It becomes a routine, of sorts, over the next few days. Sam gets up in the morning, does his dance with Dean: a careful game of avoidance and delusion, and then he goes to meet Kandice an hour before work to smoke a joint on the beach.
They don’t talk much, save for the broad introspective topics (safe topics, something besides bullets and werewolf hearts) that seem to bubble up when the effects of the weed kick in. In fact, it doesn’t occur to Sam until a week after they’ve started this strange routine that he doesn’t know much about Kandice beyond the color of her hair. Maybe he should change that but he doesn’t make any attempts. He doesn’t ask any questions. He likes the anonymity, their long silent stares into the horizon. It’s not something he’d call friendship, just the understanding between two drifting, young souls almost saying, “I’ll let you exist, if you let me.”
Sam likes this, as it is, standing on the beach in the morning sun, passing a joint between the two of them. It’s the only time of the day that he feels light, doesn’t feel the pressure of fangs at his neck or the phantom feeling of a gun on his forehead. He feels afloat, drifting in and out of the waves of the ocean. He feels free.
“Maybe it’s more like freedom then you think,” Sam says abruptly, turning his eyes toward Kandice who’s drawing shapes in the sand with the toe of her sneaker.
“The ocean,” Sam explains, “maybe it’s more like freedom then you think.”
Kandice shrugs and looks out over the water and Sam can see how the water reflects in her eyes. They almost look green in the light. She takes a last hit off the joint that Sam’s just handed back to her. She throws it down and snubs it out in the water.
“Just looks like a million miles of nothing to me.”
Sam gets back extra late form work that night. In the last two weeks, he’s been getting home kind of late anyway but he tries to make it back in time for dinner. He’s missed the mark by a mile tonight. He walks down the hall and peeks into Dean’s room. Usually, Dean is either up listening to music or asleep at this point. But tonight, he’s not here at all. Sam furrows his eyebrows and steps away, walking back down the hall toward Bobby’s study.
He knocks twice before cracking the door open. Bobby’s sitting in a chair in the corner, reading a book and sipping a tumbler of whiskey.
“Hey Bobby,” Sam says, peeking his head in, “where’s Dean?”
“He went out,” Bobby answers, looking from his book. “Didn’t tell me where. Figure he’s enough of an adult to look after himself.”
“Adult is a loose term for Dean,” Sam mutters, stepping fully into the room. Bobby chuckles and closes his book.
“That reminds me,” Bobby says, standing up from his chair and walking over to his desk, “I gotta call the other day.”
Sam waits for Bobby to elaborate but the older man just continues shifting things around on his desk.
“From who?” Sam asks. Bobby doesn’t answer, just continues talking like Sam. “They called me back in April, but you weren’t around so I never got to tell you. But they just called me again today and told me that this came in the mail.”
Bobby hands him this this envelope that’s stamped with a fancy red seal from—Sam gasps.
“How did they--? Wait, how did you--?”
“Guess you put me down as a contact when you applied. But only my phone number, guess you must’ve given them the address of the place you were stayin’ in at the time. Anyway, when they figured out that you didn’t live at the address on the application, they gave me call. Said they don’t usually do it but you were a special case. They asked me where you were and I couldn’t tell ‘em ‘cause I didn’t know how long you’d be there. But I knew where you’d be in June so I asked if they could send it then.”
“And they agreed?” Sam asks, astonished. “Why didn’t you just have them send it your house in South Dakota?”
“I wouldn’a been able to help myself. I wanted you to be the first person to open it and if I’d been handed that letter two months early, I wouldn’t’ve hesitated.”
Sam laughs, a little hysterically. He appreciates Bobby’s honesty, but he can’t manage to move his hands. He keeps staring at it, like it’s going to explode (what if it’s a rejection? but why would they try so hard to reach you if they didn’t want you? not the cruelest thing to happen to you, is it?)
“I think you got in boy,” Bobby says, smiling like he can’t help himself. Sam thinks so too but he doesn’t want to hope too hard.
He opens the envelope and there’s a lot of paper but he starts with the one on top, the one that decides his fate. His heart jumps into his throat and he blinks a few times but, no, he’s reading it right:
Dear Samuel Winchester,
It is with great pleasure that I inform you of your acceptance into Stanford University, Class of 2004! …The rest doesn’t matter.
Sam’s gaping at the letter, eyes wide. He looks up at Bobby, and he feels giddy, tingly all over. He can’t control the smile that blossoms on his face and he can hardly breathe with how hard his heart is pounding.
“I got in,” he whispers, “Bobby, I got in.”
Bobby smiles and pulls Sam into a hug that Sam can’t help but melt into. He pulls away, smiling, and digging in the envelope for the rest. He got into Stanford. He can’t believe it.
“Looks like it’s a full ride too,” he says, numb with shock and happiness.
“I’m proud of ya, son,” Bobby says and he means it and he’s smiling but Sam sees the sadness there in his eyes and, suddenly, his happiness is dwindling.
“What am I gonna tell Dad and Dean?”
Before Bobby can answer, the front door slams. Dean’s home. Sam curses and shoves all the papers back into the envelope as carefully as he can. He gives Bobby a weak smile and then darts out the room so that he can get the letter hidden before Dean can see it. He gets it into his duffel just as his bedroom door opens and Dean comes stumbling through.
He’s drunk, hammered, and Sam winces as Dean drags himself forward to stand in front of him.
“Dude, you smell like a bar,” (please don’t stand so close to me. you get me from zero to sixty and you don’t even know it).
He’s standing far too close, breath ghosting over Sam’s chin, and their bodies are practically touching. And Sam just can’t handle the proximity. It doesn’t help that Dean has next to no understanding of personal space, and that’s when he’s sober. His brother is a tactile person and he wishes he was strong enough to resist it. He isn’t. Dean’s body, however innocent the touch, feels too good (you sick fuck).
“Shuddup,” Dean grumbles, and then he grabs Sam’s face between his hands. “You have been a pain in my ass, Sammy.”
Sam’s practically hyperventilating at this point, trying to back away from Dean but not being able too. He forgets everything, forgets boundaries and he’s bursting at the seams. His heart is beating out of his chest and his head is swimming with thoughts and impulses, all of them jamming together at some crucial intersection in his brain so that he simply stands there, short circuiting.
The worst part is that Dean doesn’t even seem to be aware of what he’s doing to him
“Please just go to sleep, Dean,” Sam begs, eyes starting to water with how overwhelmed he is by Dean’s invasion of his personal space. God, those pinkish red lips are just so close to his. “Please.”
“Can I sleep in here?” Dean asks, and before Sam can answer, Dean’s crawling into his bed, leaving enough space for him to get in too. It’s a terrible, horrible idea.
“Dean can’t you sleep in your own room?”
Dean huffs and pouts before reaching out and tugging Sam down onto the bed. Sam yelps but situates himself and, suddenly this is him, lying next to Dean on a bed that isn’t nearly big enough to fit the two of them on it.
“I’m sorry Sammy,” Dean whispers, and he throws an arm over Sam’s stomach, “please don’t leave me.”
He doesn’t know what Dean’s talking about or why he’s drunk but he doesn’t say anything. He feels as if he’s about to throw up, having Dean so close, and the only reason he closes his eyes is so he doesn’t have to look and see Dean beside him.
He doesn’t sleep that night: eyes squeezed shut, breathing shallowly, acceptance letters shoved into the bottom of his duffel bag, forgotten.
When Sam opens his eyes, he realizes he must have dozed off sometime in the early morning. Dean is gone from his side, and when he looks at the time, he groans. It is late morning, later than he usually wakes up. He’s lucky it’s the weekend and he doesn’t have to be at the shop, not that his hours are that set anyway. Still, he doesn’t work today which is a blessing and a curse, like weekends usually are for him.
On the one hand, it means he doesn’t have to do anything all day. On the other hand, it means he doesn’t have anything to do all day. He sighs and then scans the room casually with his eyes. He pauses on his duffel. Shoved into the bottom of that black bag, is his acceptance letter to Stanford.
The funny thing is that he’d applied as a fluke, something to pass the time when they were holed up in a town for a week or two. The school he was at had handed out about a bunch of applications for different schools and, for no particular reason at all, Sam had filled them all out and sent them to their respective destinations.
He never imagined that he would actually get in. When he filled out the applications, it was a pipe dream, like wanting to be an astronaut or something. Now, though…
He sighs. He doesn’t want to think about it right now, about what a game changer this is…if it even is one at all. Getting out of bed, he opens the blinds and the afternoon sun floods the whole room with light. He puts on some clean clothes and walks out into the hallway, rubbing absently at the scars on his neck (there are no werewolves at Stanford).
Dean’s in the kitchen, sitting at the table, pressing an un-open, frosty can of beer to his forehead. When he sees Sam come in, he winces and turns his eyes back to the table. Sam doesn’t say anything, doesn’t bring up last night’s drunken incident and he certainly doesn’t bring up the acceptance letter. He doesn’t know when he’ll get around to bringing that up. He sighs audibly and walks over to the coffee maker to make a pot. Dean’s going to need it.
“Uh…sorry about last night,” Dean says, breaking the silence. He doesn’t look at Sam, keeps his eyes fixed on the table, cradling the beer between his hands.
“No problem,” Sam mutters and it’s a lie because the way Sam feels is a problem, but Dean doesn’t know that and he never needs to.
He turns toward Dean and ducks his head, so he can watch his brother from behind his hair. Dean is beautiful as ever, even with his eyes downcast toward the table. Sam traces his strong jawline and admires the way the blonde hair on his arms reflects the light that shines on it. He lingers on his lips, those perfect pink lips and then he can’t look anymore because it’s too much. It’s suffocating and how does Dean manage to steal all the air from the room without even saying a word?
He thinks about the acceptance letter and his heart becomes heavy. Will leaving change anything? Can he escape these feelings, these sick and twisted backward feelings? Is it about proximity or is his love for his brother finely impacted into his bones, so deep in there is no extracting it?
(you can’t run from what’s inside you.)
“It’s just been a, uh, weird week.” Dean continues, “Ever since-…listen, I’m just sorry things have been weird.”
Ever since what? Sam wonders, but he won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Dean’s apologizing—okay so it’s kind of an apology—and that’s amazing in and of itself. So Sam will take what he’s given and let sleeping dogs lie…for now.
“I’ve been kinda weird too,” Sam admits because he doesn’t know how not to share the blame, “ever since that hunt…I’ve just been…I don’t know, off?”
“It was a close call. But we all have bad hunts, Sammy. Just a part of the life.”
Sam doesn’t agree or disagree, because he finds that’s the best way to deal with Dean when it comes to recurring arguments. If he agrees, Dean thinks he’s won and they never talk about it again. If he disagrees, that starts a fight that just isn’t worth it. So he shrugs, happy to accept Dean’s tentative olive branch. He pours two cups of coffee and hands one to his brother before going off to get the mail since Bobby seems to either still be asleep or absent this morning.
The air outside is cool and damp and Sam stands on the porch for a good minute, mail in hand, staring off into the ocean. It’s an addiction, he finds, watching the rolling waves against the patchy, blue and grey sky. He could stare into the distance for hours, never looking away, and never feel the need to leave the spot where he stands.
He breathes in and it’s thick and salty and, strangely, refreshing. He stares at the glimmering surface of the horizon for a few more seconds, gets lost in the way the light plays with the water before he shakes his head and turns to walk back into the beach house. He flips through the mail and most of it is for Bobby but he gets stopped up on a letter addressed to himself.
His name is written on the envelope in swirly, sloped handwriting and he puts the other mail aside to open it.
He pulls out a folded piece of paper, and tosses the envelope aside. He unfolds the letter and laughs when a perfectly, pre-rolled joint rolls out of it and into his waiting hand. His first paycheck is there to and he doesn’t bother checking the amount before slipping it into his pocket. It’s not like he got the job for money anyway.
Pretty boy, the letter reads which makes Sam roll his eyes but he doesn’t really mind.
This is your first paycheck so congrats! Welcome to the mediocrity of minimum wage. It loses its novelty, I promise. Anyways, don’t come into work tomorrow. There’s some type of concert happening on the beach and all the board shops are gonna be closing early. Don’t bother coming in. But I’d still like to see you so meet me by the candy shop around noon, okay?
Also, as you’ve probably seen, I enclosed a little present for you. Enjoy.
He turns the paper over to see if there’s a number of some sort that he can use to reach her. But he doesn’t see any so he shoves the letter into his pocket and looks at the joint in his hand. Just as he’s trying to decide what to do with it, Dean walks in. He sees the joint in Sam’s hand and his eyebrows shoot up into his hairline.
There’s a moment of awkward silence before, on the tail of Dean’s olive branch, Sam decides to reach out his own sort of branch. He holds the joint up to Dean and the older boy’s eyebrows go higher, still. But then he shrugs and pulls a beaten up BIC lighter from his pocket. He walks past Sam out onto the porch and, taking a bracing breath, the younger boy follows him.
Dean’s a sight to see any time of day, whether it’s just getting out of the shower or covered in grease after spending grueling hours working on the car. But Sam never really thought about smoking. There’s something addictive about the way Dean’s lips close over the end of the joint, even more so in the way his chest expands as he inhales and the t-shirt he’s wearing presses tight to the muscles (he’s always been your drug, your poison).
“Never knew you had it in you, Sammy,” and the return of his childhood nomenclature makes his shoulders relax and it’s some kind of fucked up irony that Dean can calm him down as fast as he can rile him up (your rehab). But Sam supposes that’s the nature of the thing. Loving Dean is as magnificent and terrifying as it is paradoxical and tragic; doomed, even. And as he stares at those pink lips and that broad chest, he can’t help but wonder again how he ended up here and what he could possibly have done to stop it.
It’s too late now.
Just to make a point, he takes a long pull of the joint when Dean hands it to him, exhaling the smoke smoothly. He watches Dean out of the corner of his eye and the older boy nudges him with his shoulder. This, automatically, elicits a chuckle from Sam and they shove each other back and forth, until they’re both grinning.
It feels more like home than it has in months.
Dean takes the joint from his fingers and ends up standing right in front of him. Their eyes meet as Dean takes a large inhale of smoke. Sam doesn’t recall leaning in but, suddenly, they’re so close, their noses are almost touching (and your lips). Sam can’t read the expression on Dean’s face and for one wild and surreal moment, Sam thinks Dean might kiss him.
But then the older boy turns his head, and blows the smoke out of his lungs. The moment passes and silence settles over them. Despite everything, the silence is comfortable and when he meets Dean’s eyes again, the older boy smiles. Sam is powerless but to smile back.
He all but stares at Dean and thinks that maybe he doesn’t have to lose this, maybe things will be okay with them (maybe you can learn to love him the right way). But even as he thinks it, and even as the sun sets on them and they fall back into what they’ve always been, Sam knows it can’t be so.
He closes his eyes to the setting sun and breathes the ocean air in and he can feel Dean next him even though he can’t see him.In his room, the acceptance letter burns a metaphorical hole through the bottom of his bag.