Sam is in his room, sitting on the bed, fingering the corner of his Stanford acceptance letter as he reads the words on the paper over and over again. It’s dark outside, the night’s taken over but the nightmares have robbed him of sleep once more. He still doesn’t know what he’s going to do. He’s waiting on some divine intervention, some sign from God or whoever that he should just go…or stay, the dilemma is ceaseless.
Bobby’s been side-eyeing him since he got the letter and Sam knows that Bobby wants him to go. He’ll never voice it and never give his input, but it’s clear. Of all the people in Sam’s life, Bobby’s always been the most supportive of them getting out of the hunting life. Dean’s a lost cause, but Sam’s always been different. He’s always been too soft for this life.
He sighs and puts the letter down. It’s Fourth of July weekend and there will be fireworks on the beach. He wonders if Dean will want to go, if they’ll go together, maybe get stoned beforehand. Things have been good between them lately and Sam wonders if this is permanent and, somehow, immediately knows that it’s not. Whatever’s happening between him and Dean, this easy calm that they’ve developed, is doomed to end. And when things end in the Winchester family, it’s always in fire and explosions.
There’s always a price.
But, for the first time in Sam’s life, he’s deciding to live in blissful ignorance. He’s deciding to hope instead of being realistic. He’s deciding to not overthink things and let them happen as they will because, the truth is, he’s missed having Dean like this and whatever the price is in the end, he’ll pay it; a thousand times over (you ache for him, don’t you?).
He notices the horizon lightening up with the rise of the sun. He looks over at his clock and sees that it’s almost eight. He needs to get out of bed and get ready for work. It’s a touristy weekend so they’ll be busy at the shop. He stands from his bed and opens the windows, embracing the cold air as it blows through the room. It’s cool, but muggy and sticky with humidity.
On the horizon, he can see the sun surfacing, reemerging from its watery slumber. The ocean starts to glitter and glimmer with the sun’s reflective light and he turns away from it, picking up his jeans off the floor and pulling them on. When he walks out of his room, Dean is standing there as if he’d been waiting there all morning.
“Uh hey,” Sam says, mildly confused at Dean’s presence at his door.
“Hey little brother,” Dean says and his voice is higher than it normally is, almost as if he’s nervous. It’s even weirder because Sam doesn’t think he can recall a time where Dean was nervous. His brother is not only fearless, but shameless. Dean having any doubts, self-centered or otherwise, is a foreign concept to Sam.
“I was just, uh, gonna grab some breakfast and go to work,” Sam says when Dean makes no move to start a conversation. He’s severely weirded out now and wonders if Dean got stoned before coming to his door.
“Oh right,” Dean mumbles, “well I just wanted to know what you were doing tomorrow night, for the fourth of July, I mean.”
Whatever you’re doing, Sam almost says. But he doesn’t want to be rude. He’s just confused. He’s never really had Dean ask about stuff like this. Usually, it’s implicit, an unspoken understanding that wherever Dean goes, Sam will follow. They always spend the fourth together and Sam doesn’t know why that would change so Dean must be asking for another reason. He must be asking because he’s planning something special and that’s almost weirder. They haven’t had a planned fourth since a few summers before Flagstaff. After that, most of the time, they just went to bars and hustled pool while listening to the explosions of fireworks all over the city/town/dung heap they were staying in.
“I don’t have any plans,” Sam answers, instead. “There’ll be fireworks on the beach, though. We can check that out.”
Dean smiles, this million watt smile that Sam doesn’t completely recognize. He’s not sure he’s ever seen this side of Dean (and what side is it? how can there be parts of him that you still don’t know?)
“That sounds good,” Dean agrees, “but how ‘bout it’s just you and me? No Bobby and not that chick you always hang out with in the mornings.”
Sam blinks. He hadn’t been aware that Dean knew about Kandice. It isn’t that strange, arguably. It’s not as if he’s been trying to keep her a secret but the fact that Dean knows they spend so much time together is jarring to Sam, for some reason.
“Uh,” Sam thinks on it, “wouldn’t it be kinda rude to just leave Bobby here by himself?”
It’s half the reason that Sam isn’t completely comfortable with being alone with Dean on the 4th of July. The other half is that he isn’t sure it’s wise. Him and Dean, alone under the fireworks on the beach? It’s too much like…(romance). Anyway, Dean hasn’t specifically asked for alone time with Sam in months, maybe close to a year. It’s unexpected but…not entirely unwelcome.
“He’ll be fine,” Dean assures, “the old man doesn’t even like fireworks. You know that. He’ll want to stay here and drink and watch the parade on TV.”
Sam can’t exactly argue but he’s still confused by Dean’s persistence for alone time. It’s almost foreign. Dean hasn’t requested alone time since before Flagstaff and hasn’t been this insistent about it since they were in grade school.
“Um yeah,” Sam finally agrees, against his better judgment, “then that’s fine.”
Dean smiles again, that smile that throws Sam completely off while simultaneously making him want to do anything within his power to make his brother keep smiling like that. It’s a good look on him, whatever it is.
Dean steps out of his way and they don’t talk anymore about it. Sam shrugs it off. He supposes it’s not that big of a deal. He figures that, as usual, things will work themselves out. Whatever Dean’s planning, it can’t be that bad. He doesn’t know why he has so much trouble believing that.
Sam finds it surprisingly hard to focus the rest of the day. When he meets Kandice on the beach after he left the house—closing the door on an uncharacteristically friendly Dean—he finds himself drifting in and out of conversation as he wonders what Dean has planned for the next night.
“What’s up, sasquatch?” Kandice asks when she notices Sam’s not listening to her.
“My brother--,” Sam can’t really figure out how to put into words. What is supposed to say? That he’s in deep, unfathomable love with his own sibling and is trying not to overthink the implications of them having a night completely to themselves? Somehow, he doesn’t think Kandice would be receptive to that. “Things have been good between my brother and I,” Sam finally decides to say.
“That’s good,” Kandice says, “but I’m not sure why that’s making you think so hard.”
“It just…” Sam trails off, “it hasn’t been like this in a long time. We’ve sort of…drifted apart. But he wants to spend the fourth of July with me…alone, just the two of us. I don’t know why, though.’
“Maybe he wants to clear the air,” Kandice suggests.
Yeah, that would make perfect sense. Except Dean doesn’t clear the air. Winchesters don’t clear the air. They let the air get heavy and dark and dirty with resentment and anger and lies and then, when it’s too much, they light a match and watch the whole mess go up in flames. They fight, they argue, and then they try and pump new air into the room to replace the bad air. But it doesn’t really work, the air is always a little dank. The wounds always fester.
Maybe they try and replace the air with monster hunts and killing things, Sam isn’t sure. He just knows they all have quite a few scars, mentally and physically (you feel those fangs at your neck and you see those eyes, those horribly human eyes). Sam doesn’t think for one second that Dean wants to spend tomorrow night dredging up all the bad blood between them. It’s something else, he’s sure of it.
“He said something to me once,” Sam says suddenly, “that he doesn’t want to be afraid anymore.”
“No one does,” Kandice scoffs.
“I just…I wonder what he meant by that. He’s not afraid of anything.” Sam doesn’t know why he’s saying this to her but if he doesn’t talk about Dean, he might explode.
“Everyone’s afraid of something.”
“Yeah,” Sam says disbelievingly “I guess that’s true.”
The next day drags on. It seems impossible, by noon, that the day could stretch on any longer. Sam’s antsy, more anxious still that Dean left the house early in morning and hasn’t been back. He’s reduced to twiddling his thumbs. The board shops are closed today so he doesn’t have work. All he has is half a joint that he puffs on when he first wakes up, but he even puts that away when he realizes it will just make him more anxious.
Bobby’s in and out of the house all day, picking up stuff to barbecue for dinner. Apparently, they’re going to eat here before he and Dean go watch the fireworks. Which, by the way, is just Sam’s assumption since Dean never actually told him what they’re going to do tonight.
So he ends up spending the day on the couch, switching between nervously overthinking what’s going to happen tonight (maybe he just wants some alone time with his brother. maybe he just wants you to himself. it’s been awhile. maybe he wants you. don’t do this to yourself) and reading whatever books he can get his hands on. Miraculously, more time passes and when Dean comes through the door a few minutes after five, Sam feels simultaneous rushes of dread and excitement run through him.
“Need help with those burgers, Bobby?” Dean asks, walking by Sam and ruffling his hair. Sam slaps the hand away but can’t help the small smile that appears on his face.
Sam follows the two older hunters to the back. Bobby’s setting up the grill and Dean’s standing close. They’re talking about past Fourth of July barbecues, ones where John was present, ones that Sam can’t quite remember. Sam turns away from the conversation, content to listen to the familiar cadence of their voices rather than their actual words.
His eyes find the horizon, as they often do. He can’t see the ocean completely since the house blocks the way but the sun is descending, the sky melting from a clear blue to a duskier grey. The clouds nearest the sun are cast in different shades of orange and pink, purple around the edges, fading out into the greater grey of the sky. He can hear the water, the crash of the waves, and the air is heavy with the smell of barbecue, but he can still smell the ocean underneath it, a soft saltiness that hangs there indefinitely.
He turns his head back toward the barbecue. Bobby’s standing off to the side, sipping his beer and laughing at something Dean’s said. Dean is holding a spatula. Where he’s standing, the orange shine of the sunset makes it look like he’s glowing, aside from the patches of shade that litter his skin due to the trees blocking the light. His eyes are caught just right, though, green and sparkling in the evening glow, slightly crinkled at their corners because he’s smiling.
Very suddenly, Sam feels as if he never wants to leave here, never wants to leave this moment. He wants Dean to keep smiling and for Bobby to keep laughing even if it means he has to ache perpetually, that’s okay. He’d pay that price for their happiness, really he honestly would.
“So Sam,” Bobby asks, knocking Sam out of his thoughts, “what’re you gonna do when school’s over for you?”
Dean turns his head then, eyebrows raising as if he finds the question odd. Sam knows why. To Dean, there is no question. Sam will graduate (one better than Dean) and then he’ll hunt and keep hunting until they find whatever it is that killed mom. To him, it doesn’t make sense for anything else to happen and that makes Sam frown, makes him sad because he can’t stop taking that acceptance letter out of his bag and reading it.
“Uh,” Sam says. He doesn’t know why Bobby’s asking. He knows that Sam can’t just up and say he’s going to Stanford, if he decides he wants to go, “maybe I’ll find some online classes or something.”
Dean’s turned away so he shrugs at Bobby as he says this. Bobby sighs and Dean seems placated. If Bobby wanted Sam to just tell Dean, then and there, he obviously doesn’t know the Winchester way very well. Sam won’t tell Dean unless he really decides to go and he has no idea when he’s going to be able to make that decision.
Winchesters don’t clear the air.
Dean announces that the burgers are done and they start plating them. They’re going to eat in the sunroom, a dusty and unused part of the house that Bobby’s spent the day trying to clean. Sam walks into the sunroom and looks around, really looks around for the first time. The sunset washes the whole room in a warm, golden light but the disuse is clear.
The dining table is the cleanest, made of glass and wiped clean by Bobby. Its white frame is rusted in some parts, chipping to reveal the brown metal underneath. The chairs are black, iron-looking, with intricate patterns of twisted flowers and thorns making up the backs. The seat paddings are worn and moth-eaten, torn in places due to too many summers sitting in the sun with no one to tend them.
The floor has been swept, but not well. There are broom trails cutting through the dust and, still, a fine layer of dust lay underneath that. There are hanging, potted plants strung up on the ceiling. The pots are coated in dust, their designs barely visible. The plants are brown, long dead, nearly black, hanging over the edges of their pots.
But the sound of Bobby and Dean laughing, and the smell of food, and the evening sun…it all seems to put a little bit of life back into the room (maybe that’s all you need then, food and sunlight and family and all the dark broken places in you will be fixed. oh boy, you know that’s not true. you can’t run from what’s inside you). Plates are laid out by Sam, and Dean takes care of napkins and utensils.
Sam looks at their spread: all-beef burgers on a plate, freshly baked buns from the bakery on the pier, new bottles of ketchup and mustard, crispy and brown tater tots in a serving bowl, and a small salad in a blue serving bowl, almost added as an afterthought. It’s all thoroughly American, Sam thinks, even the napkins have red, white, and blue stripes. He thinks that it’s funny that they celebrate a country that they’re merely ghosts in. Constantly switching towns, living under the radar, dodging the police and social services at all costs. They’re convicts, refugees, bonafide criminals. Their worst enemy is probably the very people they’re celebrating today (home sweet home) but he doesn’t voice this.
Ironic or not, this is a time for family and fun. Sam’s not going to ruin it. This isn’t about America, it’s about him and Dean and Bobby and the only family he’s ever really had.
“So you and Sam are gonna see the fireworks tonight?” Bobby asks. Sam doesn’t say anything because he doesn’t know what’s happening tonight. But Dean blushes. He honest-to-god blushes, a sight that Sam doesn’t think he’s ever seen before. Then he smiles, that sun-in-the-sky smile that threw Sam off this morning.
“Yeah,” Dean says, “we’re gonna go watch ‘em on the beach, but I was wondering if there’s any place here that’s a little more private. Don’t exactly wanna mix in with that crowd.”
“Oh yeah,” Bobby answers, “there’s a little private beach about a mile north of here. You won’t be as close to the fireworks but you’ll probably be alone. I’ll let you borrow the car if you wanna drive.”
Sam’s mind runs rampant with the idea of being alone with Dean on a private beach under fireworks. It feels as if one of his sick dreams is becoming a reality and he really isn’t sure how to feel about it. Just like that, he shuts down. Dean’s weird uppity attitude and the prospect of trying to reign in his fucked up urges all night strikes some internal chord in Sam’s head and the numbness creeps back without him realizing it.
He becomes melancholy because is this his life, now? Only ever half enjoying Dean’s company because it’s as much torture as it is reprieve? Constantly having to remind himself that he’s a sick fuck just so that he doesn’t give into his unnatural desires? He looks down through the glass table he’s eating on.
Through the middle of the floor of the sunroom, there’s a large crack that breaks up the tile, another sign of how unused and unloved the room has been for so long. And no matter how much they might clean and tidy and no matter how much they may try to bring the room back to life, that crack will still be there (broken things stay broken. there’s no running from what’s inside you).
“How does that sound, Sammy?” Dean asks. When Sam looks up and sees Dean’s beatific smile, he feels an even more profound sense of melancholy. But he smiles back anyway.
“Sounds great,” he says, hoping that his voice is an acceptable imitation of excited.
Dean smiles even wider, if at all possible, eyes crinkling at the corners. And there’s a warmth in the smile that Sam isn’t immune too and the ice that crept into his veins thaws a little. But there’s still a rock in his stomach.It’s sinking, slowly.