The silence isn’t the same anymore. Maybe, when he was younger, when he was immature, it was respite and salvation. Maybe it had been those things once. Now, it’s suffocating and terrifying and comes down on him from every angle.
He can hear everything.
Creaking floorboards make him jump and the wind outside plays a haunting melody against the windowpane. It’s the season of sun but clouds shade the sky and warm rain falls like tears. The silence is heavy and unwanted and inescapable. Another creak of floorboards startles him but it’s succeeded by footsteps.
The door opens and concerned green eyes look in on him, a voyeur in a situation beyond his reach. Sam isn’t supposed to get hurt (protect Sammy). Sam isn’t supposed to almost die. Sam is supposed to be safe; a fragile little china doll tucked neatly into the folds of his brother’s protection. Except werewolves don’t heed the metaphorical yellow tape surrounding Sam.
“Are you alright?”
This is a funny question to Sam but he doesn’t laugh because that would be rude and unfair. Is he alright? Physically, yes, just a few scrapes and bruises; a nick on his neck where huge canines almost sank in (just a scratch, you’ll be fine kiddo). Emotionally? Well that never matters, does it? On the inside he’s had his throat ripped out in a hundred different horrifying scenarios. On the inside, he’s already dead. But his bones are still holding him up and his skin is pulled over them just fine.
“Yeah, I’m good.” Whether it’s a lie or not, he can’t tell. Nothing pervades the numb feeling in his gut.
The bed dips as Dean seats himself next to Sam. The proximity, which had been so problematic before (does he know? can he see it? come closer. go away.) is now only comforting. A warm hand on his shoulder, a reassuring smile, and an entire barrier of miscommunication between them. Dean looks hopeful. Sam feels hopeless.
“Hey,” Dean says, “look at the bright side, dude. We’re in California. Bet ya thought you’d never get to come here, right? Look out your window, man. That’s the beach, right there. Our front yard. I mean...that’s something isn’t it?”
Dean doesn’t understand. Of course he doesn’t. He doesn’t know the whole story (just shoot Sam. shoot. don’t look it in the eye). Dean couldn’t handle the truth, Sam knows. So he smiles and nods and Dean relaxes and the numbness inside Sam carries on.
“Will you be okay?” Dean asks, standing up from the bed.
Yes, Sam should say. But he’s already made Dean enough promises he couldn’t keep so he goes with honesty.
“I don’t know. Eventually, I’ll have to be, right?”
“You will be,” Dean answers, sounding sure. “Nobody’s first hunt goes smoothly. I know mine didn’t. Don’t get hung up on it, Sammy. The past is past.”
Sam nods and smiles again. The numbness moves into his fingertips. Dean looks at him one last time before leaving the room. When he’s gone, Sam sighs and falls back onto the bed, head thudding against the pillow. Dean’s interruption has served to make the silence less unbearable and he closes his eyes. It hits him, as his body relaxes, that he’s been awake for two straight days. Sleep takes him.
His dreams are filled with music.
When he wakes up, it’s to see Bobby leaning in the doorway of his room. The older hunter is looking at him with concern and Sam inadvertently shies away from the silently communicated affection. He supposes he should feel grateful toward Bobby for taking them off John’s hands when their father decided that Sam was too much of a liability to take on another hunt. John decided, in a gesture of guilt, to let Sam have the summer off for recuperation. Of course, Dean had refused to leave Sam behind so Bobby took the both of them in.
And then he surprised them with a road trip to California.
The semi-retired salvage yard owner owns a small safe-house (vacation house, once) on the west coast and when Sam and Dean were dropped off at his door, he made the decision to take them on a summer- long vacation saying, “You boys need a little fun in your life.”
Sam should feel grateful toward Bobby, for doing things for them their own father never did. But Sam doesn’t feel much of anything right now so he looks at Bobby and plasters on a somewhat believable smile and waits for the hunter to say something.
“Breakfast is ready,” is all he says before nodding at Sam and walking away back down the hall.
Sam sighs and sits up in bed, rubbing sleep from his eyes. The smell of ocean breeze is new to his nose and he looks outside of his window. The sky is overcast, a dusky grey and the ocean looks ferocious with its great foamy waves crashing against the shore. The breeze blows forward and he shivers in the wake of it. He gets up and walks over to close the window.
After getting ready, he heads for the kitchen where the pungent smell of bacon is permeating the air. Dean and Bobby are sitting at the table, already halfway through their plates of eggs. Sam dishes himself some breakfast and takes the last seat at the table. The unspoken platitudes are there (are you okay? you haven’t said a word since you walked in the door. what’s the big deal? I’ve almost died a hundred times over). Sam feels bitterness rise up from his stomach even though nothing’s been said yet.
Surprisingly enough, the words never come. Dean and Bobby chat mildly and Sam is left to eat his eggs in peace. Except Sam doesn’t know which is worse: being ignored (given space) or being cared for (suffocated). The words exist, he reasons, presumably on the tip of his tongue. He could sit here and talk about the monsters scraping away at his insides (the metaphorical ones, of course. you’re alive, no matter the numbness in your bones). His lips press together tighter. Dean and Bobby break out into laughter over something. Bitterness freezes Sam’s blood and he has to stand up.
Muttering his dismissal, he walks over to the sink where he rinses off his plate. The window, cut into the wall above the faucet, faces out toward the ocean and Sam looks on. The numbness he’d felt the night before seems to ebb and flow, only dispersing in favor of anger or despair. He can’t make sense of it. He was never taught to.
He imagines, distantly, running into the waves of the sea. Drifting along, in search of something, he wonders where he would end up. Would it matter? Is there a difference between the shores of some distant land and this? Who’s to say he wouldn’t end up right where he stands, anyway? In a dead woman’s kitchen with a family he’s slipping away from.
(you can’t run from what’s inside you.)
“Scooch over,” Bobby says, coming up next to Sam. “Let me clean up. You go with your brother out into the sittin’ room.”
There’s no point in arguing, not that Sam wants to. The agitation, that had been so hard to bite back just minutes before, simmers back down and the numbness takes back its throne. Sam steps away from the sink and does as told, heading for the sitting room where Dean is spread out on the couch, sharpening an old knife from one of Bobby’s collections. The sun picks this moment to peek out from behind the clouds, shining in on where Dean’s sitting.
The sunlight catches the blade more than it does Dean but that’s not what Sam’s looking at. Instead, his gaze fixates on the patch of skin on Dean’s arm, where the skin glows in the sunshine and the tiny blond hairs are thrown into contrast against the light. From this distance, he can’t see it, but there’s a pink scar running lengthwise on that patch of skin (a snake bite, this time, the reason Dean never wants to go back to Arizona). His gaze travels up to where Dean’s bottle green eyes are fixed on the knife
Sam shakes his head and walks fully into the room, sitting in the chair adjacent to the couch. Dean doesn’t look up from what he’s doing and Sam doesn’t expect him to. What might’ve been a comfortable silence, makes Sam fidget. Being close to Dean has always been touch and go. He never knows when or how his feelings will manifest. Sometimes they’re a tickle at the back of his throat. Others, they’re a rash on his skin.
He’s not really sure what he’s feeling right now and that seems worse. Having definitive, classifiable feelings made it easier for him to adjust his life to accommodate them. With the nothingness inside of him now, he’s completely unequipped to deal with anything. Whether he stays or goes, he’s not sure it would make much of a difference at this point.
“Any plans today, Sammy?” Dean asks, putting the knife down on the coffee table.
Sam shakes his head in the negative, opting to not use words. Starting conversations isn’t high up on his list of priorities at the moment. Plus, Dean’s question falls flat anyway. What plans could Sam possibly have that didn’t, consequently, involve Dean? That’s the thing about his life: no plans are his own. It’s not like being on vacation changes that. Everything Sam has or does is intrinsically tied to Dean. Even his freedom.
Perhaps Dean picks up on Sam’s mood. Or maybe Dean is simply tired of fighting Sam’s wayward emotions. Whatever it is, Dean accepts Sam’s nonverbal communication and goes back to sharpening his knives. The silence that descends around them is suffocating, almost as bad to Sam as being alone. He’s becoming restless. It’s been a day but the adrenaline hasn’t abated and now he’s fidgety and he’s half-wishing that John was around to take him away from here. He’d rather be fighting monsters than staring down the barrel of this particular gun (gun metaphors. nice, Sammy, you gonna be a comedian?)
His fists clench and unclench at his side and he closes his eyes. The soft scrape of the pumice stone against metal is the only sound in the room, aside from the distant crash of waves against a sandy shore. Sam lets himself get attached to those sounds, the subtle nuances of their cadences and the way they bounce off each other. The sound gets louder behind his closed eyelids: louder, still until it’s grinding against the sensitivity of his ear drums (this is the sound of the bones in your body, scraping together, trying to hold up the things the wolves left behind. is that a metaphor?). His eyes pop open and the sounds recede to the background.
“What about the pier?” Sam asks abruptly, the words almost leaving his mouth without his permission. The fidgeting gets stronger and his fists get tighter. The scraping of pumice against metal stops and Sam can feel Dean’s eyes on him.
“You wanna go?” Dean sounds surprised and Sam can’t blame him. Sam’s given no impression of taking any measures to actually enjoy this vacation. Granted, it’s only been a day but Sam never opts to do fun things for the sake of having fun. Happiness is coincidental to Sam; it’s never been something he seeks out.
“I mean,” Sam shrugs, “if you want. We might as well do something. Bobby won’t mind, will he?”
“No,” Dean agrees, “he won’t. You want to go right now?”
Sam doesn’t think it matters. He shrugs again, a form of affirmation between the two of them. Dean gets it. He stands up and puts the knife and pumice down, walking off down the hall to go grab his jacket, or something to that effect. Sam sits up, crossing his legs and waiting for Dean.
His brother comes back out, leather jacket (always just that much too big on him, this second skin that’s just too much like their father) thrown over his shoulder. He nods at Sam and they shout their goodbyes to Bobby who’s in the den before they leave the house, taking off toward the pier. It’s only a block away and their walk is filled with more silence, bearable this time as the ocean plays its ebb and flow in the background.
Sam smells the pier before he sees it. Cotton candy, sugar, and warm things hang in the air and Sam is drawn in by the aroma (some memory of childhood. a trip to Austin. a fair. a dream you once had). The lights on the pier flash bright and the Ferris wheel towers over everything. Even though it’s mid-morning, there’s a liveliness to the pier that makes Sam hesitate. But Dean is pulling ahead and Sam trails, dutifully, in his wake.
Dean heads for the games where girls are trying and failing to win prizes. Sam rolls his eyes at his brother’s predictability and scopes out the rest of the boardwalk. Shops line the sides, alternating between restaurants and surf shops. Brightly colored t-shirts with snappy sayings adorn the outer walls and Sam finds himself hovering outside of one. A shirt hangs on one of the hooks reading, “The sea will bring you home: Santa Monica Pier.” (well what if you don’t have a home? what if home is the backseat of a car that is fifteen years late for a tune up. with a trunk filled with blood-collecting tools fit for a serial killer.)
“Hey kid,” a female voice calls from inside of the shop. Sam starts and looks in. The brightness of the outside makes the dimness of the inside nearly impossible to see and Sam has to squint to catch the shape of someone walking toward him. “You need a job, kid?”
Sam stands there, speechless, unable to form any sort of response to the words. The woman comes closer and her features are thrown into light. Seeing her up close, Sam realizes she’s young, has to be close to his age. She’s got a head of tightly wound black curls that seem to be natural and barely brush the tops her shoulders. Her face is heart shaped and her skin is the color of brown sugar. She's pretty all over but Sam gets stuck on her eyes which are a startling--almost paradoxical--shade of ice blue. Standing at no more than 5’4”, Sam towers over her. Still, she has an air of confidence about her that makes her seem bigger than she is.
She reminds Sam a lot of what he imagines Mary was like: petite and pretty but packing one helluva punch. The dark freckles on her nose scrunch up as she tilts her head to look up at him. Her brilliant eyes brighten when they meet his own and her lips stretch into a lewd smirk that doesn’t quite fit the youngness of her features.
“Hey handsome,” she chirps. “You want a job here?”
The words make no more sense the second time they leave her mouth. Sam doesn’t say anything and when the petite girl makes no move to explain herself, he finally says:
“Are you serious?” The words leave his mouth a little more sarcastically than he means them to (force of habit) but the girl doesn’t bat an eyelash.
“Mo’s short-staffed and she just fired another pretty boy. You got brains in that cute head of yours?”
“Uh…” Sam is unable to articulate anything past that which, he thinks vaguely, isn’t a good way to prove that he does, in fact, have brains in his head.
“We can trial run you. Whattaya say, pretty boy?”
While there’s something tempting about taking this risk (one that won’t put your life on the line), about saying yes just for the sake of it, Sam is nothing if not rational. So he smiles like she’s joking around and shakes his head.
“Sorry,” he says politely, “M’afraid I’m not sticking around here long. Just a summer vacation sort of thing.”
“That’s plenty of time,” the girl shoots back, leering at Sam. This time, he can’t help but chuckle. The girl’s vivaciousness is endearing.
“I can’t. It’s family time, you know?” It’s not wholly a lie. He should be spending more time with his family while he has the chance. Whether he does or not isn’t any of this stranger’s business.
“Alright then, handsome,” she shrugs. “If you ever come back here though, ask for Kandice. I’ll hook you up with something nice.”
With that, she turns away and walks back into the shop. Sam shakes his head in mild bewilderment before turning away from the shop but not before glancing back at the yellow shirt hanging on the hook: “The sea will bring you home: Santa Monica Pier.” Sam sighs and rolls his eyes before taking off down the boardwalk to find out where Dean ran off to.
What he finds is Dean flirting with some girl by the arcade. She can’t be more than 17 years old but Dean’s moral standing when it comes to sex, drinking, and gambling have always been a little grey. He finds a spot to observe the exchange inconspicuously. They’re leaning toward each other, heads close and Dean’s got a hand on her waist. Sam closes his eyes and breathes.
These are the times that he wishes the same hell-bent bloodlust that ran in his dad’s veins, ran through his with the same tenacity. It would be better, he imagines, than this feeling: not just this jealousy that bites and nips at his ego, but the overall feeling of loving Dean. He’d rather lust for the blood of monsters than lust for…he can’t even finish the thought.
(you’re so sensitive, Sammy. always worried about feelings. where’s your steel gut, boy? you call yourself a Winchester?)
He sits in his hidden spot and waits for Dean to close the deal. His brother won’t go home with her, Sam knows. She’s too young for that and Dean has to hold to some righteous code of conduct. He might get head behind the arcade though. The picture itself isn’t an unpleasant one but Sam doesn’t let himself dwell on it, pushing it away almost as soon as it occurs, ignoring the rolling of his stomach.
As Sam predicted, Dean disappears behind the arcade with the girl. Something ugly clinches in Sam’s stomach. He turns away and looks back out toward the beach, the endless stretch of water that goes on forever and loops back on itself. The boardwalk is bright and colorful and it smells like candy and better times. Sam’s got twenty bucks in his pocket and maybe, if he were a different person, he’d go raid the shops and buy little souvenirs and tokens of memory. But he doesn’t.
Suddenly the idea of being outside seems unbearable. The noise and the smells and the fact that Dean is behind an arcade with some girl he just met (and she isn’t you. she will never be you. you will never be her) is all too much. His stomach gives another unpleasant lurch and he has to lean back in his seat to keep from becoming nauseous.
He should go walk around. He should go try and find something to buy Bobby or go try and find something to do. He shouldn’t sit here and stare at the arcade, waiting for Dean to pop around from the back with a dopey, satisfied grin. Possibly out of some misplaced masochism or possibly because he doesn’t know how not to wait on Dean, he stays where he is and stares at the colorfully flashing lights of the building.
The pier continues to fill with people as the sun slowly makes its way down. The breeze picks up and sure enough, fifteen minutes later, Dean comes walking out from behind the arcade with the girl in tow. Except the dopey, satisfied grin is absent from his face and the girl doesn’t seem as romantically awe-struck as she should. In fact, she looks pissed or, at least, a strange mix of hurt and confused that’s more befitting of a jilted lover rather than any girl who’s just spent the last fifteen minutes with Dean Winchester.
Dean looks guilty and distracted, his eyes shifting around the pier as if searching for an escape. The girl opens her mouth to speak and, though Sam can’t hear what leaves her mouth, the words are obviously heated. Dean says something back, probably apologetic or that mastered tone of insincere sincerity that he sometimes uses on women. More words are exchanged and, in a surprise turn of events, Dean seems to concede defeat. He ducks his head and closes his eyes. The girl’s eyes go big and forgiving. She puts a hand on Dean’s harm and says something that Sam only wishes he could hear. Dean shrugs and a sad smile forms on his face. The girl nods, kisses him on the cheek, and then walks away.
Dean is left, standing alone, looking at the girl as she leaves. Sam waits an appropriate amount of minutes before taking his cue and walking over. He doesn’t mean to sneak up on Dean, knows better than to do that. He tries to make as much noise as possible as he walks up behind his brother but, somehow, Dean is so caught up in his thoughts that he doesn’t hear Sam at all.
“Hey man,” Sam says as he walks up. Dean jumps and whirls around.
“Jesus Sam, don’t do that!” Dean snaps, putting a hand to his chest. Sam furrows his eyebrows in confusion. Dean’s never this wound up. His shoulder are tensed and his jaw is clenching and unclenching like it does when he’s worried or angry.
“You okay, dude?” Sam asks, trying to sound as benign and non-accusatory as possible. Dean sighs, rubbing his hands over his face.
“It’s nothing.” That’s a lie and Sam doesn’t need his seventeen years of experience with his brother to know it.
Sam knows better than to ask. It won’t go anywhere. Dean will just dodge the questions (like bullets)until Sam gives up and, eventually, Sam will. Getting past Dean’s barriers and walls is often more work than it’s worth. If it’s ever something important, Dean doesn’t hesitate to tell Sam. Personal things, on the other hand, don’t take priority. Those skeletons can stay locked up forever and a Winchester will never say one word about them.
“You, uh, wanna go back to Bobby’s?” There’s no telling what will set Dean off so Sam asks quietly and softly, trying not to spark the fuse.
“Huh?” Dean mumbles distractedly, eyes looking anywhere but Sam. “Sure, whatever.”
Before Sam can respond, Dean’s already taking off down the pier, back toward the house. Sam sighs, unsure of what’s going on but unable to do anything about it.
He follows Dean back to the house but comes to regret the decision. Back at the house, the silence is unbearable again. Not because of the soul-crushing pressure of his near-death experience, but because Dean seems to be ignoring and avoiding him. Whatever happened in the half hour that they weren’t together on the pier, it wasn’t good. Sam wants to ask, he really does. He also knows exactly where that will go.
Still, being ignored is worse than opting out of conversations. This isn’t on his own terms. He has no idea why it’s happening and he’d give anything to make it stop (is he angry at you? does he know your secret? ...which one?). He only makes it an hour in the awkward, tense atmosphere before he’s leaving the house again, walking down toward the beach.
Is that how it’s going to be all summer? Sam can’t help but wonder. Dean isn’t one for holding grudges. But he never ignores Sam like this either. Whatever happened with that girl really messed him up and Sam’s not sure if he can handle a whole summer of Dean avoiding talking about it.
It’s clear that the beach house is never going to be a comfortable place for Sam. When not faced with his own personal struggles, it seems he has to deal with Dean’s. He sighs. The sun has set and he should go back before Bobby starts to worry.
Going back is the last thing he wants to do, though (going back to a dead woman’s hometimes…back to Dean and a thousand problems that you’ve never worked out).
Going back means lying in bed until sleep finally takes him, but not before he agonizes about every little nuance and happening of the day as he tries to figure out what went wrong. Going back means waking up in the bed that isn’t his and trying to ignore the way Dean ignores him the next day. Going back means facing his problems.
Maybe, just this once, Sam can live up to his family name and dodge the bullets until they hit him in the chest.
He takes off toward the pier, running. He’s not sure how much time he has and doesn’t bother looking at his watch. The sand turns into the wooden planks of the boardwalk and his sandaled feet flop loudly as he moves. He ducks around people, hoping to all that is good that the shop will still be open.
The mocking, yellow shirt hangs on its hook. “The sea will bring you home: Santa Monica Pier.” The board shop isn’t closed yet but the small, feisty blue eyed girl named Kandice is reaching to pull the gates down to lock it up. Sam runs up to her, stopping behind her. He bends over, hands on his knees, gasping for breath.
“He-hey,” he gasps, rubbing his chest with his hand. Kandice turns around, eyebrow raised. She looks at Sam and her face lights with recognition.
“Oh hey, you’re the pretty boy from earlier!” She exclaims, smiling. Sam nods, unable to form words just yet. He takes a huge, steadying breath.
“Hey,” he gets out, finding some oxygen. “Were you serious, earlier? About that job?”
“Uh,” Kandice hesitates, “why?”
(because you’re desperate. because you can’t stay in that house every day and having just a few hours to yourself would be a blessing that she couldn’t possibly understand. because you’re a coward and because you’re running from things bigger than you. because…)
“Because I’ll take it,” he says quickly. “If you’re really offering, I’ll take it.”
Kandice looks him up and down, that same eyebrow raised. There’s a brief pause as she scrutinizes him. Then, a smile breaks out on her face. She reaches her hand out.
“Alright then,” she says candidly. “You’ve got the job, er…”
Sam takes her hand and shakes it, inexplicably feeling as if a huge weight has been lifted off of his chest.
“Sam,” he tells her, “Sam Winchester.”