I know! Totally weird, right?
Huge thanks to azewewish for the awesome beta. No one should have to deal with my tense issues. It's really just an unfair responsibility in life. Thank you again, darlin!!!
Title - Never, Not Once
Word Count - 2100 words
Spoilers - none
Never, Not Once
Sam gets to Stanford on a Tuesday. He hikes his duffel bag onto his shoulder, climbs the outside steps in the bright, California sun, and finds his dorm room all the way at the end of the hall. He never once thinks about the fight.
His bag spills open as he drops it on one of the beds, the one tucked under the window in the corner of the room. He rubs his eyes with the pads of his fingers, and never once thinks about the fight. Later that day Sam meets his roommate, a short guy named Steve, and Sam shows him which bed he picked where he’ll keep his stuff. Sam never, not once, thinks about the fight.
He unpacks and hangs his one good shirt in the closet - the one he wore to the interview itself - and the rest of the closet he leaves empty because he doesn’t have anything else he’d ever need to hang up. He fills his drawers with t-shirts and jeans and socks. Sets his razor in front of the dresser mirror. Lays out his brush. Normal things.
Sam tosses his jacket on the back of the rickety desk chair and, for the first time in longer that he can remember, it hangs even, neither pocket being weighed down by a gun or a knife, and never, not once, does he think about the fight.
When Sam goes to sleep that night, in a tiny dorm room under a window in the middle of California, he closes his eyes and dreams of the last time he saw Dean and his dad. Dean’s watching him; eyes carefully closed off and serious. Dad’s yelling so loud his face is bright red and a vein throbs in his forehead. Everything they said, everything Sam felt and thought and did comes playing back in a loop, circling through Sam’s head, making him grip the sheets in fists and whimper and sweat in his sleep.
When he wakes in the morning he doesn’t talk for a long time. Steve watches him curiously but he doesn’t ask any questions, and Sam is more grateful for that than he can imagine.
Sam doesn’t think about the fight, not once, never during the day. He doesn’t have to, because he knows that when he falls asleep at night he’ll be right back where he was, in the same place, over and over again.
Moving in with Jess was, at once, stranger than anything Sam had ever known, and the most comfortable thing ever.
Sam wasn’t used to being by himself. Sure, when him and Dean and Dad used to go out on hunts, sometimes Sam would get left behind. At first because he was too young, and then when he was older, because he chose not to. He’d spend some nights alone in whatever hotel room Dad had picked for them; watching TV or reading the same three books he had in his bag from cover to cover. But having time alone - really having time alone in big, long stretches - was something that was completely foreign to Sam. So moving in with Jess, living with someone, that wasn’t the problem.
The problem was that Sam had no idea about girls. Living with girls, spending a lot of time with girls. Sam was used to his dad and Dean. Quiet mornings and gruff conversations. Quick five minute showers, and being able to get dressed, packed and out the door in thirteen minutes flat.
Girls, though, they talked. A lot. From the minute they woke up every day, Jess was asking Sam what he wanted, coffee or tea? Cereal or toast? It took Sam weeks to realize that when he heard questions like that, that they were directed at him. And that he was supposed to answer.
And girls had a lot of stuff. If there was one thing Sam had learned in his life, it was how to travel light and not make yourself too comfortable anywhere. That you shouldn’t own anything that you couldn’t pick up and run from in the middle of the night. Sam had no idea how to deal with all the stuff Jess had and wanted.
Jess wanted plants and pictures and beaded curtains. She wanted to decorate and asked Sam questions like “Do you think we should get a red floor mat, or purple?” as if Sam had ever had to make a decision like that before in his life. In the end, he picked purple because he’d spent his whole life tracking dirt and blood across floors from the bottom of his shoes, and he knew that dark colors hid stains better. Sometimes, Sam couldn’t quite remember that wasn’t his life anymore.
Jess went shopping for pots and pans and glasses. Bright red dishtowels with ladybug faces on them, and sunny, yellow, sunflower shaped potholders. Every time Jess came home with something new, she’d ask Sam “Is this okay? Are you sure?”
Jess was worried that Sam would hate everything and not say anything to her about it and Sam didn’t know how to explain that he’d never hate anything she brought home to decorate the place with, not ever. How could you hate something you didn’t even understand?
One day, Dean was going to call, and Sam was going to be ready. He’d had all his speeches planned out for months now. It was just a matter of time.
Sam knew the one he’d use if Dean called him with an attitude, getting all up in Sam’s space about leaving him and Dad. That’s when Sam would tell him that just because Dean didn’t want to leave, that he chose to stay and hunt forever, that that didn’t mean Sam wanted that same life, and fuck Dean for thinking that. Just fuck him, y’know?
There was the other one, though, that Sam would use if Dean called him and was upset about Sam leaving. For that phone call, Sam would talk quieter, make his voice gentle, and he’d explain to Dean that he was sorry, he really was, but that this was something that Sam had to do. He couldn’t stay with them, doing what they did any more than Dean could pick up and leave. It just wasn’t in Sam’s nature.
There were other conversations too that Sam had in his head. The ones where Dean called Sam up and everything was normal, everything was fine. They would shoot the breeze about baseball and the weather and hunting and Dad. Dean would tell Sam about the shapeshifter they just took out in Tulsa, and Sam would say that’s great, and then tell Dean about his classes and all the people he was meeting, the awesome girl he’d just moved in with. They’d talk for a while, about nothing and everything, and then Sam would finally say hey, you know, Dean, if you’re ever in town you should stop by and say hi, and Dean would say, sure, man, I’ll do that.
Those were the conversations that Sam liked best. When things in his head were normal. Just him and Dean, talking on the phone, nothing weird or strained between them. Dean has his life and Sam had his own, and they were all fine like that. Fine and happy, doing their own thing but they still had each other.
Sometimes, Sam thought that that’s all he really wanted. To have something for himself, but still be able to share it with Dean. Sam had that conversation ready in his head too. The one where he’d tell Dean everything, the truth, about how much Sam needed him around. How much he trusted Dean, respected him.
Not that any of it mattered in the end, though. After a while Sam finally realized that you don’t need a conversation ready for a phone call that never happens.
It’s months before Sam lets himself realize what he’s known all along. Things happen, things happen, things happen everywhere, he tells himself. Freak occurrences, coincidences. Just because people were turning up missing or dead didn’t mean there was anything supernatural about it. Some things just happen.
And Sam knows the difference between a regular killing, and a demon killing. Of course he does. But he tries to ignore it. Tries to keep his head down and act like it isn't happening, that it isn't what he thinks. Until he admits it, until he says it out loud, well, then, it isn't really true, is it? A thought in your head is just that; a thought. Once the words are out in the air, though, for anyone to hear, that's when it's different. That when it becomes truth.
Sam makes his coffee in the mornings, kisses his girlfriend on the forehead, and doesn’t think about what he knows is the truth. He goes to class, listens to lectures. Watches films and takes notes, and doesn’t think about the truth. He sits on the couch at night, Jess curled up against him, and he breathes in soap and lilacs from her hair. He watches whatever is on the TV, laughing when he’s supposed to, shutting off the lights and then crawling into bed next to the girl he loves. He holds her close, lying awake for hours, staring at the ceiling, and he never, not once, does he think about the truth.
Things happen, right?
It’s months before Sam lets himself admit to what’s happening. Months of avoiding and pretending. The old shopkeeper three towns over that Sam reads about in the local paper was attacked by bears in the middle of the night. Of course he was. And the woman in her thirties that goes missing on the same stretch of dirt road three other women had disappeared on in the past few years is just a coincidence, too. Nothing more than that.
It’s the little girl that finally does it; her hair blonde and her nose upturned. She’s smiling at Sam from then newspaper one Sunday morning, just above the caption: Local girl missing, animal attack suspected, and when Sam sees the location and checks the local history, he realizes that six little girls, all under ten years old, had disappeared from the same park at the same time every year. He can’t tell from the black and white picture, but Sam thinks the girl has blue eyes. Blue eyes, long blonde hair, and the sweetest smile Sam’s ever seen.
It takes until that morning for him to admit the truth, but when he does, it’s with a steely resolve he’d nearly forgotten he had. It’s the easiest decision Sam's ever made.
Sam waits until Jess falls asleep that night before digging the silver bullets out from the bottom of his sock drawer. She stirs in her sleep when Sam kisses her goodbye on the head. Jess reaches out for him in bed, her arm stretching across the empty mattress, and Sam slips his fingers in hers for just another moment, before pulling away slowly and stepping back towards the door. He takes a deep breath, loads his gun, and heads out to the woods with nothing more than a gun, a flashlight, and his instincts.
The werewolf comes at him from the middle of nowhere, just a split-second after midnight. Sam levels his gun, and shoots him between the eyes, precise and deadly. He takes a step back as the furred body, mottled with blood and stinking of death, falls to the ground.
Sam watches it happen and doesn’t think about anything. He doesn’t think about the fight or the truth or what he’s going to tell Jess when he gets home, his jeans damp from the rain and mud, fingers cold and smelling like gunpowder. He doesn’t think about how this, this right here, is everything he’d tried to run from and couldn’t. That in one night he’d undone everything he’d pretended to achieve in all the months he’d been away. He doesn’t think about the fact that this, under it all, it really just who he is. Who he’ll always be.
Sam doesn’t think about that right now. He won’t let himself. Instead he just stands in the woods just after midnight, watching the werewolf burn away and melt into the earth. His fingers twitch around the gun in his hand, his body shakes with adrenaline. It feels the same as it always did. As if nothing had changed at all.
For the first time in months, Sam breathes.