There were a lot of things he could have done after Dean died, a lot of ways it could have gone, but it went the way the people who knew him best thought it would. He took that old car - the Impala that belonged to his Daddy, and then belonged to Dean, and now belonged to him - and took off. No one heard from him for a while, what with just losing his brother and all, he was kind of torn up with grief.
You might think Bobby Singer would be the first to hear from him, known Sam since he was just a baby, but the first person who heard from him was Ellen Harvelle. She was damn sick with worry after he disappeared, so when he walked into her new bar, looking like a right mess, she slapped him good.
“Don’t ever disappear like that again, you hear me?” She said, voice choked, and he nodded, looking too old for his age, and then she pulled him into the tightest hug he might have ever had. He winced, bruised and banged up, having gone looking for any kind of trouble that could have gotten him killed, and none of it had worked. “Go take a shower,” she said, her voice tight, hand on his cheek. There was stubble there, and it was strange because Sam had always been clean-shaven, had always been so clean, no matter where the road had taken him and his brother. But when he stood there in front of Ellen he smelled of whiskey and cigarette smoke, and he was too damn skinny to be anything close to healthy. “I’ll put some stew on.”
When Ellen’s daughter, Jo, caught word of Sam being around again, it was the first time she’d been anywhere close to home in a long time. She walked in the front door of this new place - built right on top of the old place that burned down - and stood there like she owned it. “Let me look at you,” Ellen said, giving her daughter the once over. “It takes a dead Winchester and a broken one to bring you home,” she finally said.
For the first time, maybe ever, her daughter said “Mom, I’m sorry.”
The first few days of Sam’s presence at the new Roadhouse was awkward in ways it never was before. Some of it was Dean’s passing; Sam would never be the same after losing his brother, and everyone who ever knew him - even in passing - had known that. And maybe some of it was because Sam had just changed.
He drank a lot of Ellen’s best Johnny Walker, but he worked his payment out at night, wiping down the bar, cleaning the place after everyone had left, maybe so he didn’t have to hear them murmuring about him. He worried anyone that laid eyes on him; he was drawn and pale, too damn quiet for the kid they used to know. Hell, it’d only been six months since his brother passed, so there was still hope things might get better.
Jo would find him sometimes, sitting out back on empty beer crates. He always had a bottle of whiskey out there with him, and a pack of cigarettes. “You don’t smoke,” she said, but he took a drag anyway and didn’t choke, exhaling a cloud of smoke. He didn’t look at her for a long time. “I haven’t told you I’m sorry.”
He finally looked at her then, and it was a bit of a shock for her. His eyes were red-rimmed, bloodshot, dark half-circles under his eyes; he needed to shave, but not too badly. “Thanks,” he said, and she realized it was the first time she’d heard him talk in the three days she’d been home. His voice was cracked and pained.
“Spare a smoke?” she asked, and he looked at her again, then back down at the Marlboro reds.
“You don’t smoke,” he said softly, but handed one to her anyway. She didn’t choke either, and they finally had something in common.
He had his own little space outback, by the crushed barb-wire fence. He had thrown this dirty old mattress down, one that was salvaged from the old place. It smelled like fire and wood smoke, but it was a reminder of their old life - his and Dean’s life - and a reminder of the things he lost.
Sometimes Ellen stood in the back door watching him lay out on the mattress and chain smoke, drinking beer or whiskey, whichever he came across first for that night. Sometimes, Jo would come out and sit with him, both of them lying on their backs under the inky, black sky, not really saying much of anything, passing smokes and booze back and forth.
“I loved him too,” she said once.
“I know,” he replied.
And they didn’t bring it up again.
He’s cleaning the bar down before opening one night, cigarette hanging from his lips; he’s got one rag over his right shoulder and he’s pulling up a rack of clean glasses. He chokes when he sees at first, because he hasn’t thought about hunting since Dean died and he didn’t want to think about it ever again. The sound of the glasses crashing doesn’t seem to register but sets Ellen and Jo running out to check on him, and he doesn’t even feel the cigarette that fell from his mouth burning through his tee shirt and melting a round spot of skin on his stomach.
“Jesus, Sam,” Ellen said, slapping the cigarette out of the crease in his shirt which suddenly makes his brain register that it damn well hurt. “The hell are you doing to my bar?”
“Ash,” he said quietly.
“What are you talking about?” Jo asked him as she grabbed the broom and started to sweep.
“You built on top of the old place, yeah?” Sam asked Ellen, and she knows the kid is damn smart, and the look on her face told him not to ask questions he already knew the damn answers to. “Jesus, Ellen,” he said, swiping his hands over his face and through his hair. “You know better than to do shit like that.”
“You’re talking nonsense-”
“Ash was standing right there, looking at me,” he blurted out. And oh, it made more sense now. Sure, the old place burned down, but it didn’t mean everyone inside burnt completely to ashes.
Jo sighed. “I’ll get shovels.”
He was covered in dirt and sweat when it was over, and they had to close the place down for a few days to lay a new floor. “Thanks,” Ellen said gruffly. “I wanted… He deserved some peace, you know?”
Sam nodded and walked out back.
It was a good three months before Bobby stopped by. Sam shoved his hands deep in his pockets and stared at the floor, and old habit he’d never been able to break. “Nice of you to call, Sam,” Bobby said.
“I’m sorry,” Sam said, and felt himself caught in that endless loop of apologies all over again.
Bobby nodded. “You going to get me a drink or what?”
Bobby’s stay was short, and for the sole purpose to see with his own eyes that Sam was making it by. He was a little on the skinny side, but grief does that to people sometimes, even if you knew what was coming ahead of time - maybe that just made it worse. He left Sam with instructions to drop by sometime, knowing full well that Sam might never make it. Bobby’s place was full of memories for Sam - of his father, and of his brother - and Sam was still a breakable thing.
He wasn’t as smooth as Dean was when he used to do it, but the first time he brings a girl up to his room at Ellen’s it’s rushed and sloppy. She was bottle-blonde and had a bright red mouth, and Sam was hard as soon as she touched his knee. She wasn’t his type - her kind never had been - but he needed to do something.
The whiskey made his head buzz too much, and he fumbled with the condom more than once, but he pulled her down onto his cock and she moaned loud and long. He turned them over and put her on her back, fucked into her too hard and too fast, and didn’t even bother to make sure it was good for her. When he came it didn’t even feel good, it just felt over. He stripped off the condom and threw it in the wastebasket next to his bed, and she left without being told.
When he looked at himself in the mirror the next morning, he felt sick to his stomach. Sam was never Dean, see? They were complete and total opposites, but it made things work. He was on his own now, and he didn’t know which part of the equation he was supposed to be, or if he was supposed to be both, or if he was supposed to be a new equation all together - all alone.
Even after six years passed, he didn’t know the answer, still didn’t know how to let go; how to move on.
Jo helped him wash down the Impala after August one year; it was covered in dirt and dust from non-use, and the inside needed cleaning as bad as the outside. “Are you glad you kept his car?”
Sam went stiff beside her, and nodded. “I just…” It occurred to him that he hadn’t talked about it. He hadn’t talked at all to anyone, about any of it, and Jo… she loved Dean, too. Maybe, maybe she could understand, even just a little. “I needed… It was a part of him,” he said quietly.
She nodded. “I kept the bullet you shot him with once, when you were possessed.” It’s so out of place, so sudden, and so perfectly Jo, that Sam let out a burst of laughter before he could stop it. She started laughing too, and somehow, it was just as easy to cry with her.
They sat on the dusty ground passing the bottle of tequila back and forth, grimacing after each mouthful, leaning up against the car. He could share memories with her, and not worry; he could share memories with her and know that half the hunting community wouldn’t be buzzing with stories about Dean that they had no right to know.
“Don’t you want to go back to school?” She asked, eyes a little unfocused.
“No,” he answered. “I thought I did, once, but… After my Dad died I just wanted to finish the damn thing, and after Dean died…” he stopped, taking a long pull from the nearly empty bottle. “There just isn’t any point now.”
“And you’re wanted by the FBI,” she said so casually that Sam laughed again.
“Yeah,” he replied. “That too.”
“I don’t want to hunt anymore,” she finally said. “Ever. I found what killed my Dad and I killed it and… I thought I’d feel something. But I just felt disappointed.”
Sam looked at her, and his head was too dizzy, too fuzzy. “Yeah,” he said. “I know how that feels.”
When she turned her head to look back at him it felt like a movie, because their faces were too close and she laughed. “You going to kiss me now, Sam?”
He didn’t know what to think about that, so she didn’t bother to let him think at all. She knocked the rest of the bottle over climbing onto his lap. Their mouths tasted mutually like tequila and salt, and something bitter like loss.
Her skin felt softer than he somehow imagined it would feel; she was so hard, so tough, he thought all of her would feel the same, but the skin of her stomach was pale and smooth and soft. Kind of like Dean. She launched herself forward until he toppled over, head banging against the hard ground.
“Don’t you do that,” she breathed, her breath a mixture of alcohol and sweet anger. “Don’t you think about him while you’re fucking me.”
You might not think that Sam Winchester would think of his brother while he was about to fuck this pretty thing, but anyone who knew Sam and Dean knew they were more than what brothers should have been - but they didn’t say and no one paid any mind. Wasn’t anyone’s business but theirs.
The old mattress wasn’t as comfortable to fuck on as it was when they were just lying in silence. Her jeans and panties were in a heap next to them, and Sam’s jeans and boxers were pushed down around his knees. Jo’s shirt was rucked up along with her bra, small, tight breasts exposed to the cool night air. He fucked into her slower than the last girl, and she gasped in surprise, too tight to have been with anyone for a long time.
“Fuck,” he whispered into her neck, sweat breaking out over his skin.
She slid a hand up, tangled her fingers in his hair. “Come on,” she whispered. “Sam, come on.”
She felt good - she felt so goddamn good that he was ashamed he suddenly wanted this so badly - and she pulled him in, cradled him, and scratched her short nails up his back. She dug her heels into his thigh, into his lower back, and whispered “Sam… Sam, please…” until he took her face in both giant hands and held her head still, kissed her hard, until she was biting and kissing back, drawing blood from his lips.
“Shit,” her voice was a high, tight whisper in his ear. “Shit, shit, shit…” she pushed up against him, arched her back, squeezed tight around him. He hated that she felt so good, hated that maybe he could feel good again without Dean there.
“Jesus,” he bit out. “Fuck, Jo -” He slammed into her too hard, forced the air out of her in a tight gasp and came hard. It had been a long time since he’d fucked anyone without a condom, and his dick pulsed hard with the thought of filling her up.
When Dean’s birthday came around, they celebrated with a free round of drinks. Bobby would stop by, and they’d close the Roadhouse down early. It became their own sort of tradition that they’d sit around and tell each other stupid things, some things about Dean, and some things that Dean would find amusing in general.
Sam and Jo would disappear, sit out on the Impala and smoke a joint, passing a bottle of beer back and forth. They didn’t talk because they didn’t need to, bundled up in warm coats to fight off the cold chill that had nothing to do with the winter air.
They’d fuck slow and languid, and sleep after curled up around each other, more for warmth than for need of affection.
Ten years or so, and the other hunters talked about Sam and Jo liked they used to talk about Sam and Dean - like they were one person.
There weren’t any white lights or pearly gates, he just sort of woke up where he’d been lying. He was a little shocked to see Dean standing there with the same shit-eating grin he wore in life, and the same clothes only cleaner. Sam wasn’t sure if it was Heaven or Hell or someplace in between, but he didn’t care because Dean looked alright.
He smiled, showing teeth and said, “Hey, Sammy. Where ya been?”