Characters: Sam and Dean (Gen)
Summary: Pre-series, these are five friends Sam left behind.
Author's Notes: I started this back in November for mini_wrimo, but it didn't want to finish until much later. For my switch25 table, this is "Forget."
It bugged Sam that Dean always called her "Lily," like he wasn't really listening. He probably wasn't— her name was Lilah, and she was the first real friend Sam ever had.
Lilah lived a few doors down at the apartment house in Kansas City where they stayed when Sam was four. She had Duplos—even a train set passed down by her older brother—and a stuffed kangaroo.
"Do you like liver?" she'd asked the first time he saw her.
"No," he'd said immediately, wrinkling his nose.
She'd nodded like that was the only right answer to that question. "Come see my room. It's yellow!"
It was the beginning of a wonderful summer.
Lilah liked the Muppets and Scooby Doo, and playing pirates and house and store. She liked digging in the mud with sticks as much as Sam did, and floating berries on leaves in puddles. She never acted like there was something better she could be doing right then instead.
"How old's your kangaroo?" Sam asked her once. They were lying on the grass, breathless from chasing each other around the courtyard for half an hour. Lilah's kangaroo sat between them.
"Really old—from when I was a baby," she said. "Her fur's coming off, and see this cracked eye? She's going to turn real soon, I bet."
Afterwards, she told Sam about a story her mother had read the week before, about an animal that was loved so much that it finally did become real.
Sam took his stuffed rabbit everywhere with him after that, even to the dinner table and the edge of the bathtub.
He held it close the day they packed up the car and drove away, leaving Lilah and Kansas City far behind.
It was hard being the new kid, and Sam was always the new kid, some years even more than once.
Dean was four grades ahead of him, which translated to junior high in the cities where elementary school stopped at sixth grade. Eugene was one of those cities, and starting third grade in November was the kind of situation Sam always dreaded.
"Where'd you live before here?" the kid at the next desk whispered, after the "new student" introductions were over and Sam was finally allowed to sit down.
"My aunt lives there—it's pretty cool, they have trolleys and there's those big bridges and stuff."
"Yeah. I liked it." They'd barely spent three months there, and Sam had been hoping they'd stay for the year, like they hardly ever did.
"You like four-square?"
"Boys!" the teacher scolded, and they looked up guiltily. "Everyone, open your story anthology to page fifty-nine…"
The room was filled with the sound of books dropping onto desks and pages turning. "Four-square's my favorite," Sam whispered while everyone got settled.
The boy's name was Jerry Spivak, and he was almost as good at four-square as Sam and even better at wall-ball. Sam sat with him at lunch that day, and met Jerry's mother and little sister and puppy after school while he waited for Dean to come get him.
The two boys played together like textbook twins for the next five months, until something big called from Tennessee and the Winchesters picked up and left in response.
Sam ached clear through the end of summer with missing everything he'd had, including that sense of belonging that he'd never known before. Years later, he found himself wondering which was the bigger loss: leaving Jerry behind, or giving up the dream of sticking close enough to Jerry's life to somehow be him.
"What?" Sam had never been asked that question before. For a moment he thought he'd picked the wrong part of the school grounds to wait for Dean—that had definitely happened before.
"Yeah okay, well, I've got another one if you change your mind." The kid struck a match with practiced ease, lit the end of the cigarette and sucked in a lungful of smoke. His face tightened up for a moment like he was trying not to cough, but then it passed. "You're new here, aren't you?" he continued.
"Yeah." I'm new every year, everywhere we go, Sam thought.
"At least you got a chance to start over again," the kid muttered. He kicked a rock with his foot and took another drag on his cigarette.
"I never wanted to, though," Sam answered honestly. "I've been starting over my whole life, and I'm sick of it. Been there, done that, you know?"
The kid eyed him thoughtfully, nodding his head. "I'm Doug," he said, "been here since Kindergarten."
"Sam. If I'm lucky, I'll still be here next month."
Doug was thirteen, a year ahead of Sam, and he liked action movies and basketball. He was there again the next day when Sam waited for Dean, and the day after that too.
"Don't your parents wonder where you are?" Sam asked, something he'd learned people usually said in situations like this.
"Not really," Doug answered.
"Yeah." Dean was the only one who'd kept tabs on Sam in the last four years, and he bothered less now that Sam was older.
"Want to shoot some hoops?" Doug asked.
"For awhile, until my brother shows up. And then I've got a book report to write."
"I hate book reports." Doug dribbled the ball aggressively over toward the basketball hoop. "I hate books too," he added. "Maybe it's related."
"Maybe," Sam grinned.
He discovered that Doug had a killer hook shot, and was pretty good at math. They made a deal to get together Tuesdays and Thursdays at fifth period and help each other with their homework. Sam suggested a couple of books to read— easier ones with good stories— and Doug creamed him with two lay-ups and a fadeaway jumper while Sam was still trying to maneuver around his own feet.
"Jeez, you're fast."
"There's more to basketball than just being tall." Doug handed the ball over for Sam's turn, but Dean pulled up in the car just then and honked the horn for Sam to get a move on.
"Tomorrow," Sam promised.
The sound of the ball bouncing on the playground and smacking into the backboard followed Sam to the car.
Over the next three weeks Doug worked with Sam on dividing by fractions and calculating percentages, while Sam got him interested in books like "The Castle In The Attic" and "Black Stallion." Then Sam came home one day to find half-packed boxes in the kitchen and living room.
The basketball court was empty when they drove past the school on the way out of town, but the wind carried the sound of metal clanging against tetherball stands as the Winchesters left in the gathering night.
"Can I help you find something?"
The woman had dark, curly hair and glasses— must be the librarian, though Sam couldn't remember her name after just a few days at North Billings High. She looked distracted, as if she'd been engrossed in something just before he walked in.
"I need a library card. We just moved here this week."
"Certainly," she said, picking up a pencil. "I can help you with that. What's your name?"
"Mr. Farber, eleventh grade." Sam looked over the shelves of books, row after row running deep off to the right and around the corners of the room on all sides. He wished he were still in grade school, when he could read for hours and not have to worry about whether he'd left enough time for his homework.
"All right, I've got a temporary card set up for you for today. Is there something in particular you're looking for?"
There was no way this woman could guess that Sam probably knew almost as much about libraries as she did. He even had a few parts of the Dewey Decimal system nearly memorized.
"I need a book of poetry for an English assignment."
"Any preferences? Modern, lyrical, tragic, classicist, British?"
"Something interesting," Sam answered. "That I won't be able to put down."
He went home with a collection of poems by Dylan Thomas, and finished it before his father left for recon at the local cemetery. On Friday, Sam went to the library for more books to carry him through the weekend, in case the three of them wound up driving hours away to take care of an unexpected job.
"We Have Always Lived In The Castle," the librarian suggested, "and Slow Dance On The Killing Ground."
"This last one looks like a play, though," Sam said.
"It is," Mrs. Lisle agreed. "But I think you'll find it interesting. Some of the meaning is on the surface, but most of it comes through under the words, almost as a side-effect."
She was right, it turned out. He liked both books, and somehow they resonated with him. He was back for more on Monday.
"You have a very capable mind, Sam," she told him. "Have you started thinking about where to go to college?"
She had to be kidding. College? With all their moving around and all the schools he'd been to over the years, how did that add up to getting into college? The school transcripts alone seemed insurmountable, a disconnected network of lost information.
"Save some of your best essays, and teachers' names to use for references. Study as hard as you can for the SATs— if you do well on those, the rest won't matter so much. With how little you've stayed in one place, colleges will focus on those tests if they show your abilities. Truly, Sam—it's not too late. You have so much potential."
Her words stayed with Sam. It was one of the few times anyone had really listened to him, even if she knew what he wanted before he had a chance to say it.
When the next major job called from Texas, Sam wrote her a thank you note and tucked it into "Spring Snow" before dropping it into the after-hours slot and going home to gather his stuff.
"You're not around much these days," Dean said, cleaning and oiling each component of the Glock 9mm lying in pieces on the table in front of him.
Sam went to the sink for a glass of water. "Kind of busy," he answered.
"Doing what?" Dean asked, examining the firing pin. "You already graduated."
"Yeah." Sam rummaged through the food supplies, securing an apple for later.
"Want to go out to the woods, do some target practice?"
"Nah," Sam said. He didn't feel like shooting— didn't really enjoy it. Maybe he never had.
"Huh," Dean said, switching his attention from the gun now to Sam. "How about seeing X-Men? There's got to be a matinee."
Sam had intended to go to the library and use the computer to look up course offerings for Stanford. He wanted to plan out several class-list options for Freshman year, get the prerequisites out of the way for sessions that would come up later.
But Dean looked so hopeful… "Okay," Sam agreed.
The movie was fun, but the way Dean enjoyed it was better. He elbowed Sam during his favorite parts, hissing out "Awesome!" when Wolverine sprang metal claws or laughing when something blew up.
"I'd totally do that blue chick," he said afterward, like that was news to anyone—least of all Sam.
They stopped off for burgers at a drive-in, one of the things Dean claimed made out-of-the-way towns like this one actually worthwhile. Sam let Dean steal half his French fries, in exchange for all the cereal-box prizes he knew Dean had given up for him so many years ago. It had taken Sam nearly this long to realize there was a lot Dean had given up for him, a lot of things Dean never got to have for himself.
But even with Dean giving, their Dad was always taking. His choices—his decrees—had stolen Sam's childhood (Dean's too, Sam reminded himself), had taken away friends and dreams and too much of who Sam needed to be. The place between Dean and Dad wasn't balance, it was simply survival. It wasn't happiness. It never would be.
That night, Sam lay in bed watching shadows from the trees outside play across the ceiling, their patterns scattering like unfulfilled promises. He listened to the slow hush of Dean's breathing, falling into the silence like a metronome by which his own past was measured.
That sound had been part of Sam's life for as long as he could remember. The only true constant for him was Dean, night and day, going back forever. Dean always seemed to be with Sam, even when he wasn't.
It would be lonely away at school, without Dean. It was probably time Sam learned how to stand on his own, but it wouldn't be easy. Dean was the only comfort he'd ever had.
Sam tried not to think about the possibility—nothing more, he refused to admit to 'more'—that Dean would be lonely without him. Because this was hard enough already…
The next morning, Sam was in the shower when Dean banged through the bathroom door.
"What the hell's this, Sam? Were you planning on even saying something?"
Sam turned off the water and reached for a towel. Once he dried his eyes he could see what Dean was holding: an envelope. From Stanford.
"I stopped by the post-office for our mail, and found this in the pile. You applied to Stanford?"
"I applied and got accepted, Dean. Full scholarship, even." Sam couldn't help smiling, though Dean didn't smile in return.
"So you're just going to walk out on us then, on this family, and move across the country?"
"You sound just like him, Dean." Sam started pulling on his clothes. "And you knew I always wanted to go to college."
"I knew," Dean said, "but I didn't… God, Sammy, I didn't think you'd actually do it."
Sam expected more discussion about it, but Dean walked out of the room instead. Even after Sam finished in the bathroom and moved on to packing clothes and books and toiletries in his duffel bag—everything he'd need—Dean didn't try to argue. Every time Sam checked on him, Dean was still in the same place, sitting on the living room couch staring at the floor.
"You know you have to tell Dad," Dean finally said.
"I know," Sam answered. But it was telling Dean that he'd been dreading.
No matter how badly it turned out with Dad (and Sam was fairly sure that it would), he wasn't the one that mattered. If leaving was a betrayal—and Sam didn't necessarily agree with that, but if it was—then Dean was the one Sam's choices would hurt the most.
The evening went worse than Sam had hoped for: "You walk out that door, you don't come back," his father told him.
Sam had packed up early and hidden the bag outside, just in case. But even knowing that he would leave— had to leave—didn't mean doing it right that minute. Not with the look that was on Dean's face.
Sam retreated to the bedroom instead, hoping some of the anger would burn itself out on all sides. Dean came in shortly afterwards, maybe with the goal of talking some sense into Sam, or maybe just to hide.
"You could always come with me," Sam said softly. "We'd find an apartment, you could get a job."
Dean just stared at him. "And leave Dad with nothing? How am I supposed to do that?"
"You heard him, Dean. Once I go, that's it. Not that I was planning on coming back to all this afterward, but this is different. It means no visiting, not even you visiting me."
"But you're asking me to choose, Sam," Dean said plaintively. "I don't want to choose…"
"Not choosing is still a choice, Dean. And Dad's the one that pushed the whole ultimatum— I'm just going to college."
When Dean didn't respond, Sam knew that was probably an answer in itself. He glanced over to where Dean sat on the bed, shoulders hunched and eyes never leaving the floor. Dean had never looked so sad, or so terribly small. "I'm sorry," Sam whispered.
There was nothing more he could do.
After their father finally went to bed, Sam waited another hour just to be sure. Maybe it was the coward's way out or maybe it was just practical, but he wasn't taking any chances on being held up. This was his future.
He could feel Dean watching him in the dark as he put on his shoes and tried to check around for anything he'd forgotten. "Last chance," Sam said, but Dean just shook his head sadly, his eyes glittering in the moonlight. Sam stepped closer. "Then this is goodbye."
He expected something then—a hug, or some kind of touch. Instead, Dean crossed his arms and turned away, jaw tightening as tears slipped slowly down his face. He didn't look at Sam again, even when Sam patted him on the shoulder in farewell. They parted in unforgiving silence.
Slipping out of the house, Sam shut the front door behind him soundlessly. He retrieved his duffel bag and backpack from behind the swamp cooler, and set off toward the bus station a mile down the suddenly blurred and distant road.
A new life waited for him across the country—a chance to finally become himself, whoever that turned out to be.
For the first time, Sam was leaving by his own choice. All this time he'd thought that would finally make it easier, but he was wrong.
This time was the hardest of all.
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