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Long I Stood

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"Dean, don't do this," Sam grits out, and closes his eyes when his older brother cuts the call with a quiet, "Bye, Sam."

He's outside, pacing across the motel parking lot, when he listens to Dean's sleep-rich dismissal. Sam is in Oklahoma and Dean is hours away in a different motel in Kansas, and he's done with Sam, wants them to pick separate hemispheres.

Even back at Stanford, when classes were bad and Sam felt like he was nothing more than an increasingly complicated set of lies, he'd been able to comfort himself with the idea that there was a place he could return to, a place where he was known. He knew he couldn't go back, but the possibility of escape helped him breathe sometimes when the weight bore down on his chest and he wondered why he left.

Now, that's all gone.

His body aches with the bruises Tim and Reggie inflicted, and he still flinches at shadows and dreams of hands forcing him down into the dark when he manages to fall asleep. They're the better of two options, though: if he's not dreaming of blood, he dreams of Lucifer.

He spat the blood right back out when they held him down and emptied it into his mouth, but that doesn't mean it wasn't the hardest thing he's ever done.

Dreams make it all worse. Some nights, he dreams of draining demons and wakes up shaky and starved. Tonight, he can't even sleep. He's too wired. If he tries to close his eyes, he knows at least two things will keep him from rest: the cravings wringing at his insides, never-ceasing, and Jessica's gentle words: “I was dead from the moment we said hello.”

Midnight is long gone, and the stars on the horizon are growing faint with impending daylight.

He needs to run, needs to make some part of himself ache more than the need for blood.

Sam takes a deep breath and starts off without stretching. The sky right above his head is still inky-dark and pocked with pinpoint stars. He'll run until the sun rises, maybe longer. As long as it takes to make him so tired he can't stand. He needs to plummet into blackout, dreamless rest, and alcohol just makes him feel worse. (The burn of it, the aftertaste; too reminiscent of what he really wants.)

So he runs. He can't see Lindsey again, not now that she knows what he is. He'll leave soon. This will be the last night, and he'll drive when he's slept enough to trust himself behind the wheel of a vehicle.

The last thing he remembers before feeling the earth drop out from beneath his feet is a rustle of wings and ice-cold fingers on his neck.

Air leaves the world and floods back in stale and saturated with rot. He wakes on the damp ground at the side of the road, on his back, shirt wet with dew.

Immediately, he knows something is wrong. Even in a town this small, there should be hints of civilization. Cars on the highway. The buzz of electric lights. Neon light from the window of the liquor store.

He rockets upright, blinking into the pastel-pink and blue haze of sunrise, and his stomach sinks.

The streetlights are mostly broken. The liquor store lies empty and abandoned, door ripped from its hinges. There's no artificial light anywhere, no hum of machinery. No vehicles. No planes overhead or trails to indicate their passing.

Nothing.

A shudder works its way down his spine. Sam gets to his feet, muscles still burning and breath still quick, like he never stopped running while the world accrued years of neglect.

Now isn't the time to stop, either. He picks up a steady pace and runs in the middle of the two-lane highway, looking for anything that will tell him what happened.

A quarter mile down the road, he sees his first car. It's an old thing, halfway over the curb just out of the only gas station inside city limits. The passenger-side of the car's front windshield is spiderwebbed with fine cracks. Sam crosses the street (no cars) until he's in front of it, and his blood runs cold.

There are some newspapers in the back seat along with water jugs and several cans of gasoline. Thick, dark blood pools in the passenger seat, old enough that it's crusty and brown in places, but new and thick enough that it's still gummy on the seat. The owners haven't been dead long. The keys are on the floor, discolored with blood. Whatever got these people, it struck fast. Instantly, Sam knows he needs to leave, but his eyes follow a glint of light to a flower barrette in the passenger-side footwell.

“What happened?” he whispers.

At that moment, the front door of the gas station crashes open, sending the string of bells rattling against the streaked glass. Four people step out, cocking their heads at him, eyes alight with malice and madness. One of them is a young girl, maybe eleven, a flower barrette glittering on only one side of her head.

Sam dives into the driver's seat and pulls the door closed, but as soon as the people (demons?) notice him, they start running.

It's an old car. All manual locks, all unlocked. He slams the driver's side lock down immediately and lunges across the seat to get to the ones closest to whatever these things are that left the puddle of blood oozing into the seat of his jeans.

He barely locks the passenger door before hands are tugging at it and then beating at the weak glass of the windshield. All locked except―

The door right behind him opens, and Sam swears as hands grab at him, scrabbling for his neck. He swings forward, snatches up the keys, and jams them into the ignition. Please please please let it start.

The engine sputters to life and he floors the accelerator just as the little girl piles into the backseat. She tumbles out as he crashes over the curb and swerves into the highway, but the other is still there.

Sam doesn't have a gun, doesn't have much of anything. He's leaning forward out of his assailant's reach when he remembers the knife strapped to his ankle. He tugs it out, slashes at reaching hands, and swerves into a wild 360-degree turn, reaching back to push at the man in the backseat until he tumbles out onto the asphalt. Sam floors it again down the highway, letting the wind resistance close the door.

His tank is mostly full, looks like, and he can fill it along the way when he finds a wide-open stretch of road―any place where nothing can pop out and surprise him. He clears his mind and sets to work.

The radio is out, only static on all stations. While he drives, he feels under the seats and probes the glove compartment:

License and registration, must-haves for the end of the world.

Two granola bars that won't expire until May 2015. (Where―or more accurately, when―is he, exactly?)

A map book, well-worn.

Nothing of value. Nothing to tell him what happened. His jeans and the back of his shirt soak in the blood of the car's previous owner.

It doesn't take long, though, before he hurtles past a billboard spray-painted with a single word:

Croatoan.

Almost at that moment, he feels a presence and looks over to see Zachariah in the passenger seat. He scowls but says nothing.

“What, no dramatic accusations? I'm disappointed, Sam.”

He keeps driving.

“Well, I'm all out of ominous speeches, anyway. Your brother already ran this particular gauntlet; I don't see why I couldn't try for the complete set. This is the world you create. Hopeless. Ruined. But it's inevitable, Sam, unless you talk some sense into your brother and both play your parts like you're meant to. He might listen to you. If not, stock up on toilet paper, because this is the life you have to look forward to. This is going to be the destruction you bring about. Incidentally, this car? Belonged to a widowed single father and his daughter Ruth. You met her. They were heading to one of the camps of survivors up north when they stopped for gas. Daddy got killed and Ruth got turned; they have you to thank for that.”

He's gone before Sam can say anything.

He tries to swerve around anyone he sees in the road. There's no way to tell whether they're infected or not from a glance.

Zachariah said there were camps.

Sam reaches out for the map book and flips through it, finding a page with a big circle on it. A scrap of paper flutters down into his footwell, and he snatches it up.

“CAMP CHITAQUA,” it reads, in the same red ink used to mark the map.

He keeps going north. He can make it by nightfall if he floors it all the way there.

 

-oOo-

 

They run into him before he runs into them.

When it happens, it's pitch-black outside and he's barely aware. He didn't sleep at all last night thanks to Dean's call and his early A.M. run, and the stress of the day combined with the crippling blood cravings have left him hazy and disconnected. Only one of his headlights seems to be working, and the night is impenetrably dark out there with no electric light.

He nearly runs into a Jeep blocking the road to the camp, barely managing to swerve and squeal to a stop before he hits it. (He's only three miles from the camp, damn it. He just wants to sleep.)

They're on him immediately, two of them pointing guns from a safe distance as a third walks up with a handgun and motions for him to roll down his window.

He does―just a crack. “I'm... I'm looking for help. I found your address.”

“Well, we'll see about that. Get out of the car.”

“I...” Sam sighs and gets out, nearly falling on his ass. He's exhausted and dizzy with hunger, but he manages to stay upright and keep his hands raised in surrender.

The men, dressed in grungy casual clothes with tactical vests and semi-automatics, draw in a breath and swing their guns so the muzzles are pointing at his chest the moment he gets out.

“He's infected!” one of them yells, and it almost takes Sam too long to process it.

His clothes are tacky with the blood of the car's previous owner.

“I stole it!” He says. “There was blood on the seat when I found it. Take a look. I'm just... I'm tired. Shoot me or let me sleep.”

One of the soldiers shines a light into the seat. “Doesn't mean anything. You wanna come in, we'll try it, but you're coming in cuffed. We're short on able bodies. That's the only reason you don't have a bullet in your skull. One wrong move and you're gone.”

“I get it. Yeah. I'll do whatever you need.”

“Over the hood, hands behind your head.”

Sam complies.

While they snap cuffs around his wrists, he drifts. It's been a long day.

They lead him to the Jeep and push him in. Two sit in the back with guns still pointed at him while the third drives.

“Gas and water in the backseat of the car. Might be worth it to keep it,” Sam says.

“Don't you worry about that. We'll send someone to pick it up.”

Once they're finally inside the gate, the Jeep rumbles to a gradual stop and the men get out and instruct him on how they want him to get down. While Sam is trying to jump down without falling flat on his face (it really would've been easier if he were operating on rest and food), one of the men perks up.

“Heya, Boss!” he calls. “Good timing. Caught us a live one. Gonna lock him up, make sure he's not infected. Figured you'd want to talk to him first.”

“Yeah. We could do with more men after what happened to Gunther and Terry,” comes a familiar, whiskey-worn voice. “Lead 'im in.”

At the sound of that too-familiar drawl, Sam jumps down onto the ground, startling one of the men into squeezing off a wide shot that harmlessly pings off the Jeep's metal framing. He doesn't care. “Dean,” he says. “Dean, is that you?”

Dean―because he's sure it is Dean―strides around the truck and grabs Sam by his collar.

“Careful, boss!”

“We don't know if he's―“

Dean grabs Sam by the neck and backs him up until he slams into the passenger door of a rusted-out pickup truck, hard enough that Sam's cuffed arms wrench and his teeth slam shut on his tongue. His mouth fills with blood (wrong kind; it lacks the tang his body craves), as Dean's hand tightens around his throat. His other hand deftly draws a pistol and aims it at Sam's head.

“Been lookin' for you, you bastard. Never thought you'd show your face around here.” In the dim light, his eyes are madness-bright, stance spring-loaded and lethal. If Sam so much as twitches the wrong way, he knows he'll die.

“Dean?” Sam whispers, and tries to make sense of it. Maybe they're―? “Christo,” he breathes, and gets no response.

Dean scoffs. “That's funny comin' out of your mouth,” he says.

“I don't get it. What's going on? Dean. I just....”

Dean seems to come to the realization about the same time Sam does. It's hard to see in the very few dim lights around the perimeter of the camp, but Dean doesn't look right. He looks older and more worn, and he bears two thin scars on his cheek that Sam hasn't ever seen.

“You're not Dean,” Sam says. “Not my Dean.”

And Dean says, “Sam?” Not soft, but softer, confused and angry in equal measure.

The split-second of vulnerability passes, and Dean spins Sam around, shoves the gun against his back just once to get his message across, and steps back so Sam won't be able to reach the weapon. “Walk. I'll tell you when to stop, and then we're gonna talk.”

They get to a small cabin, and Dean makes Sam wait in the shadows outside, stepping in to tell a single occupant, a steel-gray-haired old man, to clear out. As soon as the man leaves, Dean pulls Sam in, locks his cuffs to a ring on the floor, and closes him into one of three cells before he steps back and begins pacing.

“You can't let anyone else see you,” Dean growls. “Too many questions to answer. What the fuck is going on?” He finally settles on a small cot across the single-room cabin. Sam can only guess that the old man was sleeping here.

Sam shakes his head. “Zachariah―”

Dean stiffens. “The angel?”

“Do we know another?”

Dean crowds up against the cell. “Where is he? Let me see him. I need to talk to him.”

“He's gone. He threw me into this―reality? Scenario?―and then left. I guess he's trying to teach me some sort of lesson. Why do you want to see him, of all people?”

Sam listens while Dean explains and answers when Dean asks questions. By the end, Sam knows they're living in a 2014 overrun by Croatoans and abandoned by angels. Dean knows Sam is visiting from 2009.

Dean goes silent. “So you're not gonna become a Croat outta nowhere.”

Sam nods. “Can't be infected, remember?”

He locks up at that. “I remember.”

Sam repositions himself to get a little more slack to stretch his cramping shoulders. “About what you said outside... Obviously I wasn't ever here in this camp, since no one so far recognizes my face. Am I...”

Dean flinches.

“Dean, am I... dead?”

His reaction would make more sense if Dean thought Sam's corpse was demon-possessed or something.

The tentative trust disappears like it was never there. Dean gets to his feet and strides to the door.

Sam doesn't have time to ask for food or water, even though he knows he needs both. What he wouldn't give for those two granola bars right now. He hears at least two locks click shut when Dean leaves, and he hears him instructing the gray-haired man not to enter or allow anyone else to enter until Dean comes back.

Sam's shoulders are locked-up and cramping in the cold and in the narrow space, but it takes less than a few minutes for him to plunge into dreamless rest on the hard floor.

 

-oOo-

 

The sound of the door opening tugs him out of a sound slumber just after dawn.

“Dean,” he mutters, opening his eyes in the dim light, and instead of the predatory pacing and the suspicious gaze, he gets a set of dazed blue eyes as his guest saunters into the room, looking over but not at him as he scans the room.

“Hey, Fearless Leader! Rumor says you might be in here, so I waited until the old man left for breakfast. You get that strawberry lube the girls wanted on yesterday's supply run? Darla's got some frankly titillating ideas, and a man has his ne―”

The intruder cuts off mid-sentence and gapes. “Sam. Sam Winchester.”

Sam blinks blurry eyes and peers forward. Loose blue button-up shirt and jeans that have seen better days. Dark stubble. Dark hair. Familiar eyes.

He knows the face―of course he does―but he still has trouble putting a name to it.

“Jimmy?” he ventures. The man in front of him has very little on common with the other being who wears this face. Not that Jimmy does, either, but it's a start.

“Try again.”

“...Castiel?” Sam says it slowly, expecting another no.

“The one and only. You, however, certainly aren't now-Sam. I mean... for obvious reasons. I can tell that much. Where―” a pause. “When did you come from?”

“About five years ago, I guess.”

“Lucky you.” He walks up to the locked cell and folds effortlessly into the lotus position on the floor. “You wouldn't happen to have strawberry lube on you...?”

“No. Sorry.”

“So... what brings you to this rancid rathole?”

“Dean and I were... uh. We were sorta taking a break from each other, and...” Sam shrugs. “Zachariah found me, decided to try his tricks again. Tossed me here. Can you tell me how all this―” he gestures vaguely “―happened? Dean didn't have time to explain too much.”

Castiel's lips twist into a sad smile. “Never does anymore, these days.” He stretches. Envious, Sam watches him crick his neck and pop his back. “Angels left and I got stuck here and just... lost all my power. Poof, like I never had it. I can't do anything more than sense some scattered energies. Lot of people are dead. Lucifer's running the show with no one to stop him. Demons and Croats everywhere. The world has pretty much gone to Hell without the relative safety of a handbasket. We're fucked, basically. I mean.” He forces out a tired laugh. “Not much to do but indulge in life's pleasures and wait for the end.”

“We can fix this. I'll do what I can to help, I promise.”

Castiel's wry expression softens. “Never change, Sam Winchester.”

Sam wriggles in his bonds, not sure what to say to that. “You've changed,” he offers. “Quite a bit.”

“Most people've had to. Dean, too, I'm sure you've noticed. Things have been hard.” Cas sighs. “Anyway. I'm glad you have some hope left. We're in short supply here.” He tips to one side, digs in his pockets. “Weed?” he offers, pulling out a joint and lighting it. In seconds, Sam smells the pungent odor of the smoke.

“Nah, thanks. Not my thing, really. Don't have hands to hold it with, anyway.” He wriggles his cuffed wrists.

“Ah! That, I can help you with.”

Cas gets to his feet and retrieves a small ring of keys from over the cabin door beside the cot, then spins around and makes quick work of both Sam's cuffs and the cell door. “Come on out.”

The first thing Sam wants to do is stretch out the aches from his body, but he steps outside of the cell first, just in case Cas thinks better of letting him out. Moments after he's out, Sam hears the rumble of an engine.

“Oh! Shit,” Cas says.

“Huh?”

“Thought I'd find Dean here, but it looks like they planned another supply run this morning. We're running out of a lot of stuff. That... is probably him, getting back, and I sort of get the feeling that he maybe didn't want me to see you. Or, ya know. Free you.”

For just a moment, Sam thinks about Dean's words.

Then he strides to the door and steps out, Cas following close behind.

Outside, a handful of people are making their way in the same direction. They lead him to a Jeep, where Dean and a younger man with short-cropped light hair have just stepped out on opposite sides of the vehicle, about to share a beer.

Sam can tell that the past five years have made Dean's rough edges rougher, but a lot of things haven't changed at all. He still broadcasts his moves to anyone who knows how to read him.

Sam can tell immediately that he's going to shoot his partner.

“Dean, no!” he barrels through the sparse crowd, his unexpected cry earning him the few moments he needs.

Sam throws himself in front of the man who was a bare second away from a hole in the head, spreading out his arms. “What the hell, Dean?”

The gun doesn't waver. “Thought I locked you down pretty well.”

Somewhere in the back, Castiel clears his throat self-consciously. Dean shoots a baleful glare in his direction and then turns back to Sam, ice-cold. “We're not going to talk about this, Sam. Get out of the way.”

The guy behind Sam seems stuck between remaining right where he is and bolting, and Sam knows Dean sees it, too. “Don't try to run,” he tells the young man, not taking his eyes off of Dean. “Or he's gonna shoot, and he won't miss.”

Dean scoffs.

“I'm not moving until you explain to me why you were about to shoot one of your people.”

Am about to shoot.”

Whispers from the gathered crowd increase in volume, people glancing back and forth between Sam and Dean. Sam will wager that there might be people who would recognize him here. He shouldn't have done this, he knows. They might execute him, now.

“He's infected,” Dean says, and the whispers die for a moment and then burst forth again, more frantic.

“How do you know? Did you see it?”

“I saw enough! We separated to do some recon. He's been jumpy ever since he came back. He's gonna change soon, could kill all of us. You want to risk that? You want their deaths on your head?”

Sam remembers Zachariah's words and swallows against the rush of fear and shame. Is this all on his head?

He remains quiet for a little bit too long, and Dean's expression softens, a little more like the Dean Sam used to know. “Please, Sam. Just move.”

The man behind Sam speaks up, “Dean, I'm not, I swear I'm not infected. Didn't see even a single Croat anywhere near me. Please―”

Dean shakes his head. “That's what a Croat would say. You remember, Sammy?” His eyes are cruel. “Right up until they try to kill you.”

The man's voice rises an octave with panic and fear. “Please don't do this, I swear, I swear to God―

“Move, Sam.” Dean readjusts his aim, brings up his left hand to cup the underside of his gun for stability.

“I can't.”

The gathered crowd seems lost. Many of them seem to want to support Dean, but just as many look moved by the boy's pleas.

Whatever softness was in Dean's eyes vanishes. “Fine. You know what? You get the pleasure of locking him down, and when he turns, you're gonna get to look him in the eyes while you shoot him. Harrison, Risa―make sure Sam locks Conner here down tight, and give him a gun. Just two rounds. Then you lock the cabin from the outside and come back. I have business with you.”

The woman named Risa, tall with dark hair and bronze skin, empties all but two rounds from the pistol at her side and drops the remaining rounds into her pocket. “Come on.” Glancing at Dean, she mutters, barely audible, “I have business with you, too, you cheating bastard.”

Harrison turns out to be the old man with the stringy silver hair who was watching the prison cabin last night. Harrison cuffs the young man―Conner―with a gruff apology, and leads them back to the cabin. As soon as they've started off, Sam hears an explosion of quiet conversation. Someone mutters, “Dean, was that―that was... Sam. It was Sam, wasn't it? That shouldn't be―not after―“

And then Dean's voice. “We'll talk about it later.” A pause. “Cas, what do you think you were doing, letting him out?”

Finally, Cas, when Sam is far enough away that he only catches a few words, “...needed a little―Dean, Sam is―”

After that, they're too far away to hear much of anything.

Harrison quietly locks Conner to the floor, and all the while he's babbling apologies and denials. “I didn't―Harry, I swear I didn't. Risa, you believe me, right?”

They're both quiet for a long time. At last, Harrison says, “I want to. I ain't stocked our armory to kill our own. But we're gonna find out soon enough, aren't we?”

Risa speaks up just before they leave. “Look, let me get some blood. I'll take it to Laura, see what she can tell us.”

Conner nods, enthusiastic to prove his innocence, and barely flinches when Risa flicks open a switchblade and makes a shallow cut in the meat of his palm. She holds up the blood-wet blade. “All good. Sit tight.”

She hands Sam the gun before stalking past him to the door, but both she and Harrison turn around before they close it, taking one long look at Conner before closing the door and padlocking it from the outside.

Sam sits on the floor outside Conner's locked cell. “Sorry about that. I spent last night the same way. Not fun.”

Conner glares at him. “You're new here.”

“Drove up from Oklahoma yesterday.”

“Your name's Sam?”

He nods, slowly, looking in Conner's eyes for recognition.

Conner continues, “Dean used to know a Sam, I hear. Heard the name a few times. Sounded... I dunno, maybe angry when he talked about him. That you?”

“I'm not sure. Maybe?”

Silence lapses between them.

“I didn't get infected, you know. Didn't even see a Croat except this one locked in a kennel like across the street. No idea how that happened.” He laughs, raw and quiet. “Listen, I, uh... I know we gotta stay sharp out there, but I got a little something from Cas. He does it all the time, don't see why I couldn't. Just a couple of little pills to take the edge off of things. Once I had something goin' with Laura, and now she goes to his orgies a lot―“

“His orgies?”

“You don't think he'd... you know, try to make me a Croat because of that? He doesn't seem the type but we all gotta watch out for number one.”

“Cas? No way,” Sam says. Not unless Cas has become completely unrecognizable in the past five years.

“I mean, I figured not. He's a nice enough guy. Strung out and kinda weird, yeah, but...” He draws in a shallow breath, shakes his head.

“It's okay to freak out. I got attacked by one of 'em once. Cut me open and bled on me.”

Conner scoots away from him across the floor, as far as the chains hooked to the ring in the floor will allow.

“I was fine. Didn't take,” Sam says, and leaves it at that.

“That's impossible.”

“Hey, I thought so, too. I was this close to just...” he feebly mimes pressing a gun to his head and tries a quiet laugh to soften the implication. “But it just never happened.”

“You're one lucky son of a bitch,” Conner says. “Lucky for me, too, looks like. I only took half a fucking pill. I don't want to die for a half-assed high.”

Sam laughs and leans against the bars, turning his back to Conner. “Yeah,” he says, and thinks of real highs, fire and strength in his veins, the feeling of peace like an electric current bringing life to every part of his body. He presses his head against the bars and knots his hands together to keep him from shaking. “Take it from a recovering junkie, Conner. Doing that stuff has a high price.”

“Tell me about it! I was five seconds from having one too many holes in my skull.” Conner rocks back and forth for a second, trying to stretch his shoulders. “So, what were you on, if you're okay with talking about it? I mean, there's not much else I can do right now but talk.”

Sam doesn't dare to turn around. “It was, uh...”

“Hard stuff?” Conner ventures.

“Really hard stuff, yeah. It was...” What the hell? Can't get much worse. “It was a supernatural stimulant. I thought I needed it to help people.”

“Help people?” He expects mockery and anger. What he hears from Conner is confusion, and that, more than anything, gives him the courage to go on.

“Yeah. You see, I guess I'm―I was a bit... psychic? I had these sorts of dreams, and after a while I got so I could exorcise demons without hurting the hosts. I was scared shitless and just... lost.” He shrugs. “And it felt so good to―to do something good for people. To not just kill them. And this stuff was like motor oil, made everything run smoothly. But I got addicted, did some things I didn't really mean to do.”

“But you're clean?”

“I am.” Until Tim and Reggie.

Conner remains quiet for almost too long, but then he perks up. “Y'know, we could totally use a psychic. Lotta times, there are demons out there, and there isn't much we can do but blare exorcisms, and it doesn't always work. Crappy speakers.” He snorts. “Anyway, you'd be an awesome addition.”

It's Sam's turn to laugh, but the sound forces itself from his throat without mirth. “I don't... I'm pretty sure Dean wouldn't be a fan.”

“He's a good guy, but... he's pretty intense when he's set his mind to thinking something. Might be why he's such a good leader, but sometimes... well, you saw what happened today.”

Sam just nods, not sure what to say. “So... you feeling like a bloodthirsty zombie yet?”

Conner chuckles. “Not yet. I'll let you know.”

Hours pass with the two of them locked in the cabin. Conner doesn't turn as far as Sam can tell. Risa drops by with two plates, both mostly filled with cold canned beans. In one corner is what looks to be a few canned green beans. A chunk of bread clearly torn from a larger loaf tops it all off.

Sam remembers, suddenly, how hungry he is, and takes the plate and the spoon that comes with it, digging into the cold, gummy offerings like they're gourmet. They taste fantastic.

He finds both Risa and Conner staring at him, and he flushes. “Hungry,” he explains, thumbing a speck of food from the corner of his lips. “It's been a while.”

Conner grabs his bread, but pushes the canned glop at Sam. “Yours if you want it. I'm about to spit fire at the next person who tries to feed me beans.”

Sam gladly takes Conner's plate and polishes it off, feeling comfortably full when he's done. The physical fullness dampens the other cravings just a bit and brings with it the exhaustion that last night's rest didn't quite shake.

Risa is still standing there when he and Conner finish. “Laura looked at the blood I took. No signs of sulfur, and by Dean's timeline, there should've been at that point. We'll keep you here until after tonight's meeting, just to be safe, but... it looks like you're in the clear.”

“Meeting?” Sam asks.

“He's being a little hush-hush about it. Something big, probably Lucifer-related. He's got a hard-on for killing that guy.” She scowls at her own phrasing. “And for Jane, apparently. Gimme my gun back,” she says to Sam. “Just in case.”

Lucifer. Sam shudders, remember's Jessica's hands on him and her light, mocking words, the way she'd morphed into his worst nightmare.

“My gun?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Sam offers it up and she deftly replaces it in the holster at her waist. He yawns, then.

“We'll come here afterward to let you and Conner out,” she says, taking up the dishes.

Sated and safe, Sam is asleep almost before she secures the padlock on the cabin door again.

 

-oOo-

 

He wakes to persistent nudges on his head and and a shrill, “Holy hell, you didn't tell us you were from 2009!”

Sam blinks muzzy eyes up at the intruder (Risa) for several moments while her words register, but he bolts upright when they do. There should only be a couple other people who know about that. Who might have told? “Dean?” he asks. Or maybe Cas. This new Cas seems more than capable of it.

“Yeah, Cas brought you up in the meeting. I guess he knew you? Dean had to spill. He said he's got his hands on the Colt, and he thinks it's a good idea to storm in and kill Lucifer, who's...uh, apparently wearing your face.”

Ice floods through Sam's veins as he remembers Zachariah's words. This is the world you create. “I say yes?” he whispers.

“Looks like. I'm sorry. I take it you didn't know?”

He shakes his head.

“Dean's all about that need-to-know-basis stuff,” Risa says. “Geez, that kinda sucks. For all of us. Don't worry. Only a few of us know.”

“I―I wouldn't...” Sam says, but swallows the words. Apparently he did. Now he just needs to focus. “You said he has the Colt?” Last they heard, it could kill anything. Sounds like as good a shot as any other.

“Yep. And you're apparently coming with us. We could do with the extra manpower.”

Sam nods. “Of course. Yeah.”

“And it's gonna be a long drive. We're on the road at midnight. We'll get you a pack and a weapon. All hands on deck for this one. Even the old and feeble ones.”

Harrison bustles in behind Risa, muttering, “This old one's the only reason most of you young'uns can shoot worth a damn.” He nods at Sam while he unlocks Conner's cell. “Finally get to break out the big guns! Wake up, boy! We're gonna kill the devil tomorrow.”

Risa snorts. “Or the devil's gonna kill us.

 

-oOo-

 

Sam finds Dean an hour before midnight, knocking on his cabin door as he cleans his disassembled gun. “Can I come in?”

He watches Dean's shoulders draw tight.

When he receives no answer, he leans against the doorframe. “I heard from Risa that I say yes. What happened, Dean? Why would I―?”

Dean drops his rag and bolts out of his chair, rattling the parts on the table in the process. “I don't know, Sam. I wasn't there. Last time I heard from you was some phone call from Kansas. Five years ago.” Some phone call. Pick a hemisphere. Bye, Sam. “Haven't seen you since then. How am I supposed to know what you did or why you did it? But you broke, Sam, and Satan's wearing you like a damn prom dress. You told him yes. I didn't. I held out, Sam! And look where it's got me. Front-row seats to this shit-show while you're cozied up to the actual devil.”

“Is that what you think possession is like? Just cozying up with a demon or something? Fuck you, Dean. I haven't said anything yet. Did you know Lucifer is showing up in my dreams? Stalking me all night, every night, telling me I'm gonna let him wear me?”

“You did, Sam! You did let him!”

“Did you know about Tim and Reggie? You remember them, right? Crossed paths with Dad when I was sixteen on that vengeful spirit case with the kids in the mass grave? They came to where I was working. They threatened an innocent woman, then forced me down and poured demon blood down my throat.” He holds out his hands, still wracked with minute tremors, as he takes three quick steps inside, close enough that Dean can see him shaking, too.

“Sam...”

There's a certain freedom, really, in knowing that he's already done the worst possible thing he can to Dean by saying yes. He's angry, he's tired, and Dean's been looking at him like he's a leper from the beginning. He can't get any more unclean than Dean already thinks he is.

He takes another step, clenching his fingers into fists to stop the shaking. “Can't even think straight. Can't sleep, because the blood they tried to give me? I spat it right back out at them, didn't swallow even a drop. So you say at some point I tell Lucifer yes, but right now, Dean? I'm saying no. I said no. And he's there every night in my head anyway. He won't even let me kill myself, Dean! He'll just bring me back if I try, no matter what I try, or how.”

At this, even the grizzled 2014-version of his brother looks unsettled. “How do you know that?” Dean asks, stock-still. For the first time since Sam arrived in this hell-hole, he has Dean's undivided attention.

“I just―it doesn't matter. He told me, okay?”

“He told you.”

“Point is, he's not going to stop, Dean, and I've been saying no every single time. Every night. How about you? You heard from Michael at all? Got a 24/7 broadcast of your worst failures in your head? He use Mom against you, make her tell you it's your fault she died?”

“Sam!” Dean stalks forward, shoving Sam against the cabin wall with a violent push. “Don't you dare...”

Fuck this. He's needed to say this for a while. “Did he, though? Because he used Jessica! Put her in my bed, used her face to tell me how much of a fuck-up I am!”

“Sam...” Dean takes a step back. His fists loosen.

“I'm doing everything I can, Dean. You didn't have anyone in your head, did you? But I'm trying, Dean. Tell me, why did I say yes?”

Another two steps back. “I told you. I have no idea.”

“That's right. You have no idea.” And neither does Sam. Not yet. As the adrenaline fades, embarrassment sets in. Sam steps away from the wall and moves toward the door. He's halfway out when he remembers. “And Conner? He isn't infected, Dean.”

He leaves without looking back, half motivated by embarrassment and half by fear of what he'll see if he does.

He rounds the corner without seeing Dean taking several quick steps outside the door. He doesn't see his brother's hand lift as if to stop him, and by the time Sam's name passes Dean's lips, barely a whisper, Sam's long gone.