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When It Was Over 3/5

January 12th, 2010 (01:54 pm)

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PART THREE

 

-o-

Oh love wash over a multitude of things
Love wash over a multitude of things
Love wash over a multitude of things
Make us whole

-from “When It Was Over” by Sara Groves

-o-
 

Grace is the one who wants to meet him, but Sam’s the one who’s nervous.

All week, it’s on his mind. He keeps screwing up at work. Walking by Everett’s house in the morning. When he stops at the General Store to buy another pack of beer for Dean and a few waters for himself, he’s so confounded by it all, that all he can do is stand and stare at the refrigerator case.

He’s not sure how long he’s standing there when Sylvie comes up. “You need some help, sweetie?” she asks softly.

Sam scrunches his nose. “I just...need some--beer,” Sam says. “We’re out. And some water, too.”

“Well,” Sylvie says, pulling on her ear a little. “I suppose the thing to do is to pick some out then.”

Sam blinks and looks at her. “What?”

She raises her eyebrows. “If you want to buy some, sweetie, you have to pick some up.”

“Oh,” Sam says and shakes his head. “Right.”

“You feelin’ alright, son?” Sylvie asks.

Sam looks sheepish. There are no secrets in Peace, at least none that get kept for long. “My brother is bringing home his girlfriend.”

Sylvie gave him a sly smile. “So that’s why that boy’s been glowing,” she said.

“Yeah,” Sam says. “He’s really crazy about her.”

“Then she must be some lady,” Sylvie said.

Which is exactly what Sam’s afraid of. Sam knows he doesn’t give much to the brother relationship these days, and he’s weak enough to be afraid of losing his brother.

“Ah, Sam,” Sylvie says. “You think she’s not going to like you?’

Sam thinks about demon blood and apocalypse and goes a little pale.

Sylvie tuts, tossing her head a little. “Sweetie, if that girl knows anything that’s good for her, she’ll be head over heals for you. Winning the boy is one thing; winning the brother is another.”

Sam tries to smile.

Sylvie leans closer. “If it makes you feel better, Dean’s been a wreck all week. All jittery and nervous like. Now I know why.”

“Sometimes, I’m not exactly people friendly,” Sam concedes.

“Oh, heavens, honey,” she says. “You think he’s worried about her liking you? He’s terrified about what you think of her.”

That’s a revelation Sam can’t quite fathom and he’s staring, a bit dumbfounded, at the woman.

She raises her eyebrows. “Close your mouth, dear,” she advises. “Or something’s going to fly right in. And that would definitely be an impression for your brother’s girl, now wouldn’t it?”

-o-

The latest case is from a hunter who knows Hank--a pair of sisters who were murdered by their aunt. The details are gory and the body count is rising even after a traditional salt and burn. Sam alerts the guy to their childhood home, where the aunt apparently left some...pieces behind.

Fortunately, the place is abandoned and boarded up, so torching the whole thing is actually an option. Sam doesn’t have it in him to actually recommend arson, but if his subtle suggestions give the guy the idea, then it’s no skin off Sam’s back.

“Just be careful,” Sam says. “Ghosts in the family are hard things. No one can betray you quite like blood.”

-o-

“I got a letter,” Everett tells him.

Sam takes a sip of his drink. It’s a cool evening, and there’s a breeze as the sun falls behind the houses across the street. “Yeah?” Sam asks.

“My oldest girl,” Everett continues. “She sends ‘em every now and then. Tried to talk me into using that internet thing, but it jus’ wasn’t worth it.”

“What does your daughter do?” Sam asks.

“Some kind of sales representative,” Everett says. “She mostly writes about her sons.”

“That must be nice.”

“Good boys, those two,” Everett agrees. “Rambunctious as hell. Get that from their mother.” Everett smiles at that.

Sam smiles back. “Most boys are.”

“I’m just glad they aren’t like their daddy.”

Sam stretches a little, settling back in his chair. “You don’t like him?”

“Don’t like him?” Everett asks. He shudders. “Can’t stand that boy.”

Sam squints toward Everett. “So why do you humor him?”

“Because I adore my girl,” Everett says.

And that’s the crux of it. Family is family. Dean’s picked, and now Sam has to fall in line. Because this is all Sam has. All Sam’s ever had. Without Dean, he is alone and purposeless. Besides, he owes Dean this much.

Whether Grace hates him or loves him, Sam knows this is what he has to give to Dean, and he will give it as best he can.

-o-

When Saturday comes, Sam’s wound so tight that he goes to the library more to distract himself than to continue his research.

She’s there when Sam gets there. They make stuttered conversation while Sam tries to look like he’s busy while not thinking about Dean and his girlfriend.

Finally, she just asks, “Am I that bad of company today?”

“What?” Sam asks, startled.

“You are barely looking at me today,” she says. She shrugs a little, shy. “I don’t mean to bother you.”

Sam’s eyes go wide and he shakes his head. “No, it’s not like that,” he says.

She looks a little concerned. “Is everything okay?”

Sam sighs a little, swallowing. “Yeah, it’s just--” He thinks of several lies and a couple of deflections and settles on the truth. “My brother is bringing home his girlfriend for the first time.”

“Oh,” she says and a smile spreads over her face. “Yeah, that would do it. So I take it you’re worried about it?”

Sam grins, and ducks his head. “I just--owe my brother a lot,” he says. “And if this girl means something to him...”

“Aw,” she says. “That’s pretty normal.”

Sam laughs. “It is?”

“Sure,” she says. “When do you have to be there?”

Sam looks at his watch. “Soon, actually. I probably need to go.”

“Of course,” she says. “Tardiness is so not the right impression.”

“No,” Sam says. And he hesitates. “I’m--you know, sorry for being weird today.”

She waves her hand dismissively. “It happens to all of us,” she tells him. “Just don’t worry so much.”

Sam snorts a little, packing his stuff up. “Like that’s possible.”

“You want my advice?” she asks, and Sam pauses to look at her. She meets his eyes with a soft gaze. “Just be yourself.”

Sam smiles sardonically. “Because you think I’m so awesome?”

She laughs a little. “No, because the real you is the only you that matters,” she tells him. “We lie to protect ourselves, not others. You’re stronger than that. I know you are.”

It’s true, Sam knows, because he’s led a life of lies. His own and his family’s, sometimes he’s know more falsehood than reality. But this place is real. And Grace is real, too, whether Sam wants to admit it or not.

“You sure about that?” Sam asks finally, a hint of humor in her voice.

Her gaze is steady and her smile is knowing. “More than you can imagine.”

Somehow, it’s enough.

-o-

Grace is way out of his brother’s league.

She’s not from New Hope, is the first thing Sam finds out. No, Grace was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and spent most of her childhood living in major cities around the world. She’s been to Europe and South America and lived for a year in Japan. Grace has studied art in New York and even did a summer abroad in Italy.

She’s lived a charmed life in every way and was supposed to marry the rich son of an even richer friend of her parents.

But Grace said no, because that’s what Grace does. She said no, and the guy was better for it, and still sends her Christmas cards of his wife and daughters.

It makes Sam smile to hear Grace’s story. To hear about how she could have had the entire world, but this is what she wants. To hear about how she could have anything, but Dean’s the only one who matters to her.

Because Dean is special. And it’s about time the rest of the world saw it.

It’s about time Dean believed it.

And seeing his brother with Grace. Seeing the way they laugh, seeing the way they are, Sam knows that much has finally come true.

Sign from God, indeed. Dean’s found his Grace, and it doesn’t have to be an angel to be Heaven sent.

It’s a beautiful picture, and Sam is so happy for it. He’s just not sure where he fits.

He’s never sure where he fits. From teen angst, to grieving college drop out, to recovering addict who nearly ended the world, Sam just never knows.

-o-

They’re eating homemade tacos. Sam made the sauce and Dean set up the condiments, complete with fresh lettuce and shredded cheese. They stuff their taco shells full and are making a mess of it while they eat, no matter how hard Sam tries.

Dean tells him a story about work, about a car he’s got in the shop, and there are technical terms Sam doesn’t quite get, but he knows when to laugh at the funny parts.

When the story is over and the conversation lulls, Sam says, “Grace would love that story.”

Dean’s chewing slows for a moment and he swallows, nodding. “She would.”

“She’s great,” Sam says.

Dean pauses mid-bite. “What?”

“Grace,” Sam says. “I think she’s great.”

Dean blinks. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Sam says. He shrugs a little and gives a nervous laugh. “It’s sort of obvious. I mean, everything about her is perfect. And you two together--well, I think maybe you’re right.”

Dean raises his eyebrows. “I’m right?”

Sam slouches a little, pulling in on himself. He looks at Dean cautious. “Grace is the one for you,” he says. “There’s not any doubt about.”

Dean stares at him for a long moment before his face splits into a grin. “Thanks, Sammy,” Dean says, and he sounds grateful. Actually grateful.

It makes Sam uncomfortable.

“I mean, I know that wasn’t what you wanted, and I mean, knowing that she knew--”

Sam shifts, wishing Dean would stop talking.

“But it means a lot,” Dean says. He nods. “It really means a lot.”

Sam blinks, his throat feeling dry. Swallowing hard, he manages a small smile. “Anytime,” he says.

Dean smiles back, sure and relieved. Then Sam realizes, that Dean trusts him, will take him at his word.

Somehow, to Sam, that’s more than thanks enough.

-o-

Everett has a cold and he’s surly that week.

Sam goes by every day, anyway, and even smiles when Everett tells him to go the hell away.

“You told me I had to come by,” Sam tells him. “No matter what.”

Everett makes a face of disgust and disbelief. “There’s living up to something and there’s being a pushover, boy,” he spits. “You don’t need to be confusin’ the two. When someone’s treatin’ you like crap, you have ever’ right to call them on their bull-headed junk.”

He’s right of course, because Everett is always kind of right in his own crotchety way. But when Sam thinks about it--really thinks about--he tries to remember the last time he let himself believe it.

Sam owes the world something, he thinks. He owes the world his service and his respect and anything else it demands of him. Sam’s still making amends. Always making amends.

Everett scowls at him. “Yet you’re still here.”

“It’s where I belong,” Sam offers.

Everett harrumphs, and concedes, “I believe that much.”

They sit there, Everett with his handkerchief and Sam with his glass of lemonade, until the sun goes down.

-o-

Dean is positively giddy.

At first, Sam thinks it’s just another good night with Grace, but when Dean actually has breakfast waiting for Sam when he gets back from his morning walk, Sam knows it’s more than that.

Sitting down, Sam takes a sip of his juice, eying the pile of sausage links on the plate. “Something I should know about?”

“Just an awesome day,” Dean tells him. He sits down across from Sam and grins. “I can make my brother breakfast just because the day is awesome, can’t I?”

Sam raises his eyebrows and scoops some eggs onto his fork. “Possibly, yes. Usually, no.”

Dean rolls his eyes and stuffs an entire piece of bacon in his mouth. He chews for a moment before saying, “It’s coming today.”

Sam pauses, cocks his head curiously. “What’s coming today?”

Dean’s face lights up like a kid on Christmas morning. “A ’65 Corvair. She’s a classic. Traded her for some service for a farmer out past Wedowee. Doesn’t run--and she needs work--but I’ve seen her frame, and I’m telling you, she’s gorgeous. The car of a lifetime.”

“You’re excited over a car?”

“Not just any car,” Dean says. “The car. Better than the Impala.”

At that, Sam’s a bit incredulous. “You love the Impala.”

“But this one--she’s going to be all mine,” Dean says. “I’ll be building her almost from scratch. I’ll have to clean out her engine, replace the parts. Do the paint job myself. It’s going to take years, but she’ll be mine and no one else’s.”

It’s not Dean’s passion for cars or even his overzealous feminization of the machine, but it’s the years that gives Sam pause.

They’ve been here for a while, Sam knows that. But years.

There is a permanency about it Sam doesn’t understand.

There is a peace about it that scares him.

Dean’s so lost in his fantasy, telling Sam about its interior and its detailing, that he doesn’t notice that Sam’s just sitting there, shell shocked.

When Dean finally does stop to breathe, he looks at Sam, perplexed. “You okay?”

Sam swallows and nods. “Yeah,” he says.

“Are you going to eat your breakfast?”

Sam looks down, a little blank. He pokes his fork absently at his eggs again and manages to take a bite.

Dean launches into it again, fast and furious and just so happy that, for the moment, Sam listens to Dean’s dreams and pretends they’re enough for both of them.

-o-

Sam’s backs hurt so much that Saturday, he can barely get out of bed. They’ve been pushing it hard at the farm, trying to double their weekly goal, and Sam doesn’t realize the toll on his body until he is faced with prospect of actually moving.

He lays there for a minute, staring at the cracking plaster across his ceiling, and wonders if it’s possible to lay here all day.

But Dean and Grace want to go up to the lake. There’s frisbee golf up there, and they bought some burgers and chips to grill out by the water. Sam has tried to get out of it, but there is no room for negotiation.

It’s a twisted penance Sam gives for himself. How the hardest thing is to have fun.

Not that it matters unless he can get out of bed.

With a sigh, he closes his eyes. On the mental count of three, he pushes himself up.

The pain flares so bad that his eyes water and he clenches his teeth together. His ears ring and his head swims and his entire body feels like it’s on fire.

He breathes through it, in and out, in and out, and when the pain has receded to a dull throb, he gets out of bed.

Of all the days, he knows this is the day to forego the trivialities, but he can’t let himself do it. Instead, he makes the bed with slow and measured movements, feeling the uncomfortable tug of muscles as he turns the sheets crisply on the corners. By the time he’s finished, he feels ready for bed again, but instead he gets himself together to face his day.

-o-

Sam is so stiff by the time they get back that he can hardly walk. Getting out of the car is awkward, and as Sam is hobbling up the stairs to the front door, Dean demands to know what’s wrong.

“My back hurts,” he says.

“Since when?”

Sam shrugs.

Dean does not look amused. It’s been a good day, and Dean’s nose is pink with sun and his freckles are stark against his skin. They lost all their frisbees playing golf and Dean charred the burgers and Grace caught a tadpole in the shallows.

They laughed and they joked and as long as Sam only bent at the knees, things were just fine.

But Dean’s like a dog with a bone when it comes to this kind of thing. “Sam.”

Sam’s shoulders would have drooped if it didn’t hurt so much. “It was just a hard week at work.”

“Then why didn’t you say something?” Dean asks.

Grace has the front door unlocked and she shakes her head at both of them. “Because he didn’t want to spoil our day,” she says.

“Like that’s an excuse,” Dean shoots back.

“Winchesters are idiots,” she tells Dean. “That’s as much your fault as it is his.”

Dean glowers. “Why are you defending him?”

“And why are you berating him?”

“Because he’s an idiot!”

She smiles. “My point exactly,” she says. Then she shoos him inside. “We’ll just relax tonight. A few beers, some TV. It’ll be good.”

Dean gives Sam a look but follows her instructions. He allows himself to be settled on the couch and glares as Sam eases in the chair in the corner.

“Jackass,” Dean mutters.

“If you want a beer, you will use no such language,” Grace admonishes.

Sam smirks a little.

Grace disappears into the kitchen and Dean flashes Sam the finger. Sam just shakes his head.

Dean flicks on the TV and Grace returns with a pair of beers and a bottle of water for Sam. He accepts it and is actually quite grateful that he may not have to move for another few hours if he drinks slowly enough to not fill his bladder.

“All right,” she says. “You ready?”

Sam blinks and realizes she’s talking to him. “What?”

Grace clucks her tongue at him and shakes her head. “Lay down.”

Sam freezes a little. “What?”

“On your stomach,” she says. “Flat on the floor. Lay down.”

“Uh, I don’t think--”

“Clearly, that is the problem,” Grace tells him matter-of-factly.

“Don’t argue with her, Sammy,” Dean says from the couch. He takes a sip of his beer. “Just do what she says.”

Uncertain, Sam slinks off the chair, wincing as he does. It takes some work to get himself on his stomach, and he gives Dean a look of betrayal as he gets there.

He’s about to ask what’s going on when Grace crouches next to him. She places a firm hand on his back that has Sam tensing with pain and biting back a yelp.

“How did you even get out of bed this morning?” she asks, sounding a little awed, as her fingers press along the muscles of his back.

Sam makes a face. “There wasn’t much choice,” he says.

She makes a noise in her throat and her hands continue to probe his back.

He feels a protest rise in his throat, but it is cut off by the pressure. Her fingers know what they’re doing and find his pressure points just like that, so fast and firm that it takes his breath away.

She digs and kneads with a gentle consistency that Sam can’t fight. His questions still, his protests cease, and for five minutes, he lets someone else have control.

When Grace is done, Sam is relaxed and drowsy on the floor. He feels warm and safe and peaceful, and part of him never wants to leave.

“Better?” Grace asks.

Sam cranes his head a little to look at her. Dean is standing next to her now, shaking his head. “Sheesh, Sammy, those were some seriously happy noises for a purely platonic back rub.”

Sam glares at him and Grace rolls her eyes. “So if you were watching, does that make it a threesome?”

Dean’s nose scrunches, and he pales a little. “There’s no room in this relationship for three,” Dean says. “Sorry, Sam.”

Grace just smile, snaking an arm around Dean’s waist. “Three is a requirement,” she says, giving Sam a warm look. She turns her eyes to Dean. “It’s just the bed that’s made for two.”

Dean considers this. “Fair enough,” Dean says. “So no kinky ideas, okay, Sammy?”

Sam mumbles an acquiescence.

“Do you need help up?” Grace asks.

“No, I think I just want to lay here for a bit,” Sam admits.

“On the floor?” Dean asks.

“Just for a minute.”

“Leave him be,” Grace says. “I think we can find plenty of ways to entertain ourselves.”

Dean’s face lights up, and he hardly needs another word before he’s up the stairs, pulling Grace behind him. Sam listens to their footsteps across the floor and the resounding ring of their laughter through the floorboards. He lets his eyes drift closed and, for a few moments, lets himself rest.

-o-

Dean drags him into the bar to eat, settles them at a table, then tells Sam he’ll be right back. Before Sam can protest, Dean is out the door, talking to Chris Porter. There’s an animated exchange of hands and Dean laughs so hard he almost falls over and Sam knows this is going to take awhile.

Sulking, he fiddles with his menu as Anita comes up. “I thought I saw your brother come in with you,” she says.

“He’ll be right back,” Sam tells her, glancing out the window.

She follows his gaze. “Ah,” she says. “Something to drink while you wait?”

“Water,” Sam says.

“Anything else?”

“Not until Dean gets back,” Sam says.

She smiles sympathetically. “Siblings are difficult by default,” Anita says. “We’re so close to them that we lose all perspective. We know them better than anyone else, and yet, most of the time, we hardly see them at all.”

Sam looks at Dean and considers this. He remembers his own words to Dean, harsh and final: you don’t know me and you never have and you never will.

It wasn’t entirely true, Sam tells himself, but sometimes he wonders.

Sometimes he just does.

-o-

When he’s walking back from Tanner’s, he sees a gathering at the House of Nails.

He thinks to walk to the other side of the street too late. It probably doesn’t matter anyway; as soon as he’s in sight, the entire crowd seems to notice him.

The place is usually somewhat full--how, Sam’s never sure. He never sees a manicure being done, but people seem to head there all the same.

He doesn’t realize that he lingers, but it’s enough for the crowd to pounce on him. There is a chorus of hellos, and a brief fluttering of waves. Sam offers a painful smile back and wonders what he should do.

Dean waves him inside. Sylvie is reared back with laughter. Everett and Delores are bickering in the window. Even Zach is there, texting on his cell phone.

It’s a quintessential Peace moment. Perfect in every way. Warm and inviting; community and friendship.

Sam smiles a little, waves back, and keeps on walking.

-o-

This time, she’s seated in the station next to the one Sam uses.

Sam hesitates, then takes the station closest to the door.

She watches him carefully, but doesn’t say anything until he’s settled. Then she tilts her head up and tries not to smile.

“I was wondering when you’d be back,” the girl asks. “It was lonely here last week without you.”

Sam feels uncomfortable. “Oh,” he says. He thinks for a moment, trying to come up with something to say. “I’m sorry. I didn’t, you know. Think you were expecting me.”

She shrugs a little, and licks her lips before she smiles shyly. “Research just gets lonely,” she says. “I liked the idea of a study partner. Or, you know, I start talking to the stacks.”

“Well, until they talk back, you’re probably okay,” Sam says.

She laughs. “Wow, yeah,” she tells him. “But I have to say, present company is far more preferable.”

Sam’s heart skips a beat and his stomach flips. His throat tightens and he feels like he’s fourteen again and she’s the most popular girl in school. The fact that he’s an adult now doesn’t make it easier, and Sam never has been good with women. That’s why the women he’s dating have pursued him first, just like this.

Not like this. Sam might have dated when he was younger. When he could still take that risk. When he wasn’t a monster.

Now, it’s a risk he can’t take. It’s a chance he can’t let her take. It’s a blessing he can’t let himself enjoy.

So he swallows and smiles tightly. “I, uh. Got a lot of work to do.”

She nods with as much seriousness as she can muster. “Better get to it then.”

Sam nods back, and looks down, his face burning. “Yeah. I,” he says. “Yeah.”

“Okay,” she says after a moment, and she sounds a little disappointed. “To work, then.”

They are quiet for the rest of the day. Sam reads an entire book on the history of black arts in early America. He doesn’t remember any of it.

-o-

Grace shows up early. Dean’s still in the garage.

She smiles at him, and he smiles back. It’s awkward. “I can, um, get him for you,” Sam offers.

She looks surprised. “Oh,” she says. “No. I mean, that’s okay.”

Sam nods and looks at the floor.

“You know, the three of us should do something together again,” she suggests. “I meant what I said. Three is a requirement. We could drive into New Hope and maybe catch a movie.”

Sam’s heart clenches in his chest and he feels a little pang of doubt in his stomach. It’s a nice idea--to be a friends. To be a family.

Sam doesn’t know how to have friends. He doesn’t even know how to have a family.

Even if he did, he doesn’t deserve it. He screwed up enough things in Dean’s life that Sam can’t see much point in getting close enough to taint Grace, too.

He smiles to hide a wince. “Nah,” he says. “You and Dean need some time alone.”

She nods a little at his, and wets her lips hesitantly. It looks like she wants to say something, but she doesn’t. Instead, she forces a smile that doesn’t reach her eyes. “Okay,” she says. “I guess I’ll just head out back.”

“Yeah,” Sam agrees. “Okay.”

Sam doesn’t breathe until the back door closes behind her. Then he flops hard onto the couch, squeezes his eyes shut, and tries not to cry.

-o-

“Pretty girl you boys have there,” Everett says one morning.

Sam looks up at Dean’s window. The curtains are drawn. “Yes, sir.”

“My wife thinks they’re a cute couple,” Everett says.

Sam looks back at the old man. “Yeah?”

“I think she’s nuts,” Everett says. “Couples don’t need to be cute. They need to work. Do those two work? Your brother and that girl?”

Sam looks to the window again. “Yeah,” he says. “I think they do.”

-o-

Victoria Waylen is a hunter who used to work with Steve Wandell. She wonders if Sam has any leads on the guy who killed him. She thinks he may even be connected to what happened in Maryland.

Sam tells her he doesn’t, and moves all the emails she sent him to the folder he’s labeled: potential problems.

-o-

Sam can’t hate Grace. Part of him wants to, but she’s everything Dean said and more.

It’s the way she rolls her eyes at Dean’s lewd jokes. Equal parts annoyed and amused, with a slight upturn of her lips and a defiant tilt of her head.

It’s the way she learns about cars. She’ll ask Dean about carburetors and exhaust systems that she doesn’t really understand and then just sit back and watch as he goes off on them.

It’s the way she fits into the crook of Dean’s arm, the place next to him at the table, the routine of his life, the essence of who he is. She is smooth enough to soften his edges and pointed enough to keep pushing him forward. Her jokes are funny and her laugh is full and her soul is pure.

She is Dean’s, just like she was born that way. She accepts the secrets and forgives the flaws and appreciates everything good.

More than any of that, she makes Dean happy. That matters more than anything. It’s the main thing Sam’s failed at in his life, and he cannot deny his brother this solace, he cannot even resent it, even when he understands it for what it really is.

Dean doesn’t need him. He never has. But now Dean might just know it.

Sam tries to be glad. Every week, he finds new reasons to let them be alone and figures it’s the least he can do.

-o-

The girl is positioned in the middle this time, and it’s more than a little obvious what she’s trying to do.

Sam wants to humor her, but needs to keep his distance. He settles for a station one down from her.

She smiles at him proudly, clearly recognizing her victory for what it is.

She’s so proud of herself that she doesn’t even say anything. Her gloating grin is enough as Sam settles in to work next to her.

Sam has conceded the seating issue to her, so he’s not going to say hello. He’ll just have to be impolite. In all, he’s done worse.

He’s well aware of her eyes on him, but he presses on, stubborn. She taps her pencil on her paper for a moment before she says, “Bob.”

Of all the things he expected she might say, that was pretty low on his list. “What?” Sam asks, eyebrows furrowed as he looks at her.

“So you’re not a Bob,” she says. “Simon?”

“Uh--”

“Cameron,” she tries. “Jared!”

Sam feels a little overwhelmed.

“Gregory. Adam. Wendell.”

“Wendell?”

“Your name is Wendell?” she asks.

“No,” he tries.

“So what is it?”

“Why does it matter?”

“Because I’m tired of knowing you as ‘that guy with the microfiche.’”

“Well--”

“Taylor. Luke. John.”

“Look--”

“I can do this all day,” she says. “Archibald? Jackson? Tucker?”

“If I tell you will you be quiet?” he interrupts finally.

She grins. “Of course. Paul.”

“Sam,” he says. “My name is Sam.”

“Sam,” she repeats. “I like that.”

“So what’s your name?” Sam ventures.

Her grin turns mischievous. “We can’t have all our fun in one week, can we?”

Sam opens his mouth to object, but she turns herself daintily toward her microfiche and gets so intently to work, that Sam just closes his mouth and starts in on his research.

-o-

Dean smiles all the time now. He sings songs under his breath and he’s chipper even without his morning coffee.

Sam watches Dean touch Grace gently on the shoulder, nuzzle softly on her neck. Sam sees the way they bend into each other, the way they seem to work in tandem.

Sam remembers that. He remembers the scent of Jessica’s lotion and the taste of her lip gloss. He can even hear her laugh when he closes his eyes and thinks hard enough.

He misses her.

He says he has work to do in the library, but when he closes himself in, all he can do is stare at the fading shafts of light coming through the window.

-o-

The day is hot, even for Alabama. The heat is mind bending and soul rending. The kind that starts off oppressive before dawn breaks and just gets worse from there.

Sam makes sure to worker harder those days.

They’re in the barn, which provides some shade, but no fresh air. Bailing the hay makes Sam winded on the best of days, but it’s nearly overwhelming today.

The fact that the Tanner children are around and bored out of their minds doesn’t help.

Sam has half a mind to bury them in hay, but he’d rather not be fired.

They would sort of have it coming, though, if Sam were a vengeful type these days.

A wave of dizziness passes over him, and Sam puts his pitchfork down. With a steadying hand against the stable gate, he blinks a few times to regain his composure.

When he looks up, there’s a teenage girl sitting on the door next to him. Sam startles, trying to remember if she’d been there before.

She looks quite serious. “Your brother has a girlfriend,” Amanda Tanner tells him.

Sam raises his eyebrows. “Yeah,” he says. “He does.” There’s more to it than that, but the day is sweltering hot and Sam feels weak in his bones.

“She’s pretty,” she says, matter-of-fact. “And he’s hot. They’re good together.”

Sam makes a face and feels his stomach roil a bit. “Uh. Yeah.”

Amanda licks her lips. “What about you?” she asks. “When are you going to get a girl and bring her back? Momma says it’s about time there were some babies around here.”

The thought of finding a girl is enough of a task as it is. The idea of making babies? Makes Sam a little lightheaded.

Or maybe a lot.

He tries to look at Amanda but his vision tunnels out. His stomach turns hard again and his effort to speak is much weaker than it should be.

“Hey, you okay?” Amanda asks the second before Sam passes out.

-o-

He comes to on the Tanner’s couch. It’s leather and sticking to Sam’s skin. There’s a washcloth on his head and his feet are bare, sticking in the air off the end of the couch.

Then there are voices.

“I told you to scram. You’ve done enough harm as it is.”

“I just want to be sure I didn’t kill him.”

“Dude, is he really dead?”

The first voice cut them off, flat and stern. “If he were dead, he’d be a whole lot more blue and a lot less hot, you hear?”

“Yes, mama,” the other voices chorused.

“Now you scram before I sic your father on you.”

Footsteps scamper away and Sam realizes his eyes are open. He’s staring at the ceiling when Mrs. Tanner comes into view.

“Sorry about them,” she says, moving the cloth against his brow. “You feeling better yet, honey?”

“Mrs. Tanner?” he asks.

She flashes him a small. “Alice, sweetie,” she says. “Do you remember what happened?”

He closes his eyes for a moment. When he opens them, things are still hazy. “I was in the barn,” he says. “Amanda was talking about Dean’s girlfriend.”

Alice rolls her eyes. “Heavens alive, that girl is a gossip,” she mutters. “Anything else?”

“She talked about them having babies,” Sam recalls. “Then I got dizzy.”

She laughs. “Oh, honey,” Alice coos. “A little jealousy is like heat stroke. It happens to the best of us when put in extreme conditions.”

Sam crinkles his brow. “What?”

She tsks a little, reaching for a glass of water. She hands it to him gently, her hand hovering near him as he tries to take a sip. “It doesn’t make you a bad person,” she assures him. “You and your brother, you’re close. You do everything together. That’s a special bond. So for some girl, no matter how pretty, no matter how sweet, no matter how perfect, to come in and change that--well, you’d be inhuman to not be bothered.”

Sam tries to process those words, tries to believe them, but it’s hard.

“Drink your water,” she orders. “Slowly and steadily. We’ll get you back on your feet.”

Obediently, Sam takes a sip.

“You know, if it’s just between you and me,” she said, looking furtively at the door. “The more perfect they are, the harder it is to accept. That’s how I felt when my Ginny got herself a boy. He was everything I could ever want for her. But the closer she got to him, the further she got from me.”

Sam took another sip. “So what’d you do?”

“The only thing I could,” she says. “Wished her well and threw her the best damn wedding this town has ever seen. They moved away, even, all the way to Wedowee, but I have to support her. See, I figure, there’s no greater sacrifice than that. Than letting someone else be happy even when it breaks your heart.”

Sam’s head is still spinning a little, and his stomach is struggling to settle. For a second, he thinks he might pass out again.

Someone is grabbing the glass from his hands and pushing him back. “Good Lord, child,” Alice says. “You are quite the sight!”

Sam blinks at her, confused.

She just grins. “You just rest, you hear?” she says. “Things will be better when you wake up.”

Sam doesn’t know whether to believe her or not, but it’s a moot point, because it’s taking him under faster than he can stop. Sam should be used to that--that sense of powerlessness--but it still the worst thing he can think of, and the fact that it’s inevitable doesn’t make the shame any easier to bear.

-o-

When he wakes up again, he’s still on the couch. His armpits and neck are cold, and there’s something suspiciously icy between his legs. He’s about to investigate when Dean’s voice permeates the haze.

“Sam? Sammy?”

Sam wants to respond, tries to, but he can’t quite make it happen.

There’s a hand, heavy on his brow. Something cool smoothes across his forehead. “You’ve still got a fever, kiddo,” Dean says.

“Maybe we should call the doctor?” Alice Tanner’s voice asks.

“No,” Dean says. “He’s my brother. I’ve got him. I’ve got him.”

The words echo in his head, rolling around his consciousness, easing through his body with a pleasing coolness he can’t explain.

It’s what he’s missed, what he’s wanted. The part of him that’s missing. The hope for unity, for restoration. The hope that he’s still human enough to be a brother, still human enough to be Dean’s brother.

Not because it’s who he is. Not because he’s his brother’s responsibility. But because everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to feel connected. Everyone wants family and Peace and Grace and Hope...

And Sam sleeps to the dreams of his brother’s hand on his head and the sound of his brother’s voice He’s my brother, I’ve got him, I’ve got him.

It’s a dream Sam doesn’t deserve.

A dream Sam’s weak enough to need.

And Sam sleeps on.

-o-

The next time he wakes up, he’s thirsty. His mouth is parched and his tongue feels big. He tries to sit up, but his muscles feel stiff.

“You with me this time?” Dean asks.

Sam looks over, almost surprised to see his brother. “Yeah,” Sam says, and he pushes himself to sitting. “I’m fine.”

Dean gives him a incredulous look. “You had heat stroke.”

Sam made a face. “No big deal.”

“You were out for almost five hours. You scared Alice half to death.”

“Is she okay?”

Dean swears. “Are you even listening to me?”

Sam shakes his head. “They shouldn’t have called you,” he says. “I’m fine.”

Dean sighs, rolls his eyes. “Sure you are,” Dean says. “Heat stroke, you’re fine. Stays locked up all night, you’re fine. Works a miserable job all day, you’re fine.”

“I’m just doing what I need to do,” Sam says, and he doesn’t want to fight about this. He doesn't want to relive the shame. He doesn’t want to have to admit it all again. He doesn’t want to say monster and apocalypse and my fault. He will, he deserves to, but this is as much of a luxury as he can wish for himself.

“You’re not living,” Dean tells them, and there’s a hint of desperation in his voice.

“I’m alive,” Sam tells him. “It’s more than I deserve.”

Dean stares at him for a moment, really looks at him. “You really believe that, don’t you?”

Sam shakes his head, his jaw set. “I don’t believe it,” he says. “I know.”

Dean seems to deflate at that. “This isn’t why I came here,” Dean says. “This isn’t what Peace is all about.”

“For me, it is,” Sam tells him, and it’s as honest as Sam has ever been.

Dean looks like he wants to say something, to do something, but a soft knock comes at the door, and Alice peaks her head through. “I heard voices,” she says. “Praise the Lord, Sam, you’re awake! Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Let me get you something--”

Alice prattles off and Sam is swarmed by well-meaning Tanner children. He tells them he’s fine, and tells them thank you for the help, and then pushes to his feet and makes his way to the door.

The walk home is harder than he’ll admit. Dean doesn’t talk to him, but follows him a step behind.

-o-

Sam takes the next day off at Tanner’s insistence and spends it cleaning around the house. He pads lightly through the rooms, dusting the furniture and organizing the magazines in the living room.

Dean checks on him, seems reluctant to head out to the garage, despite the Ford Escape he’s got sitting up on blocks out there.

“Do you want me to call Grace? Stay in tonight? Have a guy’s night?”

Sam smiles and wishes he could say yes.

He can’t.

Dean’s spent a lifetime watching over Sam, taking care of Sam. That’s why Dean insisted Sam come here. Because it’s his duty.

But it doesn’t have to be. Dean doesn’t need Sam, and if his brother knew what was good for him, he wouldn’t want him anyway. Sam will be here for Dean, but he won’t let Dean waste his life on being a big brother to the monster Sam’s become.

In the end, it’s simple logic. Grace is good for his brother; Sam is not.

“Nah,” he tells Dean. “I have some catching up to do in Jefferson’s library.”

And it’s true, of course, but Dean looks disappointed. Sam trusts that’s a feeling that won’t last.

-o-

He gets a question from a hunter in West Texas about an ancient exorcism that works on demons bound to places. Sam could probably find what he needs in the library at Jefferson’s house, but he goes into New Hope anyway. After all, a little extra information never hurts.

-o-

Life returns to normal. Dean doesn’t mention the incident, but he seems keen on bringing Sam glasses of ice water.

Sam makes a mental note to get them for himself, so Dean doesn’t have to.

-o-

“You drinking enough water, son?” Tanner asks. “One mistake, it ain’t your fault. You let it happen twice--well, that’s on you.”

Sam wants to laugh at that. He thinks about the blood and the power and Ruby and the Apocalypse--his great history of mistakes. The ones he made that cost him everything. The ones he’ll spend the rest making sure he doesn’t make again.

“Yes, sir,” Sam confirms, and he holds out a bottle of water, because when Sam falls, he falls hard, and even if it takes the rest of his life, he’ll make sure that no one else ever has to pick him up again.

-o-

It’d be easier if the people of Peace didn’t remember everything so clearly. Now, Anita gives him free drinks, whatever Sam wants, and the Wanet children have a lemonade stand and give him all the proceeds to buy bottles with. Sam tries to refuse but they look so earnest, that Sam doesn’t have the heart to say no. He carries a bottle of water with him, and flashes it to concerned citizens, just to preempt their concerns.

Not that it works.

Delores has taken to serving him different kinds of tea on the porch. His glass is never even half-empty when she fills it again, leaving Sam almost despondently water logged.

“You best drink it, boy,” Everett tells him.

“Really?”

“You don’t want her bringing you drinks in bed, do you?”

“Would she?”

“Oh, son,” Everett says with a shake of his head. “Surely you’ve picked up on it by now.”

“Picked up on what?”

“We take care of our own,” Everett says. “No questions asked.”

“That’s sweet,” Sam says. “But I’m fine.”

Everett just looks at him. “And who says it has everything to do with you? We all need our purpose, son. Don’t take ours just so you can pretend to have something like your pride, you hear?”

Sam does, and he feels chagrined as he takes another sip of his tea.

-o-

Saturday comes with another trip to the library. She’s there, all smiles and books, and Sam can’t help but let himself go just a little.

They are talking about the Rocky Mountains, and Sam tells her about the time Dean was rammed by a mountain goat. He leaves out the part about the monster in the woods, but the mountain goat was real, white coat and Dean’s bruised back and all.

She laughs. “So you’ve been to the Rocky Mountains. You’ve been to both coasts. You’ve been to the Smokies and Florida and Texas and the northwest. Is there someplace you haven’t been?”

It hits Sam that there isn’t. “No,” he says. “I’ve pretty much got the continental states covered.”

“Wow,” she says, impressed. “The farthest I’ve been is Florida. We went there on vacation when I was ten.”

“We moved around a lot when I was a kid,” Sam tells her, a little stiff.

She nods. “That’s hard, isn’t it?” she asks. “Even with all you got to see. Never feeling settled, like you belong.”

Sam almost startles at that, because she gets it. She gets it without him having to say a word. She has summarized his entire childhood, his entire life. The stability he wanted and never had. The sense of home that was missing from every motel room he’s stayed in.

“I’ll bet it’s nice now,” she says. “Makes you appreciate being at Peace. You know what it is you have.”

And what it is he doesn’t deserve. He can live in Peace. He can have a permanent address. But Sam will never be home.

Never.

-o-

“Zachary!” Everett yells one night.

On the sidewalk, the figure in front of the house stops, and Sam hasn’t noticed him until now. The Wanet children are putting on a production of the Pirates of Penzanze or Scooby Doo, Sam hasn’t quite figured that out yet, but he’s been pretty intent on that. So much that he’s missed the kid traipsing down the street.

“Sir?” Zach asks.

Of all the people in town, Zach is by far the quietest, and therefore, the one Sam knows the least. Sam doesn’t go out of his way to know these people, but they seem to make a point to know him. Since Zach never seems to have much interest, they’ve just never connected.

“Where are you headed to tonight? Does Sylvie know you’re out?”

Zach smiles at that, a little rueful. “Last I checked, Sylvie wasn’t my mother.”

“She might as well be, son,” Everett says. “You best be remembering that. Now you come here for a second, son.”

Zach’s grin widens a little bit, and Sam sees dimples deepen in his cheeks as he approaches the porch. “I’m just going for a walk.”

“No one just goes for a walk.”

“Sam does,” Zach points out.

“And he don’t do it for nothing, neither.”

“Really?” Zach asks.

“He’s got to clear his head.”

“Maybe I need to, too?”

“I suspect you do, son,” Everett says, “but I hadn’t pegged you on far enough along to figure that out yet. You’re too young. Don’t have enough experience between your ears.”

“Sir, I promise you, I have plenty of experience.”

“Son, you’re barely out of high school. Whatever experience you have, I promise you, it’s not the kind that’s permanent. You’re lucky for that reason. Coming here before you’ve done reached your adult self. Easier to mold that way, but Sylvia says you’re damn stubborn. Deceptive little thing, too.”

Zach blinks innocently. “Me, sir?”

“Which is why I ask where you’re goin’.”

“I can promise you,” Zach tells him, and there’s an earnestness in his voice that’s too good to be totally true. “That’s another life.”

“No, it’s this one, too,” Everett tells him sternly. “’Bout time you figured out how to bridge the two. You’ll be better off when you’re whole.”

Zach seems to consider this. “There are parts of me I don’t like.”

“And you think I’m the picture of perfection?” Everett snips. “You can’t leave part of yourself behind. You can only learn how to accept it into who you want to be.”

“That’s easier said than done,” Zach replies.

“Damn straight,” Everett concedes. “Just keep it in mind while you go on your walk.”

Zach hesitates, and nods, ducking his head as he heads on down the street.

Everett waits until the boy is just out of earshot before nodding at Sam. “That boy is special,” Everett says.

“What makes you say that?”

“Look at him,” Everett nods.

Sam does. The kid seems to slouch lower, his pace quickening down the street. He looks normal to Sam, tall for his age, hair a little too shaggy.

“Sometimes you can just tell,” Everett continues. “Boy belongs here, but I don’t know if he’s figured it out yet.” Then Everett looks at Sam. “The bright ones figure that out sooner or later. And don’t you forget that, Sam.”

-o-

It’s hard to think about Grace and Dean and Dean and Grace, so Sam’s more than eager to leave them in the house to head to the library. He’s got some research to do about a possible satanic cult that existed in the 1800s, so he should have plenty to keep him busy.

The fact that Microfiche Girl will be there isn’t a factor. Not at all.

-o-

She’s there already and she’s bored. She is watching the door when he comes in. “You’re late,” she observes.

“I didn’t realize we had a schedule.”

“Usually, you’re very punctual.”

“There was a cow on the road on the way in,” Sam says.

She nods, as though that makes total sense. “I was worried you wouldn’t show.”

“What if I didn’t have any research?” he asks.

She gives him a look. “You think that stops me?”

He opens his mouth and closes it, feeling flustered.

She laughs at him. “I so love you, Sam,” she says.

Emotion pings in him, and he wants to run away as much as he wants to smile.

“We’d better get to work, right?” she asks.

He nods, mouth dry. He stays there two hours and can’t remember one word he read.

-o-

It bothers him all week.

I so love you, Sam.

Who says that? Who actually tells strangers that much? She won’t even tell him her name, but she loves him?

It doesn’t matter if it’s a casual, friendly thing. It doesn’t. Because love--it’s a word Sam has saved for people, a word Sam doesn’t deserve, and he doesn’t even know her name.

-o-

“Women troubles, huh?” Everett observes one morning.

“What?” Sam asks.

“You’ve got women troubles,” the old man replies.

“Uh. No.”

Everett laughs. “I can tell.”

“How?” Sam asks.

“You carry lots of burdens. I’ve seen you flustered and depressed and downright pissed as Hell. But that look? Like a little lost puppy who don’t know which way is up or down?” Everett asks. “Only one thing in the world can do that to a man--it’s a woman.”

Sam feels uncomfortable. He juts his chin and refuses to affirm it. “I don’t have a woman problem.”

Everett persists, leaning forward. “If you ask me, there’s only way to fix it,” Everett says.

“Yeah? How’s that?”

“When a woman has you chasing your tail, when she’s sending you signals you can’t make out and you want to kiss her and scream at her all at once--you got to bite the bullet.”

Sam waits for more. “Bite the bullet?”

“Marry her,” Everett says with force. “Get a ring on that finger, get her in a church and take her home. You spend the rest of your life trying to figure her out, though it’s basically a lost cause.”

“Is that what you did?”

“Damn straight,” Everett confirms. “Delores was the most confounding woman alive. Still is. She makes me furious, all her damn meddling and nonsense. The fact that we can fight day after day is all the reassurance I need that I made the right choice.”

Sam is sort of awed by that--not just the picture of love, but the sense of knowing--of being sure--that something is right and good.

The last time Sam felt that way, he nearly destroyed the world.

Sam doesn’t know how to trust it again.

-o-

Grace comes over mid-week. They all make dinner together, and it’s light and casual. After dinner, Chris Porter comes by with a question about his truck, so Grace and Sam are doing dishes in the kitchen.

It still feels awkward to Sam, being alone with her. But if Grace notices, she doesn’t say anything. She just smiles bigger for both of them, and asks Sam if he’ll watch some TV with them.

Sam shakes his head. “I have work to do.”

Grace nods, then presses her lips together. “No,” she says. “You don’t.”

Sam is startled. “What?”

“You don’t really have work to do,” she says. “You’ll do something, but you don’t need to.”

“But--”

“But you’re avoiding me,” she says. “Avoiding me with Dean.”

Sam’s brow furrows and he tries to shake his head.

“Sam, I’m a part of Dean’s life,” she says. “So I’m a part of yours.”

“I know that,” Sam says slowly. “I just don’t want to screw things up.”

“By what? Being there?”

It’s happened before. But Sam’s throat is too tight to speak.

She understands. She collects a breath and blow it out. “You do your own thing for you,” she says, and her voice is firm. “Not for me, not for Dean. You have rights and if you won’t stick up for them, then I will, even if that means I have to leave Dean alone. It’s not my intention to replace you. It’s my intention to be a part of both of your lives. And if you can’t accept that, then I know where the door is.”

Sam almost feels like panicking. Dean and Grace are perfect. Grace means everything to his brother. He can’t be the reason she leaves--he can’t.

Needless to say, Sam watches TV.

Dean drinks a beer and sits with an arm around Grace, who howls with laughter at the program.

Sam watches them from the chair, sipping a glass of water, and trying to feel like he belongs.

-o-

PART FOUR

-o-

 

Comments

Posted by: debbiel66 (debbiel66)
Posted at: January 13th, 2010 02:31 am (UTC)

I need to stop at this point and just tell you how much I am adoring this story. It's hitting me at such an emotional level. Poor Sam and poor Dean too, and God bless the people of the town making sure Sam's glass isn't empty.

Just so very, very true.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 25th, 2010 05:05 am (UTC)
breathless

I just keep hoping someone will start believing in Sam on the show, and it just never seems like anyone is in his corner to really tell him not just to keep fighting but that he's okay. He needs to hear it. A lot.

Anyway, thanks :)

Posted by: Megan (wicked_crayon)
Posted at: January 22nd, 2010 05:46 am (UTC)

Okay, so, I have to make this comment quick because I need to keep reading this story like I need to breathe, but I just wanted to say that holy hell this is wrecking me. Like, actual tears.

Oh, Sam...

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 25th, 2010 05:05 am (UTC)
after school limp

Aw, I'm sorry! It's all Sam's fault--he's just so broken!

4 Read Comments