Ditching Dean was getting more difficult, Sam found, to the point where he'd had to enlist more than Bobby's help in completing the project. Ellen was in on it now too. Sam suspected that at some point, he was going to have to come clean that he had a plan to Dean without telling him what it was, but not yet. Not just yet.
"Where's your brother?" Ellen asked, watching Sam carefully wrap up the latest portion of stamped clay and place it in the back of her trunk. "He still doesn't have any idea about this?"
"Off with a girl he met in the bar last night." Sam slammed the lid of the trunk then leaned against it, massaging his arm before turning around. "He won't talk about the deal, so no. I'm not telling him anything until he cops to wanting out of it."
"And if he never does?" Ellen said, raising her eyebrows.
"Then I don't have to tell him anything. Win-win."
Ellen muttered something under her breath about boys and jackasses, and put her sunglasses back on her face. "Bobby said to tell you he's got the site, but he wants to know--"
"Good morning, Sam."
Ellen stopped talking as Sam stiffened, teeth clenching for a moment. He didn't turn around. "Hey, Ruby." He stood up more carefully, and jerked his chin at Ellen in a gesture to go. "Been a while."
"Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?"
Ellen was already hurrying around the car, keeping it between her and the demon. Never let it be said she lacked in self-preservation skills. Sam waited until Ellen had her hand on the car door to turn around, taking several steps toward Ruby as Ellen got in. The demon was wearing her usual denim and boots, hair caught up in a ponytail that reminded him briefly of Jess. Sometimes he thought it had to be deliberate; other times he just thought that everything reminded him of Jess, a little, and that he wasn't entirely sorry. He shoved the memory away as he placed himself between Ruby and the car.
"Leave everyone else out of this. Any deals we make, any business we've got, it's between you and me. No one else."
"How can you say that?" Ruby was still watching Ellen's Dodge pull out of the parking lot. "We both know it's all about Dean. And there's so many other innocent people at risk if you don't step up."
"Enough!" He couldn't bring himself to actually touch her, but he shot a fist past her face, enough to ruffle her hair. Ruby didn't flinch, but her eyes did finally track their way back to his. "You've already got one string on me," he said, the bitterness of the truth giving his voice the focus he needed. "Don't go trying to yank on any others. You won't like it."
"Aw, Sammy." Ruby dimpled up at him. "Don't you want to know why I'm here?" Sam swallowed, closing his eyes as he looked away. "I heard about a weapon. Something that will allow us to take out more of those demons you let out to play. Maybe something Dean can use, when the time comes. You just have to come with me for a few days." And it might've been the truth, or it might've been a lie, or it might've been both. Sam forced himself to open his eyes and glare at her. "Thaaaat's my boy. Come on. You know I only want what's best for you, don't you?"
"You'll leave my other friends out of this?" Sam bargained. "You won't got near them, won't try to get to me sideways?" His eyes narrowed. "Because maybe I won't take another step until I get that promise out of you. On your name."
Ruby's wide smile made him a little sick, because it promised that no, this weapon hunt wasn't going to be clean or simple, and he'd probably regret it. But he didn't dare turn away. Didn't dare let her suspect that he already had a plan in place, or how far it was from being completed. Better to let her think she could steer him in her direction for now, than to tip her off too soon. "If that's what it takes to get a little cooperation out of you, Sammy, I'll swear to it. Unless deliberately provoked or attacked, I'll swear to leave Bobby Singer, Ellen Harvelle, and that sweet little daughter of hers entirely intact." She shrugged. "Can't speak for everyone in the family, though."
"As long as you're not the one turning your 'family' loose on them, and as long as that includes anyone I designate... fine." Sam stared her down, and wondered for the hundredth time what the demon saw in him, that it was willing to talk to him like a person, and not just try to possess him. "From now until the end of May. And it
depends on how this pans out." He scowled. "You better not be jerking me around, Ruby."
"Trust me, honey. You'll be glad I offered you this, when we get down to it."
Jo leaned against the counter of the bar in Jalisco, three shot glasses in front of her already, and set down a fourth as Sam watched, stunned. Dean closed his eyes and cursed under his breath, jaw tightening. "I'm sorry, Jo. How long?"
"The first day the goddamn Tick-tocks showed up." Jo reached for the bottle, and slopped more tequila in the glasses, doing two more shots in rapid succession. "They were singing. 'One in ten, one in ten.' And then they killed every tenth person in the bar." She looked at the bar top, expression blank. Sam could see fine tremors working their way over her hands. "She wasn't even supposed to be there, she was visiting, trying to talk me into going to her new place for the Fourth." Another shot. "They flew right by me, didn't even seem to see me, just kept cutting at her and cutting at her and laughing..."
Her head went down on the bar, not crying yet but fighting back tears. When she lifted her head, Jo rubbed at her eyes, two quick swipes, then took a deep breath. "I want to get those sons of bitches. I heard what you guys are up to. I'm in. Don't try to stop me."
Dean's eyes met Sam's over Jo's head, and he raised his eyebrows in inquiry, then shrugged at whatever he saw on Sam's face. "Okay. After you're done throwing up the tequila, we'll give you a run-down of how it works."
"You saying I can't hold my liquor, Winchester?"
"Nahhh. I mean, compared to Sammy, you're doing great, he'd already be praying to the porcelain god by now."
Sam gave his brother a tight smile, then looked toward the entrance, recognizing the person standing there; he froze for a second before getting up from his seat and starting toward the door. "Back in a minute."
Dean flicked him a quick glance, then nodded as he grabbed the tequila bottle from Jo. "Leave some for a toast to Ellen, would you?"
Sam didn't hear Jo's comeback, already concentrating on Ruby. Ruby who looked quiet, for once, without the gleeful smile, or the smug taunting. She stalked out to the edge of the parking lot, then turned around. "You have to come with me. Now."
"Are you nuts?" Sam stared at her a second, then hissed, "Did you plan this? Is this your side's game? 'Cause if it is, I am going to take you bastards apart for this."
"No! We've got jack to do with this." Ruby flinched, folding her arms across her chest. In the dim sodium light of the street lamp she looked furious, and -- scared? "This is someone else's game. Which is why you've got to come with me now, Sammy. We can stop this if we have a commander. You just have to sign on, and what's left of the world is yours."
"Screw that." Sam was laughing, and so angry he felt like his head was going to explode. "You didn't see this coming! You had no fucking clue! Why the hell should I sign on with a bunch of demon losers who couldn't stop one alien invasion?" He loomed over her, resisting the urge to reach out and shake her. "A fourth of the population gone, and all you can think about is yourselves. How many demons got killed by those flying psychos? Why haven't you just gone to the top and signed on with 'the Master'? Offered him a deal?"
"Too many." Ruby's lips were set in a hard line. "And he wasn't open to negotiations."
"So he told you to go fuck yourselves?" That was funny. That was actually hysterical. Sam chortled, rubbing one hand over his face, then got his breath back. "You know, I hate his guts, but he had the right idea. Go to hell, Ruby."
"We could still save Dean. If you're ours we can give him to you, as a present." She didn't move away, but Sam could feel the tension ratchet up a notch. "Just take on your role, Sam. Accept what you can't change. Save the world the only way you can."
And abruptly, nothing was funny. "Good-bye, Ruby. Don't ever come back here. I'm not signing on to be the next fascist dictator of the Earth." Sam stepped away. "Get out of my sight before I exorcise you. Now."
"That was a mistake, Sam." Ruby shook her head, eyes going black. "But I'll be around if you change your mind."
Which snapped what little composure Sam had left into matchsticks. His fist flashed out toward her face, but she wasn't standing there by the time it reached where she'd been. The force of the punch had him spinning in the light of the street lamp, panting for breath.
He had to go back in the bar and act normal for Dean and Jo. Had to. The world didn't stop for the stupid demons trying to recruit him again. Ellen was dead. There were things he had to say and do, to help out her daughter, get a resistance going, keep them all alive.
He'd stop crying in a minute.
Sam woke to tears on his face, then raced for the toilet, vomiting up bile and black coffee. Christ. He had the urge to call Ellen, Dean, and Jo, to check and make sure they were still alive and okay.
He resisted the urge to crush the violet memory crystal against the tiles in the bathroom, and concentrated on making himself presentable before Ruby showed up.
Interlude: Cardiff. Two days after the end of the world.
Martha eventually stopped giggling, leaning against the Doctor as they watched Jack rush away. "The Face of Boe," she murmured, remembering the sight of that enormous face, wondering if Jack had recognized her. If that had really been Jack? "I wonder..." She stopped speaking, turning over possibilities in her mind.
Martha turned to look up into his face (his own face again, not an old man's, not a shriveled little gnome) and felt a surge of longing again, too strong to lie to herself about. But not so strong she couldn't keep it out of her expression. She was going to have to do something about that. Soon.
"Time travel. And paradoxes." She swung herself away from the rail, and paced over the marble stones in front of the Wales Millennium Centre. "I know how the Master made it work, but... can you ever do that without a machine? Cancel out the past, and the whole thing goes up in a puff of smoke? I mean, look at what almost happened with Shakespeare."
"More like a shriek of dragons," the Doctor said, voice no longer laughing. "There should have been predators in the time stream, ready to gobble at the edges of the singularity he created from the Toclafane's actions. The paradox machine prevented that."
She swallowed hard, thinking of Kree. The skies are full of diamonds. "So we can't save them?"
"No." The Doctor gave her a look of infinite compassion, no different from the look he'd given the Master. Almost.
"They just die there, at the end of the universe, die in the dark, killing each other..."
"Yes." His voice was utterly weary for a moment, then he sighed in resignation, reaching for her hand. "All things die, Martha. You're a doctor, you know that."
"But it doesn't have to be like that. Not without any dignity, without any peace at all." She took a breath, wiped at her tears with the heel of her hand, the light off the waterfall sparkling and shattering into fragments. "Does it?"
He didn't answer in words, just pulled her closer into a hug, and rested his chin on top of her head. Martha hung onto him as hard as she could. He wasn't saying no. That had to count for something.
"The trick about time travel," he whispered finally, "is to not know the ending. If you leave in the middle, you can always change it later. Cause and effect stay solid in your personal timeline. Or you leave just as you've finished one chapter of someone's history. And let them sort out the rest on their own." He kissed her hair, and pulled away a little, face solemn. "If they're going to die as humans, and not Toclafane, it's got to be something they manage themselves. We know too much."
Martha nodded, feeling the scrape of that disappointment like the icy wind from the water. And maybe that's how he managed all the time, with friends and companions who kept dying on him and leaving. Leave while they're happy; and they stay happy in your mind forever.
Soon. Very soon. Or it would all go sour, and the time they had before would be spoiled with her own discontent. She had other, better reasons to leave, but that didn’t erase this one.
Her mind wandered a bit, and she frowned, thinking. "So... if you were going to save someone, with knowledge of the future-- you couldn't tell them exactly how to do it. But if you just-- gave them a hint, and left? That would be okay?"
The Doctor gave her a hard look. "Why do you ask?" Martha didn't answer, just looked at him steadily. "Right. Well. Yeah. You'd have to be very, very careful. Free will and all. They have to be able to ignore you. No proof of the outcome, or, well. Dragons."
"Dragons," Martha repeated, deadpan. "I just know there's a story there."
"Oh, so many stories..."
They spent the rest of the day just wandering around Cardiff . Every once in a while Martha would finger a piece of paper in her jacket pocket, and calculate the time difference between Cardiff and California. And practice the words to give Sam a choice, and Dean a chance.
September, 2007 — Silverthorne, Colorado:
"Please, please, don't hurt my dad. Please!" The teenage girl begging Sam for mercy reached for his arm, tears running down her face and smearing her make-up.
Sam gritted his teeth behind his ski mask, and glared at Ruby as best he could while struggling with the axe's punitive owner. The headlock he had on the man wasn't going to hold up much longer, and having their 'housebreaking' interrupted by first him, then his daughter? Was not making Sam's night.
"Grab the axe and let's go," he whispered hoarsely.
"Which one is it?" Ruby demanded, leaning forward to slap the man across one pudgy cheek.
"Can't you tell?" Sam growled, as the owner started cackling under his breath.
"He's got a protection on it, and on the room, and which one is it?" Ruby asked again, giving the man another quick crack across the face. "Tell us, or Goldilocks gets it."
"What?" Sam gasped, as the teenager started to wail even louder.
"Shut up, you little idiot. Daddy's going down, you don't have to go with him," Ruby snapped.
The man started struggling again, cursing, and muttering, "Mine, all mine, not my Holly, no, you don't get her--"
Ruby pulled out a knife. Probably the same one she'd killed the demons with, the first time Sam met her.
"Enough!" Sam knocked the man's head into the desk, rendering him unconscious, then eased him to the floor. “Holly? Look after your dad."
"What are you doing?" Ruby demanded. "Get back here!"
“Follow me or get left behind. Your ride is leaving.” Sam was halfway down the hallway by the time the last word was out of his mouth.
Two hours of the silent treatment for Ruby later, Sam slammed the brakes on the rental and nearly fishtailed it into a parking spot at the Hertz, grabbed his bag, and exited the pick-up as quickly as he could.
“Sam. Sam! What did you expect?” Ruby was calling after him. He heard the truck door slam, but didn’t turn around. “If you’re not willing to get your hands dirty, you don’t really want to save your brother. Do you?”
Sam smiled tightly at the rental agent, dropping the key on the counter, then pulling out two hundred dollars in cash. “Keep the change.”
If he turned around to answer Ruby’s question, he’d kill her, right here in broad daylight in front of witnesses. He put on his sunglasses and pulled out the cell, hitting the number for Bobby, and hoping like hell that he’d be there.
“Sam, okay, I pushed a little too hard–“ She tried to catch his arm, and he was suddenly reminded of the daughter of the man who’d had the axe in his possession. The father was dirty, into stuff that was going to take him down his own road to hell, but his daughter? Where was the sense in that?
“Go away, Ruby,” he whispered, shaking her off. “Walk away while you still can.”
“You have to commit, Sam. You’re not going to get what you want without some bloodshed.” She stepped back, voice pissed. “Otherwise, you might as well follow up on those empty threats, invoke the God you’re trying to avoid dealing with, and get rid of me now.”
"You know? I've heard worse ideas," he hissed, then reached under his jacket for the Colt. He didn't point it at her, but made sure she knew he could at any moment. "But maybe hurting you would be enough.” He took a breath. “Leave me. Alone. Or I'll let Dean deal with you next time. You know he'd love to."
"Awwww, Sammy." She pouted at him, changing tactics. "You know I didn't mean it. I'll give you a little time to get used to this." She turned and started walking down the street. "But it has to happen sometime."
Bobby picked up the phone then, sparing Sam an answer. "Hey, Sam."
"Hey, Bobby. I'm at the auto rental on 15th. Could use a pick-up. Dean there?" Sam looked around. Ruby had vanished. Again. He could only hope it was for the last time, but not with any expectation of being right.
"Yeah. How'd it go?" Bobby asked, tone guarded.
The sounds of fumbling and cursing at the receiver, and then Dean's voice was snarling down the line. "What did that bitch have you doing?"
"Nothing." Sam slumped down onto a bench on the corner, and tried to fight the pounding in his head. "We didn't do anything. She's gone. You were right. I don't want to talk about it. Can you just get here?"
Silence for a moment, then, "This isn't over, Sammy."
"Yeah it is." He swallowed. "Next time she shows, we exorcise her. I don't want to go down that road."
Because the truth was, without the option of the last-minute save that he and Bobby were already arranging... he might have.
He could see where Ruby had been going with this all along, now. Get him used to killing. Get him used to using his powers. Get him into the mind-set of ends-justifying. A long slippery slope leading into -- what? Signing on as Supreme Commander of demonic forces? What a joke. Like that would save Dean from anything, in the long run. And maybe the memory of her making him the same offers in his dreams, and of turning them down because they were so damn empty made it simpler. But not easier.
"You are telling me what happened when I get there," Dean warned him. "No arguments."
"I'll start walking if you don't get off the line and pick me up soon," Sam growled back. He was probably going to lose that fight. Right now, he didn't care. "I just..." He closed his eyes. "I don't know if I did the right thing, Dean. I'm just not there yet."
What were a couple lives, compared to Hell?
"On my way."
Dean hung up, and Sam closed the cell, wishing he didn't feel a million years old without being a million years smart.
May, 2008 - Budapest
"Miss Jones? Can I talk to you alone?"
Martha looked up, took a swig of the tea that the refugees had provided her, and sighed. "Sure. Where?"
"Down this hall." The girl was her own age, maybe a little younger, brunette, speaking English with a heavy Hungarian accent. She hugged a huge pea coat around herself, and lead Martha to one of the service hallways of the underground subway system. Water dripped down the walls, and Martha could just make out graffiti that she couldn't understand before they broke into an open platform, no longer being used. Long-ago posters advertised Les Mis, waiting for a train that would never arrive, passengers long gone.
All the lights were still on, and Martha could hear the distant sounds of the factories above them. The staircase that lead upward to the street was bare of debris, and the girl (Jalana? She couldn't remember; have to ask, knowing names was important to people) crossed to the steps, and brushed off a step, waiting for Martha to join her. "So, what's this about, then?"
"My people want to make you an offer, Miss Jones." The girl tilted her head, smiling at Martha. "For afterwards. When the Master's gone."
"What kind of an offer? I'm just a med student, when the world's normal." Martha took a sip of her tea, and hugged herself in the chill.
"Is that what you want to be? A doctor? Fixing all the world's problems?"
Martha frowned, brows drawing down as she studied -- Gianna, that was it. The edge of scorn to the question was so incongruous she couldn't make sense of it. "Well, yeah. That's what I've always wanted."
"You're going to be a political figure after this is all over, Martha. Can I call you Martha?" She steamrolled on, not even waiting for Martha's reaction. "Everyone will know your name. Religious figure wouldn't be too strong a term, actually. We think you could use that to help a lot of people."
Uneasy laughter escaped her, and Martha tapped her fingers on her mug. "And who are your people, exactly?"
"People who want what's best for surviving humanity." Gianna was leaning closer now, smiling. "Think about it. You'll be on the Valiant. All that technology. And the bombs... they'll be all ready, for whatever we want to use them for."
Martha stared at her a moment, gobsmacked, and wondered why she hadn't anticipated this. In all of the year that she'd been walking the Earth, though, no one had suggested anything like it. Too scared or too desperate until now, she supposed. Abruptly, she put the tea down and hopped to her feet. "Sorry. Not interested. Don't want to rule the world."
"Do you want to save your brother?"
Martha froze in the middle of the platform, and turned back to look at Gianna. "What?" Another breath, then: "Is that some sort of threat? Because I can tell you, I don't take kindly to them, Gianna."
Gianna held up both hands in surrender, a small, crooked smile on her face. "No, no. You misunderstand. I am offering you a gift. Not offering violence to your family, or the promise of same." She let her hands fall. "But my people stand ready to be your army. We can make this happen, take down the Master. Especially," her voice softened. "Since this plan has no chance of working."
"How can you say that?" Martha took an involuntary step forward, fists clenching, then took a breath. "Look, I know it's asking a lot, to believe in me, in the Doctor, but we can do this, we can depose the Master. You just have to believe."
"And if the Doctor's dead?" Martha closed her eyes, swallowing back acid. Gianna's voice was coaxing. "We are the alternative, little one. The Master will kill him eventually, you know that. He may already be dead. Do you have another plan?"
"Yes." She planned to go back there, give the time vortex manipulator back to Jack, and then he'd kill the Master. What happened to her after that-- she didn't care about, so much. But she hoped she'd get to see her family before the end.
"One that saves everyone you care about?" Gianna shook her head. "No. There is no help coming, you know. The outer satellites of this system are broadcasting a quarantine. An extinction notice is up. Planet Earth is closed, Martha Jones. You will have only one chance. And if that fails..."
"How do you know that?" Martha took another step back. "How can you know that?"
Gianna's eyes went black, from lid to lid, irises swallowed up in darkness. "We know many things, Martha. The results for the galaxy if the Master is allowed to build his new Gallifrey. The fate of your parents, your sister. Your brother, caught in all this madness. You could spare them that."
Alien. "You could have helped us before! You could have stopped this!"
"We are constrained by certain rules, Miss Jones." Gianna-not-Gianna shrugged, blasé and calm. "And one of them is that we can not interfere with species other than humanity on Earth. The other would be-- invitation." She stood up, tilted her head, studying Martha with that endless gaze. "Ask us for our help, and you shall have it. Your family, safe. Anyone else you choose, safe. And you can then turn your efforts toward rebuilding the Earth. And then the galaxy." Her lips quirked. "No reason to waste all those rockets, now that they're built."
"Go to Hell." Martha swallowed, one finger moving to rest on the time vortex manipulator. "We're going to win, the Doctor's going to save us--"
"Don't be foolish, Martha. Hell's what we'll have if the Master wins. Are you really qualified to make that decision for all of humanity?"
"You can't stop the Doctor, can you," Martha realized. "You're not allowed to interfere with other species-- so that means this could work." She took a breath. "Thanks but no thanks."
Leo, I'm sorry. Mum, Dad, Tish, stay alive, just a while longer, I'm almost there.
"You're quite certain?" Gianna looked disappointed, blinked, and her eyes went back to the human appearance they'd had throughout the evening. "You don't see the potential?"
"I see the potential all right. I'd rather be dead."
Gianna sighed. "I wish I could make that come true for you, but you won't let me get close enough now, will you?" Martha stiffened, took another step back, and Gianna smiled. "Ah well." She turned and started to ascend the staircase up to the surface, then stopped half-way, posed and very deliberately thoughtful. "Oh. That reminds me. Dean Winchester sends his regards. You might remember him." She smiled gently. "He died last night. Screaming."
Oh, God. Sam and Dean. That had been last night, the end of the deal. Not an alien, a demon. "You filthy cow--"
"I'll be sure and find you, when it's Leo's turn," Gianna called over her shoulder, and continued back up the staircase. "Have a lovely trip, Martha."
Martha stumbled back down the service-way in the dark, feeling her breath catch in what would have been tears if anger hadn't overpowered her grief. Sam. Oh, Sam. She was going to fix this. Had to, now. No second guesses. No back-up plans.
She had to believe that, or she wouldn't be able to keep walking.