If You Try Sometimes
His birthday wasn't something to commemorate with noisemakers and chocolate cake.
Disclaimer: The Winchester boys aren't mine. The Colt isn't mine. Wish the car was mine. But I can only blame myself for the Circle of Enoch.
Rating: T (Language, Angst)
Characters: Sam, OFC (Gen)
Spoilers/Warnings: Passing references to events in 3.08 as well as the pilot.
A/N: Written for the Birthdays Winchester Style challenge at spn-het-love on Livejournal. I selected the prompt: "Sam's first birthday at Stanford."
Miscellaneous: The lovely embroiderama is the yin to my yang. Everything good about this piece is because of her. This mistakes? Those are all me.
The last time they celebrated Christmas, Sam was nine. The Sapphire Barbie and the sparkly glowstick had been replaced by the .45 he still kept wrapped inside of a towel and shoved into the back of his underwear drawer.
It was the first holiday lost to the rhythm of the road, swallowed up by a father's secrets and the truth about monsters under the bed.
Dad's mouth went thin when Sam decided that Easter fell into the same bucket as Christmas and Dean was the one who got pissed about not celebrating Halloween; Sam and his 'puppy dog eyes' had been a one-way ticket to tons of candy, especially when Sam held out his bag and whispered 'trick or treat' in his Luke Skywalker costume. Thanksgiving was the day where Dad would pile them both into the Impala and head for the nearest all-you-could-eat buffet, Dean talking around mouthfuls of mashed potatoes and gravy while Dad listed all the reasons they had to be thankful.
Like the fact that Dean getting out of his first hunt alive or how Sam's research on a local legend had saved all three of their asses were really things anyone should have to be thankful about, a family full of freaks that counted their blessings by the number of scars that had already begun to fade.
Dad had ruined the only Thanksgiving Sam wanted to celebrate with a phone call.
But Dad drew the line when it came to Sam's birthday.
If it had just been a card left on the nightstand in the hotel or even a piece of chocolate cake during dinner, it still would have been annoying. Dean wasn't exactly low-key about it, leading an entire diner full of strangers in an off-key version of "The Old Grey Mare" instead of goddamn "Happy Birthday" or waking Sam up in the middle of the night by blowing into Sam's ear with a kazoo because Sam would just rip up paper noisemakers. Dad would give him a present wrapped in newspaper but Dad's idea of what a kid wanted for his birthday consisted of charms and rock salt and old copies of fairy tales before Walt Disney Studios got hold of them.
It was just another line on the huge list of things that Dad would never get. You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that your mother dying six months after you were born – six months to the day – wasn't a coincidence. All it took was a couple of weeks at Pastor Jim's, scrounging through his library and reading some books on numerology, but it was no use trying to convince Dad that your birthday wasn't something to commemorate with noisemakers and chocolate cake.
It was no use trying to convince Dad of anything once he made up his mind.
Sam had learned that lesson the hard way.
Waking up to the alarm clock, instead of Dean blowing "Happy Birthday" in his ear, was a relief.
So was eating his scrambled eggs and sausage without having to suffer through seven verses all saying Sam wasn't what he used to be or the one waitress who always laughed at the way Sam would fold his arms and glare at Dean from the other side of the booth. Going to class and researching the Civil War at the library was the one of the best things to happen on his birthday in years, second only to meeting up with some of the guys for soccer before dinner and homework and his Early American History term paper.
Sam steeled himself for the beep of his answering machine, not wanting to listen to another special message from Dean.
Thanksgiving had been the worst; Dean kept calling back until he finished the story about the chick who tied him up to a vibrating bed and did things that sure as fuck made Dean thankful for quarters. Dean's Christmas call ended with Dad's voice bellowing in the background and a 'yes, sir' that made Sam's throat swell – only goddamn Dean would be stupid enough to call him during a hunt just because it was Christmas. New Year's Eve was a short 'hope you're getting some, too, Sammy' followed by a girl's giggle in Sam's ear but at least Sam knew they were okay.
The only sound was the catch of the door closing behind him.
Sam powered up his laptop, organized his notes and waited for the phone to ring. He managed to type five hundred words while he waited for the phone to ring, an introductory paragraph and the basic premise for his argument about Reconstruction. He typed another three hundred and eight words before Sam decided that he might as well get the kazoo-blowing over with because, if he didn't, there was no way in hell that he'd get the rough draft of his paper finished by morning.
Dean's cell phone went straight to voice mail.
Sixty minutes and four hundred and fifty two words later, it was still going straight to voice mail.
And it didn't help that his father's gruff voice was the only thing ringing in Sam's ears, reminding him that every choice had a consequence during the calm before the storm – before Sam screamed that he was leaving for Stanford with a duffel bag over his shoulder and Dad screamed that Sam was never coming back if he walked through that door. Dean had just sat there sharpening a knife, the slow switch of the blade brushing against stone, and the last thing that Sam saw before he slammed the motel room door was Dean staring at the floor.
Sam gave up after the third time.
He used to call Dean back, when the loneliness overshadowed the fight they had after Dean found the acceptance letter, but the only person Sam could blame was himself.
It was easy to make excuses about it – Sam was too caught up in classes and learning how to live with people who believed that witches only lived in fairy tales and that ghosts could be friendly. Dean didn't want to hear about Sam's misguided attempt to rush a fraternity or the fact that he was thinking about becoming a lawyer. Dean wanted to talk about chicks and his car and how kick-ass Dad was on their last hunt. Dean's idea of college was getting drunk, acting stupid and wearing a toga – and since Dean didn't want to wear a toga, he could get drunk and act stupid and still score three hours with a chick anytime that Dean wanted to in the back of his car.
It probably would have been easier if Sam had actually gotten drunk but talking to anyone was better than sitting around listening to the click of his keyboard and the rustle of his notes, waiting for the call that wasn't going to come.
Pastor Jim sounded surprised when Sam said 'hello' but he asked polite questions about Stanford, whether or not Sam was making friends and what classes he was taking. Sam didn't mention the frat guys he fell in with during his first semester and Pastor Jim never mentioned Dad except to say that he had just finished tracking something in Arizona. When Sam didn't jump at the bait, Pastor Jim excused himself with a polite 'goodbye' and told Sam to take care of himself.
But there was still one more person he could call.
Dean didn't hold the Winchester record for being stupid and Sam was already dialing the number before he even realized it. He had scrounged the number up back in October after promising himself that he would never call – but Sam had the number memorized by the time he decided that fraternities sucked ass and that it might be nice talking to someone besides Dean.
It was a mistake but Sam decided to let the phone ring three times before he hung up.
She picked it up on the first ring.
"Jesus Christ, Eric! If you call me one more time, I'm gonna have to go over there and make you stop calling me every five minutes and you know what'll happen when I get over there. You're just gonna rip off my clothes and I'm never gonna finish my proof before I have to turn it in tomorrow." She snorted. "So you have to ask yourself if you wanna get some tonight or if you still wanna be getting some three weeks from now after I've gotten an 'A' in Differential Equations."
"I'm still waiting for your answer."
"I'm sorry. I dialed the wrong number. I…" Sam swallowed, remembering the way her scarf clashed with her hat and the clang of the door closing behind her as Sally Friedman ran back into school. "Sally, I didn't forget…"
Her breath came out in a huff.
"I didn't forget you either, Sam. It's not like you gave me much choice 'cause your exit was kinda spectacular for a fifteen-year-old, getting dumped in the snow two days before Thanksgiving with nothing but a notebook and a head cold to show for it." Sally's voice cracked, just enough for Sam to feel like an asshole. "But I thought you had this really shitty rule about not staying in touch with people after your Dad makes you pack up and leave town in the middle of a goddamn blizzard."
"That was my Dad's shitty rule."
"If they start handing out prizes for shitty rules, your Dad's shitty rule gets the blue ribbon."
Sally was tapping something in the background, probably her mechanical pencil on the table while she stared down at her proof with a frown on her face and tried to figure out what to say next.
"Is there a reason you're calling me?" Sally asked finally.
"I…just wanted to talk to someone."
"And I was the only person left on the planet you could think of? I know your brother's always going on about screwing waitresses and eating pie and that gets as old as Janice going on about her rich fiancé and her puke-colored bridesmaids' dresses but there's gotta be someone out there you can talk to who actually knows what you look like now."
"It's hard making friends when your family is always moving."
"Staying in touch with the ones you had probably isn't a bad place to start, Sam. There's this little thing called meeting people halfway and, if you did that, I think people wouldn't spend six months figuring out ways to pay you back for being so shitty and not sending them birthday cards. You wouldn't have big sisters helping their little sisters make voodoo dolls and rubbing your head with Nair or painting red pimples on your face."
"And here I thought Dean got that bright idea about putting Nair in my shampoo all on his own."
"Dean actually did that?"
"Oh, yeah." Sam grinned. "But only half of my hair fell out so Dad shaved off the rest of it. Dean spent months calling me 'jughead' and yelling 'hoo-ah' at me every time I walked out of the bathroom."
"Oh, God. I really missed you." Sally laughed and Sam closed his eyes, feeling her hand wrap around his before she dragged him to the copier. "You know Janice still calls your brother 'Dan' and thinks he drove a big black Oldsmobile and she still gets pissy every time she goes to a McDonald's and remembers how he stood her up." She stopped laughing when Sam didn't say anything. "Are you okay, Sam?"
"I'm fine," he said.
"It sounds to me like you're wallowing." Sam could hear the smile in her voice. "And if you don't stop wallowing, I'm gonna have to kick your ass."
"Like you could kick anyone's ass," Sam retorted. "I bet you still hit like a girl."
"I'd make an exception for you," Sally shot back. "I only got a 'C' on that stupid paper 'cause I didn't wanna watch those dumb movies by myself after you left." She sucked in a breath and Sam smiled in spite of the hard lump in his throat, waiting for the next inevitable rush of words.
But Sally just sighed.
"You better get happy, okay? I don't want you calling me ten years from now just to tell me how much your life sucks."
"And you better get an 'A' on your proof. If I get a phone call next week blaming me for Eric's dry spell, I'm going to have to kick your ass."
Sally snorted and that was their cue for 'goodbye' but neither of them said a word. Sam could still hear her breathing on the other end of the line, her fingers tapping rhythmically on plastic. There was more that he wanted to say, too – but 'I'm sorry' wasn't big enough and the truth was too big to tell anyone.
"Happy birthday," she said softly before hanging up.
Sam was halfway through dialing Dean's cell phone number again when someone knocked briskly on his door. Sam set the handset into the cradle and waited for the kazoo but the only faces he recognized when he opened the door were the guys who watched chumbara movies with him on Saturday nights and his study partner in Freshman English.
She was standing right in front of everyone, holding out a cupcake loaded down with chocolate frosting and multi-colored sprinkles. It was topped off with one lone candle as bright as her smile and the only thing you could do when Jessica Moore smiled at you like that was to smile back.
"Make a wish, Sam."
He took a deep breath and blew out the candle, letting Jess grab him by the hand and drag him out to the lounge. Someone had decorated it with two lonely streamers curled around the window and blue and white balloons on green ribbons that were already dropping onto the food-stained shag carpet. There was a table set up with punch and snacks and a couple of presents wrapped in bright paper on it – skin mags just like Dean would have given him and a mix tape from Jess. She popped it into the boom box set up on the bookshelf and Zach handed him a plastic glass full of punch and vodka, both of them laughing when Sam's face screwed up at the taste.
Maybe Sally Friedman was right after all.
Sam was drunk by the time he staggered back to his room and pitched face forward onto his bed. Some idiot had bumped a car outside and the alarm was going off, an incessant beep that screeched through his head. Even wrapping a pillow around his ears didn't help and Sam stood up slowly, stumbling across the room to call campus security.
The red light on his answering machine was blinking.
The title of this story is a song lyric from "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by The Rolling Stones.
This one just popped into my head in the midst of a break – I had to take wee breather finishing up the last chapter of a WIP.
I based this story on the assumption that Sam was at college for four years (thanks, in no small part, to Kripke's admission during the 2006 Paley panel that the two years of a rift between the brothers that was noted in the pilot "was a mistake" because Sam was originally supposed to be younger in the pilot) while acknowledging the pilot's statement that Dean hasn't spoken with Sam in two years. So, Sam's still talking to Dean in my fanon timeline at this point – even if it is only sporadically.
I did look up the academic calendar year for Stanford just to make certain that Sam would still be in a dorm on May 2 – which is highly probable (particularly if he was taking classes during the summer term.) I did base this on the 2008-2009 academic year but, hey, I made the attempt.
I confess that I took liberties with the numerological meanings of the number six. It's supposed to symbolize luck, creation, perfect and beauty. I warped it to apply to Sam and Azazeal. On the other hand, six is also considered "the number of man" and is referenced in the Book of Revelations as: "This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666."
Who knew that there was a gender-based different between fiancé and fiancée? Not me…until I looked it up.
Chumbara is the term used to classify the classic "kung fu" movies of the sixties and seventies. I decided that Sam would stubbornly refer to them that way.
Lastly, I would be remiss in not pointing out that, if you liked Sally Friedman, there's more of her in The Square Root of Pi and Iambic Pentameter and other Methods of Elizabethan Torture. Those stories aren't gen, though…