Sam returns to the same room closer to twilight than he meant to. His eyes are burning and he knows he's getting clumsy, but he also knows he's running out of time. He hasn't found a trace of where the thing is keeping Dean during the day; or at least not one that's recognizeable to him. None of the locals have seen that face or heard that voice, and everyone he's encountered has given him worried looks. Not a weird stranger please go away type of worry; it's the even more dreaded look at that poor boy about to drop worry. Every now and then it degenerates to I'll bet your missing brother is dead by the side of the road somewhere.
He's tired enough to start thinking he should be able to sense Dean somehow. Six months has not refilled the part of him that recognized his brother after four years apart. A whole eighteen years prior had been derailed by that simple and necessary bid for freedom, and he realized that running like hell from place to place since Jess' death has not given him the grasp he needs on this older version of Dean. Sam himself has changed enough to shift the way they match up, continental drift of the soul, and adult Sam has not tried to fill in the gaps the way his younger self had yearned to do. He can't be what anyone else needs him to be, and he worries whether that's why Dean was taken so easily: the spots meant for Sam were left empty and maybe too easy to see.
He also worries about being capable of sense anymore.
When he tries to unlock the door with weary hands, it swings open too easily. The knob twists away in his hand before he can get the key in.
Sam rolls away to the right by instinct, and Dean's gun comes out of the small of his back, held low in steady hands, elbows locked. When nothing moves in the room for long, crystal clear seconds during which Sam holds his breath, he swings his left foot around and bangs the door open. It slams into the wall and rebounds, and still nothing comes to greet him. He tries to look everywhere at once, taking in the last slant of daylight across the faded carpet, the paint flaking off the door, the darker confines within still silent and feeling stale. He has no sense that anything's moving inside.
Once the initial shock wears off and he can glance at the floor again, cold realization steals along his arms and chest. The bottom of the door should have spread the salt around even further, but it hasn't. The salt is gone. Not a grain remains.
How the hell could he have been so damn dumb? Of course hotels have housekeeping, someone comes in once a day if you let them, or once every two days when it's obvious you've wandered away somewhere. He would remember that if he stayed more than a couple nights at a time. He would remember that if he wasn't constantly fleeing or so desperate for unconsciousness. This was a deal breaker, though, this little slipup.
Sam steps over the threshold, arms still held out in a defensive stance, all three safeties off the Glock. He loosens his arms a little without realizing he's doing it, keeping the circulation going and the muscles from locking up, every sense focusing on the dim room. Bed made, bathroom door closed, fresh vacuum marks on the carpet. He leaves the door open, knowing it's getting darker by the second but realizing the damn thing could have been hiding here all day. That bit of irony makes too much sense and he's already believing it. If it isn't here already, it'll come right in behind him now that the doorway is clean. Something with his brother's face will come right in and turn him inside out, because he's not going to shoot him until it's really too late for both of them. He promised but he didn't promise when .
He kicks the bed to see if anything's under it. It shifts a little, and nothing else moves. The bathroom door slams open into the wall behind when he shoves it, and there's nothing there either. The shower curtain is already open, sparing him the potential cliche' drama. The real Dean would hide there to scare him, and then laugh his ass off when it worked; but Once is too impatient to let something like comedic tension build.
He drops his arms and lets the gun dangle in one hand. The room is clear.
He grabs the canister of salt off the nightstand, grateful that he's had the foresight to keep leaving it everywhere, because he's not sure he wants to go back out to the car this close to dark. He snaps the light on while he's at it.
When he lifts his head to look at the door, it's partially closed from the earlier rebound. He can see thin red scrawls across the age-yellowed surface. Dripping scrawls. It's so fresh that there's still a bead of crimson slipping away toward the floor. Sam knows it's not paint and that yes, Once was here just ahead of him and then walked away again. The letters are an uneven scream of dark color.
help me sammy it hurts
This, Sam knows, is what it feels like to lose it.
Dean is all he has left in the world, all that's left who understands him for who (and now what) he is. The hands of his brother are fingerpainting entreaties in blood on his door, and the blood may as well be his own.
If Dean was still anywhere in that shell, he wouldn't have let it get this far. Sam has to come to grips with the fact. He's equipped to deal with this, better than most after the things he's seen and done, but he can't get enough distance to be objective. The shapeshifter was easier. So obvious and straightforward, sharp angles of need expressed in violence and destruction. The revenant wants more than the forced companionship of spilled blood, a lot more. The music of bells that can't be unrung. An eater of souls is loose in his family, and he murmurs this to himself in the back of his mind the same way Fiver wept that there was a dog loose in the wood.
It occurs to him that the blood might even be Dean's. He's not sure how desperate the thing is now. There's no way it's used to waiting so long for anything, not the way it's been behaving. Sooner or later it's going to realize that damaging the body will still get results from Sam. He must have come too close to flushing the thing out, and this is his reward.
His hands shake as he lays salt across the threshold this time.
He scrubs the door with more effort than it requires, and the blood comes off but the words are still visible in Sam's mind. The door's been marked forever even if the paint didn't soak the blood in. He leaves it open until almost 2am, then closes it because by then he doesn't mind if it knocks, just so he gets a moment of sight or sound of what's left of Dean.
Nothing comes to the door.
Sometime just before dawn, in the darkest part just before the cycle starts again, he can hear the world breathe in the silence. No sound of traffic, either landbound or arial, reaches him; he thinks about the time he was nine and told Dean he could really hear the planet moving through space when it was that quiet.
It's just the air rushing in the space between your ears, and Dean laughed and that was fine because Dean was the world.
He thinks about removing the salt and letting anything in.
When dawn comes, it finds Sam sitting on the floor, his back propped against the side of the bed. He's still facing the door, and the gun is still within reach. When he can summon enough strength to get up, he heads west because it seems to be the thing to do. Maybe it will chase him, if he runs. At least there's that.