Title: Open Road
Author's Notes: My deepest gratitude goes to Amy for this story. My misunderstandings resulted in a rewrite of this story- one that is '1000 times' better than the original. The woman has the patience of a saint. Also- if I may, I'd like to pimp Adam Derry. The best acoutsic indie guitar I've ever heard.
I've outgrown, my only home
I'm not gonna find me till I'm all alone.
Down an open road.'
-'Open Road', Adam Derry
Pastor Jim looked up from the Learning Latin workbooks and eyed the young man at the table across from him. Sam Winchester was slouched over his open school books, his elbow on the table and chin propped in his palm, absently doodling in a spiral bound notebook. Jim raised an eyebrow.
"Mei capilli sunt flagrantes."
At that, Sam looked up. "You hair is on fire?"
Jim smiled. "Just seeing if you were paying attention."
Sam flashed a smile before resuming his doodling. "It's not my fault the school assigns pathetic assignments. I think I know more Latin than Mrs. Maybel."
"That may be true, but it doesn't exempt you from doing your homework, young man." Jim pushed the workbook across the table, taking the opportunity to glance at Sam's scribbles. They were just simple shapes and blobs, but the outlines had been traced and retraced so many times that the paper was indented and shiny with dark, wet ink. It was a sign Sam had something on his mind.
Sam Winchester was 18 years old and a senior in high school. Roosevelt High School was his third school this year, thanks to a very active paranormal season and an obsessive-compulsive ghost-busting father. Currently, John Winchester and his older son Dean were 200 miles away, tracking down a particularly nasty poltergeist that had been reining terror over a family for weeks. Normally, Sam would be on the battle lines with them- but it was finals week and Sam had refused to let his grades suffer. So last night, a tense, tight-lipped John had dropped off Sam on Jim's doorstep, barely uttering a word to either of them before getting back in the truck and leaving in a cloud of dust.
The tension between father and son had been palpable, and saddening.
Sam outlined a new circle and began darkening it. "Sam," Jim started gently, "Is there something you'd like to talk about?"
Sam looked up. "I'm fine," he said, surprised at the lump that rose in his throat. He swallowed painfully, ducking his head, averting his gaze.
There was a moments pause as Jim determined how best to get the boy talking. They had been in this situation many times before: Sammy 'losing' his comfort animal- a stuffed dog named 'Puppy', Sam hitting a rough patch in puberty, Sam dealing with the overwhelming emotions of shooting and killing his first supernatural being, Sam wanting to ask a girl to the Court Warming dance but not knowing how. It seemed that no matter how often or how far the Winchesters traveled, they always crossed paths with the Pastor at pivotal points in Sam's life. Jim was very close to both Sam and Dean, having played a large part in helping them reach adulthood. Jim prided himself on being their friend, their confidant. He always made it clear that they could turn to him when they had nowhere else to turn. His door would always be open to the Winchesters.
And in return, his relationship with Sam had blossomed, growing deep, strong roots of trust. Jim had no children of his own but when Sam was around, that void was filled. He saw an open, carefree side of Sam that was never there in the presence of his father and brother. Sam smiled more, laughed more, ate more and seemed to have more energy. More spark.
"Sam?" he tried again when he could smell the ink from where he sat. "Talk to me, son."
After a moment's hesitation, the pen stilled. "I need to make a decision."
Sam dropped the pen and fingered the edges of the notebook paper. "Well, actually, I've already made the decision. But I'm not sure how to… announce it, to Dad. I want to- I mean I need to- but I'm… afraid-"
"Sam," Jim interrupted, searching his face, "What's the decision?"
Sam inhaled deeply, his spine ramrod straight against the old wooden chair. "I was accepted into Stanford. I got the letter a month ago. I leave in two weeks."
A wide grin spread over Jim's face as the words sunk in. "Congratulations, Sam! That's wonderful! See- all those long nights of studying paid off!" Jim leaned back in his chair, taking a moment to appreciate the fine young man his little Sammy had become.
"Thanks." Sam's cheeks were flushed with giddy embarrassment – it was obvious he was proud of himself.
"Stanford's a long ways away, isn't it? I'll miss you."
Sam shrugged, his gaze on the table once more. "It's pretty far. I'm sure I'd see you again."
Distance hadn't affected their relationship before. There was no reason for this move to be any different. But Jim was concerned for the way Sam's happiness was eclipsed by heavier emotions. "Tuition must be expensive too."
Sam looked up, another shy smile dimpling his cheeks. His eyes glittered with excitement. "I got a full scholarship."
The breath was knocked from Jim's chest. "Sammy- that's… that's amazing. Congratulations! I'm proud of you, son!" The kid was smart, but this? Jim beamed, his pride swelling like a tangible force inside his chest. He could only imagine how proud Sam's father must be. "John must be elated."
It was as if a switch had been flipped. Sam sobered and turned his head, staring at the microwave.
"I haven't told him yet."
Jim sobered. A moment ago, Sam had been elated. Why was he suddenly apprehensive? "What? Why not?"
Sam snorted softly. "Oh come on, Pastor Jim. You saw his face when he dropped me off here last night." Sam waved a hand in the direction of the back door. "He was pissed. He can't stand that I would rather go to school than go on a hunt. How do you think he'll react if I tell him I'm staying on the west coast for the next few years?"
"He'll be proud, Sam. Your father is a focused, driven man- but underneath it all, he'll be proud."
Sam shook his head, apprehension twisting in his belly and pounding behind his eyes. "He's gonna be mad. I know it. What if he tells me I can't go? What if he orders me to not go?" Sam was ripping the corner of his paper into tiny squares. "I can't figure out what to say, how to tell him so that he won't get mad."
"You can't just up and leave," Jim said, wanting to rule out that option right away. "That would only make things worse. Disappearing like that would damage your relationship for sure."
Denial flashed quickly through Sam's eyes. "I'm not running away from him, I'm running towards school. My future. Towards a normal life. I want to feel safe, Pastor Jim."
"You have the right to feel safe," Jim said, understanding the reason such a desire was there at all far too well. "Your family isn't like any other I've met- what you hunt makes you special. You put your lives on the line quite frequently for creatures that we hardly understand. Creatures that most people don't even believe in. But your feelings, your emotions- those are real. And they're normal."
Sam shook his head, impossible for him to believe that any part of him were normal. Normal was something he had always wanted and been ridiculed for. He wanted to believe Jim, but his upbringing created a conflict within him too strong to dismiss so quickly. "Then how do I tell him I'm leaving?"
"Sammy- I can't just hand you a script and send you out the door. But I can help sort through your feelings, and try to organize your thoughts for when you talk to your father."
Sam sniffed and nodded, grateful for the chance to talk things over with someone who wouldn't laugh at him. "Okay."
Jim relaxed a fraction, settling into the paternal role he was so familiar with. "Good," he smiled. "Then let's focus on the advantages of leaving. You said you wanted to feel safe…"
Sam's eyes lost some of their brightness. "From the things out there, the things that we hunt. I want to be able to go to bed without pouring a salt circle first. I don't want to spend my weekends cleaning guns and sparring with Dean. I don't want to have to do my homework in the backseat, getting a headache because there's not enough light." As he spoke, his hands grew restless, wringing each other and the pen with jerky movements. "I don't want to have to worry about why Dad is an hour late coming home. I don't want Dean to keep getting hurt trying to protect me. I don't want to worry about which of Dean's organs could be punctured while I'm sewing his wounds shut. And I don't want to be afraid of someone else dying because of me!"
Jim forced his voice to remain calm, countering Sam's agitation. "Someone else?"
Sam rubbed his eyes. "Mom," he said, his throat tight. "She died because of me."
There was a finality in his voice that worried Jim. How long had Sam believed that? The subject was a well-guarded one with the Winchesters- none of them talked about Mary very much. He couldn't believe Sam had been allowed to grow up thinking like this. "What happened to your mother was not your fault, young man. A demon had killed Mary that night- a 6 month old baby had nothing to do with it."
"Maybe it wasn't my fault directly- but if I hadn't been born, she'd probably still be alive." Sam's vision blurred as he imagined the anguish and determination in his father's face. "Dad would be normal and Dean would be more than a soldier. They'd be happy." It was a fantasy he found himself imagining more and more lately.
"You don't know that, Sam." Jim knew he was treading on sensitive ground. He chose his words carefully. "I know it was painful for your family, but you must never wallow in the what-ifs, Sam. There are no birds in last year's nest."
Sam nodded, not able to change his beliefs so abruptly, but filing the words away for later reassurance.
Knowing he was unable to mend this particular hurt, Jim pressed on. "Do you think college could give you the safety you're seeking?" Sam had to know that Evil didn't disappear because you no longer wanted to believe in it.
"Not completely," Sam replied quickly. He'd already gone over this in his head. "I know it takes a lot more than a crowded campus to protect you from the things we hunt. But the difference is- I won't be out looking for it. I won't be putting my life- and their lives- on the line every night. And I won't be there for Dean to sacrifice himself for. He deserves better than that too."
Jim couldn't find it in himself to argue with that. He remembered the nights long ago, of putting the boys to bed- in the same bed, of course- and making sure they had gotten baths and bellies full of macaroni and cheese. Dean had always shouldered much of the parental responsibilities without so much as one word of protest. He had grown up far too fast. "I remember a time when being next to your brother was enough to make you feel safe. That, and having Puppy in your hands." The toy had been Sam's trademark for many months, until John had traded it for a gun and never looked back.
"Dean's my big brother," Sam replied. "Of course I feel safe with him. He raised me," Jim ignored the hint of resentment in Sam's voice, "But he's not invincible. His attitude and his wit can't protect him from what's out there, and that scares me too. What if something happens to him and I'm not there?"
"Dean won't stop hunting because you're not around, Sam." The older boy was a carbon copy of his father- skilled, motivated, and at times, enjoying himself. "He's very capable of looking out for himself. You can't let your fear for him hold you back." Overcoming it is something Sam would have to do for himself. "You need to live your life, which, for a while, will be away from your family."
"I know," Sam sighed. "Going to college would allow me to find myself. I don't know who I am. I'm just John Winchester's younger son and Dean's little brother. I take orders. I ride in the backseat. I do research." Sam rubbed his eyes again. "I want to be me- but I don't even know who that is."
Jim understood that. Sam was experiencing emotions that were perfectly normal for this phase of his life- and ironically, those very feelings made him the abnormal one of the family. John was hell bent on revenge and Dean took orders without question, striving for approval and higher rank. Questioning and hesitation were not favorable with John- and at times that behavior was punished. Unknowingly, John had deleted himself as someone of guidance. He had become a drill sergeant.
Not for the first time, Jim felt anger towards his friend. Whether John was allowing his family to fall apart or turning a blind eye to it, it was unacceptable parental behavior. He kept his boys on short leashes- so short that neither of them knew a life outside his own. And now it was time for Sam to come off that leash.
He smiled softly, masking his anger and he reached across the table, stilling Sam's hand with his own. "You need to find yourself, Sam. It's a part of growing up."
Sam was torn between pursuing his dreams and his duty to his family. This fight- this crusade his father was on- it was out of revenge for Mom and wouldn't be over until the demon was sent back to Hell. Sam felt as if he should be some part of that- like he owed Mary (or at least the idea of her) some sort of allegiance. But with every victory over the supernatural, John's confidence grew. He was getting bolder, taking more risks, sinking deeper into his obsession and Sam watched himself drift further away from the normalcy he wanted. It was like trying to swim against a waterfall. He realized that he simply couldn't get the life he wanted- the life he needed- while remaining under his father's command.
He looked at Pastor Jim. "But he won't understand. He doesn't get why I want to have friends and play sports and hang out with the other kids in my class. He's happy doing what he's doing- and he thinks I should be too."
"Sam- you know your father loves you, right?"
Sam blinked, his eyes burning with tears he hadn't realized collected. "Yeah… I know." But somehow, it didn't make what he had to do any easier.
"He loves you, Sam." Jim said it with conviction, believing himself that it was true. "Sure it will be hard for him to let go- but this is something you have to do. I think you know that." Jim focused on Sam, wanting to take away a pain that shouldn't be there in the first place. "Your dad and Dean are strong- they'll be okay. You need to focus on yourself and going after the life you want- the life you deserve. You earned that scholarship." He reached out to Sam once more, then smiled warmly. "Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same."
Sam swallowed, nodding once. "I know."
"Talk to your Dad," Jim encouraged. "Make him understand. Make them both understand. Just because you're leaving doesn't mean you don't love them. You need to do this, Sam. You won't like the person you'll become if you stay." Tears glistened in Sam's eyes and Jim had to wonder if those same tears have been recycled all of Sam's life.
"I'll talk to Dad tonight." Sam blinked, drawing a deep breath. He looked up, suddenly aware that this may be the last time he saw the man for a while. "Thanks, Pastor Jim," he said, sincerity thick in his voice. "For everything."
Jim smiled as he pulled the Latin workbook closer. "You're quite welcome, Sam." He found the place they left off and rolled his eyes; the exercises were juvenile- years of teaching Sam had made him nearly fluent in the ancient language.
"Est autem fides credere quod nondum vides; cuius fidei merces est videre quod credis." Jim paused, watching as understanding blossomed within Sam's eyes.
"It'll all work out, Sam. You'll see."
(Translation: Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.)