out into it, stopped with concrete. His fingers came away wet when he touched it. The source of the puddle, probably. His shoes and one sock were gone.
Something oozed from the seams in the wall, collecting in thick bubbles down the concrete. It looked like it should be wet, had to be wet, but it didn't reflect the light in the way his brain told him it should. It took long seconds for him to work out that this was because it was the source of the light. Reddish orange, streaked with brown, and glowing, it looked like nothing so much as faintly luminescent sewage. Sam grimaced and turned away.
He moistened his split lip and tried to make himself think. Jacob Dorner. They'd been looking for Jacob Dorner, missing two days. He remembered calling Dean from Dorner's apartment, empty-handed. Agreeing to meet back at the motel. Cutting through the park that lay between Dorner's gentrifying neighborhood and the one where their motel was. Stepping off the path by chance to let a kid tear by on a trick bike and seeing—seeing—
He couldn't remember. It was important, he was sure, whatever it had been, but it was gone.
Sam's pulse jumped when he ran up against the black space in his memory. He'd stepped off the path. He'd seen—something. Something important that had drawn him off the path. Then someone or something had— What? Struck him? Gassed him? Whammied him?
By the time he'd woken the first time, he'd already been in darkness. Being dragged. He remembered knowing he'd been taken, but not when, or where, or how. There'd been a grip on his ankles that had seemed to bite straight through his skin, down into bone. He searched his mind for clues from that brief window of consciousness, sounds, smells, sensations from the trip down here, but everything except that burst of sensation was lost. He'd just known that something was taking him down, taking him under, and beneath the panic, there'd been a paralyzing sense that that was right—
And the next time he'd woken, he'd been here.
Sam swallowed. There wasn't much light, but he couldn't stand here forever. He'd have to explore by touch.
He started with himself. It took scant seconds to confirm what he'd known since he first awoke: whatever had taken him had left him no weapons or tools. Knife, gun, keys, paperclips, wallet, Swiss army knife, bottle opener—all gone. Sam hissed as he probed at his back. His fingers came away tacky, and the skin across his back and sides stung as it pulled. He'd been dragged. That was probably how he'd lost his shoes and sock, but the rest of it had to have been taken deliberately. Whatever he was up against, it was capable of at least that much thought, and had enough of a plan for him to bother.
Was it in here with him?
Beyond abrasions and bruising, he seemed uninjured. One hand on the wall, he edged out into the darkness to his right. One step, two, three, four, five, six—his fingers abruptly jammed into a corner. He'd found the next wall. Brick, not concrete, and drier than the wall he'd woken up against. Sam traced horizontal lines of crumbling grout until suddenly the groove under his fingers bent upwards. He paused and then groped rapidly over the surface. The bricks were set in a ring to hold—
More bricks. His heart sank. There'd been an aperture there once, but it was long since sealed. Narraganset Bay had the oldest sewer system in the country. God only knew how many pockets there were like this, walled off as one part of the system fell out of use and was forgotten.
Still, he'd been dragged here, not teleported. If there was a way in, there had to be a way out.
None of the seventeen before him had found it, though.
Whatever. This was not the time to wallow. He turned, straining his eyes for a sense of the room, and stopped. The place he'd started was on his left, but he thought he'd seen— Yes. There. Somewhere in the blackness to his right, more light.
It was impossible to tell what it was or even how far away it was, but he couldn't control the sudden jump in his pulse at the sight of it. Which was idiotic. Whatever had brought him here would hardly leave him a lantern, never mind an open window.
Or maybe it would. Whatever was at work here, it seemed to have taken him because he'd stumbled on something trying to trace Jacob Dorner. If it had a victim profile, Sam probably didn't fit it. Maybe the culprit would have realized that once it got him back here. Maybe it would have lost interest. Maybe it had just dropped him. Maybe he'd see Dean again in a matter of hours.
The thoughts flashed through his mind before he could prevent them, stupid and quickly suppressed. He, of all people, should have grown out of hoping for luck by now.
He looked for the indistinct light again. It was still there.
Cautiously he started towards it. His movements were still clumsy with cold and stupor, but he felt his way over the floor with small steps. Was the light getting closer, already? Closer, yeah, but no brighter. The darkness was thick to move through, pressed in on his sinuses. Raspy concrete, grit, water under the pads of his feet, water and stuff too slippery to be water—
Vertigo rolled up out of the murk around him, obliterating what sense he had of up and down just as he stepped out into nothing.
He went down hard and ugly. Pain blossomed along his arms, shins, and jaw as he body-surfed what felt like a rock slope to land abruptly against a concrete edge that drove the air from his body. He bit his tongue and made no sound. Keeping silent was reflex, to keep from giving his position away to anything in here with him, but probably pointless: something had made a clatter when he'd landed. He heard rats chitter as they scattered away from his fall. Lying there in the dark, Sam tried to work out the topology involved. He'd stepped off a ledge, tumbled downward, and was lying on an angular surface with his head lower than his feet. Stairs. The floor had dropped off into sewage-slick, oversized stairs.
Stairs weren't all he was lying on. Hard knobs dug into his abdomen, and his hand had instinctively closed on something. He knew the shape. It was a femur, sticky with traces of tissue. Sam shut his eyes, unclenched his fingers, and, carefully, wiped his hand off on his jeans.
Finally he pulled himself up and, defeated by the way the world lurched around him in the dark, crawled back up the stairs like a dog. He went back to the sickly light patch where he'd started, wrapped his arms around his knees, and let his head hang between them. Further exploration would have to wait. His head was just too fucked, and who knew what other kinds of abrupt holes there might be in the floor. He was reasonably sure he was in here alone, though, so at least he'd accomplished that much. He tried again to remember what he'd seen to lead him here, what had happened after he'd stepped off the path in the park—when? Yesterday? Today? An hour ago?
The last thing he could remember clearly was jumping aside to avoid the teenager bearing down on him on her bike. But for that, he thought, he'd never have seen whatever clue he'd followed. He was here by accident, by the dumbest of dumb luck. The good news, then, was that Dean probably would not be following him.
The bad news, of course, was that Dean probably would not be following him.
Sam lifted his head and looked out into the darkness. He could hear nothing but the rats.
Screw it. If there was something in here with him, its plans didn't include immediately killing him, and it would know he was awake by now, anyway. He gave into nature and weakness.
"Dean?" he called.
His voice sounded pathetic in his own ears. It echoed back to him unanswered. Another plink from somewhere. Sam laid his cheek against his knees and shut his eyes. Then:
Sam jerked his head up. The voice was hoarse, male, unfamiliar. It had come from somewhere up on his left and had a faraway quality, as if he were hearing it down a pipe. It sounded like its owner had already tried screaming.
He heaved himself back up onto his knees. "Jacob Dorner?"
"Oh, thank God," the voice babbled. "Thank God, thank God, thank God. You gotta get me out of here, man, I am so ready to get out of here."
Sam grinned despite himself. Jacob Dorner had been missing two days when he and Dean had arrived in Providence, and he was still alive now. With two of them, their chances of finding a way out of here went up. For once, Sam wasn't too late.
"Hang on, Jacob, okay?" he called, moving unsteadily towards where he thought he'd heard the voice, one hand on the wall. "Are you hurt? Are you—"
"Shut up!" a woman's voice hissed. "Keep it down!"
Sam had only a moment to be stunned. It made sense for Jacob Dorner to be alive; he'd been missing for a matter of days. But the one before him, Lindsey Chase, had gone months before, couldn't still be—
Then something started to scream.
Canaan, Vermont, two days previously
"Disappearances. In Rhode Island. Because that ended so well last time."
"Yeah, Sammy, sign me right the hell up for more of that. Oh. Wait. Sorry, got a little turned around, there; I meant no."
"This isn't the same," Sam snapped.
Dean tossed the newspaper Sam had handed him onto the table. "Really? Because man, the opening paragraph is giving me déjà vu."
"Will you calm down? Bristol is on the other side of the bay. Providence is a big town, Dean. Odds against us running into anyone from… from that other job are astronomical."
Dean ran his hands down his face and let them drop into his lap. He stared up at Sam. "You never learn, do you?"
Sam bridled at that, but he kept his voice level. "I've learned a thing or two. Thanks for asking."
"Kind of my point, Sam!"
"Look, I get that you're worried about me scratching the—the wall, or whatever, but the last time I was in Providence was in 2007. With you. Remember?"
It was plain that remembering took Dean several seconds, but he still came back with, "That you know of."
"You're being irrational. It's a—well, all right, it's not a big state, but it is still an entire U.S. state, and we can't treat the whole thing like it's radioactive. What am I supposed to do, ignore every job in the country because I might have passed through somewhere nearby with Samuel before?"
Dean stood from the motel room table and crossed to the minifridge. "That's a thought." He came up with a beer and popped the cap with his ring. "We could go south. All the way south. The cold sucks, and there's shit to hunt in Mexico."
"You don't speak Spanish, Dean."
"Yo quiero Taco Bell."
"Oh, my God, that isn't— You know what, I'm not doing this. I don't know what your problem is, but I'm not moving to Mexico. We're in the neighborhood, and this goes back far enough that it could be our kind of thing. We should check it out. Dad would."
It was a dirty move, but other than glaring, Dean didn't comment on it. He shoved the beer back in the fridge (uncovered), snagged his keys from the table, slung his jacket over his shoulders, and slammed the door behind him. Sam listened for the sound of the Impala's engine turning over, but it didn't come. Dean couldn't go far on foot and, given how cold a spring northern Vermont was having, he probably wouldn't be long about it. Sam settled in to wait.
He knew he was going to win this. He probably already had. Not because of the force of his arguments, but because Dean had been restless with the task of dealing with Rufus's empty house since before they'd even gotten there, and because as much as he couldn't seem to find one he liked the taste of, Dean hunted compulsively, these days. Not obsessively, not rabidly, not cramming as many kills into the shortest space possible the way he had when he'd first gotten back from Hell—and certainly nothing like what Sam had been able to reconstruct of the way he himself had hunted without a soul—but constantly. Pace seemed unimportant, so long as Dean was hunting something. Sam tried not to think too hard about exactly what exactly Dean was trying to forget, and that effort had nothing to do with Dean's warnings about scratching Death's wall.
Yet here Dean was, resisting a hunt. Except, of course, that it wasn't the hunt Dean had a problem with. Sam had lost count of how many times Dean had tried to pry Sam off his side with Take it easy, you just got back or Hey, Bobby heard of this library out in Wyoming, you should go geek out for a while or Believe me when I tell you that the things you don't know could kill you. Like any of that had ever mattered before, like Sam was infirm. Perhaps just a bit like when Sam spoke, whether to say I'm fine, actually or Hey, there's a vampire nest in the next state, Dean didn't really hear him. Like Sam wasn't quite real.
And maybe those were the times when, just for a moment, Sam's world wavered.
But Dean needed to be hunting, and Sam refused to stop hunting, so, seeming almost baffled, and maybe faintly pissed, Dean carried on hunting with Sam. Sam knew the unspoken threat making Dean bend: that if Dean didn't, Sam would simply hunt alone. Sam told himself that this was all in Dean's head.
They were not hunting now, though. They were outside Canaan, Vermont, because Bobby would not come. They'd buried Rufus, but there was still his material ghost to put to rest. When hunters died, it was better not to leave their homes to fall into the hands of unsuspecting civilians. There was no telling what sort of artifacts or sensitive information might be in there, and anyway, hunters tended to booby trap their places. Sam and Dean knew that. Bobby knew that. But no matter what updates they'd left on Bobby's answering machine, he'd stayed where he was: in Sioux Falls, buried in books and bad whiskey. Grief had strange effects on people, sometimes.
Secretly, guiltily, Sam was glad. He had liked Rufus. Rufus had always shown a fundamental indifference to Sam and Dean that Sam had found comforting. Getting to see the material traces of his life, had been… nice. Sam had always known that Rufus was a good hunter and had suspected he'd been a truly great researcher, but the same personal indifference Sam had liked about the man had meant he couldn't simply invite himself into Rufus's library the way he did Bobby's. No quantity of Johnnie Walker Blue, it had been clear, would have been payment enough for that. Turned out, there was good stuff in there. Very good. Sam was looking forward to getting to read it.
If he could ever take the time out to do it without Dean ditching him. For the most solicitous of reasons, of course.
Sam emptied his half of the drawers into his duffel and then, shrugging, did Dean's. The alarm clock between the beds (concave in the middle, upholstered in a fetching green and purple houndstooth) read 9:49. After 11:00, they'd have to pay for another night, so he probably hadn't long to wait.
Sure enough, the tide of checkout brought Dean back at around twenty past ten, scowling and carrying a paper sack of road supplies. Sam had already put up the laptop and tipped out the maid.
Dean dumped the sack on the table, went to the fridge, withdrew the beer, took a swig, and made a face. He then crossed to the bathroom and dumped the flat beer into the toilet. Sam waited patiently for the sound of the bottle hitting the bottom of the trash can.
The sight of their duffels, sitting tidily beside the table, brought Dean up short. He paused, took stock of the room, narrowed his eyes, and finally looked at Sam. Sam stared back. Dean's mouth twisted in an emotion Sam would have been hard pressed to identify.
"Fine, where is this fucking hunt, exactly?"
Sam told him in the car. Dean had always preferred to hear things he didn't like while he was moving.