Warnings: suicide/suicidal thoughts or some close metaphorical approximation thereof; non-sexual noncon messing with other people’s bodies
Summary: “Effigies let you study or act upon someone with impunity. They are good for practice.” (Jenny Holzer)
Author’s note: Thanks denugis for a set of prompts so good that I was effectively paralyzed by my desire to do them justice. This is a mixture of three, one of which I’ll leave to be discovered and the other two of which involved Sam re-encountering Max and Alicia now Alicia’s a doll, and a situation in which Sam’s god-gun wound didn’t heal. (Also - please forgive me for the end. That goes out to denugis specifically…) Thanks to julia-sets and lennelle for some excellent plot discussion and apologies to the mods for lateness!
Of course, Sam should have figured out the truth as soon as he saw Alicia Banes, reincarnate, standing in a grocery aisle stacking boxes of noodles into her cart. But by then he was already pretty sick, the infection from his unhealed bullet wound curling its way out across his flesh in darkening tendrils, elevating his temperature and fogging his thoughts.
The grocery store was somewhere on the Colorado-Utah border, the first place that they’d found open after a hundred-fifty mile desert of boarded up shopfronts and suspicious inhabitants, emerging with rifles in hand from the darkened doorways of their diners and bars. Things had changed in the month since their encounter with Chuck. Suddenly and brutally confronted with Sam and Dean’s reality, the public had woken up to the truth about the supernatural. They didn’t like it. Minimally aided by a government whose first concern seemed to be its own preservation, the country was descending into something close to a war zone.
Three big guys in a murder car, Sam, Dean, and Cas hadn’t found much of a welcome most places they rolled up. Sam had been reluctant to call on their hunter networks in the face of another Winchester-originated apocalypse. He could still remember the taste of blood on his tongue, Tim and Reggie grappling him as they forced it into his mouth. Dean, in a dead-focus quasi-military mode that reminded Sam of Dad as well as of the difficult year after Purgatory, was no more inclined to team up with anybody else. And Cas didn’t know anybody, anyway. So they were forced to rely on whatever chance opportunities they could. This store, with stock still on the shelves, was an unexpected gift; so it wasn’t surprising to run into other hunters in the same situation, competing for the overpriced bottles and dented tins.
The unlikely good fortune of the store’s existence was probably one reason why Sam didn’t question it when Max told him Alicia had been resurrected by Chuck. “She doesn’t really remember much,” Max had explained, “and I don’t want to upset her.” Sam had watched Alicia reflected in the convex mirror at the corner of the store and had thought, maybe we’re not the only siblings he’s tormenting. It hadn’t felt so unlikely.
He can see now, looking back on it, that Dean wasn’t fooled. He’d rounded the corner of the aisle not long after Sam had, narrowed his eyes at Max’s explanation, and sent Sam on a distraction mission to the back of the store. By the time Sam got back, the twins had gone.
“They’re heading west,” Dean said in explanation; which was the opposite of Sam and Dean, who were travelling into Colorado to hunt a wendigo they’d already fought fifteen years before. “But I took Max’s number.”
Sam had thought, “The cell networks won’t be running much longer”; and then, “I’ll probably never see them again”. It wasn’t clear how any of this would end. It wasn’t clear, really, what they were doing at all, apart from stringing together old hunts they now had to rework, hopelessly reinscribing the vanishing legacy of their time on earth. They’d got back from the encounter with Chuck to find the bunker burning, great flames leaping up into the Kansas sky; and Dean had set his jaw and driven away and never spoken about it again. So they were on the road, firefighting. And Sam was waiting to die.
It wasn’t really as conscious as that, not so deliberate; less a suicide attempt, more a detached decision to let things unfold. Cas couldn’t heal the wound. He’d told Sam that on the first night. But Sam let the others think it was healing like any gunshot usually would. He hadn’t told Dean about the blood still oozing from the wound, or the foul-smelling yellow-green discharge, or the fever. He’d taken painkillers until he couldn’t stand the wooziness and changed his dressings regularly but secretively, at night, alone.
Half of Sam thought he was managing very well and half of him knew it was all going to catch up with him. That happened on the very Colorado hunt they were heading to; out in the woods where the wendigo’s corpse was blazing, Sam’s head started spinning. He thought of the bunker and of his flat in California and Jess, of Mom’s funeral pyre and Dad’s. He kept seeing ghosts everywhere, lately. He didn’t trust Chuck. He didn’t know what else or who else would come back. He kept dreaming about Ruby, black eyes shining. He looked into the fire and Lucifer looked back out of it. Sam’s arms and legs were burning. He could smell his insides crisping up. He looked into the fire and the fire swung around until the heavens were burning and Sam’s back was icy cold and it was Lucifer, and Dean’s face was there, screaming, and Sam felt vomit bubbling up in his throat. Everything went black.
The part after that is hard for Sam to get ahold of. He remembers being in a room, a motel somewhere, Dean looking frantic and furious and Cas’s forehead furrowed in concern. There had been a drip, and an IV line running into Sam’s arm; and Dean had said, when he saw Sam’s eyes open, “Got you on the good stuff, Sammy, you’ll be right in no time.” There had been a little clarity, after that, with Sam apologizing and Dean grumbling and Castiel in the background, worrying; but before long Sam’s temperature had spiked again, and the room had become wobbly and the ghosts had started reappearing.
The next several days (weeks?) are just a patchwork of image and sensation. Dean’s white face and his growing stubble; the sun pouring cruel through the motel curtains; Castiel’s cool hand on Sam’s forehead. The throb of his shoulder always underneath it. The sound of gunfire in the street outside; or maybe it wasn’t gunfire, but only rain. Sam is pretty sure he tried to give another goodbye speech, to tell Dean sorry and thank you and to try and move on. Dean had walked away and refused to listen. Maybe that was what tipped the balance in the end.
Because the next time Sam wakes up it’s now, here, this cool gray morning and his head feels suddenly different. His mind is clear. His thoughts all string together sensibly, beads slotting one-two-three onto their thread rather than fraying and snapping and rolling away from his grasping fingers, out of reach. Dean is sitting in a chair beside the bed. He still looks rough. He still hasn’t shaved.
“I knew you were jealous of my beard,” Sam says. His throat is thick and his voice turns out hoarse, but he’s not doing too bad for a guy who should be dead.
Dean closes his eyes and breathes out in a quick harsh sigh. Then he opens them and says, “In your dreams, Princess. It takes a man to make this shit look good.”
Voice aside, Sam feels great. He has less pain than he can remember having had for some time. Maybe ever.
He reaches gingerly toward his shoulder. It’s fine. There’s nothing there; no suppurating wound, not so much as a scar. Sam thinks warily of a moment not unlike this one, waking up on a bed in South Dakota with an ache at the base of his spine and nothing to show for it; Dean’s face showing the same mixture of relief and guilt. “How did you fix me?” he says.
Dean’s eyes flicker sideways. “Cas did it,” he says.
“I helped,” says Castiel, familiar and gravelly. He steps forward from where he’s been standing at the back of the room. “It’s good to see you back, Sam.”
“I don’t understand,” Sam says again, and squeezes his shoulder, digging his thumb into the socket. It doesn’t make sense.
“Maybe you should have asked our help earlier.” Dean stands up. “Let’s blow this joint.” He holds out a hand to Sam.
Sam has had enough injuries lay him out for a week or more that he knows what to expect when he gets out of bed. His legs will be stiff and painful. His feet will likely spasm and prickle and he’ll be stumbling on them, dead weight, until his body wakes up. He will feel like his blood is running back down into his body. That is always how it feels.
He takes Dean’s hand anyway and pulls himself upright. As he stands, he holds his hand just above Dean’s arm so he can grab it for support when his knees start shaking. But nothing happens. His legs feel as fresh as though he’d sat down only thirty seconds before.
“Did you just juice up?” he says to Castiel. “I feel like you’ve fixed everything. Not just the shoulder. The stuff you don’t usually bother to touch.”
“Like your backache?” Castiel says.
“Yeah, for one,” Sam says. Until this moment of liberty he hadn’t stopped to notice the familiar strains and tensions that made his body his own. It’s not a bad feeling, being able to move without pain. It’s just… it’s a weird feeling. He almost wants to ask Cas to put all of it back.
“Yeah, you’re welcome.” Dean claps Sam on the shoulder and Sam flinches instinctively. That had happened a couple times while he was struggling with the injury and he’d nearly passed out with the pain of it. But it’s fine. Because he’s fine. “Grab your bag and let’s get in the car.”
At that exact moment, there’s a sound from outside; the screech of tyres and the roar of an engine as it pulls away.
“Motherfucker,” says Dean; and he’s sprinting down the corridor. He yells back over his shoulder, “wait there.” Sam’s already at his heels.
The Impala is still in the parking lot; but the back window has been shattered and the red plastic gas cans that they’d been keeping in the rear footwell are gone. Dean kicks the curb so hard that there’s an audible crunch. “Shit,” he says. “Shit, fuck, shit.”
This is another of the problems they’ve been avoiding. Sam knew Dean would never abandon the car, especially with the bunker reduced to ash. But the lines have been getting longer at every gas station they get to. More and more have shut down altogether. This loss has only precipitated the inevitable. There’s only so far you can take yourself with nothing in the tank.
There’s a clatter behind them and Max appears through the double doors. “Did something happen to the cars?” He strides over to where a Jeep - Alicia’s Jeep - is parked, up against the building on the opposite side of the lot. “Oh, Jesus. They took our gas.”
“Ours too,” Dean says.
When Max turns he is holding the fuel cap in his hand. “All of it, I’m pretty sure. They even siphoned out the tank.” It’s only now that he seems to notice Sam. His eyebrows lift in surprise before he smiles, big and unconvincing. “Hey, Sam. All right?”
“What are you doing here?” Sam says. “Where’s Alicia?”
“Oh, she’s waiting in the room,” says Max. “We just, uh. We just ran into Dean here, and.” He looks at Dean, who is visibly vibrating with tension. “I thought you were sick?”
Sam might not have been on top of his game when he met Max in the grocery store. But he’s doing pretty good right now. In fact, he’s as clear-headed as he’s ever been. He looks at Max and he looks at his brother and he lifts his hand to his shoulder, good as new. He flexes his thigh where the hamstring always hurts him. It’s perfect. There’s not a flicker of pain.
“What the fuck did you do to me,” he says.
“I don’t know what--” Dean starts to say, but Sam turns on his heel and heads back into the building. The corridor is long and ugly with a brown patterned carpet and doors opening to the rooms on either side. It’s pretty speedy work to rattle at the handles as he hurries past. The first five do nothing but when he gets to number six, the door swings open and he’s in a room just like the one he woke up in: gray walls, green carpet and a set of nondescript photos of rock formations decorating the walls. There are two beds and Sam’s body is lying on one of them. It’s wearing jeans but its torso is naked and the wound in its shoulder is rank enough that the whole room is heavy with the smell.
Sam is hit by a one-two punch of nausea that almost doubles him over, leaving him grabbing at the door frame for support. He gulps in a breath, two breaths. He stumbles forward into the room.
“Sammy,” says Dean behind him. “Sammy. Sam.” His voice is distant. It’s like Sam is at the bottom of a well. The pressure in his ears is making his skull feel tight, as though the skin across his cheekbones might split.
The body is wounded, terribly wounded, but its chest is intact. Sam tries to turn to look at his brother - to look at Max, whose worried face is peering over Dean’s shoulder - but the movement makes him dizzy. His knees give out and he falls to the floor with an ungraceful thump.
“The heart,” he says. “I thought the witch was using the hearts.”
Dean says, “Cas used your soul.” He’s kneeling on the floor now, next to Sam, and when he says that he lifts his hand to rest on Sam’s shoulder, the good one, the one that never got shot. “I didn’t want to-- cutting people up, it-- I couldn’t butcher you like that.”
So this is the solution, the way to stop Sam dying. Remake him. Here he is, good as new. And there he is, dead.
“I’m having an out-of-body experience,” Sam says, and he starts to laugh. The room is contracting around him, bigger and smaller, and his chest is hurting. It would be funny if after all that, he gave his brand-new body a heart attack and died. It would be funny if he went insane.
“Sammy,” says Dean warily and he takes Sam’s hand. Sam thinks for an instant that Dean is going to cut into his palm, to push down on the bleeding wound and tell him, “Stone number one.” The thought makes him laugh harder. What an unsteady fucking foundation. What a house of sand.
“Look at me,” Dean says, and Sam, gasping in air, says,
“I can’t. I can’t.”
It’s Castiel, in the end, who pulls Sam from his hysteria. Sam’s not sure when he comes into the room but he tells Sam to look at him and his gaze, bright blue and steady-eyed, helps to quieten Sam’s thoughts. Even then, there are some mental side-steps involved. It’s hard to avoid the memory of Lucifer flashing familiar across Castiel’s face, of his fingers unfurling cold in Sam’s chest. Jesus Christ, but it makes sense. It makes sense that they landed on this solution, Dean and Castiel and Max.
“Where’s Alicia,” Sam says again, and Max’s beautiful face turns suddenly ugly.
“I told you. She’s in our room.”
“Does she know?”
“No,” says Sam. “No, not about me. About her.” This feels suddenly very important, more important than what’s happened to him. “Does she know that she isn’t herself?”
“Don’t be crazy,” Max says.
Dean says, “Sam, the guy saved your life. Cut him some slack.”
“Fuck you,” Sam says. “Fuck you. You have to know I hate this.”
“Yeah? Well, I hate watching you sweat to death as you rot from the inside out,” Dean says. “You can be grateful or ungrateful but at least you’re fucking alive.”
“Don’t tell me,” Sam says. “You’d do it again.”
“Of course I’d do it again!”
Sam drops his head into his hands; takes a deep breath; and screams. He puts everything into it, his frustration and fear and rage, howling until his throat is raw and his lungs are burning. When he looks up, everybody is watching him, wide-eyed.
“Dean,” says Max quietly and Dean, without turning around, says, “Yes?”
“I could make him forget,” Max says. “I did it for Lish, when she started asking questions. It was the only thing I could think of.”
Dean does drop his gaze then. He looks at the floor. “I don’t know, man.”
“It helped her,” Max says. “She’s happy now, I think.”
“Don’t you dare,” Sam says.
Max says, “You wouldn’t know.” He has a ring on his finger with a heavy dark stone and he’s twisting it with the fingers of his other hand. The ring starts to glow violet and Max’s eyes begin to light.
“She really doesn’t remember anything?” Dean says.
“Nothing at all,” says Max, and he steps forward.
“But I would,” says a voice from the bed. “And I’d just tell him what happened.”
Sam’s body looks rough as shit. It looks like a talking corpse. But it is talking. It scrubs a hand across its sweaty face and smiles at Dean. “I guess you all forgot that I can function without my soul.”
Well. This is new.
“Jesus,” says Max. He backs up two steps, towards the doorway.
“Oh, I don’t think so.” The guy on the bed lunges for Sam’s gun, tucked into his belt at the small of his back. Sam lets him take it. After what just happened, “not Max’s side” feels like a solid bet.
“Thanks,” says the guy - the body. He levels his weapon at Max. “I’m going to need that ring.”
Max lifts his hands up in front of his chest. “Whoah,” he says. He glances sideways, at Dean; who makes a move for his own gun.
Sam jumps up, whip-snap quick, and grips his fingers around his brother’s wrist. “Max gives the ring to me, or to the other guy. To one of us. He gives us the ring,” he licks his lips, “or this guy is going to kill me.” They lock eyes, Sam and the thing that’s been left behind in his useless body.
The corpse-man winks. “Too fucking right I will.”
“Christ, Sammy,” Dean says. He lowers his arm.
There is a shift in the atmosphere of the room, a feeling like an intake of breath. Max has begun to murmur quietly, softer than a whisper. The ring starts to glow.
Sam flinches at a blast of noise, close-up and deafening, and an explosion of dust from the wall. Max looks down at his hand. Blood is welling from a neat red line that has formed across the back of his wrist.
“I’m a good shot,” says the man in the bed. He looks at Dean. “Sam’s better than you think, you know. He tones it down when you’re shooting targets because he feels guilty when you lose.”
That’s not true. Is it true? “He’s a good shot,” Sam tells Max.
Slowly and reluctantly, Max tugs the ring from his finger. He steps forward and the guy says, “I don’t think so. You can throw it onto the bed.”
Max does, and it bounces once before settling on the pillow.
“That wasn’t so hard. Now, get out.”
“Fuck you,” Max says.
The body guy says, “Time was I’d take you up on that but in my current condition, I’m not much of a ride.” He reaches for the ring, wincing at the movement, and puts the gun down onto the blanket where his knees are sticking sharp and pointed up through the sheets. He rolls the jewel in his hand. “Just think what I could do to Alicia with this. What I could make her do.”
“It needs magic,” Max says.
“Oh, not to worry. Sam has a knack for that.” The guy closes his fingers over the ring. “Now fuck off.” He shakes his fist. “Just not too far.”
“Maybe we can get Billie to help us,” Sam says. Max has gone but he and Dean are still in the room where the body - the man - is dozing. His forehead is clammy and the sheets are damp with sweat. He lies stiffly with his arm out at his side. The flesh around the wound is veined dark purple. It smells. “She’s Death. She should have some power over life. Or Amara. She left with Chuck and he’s back now. So where’s she? She wasn’t-- she was reasonable in the end, right? And she’s powerful. She could do something to help.”
“And how are we gonna summon them?” Dean asks. “In the middle of nowhere with no books and the trunk half-empty?" He sighs and softens his voice. "I’m sorry, Sam. I get that it’s freaky and that you think you owe the guy something. But he’s not human. He’s like… he’s a robot. He isn’t you.” Inspiration strikes. “Think about Jack when he lost his soul."
Sam is suddenly so angry that he can’t look at his brother. He sends Dean out into the corridor. There are plenty of empty rooms in the building. Dean can help himself to one of those. Sam doesn’t give a shit. Then for the next three days, he sits at the bedside of the man who is inside his body and tries to make him as comfortable as he can.
That isn’t very. They have little food and very few medical supplies; mostly just what’s left of the painkillers and antiinflammatories Sam was taking. The ice machine down the hallway is still functioning, so that’s something. But the guy is seriously sick. And all that Sam can do is pass him chipped ice and, once a day, change the sheets for a fresh set culled from the beds in another room. Castiel helps. Max is AWOL and, Cas thinks, has told Alicia that Sam is in here, sick and contagious. It’s not the best excuse. But she’s his creature and it’s been what, a couple years of him correcting her thoughts? The idea makes Sam too claustrophobic for him to dwell on it too long.
Dean makes one further appearance, maybe a day after their initial confrontation. “Max says there are monsters coming. Like, a lot of monsters.”
“Coming from where?”
“I think we missed it because we’ve been all over and we haven’t been talking to people. Hunter grapevine says they’re coming from the center of the country, from Kansas. Kind of washing out across the States.” They are moving, Dean says, in great disorganized armies, murdering and burning and sucking people dry. That’s why Max and Alicia were heading west when they ran into them at the truckstop: moving out towards the coast. That’s where the guy who stole the gas was heading. That’s where everybody is trying to go.
Dean says, “We’re on a highway and they are going to come right down it. So we need to move, Sammy. We can’t stay here.”
Sam says, “I’m not leaving.” He turns back to the guy in the bed. “You can close the door on your way out.”
Dean slams it.
When Sam was soulless, he didn’t sleep. That’s what he’s heard. He only half-remembers it; the long nights which he spent working or fucking or working out. This guy might not sleep but he isn’t conscious for the whole time, either; frequently drifting out of coherence into a feverish daze. It’s probably good. Sam’s not sure if he’s ready to confront his own mind, what it looks like without the careful structures of self-delusion that Sam relies on to function, most of the time.
Instead, he talks to Castiel. Talking to an angel about humanity is relatively unstressful, it turns out. He has much less invested in the debate.
“He’s just as much me as I am,” Sam says. “More. He’s got all my memories and he has my body. What have I got?”
“Your soul isn’t nothing,” Castiel says. “It’s everything. Angels have done terrible things for the sake of a human soul.”
“It’s not everything,” says Sam.
When they got back to Lebanon and found the bunker burning, Sam hadn’t felt the devastation that he’d seen on his brother’s face. There were enough shitty memories mixed in with the good that he wasn’t altogether sad to see the place go. (Jack in a coffin in the dungeon, screaming; Dean outlined in red with a hammer in his hand. Blood on the floorboards and under Sam’s nails. Dad, back and full of strange benediction and then vanishing with the crunch of a pearl.) The things that had bothered Sam about losing their home were, well, the things. He’d digitized maybe a tenth of their library, at most. Thinking about it makes his chest ache still. All that carefully documented knowledge, up in smoke.
There had also been the wooden box housed under his bed, which contained the few keepsakes that Sam had ever preserved. It was only sentimental stuff: the clay amulet from the musical those schoolgirls had made of their life; a pair of plastic toy soldiers; photographs of himself and Dean as kids. None of it was valuable and none of it was replaceable. Much of it was the only tangible evidence Sam had of specific moments in his life, especially the parts before Hell. These were the things he had to hold onto when he started to feel too thready and disconnected.
Those things are gone. They’re not coming back. And neither is Sam’s body. What he has instead is this thing, which is 99% identical and 1% complete eerie terrifying unknown.
“A soul isn’t everything,” Sam says.
“You can say that again,” says the guy in the bed.
It’s two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon when the monsters arrive, announced by Dean barrelling full pelt into the room. Brought up short by the stench in the air - which has been worse every day - he swallows and says, “We’re getting out of here.” Sam and the other guy, who’s in a good stretch right now, both look at him. Neither one of them speaks.
“I’m serious,” Dean says. “They’re here. A shitton of god-knows-what supernatural bastards breaking into the building, right fucking now.”
From somewhere outside at the front of the building, Sam hears a crashing sound, a yell.
“Get your fucking skates on, Sam,” says Dean.
Sam looks at the guy in the bed. Sam had been skinny enough when he passed out during the wendigo hunt. After a week or more eating barely anything, the guy is near-skeletal. This morning, Sam’s careful attempt at changing the sheets jostled and hurt him so badly that they had to give up.
“We can’t move him,” Sam says.
“Then put him out of his misery,” Dean says, bluntly. He scowls at the other Sam. “I’m happy to do the honors.”
Sam’s heart skips a beat. “No way.”
“He kind of has a point.” The corpse-man is shifting, trying to pull himself upright. He starts to cough and the movement of doing it jogs his shoulder, and he folds over onto himself, hissing in pain. Sam leans over and rubs a hand over his back, between his shoulder blades. He can feel the knobs of his spine. It takes a while for the cough to subside and for Sam to get him settled back into the bed, a pillow propped under his side. “Like you said, you can’t move me. I’m not getting better. And dying fast is a lot better than dying slow and painful, which it will be any other way.”
Dean frowns. “I’d love to talk more about how much we agree, but time is kind of pressing right now.” There is more crashing outside, and a sudden white-blue flash which illuminates the window before fading away. Angel magic.
“You wouldn’t execute me if I was too sick to move,” Sam says. “You’d figure it out.”
Dean stares at Sam in complete incomprehension. “He ain’t you.”
“Yes, he is. That’s my body. He’s got my body and my memories and every other fucking thing. That’s me.” It’s the ship of Theseus. Sam is a wooden ship. This guy’s flesh. They’re both Sam Winchester and yet they’re two separate things.
“Sammy, I love you, but I don’t have time for this shit,” says Dean, and he lifts his gun.
Without stopping to think about it Sam throws himself forward across the bed, blocking the guy’s body. A shield. From behind him, his own voice says,
“Sam will do it himself.”
“No he won’t,” Sam says.
“Sam,” says the guy, and he reaches to rest his fingers against Sam’s shoulder. When Sam looks back at him he encounters a familiar, exhausted gaze. “Look at it this way. I hate this. It’s fucking miserable. And once I’m dead, I won’t remember that I was ever alive. I don’t have to worry about an afterlife.” He narrows his eyes at Sam. “You probably envy me that.”
“Shut up,” Sam says. It’s not really a fair debate when the other guy’s been inside your head. Technically, he still is inside Sam’s head. It’s Sam who is the impostor here.
“Honestly, I don’t blame you,” says the other guy. “Hell, Heaven, by all accounts they’re both shitshows and it’s just getting worse.” He pats Sam’s hand, encouraging. “Now just hurry up and kill me, okay?”
Sam takes a deep, steadying breath and lets it out slowly. He turns his hand over, so that the other guy’s falls into his own. They are matched precisely: the length of their fingers, the lines on their palm. But Sam’s hand is strong and pink and alive. The hand belonging to the body left behind him is pale and shaking and the knuckles stand out painfully, great knobs of bone.
“Okay,” Sam says. He stands up and takes a step backward and takes out his gun. He’s thinking about Madison, the werewolf girl who he slept with before he put her down. She’s another person he’s been bracing himself to encounter now that Chuck has dredged up everything, lifting all of Sam’s worst memories and nightmares to the light. Sam shot her. He can shoot this guy.
“Don’t kill him,” says Dean, so unexpected that Sam turns to look at him, lowering his gun.
“We just had a ten minute conversation about how I had to kill him.”
“Not you. Me. I mean. You like him. So I can do it instead.”
“Because I like him, I’m the best person to do it,” Sam says.
“That’s not--” Dean says. He swallows. “It’s fucked up. You think he’s you.”
“I’m not the one,” Sam says heavily, “who was hoping to kill Jack and kill my own damn self.” He lifts the gun and aims it towards the guy in the bed. He pulls the trigger.
The noise brings Max and Alicia running.
“Hey, Alicia,” says Sam.
“What the shit,” says Alicia. She’s looking at the guy on the bed, the blood seeping into the mattress and pillow and sheets.
Max pulls at her elbow. “Let’s get out of here,” he says. “Cas is laying traps out front. I think we can escape up through the trees at the back.”
Alicia looks at the body, at Sam’s shaking hands. “Sam?” she says. “Who is that guy?”
Sam says, “Max? You want to let her know?”
Four days later, they’re set up in the parking lot of a deserted Arby’s restaurant down towards the Nevada border. Though the night is chilly, the daytime heat is sweltering here and Sam’s worrying about how they’re going to make it through the desert. Travelling on foot seems like a crazy impossibility even though right now, it’s their only option.
Dean and Max are asleep. It’s taken this long for Sam to find a moment where he can steal Alicia away. But as soon as he approaches her sleeping bag, she stirs. She’s been waiting too, it seems.
Castiel is on guard duty. He doesn’t sleep. Sam tells him that he and Alicia are going to go sit on the roof. “We can keep a lookout down the highway,” he says.
“And you can talk to each other,” says Cas. Sam looks at him warily and he shakes his head. “I won’t tell Dean.”
“I never meant to hurt you,” says Castiel.
“I know,” Sam says.
He and Alicia make their way to the far side of the parking lot. They climb up an overflowing dumpster and a rusty ladder onto the flat roof of the little, single-story building. There’s a surprising amount of garbage up here; bird droppings and burst balloons and cans and empty cigarette packs. But they clear a space in the dirt and sit on the rubberized surface. It’s still warm from the sun.
“How are you doing?” Alicia says; which is unhelpful, because that’s Sam’s intended opening line.
“I’m fine.” But she deserves a real answer. “No. Actually, pretty terrible.”
“Yeah,” she says. She smiles and then her eyes well up immediately, tears spilling over her cheeks in two wet trails. She scrubs at them with the sleeve of her hoodie. “Sorry. Fuck.”
“Hey, it’s okay. Or I mean, it - this - isn’t okay. The crying is fine.”
“I just don’t know how I can ever trust him again,” says Alicia, and she starts crying for real, quietly but still loud enough that Sam’s worried about waking the others. His offered hug is partly for comfort and partly for the hope that his shoulder will muffle her tears. She feels solid against him, absolutely real. But it’s a lie. She’s just sticks and straw and string.
“You might not be able to,” Sam says eventually. “It might even be better if you don’t. But that doesn’t have to mean that you leave him, either. You just have to decide whether it’s big enough for you to choose to live without him. Maybe it is.”
“I feel crazy,” Alicia says. “I just need space. Not forever, necessarily. I want to talk to my mom. And she’s not here.” She picks at her fingernails. “I haven’t even mourned her, not really. Max kind of… I know that he has been messing with my memories. He told me that. And I think in trying to keep me calm he kind of took away a lot of what I was feeling about Mom. Like, I knew she wasn’t here anymore but I didn’t really feel it, that was just how things were. And I know that I loved my Mom. But I haven’t even got that now, not really.”
“I’m sorry,” says Sam.
“It’s a fucking apocalypse,” says Alicia. “I don’t have time to go try and find myself.” She sighs and pushes her hair back from her face; then brings her hand up in front of her eyes to look at it. She turns it over, front to back, back to front. “I don’t feel like I’m not real.” She looks at Sam. “Do you?”
Sam laughs. It isn’t funny. “I’ve been feeling that way for years.”
“I’m sorry, too,” says Alicia. “I’m sorry for you.” She brushes the tips of her fingers over his forearm. “We could leave together,” she says. “No bullshit. Figure it out.”
Sam looks out into the night, where the army of the dead-undead-unliving is shuffling down the road towards them. He tries to imagine what it would be like. No bullshit. Nobody fucking with his mind or his body, nobody rewriting his memories or erasing his self. It is a very nice offer.
But here’s the thing. They might both be struggling with the question of their own humanity; but Alicia is feeling just as fucked up by the fact that Max isn’t who she thought he was. Sam doesn’t have that problem. Dean is exactly the person that Sam thought he was; the same person that he has always been. And maybe that’s it. Alicia’s right, it’s an apocalypse. The whole world - Sam’s whole story - is unravelling around him. He doesn’t have his house, his car, or his body any more.
What he has is Dean. It’s some kind of constant.
“I’m sorry,” Sam says. “Honestly sorry. I’d love to. But I can’t, not now.”
He digs in his pocket. “This is what I wanted to talk about, really.” Nestled amongst the lint and small change is Max’s ring: the one that he was using to control his sister; the one that he used to make Sam into whatever uncertain being he’s become. Sam pulled it from the dead guy’s finger. For a powerful amulet, it’s unassuming: dull silver and dark stone, warm from Sam’s imaginary thigh. Sam holds it between his thumb and forefinger and Alicia reaches out a hand to take it.
“You don’t have to use it,” Sam says, as her fingers close around it. “I probably wouldn’t. It’s cursed. But you should keep it and you should hide it. Just so you know where it is. Where you are.”
Alicia turns it, watching it glint in the moonlight. “Thank you.”
“I’m just the messenger. You should be thanking the other guy.”
“He was you, too-- right?”
Good to know where Alicia stands philosophically. A single ship in two locations at the same time. “A transitive relation,” Sam says. Alicia blinks at him. “Sorry. Yeah. I guess he was.”
Alicia nudges her knee against his. “You’re real. You are. We both are. Just as real as any of the rest of it.” She looks at him earnestly through her replica eyes.
“Yes,” he tells her. “I know.”
Out in the darkness, the monsters are moving closer.