The Pain is Worth the Thunder
A/N: It took some time, but I finally got myself to sit down and really try to get into Sam's head regarding the finale. It's interesting to me that while I never totally bought into how the show presented Sam's anger issues, the more I explored them, the more telling they seemed to be in the evolution of how Sam came to where he was in the finale. He is a character who has endured much, failed and lost, and only in submission did he really overcome.
A/N: This one is for sendintheklowns, who took the time to beta this fic for me and continues to be a friend I can always count on :) Title borrowed from the song "Oh My God" by Jars of Clay. Posting motivation thanks to the ever lovely geminigrl11.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Sam spends two years being scared. Then one day, Sam gets angry.
Sam learns the truth when he is eight, but it takes another two years before it really sinks in. What exactly the family business means. Sure, Sam's known about the moving around for awhile now, but once he really understands that monsters are real, that they'll rip you apart and eat you alive, it's a bit of an adjustment.
Sam spends two years being scared. Then one day, his father says to pack up, they're hitting the road and Sam gets angry.
He doesn't stop being scared, but it's more than that now. Because he's only ten years old and he likes this town and he likes this school and there's a play he's supposed to be in and he's almost read all the books on the reading list and his teacher says he'll get a special prize if he can do it and Sam hasn't really been able to ask for much-the last of the Lucky Charms, a Christmas to celebrate-but he wants this.
Sam could protest. Sam could explain all the reasons why. But it won't matter. It never matters. He can hear it in his father's voice. There is no room for argument. There is no room for anything. His father orders, they follow. That's all part of the game.
Dean says it's how they survive.
Sam's spent two years clinging to that as truth, but if the first eight years of his life taught him anything, it's that families lie about the things that matter most.
So Sam says no.
Just sits there on his bed, arms crossed over his skinny chest and looks up at his father with determination and says no.
There's a moment of uncertainty then, his father's face frozen, Dean gaping in the background. When his father asks him to clarify, his voice is low and dangerous, as deadly as Sam's ever heard.
It should make him quiver. His father is not above smacking him in the backside if the situation calls for it, and John Winchester knows a few things about how to punish a kid, but Sam doesn't care. He doesn't care that his defiance will earn him nothing but trouble. He doesn't care that he's upsetting the tentative balance that they always seem to exist on. Sam doesn't owe his father this. Sam doesn't owe his father anything.
After all, Sam's ten years old, and the first eight years of his life were a lie and the two after that were nothing but shell-shocked fear and now Sam is angry. He remembers every lie, he holds to every falsehood. He feels every misplaced hope he's ever had crashing over him in a tidal wave of sheer ire.
So Sam makes his stand. Locks his jaw, squares his shoulders, and pisses his father off just because he can. For a moment, it makes him feel good, to make someone feel betrayed the way he does, to prove to everyone that he's not just some nobody they can boss around to fit their needs.
The sense of pride is fleeting, lost in the monotonous chores he's assigned when they settle in the next motel room. He's pulling double shifts, doing Dean's tasks as well as his own, and he's been saddled with extra workouts to get his puny ass into shape.
Sam takes the punishment, and he understands why he's been given it. When his father asks him to recite back the error of his ways, Sam can do it flawlessly. It's pretty simple, even to a ten year old. Sam disobeyed. Sam didn't follow the family structure. There is a way things are done, and Sam needs to comply because that's the way it is.
And the truth of that just makes Sam hate it all even more.
Sam knows it's not going to go well. Sam's known it since he first entertained the idea nearly two years ago. Sam is a hunter, he's been told. High school and grades are fleeting fantasies as far as his father's concerned-at least they're supposed to be.
But Sam's got a full ride to Stanford. He's still not sure how he pulled it off. Lots of hard work, a little finagling, but the letter is legitimate. Sam Winchester is college bound.
No matter what his family says.
There's a small part of him that wants to believe they'll understand. Or at least accept it. He likes to think that maybe they'll let him go.
The rest of him knows that's the real fantasy in all of this.
But Sam's made up his mind. He needs this. He needs this.
His teenage years have been tough. Bouncing around, Sam's bordered on depression and manic bouts, feeling trapped and desperately wanting out. He's felt desolate and he's felt enraged, and he has to harness the latter to defeat the former.
And the thing is, he's done it. He's got the letter. He's got his future. And now all he has to do is tell them.
Dean is hurt and confused, his face taut as he listens to Sam explain it all. His father's expression is impassive, stony for a long moment after Sam explains that it won't burden them at all and he needs to leave soon to make it to California.
When his father asks him what the hell he's thinking, how the hell could he do this to him, Sam's fledgling hope dissipates. His sense of accomplishment festers. And the anger returns.
Sam's given his entire life to this family-he's never had a choice. Sam's moved, Sam's hunted, Sam's been who they wanted him to be. Sam's never had a vote, Sam's never been happy, Sam's never had anything given to him that he didn't take for himself.
This is the dream deferred, Sam realizes. It doesn't disappear, it explodes, it explodes and it explodes and it explodes. Sam's had a childhood of false hopes and an adolescence of bleak destinies and it's going to destroy him, slowly from the inside out if he doesn't do something about it now.
They should know that. His father should see it. Sam's not happy, he hasn't been happy in years, Sam can't even remember happy. This life will kill him, and Sam knows now that the real monsters aren't the things that go bump in the night, but the day to day tasks that keep him confined to a box he could never fit.
Yet, that's what they want for him. That's what they'd resign him to.
And it makes Sam angry. He's so angry that he starts yelling, starts screaming, and when his father throws him out, tells him to never come back, Sam just screams that he wouldn't come back even if they wanted him to, even if he had ever wanted to in the first place.
The rage takes him out the door, takes him all the way to California, where he lets the embers flicker, smolder, and simmer in the background where he hopes they fade away.
Life is too quick to really know why he's angry anymore. The quest to avenge Jessica has become the search for their father, the venture to fix their family curse, the mission to figure out what kind of man his father would have wanted him to be.
It's not that Sam suddenly thinks John's right or that suddenly Jessica and his dreams aren't important, but he feels like parts of himself splintering off, fragmenting into parts barely held together by his skin. The boy he was at college, the child he was when he discovered the truth-they are a part of him, but they don't hold equal footing. Not with more pressing matters.
Sam learned when Jessica died that there is no way to go back and fix what went wrong. It's a lesson Sam forgot when he met up with his father again, and now it's come back and hit him, square between the eyes.
His father is dead. And all of that rage Sam's felt against him, all of the resentment he's harbored, it can't follow the man to his grave, no matter how much Sam sometimes wants it to.
So he tries to fix it, tries to fix himself. To become a man who could make his father proud. To become a person who could have saved Jessica by not making the mistake of loving her in the first place.
That's what Sam's doing. It's all he has, even as the odds seem impossible stacked against him.
Sometimes Sam doesn't think he can do it, but he takes solace in knowing Dean's at his side. Dean has his back.
Until Sam learns the truth.
It's not really about Dean, although Dean's the one who's let it fester. It's about Sam, and the doubts they all have about him.
Dean tells him that he's tired, that he lied to Sam at their father's graveside, that all the months since then have been tightly bound by a promise Dean made and kept at Sam's expense.
Sam shouldn't be surprised, but still somehow he is. He's never blamed Dean for the lies, because Dean may have been complicit, but what choice did he have?
What choice did Dean have as a twelve year old raising his baby brother? What choice did Dean have as a grieving man trying to hold onto his father's last wish?
It still hurts.
It still sparks inside of him, fueling something deep that he's tried to bury, tried to cover with other things. He's taken the flame and tried to build himself up with it, but now it threatens to burn him all the way through.
Because it's not just a lie, it's what the lie means. It's not just that John thought Sam had to be killed; it's that his father never trusted him enough to tell him. The fact that Dean kept it close to the vest so long makes Sam think Dean has his doubts, too. That maybe Sam does need to be put down, put of his misery like a rabid dog.
If it was nonsense, John still might not have told him, but Dean would have.
The lies have always disempowered Sam, taken his ability to control his life, to control his destiny. It means what happens, isn't anything he can impact, for better or worse. Sam's supposed to toddle along like a good little boy, follow orders and keep his head down when the real action heats up.
Save him or kill him. Just don't trust him to do it for himself.
It takes all Sam has not to walk out right there. But as he lies in bed that night, the same injustice comes back to him. The feeling of loss, of betrayal. Knowing it's all been a lie. He has to doubt everything again, what's genuine, what's false. The only thing he can trust is the beating of his own heart and the thoughts that pass through his head.
When he was eight, he cried himself to sleep. At twenty-three, the anger conquers the fear, so he gets out of bed and writes a note before packing a bag. He slips out while Dean snuffles, hotwiring a car in the parking lot and going to face whatever's out there alone, nothing but a few weapons and a lot of anger to take him where he needs to be.
Sam's thinks it's a suicide mission, at least that's what he wants it to be. One last hurrah, one last save. He likes the notion of dying as a hero since he's pretty sure he can't live like one, not after the things he's done.
This is what they've all wanted, what they've all been gunning for. Killing Lilith, averting the Apocalypse. Just one more thought, one more push, and Sam tumbles over the edge with the promise that this will work.
On the other side, he's still alive and Lucifer is rising. Ruby is there, almost giddy, and Sam finds out it's a lie.
Sam doesn't know why it always catches him by surprise, why he never sees it coming. This time, the betrayal is drowned out by his own foolishness, and the shame and horror that follow are the strongest things Sam's ever known.
He's almost trembling with it, devastation and guilt so profound that Sam wonders how he can kill himself to make this go away. To make himself go away.
Then, Dean's there. Dean's there. Dean's been right, Dean's been right, and Ruby is laughing at him, laughing at him, and Sam sees it now, sees what Dean saw.
It's a rare thing in Sam's life, to be able to kill the thing that hurt him, but when Dean charges at Ruby with her own knife in hand, rage twists so hard in Sam's gut that for a minute, he thinks he's the one who's been stabbed.
The pain is encompassing, but not overwhelming, and Sam's veins pulse with a rage so amplified that it's almost unimaginable. It's a part of him in a new way now, throbbing with his heart, simpering into every synapse of his body. For a second, he is rage, hot and crystalline.
Ruby is stronger than him now, maybe she always has been, but when Sam grabs her arms, holds her in place to meet the killing blow, there's nothing she can do to resist him. He holds her with the rage she fueled, the anger she stoked, and her gasp of pain is music to his ringing ears.
She dies quickly, the demon gone and the body of the girl he's helped desecrate falls to the floor. It's another moment when Sam meets his brother's eyes and everything else falls away.
Sam can't be angry now. Sam doesn't have a right to be angry. Sam's the guy who tried to choke his brother to death, the man who let Lucifer free. Sam forfeited everything to get here, and he has to accept that.
An I'm sorry isn't good enough, but it's all Sam has as the white light overtakes them both, exposing Sam for the angry, evil thing that he has become.
Dean's holding him tight and Sam's clinging back in a futile gesture, because Sam's betrayal is too real, his anger is too great, and the white light expands into Sam's soul until there's nothing left of who he used to be.
It's been a long year.
For Sam, that means something.
Every year of his life has been long, from losing Jessica, to finding their father dead, to managing Dean's deal, and trying to control a demon blood addiction. And yet, all things considered, this one feels longer.
Because this time it's not about vengeance. It's about redemption. Sam has to make all the rest of it right with his own meager hands. It's like building a skyscraper with nothing more than a ladder and a few stones.
It doesn't deter Sam. He plays Dean's right hand man when he can, he kills the evil things as often as possible. He tries to make amends, he doesn't hide who he is or the mistakes he's made. When two hunters come to kill him, he begs for mercy he knows he doesn't deserve and even when they're back, Sam refuses to go after them for inflicting a fate Sam knows was just.
But it's still hard. Because good intentions don't wash away what he did. Doing the right thing doesn't assuage the feelings inside of him. No matter how many good deeds he pulls off, it's still there, lurking just beneath the surface.
Sam's an addict. Sam's a liar. And Sam's angry.
It comes out sometimes, no matter how hard Sam reins it in. The desire to destroy is almost inherent, the desire to lash out is almost instinctual. Sam utilizes self control he doesn't know he has to keep it in check, to keep himself in check. It's Sam's volition alone that allows him to function without giving voice to the rage that simmers deep within him.
Until Sam doesn't have volition.
This is Sam's plan, but it's harder than he imagined. Lucifer's control is pervasive and absolute. The sinister power runs through him, subduing him with ease. Sam fights and he rages against it, but Lucifer watches his struggles and laughs with the affection of a master watching a dog paw at the sides of its kennel.
Lucifer talks to him, tells him promises Sam doesn't want. He commiserates with wounds Sam doesn't want to admit to. Sam resists, because he knows Lucifer's lies, until he sees the reality of his life.
Not an innocent childhood. Not a difficult teenage struggle. Not even a willful college self discovery.
A pawn. Manipulated at every turn. People he thought he knew, people he thought he trusted. His father wasn't the only lying to him growing up. Everyone lied to him. From his prom date to his favorite teachers to his best friend.
Sam's life is a lie. Sam's essence is a lie. A contrivance, a long string of betrayals that he never knew, never even suspected.
And Sam can't hold it in. Not anymore. Lucifer's offer is too tempting, and Sam rises to the challenge and destroys those who sought to destroy him.
When it's over, he wants to feel justified, righteous.
But Lucifer wields his body, takes him where he does not want to go, and Sam feels weaker than ever as he pounds his impotent fists against the cage of his own mind.
Sam's so angry that he's almost crying, locked inside his body, helpless to do anything. Lucifer has kept him awake, unmercifully and cruel, and Sam feels Dean's flesh give way beneath his flesh again and again and again.
Dean's on the windshield, saying he's still there, he's not leaving. Dean, Dean, Dean, the brother he's always been, steadfast, true, righteous. Sam screams with new vigor, his temper flaring in a desperate pitch as he twists against Lucifer's hold with every ounce of anger he has pulsing through his body.
It's a meager offense, like a kitten pawing against a door. Lucifer laughs as Sam's insensate rage builds once again.
It's going to end like this. It's going to end with Lucifer in Sam's body, beating his brother to death before he destroys what's left of the world. This is Sam's fate, this is his destiny. This is everything that he is.
Then, something catches Sam's eye. It only takes a flash, a reminder that this fight isn't just one of blood and rage. There's more to this and Sam remembers, just one small memory, so real that it catches him off guard, sending a ripple palpably through him, shaking even Lucifer himself. The army guy he stuffed in the ash tray. All those years ago. Dean built it back in when he rebuilt the car from scratch, because it mattered. It's a sentimentality they don't talk about, but it matters.
Sam realizes this is another lie, one he's been telling himself. There is no fate. There is no destiny. He doesn't have to destroy the world, not if he doesn't want to. Because he's more than this. His brother is here, and he brought everything that matters to them in this world. It's not an army guy, it's a brotherhood. It's not a car, it's a family. Anger doesn't matter. Anger isn't what holds Sam together. It's what's tearing him apart. This fight isn't about saving Dean from Lucifer; it's about remembering why Dean matters.
Sam's hand wavers, his head tilts. Lucifer pauses at the intensity of it, the clarity at which Sam recalls how it got there.
The memory gives way to another. Growing up with Dean, scratching their names into the trunk. Their father had chewed them out for that, threatened to make them sand it out, but it was worth it. It's worth it.
Sam can still see Dean, see him bleeding. Bobby's dead. Cas is gone. This is going badly, and Sam's fingers twitch, trying to make a fist.
But another memory. He's twelve and they're in an open field. Dean's stolen fireworks and they light up the sky. Perfect and surreal, a moment forever preserve in time.
A Christmas they were all together, when Sam was six. They'd had a tree that year, and real presents. They'd been together, the three of them, Dean singing carols, their dad laughing, Sam feeling peaceful, safe, real.
Sam's first day of sixth grade, with Ms. Weston. She'd smiled at him, made him feel at home. Every day Sam would come home and tell Dean story after story about what he did at school. It must have been boring for a big brother, but Dean never showed it, never showed it at all.
His best friend in Janesville, Wisconsin. Some strange kid named Mark who didn't like to go out much, but invited Sam over to watch soccer together. A nice kid, one who didn't look at him like white trash that was just passing through.
His first drink, in a bar with Dean and a fake ID. Dean helped him snag the drinks and helped him sleep it off before their father found out. Sam was a silly drunk, giggly and morose in equal turns and Dean kept him safe, even when Sam was too stupid to do it himself.
His acceptance to Stanford. Meeting Jessica. Finding his rhythm with Dean again. Knowing Dean was alive. Hearing Dean trust him. Home, sacrifice, friends, family, love.
It comes to him with a light and Lucifer's hold has no power against this, no possible defense. He's Sam, and this is his life. No matter what people tell him, no matter what other people have done to him, this is his, and no one-not his father, not Lucifer himself-can take this from him unless Sam gives it up willingly.
He breathes and he blinks, and reality comes crashing down on him. His hand drops and he pants, looking horrified at his beaten brother.
Dean can't do this now, not even if Sam wanted him to. This is Sam's decision. This is Sam's choice.
He pulls out the rings, throws them to the ground. The Latin is shaky on his tongue and when the ground opens up, he can't help but flinch.
He looks back at his brother, who is watching him now. It feels like there should be more to say, but Sam can't find the words.
Michael wants this to end a different way, and Dean does, too, but this is Sam's moment. This is his time.
Because Sam gets it now.
It's taken long enough-Sam's whole life-but he gets it now.
Family isn't something that makes you happy, it's something that completes you. Peace isn't something you find, it's something you choose. Control isn't something you take, it's something you maintain. Freedom isn't something you're granted, it's something you discover on your own.
And anger...anger isn't something you ignore. It's not something you conquer. It's not something you can even control.
It's something you let go.
Sam closes his eyes, holds his arms out, and surrenders everything he has, everything he is, and lets the inevitable take him. It's not destiny, it's not fate, it's Sam choice, it's just who Sam is.
Michael tries to stop him, but Sam can't let him. Somewhere, Lucifer rages in his mind, but Sam doesn't listen. He's falling now, eyes open to the encroaching darkness, and for a second Sam thinks he should be scared, he should be angry. He's going to hell for eternity, it seems like a normal response.
But for the first time in his life, Sam's not scared and he's not angry. He doesn't know what will happen, he suspects it won't be good, but it's his choice, his freedom, his only peace even as the ground closes up above him and oblivion takes hold.