Warnings: mention of suicide
Word count: 3,110
Spoilers: through S9 mid-season hiatus
Summary: Sam's only been himself again for a few months when an old enemy threatens to end his life for good. Can he trust Dean to save him, or is it better to just let go?
A/N: Written for the ohsam prompt (full version here) of post-Gadreel Sam not trusting Dean even though his life is at stake. Also filling the "twenty-four hours to live" square on my trope_bingo card, which makes it a blackout bingo! \o/
It hurts, but Sam can deal with it. Even if it gets tougher in the hours to come—which he's pretty sure it will—he's handled worse. Even a demonic poison can't compete with what Lucifer himself could cook up.
Besides, knowing there'll be relief at the end makes it almost bearable.
He leans back against the rocks behind him, squinting out over the ocean below. At least she left him in a beautiful location, although he wouldn't be surprised if she was also hoping he'd throw himself off the rocks despite her warning.
"Twenty-four hours, Sam," Abaddon had said with a red-lipped smirk when she finished injecting the syringe into his vein. "No more and no less."
Still stunned from the blow to the head he'd taken trying to defend himself against three demons almost as tall as him, it had taken a moment for her words to sink in. By then, she was gone, leaving him at the California roadside overlook where he'd pulled in to investigate reports of a haunted picnic shelter that he was now sure were fake. All he had was the crappy car he hot-wired a month ago in Laramie and an hourglass that drains the sand in only one direction no matter which way he stands it.
By now, the hourglass holds a lot more sand in the bottom than the top. It's sitting on the rocks next to him, grains trickling away whether he watches them go or not. The car's in the parking lot at the other end of the short nature trail, sitting by itself in the chilly February wind whipping up from the Pacific.
For a couple of hours, Sam thought about running. He thought about calling Garth and asking him if he'd heard anything about a 24-hour demonic poison. He weighed the odds of anything actually happening in that time period that could save him, then accepted that it was better this way. He can go on his own terms, even if it's a Sisyphean decision, can take the out that's been offered him and just. Let. Go.
A spasm of pain washes over him, liquid fire briefly burning through his veins, and Sam rides it out with clenched teeth. When he opens his eyes again, the clouds have passed over the sun, reducing the glare on the water below. He never made it up to the northern California coast with Jess, much as they talked about it. So many things he didn't get to do with Jess. It's kind of fitting that it should end here.
Sam watches the waves for a while, slowly advancing with the tide, crashing farther and farther up the rocky beach. When he checks his watch again, he sees four hours are left. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and looks at it for at least the fifth time since Abaddon and her henchmen left. He hasn't spoken to Dean since kicking out Gadreel two months ago. Calling him to tell him his little brother's about to die, and there's really, truly, nothing he can do about it, is more than a little cruel.
But keeping silent is also going to keep Sam safe, just in case there is something Dean can do about it. "Not this time," he says quietly, pocketing the phone. The price of his life has been too high, too many times. It's going to end here.
He's hungry and a little bit thirsty, and there's food and water back in the car, but it doesn’t seem like there's much point. It makes Sam think about the ancient Egyptians, about how they'd make sure their kings were well-provisioned for the afterlife. That leads to thoughts of Osiris and the various gods they've taken down over the years. Dean assumed they went to Purgatory with the other monsters, but Sam had always maintained that it wouldn't make much sense for gods from another pantheon to be bound to the Catholic schema of the afterlife. To which point Dean would usually say something about how it didn't matter, dead was dead, even though the two of them knew better than anyone else how much of a lie that could be.
Maybe Sam will find out soon.
He's not worried about where he's going to end up, not anymore. If his death took him to Heaven after the unforgiveable deed of freeing Lucifer, he's got to be okay now. He wonders if his Heaven is going to turn out to be solitary after all, but at the moment, he doesn't mind. The thought of years or decades to find himself, to get straight who he is aside from Dean Winchester's little brother, is more than a little attractive. He's been trying that for the last two months, after all, but it's been hard to know where Dean stops and he begins. Maybe dying will make it easier.
Sam has just checked his watch again—three hours now—when he hears the crunching of footsteps on the gravel trail. If you'd asked a moment ago, he would have said there was nothing to be afraid of anymore, but he would have been wrong. He lurches to his feet, reaching for a gun that's no longer in his back pocket, heart thumping faster than even the poison has made it go.
When it's the familiar bow-legged form of his brother that rounds the bend in the trail, Sam almost wishes he still had that gun after all.
"Sam!" Dean's breathing heavily, one hand clenched tightly like he's holding something small. "Thank God."
He takes a step back, watching his footing on the cliff's edge only out of habit. "What are you doing here, Dean?"
"Abaddon told me where to find you." He's looking Sam up and down in the old familiar pattern of checking for injuries, but his eyes are slightly wild. "She said she poisoned you."
"She did." Sam jams his fists into his jacket pockets to hide the sudden tremors in his hands. "Said it would take effect in twenty-four hours. There's about three left."
"Thank God," Dean breathes out. He holds out his clenched hand and carefully opens it to reveal a small vial, about an inch long, filled with a crystal blue liquid. "You need to take this."
Sam backs up another step. He hasn't had any other hallucinations yet, doesn’t even know if they're part of the poison's progression, but hallucinations are far more likely than Dean suddenly showing up here on the edge of the world with a cure that Abaddon had assured him doesn't exist. "What does it do?"
"Saves your ass," Dean says, still holding it out. "C'mon, Sam."
"How did she find you?" Sam asks. "Why did she tell you?"
"She wanted me to know what she'd done," Dean replies, completely skirting the first question. "She knew we were on the outs and thought she'd get a kick out of killing you when I couldn't do anything about it. Told me where to find you in case I wanted to say goodbye."
Sam's teeth hurt from how tightly he's clenching his jaw. "Of course," he says, his mouth twisting bitterly. "How could I have thought that me dying was about anything other than you?"
"Damn it, Sam." Dean grimaces. "That's not the point. The point is, Cas and I plowed through the library in the bunker and found an antidote." He nods at the blue vial still on his palm. "This is it."
It's kind of a relief that Sam doesn't even have to think about it. He shakes his head. "I don't want it."
Dean's eyes bug out. "The fuck does that mean?"
"It means that I'm done." Sam spreads his arms wide. "I already decided that, you know. Remember, after the trials, when I was in my coma? When I told Death I was ready?"
"What are you talking about?" Dean asks, left eyelid twitching like it does when he's pretending not to know something that he really does.
Folding his arms over his chest, Sam says, "The last thing your asshole of an angel did before I kicked him out was to give me back all my memories. Every single one that he had covered up, just to get me back for revoking my consent." Dean's face is going ashen, but Sam plows on. "The fact that I'd come to terms with dying from the trials, for one. They way you tricked me into thinking it was you I was saying yes to, which was pretty clever, by the way. All the way up to…" He trailed off, unable to say it without choking on the name. "Kevin."
"Sam, I am so—"
"Would you even have told me?" Sam asks. "If you had gotten him out on your own, would you ever have let me know what I did to Kevin? Or any of it, for that matter?"
"Goddamn it, Sam, you did not do anything to him!"
"It was my hand that was on his skull, Dean. It was my eyes that watched his being burnt out." Sam turns away and stares out over the water. "I'm just glad I won't have to remember what that feels like for much longer."
There's the crunch of gravel, but Dean's still keeping his distance. Maybe he's afraid if he gets too close, Sam will throw himself over the edge. Knowing Abaddon, that would probably only end in his broken body being in agonizing pain for two and a half more hours. Dean clears his throat. "Okay, I get it. You made your peace, even if I don't understand. But that was then, Sam, and this is now. It's not about the trials anymore. It's about the angels and everything they're trying to do, it's about—"
"It's about you," Sam says tiredly without turning around. "It's about what you want. I wanted to finish those trials. I was willing to suffer the pain, to take the hit in order to get those gates closed. But because you couldn't handle it, I backed off. And the world is going to keep paying for that for a long time."
"Look, I know that's on me," Dean starts.
"Damn straight it is." Sam takes in a deep, slow breath, feeling the sting of salt in his nostrils. "You knew that the last thing I would have wanted was something else inside of me, taking control. And yet you did it without even knowing what you were letting in. So excuse me if I can't trust that that's an antidote just because you think it is."
"At least try it," Dean pleaded. "If it doesn't work, it doesn't work."
He turns to face his brother at that with a level, steady stare. "There are things that are worse than death, Dean."
Dean swallows hard and looks away, leaving Sam with the feeling that he's scored a point. After a moment, Dean says in a low voice, barely louder than the crashing of the waves below them, "Yeah, I get that. Just don't…" He breaks off and runs a hand over his jaw. "I understand that you think you're ready to give up. But don't do it because of me. Don't die just to spite me."
Sam gives a huff of breath. "I already made my mind up before you got here. Don't make this all about you, Dean. Not again."
"Before I got here, there was no antidote. There was nothing to make up your mind about. Now there is, and I'm begging you to make the right choice."
"You don't even know what that will do." Sam points at the vial in Dean's hand. "Or what this poison in me will do, even if that neutralizes it. I could be a carrier for Croatoan or something like it, passing it on to you and everyone else I come across. She'd like that, wouldn't she?" He shakes his head, never once looking away from Dean. "I can't risk that. You know I can't."
"Then we test your blood," Dean presses. "If there's no sulfur, then you're clean, and life goes on."
"There're too many unknowns," Sam argues. "Why would Abaddon tell you what she'd done to me if there was a way to undo it?"
"Because she didn't know there was," Dean replies. "It was buried in the library, something Josie never would have seen. And she didn't know I had Cas to get me the ingredients and get to you in time, either. She didn't know, Sam. She wanted to get me off my game so I won't be able to stop whatever she's got cooked up. That's why she told me."
There's another wave of pain coming on, and Sam turns away and grits his teeth, letting it pass over him in a shudder. When he turns back, Dean is wide-eyed and pale, but his jaw is set. He's made up his mind about something, and Sam braces himself for more arguments that he has to counter, guilt trips or pleas or even a compulsion spell to make him take the vial out of Dean's hand, because he wouldn’t put anything past Dean right now.
He's shocked when instead, Dean steps back and lowers his arm to his side. "I'm going to leave this here," he says quietly. He carefully sets the vial down in a depression in a nearby rock and then straightens up. "It's up to you, Sam. I'm going to—" He breaks off and swallows, hard. "I'm going to walk away, and I'm not coming back. So when I don't hear from you again, I can pretend that you're still out there somewhere, being pissed at me and never wanting to see me again. I won't know, and that's fine."
"That's convenient," Sam retorts. If this is his last chance to lash out at Dean, to pay him back for a fraction of the betrayal and hurt he's visited upon Sam in the last six months, he's going to take it. "You can have the best of both worlds that way. Pretending that everything's fine and that you've saved me once again."
Dean flinches as though he's been struck. He pauses and then says, "It can't be the best of anything if you're not there."
There's silence except for the crash of the waves and the thudding of Sam's heart. Dean holds his gaze for a moment longer and then takes one step back, and then another. "Goodbye, Sammy."
Sam watches him go, listens to his footfalls on the gravel path until the crash of the waves has drowned them out. He checks his watch and sees just under two hours left.
Then he drops down to crouch among the rocks, lifting up the tiny vial, tilting it so that the waning afternoon sunlight glints off the clear blue liquid within.
"Goddamnit, Dean," he mutters out loud.
The setting sun is going to make it hard to see the path soon, but Sam waits half an hour after the deadline, and then a full hour, just to be sure. He stands up, feeling perfectly normal. There's enough of a moon that he can pick his way back over the rocks and up the gentle slope of the hillside to the parking lot.
He's only half surprised to see Dean sitting in the Impala, gripping the steering wheel like he's navigating a treacherous mountain road in a blizzard. Sam wonders if he would have waited till morning to go out and find Sam's body on the rocks, if he would have sat there all night like a guardian as Sam passed into the next world.
He also can't help but wonder how quickly Dean would have followed him.
Dean's eyes snap to his as soon as he sees Sam emerging from the trail. He doesn't move, fingers still white-knuckled around the steering wheel. Sam doesn't look away as he walks around the front of the Impala, only breaking his gaze to open the door, the familiar creak touching something deep inside of him that lets him know things are going to be okay.
He sits down and shuts the door. "I thought Cas brought you here."
Dean draws in a shaky breath. "He, uh, he did. Said he had some other stuff to do, so he brought the car so I could get out of here after." He lets out a snort. "Or drive her off the cliff, if it came to that."
Sam grimaces. He doesn't want to have that power, to have known that it wasn't only his own life he was deciding, but his brother's as well. There's no way around it, though. As furious as he still is at Dean, it's no more fair for him to be deciding for the both of them than it was for Dean to do the same. But the second Dean showed up, that was what his choice became.
He clears his throat. "I'm still mad at you. I still haven't forgiven you, though God knows you've forgiven me for things you shouldn't."
"I'm not asking for that," Dean says quickly. "I know I fucked up, Sam. And I'm sorry for everything that came out of it. But I'm always going to choose you. You know that."
Sam looks down at his hands, clutching the empty vial. He does know that, knows the dark side of it as well as the light. It's not like he can say any differently when it comes to Dean, after all.
"You let me choose," he finally says. "That's all I ask."
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Dean look up at him. Sam doesn't meet his gaze, not sure yet if he's going to stay in the Impala or get back in his little piece of crap car and drive away once more. He's not sure what he's going to do now at all.
His stomach makes the decision for him with a loud growl, and he claps his hand to it in embarrassment. "Sorry. Guess I didn't really eat today."
"That makes two of us." Dean's hands finally unclench from around the steering wheel. "You, uh, you wanna follow me into town?"
"There's a town nearby?" Sam asks. He can't remember the drive here, suddenly exhausted now that twenty-four hours have come to a close.
"I have no idea," Dean admits.
Sam can't help the small smile quirking one corner of his lips. "Let's find out," he says, settling back into his seat.
In less than ten minutes, the rumble of the Impala puts him to sleep.