Summary: Families don't fall apart in a day. Rifts don't just appear. A series of glimpses into Sam's life as he grows up and struggles to find himself.
A/N: These are pretty one-sided snippets of what his childhood may have been like--it's meant to be somewhat biased. The way I figure it, these would be the possible worst experiences which led to the resentment we see in Bugs and Asylum. I have no doubt there were many great and loving moments, but that's just not my focus. I am kind of fascinated with the negative formative experiences in Sam's childhood.
Disclaimer: Just playing with other people's toys. I'll return them unscathed.
Degrees of Selfhood
Sam is four and is holding a gun. His father's hands encircle his own, and Sam can feel his warm breath against his cheek.
"This is how you hold it, Sam," he explains, and Sam tries to focus.
"Is this a big boy gun, like Dean's?" he asks.
"Not quite, but close," his father laughs. "You're too little yet, but we've got to teach you to defend yourself."
Sam thinks about the westerns he's seen on TV and asks if he can wear a cowboy hat.
"This is serious, Sammy, you need to focus," his father admonishes.
Sam quiets for a moment, trying to see what his father is showing him. But he likes the westerns and asks if they could ride horses someday.
"We don't have time for that, Sammy," his father sighs in frustration. "Dean already knew how to shoot a gun when he was your age."
The comparison is not lost on Sam. He tries harder to focus.
"Let's try firing it once. It'll have a little kick, okay, Sammy?"
Sam agrees, hoping to make his daddy happy.
His father steps away. "Okay, Sam. Focus on the target, and pull the trigger."
Sam stares at the target and tries to steady himself. He pulls the trigger. The recoil and the sound scare him, and he drops the gun with a shriek. He turns to his father, tears streaming down his face.
His father is looking at the unscathed target. "Not even close, Sammy. We've got our work cut out for us."
Sam is six and is in kindergarten. He loves school; he loves the way he gets to be with other kids, the way he gets to read and write and color. There is story time and recess, and he gets to play games of make believe. At first he doesn't understand the other kids' stories, but soon he excels. Everything is bright and cheerful. He likes how safe and routine it is.
He is practicing the alphabet. They give him large lined paper to guide his uncertain strokes. He carefully steadies his hand, trying to craft the letter A. When he is done, he looks at it, then looks at the letter the teacher put on the board.
The teacher is circulating the room. She stops by Sam and kneels down, smiling. "That's a wonderful A, Sam. Great work!"
She looks so sincere and so proud; Sam beams for the rest of the day.
Sam is seven and sitting in the school office. His father is in with the principal and his teacher. He sits with his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands. He is staring at the cream-colored walls that are smattered with portraits of people he doesn't know. He figures they must be important, to be on a wall and all.
He doesn't understand why he is here. During sharing time they were asked to tell about their families. When Sam mentions he was nearly killed when his brother was trying to kill an angry demon the teacher reminds him that sharing time was not the time for make believe. Sam doesn't understand; he tries to explain that it was true, that it happens all the time, that demons and spirits are all around us and that when bad things happen, it's usually them. When he telss her about walking through the graveyard and digging up the bones, she looks stricken. When he tells her they lit them on fire, she takes him to the principal's office.
His dad looks weird when he arrives. Nervous, too proper. He smiles at Sam. Then he disappears with the principal and his teacher into the office.
The secretary smiles at Sam and he smiles back. The secretary reminds him of his mother, although he doesn't remember her. He just likes the way she smiles. It is so pure.
His dad comes out and kneels in front of him. The principal and his teacher stand nearby.
"I hear you've been making up stories again," he says.
Sam is confused.
"I know what your brother tells you is fun, Sammy, but we've had this talk, haven't we?"
Sam can't remember it, but his father is staring at him. He nods.
"Why don't you apologize to Mrs. Stephens for making up those stories?"
Sam apologizes, and Mrs. Stephens smiles. His father stands and shakes their hands. He ruffles Sam's hair and calls him "champ" as he leads him from the office. Sam glances at the secretary, who somehow looks sadder now.
Sam is nine and they live in an apartment across from a park. They have lived there for nearly four months, and Sam never wants to leave. There is a boy who lives in a duplex down the street named Alex, and they have decided to be best friends.
Alex is the middle child of five brothers. They all play soccer together in the park, and they let Sam play too, because it makes for an even game. Alex's oldest brother Denny works at the Rec and tells Sam he is good at soccer. Alex suggests that he join his soccer team. They play on Saturdays and practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Sam is ecstatic and runs home to tell his father. He finds his father in the tiny kitchen, cleaning his gun.
"Don't have time for that, Sammy," he tells him as though Sam should know.
Sam doesn't know and protests.
"It's time for bow hunting. I found a guy south of town who will teach you and Dean."
Sam reminds his father that soccer is only two nights a week and Saturdays.
"Lessons every night. We need to be out of this town soon."
"But I don't want to bow hunt," Sam says. "I want to play soccer."
"Soccer won't help you stop a demon. Soccer won't save you from an angry spirit."
Sam doesn't know what to say; he is crestfallen.
"You know you can't get attached to people and things, Sam."
Sammy learns his lesson. He goes to bow hunting lessons. Dean is a natural. He hits the target all the time. It makes their father proud.
"Apply yourself, Sam. You're not even trying."
Sam looks at the ground; he knows he's right.
Sam is twelve and has discovered libraries. Now that he is older, he is able to sneak away sometimes without Dean or his father. He can't get a library card, but he can sit in there for hours, looking at the shelves and shelves of books and reading in the little cubicles on the second floor where college students study.
He forgets about the time one night and comes home late. His father is angry.
"Don't you know you can't be out like that? It's not safe!"
Sam apologizes quickly, afraid of losing the privilege.
"You have no reason to be down there, anyway. There's nothing there for you."
Sam remains silent in desperation. He lets his father disparage him some more before he slinks off to the rollaway in the living room. As he curls up to go to sleep, he thinks about the books lined up on the shelves, all neat and orderly.
Sam is fifteen, and he has joined the school newspaper. Usually they don't accept sophomores, but after his English teacher sees his writing, she nearly insists. He knows they probably won't be there for long, but the offer is too appealing.
He contemplates telling his father. His brother has graduated now and hunts full time, occasionally taking an easy trip on his own every now and then. Dean and his father can sit around and reminisce on the noteworthy hunts while they watch the fuzzy picture of ESPN on the lone TV. Sam stays in his room and does homework.
"Hey, Sammy, aren't you done yet?" his father calls.
He explains that he is trying to do his homework.
"You do an awful lot of that. Dean never did nearly that much, and they still gave him a diploma."
Sam says nothing.
His father seems to notice that Sam is disinterested. "You could use a brush up on your self-protection techniques. You're wasting your time."
Sam is tired of this lecture. "I have a biology test tomorrow and an article for the paper." He stops suddenly, realizing what he's said.
Sam knows he shouldn't, but he wants to tell his dad. He is proud of his work; maybe his dad could be too. "Yeah, I'm on the school paper. It's a great program, Dad. They hardly ever let sophomores on. The teacher says I'm a natural."
"For what good it's worth," his father says with a snort and Dean chuckles. "I guess at least you'd finally be able to do something productive on the hunts and help me keep the journal."
They laugh again and Sam is angry.
"It takes more talent then throwing salt at spirits," he snaps.
His father's face darkens. "Watch your mouth, boy. This family has its business, and you can't run from that. All that other stuff—it's a waste of time."
"I like it."
"It means nothing. Sammy, you have to get your priorities straight. Family—that comes first. And we're about hunting."
"What if I don't want to be?"
"It's not a choice, Sammy. It's who you are. If you're going to get distracted from that, you're going to have to quit that paper altogether."
Panic rises in Sam and he quickly retreats.
His father nods approvingly and takes a sip of his beer. He turns to Dean, asking about any leads for a future hunt.
Sam takes his work to the bedroom and shuts the door. Sam wonders if his father has any idea who he is.
Sam is eighteen and nervous. He has carried the letter around for months now. He sent in his acceptance and has made plans to go. He hasn't told his family yet.
He keeps meaning to, but no time ever seemed right. Every time he seemed to see his father, his father was preparing for a hunt, practice some skills, reading up, taking notes. Sam's study habits were a common joke when they sat down eating frozen pizza in front of the TV. His father would laugh and nudge Dean. "At least I have one son who has his head on straight."
It seems whenever he actually talks to his father they end up fighting. Sam can't imagine why his father would fight about Stanford. It is a full-ride scholarship—it wouldn't cost him anything. And Sam knows he is the greatest liability when it comes to hunting.
And Stanford is a prestigious school. He still has to unfold the letter every night to guarantee himself it's real. He thinks maybe his father will finally be proud; proud that Sam could achieve so much. It's not marksmanship, it's not knowledge of spiritual forces, but it is a full-ride.
It is nearly August, and Sam has to leave soon. He needs to tell his father. He waits until after dinner. Dean is in the living room, watching TV. His father is in the bedroom. Gripping the letter in his hand, he walks in.
"What do you need, Sammy?"
"I, uh, well, I wanted to tell you something."
Sam nearly leaves but somehow manages to stay. "Since I've graduated, I've looked into some colleges," he begins.
"College isn't for us, Sam."
"I know, but the thing is, I applied to Stanford."
"Stanford? Isn't that pretty expensive?"
Sam tells him it is. He can see his father's hesitation. "I didn't expect to get in, but I did. And they're giving me a full-ride scholarship, so it wouldn't cost you anything, Dad." Sam can no longer contain his excitement. A grin creeps across his face as he holds out the letter.
His father takes the letter and looks at it for a moment. He looks back at Sam. "You're not going."
"But it's a full-ride," Sam explains again.
"You're a Winchester. You're a hunter. You're not going to waste four years of your life on some whim."
"It's-it's not a whim," Sam tries to explain. "I want to be a lawyer, and this is the first step—"
"A lawyer, Sammy?" his father yells now. He looks at his younger son in disbelief. "You are a hunter. When are you going to get over these childish—"
"It's not childish—"
"You're acting like a selfish, spoiled little brat. Who will do this if we don't? People will die without us, Sammy. Think about the bigger picture. I have half a mind to pull you over my knee and beat some sense into you."
Sam blinks back tears and suddenly is overwhelmed. He thinks about all the studying he's had to do in the car. He remembers all the things he had to miss because he was hunting. He recalls all the friends he had given up. He hears all the admonishing words his father ever aimed at him.
His father rips up the letter. "You're not going."
Sam sees the letter, now in pieces, flutter to the stained ground. Something breaks inside him. The tears are gone; he looks up in rage. "I am going to Stanford."
"You walk out that door, you can keep on walking, son."
"Maybe I will. You think I'm the one who's selfish? I'm not forcing my sons to throw their lives away on my pursuits. You're nothing but a vindictive old man with nothing to live for except some vain illusion of power."
"This vindictive old man has saved your butt more times than you can count. You owe me everything you have!"
"I owe you nothing! What have you given me? A bunch of skills I don't even want?"
His father is deadly serious. "You need those skills, son, if you're going to survive."
"No one needs those skills unless they go off every couple of weeks looking for an excuse to use them. You're just too stupid or scared to let go of it and get a real life."
"This is real life, more than you'll ever know. We tried normal, Sammy, and it killed your mother. You need to grow up, Sammy. I've let you indulge these fantasies long enough—but that's all they are—fantasies. Normalcy doesn't exist. They're all deluded."
Sam can't believe what he hears. "They're deluded? The entire world? And you think I'm selfish!"
"You know everything that happens out there—you've seen it all and you still think you can turn your back on it? On this family?"
"I'm not turning my back on anything. I just want a life of my own."
"You've got one, right here, with your brother, me."
"One I have no say in!"
"Because you're too short-sighted and immature to see it!"
"Oh, yeah, and it's so mature to run across the country on sketchy leads, dragging your sons around, living in dingy apartments and drinking beer. You hustle pool and scam people for a living. And I'm immature? Because I want to make something of my life."
They scream at each other, their rants getting longer, more irrational.
His father stands, fuming. "What would your mother say if she heard you—"
Sam doesn't back down. He stares back defiantly. "She'd agree with me! She was the one who wanted the picket fence in the suburbs. You're the one who's too scared to face his own loss and has to disregard everything she ever lived for."
Something flickers in his father's eyes, but Sam is distracted when his father's hand slaps him across the face. Sam is too stunned to speak. He holds his stinging cheek and stares back in disbelief.
"No son of mine would talk that way. If you choose to leave, you can never come back. Your family or this fake life you think you want. It's your choice, Sammy."
Sam is suddenly scared, but he has come so far to back down. "Dad, I can still help on breaks—"
"No, Sammy. You can't. If you leave, then you're no longer my son."
"What do you choose, Sam," his father demands.
Sam stares back, his heart pounding. He doesn't think his mouth will work. "I need to go to Stanford," he says, his voice barely a whisper.
His father's face hardens. "Then get out. Tonight."
Sam tries to protest.
Sam's mouth is open.
"Get out!" his father screams again.
Sam recoils again, although he has not been hit this time. He stumbles out of the room and mechanically moves to pack his things. He says nothing while he stuffs his meager belongings into a duffle bag. Grabbing his coat, he moves to the door. Dean is sitting at the card table in the kitchen, staring at him. Sam is suddenly afraid he might cry. Dean says nothing, and Sam ducks out the front door and makes his way into the darkness.
Sam is twenty and succeeding in college. At first he is lonely; he doesn't enjoy his newfound freedom because of what it cost him. He lays awake at night and wonders where his father is, what Dean is doing. Sometimes he worries if they're safe, if Dean remembers all the details he has a tendency to overlook.
But he doesn't miss hunting. He misses his father's steadiness, his brother's smirk, but he doesn't miss hunting. There are moments he thinks he feels a tickle on the back of his neck and wonders if it's a demon. He hears stories about deaths in dorms long ago and wonders if there are spirits haunting the campus. There are even times he sprinkles salt around his bed. When his roommate asks about it, he tells him he spilled it.
But when he runs out of salt, he forgets to go to the store for more. Soon a month has passed without incident, and Sam doesn't need it to feel safe. Sam begins to let go, and he begins to make friends. Then he sees a girl studying across from him in the student union and he is smitten. Sam asks her out, and she says yes. Soon he spends all his time with her.
He feels like Jessica understands him, he feels safer with her than with anyone else in the world. He wants to share everything with her. But when he tries to talk about his past, he finds he can't explain it, and he evades her questions. She is sweet and sympathetic; she doesn't push him.
He knows she is the one for him, and he thinks about spending the rest of his life with her. But he worries what she will think if he tells her the truth about his past. For all of his belief that he wasn't a hunter, that his family doesn't make him who he was, he cannot separate himself from his past, and that scares him.
So he clings tightly to her, giving her everything she wants. He tells himself that someday he will tell her the truth, someday when she is ready, someday when he is ready.
He also tells himself that someday he will take her to meet his father, Dean. Someday they will see her and see how happy he is and understand. Someday he will own a house in the suburbs and be a lawyer, and Jessica will have children, and his father will finally be proud of him. He will look at Sam and at how he made his dreams come true, and finally see that Sam just wanted to be loved all along.
Sam worries that those are fantasies, but he refuses to let them go.