sentential: (just a road (stock))
[personal profile] sentential
title: how to make meaning
fandom: Supernatural
pairing: Sam/Dean
rating: PG-13
summary: Sam's at college. He's poised upon the edge of everything he's ever wanted. Until his past and his present collide, everything falls apart and Sam has to decide what kind of future he wants to make from the pieces.
spoilers/notes: Spoilers through Season 1. (Just to be safe.) Warnings for incest and slight shifts in narrative style. 1644 words.

Sam’s at college. He’s poised upon the edge of everything he’s ever wanted. He goes to parties with the rich college kids and they ask what his daddy does. He’s a solicitor, he’s a tax lawyer, he’s a bank manager but he’s never a demon hunter—never even ex-Navy, fought in Vietnam.

Whenever anyone asks where Sam went to high school he lies because he’s scared that out-of-nowhere will be produced some ex-classmate who remembers Dean coming to pick him up in the car—Dean all scarred and tough, half the time with a gun in his hand that he seemed to have forgotten about—and Sam doesn’t want that phantom following him. He just wants to start over, it’s not that he’s ashamed. (At least, that’s what he tells himself.)

College is everything Sam thought it would be, only with more of a social life. Classes and lectures are like a sideline. He’s never had so much time to burn and soon the tension of waiting for something to happen fades away and he gets used to it. He works more than the other kids because he feels that college is a privilege and one that he came pretty close to missing out on. He works manual jobs in the holidays, construction, whatever he can get. In term time, he does shifts at a bar. Most of his contemporaries have never worked a day in their lives but Sam wants to work almost more than he needs to.

(John sends money and Sam keeps it but does his best not to use it. It’s not much and it’s certainly not enough. And, what’s more, Sam thinks it’s dirty money—not because it’s probably the product of fraud but because Sam’s proud that he’s doing this alone. He’d always said he was going to do it without their help.)

His second year of college is harder than the first. He couldn’t say why. It’s not as though the work’s much worse but all the doubt and the things he’s unsure about build and build until he ends up decking a guy in the street because he was looking at him funny. And it makes him feel things he thought he’d forgotten. And when the guy is there again, same time the next week, and has brought a load of friends, Sam relishes the challenge and goes home bruised but triumphant. The reaction of his classmates to the bruise on his right cheekbone only makes him feel even more alive.

It is around this time that he meets Jessica.

He doesn’t get in any more fights because the way that fights make him feel reminds him that he was born into this and he hates the idea that he can’t escape from his family’s collective fate. So, he keeps ignoring it.

He spends time with Jessica. He goes to parties that her friends are hosting. And he falls in love with her, telling himself that happiness is not, is absolutely not, a warm gun. Happiness, he tells himself, is the girl who he moves in with and who sleeps next to him at night. Happiness is definitely not guns or road tripping across America in search of something to kill; nor is it another boy lying in the next bed who’d do anything for you (except you don’t ask for anything so he just tries to look after you and tries to make you smile and hopes that’s enough). (For the record, it was never enough. If it had been enough, Sam would still be there.) Happiness is a girl called Jessica, who you don’t tell anyone you’ve been having dreams about dying, over and over.

Then, the much denied other definition of happiness comes tumbling back into Sam’s life. He feels more than ever that happiness is a girl called Jessica and not a boy called Dean who’s all grown up and wants him to go find daddy with him because he’s worried. Sam’s worlds collide.

Within a week, happiness has burnt down. Another home ruined. Sam’s been turfed out again and he’s being loaded back into that same car again—only in the front seat this time—and again it’s a quest for a kind of justice which is much more basic, more primal, than law school could ever teach.

Sam doesn’t understand his brother. Somehow, he fails to realise that family is all Dean’s ever had to cling to. Sam had clung to dreams, to imagined lives where the closest thing to happiness he had was not shooting a beer can off a fence or the brother who’d do anything for him. Dean hadn’t dreamt like that as a kid, he’d clung to what he had left not to what he couldn’t have.

Sam thinks that Dean is wholly without ambitions and cannot understand that Dean’s single ambition is not for some selfish gain but simply for the people he loves not to hurt anymore. It’s a small misunderstanding but it’s hard to reconcile—like putting Bridget Jones and Jane Eyre in the same room and hoping they’ll grow to understand that they’re both, essentially, looking for the same thing. (Happiness, that is, or, maybe, love. Maybe, love is more important.)

Love doesn’t come into this. Sam didn’t leave because he didn’t love Dean or because he doesn’t love dad. He wants to say that he was doing it because he loved mom but he can’t bring himself to voice it. Mom would have wanted them to be normal—to be happy, even. Mom would have been proud of him. But every time Sam gets close to saying this out loud it dawns on him that maybe his idea of what mom would want is all part of the dream. He never knew his mother. He can’t know that she wouldn’t want, more than anything, to be avenged. (Soon after, he always forgets this and goes on forging his excuse as if it were infallible.)

Love is a difficult question. Perhaps this is because love is indefinable. Law is weighty and nuanced but you can learn it from a book. It might not make sense but it has rules which you can memorise and you can learn it by heart. Love is something you ought to be able to learn by heart but that would be logical and somehow the love and logic seem to be mutually exclusive.

All Sam knows about love is that he decided he was in love with Jessica. He’s not sure how he decided, maybe it was because of the way that he felt everything was alright the moment he walked through the door and called her name and she answered. But maybe that feeling had more to do with relief than affection. Without a metre stick to hold it to, he figures he’ll never know.

Dean might say that things like that didn’t matter or give some cursory, unconsidered answer like “Love’s what you make it.” And it would probably be truer than any of Sam’s attempts to rationalise it. Sam has always ‘thought too much’ and it’s got him pretty far but it’s never made him happy.

Sam’s thinking too much, in the passenger seat of the Impala, when he says, “Hey, Dean, d’you think dad loved mom?”

And Dean’s outraged and retorts: “Of course he did! Why else would he have spent so many years tracking down the thing that killed her?”

“I don’t know,” Sam pulls a face that Dean doesn’t see, staring through the windscreen as he is, “guilt, maybe? I just thought maybe if he hadn’t been as good to her as he could’ve been, you know, it might make him want to do better now, absolve himself, prove he really loved her.”

“Don’t talk about dad like that.”

“Sure, sure. Sorry. I didn’t mean—”

“Yeah, you never mean it but you always say it.”

“I said I was sorry.” And they keep driving, right over the state line and they’re sleeping someplace a hundred miles from where they were last night, but they’re still as far away from love as they ever were. And Sam’s wondering just how love happens, whether it just builds up inside you until you become conscious of it and then you have to wonder what the feeling is and name it and call it love.

Sam thinks that a couple of years ago they weren’t like this. It never used to be like this. It used to be Dean dropping everything for him. Dean putting everything he cared about on hold just to listen to his brother’s stupid ideas, his dreams of getting out of this life. Dean saying: “Don’t worry, Sammy, it’s not so bad.” And even when Sam would say that it was that bad, Dean would still listen and he’d still do anything if he thought it would make Sam smile.

They’d been closer, back then, than any brothers should be. On nights when John was hunting something bad enough that he didn’t want the boys anywhere nearby Dean would sleep in Sam’s bed as if to protect him from the monsters they both knew were real. But, really, it was for the warmth of someone else’s skin—someone else who meant the world to him—and for the feeling of Sam’s breath on his neck and the reassuring way that Sam never told him to go sleep in his own bed even when he was long past old enough to look after himself. Sam understands these things, understands the way that just one touch of lips to skin or skin to skin in the wrong place and the wrong time could send them hurtling over the edge.

They’re in another hotel room, in another state, when Sam climbs into Dean’s bed and puts one arm over Dean’s sleeping body and wonders just what his brother would do if he kissed him.

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