Summary: Sam's never really been alone before, and maybe he isn't now.
Notes/Acknowledgments: Betad by waterofthemoon. Starts at the S7 finale, ends during the S8 premiere. AU, clearly. Title credits to Blue Öyster Cult.
It starts small.
Sam doesn't notice at first, not really.
The first time, it's a hunt. It's the only hunt he tries to go on after Dean. It goes bad, and it goes bad fast. He moves wrong, and then wrong, and then wrong again, and he's on his back in a corner about to get his face forcibly removed from his skull. He has this moment of blind panic where he knows he's about to die and has this sudden punch of terror that he won't go to Dean but will snap back into the cage.
And then something picks the monster off of him and launches it so far away that Sam doesn't hear it land.
Sam thinks no thoughts. Sam vehemently thinks no thoughts, and he gets up and walks back to the Impala and presses his head against the steering wheel and doesn't remember how to cry.
He drives until he has to sleep, and he bruises his palm the blue black purple color of broken blood vessels. His scar stands out in an ugly, jagged white mess across it, and he buys a motel room because he can't sleep in the car alone.
The Spin Doctors wake him up with Two Princes at 5:17 in the morning, and something that is not Sam's hands crumples the alarm clock like it's a sheet of paper.
Sam doesn't think, doesn't think, doesn't think.
He buys a bag of nacho cheese Doritos that he can't stand and a cup of sugar with a splash of coffee in it, and he drives, and he drives, and he drives.
One of the phones rings, and Sam doesn't answer it. It's none of Bobby's ringtones, or Dean's ringtones, or Cas's ringtones, and it never will be again.
They're all dead, and Sam doesn't think there's any coming back this time. Crowley has Kevin, and Sam has no idea where to start and no one to help him.
Sam turns off the phone. He turns off his other phone, and Dean's other other phone, and his own other other other phone, and keeps on the one they just got, that no one has the number to.
The radio changes channels from the only station in the middle of this nothing stretch of nowhere to one of Dean's tapes. Fortunate One blares through the speakers suddenly, and Sam has a gut-punch of fear that he doesn't want to put a name to, and then there's a thump.
He didn't see the dog, but it's bloody, and crying, and hurt bad, and Sam would cry if anger weren't his best friend. He finds a vet on his phone, and he drives, and he screams when they stand there because you don't stand around when someone's dying. Because only fucking useless monsters stand there and watch someone die and don't do anything.
The doctor makes him leave the room and then makes him take the dog, and Sam doesn't understand how she doesn't realize that it's only going to die horribly and painfully and possibly more than once if it stays with him too long.
He doesn't bother with a towel because no one's ever going to complain about the smell of Sam trying in vain to save roadkill again. Sam drives to a motel with a kitchen and doesn't bother to ask if they allow pets because the dog isn't a pet, and it doesn't matter anyway. He sneaks it in as much as he can sneak with a full-sized dog in his arms, and he doesn't even jump when the door shuts behind him.
He lets the dog sleep on the bed and takes the couch for himself, and he curls into the back of it and knows that he can't bring himself to burn the Impala.
He wonders if maybe burning himself alive will work, but he knows with his luck that he would survive to live a long, lonely, pain-filled life and then snap back to the cage.
Sam wakes up angry and tired, and when the dog starts crying and doesn't stop, Sam wants to pick it up and throw it across the room. He doesn't, though he doesn't know why. He researches online because if he goes back to that vet, he's going to make her keep the dog even if the only reason she does it is because he's in jail for murdering everyone he's ever met. He pets the dog idly when it belly crawls towards him, and apologizes to it for dooming its entire everything.
It doesn't get better. It gets somewhat less worse, and Sam takes a page out of Dean's no-longer-in-existence notebook and sticks a smile on his face and everything real in a box under a lock in a closet in a room in a cave in the depths of the places his ragged excuse for a soul clings onto.
He stays in the motel, and he gets a real job as a handyman there. The right tools find their way into his hands when he's under a sink and too far to reach his toolbox, and the TV always turns on when he opens the door. He sleeps too much, and it never feels like enough. He stays up late drinking, watching movies he doesn't like, and talking to the brother he isn't sure if he hopes is haunting him.
Sam unclogs a disposal full of lime rinds that some idiot piled in, and it turns out to belong to the vet. Her name is Amelia. She calls him a stalker, tells him he's creepy, and says he looks like a white supremacist. And, because if Sam has proved nothing in his life, it's that he can always be counted on to make sane, rational decisions when left to his own devices, they end up in her bed by the end of the week.
They... like each other. It's not in any way like normal people do. They insult each other almost constantly, and she calls him names that Sam can't bring himself to call her in return. Amelia tries to rename Dog, and every one of her bottles of beer somehow falls off the table until Sam refuses to give her any more.
They have sex, and then they lie in bed and talk about what it's like to lose everything in a matter of minutes.
Don used to leave his wet socks in the sink just like Dean did, and sometimes Sam wakes up in the middle of the night and wishes he had to fight for the blankets back.
Sam loves her, in some kind of admittedly weird, fucked up way. He might just like the idea of being in love with her, of having someone who wants him around and knows he exists, and is not dead and possibly haunting the car Sam can't bring himself to burn like he knows he should.
It's nice and comfortable, and the gnawing feeling in him stops growing and even starts to shrink a little over time. Things Sam doesn't think about happen less and less as well, and in the middle of the night when Sam's awake and trying to shake off the nightmare that is his memories, he thinks, hopes, fears a little, that Dean might not be helping him anymore because Dean might not think he needs it.
They get a house. It's a rental, but they both pay the rent and split the utilities, and they have one room with one bed in it, and it almost feels like Sam always wanted it to. He survives her father and his clear dislike for Sam and his life and Marines and everything Sam knows.
And then Amelia's phone rings. And a small, stupid, childish part of him wants to know why she gets Don back and what makes her better than him. He knows, though. Sam can talk for the rest of time and never stop naming the ways she's better than him or the reasons he doesn't deserve a miracle, and he knows he will never be good enough for anyone, not really.
The crash from the kitchen is a welcome distraction, and Sam can't help but feel a little glow in the pit of his disgusting heart because he knows Dean knocked over that drying rack for him. It's bad manners, sure, but it's not like Sam can complain to anyone.
He leaves. Sleeps in the Impala. Don finds him in the bar eventually and doesn't tell him to stay gone, but he proves he's the one who Amelia deserves nonetheless. Sam doesn't tell him how much Amelia missed his snores or tripping over his boots every time she walked in the house or the way he burned their burgers every time he tried to cook.
Sam's version of staying gone is really staying in the in middle of nowhere town where Amelia is happily with her no-longer-dead husband, hiding from them and torturing himself with what he can't have. He left Dog with her because the Impala is too small, and Sam thinks it deserves a chance at a life. Sam doesn't know if he misses Amelia or misses what she represents. He was stupid to think that he had a chance to have something for himself, no matter how fucked up it probably was.
He gets a text message. It's from a number that says "D" in his phone that vanished off the face of the earth with everything else important to him a year ago. It only says "Whitedish," and Sam knows that typo. He programmed it into Dean's phone because he was bored and a little drunk and it annoys Dean when he can't spell things right. Sam's been doing it to Dean's phones for years and smiling to himself every time Dean curses his phone's keyboard and buys another phone.
Sam doesn't call the number. He can't. Ghosts can manipulate some things: leave text messages, or e-mails, or things like that. They can't talk on the phone. Not in anything but bursts of EVP-coated static. He has to be a ghost. He has to be because Sam doesn't deserve anything better, and Sam hasn't had anything or anyone to pray to in more than a year.
He knows it's probably leading him back to the cage, but it isn't like there's anything keeping him here anymore anyway except for gut-wrenching fear.
It takes him a day and a half to drive out there, and when he pulls up to the cabin, he doesn't let himself sit for even a minute, doesn't let himself wait, knows that if he does he won't be able to go in, and he has to. He has to because Dean might be alive, might be back, and if he is, Sam can't wait another second to see him.
He gets tackled. Soaked with holy water, a face full of Borax that almost blinds him, and a slice up his arm. It's Dean. It's him, and Sam knows it. He knows it like he knew the shifter wasn't Dean way back in St. Louis, and like he knew the Leshy in Estacada wasn't him when he was fifteen.
Dean cuts himself anyway and pulls Sam into a hug, and Sam doesn't want to let go, just wants to stay right there and pretend everything's okay and he's five again and Dean's telling him he just had a nightmare and everything will be okay.
And then Dean tells him he was in Purgatory. Cas didn't make it back, and Dean's been trying to call him for days on the phones Sam couldn't take out of the glovebox.
Sam thought he would be proud. He listened to him for once. He didn't hunt after that last time, and he didn't get himself killed, and he tried to make some kind of something for himself.
But Dean isn't proud, and he isn't happy. And Kevin needed Sam's help, and Sam wasn't there, and Dean needed him, and Sam just gave up, and Sam is nothing but a disappointment again, and it makes Sam sick just as much as the feeling in his gut because at least he knows this is real.
Sam opens up his laptop to find Kevin, and tells himself the noise behind him is just dishes settling in the sink, and he doesn't think, doesn't think, doesn't think.