It’s strange how time can fly by once a routine sets in. Before Sam really knows it, a week has gone by. The disconnected numbness he’s been feeling fades in and out, striking at the oddest times. Every morning, he’ll look at the scars on his neck and every day, they get lighter and lighter. But even as time passes and the distance from then to now grows larger and larger, Sam can’t stop feeling the numbness. He can’t stop reanalyzing the entire night (don’t look it in the eyes. don’t ask questions. just shoot.) The nightmares won’t stop and the memories are relentless.
And it’s weird to live half his life in normal environments while this inner turmoil goes on inside him. But, somehow, he manages this routine. He wakes up and goes to work and hangs out with Kandice, then he comes home and hangs out with Dean whom he’s been on good terms with for the last couple weeks. For which, he’s grateful. On these fronts, Sam feels he’s got things handled.
But the night brings darkness and terror and memories and a thousand hours before morning to just lay awake and replay the scene again and again in his head, trying to decide if the wolves got him or not. During the day, it’s easy to not think about. It’s easy to distract himself but, at night, it’s impossible and he ends up fighting a losing battle with his own mind.
The morning comes and he gets up and does it all over again and it’s not all that healthy or functional but it’s more of a routine than he’s really ever had before. Maybe that’s why he likes it, though. Regardless of circumstances, this is the most normal he’s probably ever been.
His and Dean’s relationship is better than it’s been since Flagstaff and he’s beginning to think it might all work out except reality can only be held at bay for so long before it rears its ugly head again.
“So Stanford?” Kandice asks. Sam had almost forgotten he told her. They’re standing on the beach, smoking their morning joint and talking about the big abstract ideas that are always safe.
For all the time they spend together, Sam doesn’t know much about Kandice and she doesn’t know much about it. The heavy things just never come up and Sam prefers it that way. He has a feeling that Kandice does too. But the question is like a bucket of ice water, drenching his sun-warmed skin. He’s been trying to forget about Stanford. It’s quite the task, considering the acceptance letter is still buried in his bag and every time he catches a glimpse of it, simultaneous sparks of excitement and guilt skitter along his spine.
“I want to go,” Sam starts because he knows that he does. He’s never tried to pretend that he doesn’t. “But…I feel like it’d be selfish of me.”
“Why? It’s just college.”
And Sam can see that in Kandice’s world, it really is. Despite their surprising similarities, they still live in very different worlds. She turns her brilliant blue eyes on him and cocks her head.
“In my family…” Sam trails off. He doesn’t really have the words to explain (you’re a killer from a family of killers and yeah the things you murder are monsters but, god, those eyes. the damned eyes. look anywhere but the eyes.) “It’d hurt them…it’d hurt my brother and I just don’t know if I can do that again.”
“So maybe it is selfish,” Kandice says after a beat. “But maybe it’s okay to be selfish sometimes. Even if it hurts the ones we love.”
Her eyes get far away, then. Sam wonders about her story. He knows that she’s got a mom and an absent dad. That much, they’d covered. He knows her mom is sick but, with what, he can’t guess. Overall, he doesn’t know that much about anything when it comes to Kandice. But he feels like her words come from a deeper place. Maybe she knows what he’s going through, even if it is just the basics.
“But isn’t that bad? To knowingly hurt someone?” Sam asks and it sounds sort of childish, the kind of thing they go over in kid’s shows. It’s bad to hurt someone you love. But…
“Sometimes we have to save ourselves, Sam,” Kandice answers. Her face gets serious and she reaches down and grabs a handful of white sand. It clashes brilliantly with her darker skin and they both watch as it sifts through the gaps of her fingers. When there’s only a little bit of it left in her palm, she takes the last of the joint and snubs it out in the small handful of sand.
“Save ourselves? From what?”
“From the people we love.”
It’s harsh, much harsher than it should be. All of his life, Sam’s grown up being constantly reminded that family is everything, that family supersedes any and all wants and wishes. But how far is he supposed to stretch himself? Surely, the darkness will eventually consume him. If he doesn’t leave, if he doesn’t get out, he’ll die here. He knows it. He’ll die with a gun in his hand and maybe that’s a good enough deal for dad and Dean but it isn’t for him. It never has been.
Leaving Dean seems unbearable, too much to ask of Sam to just leave him behind. The love he feels, however twisted, is the only thing that’s kept him alive this long. And if loving him weren’t so horribly destructive (and, oh, how it destroys you), then it might be enough. Eventually, though, even this love will kill him.
He doesn’t want to die.
“Sometimes we have to save ourselves,” Sam repeats, turning his eyes to the horizon and watching as the water rolls into waves and crashes on the shore. Kandice nods, her curls bouncing with the movement.
“If they really love you,” Kandice says, “then they’ll love you, anyway.”
(will he love you, anyway?)
When Sam gets home later that night, Dean meets him at the door, handing him a half smoked joint and a beer. Dean lets Sam drink and Sam doesn’t know if it’s because he doesn’t like to drink alone or if it’s because Dean sees him as an equal. Sam likes to think it’s the latter.
Dean’s clearly already baked and, maybe, tipsy if the two empty beer cans on the table are indicative of anything. He smiles lazily at Sam, and Sam grins back. They make their way into the living room where Dean has some Monster Movie Marathon playing on the television. Sam cringes. He’s never really liked horror movies. They’re not scary to him, really, he just doesn’t like them.
“Dude, why are you watching this crap?” Sam voices his disapproval.
“You try finding something to watch when we only have seven channels,” Dean retorts. Sam has to concede the point. Dean hands him a lighter and Sam sparks the half joint he has between his fingers. He cracks his beer open and takes a long sip before relaxing back into the couch.
Sam sits through about twenty minutes of some horribly gory movie and is halfway to turning it off when Dean speaks again.
“You ever think everyone else has got it wrong?” Dean asks. It’s the kind of existential thing that people ask when they’re high but Sam thinks on it anyway.
“What do you mean?” Sam replies, cocking his head as he snubs out the butt of the joint on the beaten up coffee table.
“Like society, ya know?” Dean asks. “There’s all this stuff we’re not supposed to do, like…like cussing in public. It’s politically incorrect or whatever. But maybe all that stuff’s just made up? Why are bad words even bad? Sometimes, they’re just honest.”
“They’re just words,” Sam agrees. “But I think society’s rules are here to protect us from ourselves, to keep us from doing the things we’re not supposed to do.”
“You really have that much faith?”
“In what? God?” Sam believes in God, he thinks. He has to believe in something.
“No, humanity,” Dean corrects. That’s a different question altogether. Does he have faith in humanity? Sartre said that in the way man chooses to live his life, he creates his own ideal for mankind. And, all things considered, Sam’s supposed ideal is pretty dysfunctional.
“I mean, we’re all that’s really here, right? Whatever we believe in, the only thing that seems to stay the same is that we’re human. We’ve all got to have faith in that, to some extent.”
“So you never think that society could be wrong about some things? There’s so many taboos. When are we allowed to just…be? Why are there so many rules?”
“To keep us scared,” Sam answers. “If we think we’ll get in trouble for it, we won’t do it.”
“Fear,” Dean says and doesn’t say anything else. He fixes his eyes on the ceiling and stares into a place Sam can’t see.
Out of habit, Sam traces Dean’s profile with his eyes. The slightly upturned nose, the plump pink lips, and the stubbly chin. The overwhelming urge to kiss the older boy consumes Sam and it’s only by sheer force of will that he refrains (yes, fear will keep you in your place). When the feeling subsides Sam closes his eyes, reaching up to trace the scars on his neck.
“Sammy,” Dean whispers. Sam looks at Dean but Dean’s eyes stay fixed on the ceiling.
“I’m tired of being scared.”
It’s almost vulnerable, the way Dean speaks. Sam doesn’t really know what to say. He doesn’t know what Dean’s scared of. He’s never really thought that Dean was scared of anything. But he knows what fear feels like and he’s tired of it as well.
“Me too, man,” he finally says, “me too.”
“What are you most afraid of?” Sam asks Kandice the next morning as they’re standing on the beach before work hours start. Sam can’t stop thinking about the conversation he and Dean had the night before. He’s stuck on it.
All his life, Dean’s been fearless. He’s never flinched or shied away from anything. The vulnerability his brother displayed shook Sam and as he woke up this morning, he found himself remembering the conversation instead of recovering from nightmares.
“God,” Kandice answers after a minute of thinking.
Sam thinks he heard wrong and looks over to see if she’d said it as a curse rather than an answer to the question. However, Kandice is staring straight on at the ocean, her dark freckles scrunching up as she tugs a curl out of her face.
“What? Like God fearing?”
“No, you idiot,” she says affectionately, “I’m scared of the idea of God, and not really scared. Like not the way I’m scared of spiders. It’s scary in a bigger way, ya know? It’s almost too big to be afraid of, but sometimes…it scares me a lot.”
“Like you’re afraid that he doesn’t exist?”
“No, I’m afraid that he does.”
Again, Sam doesn’t respond right away. Kandice is always throwing curve balls and he never thought someone who’s never seen the true terrors of the world would ever make him think so much. Perhaps it’s an elitist hunter ideal, but he’s grown to inadvertently disregard anything that civilians say or think about the world. They only ever know half the story, so what they think is, usually, automatically in contradiction with the way things actually are.
Kandice isn’t like that. She makes Sam think (you’d fancy yourself in love with her, wouldn’t you? if you weren’t certifiable, if you weren’t a hunter, if you weren’t desperately pining for your own flesh and blood…if…if…if…).
“Why would that be a bad thing?” He finally asks, after pondering her words for a second. He can’t make sense of them.
“Because then life is absolute. No matter what we do or say, we’re all going to the same places: heaven or hell. If he exists, then all the questions of the universe are answered. There’d be nothing to explore, nothing to question. We’d all just…exist. And then we’d die.”
“Wouldn’t life be easier if we just knew all the answers, though?”
“Oh, most definitely,” she agrees, bobbing her head in a nod, “but where’s the fun in that?”
Sam is pretty sure he believes in God but he can see what Kandice is saying. He wants to explore the world too. And maybe not having all the answers is what keeps them all alive. Maybe not knowing is all hope is.
He doesn’t know what’s going to happen with Stanford, but he hopes it will work out. He doesn’t know what’s going to come of his feelings for Dean, but he hopes that they eventually fade. Hope is just ignorance, he decides, but one that needs to be clung to desperately or humanity will die out altogether.
“What’s your biggest fear?” Kandice asks and Sam guesses he should have expected the rebuttal.
He thinks about it seriously. What isn’t there to be afraid of? He fights monsters for a living. But even as he thinks it, he knows it isn’t true. Monsters don’t scare him, not really, not in the way they scare little kids who think they’re living under the bed.
Is he scared of Dad? No, not at all. He may be intimidating but Sam has long since stopped fearing his father.
It’s almost an epiphany.
Sam isn’t afraid of any external forces. No, the worst monsters are where they’ve always been…inside him. He thinks of Dean and the way that every waking second around his older brother is another test of his self -control.
He looks at Kandice and gives her the most honest answer he’s probably ever given in his entire life:“I am.”