When the Levee Breaks

Chapter Eight

Goodbye, Pt. 1

The moon is out and full which makes it the most dangerous time of the year for this kind of hunt. It’s quiet but not silent, the kind of quiet that only exists in nature among the rustle of leaves and call of owls. A gentle breeze blows through the trees and a twig snaps. Sam spins around at the sound, raising his gun in a sure hand, ready to shoot should he need to.

“Fucking forests,” comes Dean’s gruff voice from the trees, “why is it always god damn fucking forests?”

“Don’t do that, Dean,” Sam whispers harshly, “you scared the shit out of me.”

Dean shrugs unapologetically and readjusts the shotgun in his hand. They’ve been out here for hours, waiting. John had told them to split up but not to go too far. If he finds Sam and Dean together, they’ll get a tongue lashing. Dean is obviously aware of this because he winks at Sam and keeps walking through the trees until Sam can no longer see or hear him.

Sam takes a breath, ignores the way he wants to chase after Dean and goes back to scanning the area around him on high alert.

It all happens really fast.

One minute, he’s thinking about the homework he has to do when they get back and the next he’s thinking nothing at all except that he needs to pull the trigger. The werewolf had come out of nowhere, breaking through the trees in a near sprint and stopping a few feet from Sam, blue eyes narrowing in a predatory way.

Sam raises his gun and…and…

This wolf does not have fur. It’s just a man with claws and teeth and haunting eyes. He’s still wearing his work clothes. Sam stands there and looks at him and realizes a harrowing fact.

This wolf, every other day of the year, is a person. He is a person like Sam, like Dean, like every monster who does not choose to be that way. He goes to work or school, maybe. He has a family and friends and people who care and, despite the feral look in his eyes, Sam knows that his eyes are probably really brown…or green. And every other day of the week, he is a fucking human.

His finger is on the trigger and he has an open shot that any hunter would be lucky to have. But he can’t fucking do it. This wolf has killed people and he knows that but he’s still just a guy. Whatever he is right now, 98% of his life, he’s just a man. He probably doesn’t even know that he’s a werewolf and now he’s going to die for it.

And then Sam’s on the ground and the werewolf is above him. His gun is knocked out of his hand and lands too far away for him to retrieve it. Panic sets in and he struggles. The werewolf opens its mouth and puts its teeth to his neck. He can feel the pressure of those sharp canines sinking in and this is it.

This is how he dies.

A shot rings out and the werewolf—the man—falls to the side, dead. Sam shimmies his way out from under the body and stands up, pressing his fingers to his neck which is bleeding heavily.

“Are you alright, Sammy?” Dean asks, suddenly in front of him. He looks at Sam’s neck and curses.

“Sam! Sammy!” John comes tearing through the trees. “Hey kiddo, you’re gonna be alright. Dean, go start up the car. What happened Sam?”

He knows he has to lie, has to lie through his fucking teeth.

“It got the jump on me,” he says. “It was in the trees and it got the jump on me.”

John nods stoically and wraps an arm around his youngest son’s shoulders. Sam lets himself be lead back to the car. When they’re driving away and Sam is in the back, pressing gauze to his wound and trying to not think about how he almost just died, John reaches back and pats Sam’s knee reassuringly.

“It’s okay, son, no one’s first hunt goes smoothly. You’ll get the hang of it in no time.”

Sam doesn’t know what to say to that so he just nods numbly.

“Yeah, Dad, I’m sure I will.”

*

Sam wakes up slowly, the memories fading as he becomes more aware of his surroundings. Dean’s next to him, still fast asleep, snoring softly. The sun isn’t up yet which is good because Dean wasn’t supposed to spend the night in here anyway, not naked at least. They can’t chance being caught by Bobby. He nudges his sleeping brother, to no avail. Dean just turns his head and keeps right on sleeping.

Sam sighs but doesn’t try again. He figures it can wait a few minutes. He shifts around, feeling his naked, sticky genitals rub up against the rough cotton of the sheets. If he scoots about an inch, he’ll be flush with Dean. He doesn’t.

It might be irrational, but he feels like he’s lying to Dean. He thinks about the acceptance letter in his bag and feels guilt turn his stomach. Dean deserves better than what Sam can give him. The more he tries to deny it, the harder it is to make himself believe that he hasn’t thought about leaving. The fact that it’s gotten to the point where he can’t deny it makes him feel even guiltier.

He closes his eyes and breathes, turning his head to look at Dean. He’s adorably rumpled in his sleep, hair splayed out on his pillow, plush lips parted as he emits soft snores. The guilt Sam feels intensifies and he swallows it down, turning his eyes away and breathing deeply again. He looks to the window and sees that the sky is getting lighter. The morning fog is going to be thick, he observes, and he turns a little more onto his side to nudge Dean again.

This time the older hunter jolts awake. He inhales sharply and snaps his head to the side to look at Sam. He, then, mumbles incoherently and pulls the blankets up to his chin. Sam rolls his eyes and shoves him again.

“You have to get dressed and go to your own room,” he whispers regretfully. “Bobby can’t find us like this.”

For a second, Sam thinks that Dean’s fallen asleep again. But then he hears a hefty sigh and the whole bed shifts as the older hunter slips out from under the covers, shivering when the air hits his skin. He pulls on his clothes and leans over to give Sam a parting kiss that Sam returns wholeheartedly.

“Do you have work later?” Dean asks, voice rough with sleep.

“Yeah,” Sam answers quietly, “but I can probably get off early since it’s a Sunday.”

Dean nods and smiles, pecking Sam on the lips one more time before he slips out the door and goes to his own room. When hears Dean’s door close, Sam shuts his eyes again, hoping to catch another hour of sleep before he has to get up. However, it’s all in vain. It seems impossible for him to fall back asleep, so he lays there for an hour, staring out at the grey dawn and drawing patterns with his fingers on the bed sheets pulled up over his stomach.

The morning is quiet, the same quiet that he’s gotten used to these last few months. The sound of the ocean is almost indiscernible to him now. If he focuses, he can hear it but when he lets his mind wander, the room becomes eerily silent. He thinks mostly about Dean. It’s the safest topic these days (which is an irony you’re not missing, right?). With Dean on his mind, nothing else really matters to Sam. He knows it’s tunnel vision in its purest form but he can’t bring himself to care.

He’s afraid to let his thoughts drift anywhere else (Stanford, leaving, the wolves, and those god damn eyes, a fucking nightmare you can’t wake up from). Life in a relationship with Dean is much smaller than life just being his brother and it’s oddly comforting to Sam, to not have to think very far beyond that. Maybe it isn’t exactly productive or healthy, but he’ll take it over the numbness. He’ll take anything over that.

After an hour of sitting there and making sure to not let his thoughts slip too far past Dean, Sam kicks the blankets off of himself and gets out of bed.

He takes a quick shower and gets ready for work, throwing on a t-shirt and a ratty pair of jeans. By the time he’s made it to the kitchen for breakfast, Bobby is awake and cooking bacon in a pan on the stove. Dean must still be asleep so Sam sits down and waits for the eggs and bacon to be done, idly toying with the salt and pepper shakers on the table to amuse himself.

“Mornin’ Sam,” Bobby says, turning away from the kitchen counter and setting a steaming plate of fried eggs and crispy bacon, as well as a glass of orange juice in front of Sam.

“Moring Bobby,” he replies, “thanks for breakfast.”

Bobby waves him off and sits down at the table across from him. It becomes silent for a few minutes as they eat. Sam isn’t really thinking much of anything, placidly munching on his breakfast, staring out the bay window at the cloudy morning sky. So he’s caught off guard when Bobby finally asks, “So, you thought anymore about Stanford?”

Sam chokes, almost swallowing the piece of bacon he was chewing. He coughs and takes a sip of orange juice. He clears his throat again and when he can breathe right, he looks at Bobby and shrugs. He doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t want to talk about it. If he talks about it, then it’s real. Not thinking about it is the only reason these past weeks with Dean have been possible.

The truth is, he’s thought a lot about Stanford (no wolves. no guns. no blood and bones. no monsters). He just doesn’t know what conclusion he’s come to yet (Dean. Dean. Dean. Dean).

“That’s it?” Bobby asks and his voice sounds kind of heated. “You get into one of the best schools in the country and you’re just gonna shrug about it?”

Sam sighs. There’s really no way he can explain. He obviously can’t mention Dean because Bobby wouldn’t understand. Bobby clearly wants him to go and he appreciates the support but he just…can’t. He sighs and tries his best to articulate, to some degree, what he’s been feeling.

“I don’t know, Bobby,” he starts, “I mean, I’ve been a hunter my whole life. What would I even do in college? And how would I even survive? I’ve never had a real job and neither has Dad or Dean unless you count occasionally working at garages and getting paid under the table as a ‘real job.’ I don’t have any real world experience, I mean, c’mon Bobby I’ve never even lived in a real house before. How am I supposed to survive on my own?”

“You’re one of the smartest kids I ever met, Sam,” Bobby argues, not missing a beat as if he expected Sam to make this argument, “anything you don’t already know, I’m sure you’ll figure out. Either way, that ain’t a good enough reason to not go. This is an opportunity you won’t get twice.”

Bobby’s approval and assurance feels good, warm, and unfamiliar and something he thinks he could get used to. But it doesn’t change the fact that the older hunter doesn’t know the whole story. Leaving wouldn’t just be going to Stanford or leaving Dad and his brother…it would be leaving Dean too, not the brother he’s always had but the lover he’s just found. He can’t just walk away from all that (if he really loved you, he would love you anyway). He doesn’t want to have to walk away.

“I don’t know, Bobby,” he repeats. “I just don’t know.”

Bobby sighs and nods, looking disappointed but understanding. Sam feels bad because he can’t describe how happy it makes him that someone in this life wants this for him. But nothing is ever that simple, especially with a Winchester (especially with you). Bobby stands up, taking their empty plates and carrying them to the sink. He rinses them off and then turns to walk out of the kitchen. He stops at the door, though, and turns his head to look at Sam out the corner of his eye.

“Always hoped you’d get out of this life, kid,” he says, not turning to face the younger man completely.

He leaves at that, not saying anything more.

Sam slumps in his chair. What does Bobby know? He thinks, suddenly angry. How could he ever understand the position that Sam’s in? Staying in the life should make everyone happy, anyway. Bobby should be pleased, not disappointed. Hunters don’t go to college. Hunters don’t leave the life. Why is he special? What makes him so different? (well, for starters, you got into Stanford with a full ride).

He sighs heavily and stands from the kitchen table. He almost runs into Dean on his way out of the house. His older brother slumps into the kitchen looking like death warmed up. He ignores Sam and heads straight for the coffee maker. He puts on a pot and rubs a hand over his face before turning to give Sam a sleepy kiss, good morning.

“You leavin?” Dean asks, running a hand over Sam’s hip.

He technically has another twenty minutes to kill but, for some reason beyond him, he’s overcome with the sudden need to get out and get as far away from this place and Dean as possible. He can’t explain it and he’ll chalk it up to stress later but he really needs to get out. He smiles and nods and pecks Dean on the cheek before he ducks out of the kitchen and then out of the house altogether.

He walks away and briefly imagines, in a random instant, what it might be like to walk away for real (what if you didn’t have to come back?). He shakes the idea off and continues on his way. He makes it to the beach pretty early and by the time he gets there, he still has ten minutes to spare.

He sits down and looks out over the water (what do you see out there? a million miles of freedom. some place you’ve never been before). It’s an open expanse of life that never ceases and connects everyone to each other. It’s beautiful and terrifying, how something can be so impossibly big and uniting, while also being the only thing that truly separates humanity.

It makes him feel small.

With nothing but the feeling of breeze on his skin and the sound of the ocean to pay attention to, Sam’s forced to think about the things he’s been avoiding.

Does he want to go Stanford? He hasn’t looked at the acceptance letter since Dean first kissed him. It had all seemed like a moot point. Dean loved him and wanted him and that’s all he’s ever really wanted so nothing else mattered.

But how much of that is true? Is Dean really all he’s ever wanted? Why does he still feel so strangely unfulfilled? (you know that this life will kill you. stop pretending it won’t. remember those teeth and those eyes that were once human). He wants this to be endgame, for Dean to be the answer to all his problems and internal struggles…but that’s not the case and he’s not sure what to do about it.

Sometimes we have to save ourselves. Kandice’s words ring through his ears and he sighs. Hunters don’t save themselves, though, they save everyone else. Is he a bad person for not wanting to do that? Is he evil simply because he doesn’t want the fate of the world on his shoulders? Is it so bad that, for five seconds, he just wants to be young and stupid and not have to worry about the consequences?

The breeze picks up and he closes his eyes, breathing deeply. He doesn’t think he’s ever been this confused about anything. For such a long time, Dean was the most important goal Sam had. Dean trumped everything and everyone else. There was nothing, not one single thing, he could ever imagine himself wanting besides Dean.

It’s different, now. He has Dean and it’s not what he thought it would be. It’s not the way he always pictured. In his dreams, Dean solved all his problems and love was the answer. But this is the real world and it just doesn’t work like that here (he is the problem and you have the answer).

“Hey,” Kandice voice startles Sam out of his thoughts, “thinkin’ hard?”

Sam looks up at her. She smiles and pulls a joint from behind her ear, handing it to Sam along with a lighter that she pulls out of her pocket. Sam looks at it and reaches out to take, but stops, abruptly feeling like he wants to be sober. He doesn’t want to be high anymore. He’s not sure he has the words to explain why.

“No thanks,” he says, instead, “not today.”

Kandice’s eyebrows raise up but she shrugs and tucks the joint back behind her mass of curly hair. She takes a seat beside Sam and, for the first time in two months, they don’t smoke. They just sit and watch the clouds get lighter in the sky as the morning begins.

“I’m leaving,” Kandice announces after a few long minutes of silence.

“What? Like right now?” Sam asks, confused. Kandice rolls her eyes but smiles and shakes her head.

“No, dummy,” she scoffs, “I’m leaving next week. I’m going to Austin.”

“What about your mom?”

Kandice’s mom is sick. It isn’t something they ever talk about and, up until this point, has simply been one of those facts that Sam knows about her. There is no substance to it, not for him. It’s one of the few things about her that he feels he truly knows. But she’s never discussed how she feels about it or what the circumstances are. For all Sam knows, Kandice hates her mom and is happy that she’s sick.

“She’s gonna die here,” Kandice says finitely, a fate she’s already accepted. Sam can’t tell if she’s sad or not. He can see, in her eyes, the resignation but maybe the sadness has passed. Maybe she’s already moved on (you can certainly understand that can’t you?).

“And you?” Sam questions. “Why’re you leaving now? I mean, what happened?”

“Not one thing,” she says airily. “Maybe a lot of things all at once, I don’t know. She’s just been sick for so long…I can barely remember a time where she wasn’t. And…I guess I just don’t want to forget that. She used to be so lively, ya know? She’d always be the life of a party and was always looking for new ways to make other people happy. I just don’t even recognize her anymore, ya know?”

Sam nods his head even though he doesn’t really know. Kandice continues to speak.

“She’s got people here that can take care of her. I wouldn’t leave if I didn’t know she was gonna be okay. But she’ll die here and I just…can’t.”

She looks at Sam, blue eyes weary. In a lot of ways, they’re similar. He hopes for her, then, hopes that she’ll be okay and that she’ll make it and that nothing bad will ever happen to her. But, mostly, he hopes that she’ll be happy. In whatever context, he hopes that she can find happiness.

“Plus,” she adds, “if I don’t leave now, I never will. I’ve come up with too many excuses to stick around. I guess I’ve run out.”

The words strike a chord in Sam. Maybe they come a little too close to home base. He tries to shrug the feeling off but it sticks.

“So is today your last day?” Sam asks her in an effort to change the subject.

“Uh no,” Kandice says, looking sheepish. “Yesterday was…I just didn’t wanna make a big deal out of it. Sorry…but I wanted to tell you the right way. You’re a weird kid, Sam Winchester, but I like you.”

Sam smiles. This may be the most he’s ever actually seen of Kandice and part of him is sad that he didn’t spend more time trying to get to know her. But he knows it’s for the best. She’s been exactly what he’s needed her to be and nothing more. They’ve been friends but he’s had no delusions about it and he’s glad that she doesn’t seem to have any either.

It makes saying goodbye easier.

Just like on the beach, he knows that this is the last time he’ll ever see her. It’s inexplicable, the way he knows it. But he does. He smiles and pulls her into a hug, and thinks that even if things don’t turn out as planned, at least this summer wasn’t completely wasted.

“So I’ll see you around, sasquatch?” Kandice says pulling away from the hug and giving him a tiny, sarcastic smile, similar to the one she wore when they first met.

“I’m sure you will,” he says back. She walks backwards slowly until she gets a few feet away and then she shrugs at him before turning around and walking off.

Sam doesn’t watch her leave.

Work that day isn’t as fun without Kandice around. He does his job, makes his sales, and then leaves but not before telling his boss that he’s quitting. It’s not just for Kandice, though. It just feels like the right moment.

He can't explain it but he's getting used to it, just going with his gut.

At the end of the day, he stands on the beach for another few minutes, until the air gets chilly with the falling night. He feels strange and disconnected from his surroundings, but serene in a way he can’t quite make sense of. He leaves the beach when the sun sinks behind the horizon. The sky is turning dark as he walks back to the house.

When he gets there, as has become routine, Dean is waiting. He pulls Sam into a kiss that the younger hunter falls into easily, eyes slipping shut as he goes. They tug at each other’s clothes and barely make it to the bed before things get messy. They fuck well into the night and fall asleep, sweaty and sticky, in each other’s arms.

Sam doesn’t dream.

Goodbye Pt. 2

It’s like glass, breaking over his head. It’s some sort of epiphany, he swears, but one he saw coming from miles away.

He had tried to ignore it. After Kandice left, he thought he would just quit his work, come home, sleep with Dean and continue to ignore his problems. But he can’t stop thinking about it, can’t stop running her words over in his head.

He's spent the whole day trying to distract himself from them and has found that he can’t. He's tried to read, to watch tv, and even clean but the thoughts are relentless and tormenting.

They spin around and around in his head and it makes it impossible for him to focus on the words of his books. He attempts to watch old reruns of "I Love Lucy" but during every commercial break, his thoughts slip from his control and he's back to it, mulling over the same words over and over again, trying to understand why they're bothering him so much. So he gives up on trying to distract himself with Lucille Ball's ditzy humor and shuts off the tv altogether.

He gets antsy, then, and in an attempt to quell it, he goes to the sunroom. Despite Bobby's efforts for the fourth of July, there's still a fine coating of dust covering everything. He starts to clean and, for a while, it works. He gets so absorbed in the simple tasks of dusting, wiping, and shining that he momentarily forgets his dilemma. But when he runs out of surfaces to wipe down, the thoughts return in full force.

Now he’s sitting in the sunroom and Dean has been out all morning with Bobby, doing God knows what. But, really, it's the only good thing about the day. It's hard to deal with these relentless thoughts but it'd be even harder with Dean around. So he’s sitting here, chewing away at Kandice’s words, not entirely sure why they’ve caused such an upset in him.

I’ve come up with too many excuses to stick around.

Has it all just been an excuse? Dean? The wolves? Everything? Is he simply running from things that he created, fears that exist simply because he doesn’t want to leave what little happiness he has, behind (you can’t run from what’s inside you)? But there could be so much happiness elsewhere, so many new things and new people.

But no, Dean’s not just an excuse, could never just be an excuse. Dean is everything and yeah, maybe Kandice was right when she said people need to save themselves from the ones they love, but Sam doesn’t feel that way with Dean. It’s not Dean that’s going to kill him, it’s the life, and his brother just so happens to be inherently tied to all of it.

He doesn’t know what to do or think because this isn’t about Dean, not really. If he wants to leave, it’s only because he doesn’t want to live this life. If he does this, it’s not because he doesn’t love Dean because he does, God he does (there isn’t a version of you that exists that doesn’t love him) but he’s just not sure it’s enough.

If he thought, for one second, that he could talk Dean into coming with him, he wouldn’t hesitate. But that’s impossible. Even if Dean wanted to leave, there’s no way he’d be okay with abandoning dad to the hunt.

It’s impossible to think about himself without Dean. He’s not exaggerating, it’s literally impossible for him to think of himself separated from his brother.

All his life, it’s been “Sam’n’Dean,” “the boys,” “the brothers,” “those two,” and so on and so forth. Dean’s been a part of his identity since he was born. There isn’t a faucet of his personality that isn’t somehow linked to his brother. In fact, when he takes all the parts of his personality that are tied to Dean out, Sam’s not really sure what is left. He’s not really sure who he is without Dean.

It’s never been a big deal but, really, maybe it is. Maybe this is where it all stems from, the desire to leave and be normal. Maybe, in a way, even that is tied to Dean. And, it really isn’t that he doesn’t love Dean. He does. Some days, it’s all he thinks about. But there isn’t a corner of his life where Dean doesn’t exist, and not even his deep abiding love for his brother can make him blind to the fact that his life, thus far, has been small and centered on only two (sometimes three) people.

And maybe, no matter how impossible it seems, there’s a version of him that exists without Dean. He doesn’t like the way it feels to think about that, but he can’t help it.

He doesn’t know what that version of himself must be like. He can’t imagine it and, in a lot of ways, it doesn’t seem like something that Sam really wants to explore. How could Sam without Dean even work? But the more he thinks about it, the more clearly he can see it in his head.

Maybe that Sam has an apartment.

Maybe that Sam has a bedroom and a bed, one that’s really his own.

Maybe that Sam only ever uses knives for cooking and getting splinters out of his thumb.

Maybe that Sam has a dog or two and he goes on runs with them every morning on the Stanford campus track.

It hits him like a ton of bricks, then.

There’s a version of him that exists without Dean It may not be much a version of himself, hell it may even be a sucky version of himself. But it’s possible. It can exist. However much he may not want to admit, he can survive in this world without his brother.

He buries his head in his hands and sighs. He loves his brother so much, too much. This is too hard of a decision to make because at what point is this him being selfish? What’s the difference between putting himself first and making others suffer just so he can have what he wants?

Sometimes we need to save ourselves, Sam thinks, remembering Kandice’s words once again (if they really love you, then they’ll love you anyway). But it would also mean giving up this relationship he has with Dean, this relationship that he’s pined after for years, this impossible thing that he has with his brother. After wanting it for so long, he’d have to walk away.

It leaves a bad taste in a mouth, rots his insides a little bit. He figures that leaving Dean would be like lopping off a precious limb, something vital, like the entire right half of his body.

He doesn’t know if he can do that. And if he does, he’s not sure he can deal with the aftermath, not just Dean’s inevitable heartbrokenness, but his own.

Sighing again, he leans back in the chair and closes his eyes.

He must have dozed off. He supposes that the past two days’ events have exhausted him so he doesn’t hear Bobby and Dean come home. When he wakes up, he can hear Bobby in the backyard, banging around, probably gardening. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Sam stands up and goes to find his brother, trying not to think of the decision he needs to make.

As it turns out, the decision is made for him.

There are seconds in this life, Sam’s read, which can seem to last forever. These moments are random, and usually near death experiences (the wolves) or moments that occur during a time of transition or change in one’s life (the way he kissed you).

When he walks into his room and sees Dean rooting through his duffel bag, he has one of these moments.

It happens in slow motion and Sam is powerless to stop it. He'll find it strange, later when he can reflect, that things can take a turn for the worst at the drop of a hat. The real world needs no build up, no dramatic music, and no preamble. Things can simply fall apart, suddenly, for no rhyme or reason.

And they often do.

Dean’s hands must find the bottom of the bag, find that dreaded piece of paper. He pulls the acceptance letter out and his eyes skim the first line, just like Sam’s had nearly a month ago. Except Dean doesn’t smile.

This is the second that lasts Sam a lifetime. This is the second where everything comes crashing down.

And suddenly, someone’s pressed the fast-forward button. Everything that happens next is a blur of motion.

“What the fuck is this?” Dean asks, voice angry and confused, like he’s looking at something he can’t quite make sense of but he knows it’s not good.

“Why the hell are you going through my things?” Sam snaps back and maybe defensive isn’t the way to go here but he can’t help it.

“Answer my question, Sam. What the hell is this? You’re going to Stanford? You were just gonna leave? Were you even going to tell me?”

“I was going to tell you! I just haven’t decided if I even want to go or not!”

“Do you?”

“I don’t know, Dean,” Sam says, trying to make his voice sound as honest and pleading as he feels. “Ever since that hunt…I’ve been confused, I guess I—.”

“That hunt?” Dean asks, sounding incredulous. “You mean the one with the werewolf? Jeez, Sammy, you’re still on that? Dude, I told you that no one’s first hunt goes smoothly. So that wolf got the jump on you, so what? It’s an occupational hazard.”

“One that nearly cost me my life, Dean!” Sam cries.

“You think I don’t know that?” Dean bellows. “You think you’re the only one who sees those scars on your neck? I almost lost you, Sam. You don’t think I’m thinking about it all the time? Well I am. And it terrifies me but I’d rather have you here where I can keep you safe than off at college where there’s no one to look after you.”

“I’m not a child!”

“No,” Dean agrees, “you’re not. But you’re mine and I need you…Sam, I need to know that you’re okay.”

“Dean,” Sam pleads, “I need to do this. There’s so much more out there. And I can take care of myself. You taught me how.”

Sam doesn’t know when he made the decision but sometime during this shouting match, he did. He’d say it’s the heat of the moment. But something tells him that this has been a long time coming (you were always going to end up here). He’s going to Stanford and no force on this earth, not even Dean, can stop him.

“So you’re leaving?” Dean asks, voice sounding raw with emotion. “I thought you just said you hadn’t decided yet. What changed your mind? That wolf getting the jump on you or…or…”

Dean doesn’t say it but Sam gets it, inexplicably.

“Oh god no, Dean, no, please don’t think that.” He steps forward, getting close to Dean. “It has nothing to do with us, with you, please understand that. I just need to know if there’s something else out there for me.”

“That wolf really scared you that bad?”

Sam sighs because Dean’s still not getting it and he knows, now, that he’ll have to tell the truth. All of it.

“That wolf didn’t get the jump on me, Dean.”

“What? But it almost got you, Sam! The scars—.”

“I hesitated,” Sam says abruptly. The truth hurts but lying simply isn’t working anymore. “I hesitated. I had the perfect shot, practically had the gun at the thing’s chest and I had the perfect shot and I hesitated. I couldn’t do it. I just—I couldn’t…That wolf was also a man, ya know? A fucking human being every other day of the week.”

“But he killed people, Sammy—.”

“I know! God, I fucking know. I get it, to some extent, I totally get it okay? But I just don’t think I can live this life Dean. I mean, look at the things we fight! How many of them have human faces? Human eyes, maybe even human souls. I can’t take someone’s life Dean… I just can’t.” (watching those glowing blue eyes fall dead before it collapses on top of you. that’s what your nightmares are really about, forget about the scars on your neck).

“That was just your first time in the field though,” Dean argues. “I’m sure you’ll get used to it.”

“That’s just it, Dean,” Sam says through a humorless laugh, “I don’t want to get used to it. It was one thing to do yours and Dad’s research. It was one thing to train. But I can’t be the hunter you need me to be. I need to know if there’s something else out there for me, if I have a calling or whatever. I don’t know. I just need to find something that’s my own. I…I hope you can forgive me for that.”

“Sammy…” Dean trails off and doesn’t finish whatever that sentence might have been. Sam raises his hands to cup Dean’s face, and forces his older brother to look him in the eye.

“I love you, Dean,” he says firmly, “and you have to know that if I could have you, have us, away from all this…I would. But I know you’d never leave Dad and I…I need to, okay? I love you, god I love you so fucking much but I can’t stay here. You can understand that, right? Please tell me you can understand that.”

He’s crying now, tears running down his cheeks. Dean backs away and Sam’s hands fall limply to his sides.

The room is silent for a long time. Dean doesn’t say anything more and after a few minutes, he turns away and walks out of the room. There’s no slamming doors, just the rumble of a car engine starting up. Sam stares at the spot where he stood blankly, glassy eyes becoming dry. He wipes the small tracks of tears from his face and sniffles, standing up.

Sam aches now, but it’s not with the intensity he’d been expecting. He’s heartbroken, undoubtedly, but resolved. He’ll be running on empty for a little while, learning how to live with the hole inside him. But he’ll survive. He only hopes that Dean can do the same.

He’s made his bed, he supposes, and now he has to lie in it.

“Everything alright in here?” Bobby’s voice comes from the doorway and Sam turns to look at him. “I heard some yellin’.”

“Dean and I got in a fight,” Sam explains. “I told him that I’m going to Stanford.”

Bobby gives him a sympathetic look, but then he smiles and steps further into the room, putting a hand on Sam’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry to hear he didn’t take it well. But I’m proud of you, son.”

“Thanks Bobby,” Sam says, picking the Stanford acceptance letter form where Dean had dropped it on the floor. He smooths out the crinkles in it and lays it down on his bed.

He doesn’t say it but, in a weird way, he’s proud of himself too.

*

(if he loves you, then he’ll love you anyway.)

When John surprises Sam by pulling up in the driveway a few hours later, Dean’s still not back. Sam thinks the universe is toying with him, making him leave the very next day after Kandice tells him goodbye and the same day that Dean finds out about Stanford. It’s poetic or maybe Bobby called John. Either way, he thinks it’s fitting.

John comes in and greets Bobby and Sam. They sit down and John regales them both with tales of his latest hunts. He asks Sam how the summer has been and Sam doesn’t know how to answer right away. It’s been crazy, a fucking whirlwind. But it’s also been the best ten and a half weeks that he can ever remember having.

The end result is a bit messy, sure, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been worth every dirty, rotten second.

They sit there for a good 45 minutes, talking and telling stories. John tells them about how he took out a black dog in Minnesota and, in the same week, killed a nasty witch coven. Sam likes the stories, despite himself. The stories were never the problem, anyway.

Before they leave, Sam makes the bed in his room. He helps clean up a little bit, tiny messes that speak of his and Dean’s time here: the burn mark on the coffee table where they snuffed a joint, the discolored come stain on the couch cushion where they couldn’t control themselves, and a bunch of other little scuffs of dirt that remind him of what this summer was.

The house no longer feels like a dead woman’s home and Sam is no longer numb. This place, instead, is the house where he found himself (you’re a smart boy. college boy to be). This is the place where he first tasted Dean’s skin (and will you ever taste it again?) This place is a memory, a fond one, and he knows that he’ll never really forget it.

They bid farewell to Bobby who’s going to make his way back to South Dakota sometime during the week. There’s a good chance they won’t see him again for a couple of months.

“Thank you,” Sam says to Bobby after pulling him away from his father, “for everything…for believing in me. Having your support…it, uh, means a lot.”

“Don’t strain yourself, kid,” Bobby jokes. “You’re a smart kid Sam. I’d hate to see it go to waste.”

They hug and when Sam pulls away, he sees Dean pull up in the driveway in his borrowed car. He gets out and Sam’s heart leaps into his throat. There’s still so much of him that just loves Dean, that just wants to be in his brother’s arms. He just wants to take it all back and be with Dean again but he can’t. He made his choice. All he can do now, is hope that he and Dean find that peace again someday.

Dean disappears into the house, carrying a black plastic bag. Sam doesn’t ask what’s in it. The older hunter comes back out with his stuff. He greets their Dad and says goodbye to Bobby. The three of them sit and chat for a minute while Sam throws his stuff in the trunk of the Impala.

“You ready to go, boys?” John asks, as he finishes packing up the car.

Sam looks back at the beach, at the endless expanse of blue ocean (you won’t be missing it for long). He no longer imagines drifting away off to sea. He’s found his path. He looks back at his Dad and Dean and nods. For the first time in life, he really is ready to go.

“Yeah, let’s get out of here,” Dean says. He meets Sam’s eyes and Sam is expecting to see vitriol or fire. But he just sees calm resignation and it gives him a little hope.

Sam climbs into the backseat and the Impala feels like coming back to something warm and familiar, the closest thing to a home he’s ever had. He doesn’t resent it now, because he knows he’ll miss it later (a part of you will always exist here).

The sun is setting as they drive off and it’s something poetic, Sam swears. He doesn’t look back, doesn’t think about Kandice or all the memories he’s leaving behind. He’ll have plenty of time to think on those things later. Dean turns around from the front seat and tosses the black, plastic bag at him.

“Got you a souvenir,” Dean says, and there’s a ghost of a smile on his face. Sam feels a little more hope grow.

Sam opens the bag and nearly laughs. It’s a yellow t-shirt, the one that used to hang every day, outside the board shop. He never knew that Dean knew where he worked. The gesture is so oddly sweet and sentimental and Sam knows, in that moment, that they’ll survive this.

He reads the words on the shirt, the ones that he’s committed to memory: “Santa Monica Pier: the sea will bring you home!” He looks at Dean who’s watching his reaction from the rearview mirror. So many things have changed between them but, in a lot of ways, they’re exactly the same. He smiles at Dean, then, and nods. They’ll survive this.

They may never be okay, but they’ll keep going.


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