Sam’s not warm, though. He’s never felt such bone-chilling cold. It radiates from the center of his spine, up his neck. It prickles across his scalp. It slithers down to his lower back and throbs. He can’t feel his legs. They must be completely numb.
When he opens his eyes, at first he sees only darkness. Then he sees a dark red glow. It flickers and pulses from a source somewhere below where he lies on a stone floor. He hears muted screams and smells sulfur.
Sam pushes himself to sitting, blinking against the near-darkness, and takes stock of his situation. He’s barefoot, clothed only in t-shirt and jeans. He could have sworn he had on a button-down shirt and jacket just a moment ago, and he was definitely wearing shoes. Boots, splattered with mud like the jeans he wears, the jacket soaked in the pouring rain as he staggered toward Dean, clutching his wounded arm...
Sam remembers calling his brother’s name, remembers Dean shouting a warning, running toward him as a sudden white-hot pain shot up his spine. He remembers his legs giving out beneath him, remembers pitching forward into Dean’s arms. He remembers Dean babbling in his ear...everything’s gonna be fine, we’re gonna patch you up good as new...
Sam remembers the darkness swallowing him up as Dean screamed his name.
Sam scrambles to his feet and whirls to face the source of the familiar voice. John Winchester crouches in the corner. He wears the clothes he died in. Although his face is mostly in shadow, Sam can see the sorrow and world-weariness in John’s familiar features. He’s sad to see Sam, but he’s missed him, too.
Sam hears moaning in the distance, sees stone walls streaked with something dark that glistens in the flickering reddish light. It reminds him of emergency lighting on an airplane, the kind that only comes on when the plane is going down.
“Am I dead?”
Sam spits out the only logical explanation for his situation as he backs up against the wall, putting as much distance as possible between them. John could be a demon, or some kind of demonic apparition.
“Is this Hell?”
“I don’t have a lot of time, Sam,” John says. “Your brother is planning to bring you back, and when he does there’ll be a bounty on his head. Do you understand?”
He looks and sounds so much like John Winchester that Sam’s heart aches with grief. He’s forgotten how much he used to love the sound of his father’s voice, how it made him feel safe when he was too little to know better.
That was a long, long time ago.
Seeing John again is too much of a good thing. Sam doesn’t trust it. His training won’t let him.
“How do I know you’re him?” Sam growls, clenching his fists. “Why should I trust you?”
John glances over his shoulder, then huffs out an irritated breath.
“We don’t have time for this!” he snaps. “You need to listen to what I’m about to tell you. They want Dean down here, not you. Some top-dog demon has sent one of her minions to make a deal with Dean for you. Once he takes the deal, you’ll be topside again, without any memory of this.”
“They want Dean?” Sam can’t help his curiosity, even while he fights the urge to trust. “Why?”
John shakes his head. “They need a Righteous Man, and they’ve set their sights on your brother.”
A righteous man? What the Hell?
“But they’ve got you, Dad,” Sam blurts, confused.
John smiles grimly. “Apparently, I wasn’t cooperative enough,” he says. “They think they can get better results with Dean.”
“Better results for what? What the hell’s going on?”
John shakes his head. “It’s bigger than all of us, Sam, you just have to believe me on this one. They want Dean down here, and soon.”
“How soon?” Sam raises his chin, challenging.
“Dean gets one year, and one year only.”
“One year?” Sam’s blood turns to ice, then boils with anger. “I won’t let that happen. I’ll find a way to stop it!”
“Dean won’t let you,” John warns. “They’ll promise to kill you if you do anything to get him out of that deal, so he won’t let you try.”
“Then I won’t tell him,” Sam insists, fierce and stubborn. “I’ll find a way to save him, even if he doesn’t want me to.”
John smiles, sad and fond. He looks so much like Sam’s father it makes Sam want to cry.
“That’s my boy,” he says, nodding. “That’s what I was hoping you’d say. Now listen. Here’s what you need to know.”
Later, when John Winchester crawls out of Hell in the cowboy cemetery in Wyoming to help Dean kill the Yellow-Eyed Demon, he looks at Sam and nods.
</i>“Remember what I said, Sam.”</i>
Sam’s not sure John actually says the words, but when he hears them in his head he sees a flash of blood-streaked walls. He hears screaming and smells sulfur.
Although he can’t remember the details, he’s suddenly sure of what happened to him after Jake stabbed him in Cold Oak. The answers are buried in his brain, in what he learned during his time in Hell.
The memories are hazy, but when he confronts Dean about his deal, Sam feels weirdly confident that he can get his brother out of it.
He’s eager to get started. Instead of bursting into tears when Dean admits to selling his soul, Sam smiles.
Dean gives him a curious, worried look.
Sam’s dick twitches of its own accord as the demon stalks him. She’s small, maybe half his height, with long dark hair and dark eyes. Sam knows she’ll fit onto his lap like a child even before she straddles him and pushes her body against his.
He’s drunk. The room reeks of piss and gun oil. He turns his face away as she leans in, but his body knows what it wants. She smiles triumphantly as she squirms in his lap, grinding down on his erection as she nuzzles his neck.
“No,” he gasps. “Don’t.”
But she’s already won, and they both know it. She’s impossibly strong, but he’s not really resisting. He’ll do what she suggests. He’ll help her get what she wants. He’s too desperate to avenge Dean, to get him out of Hell if he can, or to join him there if he can’t.
“Isn't it 'cause you're really scared to go there with a demon?” Her voice in his ear grates and excites him at the same time. “Because it's wrong and it's bad and we shouldn't?”
She’s got her hands all over him, undressing him, and her shirt has disappeared. She moans against his mouth and Sam closes his eyes, lets it happen because he just doesn’t care enough to fight anymore.
Ruby’s got a plan to get Dean out of Hell. Nothing else matters.
Sam jerks awake with a gasp. He’s in the car, Dean in the driver’s seat next to him. They’ve been on the road all night, apparently.
It’s a week after they let the demons out of the Devil’s Gate. A week since Dean made his deal. A week since Sam died and resurrected.
A week since Sam started having some really weird dreams.
“Morning, sunshine.” Dean gives him a cocky, lop-sided grin. “Good dream?”
“What? No. Shut up,” Sam grouses, adjusting himself awkwardly on the bench to cover his erection with the hem of his shirt. There was a redhead in his dream. Or maybe a blonde. No, definitely a brunette.
Dean smirks. “You were making some serious happy noises.”
“What? No, I wasn’t! Shut up!”
“Aw, come on, Sammy,” Dean wheedles. “Share with the class! I need a little quality content for my spank bank! Gotta get it while I can, after all.”
One year. Dean’s got one year, minus this past week. Ever since he made his deal, he’s become a bigger horndog than ever. It’s disgusting and heartbreaking and Sam should hate it.
But Sam’s been thinking about Dean naked ever since he resurrected and caught him having sex with twins. It’s shameful and wrong and he hates himself for it, but there it is.
It’s probably just the stress of thinking about losing him in a year.
“Shut the fuck up, Dean,” Sam growls. “Pull over. I gotta take a leak.”
Dean grins wider. “Love it when you take control, Sammy,” he teases. “Makes me tingly all over.”
Sam rolls his eyes, but his dick twitches.
It’s gonna be a long drive.
He’s lying on the stone floor in the cold place again, staring up into the darkness. He can’t see the ceiling.
He knows he’s been here before, but he can’t remember.. A red light flickers from somewhere below the floor, and he can hear screaming in the distance. As he rolls over and pushes himself to sitting, he smells sulfur.
Then he sees her. She crouches in the corner, staring at him, and her eyes are black. Her long blonde hair turns dark where the reddish light touches it, and the skin on her face and arms is sliced with fine lines of slowly oozing blood.
“Come and get it, Sammy,” she taunts him, raising her bleeding arms towards him. “It’s mother’s milk, remember? Ruby red, like me. You want it, Sam. You need it to make you stronger.”
“No,” Sam breathes, backing away till he hits the wall.
“I can help you get Dean out of his deal,” Ruby sneers. “When you let me out, I can save him.”
But Sam knows that isn’t true. She’s lying. He already knows he can’t trust anything she says. He’s seen the future with her in it, and it’s not good. In that future, Dean goes to Hell.
“Come on, Sammy,” Ruby snickers. “You and me can have all kinds of fun. You know you want to.”
She’s suddenly right there in front of him, where he’s kneeling, frozen in place. He struggles as Ruby grabs his hair, pulls his head back and opens her mouth. Her tongue is sliced and bloody like her arms. Kissing her will force him to drink her blood.
He knows he can’t do that. He’ll be lost if he does. He’ll never come back to himself, never make it out of here alive, never save Dean.
Sam opens his mouth, takes a deep breath, and roars.
The smell of Ruby’s blood fills his nostrils, dampening the smell of sulfur. It’s coppery and cloying, sweet on his tongue. When he opens his eyes, she’s gone, exploded into a billion tiny drops of blood, all over the walls and the floor of the cell.
All over Sam.
When the Seven Deadly Sins come after the Winchesters, Sam’s ready for them. The moment the blonde chick shows up and starts slashing demon throats, Sam knows what he has to do.
She looks surprised when he grabs her, pulls her close as he pushes her own blade into her chest, twisting it upwards at just the right angle to slice into her heart. Lightning bursts out of her body, making Sam’s hand tingle where it holds the knife.
“What the hell, Sam!”
The woman lies dead at their feet, along with the three demons she killed, and Sam’s not sorry. Now that she’s dead, he can’t remember why he killed her. He just knows it had to be done. He’s sure of that.
“She was a demon.” That much is obvious.
The problem is, he’s not sure how he knew she was a demon before he stabbed her. When she showed up suddenly, basically saving Sam’s ass, she could have been anybody. A hunter, maybe.
“Okay,” Dean says slowly, circling the bodies till he can get Sam to look at him. “What happened to exorcism? Huh? Remember? Exorcise the demon, save the girl?”
Sam shakes his head. “She was already dead,” he says, but he’s not sure. He gets a flash of her kneeling in front of him, taunting him, her mouth and arms streaked with blood. “Her name was Ruby.”
“What?” Dean stares. “You knew her?”
Sam frowns. “The demon’s name was Ruby,” he clarifies.
“Oh, Ruby, huh?” Dean still looks freaked. “You were on a first-name basis with a fuckin’ demon? What the hell, Sam?”
“I don’t know, Dean, okay? It seemed like the right thing to do. It seemed really important to kill her. I don’t know what to tell you. That’s just the way it felt.”
Dean steps closer and puts his hand out. “Give me the knife.”
“Huh?” Sam blinks.
Dean nods, reassuring and firm, big brother confidence grounding Sam, making him feel like a little boy again. Making him want to curl up in Dean’s lap and cry.
He’s shaking, chest heaving, panting.
“It’s okay, Sam,” Dean coaxes. “Just give me the knife.”
Sam hands over the knife. Following Dean’s orders feels safe. Feels right.
“This thing kills demons, huh?” Dean mutters as he wipes the blade on his bandanna.
“Apparently.” Sam nods.
“And this demon chick just showed up with it and killed three other demons.”
Sam bristles. “I helped her kill one of them.”
“So she was helping you, basically saving your ass, and you killed her?”
“She was a demon, Dean,” Sam reminds him.
“Right. And you knew that how?”
Sam shakes his head. ”I don’t know,” he admits. “I just knew I had to stab her.”
“You just knew,” Dean repeats. “You had to.”
“Yeah.” Sam takes a deep breath, huffs it out on a shrug.
Dean studies him for another moment, then slips the knife into his waistband and looks down at the mess at their feet.
“Okay. Well, let’s get this cleaned up. We should show this knife to Bobby, see what he can tell us.”
“This thing is old, that’s for sure,” Bobby says as he studies the knife. They’ve dumped the last of the bodies in a mass grave and seen Tamara off. It’s a weirdly beautiful day. “The runes and markings are ancient. I’d say Babylonian, maybe.”
“Kurdish, actually,” Sam says, but when Dean and Bobby stare at him, he shrugs. “I think.”
“Any idea how that demon got ahold of something like that?” Dean asks.
“Well, I’d say that demons wouldn’t want their enemies to have it, that’s for sure,” Bobby says. “Use this on a demon, and it’s bye-bye for good. Demon’s just gone. Not banished-back-to-Hell gone, destroyed-forever gone.”
“Not a bad thing to have in a war against demons,” Dean suggests. “Something that ends them permanently. This is good, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is,” Bobby agrees. “Which is what bothers me.”
Sam and Dean exchange glances.
“Why?” Sam says. “What bothers you about it?”
“Well, the way you got it, for one.”
Sam frowns. “I don’t follow.”
When Bobby purses his lips and looks away, Sam shifts his gaze to his brother, but Dean’s looking away, too.
“Why would that demon chick bring it into a fight in the first place?” Dean says finally. “It’s almost like she’s handing it to us.”
Then Sam gets it. “Or to me,” he snaps. “Is that what you’re saying? She was handing it to me.”
“All I’m saying is, the odds were against us before,” Bobby says. “Now things are looking up, thanks to a demon. When is that ever a good thing?”
“You think the demons are trying to draw Sam into their battle,” Dean suggests, jaw clenched. He’s angry.
“I’m thinking, now that the Yellow-Eyed Demon is dead, they need a new leader.”
Dean shakes his head. “Well, they can’t have Sam,” he declares with conviction, but Sam can read the fear in his brother’s eyes.
“Obviously.” Sam nods. “I’m not interested in leading their piss-poor demon army.”
“Of course not,” Bobby says. “But if you don’t step up to the plate, who will? I got a feeling the demons are battling it out amongst themselves, which is why we haven’t seen that much activity since the Gate opened. They’re too busy fighting each other to go after humans.”
“Maybe they’ll just take themselves out,” Dean suggests with a smirk.
“After what happened here today, I’d be willing to bet they’ve divided themselves into factions, all right,” Bobby agrees.
“That’s good, isn’t it?” Sam says. “They’ll be easier to kill if they’re disorganized and leaderless.”
“Just watch yourself, Sam,” Bobby warns. “If that demon girl was looking to rope you into working with her, there’ll be others. You heard what Pride said. For some of these demons, you were their top candidate. Their Boy King.”
“Not gonna happen,” Sam insists.
“Never underestimate a demon’s capacity to lie and cheat,” Bobby says, shaking his head. “They figure out what you want most and use it against you. They make promises they won’t keep. Offer to give you things, do things for you, then go back on the deal.” Bobby glances at Dean, then raises his eyebrows at Sam. “I think you know what I’m talking about.”
“I can handle myself,” Sam says, puffing out his chest.
But he’s not feeling as brave as he sounds. He’s starting to doubt himself again. He tries to recall the confidence he felt when he killed Ruby an hour ago, but it’s fading. He can’t remember why that felt like such an important thing to do.
In the car, Sam can feel the worry rolling off Dean in waves. He glances at Sam several times, like he’s about to say something, then stops himself.
For some reason, Sam thinks about the moment before their father’s ghost rose in the cowboy cemetery in Wyoming. The Yellow-Eyed Demon had him pinned to a tree, so he couldn’t hear the conversation it was having with Dean, but he could see the effect it had. Whatever the YED said to Dean, it definitely bothered him. Made him angry. Worried him.
“You sure you’re feeling all right?” Dean asks finally.
Sam huffs out a breath. “You keep asking me that. I’m fine.”
“Good, cuz I’m peachy,” Dean says. “Never better, in fact. Looking forward to getting as much enjoyment out of life as I can over the next year.”
“I’m not letting you go to Hell, Dean.”
“You can’t stop it,” Dean warns. “If we try to welsh out of my deal, you die.”
“Nobody’s dying,” Sam growls. “Not this time.”
“Just remember what Bobby said,” Dean says, shaking his head. “If a demon offers you a way out of my deal in exchange for anything, don’t do it. When it sounds too good to be true, it definitely is. You got me?”
Sam shakes his head. Everything about this irritates the hell out of him.
“You know what you did was incredibly selfish, right?” he grouses. “You remember how you felt when Dad sold his soul for you? Because I do. You were damaged and broken. How could you do that to me?”
Dean doesn’t bat an eyelash. “I already told you,” he says. “I couldn’t live with you dead.”
“Oh, so you’re just going to check out and leave me alone to fight the demons on my own? That’s your plan?”
“You’ll be all right, Sam,” Dean insists. “You’ll have Bobby. You can have the car. I’ll show you how to take care of her.”
“No, I will not be all right!” Sam snaps. “I don’t want the car! I don’t want to do this job without you. I won’t!”
“So go back to school.” Dean shrugs. “Find a girl...”
Sam shakes his head vigorously. “Not gonna happen, Dean,” he growls. “‘Cuz I’m going to stop you. If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to get you out of this deal.”
Sam stares at himself in the mirror that night, forcing himself to face the fact that he killed a human today. That blonde chick might have been dead already, but she might not have been.
Seven demons died today, but maybe seven humans, too. Not to mention Isaac the very human hunter, who blamed Sam for opening the Devil’s Gate in the first place.
He traces the number 8 in the steamed up mirror after his shower and stares at it until Dean bangs on the door, demanding his turn.
Sam’s just getting started.
He’s in the corridor, no longer in the cold cell. There’s more light here. The moaning and screaming are louder.
One voice rises above the rest, howling in abject agony, a voice Sam recognizes.
The corridor gets longer the faster he runs, stretching into infinity as Dean screams and screams.
Sam runs until his lungs nearly burst, till sweat pours into his eyes, till they sting and blur. He runs till he can’t run any more, then doubles over, hands on his knees. He gasps, sucking in lungfuls of hot, putrid air.
A movement to his left makes Sam look up. Dean hangs from huge meat hooks suspended from the dark ceiling, his legs spread wide. The hooks pierce his shoulders. Blood runs in rivulets down his bare chest. Iron rings welded into the stone floor hold his ankles.
Sam’s brain takes a second to realize that Dean’s naked. He looks like he’s covered in long strips of red and white ribbon. Then Sam understands.
Strips of Dean’s skin are peeled away, revealing muscle and bone underneath. The strips hang over his skeleton like a shroud, ligaments and tendons laid bare, glistening in the dark, red light.
Sam’s brother is blessedly unconscious. But Sam remembers the screaming, still hears it echoing in his head.
Dean was calling for him. Begging Sam to help him.
To save him.
Sam wakes up breathing hard, tears running down his cheeks. Dean sleeps peacefully on his belly in the next bed, hugging his pillow, one bare leg bent up toward Sam. In the light from the streetlamp Sam can see his face, relaxed and youthful in sleep.
His beauty and vulnerability makes Sam’s chest ache.
Sam scrubs a hand over his face, turns on his side so he can watch Dean. He keeps an eye on his brother like a guard dog until he falls back to sleep.
This time he dreams of a beautiful woman in a long coat who offers herself to him, then steals his gun.
This time, when he wakes up, he knows what he has to do.
Killing Ruby was easy. In the heat of the moment, it felt right because Sam knew she was a demon.
Killing the British woman who calls herself Bela Talbot is a little more difficult. She’s human. A pain-in-the-ass human who steals from them and shoots Sam in the shoulder, but human nonetheless. It’s not the easiest thing Sam’s ever done, to put it mildly, but in the moment he’s absolutely convinced it’s necessary.
“Sam!” Dean shouts at him, appalled. “What the hell!”
“She was gonna steal the Colt, Dean,” Sam explains, clutching his wounded shoulder.
It’s been a helluva day. He’s spent most of it limping around on only one shoe, and he’s really not feeling well.
“The Colt? What?” Dean’s incredulous. He stares from Sam to the body that used to be Bela Talbot without understanding.
Sam waited until Dean threw the rabbit’s foot to Bela. She grabbed it reflexively, of course. Dean thought he had it all figured out.
And it was a good move, Sam has to admit. He might have smiled through his pain and congratulated his brother’s ingenuity, if he didn’t already know what he had to do.
As soon as Bela dropped the rabbit’s foot on the fire, Sam pulled the trigger. It had to be done, that’s all.
The problem is, almost as soon as it happened, he couldn’t remember why he thought it was so important to kill her. They need the Colt. Bela was planning to steal it. He doesn’t know how he knows that, he just does.
“She shot me first,” Sam complains.
It’s a lame excuse, and he can see that Dean doesn’t buy it because he knows Sam’s a good shot. Sam wouldn’t shoot to kill if he just intended to pay Bela back for winging him.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Dean’s still staring at him like he’s grown five heads.
“It seemed like the right thing to do. She was going to steal the Colt.” Sam puts on his best puppy-dog eyes and clutches his bleeding shoulder.
“You already said that!” Dean snaps. “And you know this how?”
“I think I might have dreamed it?”
“You dreamed that Bela was going to steal the Colt.” Dean’s trying to follow along, and Sam appreciates it. Really, he does.
“I’ve been having a lot of weird dreams lately,” Sam admits.
Dean frowns. “Weird how? Like visions weird? Are you having visions again, Sam?”
Sam shakes his head. “No. I mean, I don’t think so. Just dreams.”
“Right. Dreams that tell you things that are going to happen in the future? Those are visions, Sam!”
“Yeah.” Sam nods. “I guess so. Maybe. I can’t really remember. I just knew Bela was gonna steal the Colt, and I knew I had to shoot her because it was the only way to stop her.”
“So you couldn’t just ask her nicely?” Dean’s starting to hyperventilate. “Or maybe just give her a little glancing shot, like she gave you?”
“She had to die, Dean,” Sam says firmly. “I can’t explain it any better than that.”
“Well, that’s not good enough, Sam!” Dean shouts. “You don’t go around killing people just because of something they might do in the future! This isn’t fucking Minority Report, Sam! You’re not Tom Cruise!”
Sam takes a shaky breath and winces. His shoulder really hurts.
Like throwing a switch, Dean’s gaze drops to Sam’s shoulder and his protective big brother instincts kick in.
“We gotta take care of that,” he mutters crossly. Sam knows that tone. Dean’s frustrated. He’s torn between taking care of Sam and tearing him a new one. “Come on. Help me with the body.”
They bury Bela right there in the cemetery, in a new, as-yet-unmarked grave with the body of a woman who looks old enough to be Bela’s grandmother. Dean does the bulk of the work, grumbling and cursing under his breath the whole time, glaring at Sam as he wipes the sweat from his eyes.
Back at the motel, Dean cleans and patches Sam’s wound, makes him shower with his shoulder wrapped in a plastic grocery bag to keep it dry.
Afterwards, Sam stares at the number in the bathroom mirror. The human body count is up to nine now.
When he comes to bed, Sam can feel Dean’s eyes on him in the dark.