Disclaimer: I own nothing Supernatural, nor do I own T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland, from which the title came.
Author's Note: I always wondered what exactly happened when Sam told his family about Stanford. So here I am...imagining.
Home. Home? What is that exactly? Was this home? This, this…place…this tiny apartment with roaches the size of small children and neighbors who ate nothing but curry? Curry. Sam would never bring himself to eat Indian food again, not after nearly eight months of that sweet, bitter smell. But their own meals weren't much better. Frozen pizza "cooked" in the ancient oven, bottom always burned, cheese on top barely melted. Or cereal, too often straight from the box, what with everyone claiming to be too busy to buy fresh milk, too busy it also seemed to throw out the stuff they knew was sour until the carton would swell and leak acrid curdles all over the fridge.
But perhaps this was all just preparation. For something more. Something else. Roommates. Dorms.
He leans forward in the rickety chair, part of a set of three bought at a nearby garage sale – good deal, his father had said. Sam would have paid somebody twice what he had just to have them hauled away. But that was before. Before his life changed. Before his future, the future he always wanted, always dreamt about, had been handed to him on a silver platter. Courtesy of Stanford University's admissions department and financial aid office. Now these chairs just seemed quaint, as most detestable objects often do when one realizes their time is limited. In fact, the whole apartment, even the grimy kitchen he sits in now, with its peeling wallpaper and bare bright bulb – because the last tenants had destroyed the fixture in some sort of indoor Frisbee escapade and it was never replaced – seemed almost…cozy, comfortable at least. Now that he was leaving.
No more cold showers because of hot-water-hog Dean. No more yelling neighbors seemingly on the verge of either divorce or murder. No more stale burnt coffee smell to greet him every morning. Well, actually, all those things could easily occur at school as well, but it'd be different there.
He sits upright and perks his ears at the sound of the deadbolt. He's home. He's here. He's gonna kill me.
"Ow, damn it!" No, it's just Dean. "Stupid…carpet…floor," he hears, and his shoulders relax. The door to the kitchen swooshes open as his brother steps in, no doubt wondering why the light was on this late at night. "Hey," he says seeing Sam at the table. Then, as the door knocks him in the hip he sings out, "swinging door!" And Sam smiles, equally irritated and amused.
College no doubt will be full of drunk and goofy men, but none of them will be his brother.
"What are you doing?" he asks Sam as he heads for the sink, fills a questionable looking glass to the brim with water. He turns, leaning against the counter, and chugs, water spilling all down his front. The he wipes his mouth and chin with the back of his hand and utters, a bit too cheerily, "Cure all." He winks and plunks the spent glass into the sink.
"Sammy," he starts with a crooked smile, "I am not a little anything."
"I can see that," he nods. "So how'd you get home?" And there it was again, home. But Sam shook his head slightly and pushed the thought from his mind, eager to carry on what might be the last absurd conversation, bizarre rehashing of a night of misspent youth, he'd have with Dean in a long time.
"Nicole," he says, collapsing into the cheap wooden chair opposite him.
"Nicole, would that be the girl from the soft-serve place?"
Dean shakes his head. "Nah, Nicole's from the shoe store."
"The shoe store? What were you doing buying shoes?"
"Not me, you goon. Amber." Sam's brow furrows in confusion and he looks on, unsure even of what question to ask. Dean glances over at him and sighs dramatically before explaining. "Amber is soft-serve girl. She was shopping for shoes. Took her damn time too. I was bored. I saw Nicole. I talked to Nicole. I made plans to meet up with Nicole. And I had fun with Nicole," he finishes, a sly grin inching across his face.
"Who you just happened to meet while out with another girl." He shakes his head in half-hearted admonishment and unadulterated amusement.
"Dude, she made me shop for shoes with her. She's lucky I didn't just take off then and there."
"I thought you said you weren't shopping," he mutters, breaking into a coy smile that is only barely hidden by him ducking his head.
"Shut up." They sit in silence then, silence but for the steady hum of the window air conditioner, the random shots of laugh track from a neighbor's TV. They sit, and wait, though neither one is sure of what he's waiting for. "It's late," Dean says, and Sam knows it's just to break the silence, because he's never comfortable with silence. "What time is it?" he asks, shifting in his chair, looking aimlessly around the room for a clock that isn't there.
Sam shrugs. "Around three."
"At night? Man, it's late."
"It's morning actually, genius."
Dean gives him a cold stare. "Whatever. You know what I mean." And Sam ducks his head again, tries to hide a snicker. "Seriously, man, what are you doing up? Don't you have school in the morning? Which would be pretty soon since it is morning."
"Yeah," he says, crinkling his forehead, narrowing his eyes. "I was waiting for Dad. He said he might be home tonight, but I guess…probably not."
"He said today or tomorrow, which usually means – "
"At least the day after tomorrow," Sam finishes. "Yeah, I know."
"So why are you waiting for the old man?" he asks, a hint of concern to his voice, a hint that does not go unnoticed.
"Nothing," he says a little too quickly. "I mean, it's nothing. I just wanted to talk to him about something."
"What kind of something?"
"What kind of – "
"Jesus, Dean, it's just…something."
"Okay," he says, throwing up his hands, defeated. But his countenance doesn't relax as he sets to studying his little brother. He's tense, that much is obvious, his jaw tight, lips in a firm line. But he's scared too, anxious. His eyes dance around the room and his fingers twitch and tug at the corner of a paper. A paper he's holding away from the table, masking almost beneath it. A paper he's trying to hide. "What's that?"
"What?" he asks looking up. Dean indicates the document pinched between Sam's fingers and raises his eyebrows. "Oh, nothing," he says before folding it up and retraining his grip.
"Would that be nothing as in nothing, or nothing as in something?"
"It's nothing," he says through clenched teeth.
"Or is it something?" Dean asks, his eyes narrowed. He moves in a flash, the heel of his boot kicking the chair out from under him as he lunges across the table at his brother, one hand falling to his shoulder, the other grasping at the mysterious paper. Sam twists away, turning his shoulder into Dean, clipping him in the jaw in the process. But he either doesn't feel it or simply ignores it as he shoves his brother to the floor, lands on top of him, and works to pry the page away. Mumbles and grumbles accompany the cacophony of sounds as the two roll around the kitchen floor, knocking into walls and chairs, rattling the table at its base. And finally, just when Sam is about to lose all feeling in his hand from the death grip Dean put on his wrist, he relents and lets the paper fall out of his grasp and into Dean's.
He snatches it up and rolls off his brother, lays on his back on the green tile floor and squints up to make out the words. "Stanford?" he says as his smile fades. Sam rises and brushes himself off, picks up his chair and collapses heavily into it, resting his elbows on his knees, head in hands. "What is this?" Dean asks as he sits upright.
"What does it look like?" Sam's words come out muffled as he runs his palms over his face. Then, looking down at his brother on the floor, seeing his furrowed brow, astonished eyes, he says, "It's an acceptance letter."
Inch by inch, Dean scoots himself backward, his face never changing, until he is leaning against the cabinets. His head falls back into them, knocking softly several times, emitting the only sound in the room, before finally coming to rest. An acceptance letter. To college. To Stanford of all places. Ivy league. Sam. Sammy.
He'd always known his brother wanted more. He felt awkward and out of place in this life. And it wasn't just the hunting, that much was obvious. It was never the action of the thing, or the hours spent researching or sparring in preparation. It wasn't what they did, it was why. It was how. It was simply knowing the truth and being blinded by it, being unable to see the forest for the trees. The forest being life, real life. The trees, everything else.
It was having no mother and very little father.
It was constantly moving, never being able to make friends, have an after school job, go to parties or dances or pep rallies, or any of the other normal things that Sammy so craved.
It was knowing that those irrational fears that plague everyone aren't really irrational at all.
It was having your future decided for you before you were even old enough to walk. Decided by a tragic, life-altering event that you couldn't even remember, yet never stopped being reminded of.
"You didn't tell me," he breathed out, barely a whisper. Then, raising his head off the cabinet and looking directly at Sam, a pleading note to his voice, "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I did. I mean…I took the SATs and the AP tests. What did you think that was all for, fun?" His words come out soft, not at all condescending, but Dean winces all the same, perhaps even more. Because he didn't think, just plain didn't think, or notice, or care. Because it never really occurred to him that Sam might be serious, really truly serious about this whole college thing. About this whole normal life thing. "I didn't think I'd get in. I definitely didn't think I'd get a scholarship," he says, looking down at his hands.
And he just can't help it, his lips curl into a crooked smile. A scholarship. To Stanford. "How did you manage that?" he says, his voice dripping with sarcasm, his face shining with pride.
"Dean," he starts, then, unsure of where to go, he simply stops.
"Sam," he replies questioningly, absurdly drawing out the name.
"I'm sorry," he says and, finally, looks up from his lap and into his brother's eyes. "I'm sorry that…I'm not sorry. I can't be. Because this is what I want, you know?" They stare into each other's eyes for only a moment before he says with utter certainty, "You know."
"Yeah." He looks away, breathes out a heavy sigh, and hauls himself to his feet. "I know," he says as he lays the letter on the table before Sam.
"Now I just have to tell Dad." He looks up to his brother unsure of what to expect. A smile perhaps, a show of comfort or faith? Maybe a cold stare, an I can't believe how selfish you are kind of look. But his face is unreadable, staunch and firm in a way Sam's never seen it before.
He pats him on the shoulder and mutters, "Yeah, good luck with that." But though his words are light and joking, his voice holds a heavy quality, one he even hears himself and tries to get rid of with a throat clearing cough. "It's late. I'm going to bed," he says.
But he continues to stand, lingering much longer than intended, all because his hand just won't move, his fingers refuse to uncurl themselves from Sam's shoulder. It isn't until his brother's long fingers brush against his, a soft touch, not a move your freaking hand touch, that the spell is broken, and he is able to let go.