Author's Note: Losing a parent isn't easy, no matter how old you are when they pass. There's always a lingering question or a regret that haunts you whenever you try and navigate through the grieving process. More so if that relationship was strained or difficult. When it comes to John and Sam's relationship, I always wondered why the youngest Winchester wasn't really given as much screen time to grieve as Dean got. I really just wanted to explore their dynamic as well. This is just something that popped into my mind and would not leave me until I began to write it. Please enjoy! Trigger warning for attempted suicide. If this bothers you, do not read.
"And sometimes I forgive,
And this time,
That I miss you,
I miss you,
—Good Charlotte, "Emotionless"
The first time Sam Winchester notices that he's different in his father's eyes is when he's five. He's supposed to be picked up from his first day of kindergarten, only he's standing out on the curb and that familiar, shiny black car hasn't pulled up yet.
It's been twenty minutes since the bell rang and Sam is all alone.
"Sam?" Miss Hannigan calls to him from the classroom door, her peach lips pursed. Her black heels click against the cement as she comes to stand next to him, her emerald eyes scanning the parking lot for his father.
"Daddy is late." Sam mumbles, dejected, though he's not surprised really. His father and Dean have been really busy working on something important. Dean had whispered excitedly before they went to bed about a secret project, about being able to finally be dad's helper.
It's a secret, Sammy. Dad doesn't want you to know yet.
But if Dean got to be John's helper, then that left Sam out in the cold.
It's okay though. Sam understands that he's little and he can't do all the things that Dean can do. One day, when he's older, he'll be able to help his father out like Dean does. He'll be able to be useful.
One day, he'll prove his worth.
"Come inside Sam." His teacher orders softly, a warm hand resting on his shoulder as she ushers him to the classroom. "You can help me with the craft for tomorrow."
When John shows up 45 minutes later, breathless and wild eyed, he ruffles Sam's hair and says, "Sorry, kiddo."
And despite everything, Sam can't help but beam and throw his arms around his father's waist.
He loves John after all.
"Daddy, why do we have to go to Uncle Bobby's?"
They walk along a dirt path, dust picking up with the wind.
"Because I have to go out for work, Sam."
"But why can't we go with you? Tim's family gets to go with his dad when he leaves—"
He grips his father's calloused hand tightly, afraid to let go, afraid to be left behind yet again.
"You can't, Sam. Not yet."
"It's okay, Sammy. I'll be back soon."
And with a smile as bright as the sun, John manages to allay his son's fears once more.
Sam learns early on to stay away from his father during the weeks leading up to his mother's death. During those days, his father drinks more and shuts himself up in his room for hours at a time, emerging only to get more beer.
"He's just sad, Sammy." Dean tries to explain, a tight grin on his lips that doesn't match the dread in his gaze. "It'll pass."
"Then, why can't I see him?"
Dean sighs, running a hand through his hair.
"It's hard to explain, okay? Just let it go."
So, Sam tries to.
Dean, for his part, tries to distract the youngest Winchester with games and treats and even a movie marathon of educational films that Dean can't stand, and for the most part, it helps.
Sam doesn't understand what his mother's death has to do with John's grim moods or why he can't see his father. Still, he tries to be a good son and give his father some space.
But one night, when Sam goes to the kitchen to get a glass of water, he sees his father slumped over on the kitchen counter, beer bottles scattered about. He's snoring, dead to the world.
Carefully, on his tiptoes, Sam moves to the sink, but his glass clatters, breaking the peaceful silence and startling his father awake.
"Mary," His father growls, syllables colliding into each other as he points at Sam, "S'not my fault. Your eyes . . . s'much like 'ers." John takes a swig from a bottle of the beer. Then, with a tone like ice and sudden clarity, he hisses, "She died cause of you, Sam."
Before Sam can even respond, his father slumps over once more, passing out.
But those words and the implication of them haunted him long after they were said.
When Sam is allowed to participate in the family business, he throws himself headlong into it. At last, all the secrets and lies make sense! John looks at him with pride whenever he learns something new or manages to translate a difficult phrase of Latin. His father is smiling more, laughing more and Sam finally feels like he belongs to this family. He's no longer in competition with Dean for his father's attention. At long last, John is seeing Sam now as who he is.
"I'm proud of you, Sammy." John tells him softly, as they drive back from a daylong trip to research the burial site of the possible ghost they were hunting.
Dean is passed out in the front seat, exhausted from running laps while Sam and John did most of the research.
In the rearview mirror, Sam catches his father's gaze and does his best not to beam at the unexpected display of affection. He's happy though, so damn happy that he's finally able to be helpful to his father. All these years, wondering, waiting, trying to be useful and now here he is, sitting in the backseat of the Impala, finally getting the attention he deserves from his father.
And they just drive on.
As the years begin to pass, Sam finds himself growing disillusioned with his life.
He realizes at age 13, bleeding out from a stab wound from a pissed off ghost, that maybe he doesn't want to be a hunter.
"Sammy, hold on, okay?" John grips him in his arms, applying pressure to the wound, trying to get the flow of crimson to stop, but it won't stop, and Sam can feel himself slipping away. A perpetual cold is starting to settle into his bones. He's going to die here, in the dirt, in his father's arms; from a wound given to him by a creature he had no business fighting.
"Sam, stay with me!" His father growls, issuing orders, always giving orders.
"D-dad." He wants to cry, to cling to his father like a frightened child, but he can't, John expects so much more of him—
"It's okay," John pulls the broken boy closer to him, holding him tightly, "I've got you, Sammy. I'm not letting go. It's going to be okay. Dean is getting help, just hang on!"
But suddenly, with a startling moment of clarity, Sam realizes that even if he does survive this hunt, that there will be another. There will always be more hunts that they will have to tackle. It's never ending, this life that his father and brother have chosen for him.
"Sammy, keep your eyes open!"
Funny, all Sam wanted was to please his father.
Now, though, he just wants to be normal.
"Sam, I said no."
He's 16 now, ready to make his own decisions. He's got dreams about college, about white picket fences, about building a family.
So, no, he won't back down now. He wants to go to the football game with his friends. He wants to have one night away from research, away from creatures that go bump in the night. He wants to hold Cynthia Lawson's hand and cheer on Scott Roberts from his AP US class. For one night, he's going to pretend to be a normal high school student who just has a dad that travels around for business.
"I'm going, Dad." Sam challenges and John's eyes widen ever so slightly. He's never openly defied John before. This is uncharted territory for both of them.
"Sam—" Dean cautions, hands outstretched, trying to diffuse the situation before it escalates, but it's too late, and Sam isn't going to back down.
"What did you just say to me?" John questions, tone brokering a strict warning of what is to come should Sam continue.
"I'm going to the football game."
"Sam, stop—" Dean tries again to no avail.
"I want to be normal, Dad," It's a quiet admission, one Sam hadn't been planning on sharing just yet, "One night. Please."
John mulls this over for a few seconds and then nods, "Fine. One night."
It's one night of normalcy but Sam will take it.
He's 17 and it's been a week since his last fight with his father.
"Sam." John comes to stand next to him, placing a warm hand on his shoulder, eyes glancing down at the homework his youngest is working on. "How'd you do on that essay?"
Sam blinks, surprised that John remembered, "I got an A."
John grins, "Good work."
"See?" Dean tells him that night with a tired grin, after they've gone to bed, "Dad does notice."
Sam supposes he does.
And that pleases him more than he thought it would.
Getting accepted into college is supposed to the happiest moment of his life. Finding out that all his school expenses will be paid for is just a bonus. This is the moment that he's long worked for. He should be celebrating, he should be screaming and jumping up and down and maybe even shedding a few tears of joy. All his hard work, all the studying in between hunts, the amount of time it took him to track down transcripts and letter of recommendation—this is the culmination of all that.
Yet, all he feels is dread.
His brother will be devastated. Dean has never been very supportive whenever Sam mentioned college in passing. His big brother believes hunting is their only path in life. And why wouldn't he? Dean is a damn good hunter and he loves it.
Sam, on the other hand? Not so much.
This . . . the chance of normalcy that college will give him—it's his escape from this life that only ends in heartbreak and bloodshed. To turn it down would be foolish. He needs to stand up to his family and make his choice known.
Even if he loses everything.
Even if his father will never look him in the eye again.
Sam just has to do it.
"If you walk out that door, don't you dare come back!"
With one last look to his big brother—his silent, unwilling to stand up to their father, brother—Sam walks out the door.
And slams it behind him.
Two weeks at Stanford is enough for Sam to realize just how unprepared he is for normalcy.
For one thing, he has a roommate now. Someone who jokes with him, who tries to learn things about him and Sam has to remember that he doesn't need to lie anymore. He doesn't need to give a cover story. He's just Sam Winchester.
The funny thing is, despite how furious he is with his father and brother, he misses them. Deeply. Fiercely. This is the longest that he's been away from them and with each minute that passes, the stronger the ache to see them gets. He keeps glancing at his phone, hoping, waiting, for it to light up and ring.
But he knows his family.
They're stubborn, like him. They won't call. Dean will, eventually, because his big brother can't stand the silence between them. His brother has always been more in touch with his emotions than their father. Dean will apologize. Eventually. He'll call. One day.
But John might not ever call. And that hurts Sam more than he'd care to admit. Because, at the end of the day, his father's approval does matter to him. He wants John to be proud of him, of the choices he's made.
He wants John's support.
If you walk out that door, don't you dare come back!
But those words echo in his mind, constantly replaying over and over again.
And it occurs to Sam that he may never get John's support.
It's just something he'll have to learn to live with.
"If you ever want to talk about your Dad—" Jess' voice is light, her touch warm and full of understanding as she rubs comforting circles on his back.
It's Father's Day, the one moment where he is more acutely aware of what he's lost than the other 364 days out of the year.
"I don't want to talk about it." He never does. He loves her, yes, but she knows his family is off limits. That whenever this date rolls around, she needs to give him his space to process and grieve the relationship he never really had as a child.
Jess' lips purse, "But if you did," She insists, "I would listen."
She presses a kiss to his cheek and he squeezes her hand within his. This . . . unconditional love, warm support and understanding—this is why he wanted to give up the life his father chose for him and pursue normalcy.
But John would never understand that, would he? He'd just view it as a betrayal. A sign of weakness.
She just kisses him once more.
When Dean tells him that their father is missing, a million emotions course through his veins all at once.
Disbelief. Worry. Anger. Shock.
Jess stands by his side, clueless at what it means for their father to have gone on a hunt and not returned yet. Her gaze meets his, an unsaid question sparkling in her eyes, but he looks away.
"Sam." Dean is waiting for him to make his choice. He's expecting Sam to choose family over everything. Family comes first. Blood is thicker than water.
"Just for the weekend." Sam relents finally, because he can't turn his back on his father yet, not completely. He wants to see him once more, to look him the eye and show him that normalcy is the right choice for him.
Maybe John will never understand that, but Sam just wants peace. He wants to be able to put the past behind him and forge a new future with Jess—one that includes Dean and his father.
"Got it." Dean replies softly.
Dean doesn't know.
Sam doesn't want to fracture his family further—he wants to unite it.
Finding John is just the first step.
Jess is nothing more than ashes, scattered on the wind.
Dean is there, whispering reassurances, keeping him upright and breathing when all Sam wants to do is curl into a ball and will himself out of existence.
And John? John isn't returning any of their calls.
Saving people. Hunting things. The family business.
Normalcy is dead.
John is a ghost, appearing only through cryptic voicemails and missed connections. He points them in whatever direction he sees fit without giving them any details and like children, they go.
And for some reason that pisses Sam off more than he ever anticipated.
Anyway my point is, Sam, this is never the life that I wanted for you.
It's the closest to an apology he'll ever get. But you know what? Sam accepts it. After so many months being on the road, grieving over what he's lost, it's nice to have John back. It's nice to see his father crack a smile at whatever lame joke Dean's told. It feels right to show him the leads that Sam's come up with.
It feels like home—something he hasn't felt since he went to Stanford.
And it's different too. John shows him respect, actually gives him space to work through his own ideas. Now that they are finally taking down this damn demon as a family, Sam feels unstoppable and he would be remiss if he didn't say that repairing his relationship with his father was a big part of it.
Sam glances at his father, coming out of his reverie.
John just smirks, "A full ride to Stanford? You're pretty damn smart."
Sam can't help but laugh, "Yeah, I guess I got that from you."
John snorts, "I doubt it." Then his expression sobering, he adds, "Good job, Sammy."
It's the one phrase he'd longed to hear while away at school and now that he finally has it, he feels like he can finally breathe again.
You know, it's funny, I thought it was your obsession too! This demon killed your mother, killed your girlfriend. You begged me to be part of this hunt. Now if you'd killed that damn thing when you had the chance, none of this would have happened.
Breathe in, breathe out. Calm the erratic heartbeat. Stop the traitorous thoughts from dictating his behavior. As he paces the bland hospital hallways, Sam tries to control his temper.
It was possessing you, Dad, I would have killed you too.
He wants to punch the wall. He wants to hurt, wants to feel something to take his mind off the fucked up situation he's currently living through.
Yeah, and your brother would be awake right now.
It's always Sam's fault in John's eyes. Somehow, someway, it's always his fault.
"Nothing's changed." Sam sighs, voice ragged. Nothing has changed in their relationship. The progress he believed they were making? None of it had been real.
With a grunt of frustration, he kicks the wall with as much force as he can muster.
When he finds his father on the hospital floor, Sam can't breathe. He can't process. All he can do is cross the distance between them and cradle his father's lifeless body and try to will his heart to keep beating. This can't be happening.
Then, the doctors are there and they're pushing him away, and Sam can only watch, wide-eyed, as all attempts to bring their father back fail. It's all wrong, he thinks dimly, to watch his father slip away like this.
It's not a hunt. It's so . . . normal to die in a hospital.
"Time of death—"
Sam realizes it then, watching as the medical team steps away from their father that the last words he ever said to John were angry ones.
And the regret might just kill him.
I'm sorry that the last time I was with him I tried to pick a fight. I'm sorry that I spent most of my life angry at him. I mean, for all I know he died thinking that I hate him. So you're right. What I'm doing right now, it's too little. It's too late. I miss him, man. And I feel guilty as hell. And I'm not all right. Not at all.
He does his best to keep functioning, to try to be strong for Dean. He forces himself to eat whatever meal Bobby puts in front of him while his body protests being forced to keep anything down. He tries to act normal with Dean—forces himself to smile, to joke like usual—but nothing seems to get through his older brother's façade.
Dean is grieving. His older brother has constructed a wall so thick around himself that Sam has to keep chipping away at it. It will require time and patience. More than he really has to give right now. Dean is grieving, after all.
But you know what? So is Sam.
He can barely sleep because whenever he closes his eyes all he sees is the frustrated expression on his father's face, all he can hear are the words spoken in anger—their last fight and really, was it worth it? Was it worth pushing John's buttons like that?
His father died thinking Sam hated him. He must've. How else could he have construed what Sam shouted at him?
There are so many regrets swirling around in his mind. So many what-ifs and if-onlys. It's threatening to consume him whole. Part of him wants to curl into a ball and just let the world pass him by. He's tired of being strong for Dean. Sam doesn't know if he can continue supporting his brother like this when part of him feels like he could snap in half at any moment.
John is dead.
No matter how much he repeats that to himself, Sam still finds it hard to believe. It's true though.
It's his new normal and somehow, Sam Winchester needs to get used to it.
It's the little things that sting the most.
The urge to call John for help during complicated research. The desire to shoot him an email about their current plans. The belief that he will just show up somehow in the backseat of the Impala one day like nothing had ever happened.
John isn't coming back though.
Their father is dead.
Sam can't breathe.
He said that I might have to kill you, Sammy.
He hears Dean's voice ringing in his ears and he swears that his heart is going to jump out of his chest. Because, of course, John being John, he had one last, big, fucked up secret to keep to himself.
"Sammy?" Dean is on the other side of the bathroom door, voice tight, laced with worry, "Talk to me, man. Tell me what you're feeling."
If Sam could laugh, he would, because Dean wanting to talk about feelings is surely the sign of the impending apocalypse. As it stands though, Sam just needs to take a moment to process.
John knew something about Sam's fate. He knew, probably, about the powers, about the demon, about what happened the night their mother died, and he kept it all to himself. And now he'd left Dean with instructions to kill Sam? Why? What did John know? Why hadn't he told either of them the truth?
He said that I might have to kill you, Sammy.
John was going to kill him? Why? For what purpose?
Why didn't he tell Sam?
"Sam. Come on." Dean must be desperately trying to reconcile the information John told him with everything that he knows about Sam. The little brother that he protected from everything that went bump in the night. The little brother who might grow up and become some sort of monster—
"Why?" Sam's voice is strangled and he sinks down to the floor, torn between screaming and sobbing.
So many secrets left undiscovered.
"Sam, please, open the door."
It occurs to Sam that maybe, just maybe, he never really knew his father at all.
Sam has to die.
If John believed that his youngest was going to go darkside, then Sam knows there was a reason for it. Research to back it up. Facts. Figures. Their father wouldn't have told Dean such a thing without figuring it out with absolute certainty.
Which means that Sam should take himself out of the equation before he becomes a problem. He doesn't want to hurt his brother, like he did while he was possessed. He knows that if it comes down to it, Dean won't kill him.
Which means it falls to Sam to carry out their father's last order.
Placing the cool gun against his temple, he takes a steady breath, shutting his eyes, his finger tenses on the trigger.
Then, Dean is there, hands outstretched, voice pleading, "Please don't do this. Give me the gun."
Sam doesn't really want to die. His resolve to follow through with his plan wavers and before he knows it, the gun is gone and his brother is embracing him, whispering promises about how they'll figure this out together and that Dad wasn't always right.
Dean's correct—John wasn't always right. But Sam can't help but feel that in this case, he might just be.
And that terrifies him.
Because Sam doesn't want to die. He wants to be with his big brother. He wants to stop the demon. And then maybe, with Dean by his side, they can build a somewhat normal life. Maybe they won't get out of hunting completely, but perhaps they could do it occasionally. Or maybe he could go back to school and finish his degree.
Once John has been avenged, Sam wants out. Hopefully Dean will too.
"You're not going to die." Dean growls. "Not going to happen. We'll figure something out."
A dark thought whispers that Dean shouldn't make promises he can't keep.
After all, John wouldn't have issued such an edict without just cause.
Author's Note: So, this spiraled way out of my control. There will be a second chapter tracing the fallout from the rest of season two probably up to season ten. We'll see where the muse takes me. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this piece as well. If you have a moment, please let me know what you think!