A/N: Alright, kiddies, you can open ONE present on Christmas Eve...
He only had a second between seeing the head Leviathan smile, smug and gruesome and stained black, the righteous bone –(held by the Righteous Man, held by the Angel that'd pulled them (both)(broken) from Hell)– through his neck, but Sam felt it. A pulse of power, like a heartbeat, that made his hair stand on end, and Sam didn't even think. He pushed Kevin back, hard, away from the epicenter as he lunged for Dean—
And the Leviathan of Dick Roman exploded, imploded, splashed a corona of noxious black ooze everywhere; Sam had only just registered the bitter taint of it in his mouth, hot and stinging on his skin when everything…
"—white male, late twenties—"
"—unknown substance, noted skin irritation, full PPEs advised—"
"—unresponsive, possible head trauma. Get me the neck brace—"
Sound faded in and out like a radio signal in the mountains, fuzzy and indistinct. His head ached in a newly familiar way that he still wasn't quite used to; the sharp burn that came and went since the psychiatric facility, and Sam still wasn't sure if it came from Castiel taking Lucifer away, or the demon frying his brain with too much electricity. It wasn't like there was anyone he could ask to know for sure.
A cold hand touched his throat and Sam was up before his vision had even cleared, dodging the bodies he sensed and shouldering through the ones that were too close to avoid. He was running with the sound of voices shouting in his ears, flashing red-and-white just barely piercing the shadows over his eyes, and if he'd any room in his head to think about it, he would've laughed at how much this felt like he'd lost too much blood. How familiar it was, and how good he was at running through it.
But the only thing in his head was sharp static and his body was running on instinct –get away–, because after the first reflexive flinch from the cold, he heard the clatter of something metal falling as he lunged upright; the flashing as the lights of an ambulance. There were Leviathans in the hospital. He needed to get away. Get safe. Try to figure out what happened. Find Dean.
Running. Air bitingly cold on his skin, in his mouth and lungs. Feet pounding concrete, shouts fading. His vision slowly clearing enough that he could duck into an alley and be sure that no one saw him doing it. Only then could he take stock of himself.
His Taurus was still miraculously tucked into the back of his jeans, Ruby's knife a familiar weight in the inner pocket of his jacket. The skin on his face, neck, and hands all burned now that the prickle of adrenaline was draining away; Sam saw the runny tar of Leviathan blood spattered over his sleeves. It was cold out –his breath showed white in the weak light that managed to filter into the alley–, and well after dark, but still Sam was shaking, sweating, too hot. Nausea made him spit, made him taste bitter rot in his mouth, and he thought—no. Oh no. No more blood.
He heaved, braced against the wall beside him, but his stomach was empty; the bile was black-tinged when it hit the discarded newspaper under his boots. He stared at it numbly and dug his thumb fiercely into the tender scar on his palm, but everything remained the same, nothing flickering or changing. Sam made himself breathe and look away, pull a bandana from his pocket and wipe the poison from his skin; it stung even more as it smeared, raw and familiar like burning. He threw it in an overflowing dumpster when he felt like the worst of it was gone, and scuffed the bile stained paper into an oily puddle until it was pulp.
His phone was almost dead but surprisingly intact, though the screen read the message 'no signal'. Turning it off and on changed nothing.
Sam rested his forehead against the gritty cold wall beside him, a futile attempt to soothe some of the throbbing in his head, and lost time trying to calm his breathing again. The pounding of his pulse only made his headache worse.
The sky was turning pale with dawn, and Sam could still see his breath, pale gray and billowing. He had to be pretty far north for it to be this cold in May. He'd been keeping track, carefully, since the last time he'd woken in Bobby's panic room (as much as he could). It had been warm when they stormed SucroCorp. May 14th.
A street name. He needed to find a street name. Then he could pray to Castiel and then at the very least Dean would know that Sam was okay. Maybe the angel could even come and get him.
(he could do it, just one prayer, just one.) (Lucifer wasn't there. He wasn't)
"Castiel," Sam said, prayed, even as he moved unsteadily to the alley's mouth in search of a landmark—anything to give him a hint as to where he was. It was a city, and for the most part he and Dean didn't spend much time in cities, especially lately with the Leviathans hunting them. Too many cameras. "Please, wherever you are, tell Dean I'm okay. I'm—" his voice dried up in his throat. Carefully trimmed trees with their branches winter-bare; the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. "I'm…in Washington DC… I, Castiel, please come find me. I don't know how long—" At least half a year. "Castiel, please."
He waited, trying not to think, trying not to let his thoughts spiral down into that familiar black hole, but no angel appeared, and eventually Sam had to move. It was so cold, and the tremors had started, and…
He needed to find somewhere to lock himself down to detox, because this felt too much like coming down from demon blood.
Sam spent most of the day in an uneasy sleep, holed up in the corner of a basement in a derelict building so close to the Washington Channel that the air stayed damp. There were signs that someone else had used it recently; a pile of blankets that reeked of mildew and body odor, and a hacked-together camp stove that he put to use, burning scraps of junk to keep the temperature bearable. He tried not to get bile on the blankets, especially when the tar-black streaks in it was replaced by duller, coffee-ground looking bits that meant it was his own blood, instead. Still, nothing changed when he pressed his scar.
For the first time in a very long time, Sam was almost willing to walk into a hospital.
He tried praying to Castiel again, drowsy and bordering on delirious. Still nothing. He didn't let himself think about what Dean could've done while Sam was gone, missing. (At least six months.)
(In his nightmares, Dean was in the Cage with him.)
Shortly after nightfall Sam knew he needed to move, for food and water first, but he needed to get out of the capitol. The nausea and fever were persistent reminders that he wasn't in a good state to defend himself, but in truth it still couldn't compare to his previous detoxes. Maybe Leviathan blood was just toxic—or maybe it was just Dick Roman. It had never burned him before, and this wasn't the first time he'd been doused in the black goo.
The woman behind the counter of the convenience store reluctantly allowed him use of the bathroom key, but only after he'd bought his gatorade, protein bars, and day-old newspaper, trying to look as harmless as he could. Honestly, Sam couldn't even blame her; he was sure he looked (and smelled) like a homeless junkie –true, funnily enough, if you looked at it sideways–, even with the cash in his wallet.
Sam locked the door securely behind him and stared at himself in the cracked mirror above the sink. The face that looked back at him was thin and grayed, dirty looking with the start of a beard, eyes glassy and smeared red, skin littered with raw pink spots like chemical burns. The last remnants of smeared black still clung to him where he missed it cleaning up. His hair was greasy and clumped in places with Leviathan blood, tangling over his eyes and knotted behind his ear. He washed up as best he could and only looked marginally better, but the cold water felt good against his flushed skin, even if all he wanted just then was to boil his skin off just so he could stop feeling unclean. It wasn't a new feeling.
As he was returning the key, Sam noticed the display of burner phones in the locked case behind the cashier. They looked…a lot more sophisticated than the ones he and Dean had been making do with since Frank had taken their old ones. He bought himself one –cash, because if over six months had passed and there were still Leviathans out there his cards were no longer safe– and hoped that the woman had changed her mind about calling the cops on him. Then a wave of cold disorientation flushed through him, and Sam couldn't pinpoint why he was so sure that she would. He swiftly left, head tucked down low and shoulders curled in, and didn't slow down until the store was a good ten minutes behind him.
It was too cold to stay outside for long, and the layers he was wearing weren't holding up well against the icy, wet wind that was pushing in from the west. He ducked into a McDonald's and ordered a chicken salad to pick at so he wouldn't be kicked out. It was pure coincidence that he saw the date on the newspaper when he was reaching into the bag for the box containing his new phone.
His hands shook when he smoothed the paper down onto the sticky tabletop, his wilted salad almost knocked to the floor when he slammed his scarred hand onto the sharp corner of the table.
No flicker. Nothing changed. The paper read in stark, black ink: December 14, 2014.
Two and a half years.
He stole a car and left DC in a daze, lost time and found himself in a small town in West Virginia, in the parking lot of a diner, a waitress smoking out front in a puddle of flickering fluorescent light and staring at him. His bag of provisions was untouched in the passenger's seat; phone box unopened and newspaper crumpled but unread, food and drink still sealed. Sam took a deep, centering breath and got out of the car, but couldn't even manage an awkward smile at the waitress when he passed her at the door, bag crinkling under his arm.
The diner was quiet, practically empty, and no one looked twice at him when he sat with his back to a wall in the corner booth. The analog clock above the kitchen door read 4:25. His stomach churned uneasily at the idea of food, but Sam made himself order eggs and hash browns alongside his fruit and coffee. He still couldn't stomach much meat these days, even without the constant hallucinations turning beef to maggots and bacon to strips of his own flesh, but Dean had been trying hard to keep him close to his fighting weight, even if it meant plying him with meal-replacement drinks. His brother would be pissed if Sam let himself lose it.
He unpacked the phone while he was waiting for his food, not ready to look at the newspaper yet. The touch-screen threw him after so long using cheap flip phones, and the easy, fast internet access from the device in such a rural setting was disconcerting… But it had been two and a half years. A lot could have changed in that time.
He dialed Dean's number.
It didn't connect.
Sam called the backup—it went to voicemail for a women's health center.
He called Jody Mills and stammered out an awkward "Sorry, wrong number," at the sour man with a heavy Spanish accent that picked up at the other end of the line.
None of the numbers worked.
"You alright there?" Sam looked up into the pinched face of the fifties-some waitress that was sliding his food onto the table. She smelled of stale cigarettes, fingers stained yellow, and the watch on her bony wrist had a long scratch over the face.
"Y-yeah, fine, thanks," His voice sounded like he'd been screaming. She raised her drawn-on eyebrows at him and looked at his hands where they rested on the table, then back at his face. Her eyes were pale and faded gray; distant, but kind.
"Well, when you're done being 'fine', you can go wash up in the restroom and eat your breakfast. Shouldn't get busy 'round here for at least another hour." She nodded to the hall beside the kitchen door meaningfully and left him to go chat with the other waitress behind the counter. Sam stared after her, confused, but shook it off to unroll his silverware from the napkin.
His left palm was covered in blood, his fingertips wet with it, a smeared puddle on the brown-patterned tabletop and streaked across the face of his new phone. It took effort to make his fingers uncurl, nails sunk deep into the thick scar tissue. He hadn't even felt it. Even now, it was barely more than a distant throb, easily pushed aside.
(Lucifer had done wonders for his pain tolerance.)
He washed the blood away on autopilot, and didn't look at himself in the mirror. There was a roll of gauze waiting for him on the table when he returned, and a tall glass of orange juice that he hadn't ordered, and none of the wait staff looked at him as he sat again. Sam wrapped his hand with practiced efficiency and mechanically emptied every scrap of food from his plate, even though it all tasted like ashes on his tongue.
He couldn't let himself panic yet. Just because every single hunter and ally he knew wasn't—
The default search engine on the phone was Google—Search the Web was nowhere to be found. Nor were any of the sites that hosted any of his email accounts.
Sam took a deep breath and made himself think through the panicked adrenaline flooding his veins. Some of this was almost familiar.
He searched the internet for 'natural' disasters of May 2010, and found absolutely no sign of the destruction Lucifer had unleashed after claiming his true vessel (and the Devil had been so unbearably smug about that 9.2 in Rome).
He searched SucroCorp and Richard Roman Enterprises, and found nothing.
He searched for a television series called 'Supernatural', and still nothing.
Events of May 2012 were all about an alien invasion in New York City.
The currently trending news was that an organization called the Avengers, who were apparently a group of superheroes (costumes and everything), had taken down a 'Hydra' base in Las Vegas. And 'Hydra' was not a monster, but another organization—of evil dicks with roots in the Nazis and WW2.
Some of that…seemed familiar. None of it clicked until Sam started to dig a little deeper about the Avengers and saw the Hulk. So that was why Captain America and Iron Man had rung some faint bells. If he tried hard enough, Sam could almost remember holding the comic books once. Comics hadn't ever really been his thing, and Dean had always preferred sneaking them into movies when he could, rather than going out of his way for books that they didn't have the space to bring with them when John dragged them to the next hunt.
It wasn't his first time being dimensionally misplaced, but Sam didn't have a good feeling about coming back from it this time. He was alone. He didn't know where Dean was, or Castiel; if they could find him, or if they were even together and in any state to look. (If they were even alive.) Sam didn't have the first idea on even trying to get back on his own; it wasn't like Balthazar's spell, even if he did remember it. Who was to say that magic would even work in this world?
(And that wasn't even accounting for if he wanted to try.) ('No hell below us, above us only sky—')
Sam didn't stay long after that. He paid for his food and left a bigger tip that he could really spare, and then wondered a little hysterically if extra-dimensional currency actually had any worth. He would have to get rid of all of his cards, too. Look into making some new IDs, maybe—destroy all the ones in his wallet.
The smoking waitress –'Marjie', her nametag said– gave him that same distantly kind smile when he left. He wanted to tell her that she was wrong, that he wasn't a vet, that he had done too much for her to even entertain thinking about him like that—
Sam clenched his teeth as he shouldered the door open, fighting down another shiver. He hoped (not prayed, not anymore) that the Leviathan blood worked its way out soon; there was a difference between intuition and telepathy, and Sam didn't like how the lines felt like they were blurring. It was far too close to how he'd felt during the hallucinations. The come-and-go telekinesis was one thing –he'd already had that power before– but he didn't need any more check marks in the column for 'freak'. Or maybe 'monster', considering what was fueling them this time.
As he started up his stolen car –he'd have to ditch that soon, too– Sam had to swallow hard to keep his breakfast down, count the seconds to keep his breathing steady. He caught his eyes in the rearview mirror. The burns from the blood looked red and irritated, the rest of his skin almost waxy. The sun was rising again. Day two in a world with comic book heroes and none of the enemies he'd been fighting his entire life.
It wasn't a comforting thought at all.
He pulled away with the radio off, window open and icy-wet wind tangling his hair, cooling his fevered skin. This was the sort of town that always had an abandoned shack or two in the woods—he needed to sleep.
Two more days and three more stolen cars, and Sam couldn't shake the itch of paranoia. The inside of his head burned and ached in a way that no amount of painkillers could help, and although he could keep food down the nausea and fever had yet to abate.
He almost considered the hospital again –not nearly as much of a risk since he wasn't currently being hunted by biblical monsters– but his lack of ID and funds, plus the unshakable sensation that he was being followed killed the idea before it could grow roots. Instead he took tylenol as a hopeful placebo and wore the sunglasses he'd swiped from his second stolen car every time he needed to go into a gas station or Walmart for supplies.
The nosebleeds were an unwelcome surprise, and the number of tissues he went through was, frankly, something Dean would have actually taken him to the hospital for, but still not his most immediate concern.
Sam felt…an unnerving lack of emotion, when he caught another glimpse of the black SUV on his tail, quick to disappear into the darkness of the rural back-road. Driving with its headlights off. He hadn't felt much of anything since he realized how far from home he was, how utterly hopeless it was to think he could get back; for the first time in his life completely cut free from…everything. Dean. The family business. Destiny. He tried hard not to think about his brother, or where he could have wound up. Sam knew he needed to focus on keeping himself safe, alive; that he couldn't worry about Dean when he had even less of a chance of doing anything about it than he had when Dean had gone to Hell. Sam needed to try and make something for himself while he waited.
But he was being hunted, and it was impossible just then for Sam to think like anything but a Hunter. This wasn't the police following him. He had crossed state lines to check, and though they were good, Sam still saw them sometimes, and it was always the same SUV. He hadn't been confronted by anyone when he'd loitered around Walmart in broad daylight when he'd finally caved and bought the essentials (this time with a stolen credit card), or when he parked his newest hijacked car near a bank (for the cameras, of course) one afternoon to catch a few hours of uneasy sleep.
Interesting fact: Geographically, it seemed so far that the roads were pretty close to identical to the ones back home. Sam may not have had the entire map of the US seared into his brain quite as clearly as Dean –who could and had navigated from one side of the country to the other blind drunk, near death, or both, more than once– but he still knew the country better than most. Even some of the nuances Dean had had less reason to know. Like being able to tell at a glace which of the pretentious summer cabins dotting a lakeshore was most likely to have a stash of guns in the master bedroom. Because, in the end, even Stanford had added a skill to his hunting repertoire, in the form of his bragging, over-privileged classmates.
Sam pulled into the empty driveway and didn't move for a long minute, the old pickup clicking around him as it cooled. The Taurus pressed hard and body hot into the small of his back, a spare clip of silver bullets in his right pocket, the demon-killing knife close to his heart. Barely sufficient, compared to the full arsenal he was accustomed to having at hand; hopefully he'd chosen the right house.
What would the Sam of ten years ago think of this, he wondered dully. Preparing to set a trap for whoever it was that was stalking him—someone more than likely human. Maybe even law enforcement, government. Barely any guilt at all that he was fully prepared to shoot, no questions asked, regardless of who they were. Even if he aimed for somewhere non-lethal, people could still die.
He'd been a Hunter too long, too used to being hunted in turn. Human threats, 'real person problems', laws, were too distant to apply to him anymore. He'd been to Heaven, and Hell. He had memories in his head of existing for hundreds of years. It was exhausting to try to care about what 'normal' people had to, especially now, when he had no steady ground to stand upon, no safe place to rest. No stone one to lean on.
Sam made himself move before he wasted any more time, and was out of the truck and disabling the cabin's security within a minute; there was ostentatious, and then there was stupid, but dealing with security boxes were something he had never been bad at. That was good, because he didn't have the right tools to pick the lock and had to kick in the back door to get in. The inside was dark and cold, only a little dusty, and Sam could hear a dull hum from the larger appliances—electricity, so the lights would work. He internally marked the location of furniture and light switches as he slunk to the second floor, ears keen for any noises not his own nearly silent steps.
There was a gun safe in the closet of the master bedroom, but it was nothing he could crack quickly, so Sam passed it by in favor of checking elsewhere; he would come back to it. The second room had the unmistakable, ground-in smell of teenaged male, but more importantly a black, scuffed baseball bat that was in no way the proper weight to be legal. Sam took it, and the set of too-polished throwing knives with pretty decent balance, back to the master bedroom before he searched the rest of the house. The loaded shotgun he found in the fireplace was just too much, and Sam rolled his eyes before going back upstairs. He drank water from the tap in the ensuite bathroom and checked over the shotgun, gauging it unlikely to jam if he actually had to use it, then ate a protein bar while he unlocked and opened the window across from the door that led to the hall.
He didn't sleep, well and truly used to going without even if he hadn't turned nocturnal during the last week, and was flush with adrenaline, besides. He would have screaming nightmares if he tried to sleep in a place that was so cold. Sam flexed his left hand, working out the stiffness and ache, and unwrapped the gauze so he'd be able to grip the knives better. He shuffled through the drawers of the nightstand, the small boxes in the closet. Paced (like an animal in a cage).
For a while he laconically typed random strings of numbers into the gun safe to pass the time. No luck. He double and triple checked the positions of his weapons, refreshed his trap.
Sam raised his head when he heard a faint scrape downstairs –the umbrella that he'd placed against the front door– and he silently but swiftly crept first towards the window –there was a darker spot on the driveway behind his pale blue pickup, the SUV–and then towards the hall, to the balcony that overlooked the first floor. They were quiet, but Sam was used to listening for fainter sounds, and he could hear at least three of them in the house.
He also had a lifetime of training in moving silently and just as much practice in moving around dark places.
The bottom floor was visible in its entirety from the top of the stairs; in the second he spared to look before ducking back into the master bedroom he saw four of them, bulky with body armor and high gauge rifles, but none of the stark white lettering that would have identified them as police, SWAT, or FBI. The lumpy darkness around their faces might've been night vision goggles.
Sam took in a breath deep enough to make his lungs burn and went to wait by the window, the cold breeze on his face bracing, honing the adrenaline away from jittery and back to useful. Anticipation, or something like it, built in his chest like a bubble. He exhaled slowly and told himself that no matter what, he couldn't laugh as he waited, listening…
"Fuck!" a startled voice yelped, followed by a series of heavy thumps and more cursing when the man in the lead reached the step near the top of the staircase, the step that Sam had trapped by liberally coating in the lube that he'd requisitioned from the nightstand. Despite everything, Sam cracked a small grin; Dean had always joked about finding some way to weaponize lube. Of course his brother wouldn't be here to see Sam make his dream reality.
"Move, you fucking idiot!" another voice shouted, stealth abandoned, and the heavy clomp of boots pounding up the hardwood echoed like thunder through the house. Sam ducked out the window just before a burst of bullets flew down the hallway, and any hesitation he still held about using the shotgun was wiped away—life or death warranted lethal force, no matter who was after him. Maybe it had been different once, but not here, not now. It used to be something Sam would have hesitated over.
When the first of them framed himself in the doorway, Sam let loose the first knife, right handed, and the man screamed and dropped his gun when the blade buried itself to the hilt through his wrist. The injured one fell back and another took his place, leading with his gun, and Sam threw his second blade but didn't watch –he heard a pained grunt– as he ducked to the side of the window on the small, barred balcony, freed hands latching onto the shotgun propped against the outside wall.
Even fully expecting it, the return fire bursting through the wall only inches from his head was heart-stopping, and Sam vaulted to the ground below, coming out of his roll in a run that took him to the other side of the house. Fangs, claws, telekinesis, and blades were what he was used to fighting; facing a gun was a whole other ballgame than firing one, and it made him jittery in a way he hadn't felt in years, since Hunting again after Stanford. He also really didn't want to get shot again.
Sam circled around until he was at the back door and snuck inside again, and reflex moved him through surprise to swing the shotgun up and smash it into the temple of the man waiting just inside. He went down hard, the clatter of his gun on the floor no doubt calling the attention of the others, and Sam wrested down his instincts so that he could keep still and wait, heart pounding hard as he held his breath to listen again. He took two silent steps forward.
One second. Two, three.
Sam closed his eyes and threw the lights, opened them and fired at the head of the man pointing an assault rifle at his own, pivoted and fired once more at the one on the stairs with a matte-black handgun just coming level with center mass. Then he had to run again, because the last of them –hilt of a knife protruding from his shoulder (right subclavian artery, not a bad left-handed throw)– was firing from high ground, and the shotgun was done. He threw it at the man as hard as he could, and didn't wait to see if it hit.
Outside wasn't much colder than inside the cabin, but there was a wet wind coming off the nearby lake that nearly stole his breath on an inhale. Sam was momentarily blind from his choice to use the lights inside, but he circled the perimeter anyway, back towards where he'd hidden the bat earlier.
Sam ducked and lunged around the corner of the cabin, the unmistakable pain of a bullet radiating down his right arm while he started internally cursing how stupid he'd been to assume they wouldn't leave someone with the car. He breathed in through his teeth and drew the Taurus left-handed, mind clear in the way it always got when it was life-or-death and Dean wasn't there, and he blinked in the dark until he could see again. The stars were very bright, the moon a waning crescent.
Sam leaned around the side of the house, ducked back to avoid the anticipated shot, leaned back out, and fired. In the driveway, the silhouette of a man collapsed against the great dark shape of the SUV and slid down. No shots followed, but Sam kept his gun up as he slunk over to the vehicles, finger on the trigger.
The moonlight reflected off the cracked lens of the thick goggles on the man's face, shone darkly off of the streak of blood streaming down from the right side to disappear under thick black kevlar. A quick death. Sam felt the hot stickiness of his own blood spreading down his arm beneath the sleeve of his coat, soaking his side, and suddenly everything he'd been blocking out hit him at once. The burning throb in his head was climbing towards migraine proportions, and the sudden resurgence of nausea and heat almost made him stumble against the icy body of the vehicle. Sleep was suddenly the most enticing action he could imagine.
Except he had to go clear the cabin, because this was the sort of thing that would come back to bite him in the ass later if he wasn't careful.
The lights were still on, and Sam didn't need to be firing on all cylinders to know that the fight was over. They were all dead—he hadn't even meant—
The one just inside the back door was sprawled in a sluggishly spreading pool of blood, half his face caved in like it was made of play-doh. The two victims of his shotgun blasts were expected, messy, casualties; Sam had taken their body armor into account and gone for the throat instead of center mass.
The last, Sam couldn't see until he cautiously mounted the stairs, not able to muster any amusement for the lube-step anymore. His last victim was sprawled akimbo against the wall, head lower than it could ever naturally fall, neck like a collapsed straw. The carelessly thrown shotgun was on the ground beside him, a crack in the plaster of the wall above him, near standing head-height.
The other little details of the fight trickled back in, like a belligerent voice crowing at him. Poor quality throwing knives couldn't pierce as well as they had. They shouldn't have been able to go cleanly through one man's wrist bone –he could remember the awful (familiar) sound of steel through bone, now–, through the armored vest of another.
Jake's power, Sam thought distantly, detachedly. Super strength.
The other demon powers.
He drew in another deep breath and tucked the Taurus back into his jeans, finally giving into the need to pinch the bridge of his nose, pain and self-loathing and frustration all warring for notice as he stood in the midst of a killing ground. His killing ground.
Some part of him was still trying to place their affiliation, though, and Sam finally noticed the red emblem on their shoulders. It looked undeniably malevolent, and familiar, something he'd seen recently. A skull with octopus tentacles curling around it. He used his new phone to take a picture to jog his memory later, after he'd patched himself up and slept, and was hopefully more clear-headed. Maybe then he'd be able to wonder why they'd been hunting him in the first place.
Unbearably tired now that the adrenaline was leeching away, Sam surveyed the damage and knew immediately that there was no way he had the energy to set this right. Even if the upstairs hadn't been full of bullet holes, there was four men's worth of blood soaking into the floor, which was freezing even as he watched it. Instead he went around and wiped the prints off everything he'd touched, going so far as running a wet cloth over the hilts of the knives still stuck in the bodies, and finding the toilet cleaner in the upstairs bathroom to wipe away the spots of his own blood.
Just because he didn't exist in any records now didn't mean he never would. Quintuple homicide wasn't something he particularly wanted attached to him. He was more than familiar with the headache that came along with being labeled a serial killer.
Sam started up his stolen pickup –which he would now have to replace ASAP– just to make sure it hadn't been sabotaged, and then went back to the house's external security box. It was the work of seconds to set off the alarm, and moments later Sam was driving away without a backwards glance. The house may've been pretentious, but Sam wouldn't wish finding a clutch of long-rotting bodies on anyone.
The first light of dawn was creeping through the motel's grimy windows by the time Sam was finally able to sit down and stitch himself up.
There had been enough gauze and scrap cloth in his duffel to slow the bleeding from the gunshot, and thankfully another coat to cover the mess of his blood soaked sleeve long enough to book a room, but Sam opted to wait until he crossed state lines into Illinois before breaking into a pharmacy for antibiotics, needles and other miscellanea. Included in that was enough rubbing alcohol to obliterate the blood he'd gotten on the seat of the truck, before he left it in a Home Depot parking lot and stole a junker that looked like nobody would miss for a while.
Sam had taken a minute to laugh then, just edging in on hysterical. He hadn't stolen (or killed) this much, this fast, even while he had been soulless. He hadn't needed to practice pickpocketing like this since he'd run off to Flagstaff. (And Dean wasn't here. He had no one, not even the assurance that if he reached out and needed, his brother would be there. That hadn't happened since the bad days of the Apocalypse, and it made Sam cold.)
The motel was the same quality of crap that he'd been living in all his life, otherwise unremarkable beyond the unique configuration of mildew in the bathroom, and it was strangely comforting. The heater wasn't great, but it kept the room above freezing, and Sam needed the light to stitch up his wound properly.
Wounds, plural, he realized, once the field dressing and shirts were peeled away. What a mess. The bullet had gone cleanly through his bicep and into his chest; when he wiped the seep of fresh blood away from the hole, he could see the bullet where it was lodged against a rib. Lucky. And it also explained why it ached to breathe; that rib had to have cracked, at least. It was probably for the best that he'd forgotten to grab whiskey; it would be hard enough fixing this mess alone and left handed without having a drink to numb him farther.
Extracting the bullet and suturing up the wounds with only the usual motel sounds in the background, no brother at his side –ignoring his own hurts to help Sam stitch up the hard to reach parts– brought back even more unwanted memories. The hellish half-year only he had memory of, when the Trickster left Dean dead in the time loop. The entire damn time he was soulless and fundamentally alone, not realizing how much that hurt until it was reflected upon later.
The only good thing about this was that Dean wasn't there to see the demon powers coming back. Sam still felt too brittle around the edges to do anything but shatter into pieces if Dean rejected him again. Even if the powers were only –hopefully– temporary and brought on by Leviathan blood.
(It had been nearly a week, and just a small amount of blood; why weren't they fading? Why did he still feel so ill?)
Sam dragged himself into a lukewarm shower before he slathered the freshly closed skin in neosporin and covered them, dressed, and swallowed down some antibiotics with his room-temperature orange juice and protein bars. He ached to sleep but his mind wouldn't quiet, and so Sam propped himself up against the headboard –fully dressed down to his boots, duffel repacked and in easy reach– while he pulled out his phone and stared at the ominous looking emblem again.
Skulls rarely meant anything good, especially paired with the color red. The nagging sensation of familiarity neither abated nor grew into realization. A little frustrated with himself, but overall too damned tired, Sam pulled up the internet's default search engine and entered 'skull+tentacles+red+symbol'.
The consensus of the results was Hydra.
A good portion of any guilt Sam felt for killing those men drained away, replaced by confusion and the slightest edge of hysteria. Why was he being hunted by an evil Nazi cult? An evil Nazi cult who, apparently, had until fairly recently been deep in just about every government in the world and still had agents everywhere, even after their master plan had been hamstrung by Captain America, among others. The dumped information flooding the internet, about all the strings Hydra had pulled, all the wars they had instigated, all the lives they had snuffed out to further their own goals; it was nothing less than Sam expected from the epitome of human monsters.
Humans were always the worst monsters.
Sam pushed himself off the bed and wiped the blurry fog from his eyes, grabbed his duffel bag and headed for the door. He needed to get somewhere without cameras and lay low for a while, and he needed to get as far away from the place he'd killed those Hydra agents as he could before they could send more.
He could still defend himself with his right arm as weak as it currently was, but Sam didn't want to have to. His powers had always reacted most strongly when he was stressed; there was no telling what other ones might manifest if he was pressed into another life or death situation.
Sam put his back to the rising sun and drove.
"Rogers," Steve's voice came in clear over the phone, but Natasha knew him well enough by now to know that he was tired. She hadn't gone with him to the Las Vegas Hydra base, but Stark had been going on nonstop about how much organization had been necessary for mopping up afterwards. If she was right, and she often was about theses things, America's own supersoldier would've only returned to New York a couple hours ago. "Natasha? Did you need something?"
"Need? No," she said, once more taking in the tableau around her, broken Hydra bodies and the peculiar little bullet rolling around in her palm, pried from the skull of another dead man. "I thought you'd be interested in what I've been doing, though."
She heard a sigh from his end of the line and a muttering that was probably Wilson trying to talk him into sleeping before haring off back to… Natasha was 99 percent positive it would be Belarus, next. Wilson would make sure that Steve didn't run himself completely into the ground. He was a pretty decent handler. Compassionate.
"Can it wait, Natasha? Sam only now thought to tell me that I have blood in my hair," he sounded sulky, which never stopped being funny coming from a man as large as he was. Her lips twitched up almost involuntarily, and she didn't exactly try to keep it out of her voice, even when the toe of her boot was nudging the wrist of a cold-stiff body to better see the shiny, impractical blade sticking out of it.
"So, I've been tailing this Hydra STRIKE team…" she started, and paused for the expected static of Steve immediately putting her on speaker. "They'd been camped out pretty snug in DC –I have a few more leads from that, by the way; another munitions base in Michigan–, and looked like they were going to stay there. Until, a few days ago, when they suddenly split. Some genius thought they saw the Winter Soldier smack in the middle of the capitol."
"So of course I check the CCTV, and at first glance I could see what they must have meant, because you don't see men over six feet with hair that long, moving that fast, very often." Natasha tucked the mushroomed bullet into her pocket and crouched down to press another corpse's flattened throat with leather-encased fingertips, eyeballing the trajectory the dented shotgun would've had to take with raised eyebrows. There was a brief silence in her earbud, Steve's disappointment almost palpable; she continued to speak before he could open his mouth.
"I'm sorry it's not Barnes, Steve, I am. But I think you should be a part of this one." She hopped over the gummy remains of the trapped step –Clint would laugh his ass off when she told him about it– and went back downstairs to have another look at the body with the caved-in head, all the while keen to the sounds on the other end of the line. That might've been Steve running his hand over his face; those footsteps –precise and booted but not stealthy– were undoubtedly Wilson coming closer.
"Why's that?" Falcon asked in Steve's place, always a bit of a mama-bear when Barnes was mentioned and Steve got broody.
"I found the STRIKE team. The guy they were hunting set a trap, it looks like things got a little messy, and now we have five less Hydra agents to bring in." Natasha wasn't quite sure, given the state of his face, but she thought this guy might've been SHIELD before everything went down and came out. "Also, the guy's now completely in the wind, wounded, and most likely enhanced somehow."
"Enhanced?" Wilson echoed carefully, the sharp tool that he was. "You mean like..?"
"I mean that our mystery man threw a shotgun up at a 60 degree angle, caught an agent in the throat with it, and powdered his vertebra. He threw two, four inch knockoff ninja blades that he scavenged from the house during the fight; one sheared through the thickest part of a radius and came out the other side, the other went through heavy-combat grade chest armor and might've severed an artery. One of them has half his face caved in."
"You think he's another supersoldier," Steve said dully, muffled like he still had a hand over his face. He made a sound that was probably supposed to pass as a laugh, but wouldn't have fooled a toddler. "You think that Hydra might have got the serum right again, and there's another—" He cut himself off and took in a painful sounding breath. "There's another man being hunted for his body and blood, and probably isn't going to take well to being followed by anyone. Is that it?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying," Natasha agreed as soon as she was sure Steve was done. She went out the front door, cocked her head at the way the umbrella on the floor matched up to the angle of it just so, and went back to her innocuous little chevy parked behind the –disabled– Hydra transport. "Are you in?"
Steve laughed again, more genuine this time, and Natasha didn't have to try hard to imagine the silent conversation of eyebrows and shrugs that the two men carried out. "Now, do I really have a choice?" Steve asked wryly, mercifully lacking resentment at yet again being dragged away from his continuing search for Barnes.
He had to have figured out by now that he wouldn't find the Winter Soldier until the other supersoldier was good and ready to be found, and was just continuing at this point from sheer, bullheaded stubbornness. The history books had never mentioned that so implicitly, but some of the previously classified SSR files said some pretty interesting things about Steve Rogers, if you read between the lines.
"What can you tell us about this guy?" Wilson asked as Natasha sent the little cabin's coordinates to the cleanup crew and wound her way back down the rural road in the gray light of early morning winter. "And where do you want to meet up?"
Steve really did have a good eye for teammates. It just made it all the more gratifying that he also chose to trust her.
"I'm in Cave Run Lake, Kentucky, for now. If you want to meet me you need to bring some of Stark's goodies, otherwise I have to come back to New York. Mystery man's been moving at night, stealing older cars without GPS, and is almost uncannily good at keeping his face off camera. Mostly it looks like he's been heading southwest, but after this he's probably changed his habits to shake any other tails."
"Send us your coordinates, I'll go ask Tony for your gadgets," Steve said in his mission voice, then, "He'll be thrilled," Like the sarcastic shit he really was.
"Anything else we should know before we head out?" Wilson chimed in, farther from the phone now, probably already repacking. Hopefully he would shove Steve into the shower first, if that comment about blood in his hair was true and not just Falcon being a shit, too.
Natasha drummed her fingers on the steering wheel and sighed silently, rolling her eyes because both of them had very clearly stopped moving to wait for her to answer. She didn't know why in the world this guy would be shooting silver bullets, but…
"He disabled the alarm on the house he took his stand in, but then went back and triggered it before he left. I think he wanted someone to find the bodies." As a warning to Hydra? Or something else?
"Yeah, I know."
A/N: I'd love to hear your opinions. And speculation ;3